Darwish, Mahmoud

Darwish, Mahmoud, 1941–2008, widely considered the Palestinian national poet, b. Barwa, Palestine (now in Israel). He was born to middle-class Sunni Muslim farmers, who were displaced when soldiers from the newly formed state of Israel occupied (and later destroyed) his village. A Communist, Darwish attended university in Moscow for a year (1970), and in 1972 settled in Beirut. There he became an editor for a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) monthly journal and in 1975 was named director of the group's research center. When the PLO was expelled from Beirut (1982), Darwish settled in Cyprus and the following year he won the USSR's Stalin Peace Prize. Named to the PLO executive committee in 1987, he wrote the Palestinian declaration of independent statehood in 1988, but resigned from PLO leadership in 1993 in opposition to the Oslo accords and thereafter moved away from political life. In 1996 the poet settled in Ramallah in the West Bank, where he published Al Karmel, a journal featuring the work of young Arab writers.

Written in classical Arabic, many of Darwish's lyrical yet searing verses evoke a lost and Edenic Palestine of the mind; others reveal the realities of everyday life in contemporary Palestine. In powerfully precise poetic language, he describes the longings of his people and the sorrows of dispossession and exile, and reflects on the human condition. Some of his poetry has been translated into English, including the volumes A Letter from Exile (1970), The Music of Human Flesh (1980), Sand (1986), Psalms (1994), The Adam of Two Edens (2000), Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (2003), The Butterfly's Burden (2007), and If I Were Another (2009).

See his autobiographical Journal of an Ordinary Grief (1973, tr. 2010); studies by A. Månsson (2003) and H. Khamis Nassar and N. Rahman, ed. (2007).

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