A Personal Tribute
Anne Fairbairn AM
I feel very deeply saddened by the loss of Mahmoud Darwish who died on August 9th. He was a hugely gifted Palestinian poet and the celebrated, passionate voice of the Palestinian people.
I so admire his poetry that I made a special attempt to find out many things about his life and his poetry during my many visits to the Middle East over the years. Evidently he left Al-Birwah near Akka where he was born on March 13th 1941 and where his family had been land-owning Sunni Muslims, after an Israeli attack on his village. At the age of seven he found himself in Lebanon knowing little about his family. Later, he returned to Palestine to find his village totally ruined with an Israeli settlement in its place. He wrote a number of poems as a child in elementary school in Der Sal-Asaad. He was arrested by the Israelis and placed under house arrest a number of times and he as also put into prison. He eventually went to Moscow in 1970 and then to Cairo. He then lived for more than twenty years in both Beirut and Paris until his return in 1996 when he settled in Ramallah on the West Bank. During his lifetime Darwish has received a number of awards for his superb poetry. He published many volumes of poetry. Many of Darwish's poems have been put to music, most notably 'Rita,' 'Birds of Galilee' and 'I yearn for my mother's bread' and have become anthems for at least two generations of Arabs. He wrote twenty-one collections of poetry the last, 'The Impression of Butterflies,' in 2008.
I have been endeavoring to 'trans-create' several of his poems over the years. One of my favorite poems is 'Defiance' which I discussed at come length with Dr Hanan Ashrawi when I presented her with my poem 'Ain Al Sultan' at Parliament House in Sydney during her visit to Australia several years ago. She insisted that Darwish was 'At first a poet of resistance but then became a poet of conscience.' She also insisted that at no time did he lose his sense of humanity even when he became very famous.
Hannan Ashrawi now believes that, as a result of his death, 'Palestinians feel they have now lost the very essence of Palestinian being.'
I feel so very deeply for the Palestinian people and all that they have suffered for so many years that I want to pay my respect to the creative spirit, courage and poetic genius of this great man. He expressed in his superb poems the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people, either living in exile and under occupation.
It is interesting that, at his poetry reading in Ramallah in July this year, he gave red roses to each of those who came to hear his poetry. This is quite a coincidence for me to hear because I was just finishing a poem, 'Ward Taifi the Red Rose of Love.'
I agree with the Professor of Modern Literature at Beirut University, Mahmoud Atshan, when he said, 'By giving out red roses after his last poetry reading held in Ramallah, Darwish was saying good-bye because he had been suffering heart problems and perhaps was aware he did no have much longer to live. ' But I also believe that giving out red roses was a gesture of love.
His poem 'Defiance' was a great inspiration to me when I was compiling 'Feathers and the Horizon', (Leros Press Canberra 1987) so I placed it in my anthology of Arabic poetry. The late emeritus Professor A.D.Hope AO. OBE, a leading Australian poet, wrote in his preface to this volume, 'This is not only a literary event. It has political and social importance which we cannot yet foresee and will certainly help break down those barriers which so sadly divide us today.' A.D.Hope launched this anthology at the National Library in Canberra in 1987. Hope was a great admirer of the poetry and the immensely courageous spirit of Mahmoud Darwish.
I have also chosen to read 'Defiance' on a number of occasions over the years. I believe this poem is a clear indication of the fighting spirit of Mahmoud Darwish, the true voice of the Palestinian people and a legendary figure in the cultural life of the Arab world. As the poet Naomi Shihab Nye has said, 'Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging ...'
Indeed Darwish conveyed in his poems the dual spirit of hope and despair. As Ali Qleibo a Palestinian anthropologist and lecturer in cultural studies at Al Quds University in Jerusalem has said. 'He felt the pulse of Palestinian society in beautiful poetry. He was indeed the mirror of Palestinian society.'
WARD TAIFI THE RED ROSE OF LOVE
(Dedicated to the memory of Mahmoud Darwish)
We know the Greek word for love is Eros;
Just juggle the letters and it becomes Rose.
As ardent lovers, Aphrodite and Adonis
Believed they would share eternal bliss;
Adonis shed blood on a white rose when wounded,
This the legend of the Red Rose of Love was founded.
Carried from Greece across desert sands,
Red roses inspired love in all Arab lands.
From Taif, in Arabia, on star-spinning nights,
Fragrant rose oil ascends to heavenly heights,
For in April rose petals are boiled there in oil
As they have been for centuries, with constant toil.
The city of Taif is a very ancient place,
Close to Mecca but higher and with cooler space.
The Turks named this region 'Arabian Rose,'
Not just for the perfume inhaled by each nose!
Darwish believed poetry brings understanding
Insisting - 'It's a celebration often transcending
Divisions caused by politics, faith or race,
Drawing people together thus helping erase
Those conflicts on earth so many must face.
I pray poets inspire ours to be a peaceful place,
For surely our work helps humanize the other,
So we all can embrace as a sister or a brother.
May poetry and Ward Taifi, the Red Rose of Love,
Bestow the true peace enjoyedup above.'
Note:Mahmoud Darwish handed out red roses at his final poetry reading in July this year in Ramallah. Probably he was aware that he may not have long to live because he had been seriously ill with heart problem so this was his farewell gesture of love