Thursday, August 14, 2008

Remembering Mahmoud Darwish

“’Me or him’

that’s how war starts. But

it ends in an awkward stance:

‘Me and him’”

--from A State of Seige, translated by Fady Joudah, 2002

On Saturday, this past week, the world lost one of its great poets when Mamoud Darwish passed away due to complications following heart surgery in Houston, Texas.

The loss has an extra sting for us here at Split This Rock in that the evening before he died we were joyfully discussing the possibilities for poets to invite to our 2010 Festival and all agreed the first person on our list would be Mahmoud Darwish, and we also agreed that it as central to our mission to include international voices on our stage.

Darwish embodied so much of what it is we admire—a necessary poet, as well as essayist, who put to words—resistance to occupation, the desire of Palestinian people to live as equals in their own country. All the while, Darwish wrote with an attention to craft and a poet’s sensibilities, writing prolifically in a wide range of styles, inventive throughout his life.

Here are some links to obituaries and editorials that have been shared with us:

There's also a great video on youtube from AlJazeera. The video is at

Darwish is loved throughout the world, only recently coming to the attention of American readers with several excellent translations of his work in the past ten years or so, including most recently, “The Buttrerfly’s Burden,” which includes his recent three books, translated by Palestinian American poet and Yale Younger Prize winner, Fady Joudah.

I first encountered Darwish in an anthology called “This Same Sky” a collection of poems selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. The poem that knocked me out is called “The Prison Cell."
I read it whenever I begin to doubt that poetry can make a difference. Thank you Mahmoud Darwish for this gift and many more!

The Prison Cell

It is possible…

It is possible at least sometimes…

It is possible especially now

To ride a horse

Inside a prison cell

And run away…

It is possible for prison walls

To disappear,

For the cell to become a distant land

Without frontiers:

-What did you do with the walls?

-I gave them back to the rocks.

-And what did you do with the ceiling?

-I turned it into a saddle.

-And your chain?

-I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.

He put an end to my dialogue.

He said he didn’t care for poetry,

And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me

In the morning,

He shouted at me:

-Where did all this water come from?

-I brought it from the Nile.

-And the trees?

-From the orchards of Damascus.

-And the music?

-From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad;

He put an end to my dialogue.

He said he didn’t like my poetry,

And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

-Where did this moon come from?

-From the nights of Baghdad.

-And the wine?

-From the vineyards of Algiers.

-And this freedom?

-From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…

He begged me to give him back

His freedom.

Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Ben Bennani

Please share a favorite poem or quote from Darwish or a comment about how this poet has had an impact on your life or work. We invite you to post below.


Anonymous said...

Rahima-hu Allah

We Were Missing the Present
by Mahmoud Darwish

Let’s go as we are:
a free woman
and a loyal friend,
let’s go together on two different paths
let’s go as we are united
and separate,
with nothing hurting us
not the divorce of doves or the coldness between the hands
and not the wind around the church . . .
What bloomed of almond trees wasn’t enough.
So smile for the almonds to blossom more
between the butterflies of two dimples

And soon there will be a new present for us.
If you look back you will see only
the exile of your looking back:
your bedroom,
the courtyard willow,
the river behind the glass buildings,
and the café of our trysts . . . all of it, all
preparing to become exile, so
let’s be kind!

Let’s go as we are:
a free woman
and a friend loyal to her flutes.
Our time wasn’t enough to grow old together
walk wearily to the cinema
witness the end of Athens’s war with her neighbors
and see the banquet of peace between Rome and Carthage
about to happen. Because soon
the birds will relocate from one epoch to another:
Was this path only dust
in the shape of meaning, and did it march us
as if we were a passing journey between two myths,
so the path is inevitable, and we are inevitable
as a stranger sees himself in the mirror of another stranger?
“No, this is not my path to my body”
“No cultural solutions for existential concerns”
“Wherever you are my sky
is real”
“Who am I to give you back the previous sun and moon”
Then let’s be kind . . .

Let’s go, as we are:
a free lover
and her poet.
What fell of December snow
wasn’t enough, so smile
for snow to card its cotton on the Christian’s prayer,
we will soon return to our tomorrow, behind us,
where we were young in love’s beginning,
playing Romeo and Juliet
and learning Shakespeare’s language . . .
The butterflies have fluttered out of sleep
as a mirage of a swift peace
that adorns us with two stars
and kills us in the struggle over the name
between two windows
so, let’s go
and let’s be kind

Let’s go, as we are:
a free woman
and a loyal friend,
let’s go as we are. We came
with the wind from Babylon
and we march to Babylon . . .
My travel wasn’t enough
for the pines to become in my trace
an utterance of praise to the southern place.
We are kind here. Northerly
is our wind, and our songs are southerly.
Am I another you
and you another I?
“This isn’t my path to my freedom’s land”
this isn’t my path to my body
and I won’t be “I” twice
since my yesterday’s taken my tomorrow’s place
and I have split into two women
so I am not of the east
and I am not of the west,
nor am I an olive tree shading two verses in the Quran
then, let’s go.
“No collective solutions for personal scruples”
it wasn’t enough that we be together
to be together . . .
we were missing a present to see
where we were. Let’s go as we are,
a free woman
and an old friend
let’s go on two separate paths
let’s go together,
and let’s be kind . . .

Unknown said...

If I were a dictatorship I would ban such poems,
poems that make us cry with an understanding that we should not have if we are to live such trivial lives of slavery and boredom. I would ban the words, so that the worlds of peace he speaks of should not be uttered. I would ban his very existence, so to spare us from the realization that a few words can tell us so much.
And show me the man or woman who does not cry when they read this poets words?
I am a fool; I had not known such a man of wisdom and of words existed. I am a fool to have not understood the power of his words in any language.
Peace may yet be, with such words leading us. Peace may yet come.
I would welcome that, those words teach me to welcome that.