With the largest number of migrants the world has ever seen – 244 million in 2015 – people who are displaced by exile, violence, poverty and environmental issues resulting from climate change, it’s hard not to think of poets like Darwish who lived or live large portions of their lives in exile from their homelands.
“. . . he says I am from there, I am from here, but I am neither there nor here. I have two names which meet and part… I have two languages, but I have long forgotten— which is the language of my dreams” Mahmoud Darwish’s farewell to Edward Said (1935-2003), professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual and founder of the field of postcolonial studies. Said was educated in the Western Cannon. He was a Palestinian-American born in Mandatory Palestine and a citizen of the United States through his father, Wadie Saïd, a WW 1 U.S. Army Veteran
Born in Mandated Palestine, Mahmoud Darwish has been called a poet of peace in times of war. He was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. Darwish used Palestine as a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection. He wrote of the anguish of dispossession and exile. He has been described as incarnating and reflecting “the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry.”
You can hear the lovely lilt of Arabic even in the English translations of this internationally know and recognized award winning poet. His awards included the Ibn Sina Prize, the Lotus prize from the Union of Afro-Asian Writers, France’s Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres medal, and the Prize for Cultural Freedom from the Lannan Foundation.
I Didn’t Apologize to the Well
I didn’t apologize to the well as I passed by it.
I borrowed a cloud from an ancient pine and squeezed it
like an orange. I waited for a mythical white deer.
I instructed my heart in patience: Be neutral, as though
you were not a part of me. Here, good shepherds
stood on air and invented the flute and enticed
mountain partridges into their traps. Here, I saddled
a horse for flight to my personal planets, and flew.
And here, a fortuneteller told me: Beware of asphalt roads
and automobiles, ride on your sigh. Here, I loosened
my shadow and waited. I selected the smallest stone
and stood wakefully by it. I broke apart a myth
and got broken myself. I circled the well until
I flew out of myself to what I’m not. And a voice
from deep in the well spoke to me: This grave
is not yours. And so I apologized. I read verses
from the wise Qur’an and said to the anonymous presence
in the well: Peace be with you and the day
you were killed in the land of peace and with the day
you’ll rise from the well’s darkness
© estate of Mahmoud Darwish
Photo credit: Mahmoud Darwish at University of Bethlehem in 2006 by Amer Shomali under CC BY-SA licence.