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

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 work.

 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 symbols.

 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 end. »

 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 together.

 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 workers,

mercy for the walls demanding grass,

mercy for writers in obituaries,

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 saw,

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.