Mahmoud Darwish by Ahdaf Soueif

Mahmoud Darwish by Ahdaf Soueif

Postby montada » Wed Aug 27, 2008 5:41 am

The laureate of all Arabs Mahmoud Darwish is dead, but the voice of the
Palestinian resistance will live on in all of us


Ahdaf Soueif The Guardian,
Tuesday August 12 2008

None of us really thought he'd die. Our loss is great, we tell each other.
In our minds we think of Edward Said, of Haider Abdel-Shafi, of Faisal
Husseini, and even - yes - of Yasser Arafat. The "big men" of Palestine. And
now, Mahmoud Darwish.

He was seven when - in the Nakba of 1948 - he fled from Birweh, his village
in the Galilee. At the age of 12, living in Deir el-Asad, in what had become
Israel, with a reputation as a precocious child poet, he was asked to
compose a poem for a public reading. The occasion was the celebration of
Israel's "Independence Day" and the poem he read described the feelings of a
child who returns to his town to find other people sleeping in his bed,
tilling his father's lands. He was summoned to the military governor who
told him that if he continued to write subversive material his father's work
permit would be revoked. That incident set the tone, I think, for Darwish's
life.

It was impossible for a man of Darwish's sensibility and context not to join
the resistance. He did. He wrote. And between 1961 and 1967 he was jailed
five times by the Israelis. He lived where the resistance lived: in Beirut,
Cairo, Tunis, Paris and Amman - as well as Ramallah and Haifa. He produced
journalism and founded al-Karmel - for a while the top literary magazine of
the Arab world. And he wrote more than 20 volumes of poetry.

For the last three decades no one could have been more celebrated or
beloved. His poetic concerns, struggles, experiments and blazing successes
have been noted, documented and analysed across the world. His poems early
on became embedded in a nation's consciousness in a way that is rare for a
living writer. Poets followed, responded and debated with him in their
works; novelists prefaced chapters with his verses; performers sang his
lyrics.

Darwish gave a voice and an identity to the Palestinian revolution and to
the resistance. But his 1964 anthem ID Card ("Record: I am Arab!") made him,
particularly after 1967, the laureate of all the Arabs. That responsibility
sometimes lay heavy on him. He acknowledged a duty to his people, yes, but
he also felt a duty to poetry itself.

In the letter to the writers who took part in the Palestine Festival of
Literature last May, he spoke of "how difficult it is to be Palestinian, and
how difficult it is for a Palestinian to be a writer or a poet ... How can
he achieve literary freedom in such slavish conditions? And how can he
preserve the literariness of literature in such brutal times?" There was the
core problem of the "engaged" artist. A strategy that came naturally to
Darwish was to raise the issues above the specific and the parochial, to see
the specific with great clarity, but to see also the universal in the
specific.

In State of Siege, the poems he wrote from besieged Ramallah in January
2002, he addressed his Israeli enemy: "A land on the brink of dawn / Let us
not quarrel / About the number of those who've died: / Here they lie
together, / Furnishing the grass for us, / That we should be reconciled."

But reconciliation needed to be founded on justice. His great poem for
Muhammad al-Durrah, the Palestinian boy shot by the Israeli army as he
sheltered behind his father, struck a chord across the world. Yet, he
declared: "We love life - if we can have it."

Darwish ended his address to the Palestine Festival with the words: "Know
that we are still here; that we live." Obituaries in the Arab newspapers are
mourning the last poet who could fill a football stadium. But Darwish lives
in us and in his poetry. He lives also in the work of younger Arab poets who
will soon be filling football stadiums. They are his disciples. And they are
still here.

· Ahdaf Soueif is the author of The Map of Love
montada
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