our last evening on this land
On our last evening on this land we chop our days
from our young trees, count the ribs we’ll take with us
and the ribs we’ll leave behind… On the last evening
we bid nothing farewell, nor find the time to end…
Everything remains as it is, it is the place that changes our dreams
and its visitors. Suddenly we’re incapable of irony,
this land will now host atoms of dust… Here, on our last evening,
we look closely at the mountains besieging the clouds: a conquest…
and a counter-conquest,
and an old time handing this new time the keys to our doors.
So enter our houses, conquerors, and drink the wine
of our mellifluous Mouwashah.*
We are the night at midnight,
and no horseman will bring dawn from the sanctuary of the last Call
Our tea is green and hot; drink it. Our pistachios are fresh; eat them.
The beds are of green cedar, fall on them,
following this long siege, lie down on the feathers of
our dreams. The sheets are crisp, perfumes are ready by the door, and
there are plenty of mirrors:
enter them so we may exit completely. Soon we will search
in the margins of your history, in distant countries,
for what was once our history. And in the end we will ask ourselves:
Was Andalusia here or there? On the land…or in the poem?
* The characteristic form of Andalusian poetry, recited and sung. Still
performed through-out the Arab world.
II How can I write
above the clouds?
How can I write my people’s testament above
the clouds when they
abandon time as they do their coats at home, my people
who raze each fortress they build and pitch on its ruins
a tent, nostalgic for the beginning of palm trees? My people betray
in wars over salt. But Granada is made of gold,
of silken words woven with almonds, of silver tears
in the string of a lute. Granada is a law unto herself:
it befits her to be whatever she wants to be: nostalgia for
anything long past or which will pass. A swallow’s wing brushes
a woman’s breast, and she screams: “Granada is my body.”
In the meadow someone loses a gazelle, and he screams, “Granada
is my country.”
And I come from there… So sing until from my ribs the goldfinches
a staircase to the nearer sky. Sing of the chivalry of those who ascend,
moon by moon, to their death in the Beloved’s alley. Sing the
birds of the garden,
stone by stone. How I love you, who have broken me,
string by string, on the road to her heated night. Sing how,
after you, the smell of coffee has no morning. Sing of my departure,
from the cooing of doves on your knees and from my soul nesting
in the mellifluous letters of your name. Granada is for singing, so
III There is a
sky beyond the sky for me
There is a sky beyond the sky for my return, but
I am still burnishing the metal of this place, living in
an hour that foresees the unseen. I know that time
cannot twice be on my side, and I know that I will leave—
I’ll emerge, with wings, from the banner I am, bird
that never alights on trees in the garden—
I will shed my skin and my language.
Some of my words of love will fall into
Lorca’s poems; he’ll live in my bedroom
and see what I have seen of the Bedouin moon. I’ll emerge
from almond trees like cotton on sea foam. The stranger passed,
carrying seven hundred years of horses. The stranger passed
here to let the stranger pass there. In a while I’ll emerge a
from the wrinkles of my time, alien to Syria and to Andalusia.
This land is not my sky, yet this evening is mine.
The keys are mine, the minarets are mine, the lamps are mine,
and I am also mine. I am Adam of the two Edens, I who lost paradise
So expel me slowly,
and kill me slowly,
under my olive tree,
along with Lorca…
IV I am one of
the kings of the end
… And I am one of the kings of the end…
off my horse in the last winter. I am the last gasp of an Arab.
I do not look for myrtle over the roofs of houses, nor do I
look around: no one should know me, no one should recognize me, no one
who knew me
when I polished marble words to let my woman step
barefoot over dappled light. I do not look into the night, I mustn’t
see a moon that once lit up all the secrets of Granada,
body by body. I do not look into the shadow, so as not to see
somebody carrying my name and running after me: take your name away
and give me the silver of the white poplar. I do not look behind me,
so I won’t remember
I’ve passed over this land, there is no land in this land
since time broke around me shard by shard.
I was not a lover believing that water is a mirror,
as I told my old friends, and no love can redeem me,
for I’ve accepted the “peace accord” and there is
no longer a present left
to let me pass, tomorrow, close to yesterday. Castile will raise
its crown above God’s minaret. I hear the rattling of keys
in the door of our golden history. Farewell to our history! Will I be
the one to close the last door of the sky, I, the last gasp of an Arab?
V One day I will
sit on the pavement
One day I will sit on the pavement…the pavement
of the estranged.
I was no Narcissus; still I defend my image
in the mirrors. Haven’t you been here once before, stranger?
Five hundred years have passed, but our breakup wasn’t final,
and the messages between us never stopped. The wars
did not change the gardens of my Granada. One day I’ll pass its
and brush my desire against a lemon tree… Embrace me and let me
from the scents of sun and river on your shoulders, from your feet
that scratch the evening until it weeps milk to accompany the poem’s
I was not a passerby in the words of singers… I was the words
of the singers, the reconciliation of Athens and Persia, an East embracing
embarked on one essence. Embrace me that I may be born again
from Damascene swords hanging in shops. Nothing remains of me
but my old shield and my horse’s gilded saddle. Nothing remains
but manuscripts of Averroes, The Collar
of the Dove,* and translations…
On the pavement, in the Square of the Daisy,
I was counting the doves: one, two, thirty…and the girls
snatching the shadows of the young trees over the marble, leaving me
leaves yellow with age. Autumn passed me by, and I did not notice
the entire season had passed. Our history passed me on the pavement…
and I did not notice.
* A celebrated treatise on love by Ibn Hazm of Cordoba.
VI Truth has two
faces and the snow is black
Truth has two faces and the snow falls black on
We can feel no despair beyond our despair,
and the end—firm in its step—marches to the wall,
marching on tiles that are wet with our tears.
Who will bring down our flags: we or they? And who
will recite the “peace accord,” O king of dying?
Everything’s prepared for us in advance; who will tear our names
from our identity: you or they? And who will instill in us
the speech of wanderings: “We were unable to break the siege;
let us then hand the keys to our paradise to the Minister of Peace,
and be saved…”
Truth has two faces. To us the holy emblem was a sword
hanging over us. So what did you do to our fortress before this day?
You didn’t fight, afraid of martyrdom. Your throne is your coffin.
Carry then the coffin to save the throne, O king of waiting,
this exodus will leave us only a handful of dust…
Who will bury our days after us: you…or they? And who
will raise their banners over our walls: you…or
a desperate knight? Who will hang their bells on our journey:
you…or a miserable guard? Everything is fixed for us;
why, then, this unending conclusion, O king of dying?
VII Who am I after
the night of the estranged ?
Who am I after the night of the estranged? I wake
from my dream,
frightened of the obscure daylight on the marble of the house, of
the sun’s darkness in the roses, of the water of my fountain;
frightened of milk on the lip of the fig, of my language;
frightened of wind that—frightened—combs a willow; frightened
of the clarity of petrified time, of a present no longer
a present; frightened, passing a world that is no longer
my world. Despair, be merciful. Death, be
a blessing on the stranger who sees the unseen more clearly than
a reality that is no longer real. I’ll fall from a star
in the sky into a tent on the road to…where?
Where is the road to anything? I see the unseen more clearly than
a street that is no longer my street. Who am I after the night of the
Through others I once walked toward myself, and here I am,
losing that self, those others. My horse disappeared by the Atlantic,
and by the Mediterranean I bleed, stabbed with a spear.
Who am I after the night of the estranged? I cannot return to
my brothers under the palm tree of my old house, and I cannot descend
the bottom of my abyss. You, the unseen! Love has no heart…
no heart in which I can dwell after the night of the estranged…
VIII O water, be a string to my guitar
O water, be a string to my guitar. The conquerors
and the old conquerors left. It is difficult to remember my face
in the mirrors. Water, be my memory, let me see what I have lost.
Who am I after this exodus? I have a rock
with my name on it, on a hill from which I see what’s long gone…
Seven hundred years escort me beyond the city wall…
In vain time turns to let me salvage my past from a moment
that gives birth to my exile…and others’…
To my guitar, O water, be a string. The conquerors arrived,
and the old conquerors left, heading southward, repairing their days
in the trashheap of change: I know who I was yesterday, but who will
in a tomorrow under Columbus’s Atlantic banners? Be a string,
be a string to my guitar, O water! There is no Misr*
no Fez in Fez**, and Syria draws away. There is no falcon in
my people’s banner, no river east of the palm groves besieged
by the Mongols’ fast horses. In which Andalusia do I end? Here
or there? I will know I’ve perished and that here I’ve left
the best part of me: my past. Nothing remains but my guitar.
Then be to my guitar a string, O water. The old conquerors left,
the new conquerors arrived.
* Misr = “urban life,” but also “Egypt.”
** Fez (Arabic Fas) also means “ax”
IX In the exodus
I love you more
In the exodus I love you more. In a while
you will lock the city’s gates. There is no heart for me in your
hands, and no
road anywhere for my journey. In this demise I love you more.
After your breast, there is no milk for the pomegranate at our window.
Palm trees have become weightless,
the hills have become weightless, and streets in the dusk have become
the earth has become weightless as it bids farewell to its dust. Words
have become weightless,
and stories have become weightless on the staircase of night. My heart
alone is heavy,
so let it remain here, around your house,
barking, howling for a golden time.
It alone is my homeland. In the exodus I love you more,
I empty my soul of words: I love you more.
We depart. Butterflies lead our shadows. In exodus
we remember the lost buttons of our shirts, we forget
the crown of our days, we remember the apricot’s sweat, we forget
the dance of horses on festival nights. In departure
we become only the birds’ equals, merciful to our days, grateful
for the least.
I am content to have the golden dagger that makes my murdered heart
kill me then, slowly, so I may say: I love you more than
I had said before the exodus. I love you. Nothing hurts me,
neither air nor water…neither basil in your morning nor
iris in your evening, nothing hurts me after this departure.
X I want from love
only the beginning
I want from love only the beginning. Doves patch,
over the squares of my Granada, this day’s shirt.
There is wine in our clay jars for the feast after us.
In the songs there are windows: enough for blossoms to explode.
I leave jasmine in the vase; I leave my young heart
in my mother’s cupboard; I leave my dream, laughing, in water;
I leave the dawn in the honey of the figs; I leave my day and my yesterday
in the passage to the Square of the Orange where doves fly.
Did I really descend to your feet so speech could
a white moon in the milk of your nights…pound the air
so I could see the Street of the Flute blue…pound the evening
so I could see how this marble between us suffers?
The windows are empty of the orchards of your shawl.
In another time
I knew so much about you. I picked gardenias
from your ten fingers. In another time there were pearls for me
around your neck, and a name on a ring whose gem was darkness, shining.
I want from love only the beginning. Doves flew
in the last sky, they flew and flew in that sky.
There is still wine, after us, in the barrels and jars.
A little land will suffice for us to meet, a little land will be enough
Violins weep with gypsies going to Andalusia
Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia
Violins weep for a time that does not return
Violins weep for a homeland that might return
Violins set fire to the woods of that deep deep
Violins tear the horizon and smell my blood in the vein
Violins weep with gypsies going to Andalusia
Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia
Violins are horses on a phantom string of moaning
Violins are the ebb and flow of a field of wild lilacs
Violins are monsters touched by the nail of a woman
Violins are an army, building and filling a tomb made of marble and
Violins are the anarchy of hearts driven mad by
the wind in a dancer’s foot
Violins are flocks of birds fleeing a torn banner
Violins are complaints of silk creased in the lover’s
Violins are the distant sound of wine falling on a previous desire
Violins follow me everywhere in vengeance
Violins seek me out to kill me wherever they find me
Violins weep for Arabs leaving Andalusia
Violins weep with gypsies going to Andalusia
* One of the classical Arabic musical modes.
Translated by Mona Anis and Nigel Ryan, with
Aga Shahid Ali and Ahmad Dallal
Edward W. Said
On Mahmoud Darwish
Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1942 in the Palestinian village of Birweh,
which the Israelis destroyed six years later. While working as an editor
and translator for the Rakah (Communist) Party newspaper, he was impris-oned
several times and frequently harassed by Israeli authorities. By the
early 1970s, when he arrived in Beirut, his reputation as a brilliant
poet—certainly the most gifted of his generation in the Arab world—was
already established. He quickly became affiliated with the P.L.O. and
soon became Palestine’s unofficial national poet. Yet at the same
time he remained in close touch with Israeli society and culture and
was one of the very few Arabs to know and appreciate such great Israeli
poets as Bialik.
After 1982, Darwish became a wandering exile,
living in Arab capitals like Cairo and Tunis before settling in Paris,
where he still lives. A man of truly remarkable intelligence, he played
(always re-luctantly) an important political role in the P.L.O. For
at least a decade he was very close to Yasir Arafat, first as an adviser
and then, from about 1978 on, as a member of the P.L.O. Executive Committee.
He never belonged to any political party; his mordant wit, fierce political
independence, and exceptionally refined cul-tural sensibility kept him
at a distance from the frequent coarse-ness of Palestinian and Arab
politics. Yet his immense prestige as a poet made him politically invaluable,
and his intimate knowledge of Israeli life and society was also useful
to the P.L.O. leadership.
But his uneasiness with organized politics
never left him and in-deed intensified in the late ’80s. He would
often watch as the deftly eloquent speeches he wrote for Arafat were
rendered deliberately obfuscatory and turgid by organization men and
by Arafat himself. His vision of politics was at the same time tragic
and Swiftian, and it was not surprising that he resigned from the P.L.O.’s
Executive Com-mittee to protest the signing of the Oslo Declaration
of Principles with Israel in the fall of 1993. His extremely harsh remarks
to Arafat and the others were leaked to the press and published throughout
Israel and the Arab world: “You are dead,” he effectively
told them. On another occasion Arafat complained that the Palestinians
were “an ungrateful people.” “Find yourself another
people then,” Dar-wish angrily responded.
I first met Darwish in 1974, and we have
remained close friends ever since. He edits Karmel,
a quarterly literary and intellectual jour-nal published in Cyprus in
which several of my own essays have appeared. But we meet infrequently
and communicate mostly by phone. Darwish reads English and French but
is really fluent in neither, although he has lived in France for almost
a decade. His emotional and aesthetic milieu remains Arab and to a lesser
extent (for obvious reasons) Israeli. Despite his irony and the fact
that he lives in neither Palestine nor Israel, he is a commanding presence
in the lives of both nations. He has a huge audience throughout the
Arab world (by 1977 his books had already sold over a mil-lion copies),
not only among Palestinians, although he is very far from being a populist.
And because of his long association with the P.L.O. Executive Committee
he is read and paid attention to in Israel. A few years ago one of his
poems expressing a harsh, ex-asperated view of Israel was debated in
the Knesset, so powerfully did his tones address his other public. No
other Palestinian literary figure—not even the novelist Emil Habiby,
who won the Israel Prize in 1992, and whom Darwish denounced for taking
it—has anything like this effect.
In Darwish, the personal and the public are
always in an uneasy relationship, the force and passion of the former
ill-suited to the tests of political correctness and policy required
by the latter. But careful writer and craftsmen that he is, Darwish
is also very much a performing poet of a type with few equivalents in
the West. He has a fiery and yet also strangely intimate style that
is designed for the immediate response of a live audience. Only a few
Western poets—Yeats, Walcott, Ginsberg—possess that irresistibly
rare combination of incantatory public style with deep and often hermetic
personal sentiments. Like them, Darwish is also a wonderful technician,
us-ing the incomparably rich Arabic prosodic tradition in innovative,
constantly new ways. This allows him something quite rare in mod-ern
Arabic poetry: great stylistic virtuosity combined with a chiseled and
finally simple (because so refined) sense of poetic statement.
The present ode or qasida,
“Eleven Stars Over Andalusia,” was written and published
in 1992. It emerged out of three disparate occasions: the quincentennial
commemorations of 1492, Darwish’s first trip to Spain, and the
P.L.O.’s decision to enter the U.S.- and Russian-sponsored peace
process that had begun with the Madrid Conference of October 1991. The
poem was originally published in Al
Quds, a Palestinian daily edited in London. The poem’s
melan-choly, disaffected tone was instantly read as an allegory and
critique of Arafat’s political exhaustion: “Why then prolong
this unending conclusion, King of the last moments before death?”
Indeed, the verses have a tone of dispirited lassitude and defeated
fatalism that for many Palestinians captured the extraordinary downward
spiral of Palestine’s fortunes, which like Andalusia’s went
from a grand cultural apex to a terrible nadir of dispossession, both
in actuality and metaphorically.
But that explains only one aspect of the
poem. Its title in Ara-bic is simply “Eleven Stars”; I have
added the explanatory “Over Andalusia” to make explicit
the poem’s contemporary setting. The “eleven stars,”
however, are quoted directly from the Sura of Joseph in the Koran: “So
Joseph told his father, ‘My father, I saw eleven stars, and the
sun and moon; I saw them bowing down before me.’” His father
warns him not to say any of this to his brothers, since they may do
him harm because of his gifts as a seer; Joseph is then informed that
the Lord has chosen him to interpret events, which of course means that
he has been endowed with the divine power of prophecy. Thus the narrator
of Darwish’s qasida assumes
both the privileges and the dangers of seeing what others cannot, in
this case the meaning of Andalusia’s fall for today’s Palestinians,
especially their leaders. Quite startlingly, Darwish in effect prophesies
the events of a year later (September 1993), when Israel and the P.L.O.
signed their “historical breakthrough” document.
But what gives the poem its artistic coherence
is not so much its topicality as the way it extends the most recent
phase of Dar-wish’s poetry into new situations and imagery, a
great deal of which is caught by this excellent translation. Since Darwish
left Beirut in 1982, one of the main topoi in his verse is not just
the place and time of ending (for which the various Palestinian exoduses
are an all too persistent reference) but what happens after the ending,
what it is like to live past one’s time and place, how survival
after the af-termath becomes an esoteric and certainly an exotic situation
for the poet and his people. “The earth is closing on us, pushing
us through the last passage,” he wrote in 1984:
We saw the faces of these
who’ll throw our children
Out of the windows of this last space: Our star will
hang up mirrors.
Where should we go after the last frontiers ? Where
should the birds fly after the last sky ?
In “Eleven Stars Over Andalusia,”
earth and enemies no longer force the issue and squeeze the people past
the end. It is now “ourselves” and fate, represented by
the fall of Granada in 1492, that are responsible. And poetry now replaces
history as the site of actuality, very much as in Wallace Stevens’s
“Of Mere Being”:
The palm at the end of
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance
A gold-feathered bird ....
Yet Darwish’s withdrawal in this ode
is unlike that of Stevens in these lines or of Yeats in “Sailing
to Byzantium.” Poetry for Darwish provides not simply an access
of unusual insight or a distant realm of fashioned order but a harassing
amalgam of poetry and collec-tive memory, each pressing on the other.
And the paradox deepens almost unbearably as the privacy of a dream
is encroached on and even reproduced by a sinister, threatening reality,
as in section XI of this poem, where the repetition of “violins”
collapses the anxious dialectic without resolving or transcending it.
This strained and de-liberately unresolved quality in Darwish’s
recent poetry makes it an instance of what Adorno called late
style, in which the conventional and the ethereal, the historical
and the transcendently aesthetic combine to provide an astonishingly
concrete sense of going be-yond what anyone has ever lived through in