Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The wisdom of Mahmoud Darwish

(image from the Nation)

"Is this why the more I know the louder I lament?"

Mahmoud Darwish

Every day without fail I read some of Mahmoud Darwish's poetry. It's hard to describe its effect on me. The wonderful website The Distance Between Doors is a treasure trove of poems, writings and speeches by Darwish. I came across this wonderful speech by Darwish in a recent post on the site which features his writings and poems:

extract from a Speech that Mahmoud Darwish held at the occasion of the presentation of the 2004 Prince Claus Awards on 1 December 2004 in the royal Palace in Amsterdam.
"A person can only be born in one place; however, he may die several times elsewhere: in the exiles and prisons, and in a homeland transformed by the occupation and oppression into a nightmare.

Poetry is perhaps what teaches us to nurture the charming illusion: how to be re-born out of ourselves over and over again, and use words to construct a better world, a fictitious world that enables us to sign a pact for a permanent and comprehensive peace... with life.

You know, of course, that I am from Palestine. What an exciting name; ambiguous, open to every possible interpretation, it evokes a certain longing and counter-longing, and triggers emotions of pityor anger. But the imaginary ancient Palestine, called "the land of love and peace", mother of the prophets, and the meeting point of earth and sky, does not resemble the real Palestine flooding with blood and tears.

It is denied peace because its people are deprived of freedom; denied love because its people aredeprived of justice; denied a better tomorrow close at hand because its occupied present is surrounded by walls of hatred that deprive its people of hope.

It is so difficult to be a Palestinian! And even more difficult for a Palestinian to be a poet! How can hesing without disturbing the harmony between words and things? How can he achieve beauty and utility at the same time? How can he pin down the place in language without transforming the language into topography? How can he protect reality from the pressure of the legend, and how can he protect his legend from the pressures of reality, to be part of history and witness to history's actions towards him, all at the same time? Time teaches us wisdom, but history teaches us irony.

How can the poet fight a war using a counter-language? How can he convert exile into a latent memory?How can he, as René Char says, transform the enemy into a rival? And how can he then convince him to memorize two lines of poetry by Yeats:
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love

Such difficult questions... maybe literature has the answers ... I don't know... and what a thrill it is not to know, for poetry is the endless journey towards the unknown".

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