Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mahmoud Darwish, 13 March 1941 – 9 August 2008

"He is terrified of becoming an orphan again. He is afraid we will forget him in the rush of these endings."
- Mamoud Darwish, _Memory for Forgetfulness_ (133)

Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1941 in al-Birwa, a small village in Western Galilee. He published eight books of prose and more than thirty books of poetry. He spoke several languages fluently, wrote in Arabic. Most of his work has not been translated into English.

Though I feel certain I had heard the name before, I did not come across one of his books until earlier this year when I picked up
_Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982_, which chronicles "Hiroshima Day" of the Lebanese Civil War and opens with a wish for five minutes of respite from bombing so the narrator (Darwish) can make a cup of coffee. From the second page:

"Three o'clock. Daybreak riding on fire. A nightmare coming from the sea. Roosters made of metal. Smoke. Metal preparing a feast for metal the master, and a dawn that flares up in all the senses before it breaks. A roaring that chases me out of bed and throws me into this narrow hallway. I want nothing, and I hope for nothing. I can't direct my limbs in this pandemonium. No time for caution, and no time for time."

I learned today that Darwish died August 9 three days after undergoing heart surgery. He was 67. Well-respected worldwide, he received the Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom in 2001, and was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. Well worth looking up for the beauty of his work and for a different/literary way in to the study of Middle Eastern history and politics, a recent article about his life/death and influence can be found here:


"In other cities, memory can resort to a piece of paper. You may sit waiting for something, in a white void, and a passing idea may descend on you. You catch it, lest it escape, and as days roll and you come upon it again, you recognize its source and thank the city that gave you this present. But in Beirut you flow away and scatter. The only container is water itself. Memory assumes the shape of a city's chaos and takes up a speech that makes you forget the words that went before." (Memory for Forgetfulness 91)

"I didn't say 'I love you' because I didn't know if I loved you so long as I kept hiding my blood under your skin and shedding the honey of bees gone crazy in the capillaries of the holy sacrament--the sacrament that so absorbed me that my body was in a moment of continuous birth." (Memory for Forgetfulness 120)

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