Lyrics and politics, about Mahmoud Darwish

December 2004 -

Mahmoud Darwish is the winner of the Prince Claus Prize 2004. Dutch poet Jan Baeke talks about his work.

Mahmoud Darwish – I talk too much

Gedicht van Mahmoud Darwish >>>

A poet cannot escape from the reality in which he lives. If that reality, as is the case with Mahmoud Darwish, is the reality of a Palestinian poet in exile, then it is not surprising that the price paid for that exile can be heard in all of his poems.

In 1948, when Darwish was six years old, his family fled from Palestine to Lebanon. After returning, his life as a foreigner in his country, which had since become Israel, began. His departure in 1970 to study in Moscow marked the beginning of a 26 year period of exile. He could not permanently return to the country of his birth until 1996.

Darwish had his debut at a young age: his first bundle was published in 1960. His breakthrough came with his second bundle, Awraq al-zaytun (Olive leaves) in 1964, when the two clear opposites around which his poetry has continued to move were established: lyrics and politics. Many of his poems are political due to the fact that the lack of a homeland and the struggle to establish a personal identity are emphatically explored. However, through it all resounds in particular the human need for an existence in which attention is devoted to the preciousness of the commonplace and love of life.

Both Al-Mahjar poets 'American poets from the Middle East, including Kahlil Gibran - and Western European poets such as Garcia-Lorca, Neruda and Szmborska have influenced Darwish's poetry. Like for these poets, for Darwish language is a home. And yet he cannot withdraw into his language. As Darwish himself says: 'I want to free myself from Palestine, but I cannot because my country has not yet been freed.'

Mahmoud Darwish is winner of the Prince Claus Prize 2004. The prizes have been awarded on 1 December in the Palace on the Dam in Amsterdam. On 2 December, within the framework of the theme of the PCF prizes 'the positive consequences of migration', the Prins Claus Fund, the NCDO and the Sticting Bak Utrecht have organised a debate titled '2004 UNDP Human Development Report: A positive approach to migration'. More information is available at