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The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was born on this day in 1941; he died in 2008. A few years before, facing a nightly curfew as Israeli tanks rumbled through his streets, Darwish spoke to BOMB about the genesis of his interest in poetry:
As a child I was physically weak. I could not take part in games. I could not wrestle or play football and could not distinguish myself in sports. So I turned to language. I also spent a lot of time with adults. I would attend the gatherings that used to be held in our house when my grandfather and our neighbors recited the old Arabic legends, which were interspersed with verse. They were romantic tales that as a rule included the lover and the poet. I would listen to them and feel stirred by the poetry. I did not understand why. All I knew was that the sound of the poetry appealed to me. I did not understand the high-flown language of much of the poetry, but it gave me a sense that my dilemma could be resolved through language. The experience aroused in me the love of language. I began to dream of becoming a poet. I believed the poet was a mysterious figure with superhuman faculties. I began to write poetry from a young age, but I was not aware that what I wrote was poetry. My parents and teachers encouraged me to write. I wanted to excel, and since I couldn’t do it through sports, writing became my arena and language my weapon.
The Review published his poem “A Song and the Sultan” in our Spring 1971 issue. As you can see from the lines below, its speak-truth-to-power message still resonates today:
When she told them the forest was abounding with secrets
and the moon was stabbed with a carving knife
and the blood of the nightingale was on that stone, abandoned,
why did they resist her?
Why did they torture her?
When she said, my country is a mountain of sweat
and on the small bridge a man is dying
and darkness burning
the Sultan was angry
and the Sultan is an imaginative creature.
He said, “The fault is in the mirror
so let your singer be silent
and let my kingdom from the Nile to the Euphrates be.”
and he shouted, “Put that poem in prison!”
The torture room, for security,
is a thousand times better than an anthem or a newspaper.