The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (d. 2008) was born in al-Birwa on this day in 1941. To commemorate his entrance into our world on March 13, ArabLit has 13 poems (and poemish texts):
Muhawi’s translations have a wonderful sense of the rhythm of the original, and this particular text is narrative, open-hearted, and with deeply etched characters. It opens:
—What are you doing, father?
—I’m searching for my heart, which fell away that night.
—Do you think you’ll find it here?
—Where else am I going to nd it? I bend to the ground and pick it up piece by piece just as the women of the fellahin pick up olives in October, one olive at a time.
—But you’re picking up pebbles!
—Doing that is a good exercise for memory and perception. Who knows? Maybe these pebbles are petrified pieces of my heart.
Perhaps the greatest of Darwish’s works, this version brought Antoon the 2012 National Translation Award:
Love, like meaning, is out on the open road, but like poetry, it is difficult. It requires talent, endurance, and skillful formulation, because of its many stations. It is not enough to love, for that is one of nature’s magical acts, like rainfall and thunder. It takes you out of yourself into the other’s orbit and then you have to fend for yourself. It is not enough to love, you have to know how to love. Do you know how?
The charming “The Dice Player” with a visual adaptation:
There is no margin in modern language left
to celebrate what we love,
because all that will be … was
5) “The Second Olive Tree,” tr. Marilyn Hacker
And with horses, olive trees:
The olive tree does not weep and does not laugh. The olive tree
6) “Nothing But Iraq,” tr. Shareah Taleghani
A cry to Badr Shakir al-Sayyab:
I remember as-Sayyab screaming into the Gulf in vain:
And where is my will?
It stopped over there, on the other side of the collective voice. But now, I want nothing more than the aroma of coffee. Now I feel shame. I feel shamed by my fear, and by those defending the scent of the distant homeland–that fragrance they’ve never smelled because they weren’t born on her soil. She bore them, but they were born away from her. Yet they studied her constantly, without fatigue or boredom; and from overpowering memory and constant pursuit, they learned what it means to belong to her.
“You’re aliens here,” they say to them there.
“You’re aliens here,” they say to them here.
8) “Diary,” tr. Tania Tamari Nasir and John Berger.
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 Watch an ant who has found what to eat Then look at my watch There’s still time to shave have a bath I say to myself: One needs one’s finery when about to write So I’ll wear the blue shirt I sit til noon alive at my desk I do not see the effect of color on words Whiteness whiteness whiteness I prepare my last lunch I pour out wine into two glasses For me and for the one who will come Unannounced Then I take a siesta in between two dreams
A noun sentence, no verb
11) “If I Were a Hunter,” tr. Shakir Mustafa
If a hunter I were
12) “Mural,” translated by John Berger and, Rema Hammami
My nurse says: you are better now
13) “ID Card,” tr. Salman Masalha and Vivian Eden
This would not likely be a poem Darwish would choose among only 13 of his works. But it is one that, although written in his early days, in 1964, continues to have great political resonance:
Write it down! Im an Arab
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