Mahmoud Darwish was born on March 13, 1941 in a quaint village in the Galilee of Al Birweh, Palestine, into a land-owning Sunni Muslim family. At the early age of seven, Darwish’s father was killed and his family were forced to leave their homeland for safety in Lebanon to escape the ongoing massacres by the Israeli Army as it occupied Palestine and, in the process, destroyed the poet’s village (in addition to over 400 other Palestinian villages). They returned the following year, secretly re-entering Israel. As they returned”illegally” to their country, Darwish and his family were grounded under military rule and emergency regulations of the State of Israel established over colonized Palestinian land. Where they were given the status of “present-absent alien,” a status that will mark the poet from that point onwards, preventing him from ever finding his homeland, except in his language and his ever-loving audience. Mahmoud Darwish went on to live a life that is a emotional example of how far talent and determination, combined with a unstable life, can carry an individual from a simple background into the international halls of fame.
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In Darwish’s early twenties he faced numerous house arrest and was constantly imprisoned by the state of Israel for publicly reading his poetry. He also was imprisoned many times for not carrying the proper papers (identification cards). He joined the Rakah which was the official Communist Party of Israel in the 1960s. In 1970, he left Palestine for Russia, where he attended the University of Moscow for one year. After Moscow, he then moved to Cairo, Egypt. He lived in exile from Israel for twenty-six years, between Beirut and Paris, until his return to Israel in 1996, after which he settled in Ramallah of the West Bank.
It is perhaps Darwish’s very special relationship to the Arabic language that has set him apart from other Arab poets of his time. Today America identifies Palestine through Palestinian art, and through Edward Saed who came out with the most influential book, `what are Arabs in Arabic society’, such a dynamic book, and hard to understand, unlike the softer side to Palestinians brought by Darwish, and Nasser Khalifa whom sang his poems. Putting the political cause aside, a double-edged sword in the case of the poet’s literary career, Darwish has created a new zone in the Arabic language that he can call his own: he constructs his kingdom – homeland in language. Considered by one prominent Arab literary critics as “the saviour of the Arabic language,” Darwish manages to describe mundane events and uncover his (and his people’s) innermost feelings through words juxtaposed in the most idiosyncratic of contexts, creating fascinating new images. The symbols, metaphors, and style in his poetry are carefully chosen; yet at the same time they reflect an integrity and clairvoyance that are a unique characteristic of this writer. As a number of Darwish’s works have even been called “prophetic”, it still remains that these poems have been an advantage of his artistic intuition and acute political common sense. He manages to see and read what very little of the Palestinian people can. When poems like these follow that artistic intuition, it gains its significance to the readers, because it usually is an expression of what the Palestinians fear most but are unable to utter or ever express.
Darwish’s connection to language and poetry remains unmatched by any connection he has with anything or anyone. He has the talent to uncover, exploit, and define music in language through use of poetry. His poetry has been an interesting field in the Arab world as musicians compose the most beautiful and popular of songs from his lyrics.
Darwish is often called “the poet of the resistance,” and sometimes accused of writing in defense of Palestinian mainstream politics, Darwish still managed to constantly defy any strict definition of who and what he is or wanted to be. He wrote the Palestinian declaration of independence in1988 and many poems of resistance that are a major fundamental part of every Arab’s culture; from superstructure to, social structure to, infrastructure. However, this does not mean he ignored writing about love and death, in fact his poems struck people. Darwish wrote poems that people can easily understand, and others that held critics so mystified as to where to begin to decipher. In all this, he remains confident in his open and honest relationship to his readers. “When I move closer to pure poetry, Palestinians say go back to what you were. But I have learned from experience that I can take my reader with me if he trusts me. I can make my modernity, and I can play my games if I am sincere.” (New York Times interview) This intricate relationship with his ever-increasing audience is best described in this excerpt:
Whenever I search for myself I find the others,
And when I search for them
I only find my alien self
So am I the individual- crowd?
As an accomplished and very well known poet in the Eastern hemisphere, Darwish awards and honors include the Ibn Sina Prize, the Lenin Peace Prize, the 1969 Lotus prize from the Union of Afro-Asian Writers, France’s Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres medal in 1997, the 2001 Prize for Cultural Freedom from the Lannan Foundation, the Moroccan Wissam of intellectual merit handed to him by King Mohammad VI of Morocco, and the USSR’s Stalin Peace Prize.
As another significance Mahmud Darwish brought upon his self was becoming editor for the PLO’s (Palestine Liberation Organization) monthly journal and its director of the group’s research center. In 1987 he was appointed to the PLO executive committee, and resigned in 1993 in opposition to the Oslo Agreement, which was signed at a Washington ceremony hosted by US President Bill Clinton on September 13, 1993, during which Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin ended decades as sworn enemies with an uneasy handshake. Darwish later served in accordance to the Palestinian literary review Al-Karmel (magazine published in Palestine in Arabic) as its editor in chief and founder. Al-Karmel was published out of the Sakakini Centre (The Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre Foundation is a non- governmental, non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of arts and culture in Palestine) since 1997.
His most recent translations in English, “Mahmoud Darwish: Adam of Two Edens” (Jusoor and Syracuse University Press, 2000) and “The Raven’s Ink: A Chapbook” (Lannan Foundation, 2001) include a host of Darwish’s most acclaimed poems written between 1984 and 1999. Even though “he is known the world over as the poet of Palestine,” as Margaret Obank says in her review of “The Adam of Two Edens,” Darwish’s poetry “has been published only sparingly in English.” These two volumes are an excellent introduction, in English, to this poet who is considered to be “indisputably among the greatest of our century’s poets.” (Carolyne Forche)
Some of the exploited poet’s recent poetry titles include The Butterfly’s Burden (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems (2003), Stage of Siege (2002), The Adam of Two Edens (2001), Mural (2000), Bed of the Stranger (1999), Psalms (1995), Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (1994), and The Music of Human Flesh (1980).
Darwish was harassed by the Israeli military governor whenever his poetry went public. His discovery of poetry is recalled as “a threat to the sword”; the exploited poet took advantage of this by. His words described the Arab and Palestinian identity that needed to be invasive. These harassments expelled Darwish to leave to Moscow and then Egypt, then alas to settle in Beirut until the invasion war ended, era 1982. After Beirut he became a “wondering exile” in Arab capitals, settling in Paris for a while, then Amman, and finally Ramallah, moving a step closer to the home which he still cannot reach. The circle is not yet complete…
“There is no age sufficient for me, To pull my end to my beginning.” (Mural)
His journey during the exodus enlightened him to create poetry upon magnificent literary creations. This comes to explain how even when Darwish was distant from his country he still tried to dismantle with his poetry and unveil the truth. Later in 1988, his widely circulated militant poem “Passers by in Passing Words,” was given a very significant applause as it was influential to all the Arabic communities familiarity and passion of the untidiness drawn from the revolution brought up by war. This applause was promoted as the poem called for a great uproar in Israel. However, a book in French entitled “Palestine Mon Pays: L’affaire du Poeme,” published by Les Editions de Minuit in 1988, documents some of the articles that were written in defense of Darwish and his poem. In a similar manner, but this time in March 2000, Yossi Sarid, then the minister of education in Israel, suggested the inclusion of Darwish’s poetry in the Israeli high school curriculum. This suggestion resulted in a very close no-confidence vote for the Barak government.
Darwish held a strong stand in politics. In 1993, when Darwish resigned from the PLO executive committee to protest the Oslo Accords, he could see at the time, as very few people within the PLO could, that there was a structural problem with the accord itself that would only pave the way for escalation. “I hoped I was wrong. I’m very sad that I was right.” (New York Times interview)
The poet’s life revolved around Palestine as an everlasting wail in his poetry with only the passion to request a truth to be unveiled. Later, his choice to reside in RamAllah while it was under siege during the second Intifada was that of only a small sacrifice. His new home pushed him to dwell his last three poems against resistance while under siege and under the iniquity of siege. “Mohammad,” “The Sacrifice” and “A State of Siege” were published in newspapers in Palestine and the Arab world during 2001 – 2002. The last one, “A State of Siege describes the siege of Ramallah and the Palestinian land in profound images that invoke daily life in a vivid and multi-layered way:
A woman asked the cloud: please enfold my loved one
My clothes are soaked with his blood
If you shall not be rain, my love
Saturated with fertility, be trees
And if you shall not be trees, my love
Be a stone
Saturated with humidity, be a stone
And if you shall not be a stone, my love
Be a moon
In the loved one’s dream, be a moon
So said a woman to her son
In his funeral
He goes on to add:
During the siege, time becomes a space
That has hardened in its eternity
During the siege, space becomes a time
That is late for its yesterday and tomorrow
(A State of Siege)
His reputation all over the world as a highly esteemed poet and individual is partly due to the fact that Mahmoud Darwish affirms an open conception of what being an Arab is. Arab, to him, is not an identity closed unto itself, but pluralism totally open unto others. In his oeuvres, he dialogues with a group of cultures (Canaanite, Hebrew, Greek, Roman, Persian, Egyptian, Arab, French, English, Ottoman, Native American) as well as with myths of the three monotheistic religions. These dialogues create multiple layers within the poem that may be difficult to appreciate unless the reader can develop a full understanding of the “I”s and the “others” of the text.
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When Darwish reads publicly, he easily draws thousands of people from all social classes; taxi drivers, bazaar merchants, hospital workers, students and more rush to find a hearing under the influential poet’s lips. Darwish did not just break the barrier between Palestinians but also ideology. Like a role model Darwish became a personal possession and another reminiscence to the Palestinians who suffered through exile and war. Which ever part of Palestine or whomever’s relation to Palestine through sympathy or its seize all view Darwish as a national treasure.
Now in translation perhaps he will also be embraced elsewhere in the world. No poet has been expropriated as Mahmoud Darwish has been over the past thirty years. No one realizes this more than him:
And history makes fun of its victims
And its heroes Takes a look at them and passes by
This sea is mine
This moist air is mine And my name-
Even if I spell it wrong on the coffin –
As for me,
Now that I am filled with all the possible
Reasons for departure –
I am not mine.
I am not mine
I am not mine.
(Mural) Serene Huleileh.
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