The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Mahmoud Darwish, "Unbeliever in the Impossible"

There's a really lovely article in the last issue of Harper's on Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (thanks for the tip, Matt). It's not available to non-subscribers, so I'm cutting and pasting. And honestly, Harper's is a great magazine and this article is just one more reason to subscribe
Unbeliever in the impossible:
The poetry of Mahmoud Darwish
By Robyn Creswell
He died of a broken heart, far from home. That is the sentimental version, not entirely untrue. Mahmoud Darwish, widely acknowledged as the national poet of Palestine, died last August following open-heart surgery at a hospital in Houston, Texas. After three days of official mourning in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority organized a state funeral in Ramallah, where the body was laid to rest. The ceremonies were carried live on Al Jazeera and included eulogies by PA President Mahmoud Abbas and fellow poet Samih al-Qasim. Listening to those speeches—conventionally bombastic and anodyne—one couldn’t help remembering Darwish’s more mischievous imagining of his own funeral in his memoirMemory for Forgetfulness. Written in 1986, the book recounts a single day in Beirut during the summer of 1982, when the Israeli bombardment was especially heavy and death was very much on the poet’s mind. “I want a funeral with an elegant coffin, so I can peek out at the mourners,” Darwish thinks, listening to the bombs drop and savoring the anticipated pleasures of life after death: wreaths of red and yellow roses, a smooth-voiced master of ceremonies, broadcast recordings of his poems. But then, lying in the coffin, he hears the whispers of the bereaved:

“He was a womanizer.” “His clothes were much too fancy.” “The carpets in his house—you’d sink into them up to your knees!” “He had a mansion on the Côte d’Azur, a villa in Spain, and a secret bank account in Zurich.”… “We don’t know if he had a yacht in Greece, but he had enough seashells in his house to build a refugee camp.” “He lied to women.” “The poet is dead and his poems died with him. What’s left of him? His days are over. We’re through with his legend.”11. The titles above are the best and most recent translations of Darwish into English. He has had many different translators, and the quality of these texts is uneven. In the interest of consistency, I have provided my own translations.

Darwish was indeed a legend. He became famous while still very young as “the poet of the resistance”; later on, his books sold in the millions and were translated into dozens of languages; his public readings filled soccer stadiums and his poems were set to music by the Arab world’s greatest performers. But all legends end in gossip. In Darwish’s vignette, the rumormongers strike before the body is even in the ground. Their reproaches are in fact a collection of lies and cruel half-truths. Darwish did not own mansions or yachts, but he was for a long time associated with the Palestine Liberation Organization, whose corruption, by the time Darwish wrote his memoir, was already apparent. He was not a European playboy but was by all accounts, including his own, very fond of women. He left Israel for good in 1971—living in Moscow, Cairo, and Beirut before settling for a long stay in Paris—a departure that some Palestinians, especially those who remained behind, considered a betrayal. He wrote for more than forty years from the heart of a conflict that never left the headlines, and he could escape neither the eulogies nor the resentments, nor his own unsparing self-criticism. What’s left of him, beyond the legends and the gossip, is the poetry.

Darwish was born in 1942 in Birweh, a small village in upper Galilee, not far from Acre. His family fled to Lebanon during the 1948 war, and by the time they returned to Birweh, about a year later, it had been razed (a kibbutz for new Jewish immigrants was built on the site). They also returned too late to be included in the first state census, which meant that Darwish’s family, along with approximately 35,000 other Palestinians, were classified as “Present Absentees,” formally recognized by the state but with no right to reclaim lost property.

Many of Darwish’s early poems are attempts to establish some kind of presence, however meager, in the face of institutional forces premised on its denial. The most famous of these poems, indeed the most famous poem ever written by a Palestinian, is a short lyric called “Identity Card,” published in 1964. It is a monologue delivered by a stone quarrier, who confronts an Israeli official, perhaps at a checkpoint or in a police station. Here are the opening stanzas:

Write it down!
I’m an Arab.
Card number, fifty thousand.
I have eight children
and the ninth is due after the summer.
So, are you angry?

Write it down!
I’m an Arab.
I work with comrades in the quarry.
I have eight children.
I break their bread
and clothes and notebooks
from the rocks.

The poem’s refrain is typical of the straightforward, conscientiously unpoetic diction of Darwish’s early work. Many of these poems were first recited at village festivals, a venue that was, for Palestinian poets in the late 1950s and early 1960s, at least as important as Haifa’s fledgling literary magazines. Much of Darwish’s work from this period seems written for recitation rather than reading. The lyrics are insistent and exclamatory, scored for performance. Each stanza of “Identity Card” fills out the quarrier’s unhappy biography: his occupation and physical traits (“hands hard as stones”), his family history and village of birth (“Remote, forgotten,/ its streets without names”). The monologue ends with a warning directed at the Israeli official and his government: “Beware my hunger/ and my anger!”

Critics have puzzled over this small poem’s enormous popularity. At the time it was published, poets in Beirut, Baghdad, and Cairo were writing verse of great sophistication, combining an avant-garde fondness for obscurity and metrical experimentation with themes drawn from Greek and Near Eastern myth. By comparison, Darwish’s poem seems crude. Many fellow intellectuals, and even Darwish himself in retrospect, wondered if “Identity Card” wasn’t a collection of sound bites rather than a poem. Its assertion of Arab identity, thrown in the face of a hostile authority, was admired as a political gesture, yet the poem seemed to lack the necessary complication of literature.

The complications of “Identity Card,” as with so much of Darwish’s early poetry, are found not in its verbal texture but in the ironies of its imagined situation. For example, what language do we imagine the stone quarrier to be speaking? Since he defines himself as an Arab, and the poem is written in Arabic, surely he must be speaking Arabic. In Memory for Forgetfulness, Darwish discusses the origins of the poem and claims that the refrain was a phrase he once directed at an Israeli official as a young man (who was often in trouble with the law). But then he adds, “I said it in Hebrew, to provoke him.” For an Arab living in Israel, speaking Hebrew—a language Darwish mastered at school—is not necessarily an act of submission. It can also signal a challenge, or insult. This sensitivity to the nuanced relationship between language and power is typical of Darwish, as it is typical of many Irish writers, from Joyce to Heaney. And “Identity Card” is plainly meant as a challenge: “Are you angry?” is a taunt repeated throughout the poem. So it is plausible to imagine the quarrier goading the official in Hebrew even while we read his words in Arabic—that is, to imagine the poem as a translation. We might also note that the printed poem is itself what the Israeli clerk has been told to “write down.” And since he would have written in Hebrew, the Arabic text would again be a translation, this time of the clerk’s dictation.

Many of Darwish’s poems are like this: using exaggeratedly simple language, they conjure social and political experiences of great complexity. A straightforward declaration of identity unravels into an ambiguous and intertwined history. And in this way the density of everyday experience—its subtleties of language, tone, emotion, and context—is both respected and made into a subject for political reflection.

For the young Darwish, Hebrew wasn’t just a tool for taunting bureaucrats; it also gave him access to world literature. Until the end of 1966, Arab citizens of Israel lived under martial law. Freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press were severely limited. This censorial apparatus had a stunting effect on Arab intellectual life: books and magazines from the wider Arabic-speaking world were difficult to come by, and this is why Darwish first encountered the poetry of Neruda, Lorca, and Nazim Hikmet, along with the classics of European literature, in Hebrew. It was in part Darwish’s reading of these poets that allowed him to create a new kind of poem in Arabic, one that exploded the fusty conventions of patriotic verse with the charge of love poetry.

It is one thing to write a poem expressing love for one’s country, an elementary school exercise in any number of shaky or repressive states. It is another to write a poem in which one’s country is the object of erotic attention. Neruda does something like this in his early work, such as the third of his Twenty Love Poems: “Ah vastness of pines, babble of breaking waves,/. . . in you the earth sings!/In you the rivers sing and my soul escapes into them.” But the “you” of Neruda’s poem is a woman (he called her “Marisol”). The murmurous waves and singing rivers are tokens of her sensuality and mysterious remoteness. In Darwish’s poetry the direction of the metaphor is reversed. Here, the beloved is in fact the land of Palestine. It is her streams, springs, and mountains that are the objects of the poet’s love, and he lends them human attributes. The poet is no longer a patriot but a devotee: “Your eyes are a thorn in my heart,” he says to his beloved. “They wound me, and I worship them.”

These are the first lines of “A Lover from Palestine,” the title poem of Darwish’s third collection, published in 1966. The beloved who makes her appearance here, an allegorical figure for Palestine, is a fugitive and vulnerable presence, spotted among a crowd of emigrants at the port or fleeing through the hills:

I saw you on the mountains of thorn
A shepherdess without a flock
Hunted through the ruins.
You were my garden when I was a stranger in the land.

The “ruins”—atlaal—of the third line are among the most potent topoi of Arabic poetry. They belong to the oldest stratum of that tradition, the odes of pre-Islamic Arabia. In these poems of the sixth and seventh centuries, the nomad poet typically begins his chant with an erotic recollection. Pausing at an abandoned desert campsite (atlaal), he recalls a tryst with his beloved, whose charms he tallies up in detail. The site is therefore a bittersweet one, mixing memory and desire. The ruins conjure up a vision of the loved one, but their desolation attests to her disappearance. (Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” is modeled on this form.) In the same way, Darwish’s Palestine is present as “the other lung of my chest,” “the voice of my lips,” while also being lost, exiled, absent. The atlaal of these lines are the ruins of all those Galilean villages, depopulated and demolished after the 1948 war.

Nostalgic sensuality is an unusual mood for political poetry, whether Arabic, European, or American. The political poet feels most at home in the pose of public moralist, the somber-voiced keeper of tradition or scourge of the fallen present. Even the angriest verses of political invective fall naturally into the rhetoric and rhythms of public speaking. Think, for example, of the anaphora of Ginsberg’s “Howl”: “who ate fire… /who scribbled all night… /who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge”; or the orotund cadences of Yeats’s “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”: “We, who seven years ago/Talked of honour and of truth,/Shriek with pleasure if we show/The weasel’s twist, the weasel’s tooth.” Darwish does not shy away from declamation, and he has coined more than a few slogans. But his best political poetry, because it is love poetry, is uncannily intimate, even esoteric, pitched for the ears of his paramour rather than those of the public. At times it is frankly mystical, imagining a union that recalls the rapt ecstasies of Sufi saints:

Take me behind your eyes….
Restore the color of my face,
my body’s warmth,
the light of heart and eye
and salt of bread and song
and taste of earth.

—“A Lover from Palestine”

Or else the sufferings of the martyrs of love: “My country, my love for you/has given me nothing but the staves of my cross” (“Rubaiyat”). This mix of genres and conventions does not fit easily into any traditional poetics, just as it does not sit comfortably with any typical practice of politics. At the time these poems were written, however, their disparate elements may not have seemed so strange. To link the political with the libidinal, revolution with eros, was hardly an unusual impulse in the 1960s.

Alongside Darwish’s nationalist verse is another series of poems dedicated to a human beloved. This second type of love poem is in fact the more radically political. They show how even the most intimate relations are structured, and sometimes made impossible, by forces beyond any individual’s control. Beginning in 1967, with a poem entitled “Rita and the Rifle,” Darwish composed a number of lyrics about an Israeli who was, as he confirmed in later interviews, his first lover: a Jewish woman of Polish-Russian descent whom he met in Haifa. Over the years, Rita became a leitmotif in Darwish’s poetry. She returns again and again, like a haunting or obsession. His initial evocation of her has the sensual directness of his best early verse: “Rita’s name was a festival in my mouth./Rita’s body was a wedding in my blood…. /For two years my forearm was her pillow.” As described in this poem and in her later appearances, Rita has many traits typical of the beloved in Arabic erotic literature: her eyes are honey-colored, she sleeps a lot (because languor is sexy), her hair is thick and heavy like a horse’s tail, and she is always somewhere else. None of which disguises the fact, or scandal, of her being an Israeli Jew; there are even suggestions in the poems that she has been mobilized by the army. But scandal is the lifeblood of love poetry; the couple’s flouting of social norms testifies to the authenticity of their passion. Even in pre-Islamic verse, the beloved is always from a different, usually hostile tribe, which is why she forever roams a distant quarter of the desert.

“We are both unbelievers [kaafir] in the impossible,” writes Darwish in one of the love poems, “A Beautiful Woman from Sodom.” It is an intricately ambiguous (and slyly impious) line. Not believing in the impossible might mean believing that anything is possible—even a happy ending, say, to a love story between Montagues and Capulets. But we can understand the phrase in a more world-weary sense too: We do not believe in the impossible because we know better than to put our faith in it. Both senses are alive in Darwish’s love poetry, but it is the second one that wins out. In several of the Rita poems, the lovers are alone in a small house on a bed by the window, with rain falling outside. When Rita sleeps, the mood is hushed and intimate: “No sound/but her heartbeat and the rain.” When she is awake, however, the atmosphere becomes suddenly claustrophobic. Listening to the lovers talk, it is difficult to know whether they are flirting or twisting the knife. In one exchange, the poet’s lover teases him by demanding that he take her to Australia. She is asking for an elopement from history, which is another name for their claustrophobia. “Take me to Jerusalem,” the poet responds—with a tender smile, or a snarl?—thus trading one kind of impossibility for another. It is impossible to go to Jerusalem, presumably, because the poet has in mind the undivided or unoccupied city that was. That city is no more visitable than the Birweh of Darwish’s youth or the desert atlaal, and in one of the last poems he wrote about Rita, she gets up one morning and abandons their campsite:

She broke the day’s pottery against the window’s iron,
then lay her pistol on the draft of my poem,
threw her stockings on the chair
and as the pigeons began to coo
she walked out, barefoot, into the

At a press conference held in Cairo in 1971, Darwish announced that he was leaving Israel for good. He knew he would be criticized—“I am not the first citizen or poet to travel far from his country in order to draw close to it,” he defended himself, perhaps channeling Victor Hugo—but felt he had little choice. During the prior ten years he had been arrested several times by Israeli authorities, usually without cause (under the emergency regulations they did not need one). He was prohibited from leaving Haifa without a travel permit, and after 1967 he was placed under continuous house arrest. So when he received a fellowship to study in Moscow—the poetry of Arab leftists from this era glitters with memories of snow and metro stations—he chose to make his emigration a permanent one. After a year in the U.S.S.R., he worked briefly at Cairo’s Al-Ahram newspaper and then moved to Beirut, where he lived for the next decade, writing and editing for the PLO’s journal, Palestinian Affairs.

Darwish’s flight may have wounded the feelings of fellow intellectuals who remained in Israel or the newly occupied territories, but it did little harm to his relations with his readers. Forced emigration is, after all, a common experience among Palestinians. The raptures of his early verse quickly gave way to a brittle, sometimes elegiac sensibility, more attuned to moments of transience than to moments of ecstasy. The tactile connection between the land and the poet—a poet who imagines bread as extracted from the very rocks—is replaced by the symbolic landscapes of memory. But if Palestine as a lived reality seems to drop away, becoming a more and more abstract object of longing (“You possible-impossible,” he apostrophizes her in one poem), the new geography of exile becomes increasingly vivid. And over the next two decades Darwish mapped this new terrain as skillfully as he once did the hills and villages of Galilee.

“The quintessential Palestinian experience,” historian Rashid Khalidi has written, “takes place at a border, an airport, a checkpoint: in short, at any one of those many modern barriers where identities are checked and verified.” These are the places of Darwish’s poetry. The checkpoint and the border, as Khalidi notes, are places of interrogation, but they are also, perhaps more poetically, places of waiting: places where moments of action and decision are preceded by long periods of boredom, restlessness, and a half-querulous, half-humorous anxiety. This is the mood of the café, the trench, and the refugee camp, and no poet has captured its distinctive ennui as well as Darwish. “Athens Airport connects us to other airports,” he writes in “Athens Airport,” a prose poem published just after his stay in Beirut. “It changes its residents every day, but we remain in our seats.” The poem describes an entire community—an intellectual, a clerk, a militant, a lover—all trying to carry on their everyday tasks in that international limbo. In this place, “connection” turns out to be only another word for separation or quarantine: the loop of airports never ends, like Borges’s famous library. The cruelty of the Palestinian situation is that these purgatories are in no way extraordinary but rather the backdrop of daily existence. “Life goes up,” Darwish writes in another poem, “in the smoke of train stations.”

But of course the train station, like the border crossing or the atlaal, is also a site of romance. Here is where you kiss one last time and make promises you cannot keep, with strings throbbing on the soundtrack. Such moments do not redeem the monotonies of exile, but they, too, are part of its fabric for Darwish. “They Killed You in the Valley,” a lyric from the 1972 collection To Love You, or Not to Love You, evokes some of exile’s momentary and unexpected compensations:

We learned the universal languages
and the miseries of long trips
to distant equators. We learned
how to sleep on slow trains and fast trains,
how to make love at port
and how to flirt with all kinds of

The Lebanese Civil War began in 1975, two years after Darwish arrived in Beirut. In 1982, Israel and its Lebanese Christian (Maronite) allies succeeded in expelling the PLO from the country, and Darwish was part of that exodus. He was not a combatant, but he was close to the Palestinian leadership and wrote extensively about the conflict, in poetry and in prose. He criticized the Maronite alliance with Israel but saved his harshest words for Arab regimes, which he accused of exploiting Palestinian suffering for their own ends, of trumpeting the resistance but offering its heroes neither support nor even a decent life in their own countries: “To remember that I have a lost roof,/I am made to crouch in nakedness,” he protested in “Psalms.” “So that I do not forget the pure breezes of my country,/I am made to breathe in tuberculosis.” Such regimes, Darwish wrote more bluntly in another poem, “Know nothing but how to make speeches and flee.”

The experience in Lebanon also led to Memory for Forgetfulness, a classic of modern Arabic letters and one of the great war memoirs of the twentieth century. Published four years after the defeat in Lebanon, it is the culmination of Darwish’s first twenty years as a poet, a summing up of his views on literature and politics. The narrative takes place on August 6 (Hiroshima Day), 1982. It begins with the roar of the first Israeli sorties—“A nightmare from the sea: roosters made of metal”—and the percussion of bombing never fades from the narrative. Memory for Forgetfulness is not a soldier’s memoir. Darwish writes as an engaged intellectual, but also as a civilian. Most of the book is spent in quotidian activities: waiting for a taxi, quarreling in cafés, searching for a place to eat lunch. This street-level view allows Darwish to convey the singular helplessness of non-combatants caught up in modern “asymmetric” warfare. The poet stares into the crater made by a vacuum bomb and can only imagine the six-story building that used to stand there has been gulped down by some extraterrestrial monster. For Darwish, crouching under the thunderclaps of broken sound barriers, bravery is reduced to the act of making breakfast in his kitchen, venturing downstairs to visit neighbors or out onto the street. It is, he writes, “an absurd heroism,” or else “a heroic absurdity.”

In Memory for Forgetfulness, everyday experience assumes an odd, dreamlike clarity. It is the clarity of tedium illuminated by danger. “Meanwhile nothing happened,” Orwell writes in his memoir of civil war,Homage to Catalonia, “nothing ever happened.” And yet, “The whole period stays by me with curious vividness.” Darwish does not aim for the windowpane translucence of Orwell’s prose, but he often achieves a kind of hallucinatory precision—neatly captured in Ibrahim Muhawi’s translation—as when he spends several pages describing the preparation of his morning coffee, or a woman’s high heels, or the female broadcasters on Radio Monte Carlo, discussing the bombardment of Beirut “as if they were just emerging from a bath.” There are actual hallucinations too. In one of the memoir’s closing episodes, Darwish imagines that he is visited by an old friend, a PLO representative assassinated in Paris almost exactly four years earlier. Darwish asks him what life is like in the afterlife. “It’s just like here,” the ghost shrugs. The weather is hot and humid, just like August in Beirut. In the afterlife they watch television all day too, mostly the news, trying to keep up to date on the progress of the siege. He hasn’t met any of the martyrs. Did you get married? Darwish asks. No, the ghost shakes his head. “If you had no luck in this world, you have no luck in the next either.” A peculiarly Palestinian humor is at work in this scene, in which the afterlife, rather than providing the houris and comforts of paradise, turns out to be just another case of airport ennui.

There is an eerily posthumous feel to much of the poetry Darwish wrote after he left Lebanon in 1982. Edward Said once noted that Darwish’s post-Beirut poetry is preoccupied not so much with endings as with “what happens after the ending, what it is like to live past one’s time and place.” What ended in Beirut was a certain brand of Palestinian politics, one that had held on longer than most nationalist movements to the militant and secular praxis of liberation. With the PLO’s move to Tunis and its eventual signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the group normalized its politics, setting itself up as a state even as it lacked real control of its territory. Darwish was a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee throughout the Eighties but resigned his position in protest over the Oslo agreements (“My conscience will not tolerate participation in this adventurous decision,” he said at the time). His work from this period reads like an attempt to write political poetry in a moment that is, according to his own lights, post-political. “I know that time/can’t be my ally twice,” he writes in “Eleven Planets over the Last Act of Andalusia.” To have lost one’s alliance with time: the sentiment is not free of bitterness, even if it is not clear who has betrayed whom. The phrase also speaks to the melancholy of a poet—and beyond him, of an entire national project—who finds himself having somehow lived past his own historical moment.

During the last period of his career, Darwish read deeply in history and mythology. He searched for analogies or illuminating parallels with the Palestinian experience and found them in the annals of history’s losers: the Moors of Andalusia, the native peoples of North America, the pagan cultures of the ancient Near East. Darwish used these chronicles of loss to amplify his sense of Palestine’s predicament. His poetry of these years attempts to generalize that experience, to make it part of a long and often suppressed history of the defeated. It is what he came to call “the poetry of Troy.”

It was also during this period that Darwish began to be translated systematically into English, often by university presses. His late poetry, with its bold historical allegories and cross-civilizational leaps, has been especially appealing to the American academy (hypnotized as it is by the kaleidoscope of multiculturalism and identity politics). Whenever a poet is translated from one context to another, a certain distortion creeps in, and Darwish’s reception in this country has not been more distorting than most. But the conditions of this reception have meant that his late poetry is more widely available, and in better translations, than his early work. This is not necessarily a good thing. The late poems, for all their intellectual brio, have a tendency to lose themselves in the altitudes of metaphysics and myth. Some of the historical parallels are acute: Darwish was not the first to suggest a comparison between the loss of Muslim Spain and the loss of Palestine, but “Eleven Planets over the Last Act of Andalusia” is a poem of mournful intelligence, melding the epic with the mundane. “On this journey,” he writes, looking back over these twin histories of dispossession, “we remember the buttons of a shirt we lost/and forget the crown of our days.” But other parallels, such as those he draws with the cultures of Sumer and Canaan, lack a clear rationale, and the mythological décor sometimes overwhelms his poetry: “You fly/from one era to another, safe and whole/on a howdah made of your victims’ planets,” the poet addresses a goddess in “Inanna’s Milk,” sounding as operatic in Arabic as in translation. It was also during this period that Darwish began working in longer forms, which sometimes tempt him to a surfeit of lyricism, an excess all the more apparent in English.

In 1996, Darwish returned to the Middle East, dividing his time between Amman and Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital. Two years later, following surgery to repair his damaged arteries, Darwish had to be placed in intensive care. It was thought he might not live. (This was the second time he had undergone such surgery—the first time, his heart stopped beating for two minutes and was revived only by electric shock.) This brush with extinction led to one of Darwish’s greatest works, a book-length poem called Al-Jidariyya (“Mural”). It recounts an experience of suspended animation—of “absolute whiteness,/of being and not being,” of “having arrived before my appointment” —followed by a half-hearted resurrection. This experience of death-in-life and life-in-death is perhaps Darwish’s last metaphor for the purgatory out of which many Palestinians have tried to make a home for the past sixty years. The poem also acknowledges a quiet ambivalence about the very fact of survival, a survival that seems untimely and sorrowful. This mood is expressed, in one of the poem’s most moving passages, as a kind of alienation from the body itself, from those intimate and ordinary pleasures that Darwish had celebrated for forty years:

I know my whole heart by heart.
No more babying or coddling.
One aspirin is enough
to pacify it, make it rest.
It is as if my heart were some
eccentric neighbor,
whose passions and women
I can no longer bear.
The heart rusts like iron,
it no longer moans, aches, goes crazy
at the first, uninhibited drops of rain.
It doesn’t rattle like the dry August sedge.
It is as if my heart were a hermit, vestigial
As the “as” in some simile.

The similes are playful but the mood is exhausted—the exhaustion of a lover, perhaps, whose body has finally betrayed him. The heart that would give out eight years later already feels like a vestigial organ. Who can specify all the intimations at work here? Who can tally the personal and political disaffections? “I do not belong to me,” Darwish writes at the end of his poem, and then again: “I do not belong to me.”

iscussed in this essay:

Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982, by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Ibrahim Muhawi. University of California Press. 182 pages. $18.95 (paper).

Victims of a Map: A Bilingual Anthology of Arabic Poetry, by Adonis, Mahmoud Darwish, and Samih al-Qasim, translated by Abdullah al-Udhari. Saqi Books. 168 pages. $14.95 (paper).

The Adam of Two Edens, by Mahmoud Darwish, edited by Munir Akash and Daniel Moore, translated by Hussain Haddawi, Sinan Antoon, Sargon Boulos, Ferial Ghazoul, Clarissa Burt, Noel Abdulahad, Mona Asali van Engen, and Tahia Khaled Abdulnasser. Jusoor and Syracuse University Press. 203 pages. $19.95 (paper).

Unfortunately, It Was Paradise, by Mahmoud Darwish, edited and translated by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forché with Sinan Antoon and Amira El-Zein. University of California Press. 191 pages. $19.95 (paper).

Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone?, by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Jeffrey Sacks. Archipelago Books. 198 pages. $18 (paper).

The Butterfly’s Burden, by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Fady Joudah. Copper Canyon Press. 327 pages. $20 (paper).

Robyn Creswell is a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at New York University.