Oh Father, he was Mahmoud Darwish

It’s probably true that you need to understand the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to really appreciate the poignant and intense economy with which Mahmoud Darwish described how Palestinians see the situation.

But, he was great. And now, Mahmoud Darwish is reported to have died this evening at the age of 67, during or following heart surgery in the USA.

UPDATE: There are some reports that he is not dead, but in very critical condition.

FURTHER UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post is now reporting here that Nabil Abu Rudeineh, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, is now confirming Mahmoud Darwish’s death.

Ma’an News Agency is reporting that the surgery was on Wednesday, in Texas, and complications arose on Saturday.

This is the top news story here. Never mind the Olympics, or John Edward’s affair….

In one of his poems, Promises of the Storm, he wrote: “I can assure you that I will refuse death”.

Today, it was too soon. Why? Why? We are filled with grief…

(Even if he did have two previous heart operations) Was this surgery optional? Could he have foregone it, and lived another ten years? When he appeared in Ramallah recently (See this post here ) to recite his newest work, he seemed fine, vital, strong.

UPDATE: Haaretz reported on Monday 11 August that his mother had urged Mahmoud Darwish not to have this surgery: “Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who died on Saturday after heart surgery in Texas, came to see his mother before the operation. ‘He told me it was a dangerous procedure and I told him he shouldn’t have it’, she told Haaretz yesterday in her home in the village of Jadeida in the Western Galilee. ‘I told him we should put our faith in Allah’, the 85-year-old woman continued. He decided to have the operation anyway, and now I’ve lost my Mahmoud’. Despite being bed-ridden, her anguish at her loss shows she is acutely aware of what happened…” This report can be read in Haaretz in full here .

He received standing ovations when he entered Ramallah’s “Cultural Palace”, and when he started to speak. Then, the audience seemed to withdraw. As I wrote at the time, it seemed as if his latest work was not as appreciated by the Ramallah audience as his earlier work. One of the works he recited in Ramallah was about a Palestinian and an Israeli who had each fallen, separately, into a deep hole in the ground. They could not talk honestly to each other about their fears in that position. And, they were waiting for someone from the outside to come and rescue them…

For many reasons, one of my favorites was his version of the Biblical story of Yousef:

Oh my father, I am Yusuf
Oh father, my brothers neither love me nor want me in their midst
They assault me and cast stones and words at me
They want me to die so they can eulogize me
They closed the door of your house and left me outside
They expelled me from the field
Oh my father, they poisoned my grapes
They destroyed my toys
When the gentle wind played with my hair, they were jealous
They flamed up with rage against me and you
What did I deprive them of, Oh my father?
The butterflies stopped on my shoulder
The bird hovered over my hand
What have I done, Oh my father?
Why me?
You named me Yusuf and they threw me into the well
They accused the wolf
The wolf is more merciful than my brothers
Oh, my father
Did I wrong anyone when I said that
I saw eleven stars and the sun and the moon
Saw them kneeling before me?

Marcel Khalife, the Lebanese singer, has put a number of Mahmoud Darwish’s poems to music, including his Yousef poem The song can be found on the Marcel Khalife website here .

Or, you can click on the link here to listen:
Mahmoud Darwish’s Yusuf set to music and sung by Marcel Khalife .

I saw Mahmoud Darwish over more than two decades in Beirut, in Damascus, in Washington, in New York, in London, in Paris, in Geneva — and last month in Ramallah. He was part of my life, and part of the lives of every Palestinian in Jerusalem and Ramallah and everywhere. And now, he is gone, and the world is simply not the same.

See my post on Palestine-Mandate for more, here .

6 thoughts on “Oh Father, he was Mahmoud Darwish”

  1. Unfortunately, he died.

    The AP has a wrap story in which this quote appears: “Ali Qleibo, a Palestinian anthropologist and lecturer in cultural studies at Al Quds University in Jerusalem … described Darwish’s poetry as ‘the easy impossible,’ for Darwish’s ability to condense the Palestinian narrative into simple, evocative language — breaking away from the more traditional heavy, emotive and rhythmic verse of other Arab poets”.

    And, Angry Arab posted this on Sunday:
    “I should write something about Mahmud Darwish. I have translated quite a few of his poems here. I like his oldest Diwan very much and have read it repeatedly over the years. My taste in Arabic poetry is rather old-fashioned: I like the classical ones, and I like the modern Iraqi poets, but have always appreciated Darwish. I was perhaps avoiding writing about Darwish because there is so much emotions involved. His death is a big deal in the Arab world: a Mauritanian poet was talking to AlJazeera about the sadness in Mauritania. His death in the Arab context is comparable to the death of say, Pushkin for Russian, or like the death of Victor Hugo in France when people roamed the streets yelling that Victor Hugo has died. At the personal level (as I knew a lot about him), I did not like him. At the political level, I did not like him at all. But at the literary level: he is peerless … My friend Sinan was telling me that so many of the Arab eulogies were annoying, and I could not agree more. Saudi media hated him, and to his credit, and despite all my political disagreements with him (not that he knew about them or cared), he really never liked the Gulf regimes and did not visit there to my knowledge. He had that visit to Iraq, and Al-Watan Al-`Arabi reported at the time that he called Saddam “the knight of Arabism” but other people who knew him well said that it was not true, and that he was not pleased with the visit. But his relation with Arafat was very problematic. He could not break with Arafat at all, and wanted to have it both ways: to pretend that he was some independent Palestinian intellectual while maintaining that poisonous relations with that awful figure of Palestinian national politics. There is so much that can be said about his literary genius, but for me his major accomplishment were: 1) that he was able to extricate himself artistically from the adulation of the masses: he once said in the early 1970s in a major reading in Beirut–according to a witness who told me–something to the effect: please spare me that love; 2) that he was courageous in expressing himself poetically without regard to mass taste. No matter how much we wanted him to go back to the early years of direct political poetry, he continued ot develop his own style as if living in his own world. That is his greatest fete [sic – it should be spelled feat] as a poet…[And] his prose is not much appreciated. If he was being interviewed, I used to be mesmerized. Nobody I know uses Arabic prose or write it as he did. It was incredible. I have many favorites in Darwish’s poetry, but his poem after the fall of Tal Az-Za`tar is one of my favorites (Ahmad Az-Za`tar–I translated most of it before here)”.

    In a separate, later, posting on Sunday, Angry Arab wrote: “You need to read this account of Mahmud Darwish by his friend `Abdul-Bari `Atwan: 1) he describes his fury at the U.S. as his visa to the U.S. was delayed for four months despite the intervention of U.S. puppet, Abu Mazen; 2) he describes how he reached poverty after Oslo, when `Arafat punished him for his opposition to Oslo by cutting off his funding. PS Notice that U.S. media accounts of Darwish ignored: 1) that he was an early communist; 2) that he was put under house arrest by the Israeli occupation government for his…POETRY”.

    And in another, later, posting on Sunday, Angry Arab added this translation of one of Mahmoud Darwish’s poems:
    “Our Country is a Graveyard by Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish (my translation):
    ‘Gentlemen, you have transformed
    our country into a graveyard
    You have planted bullets in our heads,
    and organized massacres
    Gentlemen, nothing passes like that
    without account
    All what you have done
    to our people is
    registered in notebooks’ …”

    And, here, from Saturday 4 December 2004, is Angry Arab’s translation of his favorite Mahmoud Darwish poem:
    From Ahmad Az-Za`tar by Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish (my translation):
    “I am the Arab Ahmad–he said
    I am the bullets the oranges
    the memories
    I found myself near myself
    So I went away from the dew
    and the maritime scene
    Tal Az-Za`tar the tent
    I am the country, when it came
    And it reincarnated me
    I am the constant travel
    to the country
    I found myself
    enveloping myself…
    Ahmad went to meet
    with his hands and ribs
    He was the step and the star
    from the ocean to the Gulf,
    from the Gulf, to the ocean
    They were preparing the spears
    Ahmad the Arab was ascending
    to see Haifa
    and jump.
    Ahmad is now the hostage
    The city left its streets
    and came to him
    to kill him
    and from the Gulf to the ocean,
    and from the ocean to the Gulf,
    they were preparing the funeral
    and the selection of the guillotine
    I am the Arab Ahmad–
    let the siege come
    my body is the gate–
    let the siege come
    I am the boundaries of fire–
    let the siege come
    I besiege you
    besiege you
    My chest is the door
    for all the people–
    let the siege come
    My song did not come
    to draw Ahmad the blue
    in the trench
    Memories are behind my back,
    and he is the day of the sun
    and carnation
    Oh, ye boy who is between
    two windows
    Do not exchange my letters
    Resemblance is for the sand…
    and you are for the blue… ”

  2. I found my way here via Global Voices, and wanted to thank you for posting his poem in the voice of Yusuf. I hadn’t read that one before, and it’s gorgeous.

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