I wonder how many know of Mahmoud Darwish? He was not a poet I was familiar with until his recent death hit the news. Of course there are perhaps as many poets who escape my knowledge as there are grains of sand, but few with the lyrical power of words that seem to be embodied in his work.
He is not without controversy, which the circumstances of his life perhaps contribute more to than the tone of his poetry. At least that which I have seen.
A Palestinian born in what is today Israel was a factor that was destined to have enormous influence upon his life and ultimately how he would be viewed by others.
He was taught by his grandfather to read and write, his mother being illiterate. It was as early as age seven that he began writing poetry and the lessons of a lifetime of loss swell in his work.
In an editorial by written by As'ad AbuKhalil this month, Darwish is described as "...comfortable in Hebrew and had relations in Israeli society. But as an Arab Palestinian in a state based upon religious supremacy and privileges, he could only stand at a distance: he could only stay in the inferior status still reserved for Arab citizens of the state."
Darwish became regarded as the Palestinian national poet. His writing revered by the Palestinian people. Christina Patterson writing for the Independent writes that poetry is regarded as a pastime for the lost and lonely people of Palestine.
Between 1961 and 1967, Darwish was reportedly jailed by Israelis five times. There were many times he was under house arrest. The obstacles encountered seemed only to increase his writing output. People familiar with his work say he was far more interested in growing his literary abilities than pleasing the many Palestinian readers who became critical when he traveled to the Soviet Union or elsewhere to study and write. If they felt an abandonment, he never saw it that way.
Mahmoud Darwish died in Houston, Texas on August 9, 2008 three days following heart surgery. With this post, I hope to better familiarize many Americans who enjoy and appreciate a bit of a glimpse at who he was and his work. I believe, at least that which I have seen, is extraordinary.
I found this statement by the poet Naomi Shihab Nye on Poets.org about him. "Mahmoud Darwish is the Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging, exquisitely tuned singer of images that invoke, link, and shine a brilliant light into the world's whole heart. What he speaks has been embraced by readers around the world—his in an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered."
Here are some resources to lean more about Darwish's work:
"I will continue to humanize even the enemy... The first teacher who taught me Hebrew was a Jew. The first love affair in my life was with a Jewish girl. The first judge who sent me to prison was a Jewish woman. So from the beginning, I didn't see Jews as devils or angels but as human beings." Several poems are to Jewish lovers. "These poems take the side of love not war,"
"I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe, but now I think that poetry changes only the poet."
"We should not justify suicide bombers. We are against the suicide bombers, but we must understand what drives these young people to such actions. They want to liberate themselves from such a dark life. It is not ideological, it is despair."
"Why are we always told that we cannot solve our problem without solving the existential anxiety of the Israelis and their supporters who have ignored our very existence for decades in our own homeland?"
*source of quotes: Wikipedia