Mahmoud Darwish (1941 –2008). He was born in the village of al-Birweh in the Galilee, which was razed to the ground by the Israelis in 1948 and he and his family were expelled from their village. He found himself in refugee camps in southern Lebanon with tens of thousands of Palestinians, after they had been uprooted from the cities and villages of their homeland.
He lived for many years in exile in Beirut and Paris. Darwish is considered to be the most important contemporary Arab poet. He is the author of over 30 books of poetry and 8 books of prose, and earned the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize from the Lannan Foundation, the Lenin Peace Prize and the Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres medal from France.
In his work, Palestine became a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. He has been described as incarnating and reflecting “the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry.
He published his first book of poetry, “Wingless Birds”, at the age of 19. He initially published his poems in Al Jadid, and later on he became its editor. Later, he was assistant editor of Al Fajr.
Darwish´s early writings were in the classical Arabic style but in the 1070s he began to adopted a free –verse technique that did not abide strictly by classical poetic norms. The quasi-Romantic diction of his early works gave way to a more personal, flexible language, and the slogans and declarative language that characterized his early poetry were replaced by indirect and ostensibly apolitical statements, although politics was never far away.
His early work of the 1960s and 1970s reflected his unhappiness with the illegal occupation of Palestine.
Many of Darwish’s poems were set to music most notably “Rita and the Rifle”, “Birds of Galilee” and “I Yearn for my Mother’s Bread” and have become anthems for at least two generations of Arabs, by Arab composers.
Some of his poetry titles include The Butterfly’s Burden (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems (2003), Stage of Siege (2002), The Adam of Two Edens (2001), Mural (2000), Bed of the Stranger (1999), Psalms (1995), Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (1994), and The Music of Human Flesh (1980).
Write down! I am an Arab And my identity card number is fifty thousand I have eight children And the ninth will come after a summer Will you be angry?
Write down! I am an Arab Employed with fellow workers at a quarry I have eight children I get them bread Garments and books from the rocks … I do not supplicate charity at your doors Nor do I belittle myself at the footsteps of your chamber So will you be angry?
Write down! I am an Arab I have a name without a title Patient in a country Where people are enraged My roots Were entrenched before the birth of time And before the opening of the eras Before the pines, and the olive trees And before the grass grew
My father … descends from the family of the plow Not from a privileged class And my grandfather … was a farmer Neither well-bred, nor well-born! Teaches me the pride of the sun Before teaching me how to read And my house is like a watchman’s hut Made of branches and cane Are you satisfied with my status? I have a name without a title!
Write down! I am an Arab You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors And the land which I cultivated Along with my children And you left nothing for us Except for these rocks … So will the State take them As it has been said?!
Therefore! Write down on the top of the first page: I do not hate people Nor do I encroach But if I become hungry The usurper’s flesh will be my food Beware … Beware … Of my hunger And my anger!