Thursday, August 14, 2008

Remembering Mahmoud Darwish

“’Me or him’

that’s how war starts. But

it ends in an awkward stance:

‘Me and him’”

--from A State of Seige, translated by Fady Joudah, 2002

On Saturday, this past week, the world lost one of its great poets when Mamoud Darwish passed away due to complications following heart surgery in Houston, Texas.

The loss has an extra sting for us here at Split This Rock in that the evening before he died we were joyfully discussing the possibilities for poets to invite to our 2010 Festival and all agreed the first person on our list would be Mahmoud Darwish, and we also agreed that it as central to our mission to include international voices on our stage.

Darwish embodied so much of what it is we admire—a necessary poet, as well as essayist, who put to words—resistance to occupation, the desire of Palestinian people to live as equals in their own country. All the while, Darwish wrote with an attention to craft and a poet’s sensibilities, writing prolifically in a wide range of styles, inventive throughout his life.

Here are some links to obituaries and editorials that have been shared with us:

There's also a great video on youtube from AlJazeera. The video is at

Darwish is loved throughout the world, only recently coming to the attention of American readers with several excellent translations of his work in the past ten years or so, including most recently, “The Buttrerfly’s Burden,” which includes his recent three books, translated by Palestinian American poet and Yale Younger Prize winner, Fady Joudah.

I first encountered Darwish in an anthology called “This Same Sky” a collection of poems selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. The poem that knocked me out is called “The Prison Cell."
I read it whenever I begin to doubt that poetry can make a difference. Thank you Mahmoud Darwish for this gift and many more!

The Prison Cell

It is possible…

It is possible at least sometimes…

It is possible especially now

To ride a horse

Inside a prison cell

And run away…

It is possible for prison walls

To disappear,

For the cell to become a distant land

Without frontiers:

-What did you do with the walls?

-I gave them back to the rocks.

-And what did you do with the ceiling?

-I turned it into a saddle.

-And your chain?

-I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.

He put an end to my dialogue.

He said he didn’t care for poetry,

And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me

In the morning,

He shouted at me:

-Where did all this water come from?

-I brought it from the Nile.

-And the trees?

-From the orchards of Damascus.

-And the music?

-From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad;

He put an end to my dialogue.

He said he didn’t like my poetry,

And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

-Where did this moon come from?

-From the nights of Baghdad.

-And the wine?

-From the vineyards of Algiers.

-And this freedom?

-From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…

He begged me to give him back

His freedom.

Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Ben Bennani

Please share a favorite poem or quote from Darwish or a comment about how this poet has had an impact on your life or work. We invite you to post below.