In Memoriam: Palestine's Poet Laureate Mahmoud Darwish
"If you were told: you're going to die here this evening What would you do in the remaining time? Look at my watch Drink a glass of juice Munch an apple…" "I comb my hair and throw away the poem, this poem, in the wastepaper basket I am wearing the most chic Italian shirt. And in the company of Spanish violins I say farewell to myself and walk toward the cemetery." [What Remains of Life]
Today, Palestine bids farewell to one of its most cherished sons, renowned poet Mahmoud Darwish. Dubbed "The Poet of Palestine", Darwish has written some 30 poetry and prose collections, which have been translated into several languages.
Born in the village of Birwa inside the Green Line, Darwish fled to Lebanon in the 1948 War for one year before sneaking back into Palestine, now the newly established state of Israel. His hometown of Birwa had been completely destroyed by Israeli forces during the war. Darwish and his family finally settled in the town of Jdeida, southwest of his hometown. After moving to the former-USSR in 1970, he was not allowed to return to his homeland and lived in exile for 26 years, finally being allowed to return to Ramallah in 1996.
Upon his death on August 9, 2008 from heart surgery complications, Mahmoud Darwish had won the title of the Palestinians' poet warrior, defending the land and the people he loved so dearly. His love for Palestine, however, was not blind. He sharply criticized the Palestinians for their infighting and internal splits. He even resigned from the PLO Executive Committee after the leadership signed the Oslo Accords in 1994 in protest of the agreement.
However, it was the beauty of his words and the passion of his convictions that captured the minds and hearts of not only Palestinians but of so many others. The exile of the Palestinians in the 1948 War, to which he was party, was a common theme in his poetry and his fierce sense of identity an unbending pillar, which he refused to abandon.
"Record, I am an Arab without a name- without title in a patient country with people enraged My roots- were entrenched before the birth of time and before the opening of the eras before the olive trees, the pines, and grass."
It was Mahmoud Darwish who wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence speech delivered by late President Yasser Arafat in Algiers in 1988 and Darwish who so eloquently gave Arafat his words during his United Nations address in 1974. "I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
Today, just as millions mourn his death they also pay tribute to his life. Darwish's poetry has long been a symbol of Palestine, its land, its dispossession and the tenacity of its people. In his death, Darwish will forever be immortalized in the poetry he has bestowed on us for so long and which will be imprinted in our collective consciousness for eternity.
Needless to say, the death of our own poet laureate is a tremendous loss for us all. Like so many of other Palestinians who dedicated their lives to Palestine, he passed before the ultimate dream was realized. Still, Darwish will always be the son of Palestine, his bars of poetry transcending borders, exile and oppression.
Mahmoud Darwish, you will be missed.