Written For Medyan's report for Al Jazeera online 13-14 August
How sorry, how moved I am that Darwish has died. I knew him and I didn't know him, like the thousands of his readers who are not Palestinians. But we all have seen that here was a poet who, as Neruda spoke for Chile, could and did speak for his people. But rather different from Neruda. Darwish suffered oppression, prison and exile from his native Galillee and then from Beirut. Even in his last years, he saw his office bombed and ransacked in Ramallah, like some classical poet whose papers are lost to the barbarians.
Why do I say that I knew Darwish? I, like so many thousands, knew that I knew him. We knew him, not because of his life story, not even because he had the extraordinary gift of telling himself and his loves with all the magic arts of metaphor and particular notes of beauty of the great poet. We knew him because he by his classically extended poems so urgently, gracefully, irrefutably represented the ugly modern facts of Palestine, the injustice to millions he made explicit within his own single narrative.
How natural that he should have been able to do this, since his life was dominated by exile. In his twenties he was famous among Palestinians for his defiant verses.Yet it has taken years before English speaking translators, among them the US poet Carolyn Forche and the Irish poet Sarah Maguire, have made us English speakers familiar with Darwish.
But the tone of exile, of inescapable loss, of love bittersweet of a country not now his, a beloved place clinging barely to the map, a future lost among so many lives lost; and the subtle and wistful and lifelong effort to deal with this, to make something positive of it without betraying the lost ones: that is poetry of a order all humanity recognises. And it seems right and according to his own poetry of love, to trust that the whole world will now see that it is the endless resistance of the Palestinians, like a stone foundation, that has made Mahmoud Darwish not only their national symbol, but also the great world poet that he truly is.
NB I review for 'Banipal' the wide-rangingArabic-English magazine that promotes modern Arab literature in the West. Look out for their memorial issue on Darwish soon...