Poetry and Politics

Poetry and Politics

Poetry is a great love of mine.  I write it and I read the works of many poets. Poetry and news do not necessarily seem compatible but today a poet was in the news. Although he lived in exile for many years, Mahmoud Darwish, who died in 2008, was born in Palestine and became his homeland’s national poet. Like most poets, his poetry grew out of his life experience. When young, he was an angry young man who expressed his pain in words that became the lament and the cry of rage of his people. He wrote of exile, occupation, injustice, and saw Palestine as Eden lost.

Although I knew of Mahmoud Darwish, I had not ventured to read his works. Having now read him I concur with the opinion of many that he was indeed a great poet. Many, including Israeli politicians, may not like his work because what he writes contradicts their own entrenched positions. But his words sear and penetrate as they express the pain of the shared human wounds of injustice and loss together with levels of anger that so frequently emanate from the soul of a suffering people, regardless of rights or politics.  

Darwish’s work has been translated into 35 languages. In Israel, his poetry is offered as electives in advanced high school literature programs. One of his poems, entitled “Think of Others” (quoted below) is a part of a program about the Holocaust taught to Arab high school pupils. In the year 2000 the then Minister of Education, Yossi Sarid attempted and failed to include Darwish’s work into the Israeli high school curriculum.

Poetry can be provocative and even subversive. It has ability to both articulate the longings and the pain of human experience and to elicit strong response, sometimes with raw emotional power. Darwish’s words remain fresh. They continue to speak for his people and his homeland from beyond his grave. The very fact that almost a decade has passed since his death and his words are again being heard in Israeli government offices and newsrooms bears witness to the influence that poetry can have even in high places.  

The controversy today is over an official Israeli army radio broadcast that reviewed some his works that Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, considered to be subversive. The poem below, because of its strong pro-Palestinian sentiments, is one of Darwish’s works that has angered Israeli politicians.

I’m personally delighted that poetry is in the news, on the front pages of our press, and being debated in high places. Perhaps someone will listen and heed the words, see them as pertinent today as when they were written almost a generation ago.

 

Passers Between the Passing Words
O those who pass between fleeting words
carry your names, and be gone
Rid our time of your hours, and be gone
Steal what you will from the blueness of the sea
And the sand of memory
Take what pictures you will, so that you understand
That which you never will:
How a stone from our land builds the ceiling of our sky
From you steel and fire, from us our flesh
From you yet another tank, from us stones
From you teargas, from us rain…
It is time for you to be gone
Live wherever you like, but do not live among us
It is time for you to be gone
Die wherever you like, but do not die among us
For we have work to do in our land
So leave our country
Our land, our sea
Our wheat, our salt, our wounds
Everything, and leave
The memories of memory
those who pass between fleeting words!

Passers Between the Passing Words
by Mahmoud Darwish, (1988)

 


Think of Others

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
       (do not forget the pigeon's food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
       (do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
      (those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
       (do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
       (those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
       (those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
       (say: “If only I were a candle in the dark").

Think of Others
by Mahmoud Darwish, from Almond Blossoms and Beyond (2005).
Translated from the original Arabic by Mohammed Shaheen, Interlink Books, 201

 
Goody Two Shoes Searches for Gold

Goody Two Shoes Searches for Gold

True Generosity or False Charity: 3 Challenges

True Generosity or False Charity: 3 Challenges