Previously Featured: Life of a Woman
May Ziadeh (Writer, Professor)
"We should free the woman, so that her children won't grow up to become slaves.
And we should remove the veil of illusions from her eyes, so that by looking into them,
her husband, brother and son will discover that there is a great meaning to life."
These spellbinding words are the saying of a renowned feminist, who was among the first Arab literary figures to embellish feminine intellectuality.
Born in Nazareth in 1886, to a Lebanese father and Palestinian mother,
May (Marry) Zeyadeh lived in a world where women were hammered by patriarchy
and male chauvinism.
May studied elementary education in Al Yousifiat Nuns school, and later
in Ein Tora in Lebanon before she moved to Beirut where she finished her
secondary studies there.
In 1907, she left Nazareth to Cairo with her parents to study Italian and
During her stay in Egypt, May's father, Elias Zakhour Zeyadeh-who
advocated women education-became the chief editor of Al Mahrousa newspaper. It was
a golden opportunity for the young intellectual to publish articles, which
she chose to write under a nick name.
In 1911, May wrote her first poetry collection in French titled, "Fleurs
de Reve", and later translated several poems from the same collection to
Arabic and published them in the Egyptian magazine Al Hilal, under the
name Eziz Cobia.
In the same year May published her second poetry collection, "Aidah
Dairy", which was written in French under the name Aidah.
She remained to write under different pen names until her mother proposed
the name "May", using the first and last letter from her "Marry", her
Later, May was elected as a member of the Pen League in New York. In 1912
she launched the Literature Salon, where she held weekly gatherings and
intellectual debates with more than 30 famous Arab writers, poets and
Among those were Lebanese poet Khalil Motran, Egyptian prodigy Abbas
Mahmoud Al Aqad, Antwan Al Jmayel, owner of Al Zouhour magazine, famous
Egyptian intellectual Taha Hussein, Nile poet Hafez Ibrahim and Prince of
Arab poets Ahmed Shawqi. These gatherings went on for 20 years.
In 1914, she joined the Egyptian University where she studied history,
philosophy and modern sciences, graduating in 1917.
During her study, she continued to publish her literary works in famous
Arabic magazines and newspapers like the Lebanese Magazine Azohour,
Egypt's Al Hilal and Al Ahram newspaper, which she continued to write for till
Zeyadeh, a coy girl, had a great infatuation with nature, music and
books. True romantic, Zeyadah's literary style is characterized by fusing
emotion with fantasy and romanticism with objectivity.
But all this artistry and innovation were meshed with solitude and
A lifetime bachelor, the famous poet fell in love with famous Lebanese
poet Jubran Khalil Jubran, whom she never saw, but exchanged letters with.
A women activist, May wrote two books about women at a time when feminine
identity was slandered by social modes. "Aisha Al Taymoreih", published
in 1924, was one of the famous Egyptian female poets (1840-1902) who
belonged to an aristocratic family in Egypt. Al Taymoreih was a torch of vigor at
a time of much illiteracy and oppression among women. May was an admirer of
the Egyptian poet whose character was of true determination and
May's second book, "Bahethet Al Badiah", published in 1920, depicted the
character of a charismatic Egyptian feminist called Malak Nasef (1886-1918), nicknamed as Bahthet Al Badieh. In her
book, "Al Nesa'eyat",
Nasef called for the emancipation of women in a society governed by
stereotypes and male solidarity.
After her return to Lebanon, May suffered from several nervous attacks
and entered a mental hospital. May lead lonely years, following the loss of
her parents and friends, including her far distant lover, Jubran. Her
relatives, on the other hand, tried to get a grip on her estate saying
that she has lost her mind and is unable of managing her own properties.
She left the hospital to spend her remaining days writing in Cairo, where
she died on 19 October, 1941. Zeydah left more than 15 books of poetry,
literature and translations. More than anything else, she left behind a
legacy of women liberators who believed that with knowledge and art,
women can finally inhale the ions of emancipation.
In memory of May Zeyadeh
A torch in the darkest of ages was published in the Star Weekly,
By Lubna Khader, 21 October 1999
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