A song of Palestine
à propos Mahmoud Darwich's
« La Palestine comme métaphore » (« Palestine as a metaphor »)
and « Rien qu'une autre année » (« Nothing but one more year »)
by Jean-Michel MAULPOIX
Translated from the original French by Catherine Wieder
the original text in French
Mahmoud Darwich's « Nothing but one more year » is the new edition of a personal anthology published first in 1983, and digging from sixteen years of poetic writing (1966-1982), « Palestine as a metaphor » having enlightened his path and sometimes giving us quite a few clues on his
Mahmoud Darwich's first poems make us listen to a love lyricism in which the attachment to the native country and the expression of the feeling of love seem to be merged
together. The part played by natural elements is
decisive. A symbol of motherland, the earth is praised as being the « first mother ». It also leads to the search and erection of one's own physical existence through
poetry. A sensory dimension is already present wherefrom it will never diverge.
Later on, the political involvement seems far more
obvious. Writing both becomes dramatized and weighed down from a more complex relationship with myths and
Then, in his more mature
period, such a writing aims at some opening.
One witnesses a rise in power both in efficiency and
simplicity. The voice finds the most naked words and borrows from the most familiar objects to enunciate its wrath or its faithfulness : « We shall dispell them from the flower pot and the washing line », « my life belongs to those hands that prepare my coffee in the morning ». It thus perfectly illustrates Darwich's words according to which « our permanent literary
problem, for us Palestinians, is that we are doomed to be the children of the immediate instant since our present never brings itself to either begin or
Words serve as a rejoinder to a pain which they
dig. Such is the voice of exile. What does it mean to be a Palestinian but to know exile on one's own land, to live in one's own home as a
refugee. Darwich is he « who comes from a country devoid of a country ». Hence an acute pondering on oddness and
otherness. Belonging either to society, to family or to love, exile is the dominant
theme, i.e. that which calls forth poetry to which the latter is now compelled to
answer. Exile, according to Darwich, defines the fundamental human condition.
In a rhymed and rhythmical
language, Darwich, the Galilean, dialogues with free verse through a classical
metrics. Such a poetry evolves on several registers. Epic lyricism entails texts in which a complex thematic
temporality, the brisk notation in the pattern of a diary or a camera, and lyrical incantation are
intertwined. The several dimensions of narrative dramatic dialogue and fable all dialogue herein
Undoubtedly, such a poetry calls out
on the injunction mode :
« Remember me before I forget my own hands »,
on the blessing mode :
« Blessed be he who may abort fire in lighting »,
on the prayer mode :
« mercy for those printing
mercy for the walls demanding
mercy for writers in
mercy for a people to whom we had promised access to the rose through the door of bitter ashes »,
on the dialogue mode :
« Do you often die ?
And I do rise up from the
dead. I catch my shadow as I would with a ripe apple »,
or, more generally, on the head word mode :
« dear friends, don't you ever die before apologizing to a rose you never
to a country you never visited
to a climax you never reached
to women who didn't give the reins with the sea's icon and the minaret's tatoo ».
One can't help but being struck by the fire of such a lyricism daring comparisons and finding gripping phrases : « They sold my blood as if it were tinned soup », « The smell of coffee is a geography », « Birds are the continuation of morning », « The river is the hairpin of a suicidal woman ».
Answering those who turn him into the champion of the Palestinian cause, Darwich repeats all along his interviews that political dimension in his poetry which aims at being
discreet, implicit and never proclaimed. He stresses again and again that « the poet is not necessarily doomed to offer his reader a political agenda ». The strength of poetry fits in its extreme
frailty. Surely, the poetic scene is the very stage for History but it is such that the most multifarious elements are mingled together and that the enemies are turned into « loyal adversaries », as Char would say.
If the poet pays careful attention to
History, he also keeps a fixed look on the initial so as to keep its
memory. Both the intimate and the collective, the love of a woman and that of a land, the expression of a desire to live and that of a poetical
fight, all telescope themselves. The specificity of the poem's task is thus to grant Palestine its identity by multiplying the images that craze its presence : be it a woman or his own country, it embodies itself through the twofold lyrical process of figuration and
celebration. It links, allegorizes itself and gives itself out into numerous
examples, thus rebuilding its own landscape. The imaginary saves what History breaks up.
Mahmoud Darwich advocates an open conception of the Arabian identity not as an identity folded unto
itself, but as seen through the very language viewed as
multifariousness. in his texts, the dialogue with the major cultures
(the Canaanian, the Hebraic, the Greek, the Roman, the
Persian, the Egyptian, the Arab, the Ottoman, the British and the French) that came one after the other on the Palestinian land. And here indeed does the very Voice erect its true national inscription.
If Mahmoud Darwich is indeed a Palestinian
poet, it is both because he lends his people his voice but also because Palestine gradually aims at becoming itself the metaphor of the human condition.