Mahmoud Darwish has published twenty volumes of poetry and seven books of prose, and has been translated into more than twenty-two languages, but until now only sparingly into English. In the words of Naomi Shihab Nye, “Darwish is the Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging….”
Darwish was born in the village of Berweh, in upper Galilee of Palestine, in 1942. In 1948, the Israeli Army occupied and subsequently destroyed Berweh, along with 416 other Palestinian villages. The Darwish family fled to Lebanon; a year later, they returned to their country illegally. As a young man Darwish was imprisoned several times and was frequently harassed by the Israeli apparatus, his crimes always the same: reading poetry aloud or traveling in his country without a permit. In 1970, he left his country for good. He presently lives in Amman, Jordan, where he continues to edit the influential Arab literary review Al-Karmal.
In 1996, after twenty-six years in exile, Darwish was granted a permit to visit his family, and was warmly embraced by his compatriots, the “internal refugees.” Thousands of cheering Palestinians greeted him, chanting his poems. Darwish later reflected on the pain and longing he feels for his homeland: “As long as my soul is alive no one can smother my feeling of nostalgia for my country which I still consider as Palestine.”
In his first book of poetry, Leaves of Olive, published in 1964, Darwish raised his voice in searing lyrics confronting the pain of everyday life for Palestinians. His twentieth book of poems, the recently published Mural, fuses lyric and epic modes in an impassioned meditation on the whole of his life and his own confrontation with mortality. His first English collection, The Adam of Two Edens, was published by Syracuse University Press last year. In 2000 Gallimard published the latest French anthology of his work, and in 2002 a new English translation of Darwish’s Selected Poems will be published in the United States by the University of California Press.
THREE POEMS BY MAHMOUD DARWISH
translated by Munir Akash and Caroline Forché
from FOUR PERSONAL ADDRESSES
1. One square meter of prison.
It’s the door, and beyond it is the paradise of the heart. Our things—and everything is ours—are interchangeable. And the door is a door, the door of metonymy, the door of legend. A door to keep September gentle. A door that invites fields to begin their wheat. The door has no door, yet I can go outside and love both what I see and what I do not see. All of these wonders and beauties are on earth—there—and yet the door has no door? My prison cell accepts no light except into myself. Peace be unto me. Peace be unto the sound barrier. I wrote ten poems to eulogize my freedom, here and there. I love the particles of sky that slip through the skylight—a meter of light where horses race. And I love my mother’s little things, the aroma of coffee in her dress when she opens the door of day to her flocks of hens. I love the fields between Autumn and Winter, the children of our prison guard, and the magazines displayed on a distant sidewalk. I also wrote twenty satiric poems about the place in which we have no place. My freedom is not to be what they want, but to enlarge my prison cell, and carry on my song of the door. A door is a door, yet I can walk out within me, and so on and so forth.
NEIGHING AT THE SLOPE
Horses’ neighing at the slope. Downward or upward.
I prepare my portrait for my woman to hang on a wall when I die.
She says: Is there a wall to hang it on?
I say: We’ll build a room for it. Where? In any house.
Horses’ neighing at the slope. Downward or upward.
Does a thirty-year-old woman need a homeland where she might make a life?
Can I reach the summit of this rugged mountain? The slope is either an abyss
or a place of siege.
Midway it divides. It’s a journey. Martyrs kill one another.
I prepare my portrait for my woman. When a new horse neighs in you, tear it up.
Horses’ neighing at the slope. Upward, or upward.
THEY WOULD LOVE TO SEE ME DEAD
They would love to see me dead, so they say: He belongs to us, he is ours.
For twenty years I have heard their footsteps on the walls of the night.
They open no door, yet here they are now. I see three of them:
A poet, a killer, and a reader of books.
Will you have some wine? I asked.
Yes, they answered.
When do you plan to shoot me? I asked.
Take it easy, they answered.
They lined up their glasses all in a row and started singing for the people.
I asked: When will you begin my assassination?
Already done, they said … Why did you send your shoes on ahead to your soul?
So it can wander the face of the earth, I said.
The earth is wickedly dark, so why is your poem so white?
Because my heart is teeming with thirty seas, I answered.
They asked: Why do you love French wine?
Because I ought to love the most beautiful women, I answered.
They asked: How would you like your death?
Blue, like stars pouring from a window—would you like more wine?
Yes, we’ll drink, they said.
Please take your time. I want you to kill me slowly so I can write my last
poem to my heart’s wife. They laughed, and took from me
only the words dedicated to my heart’s wife.