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Sunday, September 21, 2008

In the Presence of Darwish - Sinan Antoon

Mahmoud Darwish once said that he considered himself to be a Trojan poet recollecting and reconstructing the voices of the defeated: "The Trojans would have expressed a different narrative than that of Homer, but their voices are forever lost. I am in search of those voices." Darwish conducted his search as he roamed over a "map of absence," as he called his homeland of Palestine. On August 9 his odyssey ended when he died after complications from open heart surgery in Houston. Four days later, thousands of Palestinians flocked to Ramallah to bid him farewell at a state funeral, and countless others across the Arab world and elsewhere mourned his passing.

For nearly half a century, Darwish's heart, and the heart of his poetry, had been public spaces. In the Arab world, it was not uncommon for Darwish readings to draw thousands of people; many thousands more bought his books and listened to his poems as they were set to music. But Darwish was more than a "Trojan poet": his poetic odyssey included explorations of physical frailty, spiritual bewilderment, erotic love and metaphysical hunger. Darwish may very well have been one of the last great world poets. It is difficult to imagine another poet who enjoyed such immense popularity and endured such political scrutiny, one whose work embodies the collective memory of millions yet also has a universal orbit. Darwish truly contained multitudes. He was many poets at once; his work stubbornly resists categorization.

Muhammed Muheisen/AP Images


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