Remembering Mahmoud Darwish

As a special memorial to Mahmoud Darwish, the ‘Palestinian National Poet’ who passed away in August 2008, the October 6th gathering of Kutub focused on this iconic poet’s life and works.  Unlike previous Kutub gatherings, where we have focused on one novel, for this special Kutub we reflected on a variety of Darwish’s poetry and prose and discussing the impact of his life as well as his works.

Further information about this special Kutub – including themes discussed, selections of Darwish’s poetry, interviews and links to recordings of him reciting his works – can be found below.

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.
- Mahmud Darwish

The Kutub meeting on the 6th of October to discuss Mahmoud Darwish’s works and life drew a diverse crowd of appreciators of Darwish. Along with readings and reflections on several of his poems, the evening included several anecdotes about meeting Darwish and the impact his works had on readers. Some of the points discussed included:

  • The line between the myth and the man – Darwish has been lifted to such a height of personal and poetical importance, not only to the Palestinian cause but to the cause of Human Rights internationally, that it is at times difficult to separate the poet from his fame and from his status as a literary icon. With a range of interpretations distinct to each reader, the group discussed his use of symbolism and metaphor (i.e. in Rita and the Rifle some saw his lover as a symbol for Palestine / for peace as well as an actual woman he loved who happened to be Israeli) as well as the political vs. the personal in his poetic direction.
  • The development of Darwish as a poet linked with political development and with his growth as an individual. From his early works (the very direct Identity Card which charged “Record, I am an Arab”) to his later pieces (such as the extended prose poem Mural, created after his first major health crisis) we saw how Darwish grew both as an individual and as a writer, deepening his complexity of language, political approach and personal identity. That said, it was difficult for many to consider Darwish to as a poet to be separated from the Palestinian cause.
  • The poetry of his prose. Even in his essays or articles in various newspapers and magazines, as well as his longest prose work – Memory of Forgetfulness – and what some would argue is his most important – The Declaration of Palestinian Independence – Darwish’s prose retained a poetic meter and sensibility, demonstrating a powerful command of language and subtlety which survived translation into hundreds of languages.
  • The International reach of the poet. With a personal connection came perhaps greater awareness to his poems, but not exclusivity on feeling connected to Darwish’s works. The impact of Darwish’s words were very personal to many Palestinian and Lebanese readers, as well as for Arab leaders from across the region – however even for those without a personal regional connection his works remain very impactful. Along with very passionate reflections on how his works affected young Arabs and young Palestinians when they first were published, Western readers who were reading his works for the first time felt a strong connection to the universality of his poems. One Kutub member even shared a newspaper clipping from Mumbai expressing deeply felt loss at his death, to emphasis the global impact of his writing.

About Darwish

Widely regarded as the Palestinian national poet, Darwish published over thirty volumes of poetry and eight books of prose, awarded countless literary awards, including The Lotus Prize (1969 from the Union of Afro-Asian Writers), the Lenin Peace Prize (1983), The Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters from France (1993), The Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom (2001) and the Prince Claus Awards (2004). Darwish was the editor of Al-Jadid, Al-Fajr, Shu’un Filistiniyya and Al-Karmel. His first poetry collection to be published “Leaves of Olives” written in 1964.  Many of Darwish’s poems were set to music most notably Rita, Birds of Galilee and I Yearn for my Mother’s Bread and have become anthems for at least two generations of Arabs, by Arab composers, among them Marcel Khalife, Majida El Roumi and Ahmad Qa’abour. When Darwish recited his works he would gather crowds of several thousands.

A sample of Darwish’s publications in Arabic and English, including collections of poems and prose are on sale at the gallery. You may also read Memory of Forgetfulness (Dha:kira li-l nisya:n) in its entirety at http://www.escholarship.org/editions/view?docId=ft1z09n7g7;brand=ucpress This prose poem which deals exclusively with “Hiroshima Day” during the Lebanese Civil War and grew out of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that began on 6 June 1982 originally appeared in 1986, under the title The Time: Beirut / The Place: August, in Al Karmel. In it Darwish uses symbolism of birth, death, coffee, and doves to discuss the fear of existence during the Civil War and reflects on the Palestinian’s loss of their homeland.

For more information:

  • Obituary for Mahmoud Darwish written by Peter Clark in The Guardian, Monday August 11 2008

——


Identity Card

by Mahmoud Darwish

Record!
I am an Arab

And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the nineth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?

Record!
I am an Arab
Employed with fellow workers at a quarry

I have eight children
I get them bread
Garments and books
from the rocks..

I do not supplicate charity at your doors

Nor do I belittle myself at the footsteps of your chamber
So will you be angry?

Record!
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
My roots
Were entrenched before the birth of time
And before the opening of the eras
Before the pines, and the olive trees
And before the grass grew

My father..descends from the family of the plow
Not from a privileged class
And my grandfather..was a farmer
Neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Teaches me the pride of the sun
Before teaching me how to read
And my house is like a watchman’s hut
Made of branches and cane
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name without a title!

Record!
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks..
So will the State take them
As it has been said?!

Therefore!
Record on the top of the first page:
I do not hate poeple
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper’s flesh will be my food
Beware..
Beware..
Of my hunger
And my anger!

Think of Others
by Mahmoud Darwish

As you prepare your breakfast – think of others.
Don’t forget to feed the pigeons.
As you conduct your wars – think of others.
Don’t forget those who want peace.
As you pay your water bill – think of others.
Think of those who only have clouds to drink from.
As you go home, your own home – think of others – don’t forget those who live in tents.
As you sleep and count the planets, think of others – there are people who have no place to sleep.
As you liberate yourself with metaphors think of others – those who have lost their right to speak.
And as you think of distant others – think of yourself and say “I wish I were a candle in the darkness.”

Rita And The Rifle

by Mahmoud Darwish

Between Rita and my eyes

There is a rifle

And whoever knows Rita

Kneels and plays

To the divinity in those honey-colored eyes

And I kissed Rita

When she was young

And I remember how she approached

And how my arm covered the loveliest of braids

And I remember Rita

The way a sparrow remembers its stream

Ah, Rita

Between us there are a million sparrows and images

And many a rendezvous

Fired at by a rifle

***

Rita’s name was a feast in my mouth

Rita’s body was a wedding in my blood

And I was lost in Rita for two years

And for two years she slept on my arm

And we made promises

Over the most beautiful of cups

And we burned in the wine of our lips

And we were born again

***

Ah, Rita!

What before this rifle could have turned my eyes from yours

Except a nap or two or honey-colored clouds?

Once upon a time

Oh, the silence of dusk

In the morning my moon migrated to a far place

Towards those honey-colored eyes

And the city swept away all the singers

And Rita

***

Between Rita and my eyes—

A rifle

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2 comments on “Remembering Mahmoud Darwish

  1. very nice article, thanks to sharing with me

  2. [...] – Winner: Fady Joudah for his translation of Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry collections in The Butterfly’s Burden (a bilingual [...]

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