Farewell Mahmoud Darwish

Sinan Antoon recalls the voice of a nation in Al-Ahram:

Dar_3 Very few poets become the voice of their nation and even fewer succeed in transcending that to become much more. Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was that rare bird who crossed many skies and horizons. His death last week, following complications from open-heart surgery in Houston, Texas, ended an epic life and interrupted a stunningly creative and prolific output, especially in his later years. It is difficult to underestimate Darwish’s symbolic capital and his cultural and political significance. With his departure Palestine loses one of its most precious cultural icons, a poetic voice of universal echoes. The larger Arab world and its diaspora bid farewell to one of its best modern poets and the most popular and successful one in the last three decades. His poems were set to music, discussed in the Israeli Knesset, and his recitals could fill sport stadiums. Darwish’s absence will further enhance his near-mythical status in the collective memory of Palestinians and Arabs.

Darwish was born on 13 March 1941 in Al-Birweh in Palestine’s Galilee. At the age of seven he and his family were forced by Israeli forces to flee their village to Lebanon. Al-Birweh was destroyed by the Israelis and a settlement has taken its place. When Darwish’s family returned a year later they settled in Deir Al-Assad, near the traces of their destroyed village. The harrowing experience of losing his home and being an internal exile in his land at such a young age would haunt Darwish’s poetry and become a central theme with rich and complex variations running throughout his oeuvre. “I will never forget that wound,” he said. In one of his last books Darwish wrote of still hearing “the wailing of a village under a settlement”.

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