Haaretz July 13th 2007
Return of the 'modest poet'
By Dalia Karpel
How thrilled is he really about his coming visit to Haifa? What was the
impact on him of a report that 1,200 tickets (out of a total of 1,450) for
his poetry-reading appearance this Sunday in an auditorium on Mount
Carmel had been snatched up in one day? Does this embrace move
Mahmoud Darwish, known as the Palestinian national poet, who in
recent years has lived in Amman and occasionally in Ramallah?
"When I passed the age of 50, I learned how to control my emotions,"
Darwish says, during a conversation that takes place in Ramallah. "I
am going to Haifa without any expectations. I have a barrier on my
heart. Maybe at the moment of the encounter with the audience a few
tears will fall in my heart. I anticipate a warm embrace, but I am also
apprehensive that the audience will be disappointed, because I do not
intend to read many old poems. I would not want to appear as a patriot
or as a hero or as a symbol. I will appear as a modest poet."
How does one make the transformation from being the symbol of the
Palestinian national ethos to being a modest poet?
"The symbol does not exist either in my consciousness or in my
imagination. I am making efforts to shatter the demands of the symbol
and to be done with this iconic status; to habituate people to treat me
as a person who wishes to develop his poetry and the taste of his
readers. In Haifa I will be real. What I am. And I will choose poems of
a high level."
Why do you disdain your old poems?
"When a writer declares that his first book is his best, that is bad. I
progress successively from book to book. I have not yet decided what I
will read to the audience. I am not stupid. I will not disappoint them. I
know that many want to hear something old."
Darwish arrived in Ramallah from Amman on Monday morning of
this week. He was scheduled to hold working meetings in the days that
followed and then go to Haifa, the city in which he embarked on his
literary path, in the 1950s. He doesn't yet know how he will travel -
there are many volunteers who want to drive him to the meeting in
Haifa with residents of the Galilee. The evening is being organized by
Siham Daoud, a poetess and editor of the literary journal Masharef, in
conjunction with the Hadash Arab-Jewish political party. Darwish will
speak and read about 20 of his poems. Samir Jubran will accompany
him on the oud and the singer Amal Murkus will moderate. Darwish
hopes the Interior Ministry will let him stay in Israel for about a week,
although the entry permit he received is valid for only two days.
The conversation with the poet takes place at 4 P.M. in the Khalil
Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah. The magnificent, well-kept
building contains an art gallery and a hall for films and concerts. It
also has a spacious office, from which Darwish edits the poetry journal
The room we are in contains a library rich in Arabic books, though a
few Hebrew ones are interspersed among them. There is a poetry
collection put out by the Hebrew literary journal Iton 77, Na'ama
Shefi's "The Ring of Myths: Israelis, Wagner and the Nazis," as well
as copies of the literary-political journal Mita'am, edited by the poet
Yitzhak Laor, and a poetry collection by Sami Shalom Chetrit.
Darwish, thinner than ever, elegantly dressed, is cordial. For someone
who eight years ago was pronounced clinically dead and was restored
to life almost miraculously, he looks fit and younger than his 66 years.
"Is there any hope for this nation?" I ask, and Darwish, the great
pessimist, does not even bother asking which nation I am referring to.
"Even if there is no hope, we are obliged to invent and create hope.
Without hope we are lost. The hope must spring from simple things.
From the splendor of nature, from the beauty of life, from their
fragility. One may forget the essential things occasionally, if only to
keep the mind healthy. It is hard to speak of hope at this time. That
would look as if we were ignoring history and the present. As though
we were looking at the future in severance from what is happening at
this moment. But in order to live we must invent hope by force."
How do you do that?
"I am a worker of metaphors; not a worker of symbols. I believe in the
power of poetry, which gives me reasons to look ahead and identify a
glint of light. Poetry can be a real bastard. It distorts. It has the power
to transform the unreal into the real, and the real into the imaginary.
It has the power to build a world that is at odds with the world in
which we live. I see poetry as spiritual medicine. I can create in words
what I do not find in reality. It is a tremendous illusion, but a positive
one. I have no other tool with which to find meaning for my life or for
the life of my nation. It is in my power to bestow on them beauty by
means of words and to portray a beautiful world and also to express
their situation. I once said that I built with words a homeland for my
nation and for myself."
The worst one could have imagined
You once wrote, "This land lays siege to us all," and today more than
ever, the feeling of depression and helplessness must be overwhelming.
"The situation today is the worst one could have imagined. The
Palestinians are the only nation in the world that feels with certainty
that today is better than what the days ahead will hold. Tomorrow
always heralds a worse situation. It is not just an existential question. I
cannot speak about the Israeli side; that is not my expertise. I can
speak only about the Palestinian side. Already in 1993, on the eve of
the Oslo agreement, I knew that the agreement held out no promise
that we would reach true peace based on independence for the
Palestinians and the end of the Israeli occupation. Despite that, I felt
that people were experiencing hope. They thought that maybe a bad
peace was preferable to a successful war. Those dreams were
deceptive. The situation now is worse. Before Oslo there were no
checkpoints, the settlements had not expanded like this, and the
Palestinians had work in Israel."
Do you think the readiness for peace was mutual?
"The Israelis complain that the Palestinians do not love them. That is
really funny. Peace is made between states and is not based on love. A
peace agreement is not a wedding reception. I understand the hatred
for the Israelis. Every normal person hates living under occupation.
First one makes peace and then one examines feelings like loving or
not loving. Sometimes after making peace, there is no love. Love is a
private matter and cannot be forced on others."
What hope are you talking about?
"I accuse the Israeli side of not expressing readiness to end the
occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The Palestinian
people is not seeking to liberate Palestine. The Palestinians want to
lead a normal life on 22 percent of what they think is their homeland.
The Palestinians suggested that a distinction be made between
homeland and state, and they understood the historical development
that led to the present situation, in which two peoples are living on the
same land and in the same country. Despite that readiness, there
remained nothing to talk about."
You mentioned the Gaza Strip. What do you think of the new reality
"It is a tragic situation. An atmosphere of civil war. What happened
between Fatah people and Hamas people in Gaza reflects a closed
horizon. There is no Palestinian state and no Palestinian Authority,
and people there are fighting one another over illusions. Each side
wants to take control of the government. It's all 'as if' - as if there is a
state, as if there is a government, as if there is a minister of this or
that, as if there is a flag and as if there is an anthem. A lot of as if, but
no content. If and when you put people in prison - and the Gaza Strip
is one big prison - and the prisoners are poor and lack everything,
unemployed and deprived of basic medical care, you will get people
with no hope. That creates a seemingly natural feeling of internal
violence. They do not know whom to fight, so they fight each other.
That is what is called civil war. It is an explosion amid the mental and
economic and political pressures."
Are you frightened by the rise of Hamas fundamentalism?
"There is a cultural conflict between the secular side, which believes in
multiculturalism and a national homeland, and people who look at
Palestine exclusively through the prism of the Islamic heritage. It does
not frighten me politically. It is frightening culturally. Their inclination
to force their principles on everyone is not comfortable. They believe in
one-time democracy, and that only to reach the polling booth and gain
power. Therefore they are a catastrophe for democracy. It is
anti-democratic democracy. But both sides, Fatah and Hamas, cannot
remain severed. At the moment, when the blood is hot and the wounds
are bleeding, it is hard to talk about a dialogue, but in the end, if
Hamas apologizes for what it did in Gaza and rectifies the results of
the campaign in Gaza, it will be possible to talk about dialogue. It is
impossible to ignore Hamas as a political force that has supporters in
So you are again playing into Israel's hands, which profits quite a bit
from this situation.
"Israel claimed all along that there was no one to talk to, even when
there was someone to talk to. Now they say that it is possible to talk to
Mahmoud Abbas, but Abbas was there before Hamas won the
elections. What can Abbas do if not one checkpoint has been removed?
This is the Israeli policy, which invigorates Palestinian extremism and
violence. The Israelis do not want to give anything in return for peace.
They do not want to withdraw to the 1967 boundaries, they do not want
to talk about the right of return or about the evacuation of settlements,
and certainly not about Jerusalem - so what is there to talk about? We
are in a deadlock. I do not see an end to this dark tunnel, so long as
Israel is unwilling to differentiate between history and legend.
"The Arab states are today ready to recognize Israel and are begging
Israel to accept the Arab peace initiative, which speaks of a return to
the 1967 boundaries and the establishment of a Palestinian state in
return for not only full recognition of Israel but also full normalization
of relations. So you tell me who is missing the opportunity. It is always
said that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an
opportunity. Why is Israel emulating the rejectionism of the Arabs?"
Everything has changed but Israel
Do you think you will live to see any sort of agreement between the two
"I do not despair. I am patient and am waiting for a profound
revolution in the consciousness of the Israelis. The Arabs are ready to
accept a strong Israel with nuclear arms - all it has to do is open the
gates of its fortress and make peace. Stop talking about the prophets
and about Rachel's Tomb. This is the 21st century - look what is going
on in the world. Everything has changed, apart from the Israeli
position, which as I said links history with legend."
The terrible association between land and death is now almost taken
for granted by both sides.
"I said that a cultural revolution is needed by the politicians in Israel
in order to understand that it is impossible to ask the young people in
Israel to wait for the next war. Globalization is affecting the young;
they want to travel and live and build a life outside the army. You do
not expect me to draw a comparison between the despair of the two
sides to the conflict. If despair exists among the Israelis, that is a good
sign. Maybe the despair will bring about public pressure on the
leadership to create a new situation.
Do you know what the difference is between a general and a poet? The
general counts the number of dead among the enemy on the battlefield,
whereas the poet counts how many living people died in the battle.
There is no enmity between the dead. There is one enemy: death. The
metaphor is clear. The dead on both sides are no longer enemies."
Could a situation arise in which you would devote yourself to politics,
as Vaclav Havel did, for example?
"Havel may have been a good president but he is not known as an
exceptional writer. I write poems far better than I practice politics."
Would you perhaps share with us what you intend to say in the poetry
"I want to talk about how I went down from the Carmel and how I am
now going up and I ask myself why I went down."
Do you regret having left in 1970, when you were part of a Communist
youth delegation, went to Egypt and never returned?
"Sometimes time generates wisdom. History has taught me the
meaning of irony. I will always ask the question: Do I regret having
left in 1970? I have reached the conclusion that the answer is not
important. Maybe the question about why I went down from Mount
Carmel is more important."
Why did you go down?
"In order to return 37 years later. That is to say that I did not go down
from the Carmel in 1970 and I did not return in 2007. It is all
metaphor. If I am at this moment in Ramallah and next week I am on
the Carmel and remember that I have not been there for almost 40
years, the circle is closed and this whole years-long journey will have
been a metaphor. Let us not frighten the readers. I do not intend to
realize the right of return."
And if there were a constellation that would enable you to return to the
Galilee and Haifa and the family today?
"You were a witness to the powerful emotions when I paid my first
visit, in 1996, after an absence of 26 years, and I was supposed to meet
with [the late Haifa writer] Emile Habibi as part of a film about his
life. I was moved and I also cried and I wanted to stay in Israel. But if
you are asking today, I am not ready to exchange my Palestinian ID
card for an Israeli one. That would only embarrass me. The relevant
criterion today is what I did in those years. I wrote better, I progressed,
I developed and I benefited my nation from the literary point of view."
Some people were critical of the timing by which you chose to read
your poems this month, in light of the political situation and the Azmi
"We are alive, and I do not know what is right and what is not. All our
time and our timing are out of joint. This is not my first visit. I was
here in 1996 and I delivered a eulogy at Habibi's funeral, and I was
here in 2000 and read my poems in Nazareth, and I was at an event of
a school I attended in Kafr Yasif. I cannot be part of the disputes
between one political party and another. I am a guest of the entire
Arab public in Israel and I do not differentiate between the Islamic
Movement and Hadash and Balad. I am the poet of them all. Nor
should I forget that there are many poets who hate me and there is also
hatred among those who consider themselves poets. Envy is a human
emotion, but when it turns into hatred that is something else. There are
those who view me as a literary menace, but I see them as children
who must rebel against their spiritual father. They have the right to kill
me, but let them kill me at a high level - in a text."
Do you have ties with Jewish Israeli intellectuals?
"I am in touch with the poet Yitzhak Laor and with the historian
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin. I have read less Hebrew in the last 20 years,
but I am interested in several Israeli writers."
Doesn't like his poetry being taught
Do you feel flattered by the fact that seven years ago Yossi Sarid, who
was then the minister of education, tried to introduce your poems into
the literature curriculum, with the result that some right-wing MKs
threatened to dissolve the coalition?
"It is of no interest to me whether my poems are made part of the
literature curriculum. When there was a no-confidence motion in the
government, I asked mockingly where Israeli pride was - how can you
agree to topple a government because of a Palestinian poet, when you
have other reasons to do so? Nor is it of interest to me whether my
poems are taught in Arab schools. I don't really like being on
curricula, because students usually hate the literature that is forced on
Where is home?
"I have no home. I have moved and changed homes so often that I
have no home in the deep sense of the word. Home is where I sleep
and read and write, and that can be anywhere. I have lived in more
than 20 homes already, and I always left behind medicines and books
and clothes. I flee."
In Siham Daoud's archive there are letters, manuscripts and poems
that you left behind in 1970.
"I didn't know that I would not return. I thought I would try not to
return. It's not that I chose the diaspora freely. For 10 years I was
forbidden to leave Haifa, and for three of those years I was under
house arrest. I have no special longings for any particular home. After
all, a home is not only the objects one has accumulated. A home is a
place and a milieu. I have no home.
"Everything looks alike: Ramallah is like Amman and like Paris.
Maybe because I was raised on longings, it's not suitable for me to
long anymore, and maybe my emotions have gone stale; maybe reason
triumphed over emotion and the irony has intensified. I am not the
Is that why you never established a family?
"My friends remind me occasionally that I was married twice, but I do
not remember that in the deep sense. I do not regret not having a child.
Maybe he would not have turned out well, maybe he would have been
coarse. I don't know why I am apprehensive that he would not have
turned out well, but I know clearly that I do not regret it."
Then what do you regret?
"That I published poems at an early age, and bad poems. I regret
having caused damage with words I spoke to a friend or having been
coarse and sharp. Maybe I was not faithful to certain memories, but I
committed no crime."
Do you like your loneliness?
"Very much. When I have to attend a dinner, I feel that I am being
punished. In recent years I like being alone. I have a need for people
when I am in need of them. Tell me, maybe it is selfishness, but I have
five to six friends. That is a great many. I have thousands of
acquaintances, and that doesn't help."
Among the poems from your childhood that you find it hard to go back
to today, do you include the one about mother's coffee?
"I wrote that poem in Ma'asiyahu Prison in 1963-64. I was invited to
read poetry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and I was then
living in Haifa, and I submitted a request [to travel; this was when
Israel's Arab population was subject to martial law], but didn't get a
reply. I went by train - does that train still exist? The next day I was
summoned to the police station in Nazareth and I was sentenced to a
suspended sentence of four months and an additional two months in
Ma'asiyahu Prison, and it was there, on a yellow pack of Ascot
cigarettes with the picture of the camel on it, that I wrote the poem that
Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife turned into an anthem. It is
considered my most beautiful poem, and I will read it in Haifa."
Will you visit the village where you were born, Birwa?
"No. Today it is [a kibbutz] called Yas'ur. I prefer to store the
memories that still linger of open spaces, fields and watermelons, olive
and almond trees. I remember the horse that was tied to the mulberry
tree in the yard and how I climbed onto it and was thrown off and got
a beating from my mother. She always hit me, because she thought I
was a real urchin. I actually don't remember being so mischievous.
"I remember the butterflies and the clear feeling that everything was
open. The village stood on a hill and everything was spread out below.
One day I was awakened and told that we had to flee. No one said
anything about war or danger. We went by foot, I along with my three
siblings, to Lebanon, and the youngest was a toddler and never stopped
crying the whole way."
Talent lies in one's bottom
Does your writing oblige a regular ritual, or have you become more
flexible with the years?
"There are no conditions, but there are habits. I have become used to
writing in the morning between 10 and 12. I write by hand. I do not
have a computer and I write only at home and I lock the door even if I
am alone in the apartment. I do not disconnect phones. I do not write
every day, but I force myself to sit at the desk every day. There is
inspiration, maybe there is no inspiration, I don't know. I don't believe
all that much in inspiration, but if there is, then one should wait in
case it comes when I am not available. Sometimes the best ideas come
in places that aren't so nice. In the bathroom, maybe on a plane,
sometimes on a train. In Arabic we say 'From the pen of...,' but I
think one does not write by hand. Talent lies in one's bottom. You have
to know how to sit. If you don't know how to sit, you don't write.
Discipline is called for."
Why do I have the feeling that you don't sleep well?
"I sleep nine hours a night and never have insomnia. I can sleep
whenever I want. People say I am spoiled. Where did they say that
about me? In the Hebrew press. You say I am considered some sort of
prince. A prince is elevated above the people. That is not the case. Nor
is it true that I am patronizing. I am shy, and some people construe
that as patronizing."
Does the fact that you touched death at least once in your life make
you fear old age and the body's betrayal?
"I encountered death twice, once in 1984 and once in 1998, when I
was clinically dead and preparations were already being made for my
funeral. In 1984, I had a heart attack in Vienna. That was a deep, easy
sleep on a white cloud with clear light. I did not think it was death. I
floated and cruised until I felt a powerful pain, and the pain was the
signal that I had been returned to life. I was told that I was dead for
"In 1998, death was aggressive and violent. It was not a pleasant sleep.
I had terrible nightmares. It was not death, it was a painful war. Death
itself does not hurt."
What is your attitude toward death now?
"I am ready for it. I am not waiting for it. I do not like waiting. I have
a love poem about the suffering of anticipation. She, the beloved, was
late and did not arrive, I said perhaps she went to a place where there
is sun. Maybe she went shopping. Maybe she looked in the mirror and
fell very much in love with herself and said, It's a pity for someone else
to touch me, I am mine. Maybe she had an accident and is now in the
hospital. Maybe she called in the morning when I wasn't there because
I had gone to buy flowers and a bottle of wine. Maybe she died,
because death is like me, doesn't like to wait. I do not like to wait.
Death does not like to wait, either.
"I made an agreement with death and made it clear that I am not
available for him just yet. I still have things to write, I still have things
to do. There is much work and there are wars everywhere, and you,
death, have nothing to do with the poetry I write. It's none of your
business. But let's set up a meeting. Tell me ahead of time. I will
prepare, I will dress up and we will meet in a cafe on the seashore and
drink a glass of wine and then you will take me."
And in life?
"I am not afraid and I am not preoccupied with death. I am ready to
accept it when it comes, but let it be brave and knightly, and we will
end it all with one blow. Not by methods such as cancer or heart
disease or AIDS. Let it not come like a thief. Let it take me in a
What makes you a bit happy?
"There is a saying in French that if after the age of 50 you get up
without feeling a pain somewhere, you are dead. I am happy to get up
every morning. In the broader sense I think that happiness is a not-so-
realistic invention. Happiness is a moment. Happiness is a butterfly. I
feel happy when I complete a work."
One gets the feeling that you are more conciliatory than ever.
"This may sound coarse, but that is the aesthetics of despair. I have no
illusions. I do not look forward to many things. So if something works
out, that is great happiness. There is also humor alongside the despair.
I am an 'opsimist' [referring to a play of that name by Emile Habibi]."
Do you miss Habibi?
"The place would be fuller if Emile Habibi were present. He was a
force of nature. He had laughter and he had a special humor and I
think he fought against despair by means of humor. He was
vanquished in the end. We will all be vanquished, including the victors.
One has to know how to behave at the moment of victory and how to
behave at the moment of defeat. A society that does not know what
defeat is will not become mature."
Not long ago you completed a new book, a personal journal, a fusion
of prose and poetry. Do you actually like yourself?
"Absolutely not. When young poets come to me, and if and when I am
capable of giving them advice, I tell them, 'A poet who sits down to
write and does not feel like a total cipher will not develop and will not
gain recognition.' I feel I have not done anything. That is what pushes
me to improve my writing and style and imagery. I feel that I am a
cipher, and that means I love myself very much. I have a friend who
knows that I can't bear to watch myself appear on television. He told
me that this is reverse narcissism. That's what that bastard told me."
Haaretz August 14 2008
Passing in passing words
By Sasson Somekh
Between 1960 - when "Birds Without Wings," Mahmoud Darwish's
first book, was published in Acre - and 2005, when the Hebrew
version of his "Like the Almond Blossom or Further" came out, the
Palestinian poet traveled a long and exhausting road. In the space of
those years Darwish published some 20 packed volumes of poetry,
collections that became classics in contemporary Palestinian literature.
Darwish, who died last Sunday, left Israel in 1970 and went to live in
Egypt, Lebanon, France and Jordan. He finally settled in Ramallah,
within the territory of the Palestinian Authority in the mid-1990s. His
political affiliation evolved from supporting communism in his youth,
to becoming an adherent of inveterate Palestinian nationalism. His
poetry underwent extensive changes in form, language and imagery.
His innovativeness and poetic personality left an imprint on
contemporary Arabic poetry as a whole, while his reputation became
Darwish was born in 1941 in the village of Al-Birwa, in the Galilee.
During the course of the 1948 war, he and his family fled the village,
which was destroyed, and moved to the village of Jadeida, also in the
Galilee. Upon completing high school in Kfar Yassif, Darwish moved
to Haifa, where he worked on literary and other publications, mostly
those put out by the Israeli Communist Party. His early poetry
expressed pain at the tragedy that had befallen his people, and their
experience as refugees. But at the same time it expressed hope and
faith in the Palestinian people's courage and determination, as well as
their ability to overcome their enemies. The titles of some of his early
poetry collections testify to this preoccupation: "Olive Leaves" (1964),
"A Palestinian Lover" (1966), "The End of the Night" (1967) and
After he left Israel forever in 1972, Darwish's literary and political
status became established. His appearances throughout the Arab world
drew tens of thousands of thrilled listeners. His books were printed en
masse, and reprinted again and again in various Arab capitals.
Together with a friend from his youth, poet Samih al-Qassim, who
lives in the village of Rami in the Galilee to this day, Darwish had an
impact on the development of Arabic poetry as a whole: His
Palestinian symbols (including olive leaves and the crucified Christ)
have become pan-Arabic symbols, and the poetical changes his work
presaged have been fundamentally accepted throughout nearly the
entire Arab world.
At the outset of his career, Darwish wrote in accordance with the
precepts of classical Arabic: monorhymed poems and adherence to the
metrics of traditional Arabic poetry. However, in the 1970s he began
to stray from these precepts and adopted a "free-verse" technique,
which did not abide strictly by classical poetic norms. The
quasi-Romantic diction that had characterized his early works gave
way to a more personal, flexible language. And above all: The slogans
and declarative language that were so manifest in his early poetry
gradually vanished and were replaced by indirect and ostensibly
apolitical statements. Politics never receded from the center of his
world of ideas and emotions. Indeed the process of poeticizing direct
political statements took on major proportions, although in his last
books there was increasing evidence of the desire to free himself from
poetry that is "collective" in content, and to adopt a "personal" poetic,
awash in the individual's loves and reveries.
Tone of yearning
Darwish's mode of expression is based on intentional stylistic
departures that incorporate both a distancing from battered language
and an amplification, albeit implied, of the nationalist content, which
is uncompromising at base. Phrases such as "like the almond blossom
or further" might prompt the reader to wonder: After all, the words
"blossom" and "distance" don't really complement each other and
lack a logical connection. Had the poet said "like the almond blossom
or whiter," for example, this would have sounded perfectly natural.
Yet the catch in Darwish's phrasing is that associating the almond
blossom with distance evokes a tone of yearning for the soil of the land
where the almond grows, which is physically remote from the
speaker's present experience.
Sometimes such "illogical" phrases in his work become sharp. Upon
the death in 1996 of writer Emile Habibi, Darwish's former spiritual
teacher, the poet was invited to eulogize him. He ended his speech
with the words: "Forgive us, Emile, for what you have done to us."
The obvious thing would have been to conclude with "for what we
have done to you" - otherwise what is the point of asking forgiveness?
Could this have hinted, by means of paradoxical language, at an
implicit criticism of Habibi's deeds, with which Darwish was
The volume "Like the Almond Blossom or Further" is, without a
doubt, the most personal and introverted of all of Darwish's collections
of poetry. Most of its poems touch upon topics like the approach of old
age, love that is no longer youthful and encroaching loneliness.
In this work, he distances himself further from directly political topics
and from the controversial topics that were scattered through his
earlier poetry. For the Israeli reader, this collection constitutes a
moment of calm, of possible human sharing - after all, in the past
many Israelis had been angered by Darwish's verbal and written
poetic and prose statements, as exemplified by his poem "Passing in
Some of the poems in his latest volume mark the pinnacle of
Darwish's art. The long poem that closes the volume is basically a
eulogy for the late Palestinian intellectual Prof. Edward Said, who
passed away in New York in 2003. The poem is set as a kind of
dialogue between Darwish and Said. This dialogue (though imagined)
between the two greatest Palestinian intellectuals of our generation is
a masterpiece of feeling and expressive power:
When I visited him in the new Sodom,
In the year 2002, he was combatting the
War of Sodom against the people of Babylon
And against cancer simultaneously,
He was like the last epic hero
Defending Troy's right
To share in the play.
Here, the use of a cliched phrase like "the new Sodom" (reminiscent
of expressions like "the great Satan" or "the axis of evil") does not
impair the beauty of the poet's eulogy for his esteemed friend.
Professor Sasson Somekh's article is based on his afterword to the
Hebrew version of "Like the Almond Blossom or Further," which will
soon be published by Iton 77.