Elias Abu Shabaki (also spelled Ilyas Abu Shabaka; Arabic: الياس أبو شبكة, May 3, 1903 – January 27, 1947) was a Lebanese writer, poet, editor, translator and literary critic, he was one of the founders of the literary League of Ten and is considered as one of the leading figures of the Arabic Nahda Movement.
Born into a well-to-do Lebanese family, Abu Shabaki became interested in poetry at a young age. The son of a merchant, he was left fatherless in his youth, an experience that would mark his earlier works. Elias worked as a teacher, translator and _in addition to publishing several volumes of poetry_ as a journalist writing for many Arabic newspapers and literary magazines. Being an adherent to the Romantic school, Abu Shabki believed in inspiration and denounced conscious control in poetry. His poems were gloomy, deeply personal and often contained biblical overtones centering around his internal moral conflicts. Some of Abu Shabaki's work was very controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Serpents of Paradise which was regarded as obscene due to its overt sexual content. The poet's obsession with the spiritual consequences of carnality that was manifested in his writings was attributed to the guilt brought upon by his sexual escapades with various women when he was married and until his death from leukemia in 1947.
Abu Shabaki called for the renewal and modernization of Arab literature, he inspired succeeding generations of poets. His contributions to literature were commemorated by turning his house in his hometown of Zouk Mikael into a museum.
Elias Abu Shabaki was born on 3 May 1903 in Providence, USA to Youssef Abu Shabaki, a wealthy Lebanese merchant, and his wife Nayla née Saroufim. Elias' mother came from a family well known for its poetic gifts, and both Nayla's brother and maternal uncle (Elias Ferzan) were established poets. The couple had left the Lebanon to visit Nayla's uncle Elias Ferzan in Providence where she gave birth to Elias at Ferzan's place. In 1904, Youssef and Nayla settled back in their native town of Zouk Mikael in the current Keserwan District in Mount Lebanon, a town overlooking the Mediterranean sea which is noted for its natural beauty.
Elias was raised as a devout Christian by his Maronite parents; he was admitted in 1911 to the Lazarist Saint Joseph College in the nearby town of Aintoura where he studied, among other courses, French and Arabic literature. Nayla introduced Elias to Arabic poetry and taught him a long poem written by her uncle Elias Ferzan, which, according to the young Abu Shabaki, was highly inspirational.
In 1914, while Elias' father was visiting his estates in the Khartoum region in Sudan, he was attacked by bandits who stripped him of his belongings and killed him; the loss of his father left young Elias in a state of emotional distress and depression that would mark the rest of his life. The orphaned Elias continued his education at Aintoura until the outbreak of the Great War when he had to quit the school due to financial problems, though the school was later forced to close by the Ottoman authorities. Elias resumed his studies at the College Central in Jounieh which was run then by the Marist Brothers before returning a year later to Saint Joseph's but he never graduated as a result of a quarrel he had with one of his teachers; nevertheless he continued his self-education and read religious books and French Romantic literature extensively which inspired his first literary efforts. Among the French authors, Elias was particularly fond of the works of Charles Baudelaire and Alfred de Musset.
When he was 16, Elias met and was infatuated by his neighbor Olga Saroufim who was two years his senior. Their friendship rapidly evolved as they exchanged literary books and letters. Elias' attachment to Olga was most evident when she fell ill with fever during a visit to the southern city of Sour; Elias was reported to have invited his family members to kneel and pray for Olga to get better. After some 10 years of betrothal, Abu Shabaki wedded Olga in December 1931. Elias and Olga had a lone child together who died at birth in 1932
Having lost his father at an early age, Elias was compelled to teach in order to earn a living. He taught for a while at the Jesuit mission school then at the school of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in Gemmayze and lastly at the Makassed school. Elias had had an affinity for journalism since his youth, and he eked a meager living through his contributions to a number of Lebanese newspapers (al-Bayraq, al-Bayan, an-Nidaa, al-Ma'rad, al-'assifa, Lisan al-hal, al-Joumhour, al-Makshouf and Sawt al-Ahrar), also publishing a great number of journalistic articles on a variety of topics. Elias also corresponded with a number of Egyptian newspapers such as al-Moktataf and al-Masa. At the request of his publishers, Abu Shabaki translated to Arabic a number of French literary material from the 17th till the 19th century such as Lamartine's Jocelyn and La Chute d'un ange, Edmond Rostand's La Samaritaine, Bernardin St. Pierre's Paul et Virginie and La Chaumière indienne and many other works by Henri Bordeaux, Voltaire, Antoine François Prévost, and Moliere. Elias was employed during World War II as a translator in the press and radio services of the French high Commission.
In 1926 Elias produced his first poetic juvenilia al-Kithara (The lyre); the work attests of the young poet's inexperience but also of his promising talent. In 1928 Elias finished al-Marid as-samit (The silent invalid), a narrative poem which is one of Abu Shabaki's best known works, springing from the center of European romantic tradition. His next book Afa'i al-Firdaws (Serpents of Paradise), published in 1938, is lauded by many as Abu Shabaki's best work and one of the best accomplishments of romantic poetry in modern Lebanese and Arabic literature. Afa'i al Firdaws and Elias' latter works would play an influential role in the development of modern Arabic poetry and literature. In 1941 Elias published his third book al-Alhan (The melodies), an ode to simple peasant life, followed in 1944 by Nidaa' al-Qalb (The heart's evocation) and Ila al-Abad (Eternally), where Elias reverts to discussing matters of the heart from a more mature perspective. Ghalwaa was published in 1945. The book's title is an anagram of Olga's name in Arabic.
In addition to poetry, Elias published a number of studies including a study in comparative literature called Rawabith al-fikr wal-ruh bayn al-Arab wal-Franja (Intellectual and spiritual links between the Arabs and the French), in which he sought to demonstrate the weight of French influence on world literature; he also authored long essays about Lamartine, Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde. In addition, Abu Shabaki produced a series of portraits of literary and political personages which were first published in al-Maarad journal then collected in a volume dubbed al-Rusum (The Portraits).
Elias died on January 27, 1947 from Leukemia at the Hotel Dieu de France Hospital in Beirut, he was buried in his hometown of Zouk Mikael. After his death, Elias' friends put together a number of verses and works that were published in periodicals in a book dubbed Min Sa'id al-Aliha (From the bosom of the Gods) in 1958.