Death and displacement in the lyrics of the Palestinian national poet
by Mahmoud Darwish
translation by John Berger and Rema Hammami
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In "Fame," one of the prose poems from A River Dies of Thirst, the last collection he published before his death in 2008, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish noted sardonically that "fame is the humiliation of a person deprived of secrets." Darwish knew fame well; he had been acclaimed from the moment his poems first appeared, in 1960, when he was only nineteen. For the rest of his life, he would be celebrated as "the Palestinian national poet" and "the voice of his people." One of the ironies, if not the humiliations, of such a role is that the poet whose words promise liberation may find himself ever more narrowly constrained. Awakened expectations can build the strongest of cages.
Darwish baffled those expectations as often as he satisfied them. His 1998 collection, The Stranger's Bed, published after his
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