Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was an award winning Palestinian author and poet. He is critically acclaimed and has been recognized as one of the greatest Arab poets of the modern age. The nature of Darwish’s work used literature, particularly poetry, as a means of political advocacy. Highly respected and beloved by his people, Darwish was regarded as the voice of the Palestinians and, until today, is considered Palestine’s national poet. 

Palestine Advocacy Project brought excerpts from seven of Darwish's most powerful poems to San Francisco in a series of posters on SFMTA buses and trains.  The selection of poetry includes the epic ‘Under Siege’, as a well as shorter, but no less powerful works such as ‘Earth Poem’ and ‘A Lover From Palestine." The artwork, full translations, and analyses are available below.

Those who have followed Palestine Advocacy Project's work will notice that this campaign is different. This time, we are reaching out as advocates of Palestinian culture and of the rich identity that the Palestinian people are fighting to save. The cold harsh facts and figures of Israel’s occupation and apartheid – so prominent in our other media work – will continue to resonate on the world stage; but our mission with this campaign is to present Palestinians as more than players in a geopolitical struggle. We feel that the human connection we share with Palestinians through their art and culture can be an important catalyst for challenging the dominant narratives that Americans are used to hearing about Palestine and Israel.

Passport | Earth Poem | To My Mother | Think of Others | I Belong There | Under Siege | A Lover From Palestine

They did not recognize me in the shadows
That suck away my color in this Passport
And to them my wound was an exhibit
For a tourist Who loves to collect photographs
They did not recognize me,
Ah... Don't leave
The palm of my hand without the sun
Because the trees recognize me
Don't leave me pale like the moon!

All the birds that followed my palm
To the door of the distant airport
All the wheat fields
All the prisons
All the white tombstones
All the barbed Boundaries
All the waving handkerchiefs
All the eyes
were with me,
But they dropped them from my passport

Stripped of my name and identity?
On soil I nourished with my own hands?
Today Job cried out
Filling the sky:
Don't make and example of me again!
Oh, gentlemen, Prophets,
Don't ask the trees for their names
Don't ask the valleys who their mother is
From my forehead bursts the sward of light
And from my hand springs the water of the river
All the hearts of the people are my identity
So take away my passport!

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was an award-winning Palestinian author and poet. His literature, particularly his poetry, created a sense of Palestinian identity and was used to resist the occupation of his homeland.   

This poem, entitled ‘Passport’, highlights the Israeli government’s attempts to define Darwish’s identity and separate him from his homeland by taking away his passport. In response, Darwish draws on nature to demonstrate that his Palestinian identity does not depend on a document. 

Darwish suggests that the trees and the valleys know who they belong to: "Do not ask the trees about their names, Do not ask the valleys about their mother," and believes that he is one with the land, and the land is one with him: "The sword of light cleaves from my forehead, From my hand gushes the river’s water."

In the last stanza, "Go, take my passport away from me," Darwish concludes that his Palestinian identity cannot be defined by a piece of paper. 

Analysis by Lydia Marouf

A dull evening in a rundown village
Eyes half asleep
I recall thirty years
And five wars
I swear the future keeps
My ear of corn
And the singer croons
About a fire and some strangers
And the evening is just another evening
And the singer croons

And they asked him:
Why do you sing?
And he answered:
I sing because I sing...

And they searched his chest
But could only find his heart
And they searched his heart
But could only find his people
And they searched his voice
But could only find his grief
And they searched his grief
But could only find his prison
And they searched his prison
But could only see themselves in chains

Help us understand this poem!

Upon inspection, we have come to doubt the accuracy of the resources we used to interpret this poem. We therefore invite you to propose and defend your own interpretations. We will publish the most compelling submissions here.

Click here to read the poem in Arabic (the portion here can be found in section 10).

Name *

Dearly I yearn for my mother's bread,
My mother's coffee,
Mother's brushing touch.
Childhood is raised in me,
Day upon day in me.
And I so cherish life
Because if I died
My mother's tears would shame me.

Set me, if I return one day,
As a shawl on your eyelashes, let your hand
Spread grass out over my bones,
Christened by your immaculate footsteps
As on holy land.
Fasten us with a lock of hair,
With thread strung from the back of your dress.
I could grow into godhood
Commend my spirit into godhood
If I but touch your heart's deep breadth.

Set me, if ever I return,
In your oven as fuel to help you cook,
On your roof as a clothesline stretched in your hands.
Weak without your daily prayers,
I can no longer stand.

I am old
Give me back the stars of childhood
That I may chart the homeward quest
Back with the migrant birds,
Back to your awaiting nest.

Translated by A.Z. Forman.

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was an award-winning Palestinian author and poet. His literature, particularly his poetry, created a sense of Palestinian identity and was used to resist the occupation of his homeland.  

“To My Mother” is one of Darwish’s most famous poems. It was written when the young poet was in an Israeli prison as a way to reconcile with his mother and is addressed to her in the form of a letter. 

The poem begins by stating that the poet yearns for three things: his mother’s bread, coffee, and touch. In the second stanza, the imprisoned Darwish asks his mother for protection and uses words that are associated with concealment to articulate his need for her, as seen in the following lines: 

Take me, if I come back one day
As a scarf for your eyelashes
And cover my bones with grass

In the same stanza, Darwish also suggests that his mother is a saint who can purify him and grant him sanctification from his current dire circumstances: 

Baptized by the purity of your ankle
Pull my shackles . . .
With a tuft of hair . . .
With a thread gleaming at the hem of your garment
Perhaps I will become
Become a God . . .
If I touch the bottom of your heart!

We can see, in the third and last stanza, that Darwish feels old and wishes for his mother to remind him of happier times — those of his childhood — and  asks to be returned to the warmth of her nest. 

Analysis by Lydia Marouf

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
       (do not forget the pigeon's food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
       (do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
      (those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
       (do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
       (those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
       (those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
       (say: “If only I were a candle in the dark").

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was an award-winning Palestinian author and poet. His literature, particularly his poetry, created a sense of Palestinian identity and was used to resist the occupation of his homeland. 

In ‘Think of Others,’ the poet’s message is self-evident. Darwish repeats the same phrases, and urging us to not only be grateful for what we have, but also to help those who are less fortunate. The poems acts as a powerful plea from Darwish to ‘be the candle in the dark’ and to help those are who in need; both near and far. 

Analysis by Lydia Marouf

"Think of Others" by Mahmoud Darwish, from Almond Blossoms and Beyond. Translated from the original Arabic by Mohammed Shaheen. © Interlink Books, 2010.  

I come from there, and memories are what I have. 
I was born just like you; I have a mother and a home with many windows. I have brothers, friends and a prison with one cold window. A wave stolen by seagulls, my own scene, an excessive herb.

I have a moon in the furthest extents of words,
the livelihood of birds and an immortal olive tree. 
I wandered through this earth before these swords passed over a body turning it to a feast. 

I come from there. I bring the skies back to its mother when it cries over its absence. I cry, so that a returning cloud may know me. I learned each language suitable for the court of blood so that I may break the rules. I learned the entire language, then disassembled it, in order to compose a single word: homeland.

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was an award-winning Palestinian author and poet. His literature, particularly his poetry, created a sense of Palestinian identity and was used to resist the occupation of his homeland.   

The Israeli government forced Darwish to live in exile for 26 years after he joined the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1970’s. During that time, the poet addressed issues of exile, homesickness, and a love and yearning for a home to which he was unable to return. 

The poem ‘I Belong There’ was written during this period in Darwish’s life. He compares his state of exile to a "prison cell with a chilly window," where he longs to be at home with his friends, brothers, and his mother. 

Darwish found comfort in his writing during those 26 years, and he learned to use it as a form of resistance. In ‘I Belong There,’ however Darwish explains that he has used all the words available to him, and can draw from them only the single most important word: homeland.

Analysis by Lydia Marouf

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.

A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent
For we closely watch the hour of victory:
No night in our night lit up by the shelling
Our enemies are watchful and light the light for us
In the darkness of cellars.

Here there is no "I".
Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay.

On the verge of death, he says:
I have no trace left to lose:
Free I am so close to my liberty. My future lies in my own hand.
Soon I shall penetrate my life,
I shall be born free and parentless,
And as my name I shall choose azure letters...

You who stand in the doorway, come in,
Drink Arabic coffee with us
And you will sense that you are men like us
You who stand in the doorways of houses
Come out of our morningtimes,
We shall feel reassured to be
Men like you!

When the planes disappear, the white, white doves
Fly off and wash the cheeks of heaven
With unbound wings taking radiance back again, taking possession
Of the ether and of play. Higher, higher still, the white, white doves
Fly off. Ah, if only the sky
Were real [a man passing between two bombs said to me].

Cypresses behind the soldiers, minarets protecting
The sky from collapse. Behind the hedge of steel
Soldiers piss—under the watchful eye of a tank—
And the autumnal day ends its golden wandering in
A street as wide as a church after Sunday mass...

[To a killer] If you had contemplated the victim’s face
And thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
Gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
And you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.

The siege is a waiting period
Waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm.

Alone, we are alone as far down as the sediment
Were it not for the visits of the rainbows.

We have brothers behind this expanse.
Excellent brothers. They love us. They watch us and weep.
Then, in secret, they tell each other:
"Ah! if this siege had been declared..." They do not finish their sentence:
"Don’t abandon us, don’t leave us."

Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees...
Added to this the structural flaw that
Will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas.

A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved
For my clothing is drenched with his blood.

If you are not rain, my love
Be tree
Sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
Be stone
Saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
Be moon
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon
[So spoke a woman
to her son at his funeral]

Oh watchmen! Are you not weary
Of lying in wait for the light in our salt
And of the incandescence of the rose in our wound
Are you not weary, oh watchmen?

A little of this absolute and blue infinity
Would be enough
To lighten the burden of these times
And to cleanse the mire of this place.

It is up to the soul to come down from its mount
And on its silken feet walk
By my side, hand in hand, like two longtime
Friends who share the ancient bread
And the antique glass of wine
May we walk this road together
And then our days will take different directions:
I, beyond nature, which in turn
Will choose to squat on a high-up rock.

On my rubble the shadow grows green,
And the wolf is dozing on the skin of my goat
He dreams as I do, as the angel does
That life is here...not over there.

In the state of siege, time becomes space
Transfixed in its eternity
In the state of siege, space becomes time
That has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow.

The martyr encircles me every time I live a new day
And questions me: Where were you? Take every word
You have given me back to the dictionaries
And relieve the sleepers from the echo’s buzz.

The martyr enlightens me: beyond the expanse
I did not look
For the virgins of immortality for I love life
On earth, amid fig trees and pines,
But I cannot reach it, and then, too, I took aim at it
With my last possession: the blood in the body of azure.

The martyr warned me: Do not believe their ululations
Believe my father when, weeping, he looks at my photograph
How did we trade roles, my son, how did you precede me.
I first, I the first one!

The martyr encircles me: my place and my crude furniture are all that I have changed.
I put a gazelle on my bed,
And a crescent of moon on my finger
To appease my sorrow.

The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!

Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health,
The health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease:
The disease of hope.

And in what remains of the dawn, I walk toward my exterior
And in what remains of the night, I hear the sound of footsteps inside me.

Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to
The drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the
Blackness of this tunnel!

Greetings to the one who shares my glass with me
In the denseness of a night outflanking the two spaces:
Greetings to my apparition.

My friends are always preparing a farewell feast for me,
A soothing grave in the shade of oak trees
A marble epitaph of time
And always I anticipate them at the funeral:
Who then has died...who?

Writing is a puppy biting nothingness
Writing wounds without a trace of blood.

Our cups of coffee. Birds green trees
In the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall
To another like a gazelle
The water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us
Of the sky. And other things of suspended memories
Reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid,
And that we are the guests of eternity.

Translated by Marjolijn de Jager.

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was an award-winning Palestinian author and poet. His literature, particularly his poetry, created a sense of Palestinian identity and was used to resist the occupation of his homeland.  

Darwish wrote ‘Under Siege’, a collection of poems on the Israeli invasion of the West Bank, in 2002 while he was under siege himself in Ramallah. In ‘Under Siege’ Darwish restores a sense of hope, despite the Israeli blockade of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip:

Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.

Darwish encourages fellow Palestinians to resist the Israeli invasion of their land by encouraging them to stay strong, as seen the following passage: 

If you are not rain, my love
Be tree
Sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
Be stone
Saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
Be moon
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon

Analysis by Lydia Marouf

Your eyes are a thorn in my heart
Inflicting pain, yet I cherish that thorn
And shield it from the wind.
I sheathe it in my flesh, I sheathe it, protecting it from night and agony,
And its wound lights the lanterns,
Its tomorrow makes my present
Dearer to me than my soul.
And soon I forget, as eye meets eye,
That once, behind the doors, there were two of us.

Your words were a song
And I tried to sing, too,
But agony encircled the lips of spring.
And like the swallow, your words took wing,
The door of our home and the autumnal threshold migrated,
To follow you wherever led by longing
Our mirrors were shattered,
And sorrow was multiplied a thousand fold.
And we gathered the splinters of sound,
Mastering only the elegy of our homeland!
Together were will plant it in the heart of a lyre,
And on the rooftops of our tragedy we'll play it
To mutilated moons and to stones.
But I have forgotten, you of the unknown voice:
Was it your departure that rushed the lyre or was it my silence?

Yesterday I saw you in the port,
A long voyager without provisions,
Like an orphan I ran to you,
Asking the wisdom of our forefathers:
How can the ever-verdant orange grove be dragged
To prison, to exile, to a port,
And despite all her travels,
Despite the scent of salt and longing,
Remain evergreen?
I write in my diary:
I love oranges and hate the port
And I write further:
On the dock
I stood, and saw the world through Witter's eyes
Only the orange peel is ours, and behind me lay the desert.

In the briar-covered mountains I saw you,
A shepherdess without sheep,
Pursued among the ruins.
You were my garden, and I a stranger,
Knocking at the door, my heart,
For upon my heart stand firm
The door and windows, the cement and stones.

I have seen you in casks of water, in granaries,
Broken, I have seen you a maid in night clubs,
I have seen you in the gleam of tears and in wounds.
You are the other lung in my chest;
You are the sound on my lips;
You are water; you are fire.

I saw you at the mouth of the cave, at the cavern,
Hanging your orphans' rags on the wash line.
In the stoves, in the streets I have seen you.
In the barns and in the sun's blood.
In the songs of the orphaned and the wretched I have seen you.
I have seen you in the salt of the sea and in the sand.
Yours was the beauty of the earth, of children and of Arabian jasmine.

And I have vowed
To fashion from my eyelashes a kerchief,
And upon it to embroider verses for your eyes,
And a name, when watered by a heart that dissolves in chanting,
Will make the sylvan arbours grow.
I shall write a phrase more precious than honey and kisses:
'Palestinian she was and still is'.

On a night of storms, I opened the door and the window
To see the hardened moon of our nights.
I said to the night: Run out,
Beyond the darkness and the wall;
I have a promise to keep with words and light.
You are my virgin garden
As long as our songs
Are swords when we draw them.
And you are as faithful as grain
So long as our songs
Keep alive the fertile soil when we plant them.
You are like a palm tree in the mind:
Neither storm nor woodsman's ax can fell it.
Its braids uncut
By the beasts of desert and forest
But I am the exiled one behind wall and door,
Shelter me in the warmth of your gaze.

Take me, wherever you are,
Take me, however you are.
To be restored to the warmth of face and body,
To the light of heart and eye,
To the salt of bread and song,
To the taste of earth and homeland.
Shelter me in the warmth of your gaze,
Take me, a panel of almond wood, in the cottage of sorrows,
Take me, a verse from the book of my tragedy,
Take me, a plaything or a stone from the house,
So that our next generation may recall
The path of return to our home.

Her eyes and the tattoo on her hands are Palestinian,
Her name, Palestinian,
Her dreams, and sorrow, Palestinian,
Her Kerchief, her feet and body, Palestinian,
Her words and her silence, Palestinian,
Her voice, Palestinian,
Her birth and her death, Palestinian,
I have carried you in my old notebooks
As the fire of my verses,
The sustenance for my journeys.
In your name, my voice rang in the valleys:
I have seen Byzantium's horses
Even though the battle be different.
Beware, oh beware
The lightning struck by my song in the granite.
I am the flower of youth and the knight of knights!
I am the smasher of idols.
I plant the Levantine borders
With poems that set eagles free.
And in your name I have shouted at the enemy:
Worms, feed on my flesh if ever I slumber,
For the eggs of ants cannot hatch eagles,
And the shell of the adder's egg
Holds but a snake!
I have seen Byzantium's horses,
And before it all, I know
That I am the flower of youth and the knight of knights!

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was an award-winning Palestinian author and poet. His literature, particularly his poetry, created a sense of Palestinian identity and was used to resist the occupation of his homeland.  

During the early stages of Darwish’s career, the poet used nature as a means to resist the Israeli occupation. This poem entitled ‘A Lover from Palestine’ is a prime example of the way in which Darwish uses nature to express the connection between himself, ‘the lover,’ and his beloved ‘Palestine’ in order to illustrate how inseparable the two are from one another. 

The poet symbolizes the Palestinians as a “palm tree,” which cannot be uprooted from the land by the Israeli occupation, symbolized here as the “storm,” because Palestinians, like the palm tree, are rooted in the land.

Analysis by Lydia Marouf