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Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish !

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Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) is considered to have been the most imortant Palestinian Arab poet of the 20th century. He was born in 1941 in the village of Barweh in the Galilee. At the height of the Israeli war of liberation in 1948, Darwish ran away with thousands of other Palestinian Arabs to find himself in Lebanon knowing nothing about his family. The creation of Israel in 1948 meant the wiping of Palestine off the map and the destruction of 417 Palestinian villages. Barweh was one of these. A year later, he went back to Palestine to find his village totally ruined and an Israeli settlement in its place. But he had returned "illegally," too late to be included in Israel's census of the Palestinian Arabs who remained. He was given the status of “present-absent alien,” a status that marked him from that point onwards, preventing him from ever settling comfortably in the land of his birth.

Darwish wrote his first poetry when he was in elementary school, while living in the village of Der Al-Asad. This from an interview by Nathalie Handal, May 2002 Issue Progressive Magazine: He published his first collection or poetry when he was about eighteen or nineteen years old. Some were love poems, he says, and some were political poems. "I was very strongly influenced by Al-Mutanabbi and the Mahjar poets (emigrant poets such a Kahlil Gibran) and modern Arab poets such as Qabbani, Al-Sayyab," he says. When I ask if any Western poets influenced him, he says, "Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Yeats, and today, Derek Walcott is probably my favorite poet. I also like the Polish poets, especially Symborska." In 1960, Darwish graduated from high school and moved to Haifa, where he became editor and translator for al-Ittihad daily and al-Jadid weekly, published by the Rakah (Communist) Party. As a result of his political activism he faced house arrest and imprisonment in Israel. In 1970, the poet left for Moscow to study political economy, and from then on his life was one migration after another. In 1971, he arrived in Cairo to work for Al-Ahram daily. It was the first time he went to an Arab country, the first time he saw everything written in Arabic. In 1973 Darwish joined the Palestine Liberation Organizaton (PLO), led by Yassar Arafat. In the early 70's Malmoud lived in Egypt, joining the Palestine Liberation Organizaton (PLO) in 1973, and as a result, being barred from entering Israel again. He settled for a while in Beirut until the Israeli invasion in 1982.

From a article by Serene Huleileh: After Beirut he became a “wondering exile” in Arab capitals, settling in Paris for a while, then Amman, and finally Ramallah... His life in the exodus somehow helped to ignite the poetic flame within him and exile became one of the sources of his literary creation. However, despite his geographic separation from his homeland, Darwish continued over the years to disrupt the status quo in Israel through the medium of poetry. In 1988, his widely circulated militant poem “Passers by in Passing Words,” a poem that he does not think highly of in literary terms but that nevertheless was met with great acclaim amongst the Arab public, was cause for a great uproar in Israeli circles, both the right and left wing alike. A book in French entitled “Palestine Mon Pays: L’affaire du Poeme,” published by Les Editions de Minuit in 1988, documents some of the articles that were written in defence of Darwish and his poem. In a similar manner, but this time in March 2000, Yossi Sarid, then the minister of education in Israel, suggested the inclusion of Darwish’s poetry in the Israeli high school curriculum. This suggestion resulted in a very close no-confidence vote for the Barak government.

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. Darwish has published twenty books of poetry, five books of prose, and his books have been translated into more than twenty-two languages. He has won numerous awards, including the Lotus Prize (1969); the Lenin Peace Prize (1983); France's highest medal, the Knight of Arts and Letters (1993); and in 2002 he was honored with the Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom. He published in 1998 his new poetry collection: Sareer El Ghariba (Bed of the Stranger), his first collection of love poems.

Mahmoud Darwish died on August 9, 2008 at the age of 67, three days after heart surgery at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas. There was a great outpouring of grief from his admirers. See this: (Haaretz item and video); (Reuters) For more information about Mahmoud Darwish see: or Wikipedia . For more of his poetry, see his: Official Site.

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