Commemorating the Life of Mahmoud Darwish: A Poet of Resistance
BY: Mary Elbanna/Contributing Writer
Mahmoud Darwish (1941 – 2008) is an award-winning Palestinian poet born in the village al-Birweh in Galilee, Palestine. When Darwish was six, he and his family were forced to flee Palestine as refugees during the start of the Israeli occupation and relocated to southern Lebanon. Shortly after, his family returned to Palestine and was deemed refugees within their own country because Israel claimed the territory.
Darwish and his family resided in Haifa for more than 10 years, where Darwish completed high school and went on to join the Israeli Communist Party. He discovered his love of poetry at a young age and was arrested multiple times during the 1960s for traveling between Palestinian villages without a permit to recite poetry. Darwish served as the editor for two communist newspapers Al-Itihad and Al-Jadeed. Israeli forces arrested him after being accused of “hostile activities” against the state during his role as editor.
In 1970, Darwish left Haifa and ventured to Moscow to study at the Social Sciences Institute, where he lost his allegiance to communist ideals after seeing the reality of a communist state. Through all of this turmoil, Darwish found refuge in his poetry. He believed his poems served as an autobiography that allowed a reader entry into his thoughts and feelings.
Upon leaving Moscow, Darwish entered a new journey of his life in Cairo, and eventually Lebanon. The difficulties he had faced in his early life continued as he lived through the Lebanese Civil War, witnessing the death of multiple friends.
Darwish continued to write throughout all of his experiences. He was deemed a “Poet of Resistance” because he his identity as a Palestinian refugee played a major role in the pieces he wrote. He intertwined his dream of freedom for the Palestinian people in his writing, which famous Arab American poet Naomi Shihab Nye praised.
Mahmoud Darwish has received numerous awards for his globally renowned works including the Lenin Peace Prize, the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize, and the French Belles Lettres Medal. His poetry has served as an inspiration to Arabs across the world, including here in America. Arab Americans use his poetry to symbolize the fight to overcome oppression, as well as advocate for peace in a world torn by war.
Here are 20 of Mahmoud Darwish’s most influential quotes:
1. “Against barbarity, poetry can resist only by confirming its attachment to human fragility like a blade of grass growing on a wall while armies march by.”
2. “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.”
3. “Poetry and beauty are always making peace. When you read something beautiful you find coexistence; it breaks walls down.”
4. “I don’t decide to represent anything except myself. But that self is full of collective memory.”
5. “When I passed the age of 50, I learned how to control my emotions.”
6. “History laughs at both the victim and the aggressor.”
7. “Without hope we are lost.”
8. “Sometimes I feel as if I am read before I write. When I write a poem about my mother, Palestinians think my mother is a symbol for Palestine. But I write as a poet, and my mother is my mother. She’s not a symbol.”
9. “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.”
10. “A person can only be born in one place. However, he may die several times elsewhere: in the exiles and prisons, and in a homeland transformed by the occupation and oppression into a nightmare.”
11. “Sarcasm helps me overcome the harshness of the reality we live, eases the pain of scars and makes people smile.”
12. “Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room.”
13. “I believe in the power of poetry, which gives me reasons to look ahead and identify a glint of light.”
14. “For the Arabs in Israel there is always a tension between nationality and identity.”
15. “The importance of poetry is not measured, finally, by what the poet says but by how he says it.”
16. “To be under occupation, to be under siege, is not a good inspiration for poetry.”
17. “I’ve built my homeland, I’ve even founded my state – in my language.”
18. “Palestinian people are in love with life.”
19. “When a writer declares that his first book is his best, that is bad. I progress successively from book to book.”
20. “I see poetry as spiritual medicine.”