Translating Mahmoud Darwish

I hadn’t heard of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish until last year when I visited the museum dedicated to him in Ramallah, Palestine. I bought a book of his poetry there and since then I’ve been making my way, very slowly, with an Arabic-English dictionary in tow, through the collection.

Edward Said, who knew Mahmoud Darwish well, called him “Palestine’s unofficial national poet”, while Naomi Shihab Nye, an American-Palestinian poet, referred to him as “the essential breath of the Palestinian people”.

I’ve attempted to translate a few of his poems into English. It’s the first time I’ve tried to translate poetry so I apologise in advance!

"From the homeland to Mahmoud Darwish", Ramallah, October 2014
“From the homeland to Mahmoud Darwish”, Ramallah, October 2014


The original Declaration of Independence document as drafted by Mahmoud Darwish.
The original Declaration of Independence document as drafted by Mahmoud Darwish.

To The Reader

The black lilies are in my heart,
and in my lip… the flame.
From which forest did come
all the hardness of anger?

I swore allegiance to my sorrows.
I greeted vagrancy and hunger.
The anger of my hand…
The anger of my mouth…
The blood of my veins is a juice of anger.
O, my reader!
Do not ask me to whisper!
Do not anticipate joy!

This is my torture:
A purposeless punch in the sand
and in the cloud!
Be wary of me because I am angry
and fire begins with anger.

Three Pictures


The moon was,
as he has been since our birth, cold.
The sadness in his brow glistened…
A stream… a stream
by a village fence.
It is a sad exodus,
a runaway…


My friend was,
as he has been since we met, grave-faced.
The cloud in his eyes
sows a fog in his vision…
And the fire in his lips
tells me of his bloody battle…
Even at night he reads poetry to dream.
He asks me which path he should take…
A line of poetry… tenderness!


My father endured,
as he always has done, pain.
He chases after bread wherever it has run out,
fighting against the evil people.
He fathers children …
And the earth…
And the planets…
My little brother’s clothes
were shabby… so he pleaded for more
while my sister bought socks.
And everyone in the house is making demands
and my father, as he always does,
reclaims his virtues
and grooms the ends of his moustache.
And he fathers children…
And the earth…
And the planets.

Identity Card

Write it down!
I am Arab
And my identity card number is fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth will come after summer
Are you angry?


Write it down!
I am Arab
And I work with fellow workers at a quarry
I have eight children
I provide bread for them
And clothes and notebooks
From the rocks
I don’t beg for charity at your door
And I don’t belittle myself
On your doorstep
Are you angry?


Write it down!
I am Arab
I have a name without a title
I am patient in a country
In which all who live there are fuming
My roots
Took hold before the birth of time
And before the opening of the eras
And before the cypress and the olive trees
And before the grass first grew
My father… he is from a family of ploughman
Not from a background of luxury
My grandfather was a farmer
With neither records nor lineage
He taught me the glory of the sun before teaching me to read
My house is like a janitor’s hut
Made from sticks and reeds
Are you happy with my status as it is?
I have a name without a title!


Write it down!
I am Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land that I cultivated
Along with all my children
And you left us and the grandchildren
Nothing but these rocks
And will your government
Take them, too, as is said?

Write down at the top of the first page
I do not hate people
And I do not steal from anyone
But if I become hungry
I will eat the flesh of the usurpers
Of my hunger
And of my anger!

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