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Poems by Mahmoud Darwish
Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

Poems by Mahmoud Darwish


Mahmoud Darwish is considered to be the most important contemporary Arab poet working today. He was born in 1942 in the village of Barweh in the Galilee, which was razed to the ground by the Israelis in 1948. As a result of his political activism he faced house arrest and imprisonment. Darwish was the editor of Ittihad Newspaper before leaving in 1971 to study for a year in the USSR. Then he went to Egypt where he worked in Cairo for Al-Ahram Newspaper and in Beirut, Lebanon as an editor of the Journal “Palestinian Issues”. He was also the director of the Palestinian Research Center. Darwish was a member of the Executive Committee of the PLO and lived in exile between Beirut and Paris until his return in 1996 to Palestine. His poems are known throughout the Arab world, and several of them have been put to music. His poetry has gained great sophistication over the years, and has enjoyed international fame for a long time. He has published around 30 poetry and prose collections, which have been translated into 35 languages. He is the editor in chief and founder of the prestigious literary review Al Karmel, which has resumed publication in January 1997 out of the Sakakini Centre offices. He published in 1998 the poetry collection: Sareer el Ghariba (Bed of the Stranger), his first collection of love poems. In 2000 he published Jidariyya (Mural) a book consisting of one poem about his near death experience in 1997. He published his book of poetry "Stage of Siege" in 2002. In 1997 a documentary was produced about him by French TV directed by noted French-Israeli director Simone Bitton. He is a commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters. Mahmound Darwish is an honorary member of the Sakakini Centre.

Mural

This is your name --
a woman said,
and vanished through the winding corridor
There I see heaven within reach.
The wing of a white dove carries me
towards another childhood. And I never dreamt
that I was dreaming. Everything is real.
I knew I was casting myself aside . . .
and flew. I shall become what I will
in the final sphere. And everything
is white . The sea suspended
upon a roof of white clouds. Nothingness is white
in the white heaven of the absolute.
I was and was not. In this eternity's white regions,
I'm alone. I came before I was due;
no angel appeared to tell me:
"What did you do back there, in the world?"
I didn't hear the pious call out,
nor the sinners moan for I'm alone
in the whiteness. I'm alone.
Nothing hurts at the door of doom.
Neither time nor emotion. I don't feel
the lightness of things, or the weight
of apprehensions. I couldn't find
anyone to ask: Where is my where now?
Where is the city of the dead,
and where am I? Here
in this no-here, in this no-time,
there's no being, nor nothingness.
As if I had died once before,
I know this epiphany, and know
I'm on my way towards what I don't know.
Perhaps I'm still alive somewhere else,
and know what I want.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a thought,
taken to the wasteland
neither by the sword or the book
as if it were rain falling on a mountain
split by a burgeoning blade of grass,
where neither might will triumph,
nor justice the fugitive.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a bird,
and wrest my being from my non-being.
The longer my wings will burn,
the closer I am to the truth, risen from the ashes.
I am the dialogue of dreamers; I've shunned my body and self
to finish my first journey towards meaning,
which burnt me, and disappeared.
I'm absence. I'm the heavenly renegade.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a poet,
water obedient to my insight. My language a metaphor
for metaphor, so I will neither declaim nor point to a place;
place is my sin and subterfuge.
I'm from there. My here leaps
from my footsteps to my imagination . . .
I am he who I was or will be,
made and struck down
by the endless, expansive space.
One day I shall become what I want.
One day I shall become a vine;
let summer distil me even now,
and let the passers-by drink my wine,
illuminated by the chandeliers of this sugary place!
I am the message and the messenger,
I am the little addresses and the mail.
One day I shall become what I want.
This is your name --
a woman said,
and vanished in the corridor of her whiteness.
This is your name; memorise it well!
Do not argue about any of its letters,
ignore the tribal flags,
befriend your horizontal name,
experience it with the living
and the dead, and strive
to have it correctly spelt
in the company of strangers and carve it
into a rock inside a cave:
O my name, you will grow
as I grow, you will carry me
as I will carry you;
a stranger is brother to a stranger;
we shall take the female with a vowel
devoted to flutes.
O my name: where are we now?

Tell me: What is now? What is tomorrow? What's time, what's place, what's old, what's new?
One day we shall become what we want.

Translated by Sargon Boulus from the author's collection 'Judariya'['Mural'],Riad El-Rayyes Books, Beirut, 2000.
Reprinted from Banipal No 15/16

Without exile, who am I?

Stranger on the bank, like the river . . . tied up to your
name by water. Nothing will bring me back from my free
distance to my palm tree: not peace, nor war. Nothing
will inscribe me in the Book of Testaments. Nothing,
nothing glints off the shore of ebb and flow, between
the Tigris and the Nile. Nothing
gets me off the chariots of Pharaoh. Nothing
carries me for a while, or makes me carry an idea: not
promises, nor nostalgia. What am I to do, then? What
am I to do without exile, without a long night
staring at the water?
Tied up
to your name
by water . . .
Nothing takes me away from the butterfly of my dreams
back into my present: not earth, nor fire. What
am I to do, then, without the roses of Samarkand? What
am I to do in a square that burnishes the chanters with
moon-shaped stones? Lighter we both have
become, like our homes in the distant winds. We have
both become friends with the clouds'
strange creatures; outside the reach of the gravity
of the Land of Identity. What are we to do, then . . . What
are we to do without exile, without a long night
staring at the water?
Tied up
to your name
by water . . .
Nothing's left of me except for you; nothing's left of you
except for me -- a stranger caressing his lover's thigh: O
my stranger! What are we to do with what's left for us
of the stillness, of the siesta that separates legend from legend?
Nothing will carry us: not the road, nor home.
Was this road the same from the start,
or did our dreams find a mare among the horses
of the Mongols on the hill, and trade us off?
And what are we to do, then?
What
are we to do
without
exile?

Translated by Anton Shammas from 'The Bed of the Stranger', Riad El-Rayyes Books, Beirut, 1999.
Reprinted from Banipal No 4.

Passport

They did not recognize me in the shadows
That suck away my color in this Passport
And to them my wound was an exhibit
For a tourist Who loves to collect photographs
They did not recognize me,
Ah . . . Don’t leave
The palm of my hand without the sun
Because the trees recognize me
Don’t leave me pale like the moon!

All the birds that followed my palm
To the door of the distant airport
All the wheatfields
All the prisons

All the white tombstones All the barbed Boundaries
All the waving handkerchiefs
All the eyes
were with me,
But they dropped them from my passport

Stripped of my name and identity?
On soil I nourished with my own hands?
Today Job cried out
Filling the sky:
Don’t make and example of me again!
Oh, gentlemen, Prophets,
Don’t ask the trees for their names
Don’t ask the valleys who their mother is
>From my forehead bursts the sward of light
And from my hand springs the water of the river
All the hearts of the people are my identity
So take away my passport!

I Come From

I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends,
And a prison cell with a cold window.
Mine is the wave, snatched by sea-gulls,
I have my own view,
And an extra blade of grass.
Mine is the moon at the far edge of the words,
And the bounty of birds,
And the immortal olive tree.
I walked this land before the swords
Turned its living body into a laden table.

I come from there. I render the sky unto her mother
When the sky weeps for her mother.
And I weep to make myself known
To a returning cloud.
I learnt all the words worthy of the court of blood
So that I could break the rule.
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland.....

I Am There

I come from there and remember,
I was born like everyone is born, I have a mother
and a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends and a prison.
I have a wave that sea-gulls snatched away.
I have a view of my own and an extra blade of grass.
I have a moon past the peak of words.
I have the godsent food of birds and an olive tree beyond the kent of time.
I have traversed the land before swords turned bodies into banquets.
I come from there, I return the sky to its mother when for its mother the sky cries, and I weep for a returning cloud to know me.
I have learned the words of blood-stained courts in order to break the rules.
I have learned and dismantled all the words to construct a single one:
Home

A Lover from Palestine

Her eyes are Palestinian
Her name is Palestinian
Her dress and sorrow Palestinian
Her kerchief, her feet and body Palestinian
Her words and silence Palestinian
Her voice Palestinian
Her birth and her death Palestinian

Under Siege

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.

***

A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent
For we closely watch the hour of victory:
No night in our night lit up by the shelling
Our enemies are watchful and light the light for us
In the darkness of cellars.

***

Here there is no "I".
Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay.

***

On the verge of death, he says:
I have no trace left to lose:
Free I am so close to my liberty. My future lies in my own hand.
Soon I shall penetrate my life,
I shall be born free and parentless,
And as my name I shall choose azure letters...

***

You who stand in the doorway, come in,
Drink Arabic coffee with us
And you will sense that you are men like us
You who stand in the doorways of houses
Come out of our morningtimes,
We shall feel reassured to be
Men like you!

***

When the planes disappear, the white, white doves
Fly off and wash the cheeks of heaven
With unbound wings taking radiance back again, taking possession
Of the ether and of play. Higher, higher still, the white, white doves
Fly off. Ah, if only the sky
Were real [a man passing between two bombs said to me].

***

Cypresses behind the soldiers, minarets protecting
The sky from collapse. Behind the hedge of steel
Soldiers piss—under the watchful eye of a tank—
And the autumnal day ends its golden wandering in
A street as wide as a church after Sunday mass...

***

[To a killer] If you had contemplated the victim’s face
And thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
Gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
And you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.

***

The siege is a waiting period
Waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm.

***

Alone, we are alone as far down as the sediment
Were it not for the visits of the rainbows.

***

We have brothers behind this expanse.
Excellent brothers. They love us. They watch us and weep.
Then, in secret, they tell each other:
"Ah! if this siege had been declared..." They do not finish their sentence:
"Don’t abandon us, don’t leave us."

***

Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees...
Added to this the structural flaw that
Will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas.

***

A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved
For my clothing is drenched with his blood.

***

If you are not rain, my love Be tree Sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
Be stone
Saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
Be moon
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon
[So spoke a woman
to her son at his funeral]

***

Oh watchmen! Are you not weary
Of lying in wait for the light in our salt
And of the incandescence of the rose in our wound
Are you not weary, oh watchmen?

***


A little of this absolute and blue infinity Would be enough
To lighten the burden of these times
And to cleanse the mire of this place.

***

It is up to the soul to come down from its mount
And on its silken feet walk
By my side, hand in hand, like two longtime
Friends who share the ancient bread
And the antique glass of wine
May we walk this road together
And then our days will take different directions:
I, beyond nature, which in turn
Will choose to squat on a high-up rock.

***

On my rubble the shadow grows green,
And the wolf is dozing on the skin of my goat
He dreams as I do, as the angel does
That life is here...not over there.

***

In the state of siege, time becomes space
Transfixed in its eternity
In the state of siege, space becomes time
That has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow.

***

The martyr encircles me every time I live a new day
And questions me: Where were you? Take every word
You have given me back to the dictionaries
And relieve the sleepers from the echo’s buzz.

***

The martyr enlightens me: beyond the expanse
I did not look
For the virgins of immortality for I love life
On earth, amid fig trees and pines,
But I cannot reach it, and then, too, I took aim at it
With my last possession: the blood in the body of azure.

***

The martyr warned me: Do not believe their ululations
Believe my father when, weeping, he looks at my photograph
How did we trade roles, my son, how did you precede me.
I first, I the first one!

***

The martyr encircles me: my place and my crude furniture are all that I have changed.
I put a gazelle on my bed,
And a crescent of moon on my finger
To appease my sorrow.

***

The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!

***

Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health,
The health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease:
The disease of hope.

***

And in what remains of the dawn, I walk toward my exterior
And in what remains of the night, I hear the sound of footsteps inside me.

***

Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to
The drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the
Blackness of this tunnel!

***

Greetings to the one who shares my glass with me
In the denseness of a night outflanking the two spaces:
Greetings to my apparition.

***

My friends are always preparing a farewell feast for me,
A soothing grave in the shade of oak trees
A marble epitaph of time
And always I anticipate them at the funeral:
Who then has died...who?

***

Writing is a puppy biting nothingness
Writing wounds without a trace of blood.

***

Our cups of coffee. Birds green trees
In the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall
To another like a gazelle
The water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us
Of the sky. And other things of suspended memories

Reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid,
And that we are the guests of eternity.

Translated by Marjolijn De Jager

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