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Biographical Data :

Name :Mahmoud Darwish
Period :1941 - 2008
Biographical detail : 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?!

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


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.”

 (Compiler : M. Nauman Khan)

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