I Don’t Want This Poem to End

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By: Mahmoud Darwish

Translated By: Mohammad Shaheen

Northampton, Massachusetts: Interlink Publishing Group. 242pp. $19.98, ISBN: 9781566560009

Volume: 5 Issue: 11

November 2017

Review by:

Issa J. Boullata, PhD

McGill University

Montreal, Canada

For anyone interested in the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008), and generally in modern Arabic poetry in translation, this book is a valuable addition to the library. It contains three of Darwish’s collections totaling about eighty poems, most translated into English for the first time, namely (1) The End of the Night, (2) It is a Song, It is a Song, and (3) I Don’t Want This Poem to End. The introduction written by Darwish’s friend, the Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, tells the interesting story of Darwish’s friends who, upon his death in 2008, entered his home in Amman, Jordan, and retrieved poems in manuscript form and other writings of his, some of which appear in this volume. The book also contains a 1965 letter of his to his brother Ahmad from an Israeli prison, as well as a prose essay entitled “On Exile,” and an interview with him by Mohammad Shaheen conducted about four years before Darwish’s death, and an account of a meeting with him on 25 July 2008 by Faisal Darraj, thirteen days after which, the poet passed away. For all these reasons, the contents of this book contribute enormously to our present knowledge of Darwish and constitute a real addition to the published literature on this Palestinian poet, who is considered one of the great modern Arab poets.

Mahmoud Darwish was the author of more than two dozen volumes of poetry and prose, and the three collections of poetry in this book, though of arbitrary choice, give and excellent view of his poetic development over the years. This is enhanced by the good translation which has succeeded in showing Darwish’s move from a lyrical mode at the beginning to an epic one later and then to a dramatic one. He was one of the leading Palestinian poets in Israel, proudly named in the Arab world as ‘resistance poets’ because of their powerful political poems against the occupation of Palestine by Israel. This coincided with Darwish’s lyrical mode, in which his poems were direct in their political themes and wording, and were well received by the Arab people everywhere, painfully chafing under their defeat by Israel in the 1967 war. But Darwish did not want to be restricted and labelled as a political poet because he knew that poetry was (and is) much wider and deeper than this limitation; hence, his eventual move to other modes of writing poetry, consonant with his artistic talents, his growing personality, and his maturing knowledge of world poetry. The Arab public wanted him to remain expressly political and some may have misunderstood his later poetry. Nevertheless, sophisticated and complex and oblique as his poetry had become, it remained an extended love affair with Palestine, leading him to become a global poet whose poetry was of enchanting beauty and imagination. Yet the word “Palestine” is not mentioned except once in his collection I Don’t Want This Poem to End (page 212) and that is where, speaking of identity, the speaker in the poem says:

While my passport
Would be just like Palestine, a question that was debatable
And is still debatable! Et cetera …

Even when mentioned in his poetry, Palestine was a debatable question—and still is, with no end in sight—etc.

Mahmoud Darwish died at the age of 67 after heart surgery at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas, and his body was brought back to Palestine and buried in Ramallah in a memorable official ceremony followed by three days of national mourning. And Dr. Mohammad Shaheen’s book is one of the latest and best books on him.

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