Mahmoud Darwish (Arabic: محمود درويش) (13 March 1941 – 9 August 2008) was a Palestinian poet and author who won numerous awards for his literary output and was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. In his work, Palestine became a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. He has been described as incarnating and reflecting "the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry".
Mahmoud Darwish was born in the village of al-Birwa in the Western Galilee. He was the second child of Salim and Houreyyah Darwish. His family were landowners. His mother was illiterate, but his grandfather taught him to read. After Israeli forces assaulted his village of al-Birwa in June 1948 the family fled to Lebanon, first to Jezzin and then Damour. The village was then razed and destroyed by the Israeli army to prevent its inhabitants from returning to their homes inside the new Jewish state. A year later, Darwish's family returned to the Acre area, which was now part of Israel, and settled in Deir al-Asad. Darwish attended high school in Kafr Yasif, two kilometers north of Jadeidi. He eventually moved to Haifa.
He published his first book of poetry, Asafir bila ajniha or Wingless Birds, at the age of nineteen. He initially published his poems in Al Jadid, the literary periodical of the Israeli Communist Party, eventually becoming its editor. Later, he was Assistant Editor of Al Fajr, a literary periodical published by the Israeli Workers Party (Mapam). Darwish was impressed by the Arab poets Abed al-Wahab al Bayati and Bader Shaker al-Sayab.
Darwish left Israel in 1970 to study in the USSR. He attended the University of Moscow for one year, before moving to Egypt and Lebanon. When he joined the PLO in 1973, he was banned from reentering Israel. In 1995, he returned to attend the funeral of his colleague, Emile Habibi and received a permit to remain in Haifa for four days. Darwish was allowed to settle in Ramallah in 1995, although he said he felt he was living in exile there, and did not consider the West Bank his "private homeland."
Darwish was twice married and divorced. His first wife was the writer Rana Kabbani. In the mid-1980s, he married an Egyptian translator, Hayat Heeni. He had no children. Darwish had a history of heart disease, suffering a heart attack in 1984, followed by two heart operations, in 1984 and 1998.
His final visit to Israel was on 15 July 2007, to attend a poetry recital at Mt. Carmel Auditorium in Haifa, in which he criticized the factional violence between Fatah and Hamas as a "suicide attempt in the streets".
Darwish published over thirty volumes of poetry and eight books of prose. He was editor of Al-Jadid, Al-Fajr, Shu'un Filistiniyya and Al-Karmel (1981). On 1 May 1965 when the young Darwish read his poem “Bitaqat huwiyya” to a crowd in a Nazareth movie house, there was a tumultuous reaction. Within days the poem had spread throughout the country and the Arab world. Published in his second volume "Leaves of Olives" (Haifa 1964), the six stanzas of the poem repeat the cry “Write down: I am an Arab.”
In the 1970s, “Darwish, as a Palestinian poet of the Resistance committed himself to the . . . objective of nurturing the vision of defeat and disaster (after the June War of 1967), so much so that it would ‘gnaw at the hearts’ of the forthcoming generations.”
Palestinian poetry often addresses the Nakba and the resultant tragedies. The mid 1980s saw the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and preceded the outbreak of the first Intifada (uprising) on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in December 1987. Mahmoud Darwish addressed these and other issues in Ward aqall [Fewer Roses] (1986), and more specifically in one poem, “Sa-ya’ti barabira akharun” [Other Barbarians Will Come”].
Darwish's work won numerous awards, and has been published in 20 languages. A central theme in Darwish's poetry is the concept of watan or homeland. The poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote that Darwish "is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging...."