Darwish, Mahmud

▪ 2009

      Palestinian poet

born March 13, 1942, Birwa, British Palestine [now in Israel]

died Aug. 9, 2008, Houston, Texas
gave voice to the struggles of the Palestinian people through several books of prose and more than 20 collections of poetry. After the establishment of Israel (1948), Darwīsh witnessed massacres that forced his family to escape to Lebanon. A year later their clandestine return put them in limbo, as they were declared “present-absent aliens.” Darwīsh left Birwa again in 1970 and traveled to the Soviet Union to complete his education in Moscow. He lived in Cairo, Beirut, London, and Paris, as well as Tunis, Tun., before returning home in 1996 to live in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Darwīsh's life in exile inspired his most creative work, and he often personified Palestine itself as a mother or a cruel beloved. In his single-poem volume Halat hisar (2002; “A State of Siege”), he explored the multiple reoccupations of Ramallah and the resulting sense of Palestinian isolation, though he foresaw a future of peaceful coexistence that could be achieved through dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. A member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Darwīsh wrote the declaration of independence issued (1988) by the Palestine National Council, but he resigned from the PLO in 1993 to protest the signing of the Oslo Accords. In 2000 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak vetoed a plan by his education minister to include Darwīsh's poems of reconciliation in Israel's school curriculum. Collections of Darwīsh's poems in English translation include The Adam of Two Edens (2000), Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (2003), and The Butterfly's Burden (2007). From 1981 he also served as editor of the literary journal Al-Karmel.

▪ 2003

      Maḥmūd Darwīsh, perhaps the most acclaimed poet of the Arab world, continued in 2002 to give voice to the plight of the Palestinian people, some of whom, like himself, had endured the painful experience of exile, while others lived under Israeli occupation. In his single-poem volume Ḥālat Ḥiṣār (2002; “A State of Siege”), Darwīsh explored the multiple reoccupations of the town of Ram Allah in the West Bank north of Jerusalem and described the magnitude of the ordeal and the resulting sense of Palestinian isolation. At the same time, he foresaw a future of peace and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians that could be achieved through the dialogue of cultures. In 2000 the Israeli education minister made plans to include Darwīsh's poems of reconciliation in the school curriculum, but the prime minister vetoed the plan.

      Darwīsh was born on March 13, 1942, in Birwa, Palestine (now Israel), six years before the nakbah (“catastrophe”) of 1948 that resulted in the establishment of Israel. He witnessed massacres in his village that forced his family to escape to Lebanon. A year later their clandestine return to their homeland put them in limbo as they were declared “present-absent aliens.” Darwīsh left his village a second time in 1970 and traveled to Moscow to complete his education. Before his return to Ram Allah in 1996, he lived in Cairo, Beirut, London, Paris, and Tunis, Tunisia. It was Darwīsh's conviction that his painful life in exile inspired his creative work. Since 1981 he had served as editor of the literary journal Al-Karmel. In addition, he authored 7 books of prose and 21 collections of poetry.

      The gripping power of Darwīsh's poetry could be explained by the sincerity of his emotions, the originality of his poetic images, and the universal appeal of his work. The poet spoke with the voice of his people but not as a guiding prophet. He borrowed from the Old and New Testaments, classical Arabic literature, Arab-Islamic history, and Greek and Roman mythology to construct his metaphors. He preserved the memory of his elusive homeland in his writing, in which Palestine was often personified as a mother or a cruel beloved.

      Darwīsh diverged from the political in some of his poems, relying on symbolism to relate personal experience. He devoted an entire collection, Jidāriyya (2002; “Mural,”), to a painful personal experience—his brush with death following heart surgery in 1998.

      Darwīsh's work was translated into more than 22 languages. In November 2001 he was awarded the Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom, which carried a $350,000 award. In addition, a translation of his work from Arabic into English was to be funded by the foundation and published by the University of California Press. Among his many international awards were the Lotus Prize (1969), the Lenin Peace Prize (1983), the French medal of Knight of Arts and Belles Letters (1997), and the wisām (order) of intellectual merit from Moroccan King Muhammad VI in 2000.

Aida A. Bamia

* * *

▪ Palestinian poet
born March 13, 1942, Birwa, Palestine [now Israel]
died Aug. 9, 2008, Houston, Texas, U.S.
 Palestinian poet who gave voice to the struggles of the Palestinian people.

      After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Darwīsh witnessed massacres that forced his family to escape to Lebanon. A year later their clandestine return to their homeland put them in limbo, as they were declared “present-absent aliens.” Darwīsh left Birwa a second time in 1970 and traveled to the Soviet Union to complete his education in Moscow. He lived in Cairo, Beirut, London, and Paris, as well as Tunis, Tunisia, before returning in 1996 to live in Palestine, in the West Bank town of Ramallah. He was a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and wrote the declaration of independence issued by the Palestine National Council in 1988, but he resigned from the PLO in 1993 to protest the signing of the Oslo Accords by PLO chairman Yasīr ʿArafāt (Arafāt, Yāsirʿ). In 2000 the Israeli education minister made plans to include Darwīsh's poems of reconciliation in the school curriculum, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (Barak, Ehud) vetoed the plan.

      Darwīsh authored several books of prose and more than 20 collections of poetry. From 1981 he also served as editor of the literary journal Al-Karmel. The power of his poetry could be explained by the sincerity of his emotions and the originality of his poetic images. He borrowed from the Old and New Testaments, classical Arabic literature, Arab Islamic history, and Greek and Roman mythology to construct his metaphors. It was Darwīsh's conviction that his life in exile inspired his creative work. He often personified Palestine itself as a mother or a cruel beloved. In his single-poem volume Ḥālat ḥiṣār (2002; “A State of Siege”), Darwīsh explored the multiple reoccupations of Ramallah and described the resulting sense of Palestinian isolation. However, he foresaw a future of peace and coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians that could be achieved through dialogue between cultures. Darwīsh diverged from the political in some of his poems, relying on symbolism to relate personal experience. He devoted an entire collection, Jidāriyya (2002; “Mural”), to his brush with death following heart surgery in 1998. Collections of his poems in English translation include The Adam of Two Edens (2000), Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (2003), and The Butterfly's Burden (2007).

      Darwīsh's work was translated into some two dozen languages. Among his many international awards were the Lotus Prize (1969), the Lenin Peace Prize (1983), the French medal of Knight of Arts and Belles Letters (1997), the wisām (order) of intellectual merit from Moroccan King Muhammad VI in 2000, and the 2001 Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom. He died after undergoing heart surgery in the United States.

Aida A. Bamia Ed.
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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