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Encyclopedia Of The Palestinians: Biography of Mahmoud Darwish
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Posted on November 12, 2000

Darwish, Mahmud
Palestinian poet
1941- Birwa


Mahmoud Darwish

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During the ARAB-ISRAEL WAR OF 1948, Darwish's family fled the advancing Israeli army to Lebanon, where they lived as refugees for one year. When they infiltrated back into Israel, their village of Birwa, near Acre, no longer existed; it had been razed by the Israeli army, and a new Jewish settlement stood on its ruins. The family relocated to another Arab village, where Darwish grew up as an internal refugee. These traumatic childhood experiences of uprootedness and dislocation left an indelible mark on the poet's nascent consciousness. By way of formal education, Darwish attended only elementary and secondary Arab schools in Galilee. After graduation from secondary school, he moved to Haifa to work in journalism. In 1961 he joined the Israeli Communist Party and remained active in its ranks until his permanent departure from Israel in 1971. Since then he has moved from one to another of the following capitals: Cairo, Beirut, London, Paris, and Tunis. In the late 1990s, he shuttles back and forth between Amman and Ramallah. He has been active in Palestinian national politics and has occupied several important positions in the cultural apparatus of the PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION (PLO), including chief editor of the Palestinian literary and cultural periodical al-Karmil, formerly published in Nicosia, late in Ramallah. In 1969 Darwish was awarded the Lotus Prize by the Union of Afro-Asian Writers.
Darwish began writing poetry at an early age. His first collection, Asafir Bila Ajniha (Wingless birds, 1960) appeared when he was only nineteen. Mostly traditional in form and style, the love lyrics of this collection have a modest artistic value. For this reason the poet disregarded this collection when compiling his collected works, which began to appear in 1973. It was his second collection, Awraq al-Zaytun (Olive leaves, 1964), that established his reputation and gained him the epithet "poet of the Palestinian resistance," by which he is still widely known in much of the Arab world.
In general, it is possible to distinguish three distinct phases in Darwish's poetry. The first phase spans the period before his departure from Israel in 1971, the second from 1971 to 1982, and the third from 1982 to the present. Thematically, Darwish's poetry deals with the loss of Palestine. Although Darwish's preoccupation with Palestinian concerns has remained constant, his treatment of these concerns has evolved considerably through the years.
All the poems of the first phase deal with two general topics: love and politics. The political poems stand out for their powerful polemics and fiercely defiant tone. Against Zionist claims on Palestine, they affirm the indissoluble historical bond between Palestinians and their land. A primary objective of these poems is precisely to strengthen the resolve of the Palestinian peasants in resisting Israel attempts to dislodge them from their ancestral land. All artistic and aesthetic considerations are strictly subordinated here to this political imperative.
The love poems foreshadow the eventual trans formation of the beloved female into the beloved homeland that is characteristic of Darwish's subsequent poetry .The transformation appears complete in Ashiq Min Filastin (A Lover from Palestine; 1966, 1970). This intimate love relationship between poet and land grows steadily more intense until it reaches the fervor of mystical union in Darwish's later poems.
Darwish's encounter with the reality of the Arab world proved disillusioning and occasioned a withdrawal from certainty and an inward turn in his poetry. The common images of daily life in the homeland, such as the faces of family and friends and the topography of the landscape, become the object of poetic meditation in exile. A gripping note of nostalgia for Galilee, Haifa, Mount Carmel, and the coast of Palestine reverberates through the poems of the second phase. Darwish's first collection in exile, Uhibbuki aw la Uhibbuki (I love you, I love you not, 1972), suggests the direction and scope of the change in his poetry. Away from the homeland, it becomes a constant struggle to retain intact the details of its identifying characteristics.
The words, pictures, memory, and dreams join those of wounds and death as key terms in Darwish's poetic diction. In the working of dream and memory the body of the beloved female blends imperceptibly with that of the homeland until they become virtually indistinguishable.
Although the introspective turn imparts to Darwish's poetry a more personal, almost confession al quality, his progressively more frequent appeal to the prophetic tradition of the three great monotheistic religions imparts to it a universal dimension. The cross, crucifixion, and especially wounds and sacrificial death are permanent motifs. Darwish also makes extensive use of the Old Testament prophets, notably Isaiah and Jeremiah, on whom he frequently calls to condemn Israel's acts of injustice against the Palestinians. Uhibbuki aw la Uhibbuki begins with seventeen psalms to Palestine. In tone and style, Darwish's moving lamentations echo those of the Old Testament, which Darwish, bilingual in Arabic and Hebrew, is able to read in the original.
Darwish's poetic output has continued unabated during the third phase. 1Wo important poems he wrote after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, however, have left a strong mark on this phase. Both Qasidat Bayrut (Ode to Beirut, 1982) and Madih al-Zill al-Ali (A eulogy for the tall shadow, 1983) are narrative poems of substantial length.
The subject of both is the heroic Palestinian resistance to the Israeli siege of Beirut during the summer of 1982. Following the tradition of the classical Arab poets, Darwish abandons the subjective voice of the lyricist and sings the collective heroics of his people in the plural voice. Stanzaic in form, both poems mark a return to a simpler, more direct, and clearer style than that of the poems of his second phase. Of the two poems, the second is consider ably longer and more accomplished artistically. It introduces into modern Arabic poetry the city (Beirut) and the sea (Mediterranean) as objects of sustained poetic interest. It also continues Darwish's cultivation of the prophetic voice. Darwish assumes the voice of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, to chastise the Arab regimes for abandoning the Palestinians and the Lebanese to the Israeli onslaught. Darwish's harshest invectives are reserved for the oil-rich Arab monarchies. No other modern Arab poet has used the language, style, and motifs of the Qu'ran and the prophetic tradition as effectively as has Darwish.
Muhammad Siddiq

The above was quoted from Encyclopedia Of The Palestinians edited by Philip Mattar

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