[News] Mahmoud Darwish: From Galilee to the world

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Mar 15 16:23:08 EDT 2021


https://www.newframe.com/mahmoud-darwish-from-galilee-to-the-world/ Mahmoud
Darwish: From Galilee to the world
By: Richard Pithouse <https://www.newframe.com/writer/richard-pithouse/> -13
Mar 2021
------------------------------

Mahmoud Darwish is one of the great poets of the 20th century. Like Pablo
Neruda, he could read in a stadium: once drawing 25 000 in Beirut, a city
that is, he wrote, “the smell of the sun, sea, smoke, and lemons”.

Born in the village of Al-Birweh in Galilee in 1941, his family fled to
Lebanon in 1948 when their village was razed by the Israeli military during
the Nakba. In his mid-60s Darwish would recall that “in one disastrous
hour, history like a bold thief came through a door, and the present left
by a window”.

A year after the destruction of Al-Birweh the family returned to Israel,
too late to be considered Arab Israelis. His once prosperous father had to
become a farm labourer. Darwish recited his first poem – a political poem –
at the age of eight, and at 17 had achieved a public voice as a poet, a
very political poet writing in classical Arabic style and primarily
concerned with the Nakba.

In his 20s, inspired by a new generation of poets writing in Arabic, as
well as poets like Arthur Rimbaud – the teenage poet of the Paris Commune
for whom the poet must commit to “a long, systematic derangement of all the
senses” – Darwish began to break from classical forms. For almost 40 years
he would offer an extraordinarily abundant and brilliantly kaleidoscopic
poetry of pomegranates, doves, gazelles, olives, salt, blood, love, lust,
Jerusalem, Damascus, Andalusia, trees, butterflies, rivers, coffee,
memories, dreams, home, rifles, tanks and mourning.
*Young life and work*

At 22 he fell into a heady love affair with Tamar Ben Ami, a Jewish
communist:

*Rita’s name was a feast in my mouth*
*Rita’s body was a wedding in my blood*

But, of course, this love was intolerable to a racist state:


*Between Rita and my eyes There is a rifle*
*…*
*And I remember Rita *
*The way a sparrow remembers its stream*

In 1965, at the age of 24, he recited a poem titled *ID Card *in a cinema
in Nazareth. It became a sensation across the Arab world. Darwish would
later be placed under house arrest when it was set to music and became a
popular protest song. The poem is addressed to an Israeli police officer:

*Put it on record.*
*I am an Arab*
*Working with comrades of toil in a quarry.*
*I have eight children*
*For them I wrest the loaf of bread,*
*The clothes and exercise books*
*From the rocks*

In the same year Darwish joined Rakah, the Israeli communist party. His
work was first published in its literary journal, *Al Jadid*. He soon
became its editor. Darwish spoke excellent Hebrew, and read poets like
Neruda and Federico García Lorca in that language. In response to criticism
of *A Soldier Who Dreams of White Lilies*, written after the Six-Day War in
1967, he insisted: “I will continue to humanise even the enemy.”
Circa 2005: Prominent Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish during an event in
Turin, Italy. (Photograph by Leonardo Cendamo/ Getty Images)

In 1970, after repeated spells in prison, Darwish made the decision to move
to Cairo where he worked for *Al-Ahram*, a daily newspaper. He joined the
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1973, and was banned from
entering Israel for the next 23 years. This life in exile – “a long night
that stares at the water” – was lived in Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Tunis and
Paris. “I yearn”, he wrote, “for my mother’s bread and my mother’s
coffee.”

The longing to “see again from our own sun, our own sunrise from our own
east”, and the weight of memory “like a pomegranate … of the ruby in
metaphor” was carried with a simultaneous enchantment of the present and a
profusion of poetic richness. He held fast to the convictions that “an idea
is a coal burning”, that “words are a country” and that, even in the most
difficult circumstances, “singing in a cage is possible and so is
happiness”.
*Living and resisting*

Darwish liked to write in the mornings, formally dressed, preferably in a
room with a window looking onto a tree, and always sustaining a militant
commitment to the value of life, once writing: “We have on this earth what
makes life worth living: April’s hesitation, the aroma of bread at dawn, a
woman’s point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the beginning of
love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute’s sigh and the invaders’
fear of memories.”

By 1977 he had sold more than a million books in Arabic. But for three
years after the invasion of Lebanon and the siege and shelling of Beirut in
1982, Darwish was not able to write. That silence was broken with the long
prose poem *Memory for Forgetfulness*, written in Paris over 90 days. The
poem is set on 6 August 1982, a day of heavy Israeli shelling: “The street.
Seven o’clock. The horizon is a huge egg made of steel.”

In the midst of this day – Hiroshima Day he called it – the poet turns to
ordinary rituals of daily life:

*I want the aroma of coffee. I need five minutes. I want a five-minute
truce for the sake of coffee. I have no personal wish other than to make a
cup of coffee. With this madness I define my task and my aim. All my senses
are on their mark, ready at the call to propel my thirst in the direction
of the one and only goal: coffee.*

The poem carried a new pessimism:

*I don’t like the sea. I don’t want the sea, because I don’t see a shore,
or a dove. I see in the sea nothing except a sea. I don’t see a shore. I
don’t see a dove.*
Related article:

In 1988, Darwish was asked to write the Palestinian Declaration of
Independence. He sat on the executive committee of the PLO until 1993,
when, unable to accept the Oslo Accords, he offered his resignation.

In exile Darwish became a global figure, reading in English and French as
well as Arabic, and receiving a trove of prizes, although not the Nobel
Prize, which many felt he had earned several times over.

Darwish was able to return to Ramallah, to what remained of Palestine, in
the late 1990s where he made his life until his death in 2008. This was not
a return to any kind of freedom. In March 2002, during the Second Intifada,
he read to a large audience with other writers – including Wole Soyinka,
Jose Saramago and Breyten Breytenbach – that he had invited to witness the
occupation. Four days later Israeli tanks entered Ramallah and a cultural
centre where he edited a literary review was ransacked by the Israeli
military, his work left scattered and trampled on the floor.
2 November 1997: Mahmoud Darwish recites some of his poems in Damascus. It
was the first time in 14 years that he had visited Syria. (Photograph by
Louai Beshara/ AFP) *Besieging the siege*

*A state of Siege*, published in 2002, deals with this period in which:

*Whenever they find a reality that doesn’t suit them*
*they alter it with a bulldozer*

And:

*The soldiers measure the distance between being*
*And nonbeing*
*With a tank’s scope*

This is a poetry resolved to *besiege the siege*, a poetry in which
soldiers urinate *under a tank’s guard/ and the autumn day completes its
golden stroll*. There are still *green trees with blue shadows* and life to
be lived *on earth, among the pines*. The names of the dead may yet be
written in letters of lapis.

In July 2007, Darwish lamented the Hamas takeover of Gaza, writing that
“one people now have two states, two prisons who don’t greet each other. We
are victims dressed in executioners’ clothing”.

Darwish died in a hospital in Houston at the age of 67 after undergoing
open-heart surgery. He left more than 30 volumes of poetry, eight books of
prose and, many would argue, a reputation as the greatest poet of the
second half of the twentieth century.
13 August 2008: Palestinians gather as the coffin of their national poet
Mahmoud Darwish is driven past in what amounted to a state funeral in the
West Bank city of Ramallah. (Photograph by Reuters/ Ammar Awad)

His body was returned to Palestine. He had wanted to be buried in Galilee
but even that last desire was refused. Instead, on a sunny winter morning,
tens of thousands followed the funeral procession to a grave dug in the
pines on Al Rabweh, a hilltop looking over Ramallah. Many recalled a few
lines from the last poem that Darwish had read before his death, *The Dice
Player*:

*When the sky appears ashen*
*and I see a rose that has suddenly burst*
*out of a crack in a wall I don’t say:*
*The sky is ashen!*
*I extend my study of the rose*
*and say to it: What a day! *

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