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Wednesday 19 March 2014

Words on Wednesday: Mahmoud Darwish

1. Biographical Summary

Mahmoud Darwish (محمود درويش) was born in what was then Mandatory Palestine on March 13th, 1941. During his life he published over thirty volumes of poetry and eight books of prose, he was an editor of several literary periodicals. He was considered to be Palestine's national poet and a key figure in the "poetry of resistance." Darwish was arrested several times for his activism and was a long-time member of the PLO. He died after heart surgery in Houston, Texas, on August 9th, 2008. 

2. Disclaimer

I am not a supporter of either the Israeli state or the Palestinian cause, but instead I read Darwish as a poet who discusses concepts of freedom, exile, and loss. I find it interesting as an outsider to read his works in a universal sense, rather than in direct terms of their political focus, although it would be foolish to ignore this in his work. Thus, although I have some understanding of it, I make no claim to fully appreciate the depth and possible controversial nature (to some) of his work.

3. Some Poetical Works


I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born. 

I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, 
and a prison cell with a chilly window! 
I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own. 
I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon, 
a bird's sustenance, and an immortal olive tree. 
I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey. 
I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to her mother. 
And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears. 
To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood. 
I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a single word: Home.


The stars had one only task: they taught me how to read.
They taught me I had a language in heaven
and another language on earth.
Who am I? Who am I?
I don't want to answer yet.
May a star fall into itself,
and may a forest of chestnut trees rise in the night
toward the Milky Way with me, and may it say:
Remain Here!

The poem is "above" and can teach me whatever it wishes.
It can teach me to open a window
and to manage my household in between legends.
It can wed me to itself for a while

My father is "below," carrying a thousand-year olive tree
that is neither from the East nor the West.
Let him rest from the conquerors for a while,
and be tender with me, and gather iris and lily for me.

The poem leaves me and heads to a port where the sailors love wine
and never return twice to the same woman.
They have neither regrets nor longing for anything!

I haven't died of love yet, but a mother sees in her son's eyes
the fear carnations harbor for the vase.
She cries to ward off something before it happens.
She cries for me to return alive from destiny's road
and live here.

The poem is neither here nor there, and with a girl's breast
it can illuminate the nights.
With the glow of an apple it fills two bodies with light
and with a gardenia's breath it can revive a homeland!

The poem is in my hands, and can run stories through her hands.
But ever since I embraced the poem, I squandered my soul
and then asked: Who am I? Who am I?


Wait for her with an azure cup.
Wait for her in the evening at the spring, among perfumed roses.
Wait for her with the patience of a horse trained for mountains.
Wait for her with the distinctive, aesthetic taste of a prince.
Wait for her with the seven pillows of cloud.
Wait for her with strands of womanly incense wafting.
Wait for her with the manly scent of sandalwood on horseback.
Wait for her and do not rush.
If she arrives late, wait for her.
If she arrives early, wait for her.
Do not frighten the birds in her braided hair.
Take her to the balcony to watch the moon drowning in milk.
Wait for her and offer her water before wine.
Do not glance at the twin partridges sleeping on her chest.
Wait and gently touch her hand as she sets a cup on marble.
As if you are carrying the dew for her, wait.
Speak to her as a flute would to a frightened violin string,
As if you knew what tomorrow would bring.
Wait, and polish the night for her ring by ring.
Wait for her until the night speaks to you thus:
There is no one alive but the two of you.
So take her gently to the death you so desire,
and wait.