“Where should we go after the last frontiers,
where should the birds fly after the last sky?”
These are the lines from one of Darwish’s poems. Indeed, these are the painful questions for many Palestinians who wonder from country to country and from place to place even when the place is not a house but a tent or a tin-roof shack. Most of us Palestinians learn of his poetry from the older generations, from songs that used the words, and from stumbling across them occasionally in newspapers and magazines. However we first come to read or hear one of his poems, we become hooked and we want some more. Darwish emptomizes what all Palestinians feel but few have the verbal (and perhaps emotional ability) to express.
Mahmoud Darwish was born in the village of al-Birweh near Akka in 1941 (see http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/al-Birwa/). He and his family, together with 3/4ths of the native Palestinians were ethnically cleansed during the establishment of the state of Israel. But in 1949 and unlike most displaced Palestinians, Darwish’s family managed to return although not to their destroyed village but to the village of Dayr IlAssad. Non-Jews inside the nascent state of Israel were subjected to martial law until 1966. Israel then invaded and occupied the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan Heights.
Following a trip abroad for education, Darwish moved to Beirut in 1971 and editing a newspaper (Shu’un Filastiniya) and then becoming director of a research center for the Palestine Liberation Organization. Darwish founded and was editor of the literary journal Al Karmel in Beirut in 1982 when he and other Palestinians were exiled yet again to Tunisia and then Cairo. He was elected leader for the Palestinian Association of Journalists and Writers. He received a number of awards including the Ibn Sina prize (Arab thought and democracy award) in 1982, Lenin Peace Prize 1983, Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize (2001). He was elected to the PLO executive committee in 1987 and resigned (with many others) in 1993 in protest of the unjust Oslo accords. Yet he moved with many previous PLO leaders to settle in Ramallah in 1996.
Darwish was always opposed to killing civilians and stated famously after September 11 2001 that, “nothing, nothing justifies terrorism.” He was opposed to suicide bombings but asked everyone to understand what drives them and the connect these as symptoms of the ethnic cleansing and terror of occupation and colonization. A contoversy erupted when Yossi Sarid, then education minister, proposed inclusion of Darwish’s poetry in Israeli highschools. Prime Minister Barak and the Knesset basically killed the idea.
His first poetry was in highschool in 1959 and his compilation disseminated iin 1960 when he was only 19. From then on he had over 43 years of productive poetry and literary contributions. His latest poetry speaks of the illegal occupation of Iraq, Iraqi resistance and the power of collective work.
In a recent interview with a reporter he stated “The Palestinian people feel that they are living the hours before dawn. Their national will is stronger in reaction to the challenge. They do not have another option but to continue to carry the hope that they are going to have a normal life.” http://www.progressive.org/May%202002/hand0502.html
He escaped the fate of other writers and poets (like Ghassan Kanafani). But his story of exile and moving between so many countries the quintessential Palestinian story. Darwish gave us a voice and touched the most sensitive and most human chords in the human heart. He reflected the thoughts and experiences of average Palestinians using inspiring and certainly amazingly powerful poetry. His poetry of exile, longing and resistance is etched deep in the heart of every Palestinian. Just ask any Palestinian to finish the sentence “Sajjil, Ana 3arabiy wa…”.
To this and much more, we Palestinians and all who yearn and work for peace and justice are eternally grateful and will forever honor “Sha3er falastine” (the Poet of Palestine).
More on Darwish
I Am There
I come from there and remember,
I was born like everyone is born, I have a mother
and a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends and a prison.
I have a wave that sea-gulls snatched away.
I have a view of my own and an extra blade of grass.
I have a moon past the peak of words.
I have the godsent food of birds and an olive tree beyond the kent of time.
I have traversed the land before swords turned bodies into banquets.
I come from there, I return the sky to its mother when for its mother the
sky cries, and I weep for a returning cloud to know me.
I have learned the words of blood-stained courts in order to break the rules.
I have learned and dismantled all the words to construct a single one:
Mahmoud Darwish – 1964
I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?
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?
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
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!
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?!
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
Of my hunger
And my anger!
by Mahmoud Darwish
I long for my mother’s bread
My mother’s coffee
Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day
I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother
And if I come back one day
Take me as a veil to your eyelashes
Cover my bones with the grass
Blessed by your footsteps
Bind us together
with a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails from the back of your dress
I might become immortal
Become a god
If I touch the depths of your heart
If I come back
Use me as wood to feed your fire
As the clothesline on the roof of your house
Without your blessing
I am too weak to stand
I am old
Give me back the star maps of childhood
So that I
Along with the swallows
Can chart the path
Back to your waiting nest
Copyright for text Mazin Qumsiyeh, Poems: Mahmoud Darwish.