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Mahmoud Darwish (13 March 19419 August 2008) was a Palestinian poet and author who won numerous awards for his literary output and was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. In his work, Palestine became a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile.


Darwish was born in the village of al-Birwamarker in the Western Galilee. He was the second child of Salim and Houreyyah Darwish. His father was a Muslim landowner. His mother was illiterate, but his grandfather taught him to read. After the establishment of the State of Israelmarker, the family fled to Lebanonmarker first in Jezzinmarker and then in Damourmarker. A year later, they returned to the Acremarker area, which was now part of Israel, and settled in Deir al-Asadmarker. Darwish attended high school in Kafr Yasifmarker, two kilometers north of Jadeidimarker. He eventually moved to Haifa. He published his first book of poetry, Asafir bila ajniha or Wingless Sparrows, at the age of nineteen. Darwish left Israel in 1970 to study in the USSR. He attended the University of Moscowmarker for one year, before moving to Egypt and Lebanon. When he joined the PLO in 1973, he was banned from reentering Israel. In 1995, he returned to attend the funeral of his colleague, Emile Habibi and received a permit to remain in Haifa for 4 days. Darwish was allowed to settle in Ramallahmarker in 1995, although he said he felt was living in exile there, and did not consider the West Bank his "private homeland."

Darwish was twice married and divorced. His first wife was the writer Rana Kabbani. In the mid-1980s, he married an Egyptian translator, Hayat Heeni. He had no children. Darwish had a history of heart disease, suffering a heart attack in 1984, followed by two heart operations, in 1984 and 1998.

His last visit to Israel was on July 15, 2007 to attend a poetry recital at Mt. Carmel Auditorium in Haifamarker, in which he criticized the factional violence between Fatah and Hamas as a "suicide attempt in the streets".

Literary career

Darwish published over thirty volumes of poetry and eight books of prose. He was editor of Al-Jadid, Al-Fajr, Shu'un Filistiniyya and Al-Karmel (1981). His first poetry collection to be published "Leaves of Olives" included the poem "Identity Card", written in 1964:
Record! I am an Arab/And my identity card is number fifty thousand/I have eight children/And the ninth is coming after a summer/Will you be angry?/Record!/I am an Arab/I have a name without a title/Patient in a country/Where people are enraged . . .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!

Darwish's work won numerous awards, and has been published in 20 languages. A central theme in Darwish's poetry is the concept of watan or homeland. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote that Darwish "is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging...."

Writing style

Darwish's early writings are in the classical Arabic style. He wrote monorhymed poems adhering to the metrics of traditional Arabic poetry. In the 1970s he began to stray from these precepts and 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 were never far away.

Literary influences

Darwish was impressed by the Arab poets Abd al-Wahhab al-Bayati and Badr Shakir al-Sayyab. He cited Rimbaud and Ginsberg as literary influences. Darwish admired the Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai, but described his poetry as a "challenge to me, because we write about the same place. He wants to use the landscape and history for his own benefit, based on my destroyed identity. So we have a competition: who is the owner of the language of this land? Who loves it more? Who writes it better?"

Attitude toward Israel

Darwish is widely perceived as a Palestinian symbol and a spokesman for Arab opposition to Israel. He rejected antisemitism: "The accusation is that I hate Jews. It's not comfortable that they show me as a devil and an enemy of Israel. I am not a lover of Israel, of course. I have no reason to be. But I don't hate Jews." Darwish wrote in Arabic, but spoke English, French and Hebrew. According to Israeli author Haim Gouri, who knew him personally, Darwish's Hebrew was excellent. Four volumes of his poetry were translated into Hebrew by Muhammad Hamza Ghaneim: Bed of a Stranger (2000), Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? (2000), State of Siege (2003) and Mural (2006). Salman Masalha, a bilingual Arabic-Hebrew writer, translated his book Memory for Forgetfulness into Hebrew. In March 2000, Yossi Sarid, the Israeli education minister, proposed that two of Darwish's poems be included in the Israeli high school curriculum. Prime Minister Ehud Barak rejected the proposal on the grounds that Israel was "not ready." It has been suggested that the incident had more to do with internal Israeli politics in trying to damage Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government than poetry. With the death of Darwish the debate about including his poetry in the Israeli school curriculum has been re-opened.

Political activism

Darwish was a member of Rakah, the Israeli communist party, before joining the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut. In 1970 he left for Moscowmarker. Later, he moved to Cairomarker in 1971 where he worked for al-Ahram daily newspaper. In Beirutmarker, in 1973, he edited the monthly Shu'un Filistiniyya (Palestinian Affairs) and worked as a director in the Palestinian Research Center of the PLO and joined the organisation. In the wake of the Lebanon War, Darwish wrote the political poems Qasidat Bayrut (1982) and Madih al-zill al'ali(1983). Darwish was elected to the PLO Executive Committee in 1987. In 1988 he wrote a manifesto intended as the Palestinian people's declaration of independence. In 1993, after the Oslo accords, Darwish resigned from the PLO Executive Committee. Darwish has consistently demanded a "tough and fair" stand in negotiations with Israel.

In 1988, one of his poems, Passers Between the Passing Words, was cited in the Knessetmarker by Yitzhak Shamir. He was accused of demanding that the Jews leave Israelmarker, although he claimed he meant the West Bankmarker and Gazamarker:"So leave our land/Our shore, our sea/Our wheat, our salt, our wound." A specialist on Darwish's poetry Adel Usta, said the poem was misunderstood and mistranslated, while poet and translator Ammiel Alcalay wrote that "the hysterical overreaction to the poem simply serves as a remarkably accurate litmus test of the Israeli psyche ... (the poem) is an adamant refusal to accept the language of the occupation and the terms under which the land is defined".

Despite his criticism of both Israel and the Palestinian leadership, Darwish believed that peace was attainable. "I do not despair," he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. "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."

In July 2007, Darwish returned to Ramallah and visited Haifa for a festive event held in his honor sponsored by Masharaf magazine and the Israeli Hadash party. To a crowd of some 2,000 people who turned out for the event, he voiced his criticism of the Hamas takeover:
"We woke up from a coma to see a monocolored flag (of Hamas) do away with the four-color flag (of Palestine)."

Music and film

Many of Darwish's poems were set to music most notably Rita, 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, among them Marcel Khalife, Majida El Roumi and Ahmad Qa'abour. In the 1980s, Sabreen, a Palestinian group in Israel, recorded an album including versions of Darwish's poems "On Man" and "On Wishes". Khalife was accused of blasphemy and insulting religious values because a song entitled I am Yusuf, oh my father based on Darwish's lyrics, cited a verse from the Qur'an. In this poem, Darwish shared the pain of Yusuf (Joseph) who was rejected by his brothers, who fear him because he is too handsome and kind. "Oh my father, I am Yusuf / Oh father, my brothers neither love me nor want me in their midst". The story of Joseph is an allegory for the rejection of the Palestinians.

Tamar Muskal, an Israeli-American composer incorporated Dawish's "I Am From There" into her composition "The Yellow Wind," which combines a full orchestra, Arabic flute, Arab and Israeli poetry, and themes from David Grossman's book The Yellow Wind.

In 1997, a documentary entitled Mahmoud Darwish was produced by French TV directed by French-Israeli director Simone Bitton.

Darwish appeared as himself in Jean-Luc Godard's Notre Musique (2004).

In 2008 Darwish narrated his poem 'A Soldier Dreams of White Lilies' for an Arts Alliance production, 'id - Identity of the Soul'. The performance toured the West Bank in October 2008, with audiences of tens of thousands.


Why are we always told that we cannot solve our problem without solving the existential anxiety of the Israelis and their supporters who have ignored our very existence for decades in our own homeland?

We have triumphed over the plan to expel us from history.

"I thought poetry could change everything, could change history and could humanize, and I think that the illusion is very necessary to push poets to be involved and to believe, but now I think that poetry changes only the poet."

"We should not justify suicide bombers.
We are against the suicide bombers, but we must understand what drives these young people to such actions.
They want to liberate themselves from such a dark life.
It is not ideological, it is despair."

"We have to understand - not justify - what gives rise to this tragedy.
It's not because they're looking for beautiful virgins in heaven, as Orientalists portray it.
Palestinian people are in love with life.
If we give them hope - a political solution - they'll stop killing themselves."
“Sarcasm helps me overcome the harshness of the reality we live, eases the pain of scars and makes people smile.
The sarcasm is not only related to today’s reality but also to history.
History laughs at both the victim and the aggressor.”

"I will continue to humanise even the enemy...
The first teacher who taught me Hebrew was a Jew. The first love affair in my life was with a Jewish girl. The first judge who sent me to prison was a Jewish woman. So from the beginning, I didn't see Jews as devils or angels but as human beings." Several poems are to Jewish lovers. "These poems take the side of love not war,"



Mahmoud Darwish died on August 9, 2008 at the age of 67, three days after heart surgery at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas. Before surgery, Darwish had signed a document asking not to be resuscitated in the event of brain death.

Early reports of his death in the Arabic press indicated that Darwish had asked in his will to be buried in Palestine. Three locations were originally suggested; his home village of al-Birwa, the neighboring village Jadeidamarker, where some of Darwish's family still resides or in the West Bank city of Ramallahmarker. Ramallah Mayor Janet Mikhail announced later that Darwish would be buried next to Ramallah's Palace of Culture, at the summit of a hill overlooking Jerusalemmarker on the southwestern outskirts of Ramallah, and a shrine would be erected in his honor. Ahmed Darwish said "Mahmoud doesn't just belong to a family or a town, but to all the Palestinians, and he should be buried in a place where all Palestinians can come and visit him."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning to honor Darwish and he was accorded the equivalent of a State funeral. A set of four postage stamps commemorating Darwish was issued in August 2008 by the PA.

Arrangements for flying the body in from Texas delayed the funeral for a day. Darwish's body was then flown from Ammanmarker, Jordanmarker for the burial in Ramallah. The first eulogy was delivered by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to an orderly gathering of thousands. Several left-wing Knessets members attended the official ceremony; Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) and Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) stood with the family, and Dov Khenin (Hadash) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad) were in the hall at the Mukataamarker. Also present was the former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin. After the ceremony, Darwish's coffin was taken in a cortege at walking pace from the Mukataa to the Palace of Culture, gathering thousands of followers along the way.

Published work


  • Asafir bila ajniha (Wingless birds), 1960
  • Awraq Al-Zaytun (Leaves of olives), 1964
  • Ashiq min filastin (A lover from Palestine), 1966
  • Akhir al-layl (The end of the night), 1967
  • Yawmiyyat jurh filastini (Diary of a Palestinian wound), 1969
  • Habibati tanhad min nawmiha (My beloved awakens), 1969
  • al-Kitabah 'ala dhaw'e al-bonduqiyah (Writing in the light of the gun), 1970
  • al-'Asafir tamut fi al-jalil (Birds are Dying in Galilee), 1970
  • Mahmoud Darwish works, 1971. Two volumes
  • Mattar na'em fi kharif ba'eed (Light rain in a distant autumn) 1971
  • Uhibbuki aw la uhibbuki (I love you, I love you not), 1972
  • Jondiyyun yahlum bi-al-zanabiq al-baidaa' (A soldier dreaming of white lilies), 1973
  • Complete Works, 1973. Now al-A'amal al-jadida (2004) and al-A'amal al-oula (2005).
  • Muhawalah raqm 7 (Attempt number 7), 1974
  • Tilka suratuha wa-hadha intihar al-ashiq (That's her image, and that's the suicide of her lover), 1975
  • Ahmad al-za'tar, 1976
  • A'ras (Weddings), 1977
  • al-Nasheed al-jasadi (The bodily anthem), 1980. Joint work
  • Qasidat Bayrut (Ode to Beirut), 1982
  • Madih al-zill al-'ali (A eulogy for the tall shadow), 1983
  • Hissar li-mada'eh al-bahr, 1984
  • Victims of a Map, 1984. Joint work with Samih al-Qasim and Adonis in English.
  • Sand and Other Poems, 1986
  • Hiya ughniyah, hiya ughniyah (It's a song, it's a song), 1985
  • Ward aqal (Fewer roses), 1985
  • Ma'asat al-narjis, malhat al-fidda (Tragedy of daffodils, comedy of silver), 1989
  • Ara ma oreed (I see what I want), 1990
  • Ahad 'asher kaukaban (Eleven planets), 1992
  • Limaza tarakt al-hissan wahidan (Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?), 1995. English translation 2006 by Jeffrey Sacks (Archipelago Books) (ISBN 0976395010)
  • Psalms, 1995. A selection from Uhibbuki aw la uhibbuki, translation by Ben Bennani
  • Sareer El-Ghariba (Bed of a stranger), 1998
  • Then Palestine, 1999 (with Larry Towell, photographer, and Rene Backmann)
  • Jidariyya (Mural), 2000
  • The Adam of Two Edens: Selected Poems, 2000 (Syracuse University Press and Jusoor) (edited by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forche)
  • Halat Hissar (State of siege), 2002
  • La ta'tazer 'amma fa'alt (Don't apologize for what you did), 2003
  • Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems, 2003. Translations by Munir Akash, Caroyln Forché and others
  • al-A'amal al-jadida (The new works), 2004. A selection of Darwish's recent works
  • al-A'amal al-oula (The early works), 2005. Three volumes, a selection of Darwish's early works
  • Ka-zahr el-lawz aw ab'ad (Same as almond flowers or farther), 2005
  • The Butterfly's Burden, 2007 (Copper Canyon Press) (translation by Fady Joudah)


  • Shai'on 'an al-wattan (Something about the homeland), 1971
  • Wada'an ayatuha al-harb, wada'an ayuha al-salaam (Farwell, war, farwell, peace), 1974
  • Yawmiyyat al-hozn al-'aadi (Diary of the usual sadness), 1973 (Turkish translation, 2009 by Hakan Özkan [115013])
  • Dhakirah li-al-nisyan (Memory for Forgetfulness), 1987. English translation 1995 by Ibrahim Muhawi
  • Fi wasf halatina (Describing our condition), 1987
  • al-Rasa'il (The Letters), 1990. Joint work with Samih al-Qasim
  • Aabiroon fi kalamen 'aaber (Bypassers in bypassing words), 1991
  • Memory for Forgetfulness, 1995 (University of California Press) (translated by Ibrahim Muhawi)
  • Fi hadrat al-ghiyab (In the presence of absence), 2006
  • athar alfarasha (A River Dies of Thirst: journals), 2009 (Archipelago Books) (translated by Catherine Cobham)


  1. BBC News 9 August 2008 Palestinian 'national poet' dies
  2. New York Times 22 December 2001 A Poet's Palestine as a Metaphor by Adam Shatz
  3. Guardian Saturday June 8, 2002 Poet of the Arab world by Maya Jaggi
  4. Saudi Gazette 10 August 2008 Death defeats Darwish
  5. PHRC Saturday June 8, 2002 Poet of the Arab world by Maya Jaggi, Originally printed in the Guardian
  6. Geocities Mahmoud Darwish Biography by Sameh Al-Natour.
  8. Seattle Times Saturday, August 9, 2008 Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish dead at 67 By Diaa Hadid
  9. New York Times 10 May 1996 Ramallah Journal;Suitcase No Longer His Homeland, a Poet Returns By Joel Greenberg
  10. Ha'aretzPalestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish to attend event in Haifa By Yoav Stern,
  11. BBC News 16 July 2007 Palestinian poet derides factions
  12. see the site
  14. from the Academy of American Poets
  15. Passing in passing words
  16. Guardian 11 August 2008 Mahmoud Darwish by Peter Clark
  17. New York Times 7 March 2000 Ramallah Journal; Poetry of Arab Pain: Are Israeli Students Ready? by Susan Sachs
  19. BBC News 7 March 2000 Poetry sends Israel into political storm
  20. New York Times 14 March 2000 Barak Survives 2 No-Confidence Motions by Susan Sontag
  21. Jpost10 August 2008 Should Darwish's poetry be taught in schools? By Ehud Zion Waldoks
  22. New York Times 25 August 1993 Palestinian Critics Accuse Arafat Of Secret Concessions to Israelis by Youseff M. Ibrahim page 2
  24. New York Times 5 April, 1988 Palestinian's Poem Unnerves Israelis
  25. CBC 9 August 2008 Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish dies
  26. AFP 9 August 2008 Famed Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish dies: hospital
  27. I am Yusuf, oh my father
  28. My Mother's Bread
  29. International Herald Tribune 10 August 2008 Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet, is dead Reuters, The Associated Press
  30. [1]
  31. Marcel Khalife's website In Defence of Freedom and Creativity By Mahmoud Darwish
  32. New York Times 14 May 2005 Letting Music Speak of Mideast Pain by Felicia R Lee
  33. Official Mahmoud Darwish website
  34. New York Times 19 September 1988 Waiting, Forever, for Mr. Arafat
  35. New York Times 15 May 1998 Mideast Turmoil: In Jerusalem; Israeli Police In a Clash With Arabs by Joel Greenberg
  36. The Progressive May 2002 Mahmoud Darwish: Palestine's Poet of Exile By Nathalie Handal
  37. Tikun Olam Aug 10th, 2008 Mahmoud Darwish, Palestine’s Greatest Poet, Dies by Richard Silverstein
  39. al 10 August 2008 Palestinian poet Darwish dies
  40. Jpost 10 August 2008 PA may request Galilee burial for poet By Associated Press
  41. Ha'aretz 10 August 2008 Palestinians: Mahmoud Darwish to be laid to rest in Israel By Zvi Bar'el
  42. Washington Post 10 August 2008 Palestinians plan big funeral for poet Darwish By Mohammed Assadi
  43. 11 August 2008 Mahmoud Darwish funeral postponed till Wednesday
  44. Ha'aretz 14 August 2008 Mahmoud Darwish - The death of a Palestinian cultural symbol By Avi Issacharoff and Jack Khoury

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