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August 18, 2014

Modern Coptic literature in its entire genre is still rudimentary but there are some shoots that are promising and should be encouraged. As an example of modern Coptic poetry, I wrote about the beautiful poetry of Matthew Shenoda, the Copto-American poet.

In a previous article, I tried to define Coptic literature; and I tried to emphasise that what constitute Coptic literature must be excellent in language, form and style. Coptic literature must also talk about Coptic issues – its substance must be Coptic: the Coptic people, their life, their thoughts and their heritage. It must be concerned by Coptic lives and Coptia (that is, Coptic communities and ‘country’). But even more important is the need for Coptic literature to free itself and describe not just the religious but Coptic life in general. Copts do hate, fall in love, marry, fear, fight, think, work and do politics like every nation in the world, albeit in their own way as governed by their cultural heritage. If Copts don’t develop literature (and art) that deals with these areas, the vacuum that results in their lives will be filled in by other peoples’ literature as is evident in Egypt where Arabo-Muslim culture predominates and Copts are exposed to Arabisation and Islamisation through it.

It’s therefore refreshing when one comes across any example that raises the standards of Coptic literature. I came across the poem given the title ‘Coptic Pride’ by chance on surfing the internet; its author is unknown but it’s an excellent example of Coptic poetry in English, even though I wish the poet saw the kin of the Pharaohs residing not just in matters religious but in the Coptic nation in all its manifestations. But here is the poem:

Coptic Pride

Coptic cross tattoo

A young Coptic girl with a Coptic cross tattoo on the wrist of her right hand


If you’re on the Nile to search

                               thinking all the Pharaohs died            

  Look  inside our Church

              it’s  where their kin reside

        And let the icons carry you

                  throughout history for a ride

           For our fathers, mothers too

            against evil always vied.


           The Holy Family came to us

                     came to bless not just to hide

         So Copts carried the Cross

                and went against the tide

           Proud, confessing the Lord

          with arms open wide

           Martyred by Satan’s sword

              to see Christ glorified.


          Now you know that they live

                 through us and at His side

      And like them we still give

                     and using Jesus as the guide

   Enduring trials and tests

                  knowing He was also tried

          For on the inside of our wrists

               you’ll see “Coptic Pride”.

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