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Remembering Mahmoud Darwish: Poetry of Absent Presence

Friday 11-08-2017 - 04:58 PM
Remembering Mahmoud Darwish: "Exile Is So Strong Within Me, I May Bring It To the Land"
Al-Bawaba
Cairo - Mahmoud Darwish—“national poet of Palestine,” “voice of the Palestinian people,” cultural icon for millions of Arabs—died nine years ago this summer, on 9 August 2008, at the age of 67 following heart surgery.

A political as well as a cultural figure, Darwish was among the principal drafters of the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence. His poetry, especially during the first period of his career, memorializes the Palestinian experience from 1948 onward, not only the broad sweep of it, but also specific events such as Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the Tal Za’tar and Sabra and Shatila massacres, the first intifada, and so on. 

All Darwish’s poetry embodies at multiple levels the themes of identity and exile, reflecting not only his personal itinerary (which took him from Galilee to Moscow, Cairo, Beirut, Tunis, Paris, Amman, and Ramallah) but also—and especially—a state of mind.


Mahmoud Darwish was one of the greatest Arab poets as he wrote for love, revolution, home and resistance against the occupier. August 9 marks the 7th anniversary of the death of Darwish (2008)

Darwish was born on March 13, 1941 in Palestinian Galilee’s Birwa village where his family owned a land there. The Israeli army raided Birwa village in June, 1948, forcing Darwish’s family to flee to Lebanon with a number of refugees. After one year, Darwish and his family returned to Palestine after the signing of several settlement agreements.

After Darwish completed his secondary education, he joined the Israeli Communist Party and worked in its journalism section.


I am not myself if I came but did not arrive... I am not myself If I uttered but didn't speak...

I am the one who mysterious letters say:

Write to be.... Read to know


Darwish was detained several times by the Israeli authorities on charges related to his views and political activity, especially when he traveled to the Soviet Union for studying. After that he moved as a refugee to Cairo before joining the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

After joining PLO, Darwish travelled to Lebanon where he worked in the organization’s publishing institutions, but he resigned from its Executive Committee to express his rejection to the Oslo agreement.

Despite Darwish’s great achievements in his career, his personal life did not succeed. Darwish married twice and divorced as he married the Syrian writer Rana Kabbani, who left him due to her desire to get the PhD certificate and then he married the Egyptian translator Hayat Heeni but they quickly separated without giving any reasons.

I do not long for anything.... Yesterday is not passing,

tomorrow is not coming and my present is not proceeding...

Nothing is happening to me... I wish I am a stone.... !!


In 1995, the French writer and journalist Laure Adler asked Darwish in a televised interview about Rita, which he wrote about her «Rita and the Rifle» poem. Darwish admitted that when he was 16 years old he fell in love with a Jewish girl, adding that he met her for the first time after the completion of her dance show during a ceremony at the Israeli Communist Party.

Darwish pointed out that it was a great love story that was ended due to June 1967 war, saying that he left her because he cannot imagine that his love joined the Israeli army to kill Palestinian people in Nablus and Al Quds.

Documentary film entitled “Write Down, I Am an Arab” revealed that Tamar Ben-Ami is the Jewish girl Darwish loved, confirming that Tamar joined the Israeli Navy forces and claiming that Darwish wanted to continue with her but she refused.

If only we loved less so we will not suffer greater pain....!!!

Most of Palestinians consider Darwish as a symbol of their case, since the Palestinian pain was obvious in his poets. He used his poems to translate the struggle of his people under the Israeli occupation into words, in order to deliver pain to the whole world, since he published over thirty volumes of poetry and eight books of prose, revealing that what he publishes is only two thirds of what he writes, and the other third is for “extermination.”

Not only revolution, but Darwish was the best to express the feelings of a woman in his poems, such as “I don’t sleep to dream, I sleep to forget you,” and “Wait for her” and other poems, which made him the most prominent poet among all the poets of Palestine. 

"Nothing is harder on the soul, than the smell of dreams, while they're evaporating."


Despite the hostile between Jews and Palestinians, Darwish rejected accusing him of anti-Semitism, saying: "The accusation is that I hate Jews, it's not comfortable that they show me as a devil and an enemy of Israel. I am not a lover of Israel, of course. I have no reason to be. But I don't hate Jews." He was a fluent Hebrew speaker, according to the Israeli author Haim Gouri, and four volumes of his poetry were translated into Hebrew. Besides, he admired the Hebrew poet “Yehuda Amichai.” In March 2000, Israeli Education Minister, Yossi Sarid proposed to include two of Darwish's poems in the Israeli high school curriculum, but Prime Minister Ehud Barak rejected the proposal, claiming that Israel was "not ready.”


The most prominent poems of Darwish are “In the presence of absence,” “Memory for Forgetfulness,” “Lover from Palestine,” State of siege,” and “To my mother.” Most of them were lyrics for several epic songs by famous Arab singers, such as Marcel Khalifa, Majida El Roumi, Reem Kelani and Tania Saleh.

"We suffer from an incurable disease called hope"


Although Darwish received many international prizes for his poems, he considered the Palestinian recognition of his history is the best honoring he would ever receive. Two months ahead of his death, Darwish was honored by the Palestinian Authority by giving his name to one of the most famous squares of Ramallah.


In August 9, 2008, Darwish passed away in Texas, following a heart surgery, leaving the Palestinians and all the Arabs a great heritage about displaced people and a poet resisted occupation by words. 

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