Featured Poem


My nurse says: you are better now
and injects me with a tranquillizer:
Be calm
and worthy of what you're about to dream
even a little…

I saw my French doctor
open my prison cell
and beat me with a stick
assisting him were two local policemen

I saw my father return
from the Hajj
fainted from the Hijazi sunstroke
he said to the flock of angels surrounding him:
Extinguish me!

I saw Moroccan boys playing soccer
pelting me with stones:
Pass your word back-scram!
and leave us our mother
O father trespassing in the cemetery!

I saw René Char
sitting with Heidegger
two metres away from me
I saw them drinking wine
not looking for poetry
The dialogue was a ray of light
And there was a passer-by waiting

I saw three comrades weeping
as they were sewing me a shroud
with gold thread

I saw Ma'ari expel his critics
from his poem
I'm not blind
to see what you all see
Vision is a light that leads to nothingness…or madness

I saw countries embrace my good mornings saying:
Be worthy of the bread's aroma
May the flowers of the pavement make you elegant
There's still fire on your mother's hearth
And the welcome is as warm as bread!

The land of my poem is green
One stream is enough to make me whisper to the butterfly:
O sister
One stream is enough to solder the ancient myths onto the falcon's wing as it swaps
banners for distant peaks
there where armies have founded for me a kingdom of oblivion
There is no nation smaller than its poem
But weapons make words too big for the living
and the dead who inhabit the living
And letters make the sword on the dawn's belt glitter
till the desert becomes parched for songs or drowns in them

No life is long enough for me to join my end to my beginning
The shepherds took my story and hid it in the grass
covering the magic debris where the tents once stood
and like this with trumpets and choral rhymes they cheated oblivion
then left me the hoarseness of memory on the stone of farewell
and they didn't return…

Pastoral our days are pastoral between city and tribe
I can't find a secret night for your saddle studded with mirages
You said to me: without you why do I need a name?
Call me
for I created you when you named me
and you killed me once you owned the name
How could you kill me?
Me the outcast of all this night
Let me enter the forest of your desire
Embrace me, hold me, squeeze me till
I shed pure nuptial honey on the hive
Scatter me with the breeze in your hands then gather me up
The night renders up its soul to you Intruder
and a star can't see me without knowing how my family will kill me with rosewater
So give me the sudden happiness that needs me
and I will break my jar with my own hands

You suggest I change my path?
I didn't say anything – my life is beyond me
I'm the me saying:
The last poem fell from my date palms
I travel within myself
besieged by contradictions
And life is worth the candle of its mystery
and its prophetic birds

I wasn't born to know I was going to die
but to love what's in God's shadow
Beauty takes me to the beautiful
And I love your love
freed from itself and its signs

I am my alternative
I am the one who says to himself:
From the smallest things are born the largest thoughts
Rhythm doesn’t come from the words
but from the joining of two bodies in a long night…

I'm the one talking to himself to tame memory…are you me?
You, me and the third which is the two of us
fluttering between and declaring, don't forget!
O our death! Take us then
so we can learn to shine…
On me there's no sun or moon
I left my gloom hanging on a branch of a boxthorn
and the place weighed less
as my fugitive spirit took to the sky

I'm the me saying:
O girl: what did the longed-for ones do to you?
The breeze ruffles and carries us like autumn scents
My wife you grew on my crutches
And sure of what you see, they will help you on the Damascus Road
A guardian angel and two doves fly over what's left of our lives
And the land is a festival…

The land is a festival of the vanquished and we are among them
It's we who brought the anthem here
camping in the wind like an old eagle's feather
We were good and pious without Christ's teachings
and stronger than the grass at summer's end
You are my truth and I your question
We have inherited nothing but our names
and you are my playground and I your shade
at the crossroads of the anthem

We weren't there when the saints and their magic and malice got into the anthem
On the horns of a mountain goat they carried the place from its time to another time
It would have been more natural if the stars in our sky were a fraction higher than
   the stones in our well
and the prophets less nagging
then the soldiers could have heard our praises

The land of my poem is green
The song carries her as she was
fertile from past to past
And I have of her: Narcissus contemplating the water of his image
And I have of her: the sharpness of shadows in synonyms and the exactitude of
And I have of her: what is common in the sayings of prophets on the roof of the night
And I have of her: the donkey of wisdom abandoned on a hill, mocking her legends and
her reality…
And I have of her: the symbols stuffed with opposites
Realism doesn't find memories
Abstraction doesn't lead to illumination
My other self I have of her
Singers can only inscribe her days in a diary:
If the dream isn't enough
I'll be heroically sleepless at the door of exile
And I have of her: the echo of my language from the walls
removing salt from the sea
at the very moment when my strong heart betrays me

Higher than the valley was my wisdom
When I told the devil: No, don't test me!
Don't give me your either-ors
Leave me in the Old Testament climbing to heaven
there is my kingdom
Take hold of history O son of my father
take history and make with guesses what you need

And I have tranquillity
A small grain of wheat will be enough for us
for me and my brother the enemy
Since my hour hasn't yet come
nor the hour of the harvest
I must embrace absence, listen to my heart and follow it
to Kana in Galilee
My hour has not yet come
Perhaps something in myself rejects me
Perhaps I am someone else
The figs are not yet ripe around the girls' dresses
and from the feather of the ostrich I have not yet been born
Nobody is waiting for me there
I have come before and I have come after
I find nobody who believes what I see
I the one who sees
am far away
The faraway

My me who are you?
We are two on the road
and one at the resurrection
Take me to the light of my disappearance to see how I'll be in my other mirror
Who my me will I be after you?
Is my body behind me or before you?
Who am I you tell me?
Make me as I make you
anoint me with almond oil
crown me with cedar
and transport me from the valley to a white eternity
Teach me life on the way
test me like an atom in the heavens
come to my aid against the boredom of the eternal
and be lenient when the roses pierce from my veins and wound me…

Our hour has not yet come
No prophet counts time with a fistful of late grass
Has time closed its circle?
No angels visit the place so poets can leave their past behind on the dusk's horizon
and open by hand their tomorrows
Sing again Anat darling goddess
my first poem about genesis
Storytellers have already found the willow's birth certificate in the autumn stone
and shepherds their well in the depth of a song
And time has already come for those who play with meaning
on a butterfly's wing caught in rhymes

So sing darling goddess
I am both the prey Anat and the arrows
I am words
the funeral oration the call of the muezzin
and the martyr

I haven't said goodbye to the ruins yet
So don't be what I was except once
once was enough to see how time collapses itself like a bedouin tent
in a wind from the north
How places split apart and the what-has-gone wears the litter of a deserted temple
Everything around me looks like me
and I look like nothing here
As if the earth is too small for the lyrically sick
descendents of the poor crazy devils who when they had a good dream
taught love poetry to a parrot
and saw all frontiers open…

I want to live…
I have work to do on deck
not to save birds from our famines or sea sickness
But to study the deluge close-up
And after?
What do survivors do with the ancient land?
Do they take up the same story?
How did it begin?
What's the epilogue?
No one comes back from death to tell us the truth…

Wait for me Death beyond the earth
Wait for me on your land
until I finish my talk with what's left of my life
not far from your tent
Wait for me til I finish reading Tarafa bin al Abed

The existentialists who drew up from the well of each moment
the wine of the gods…
they seduce me

So wait Death til I have settled the funeral arrangements in the clear spring of my birth
and have forbidden the orators to lyricise again
about the sad land and the steadfastness of figs and olives in the face of time's armies
Dissolve me I'd say in all the femininity of the letter ‘nuun’
Let me gulp down the Sura of the Merciful in the Qur'an
And walk with me in my ancestors’ footsteps
silently to the rhythm of a flute
towards my eternity
And don't place a violet on my grave
it's the flower of the depressed
and reminds the dead of how love died too young
Place seven ears of green wheat on my coffin and a few red anemones should you find
otherwise leave the church roses for churches and newly-weds

Wait till I pack my bag Death
my toothbrush soap after-shave and some clothes
Is the climate warm over there?
Do the seasons change in the eternal whiteness?
Or does the weather stay fixed in autumn or winter?
Will one book be enough to read in non-time?
Or should I take a library?
And what do they talk over there?
vernacular or classical?

Death wait for me Death
till I clear my mind in Spring
and regain my health
Then you'll be the noble hunter who doesn't kill the gazelle while it's drinking

Let’s be friendly and open together
I'll give you my well-filled life
and you give me a view of the planets
No one exactly dies
Rather souls change their looks and address
Death my shadow who will lead me
you the third in two
you hesitant colour of sapphires and topaz
you blood of the peacock
you poacher of a fox's heart
you, our delirium!
Put down your hunting things outside under the awning
Hang your set of heavy keys above the door!
You Mighty One stop looking at my veins monitoring the last drop
you are mightier than medicine
mightier than the respirator
mightier than pungent honey
You don't need to kill me – my sickness will
Why not be nobler than the insects?
Be transparently yourself
a visible message to be read by the invisible
Be like love – a storm among trees
don't stand on the threshold like a beggar or tax collector
Don't be an undercover policeman directing traffic
Be strong like shining steel and take off the fox's mask
Be chivalrous glamorous fatal
Say what you want to say:
I come from one meaning and go to another
Life is liquid
and I thicken it and define it
with my pair of scales and sceptre
Death wait
take a seat
drink a glass of wine
and don't bargain with me
Someone like you doesn't bargain with anyone
and someone like me doesn't argue with the herald of the invisible

Take it easy – perhaps you're worn out by star wars
Who am I that you should visit me?
Have you time to check out my poem?
No that's not your concern
your concern is with the clay of man's being
not with what he does or says
You're defeated Death by the arts by each one of them
You're defeated by the songs of the land of two rivers
by the Egyptian obelisk by the tomb of the Pharaohs
in the temples there are bas-reliefs who defeated you
And eternity escaped through your cracks
So carry on with yourself
and with us
as you see fit

And I want
I want to live
I have work to do on the geography of volcanoes
From desolation to ruin
from the time of Lott to Hiroshima
As if I'd never yet lived
with a lust I've still to know
Perhaps Now has gone further away
and yesterday come closer
So I take Now's hand to walk along the hem of history
and avoid cyclic time
with its chaos of mountain goats
How can my tomorrow be saved?
By the velocity of electronic time
or by my desert caravan slowness?
I have work till my end
as if I won't see tomorrow
and I have work for today who isn’t here
So I listen
softly softly
to the ant beat of my heart: Bear with me my patience
I hear the cry of the imprisoned stone: Set my body free
in a violin I see yearning's migration between peat and sky
and in my feminine hand
I hold tight my familiar eternity:
I was created then loved then died then awoke on the grass of my tombstone
whose letters from time to time refer to me
What's the use of spring if it doesn't please the dead
and show them the joy of life and the shock of forgetfulness?
That's the clue to my poems
at least the sentimental ones
And what on earth are dreams if not our only way of speaking?

Take your time Death
Take a seat on the crystal of my days
as if you've always been a constant friend
as if you were the foreigner among living creatures
You are the exile
you haven’t a life
your life is only my death
you neither live nor die
you kidnap children between their thirst for milk and milk
You'll never be a child in a cradle rocked by finches
never will angels and stags tease you with their horns
as they teased us
we guests of the butterfly
You are the miserable exile
with no woman pressing you to her breasts
no woman to make during the long night
nostalgia Two
in the language of desire
and to make into One
the land and heaven which is in us
No boy of yours to say: Father I love you
You are the exile

You king of kings
There’s no praise for your sceptre
no falcon waiting on your horse
no pearls embedded in your crown
You are stripped of flags and music
How can you go around like a cowardly thief without guards or singers?
Who do you think you are?
You're the Great Highness of Death
mighty leader of the invincible Assyrians

So do with us
and yourself
as you see fit

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About the translation:
Mahmoud Darwish
John Berger, Rema Hammami
Original language:
Series 3 No.9 - Palestine

About the author

Mahmoud Darwish

Original poet

Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish, the great Palestinian poet, passed away on Saturday 9 August 2008, following complications after major heart...

» Read more
John Berger


John Berger

Storyteller, essayist, poet, screenwriter, dramatist. Lives in the French Alps. Most recent book: Hold Everything Dear. Dispat...

» Read more


Rema Hammami

Rema Hammami is an Anthropologist. Born in Saudi Arabia, she lives in East Jerusalem and teaches at the Women's Studies Instit... » Read more


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