Remembering Mahmoud Darwish

It is difficult to overstate the legacy of Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s iconic poet, whose passing on 9 August 2008 has left behind a literary treasure. His was a voice that touched every Palestinian, and with it, Darwish delivered the Palestinian experience to a global audience. His poems have been translated into more than 20 languages, and continue to ring true for many Palestinians who long to return home. Indeed, exile was the central thread of Darwish’s poetic journey. And, while exile is often regarded as a political reality, Darwish’s experience reveals a far broader concept. As he said in a 1996 landmark interview featured in this month’s Special Focus below, “Exile is a very broad concept and very relative. There is exile in society, exile in family, exile in love, exile within yourself.” It began with an exile from his natal village in the Galilee, where Darwish lived under military rule along with 150,000 other Palestinians after Israel’s establishment in 1948. Then, came Moscow, Paris, Cairo, Tunis, Beirut, Amman, and finally Ramallah, where he was buried. This fragmented living resonated with a broader Palestinian experience of displacement and dispersion.

Yet, for all his collective significance, Darwish was often reserved and his poetry was born from very personal experiences. For instance, he grew up convinced he was unloved by his family, especially his mother. But, when he was jailed in Israeli prison in 1956, he wrote “I Long For My Mother’s Bread,” which has become a Palestinian classic in the voice of Marcel Khalife. “I wanted to atone for my feelings of guilt toward my mother for thinking she hated me—as a poem of national longing. I didn’t expect that millions would sing it,” Darwish said. Indeed, for countless Palestinians estranged from place and family, this particular poem was embraced as a national resistance poem, where the mother symbolizes Palestine.

It was for his poetic mastery, which often inspired transforming the personal into the collective, that Darwish earned his title as Palestine’s national poet, though not without a cost. For him, this distinction was a burden that required an intimate understanding of the Palestinian cause, “to see how to develop its humanitarian meaning.” Indeed, like many of the great thinkers of his generation, Darwish never lost sight of his humanity and those around him—even those who inflicted the pain of exile on him and his people. And, while Palestine greatly influenced his poetry, as was the case with “Identity Card,” Darwish’s wide resonance is grounded not only in his humanist perspective, but also internationalist ideas that challenged borders and nationalism—certainly so in the post-Oslo period.

Exile, longing, identity, and humanity are the themes that are discussed at length in eight Journal of Palestine Studies articles* as part of this month’s Special Focus, including three translations of commentary by Darwish himself, as well as his statement on the 11 September tragedy. In one of them, dated May 24, 1974, Darwish recounts an experience at Brussels airport that is eerily familiar to the situation many Palestinians and their supporters face today at Tel Aviv airport when they seek to visit the holy land.

*The articles will be available at no charge for the duration of this month, August 2017. You can purchase a subscription for the Journal of Palestine Studies here.

Anti-Arab Prejudice in Europe
Mahmoud Darwish
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 3 No. 4 (Summer 1974), pp. 166-167.

The Madness of Being a Palestinian
Mahmoud Darwish
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 15 No. 1 (Autumn 1985), pp. 138-141.

The Cruelest of Months
Mahmoud Darwish
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 17 No. 1 (Autumn 1987), pp. 175-177.

Statement on the 11 September Tragedy
Mahmoud Darwish
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 31 No. 2 (Winter 2002), pp. 138-139.

Mahmoud Darwish’s Allegorical Critique of Oslo
Sinan Antoon
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 31 No. 2 (Winter 2002), pp. 66-77.

A Love Story Between an Arab Poet and His Land. An Interview With Mahmud Darwish
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 31 No. 3 (Spring 2002), pp. 67-78

Remembering Mahmoud Darwish (1941––2008)
Rashid Khalidi
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 38 No. 1 (Autumn 2008), pp. 74-77.

“Exile Is So Strong Within Me, I May Bring It to the Land” A Landmark 1996 Interview with Mahmoud Darwish
Helit Yeshurun
Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 42 No. 1 (Autumn 2012), pp. 46-70.

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