Mahmoud Darwish



Palestinian poet who gave stateless a voice 'Mahmoud was at the centre of Arab culture in the 20th century because he was a poet, and a Palestinian Poetry lies at the centre of all Arab arts, and Palestine at the centre of Arab collective consciousness. A poem about Palestine is therefore a poem to all Arabs.' Palestinian odyssey was reflected in the stark writings of the Arab world's best-selling poet Mahmoud Darwish who published more than 20 collections of poetry. The volumes of verses had sold well over a million copies by the mid-1980s. 'Among the Palestinians this passion for poetry is heightened, because their collective identity is negated by their enemies and the rulers of the world. Poetry becomes a means of collective self-expression and hence of collective self-assertion.' In a culture where poetry remains the ultimate expression, Mahmoud towered above his peers. His poems are engraved in the hearts of millions of Palestinians and his call, including one set to music - 'I yearn for my mother's bread and my mother's coffee' - have been buzzing around amongst anti-occupation demonstrators in the streets of Arab world. His first published collection of poetry was Asafir bila ajniha ('Wingless Birds - 1960) and one of the best known poems is 'Identity Card' with its defiant opening lines: 'Record! I am an Arab/And my identity card is number fifty thousand'.

click below for a reading of his poem Write down! I am an Arab And my identity card number is fifty thousand I have eight children And the ninth will come after a summer Will you be angry? Write down! 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? Write down! I am an Arab I have a name without a title Patient in a country Where people are enraged My roots 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! Write down! 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?! Therefore! Write down on the top of the first page: I do not hate people Nor do I encroach But if I become hungry The usurper's flesh will be my food Beware.. Beware.. Of my hunger And my anger! Jailed five times between 1961 and 1967 by Israeli for alleged reciting 'inciting poems' Mahmoud left for Cairo in early 1970s, joined the ranks of the PLO and became close to Yasser Arafat. Mahmoud gave voice of Palestinians' dream of statehood. He wrote the declaration of independence of 1988 read out by Arafat when he proclaimed the state of Palestine. 'The knight of Palestine', Mahmoud Darwish penned the famous words Yasser Arafat spoke at the United Nations in 1974: 'Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.' The Oslo peace accords agreed by Arafat and the Israeli government in 1993 led to a rupture of Mahmoud's relation with the PLO, and caused the poet to resign from the group's executive committee. Mahmoud was deeply opposed to the agreement, arguing that it did not offer Palestinian a clear path towards statehood and did not commit Israel firmly enough to ending the occupation. His pessimism was proven right. He was translated into more than 22 languages and won several literary prizes including the Lotus Prize (1969), the Lenin Prize (1983) and the Lannan Foundation Prize (2001). Mahmoud Darwish was born in al-Birweh, a village in the Acre region, which became part of the new state of Israel in 1948. Twice undergone surgery for heart problems he died of it in Houston, Texas. Flags were lowered to half-mast at West Bank government buildings ushering in three days of national mourning for the poet who helped forge Palestinian national identity. His great poem for Muhammad al-Durrah, the Palestinian boy shot by the Israeli army as he sheltered his father, struck a chord across the world. He declared: 'We love life - if we can have it.' In his 1986 poem Fewer Roses Mahmoud Darwish wrote: 'We travel like everyone else, but we return to nothing ….Ours is a country of words: Talk, Talk. Let me see an end to this journey.'

Compiled by:M. Nauman Khan

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