If poetry has to celebrate life and also depict its darker nature, if poetry must decide not to absolve itself of social responsibility and if it should, perhaps take sides, then there is no better name to mention than that of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet par excel lance.
With Darwish, the poetry of resistance reaches new heights, for he tells us how he lives and feels in exile, what it is to be in exile and above all, the moody brooding of a homeless man.
The images he evokes are seldom the cliched laments for a lost land. He recreates the smell and the aroma of loss. For Darwish, mere land is not enough. It is the wind and the rain, the flowers, the trees and the sands and always the wind and smells. He longs for the 'aroma of bread at dawn', the longing for first love. These are universal longings and such desires are never ephemeral. His longing is at once for the seasons and for the 'hour of sunlight in prison' In his prose poem 'Memory for forgetfulness', Darwish extols coffee, the aroma of coffee and celebrates the art of coffee making. Amidst exploding shells in unrecognisable places, the poet in a dour act of resistance, enjoins us to live amidst death. The coffee becomes a metaphor yet the language is never tiresome but elegiac and poetic.
He reminds us the dual nature of exile, for home and land, for memory and desire. The poet asks for the right to 'love autumn' because the exiled poet is afraid all rights have been lost.'The last train has stopped 'and 'there is nobody there'.
Yet he never forgets the configuration of his political landscape, the division of love.
'Between Rita and my eyes,' says he, 'there is a gun'. Darwish never absolves any one of blame and lets us know that the sensitive poet need not be just sensitive but objective. He says he belongs there because he has 'memories' and thus has 'a panorama'. He loves 'to travel so that he arrives'.
Darwish is a literary rarity because few write like him. Like Lorca, he writes elegies because he is an elegaic poet, because someone must lament.
Darwish writes with a metaphysical sensitivity and an aesthetic quality that few can hope for.
For those like me who can only read his poems in an English translation, like myself, i wonder what the flavour and aroma of his arabic must be like.
In the collection of poems called 'unfortunately it was paradise', the excellent translations by Carolyn Forche and Munir aka sh have helped us in getting to know a poet of the best calibre, of exile, longing and pain.