Mahmoud Darwish was born on March 13, 1941 in the village of Al-Birweh Palestine. In 1947, at the age of six, he and his family were expelled from their village under a shower of bombs. He found himself in refugee camps in southern Lebanon with tens of thousands of Palestinians, after they had been uprooted from the cities and villages of their homeland.
“The first Lebanese village I remember was Rmeish. Then we lived in Jezzine until the snow fell. While living there, I saw an enormous waterfall for the first time in my life. Then we moved to Al-Na’emah near Damour. I remember that period very well—the sea and the banana fields. I was six but I remember it well. My eyes still have memories of those scenes. We were waiting the war to end in order to return to our villages. My grandfather and father knew that wasn’t happening. We snuck back with a Palestinian guide who knew the secret pathways to the north of Galilee. We stayed at a friend’s house until we discovered that our village Al-Birweh no longer existed”. The Darwish family found their village destroyed. In its place a moshavAhihud and a kibbutz Yas’ur were built.
“We couldn’t return to our own village, so we lived as refugees in a village called Deir al-Asad in the north. We were called refugees and had great difficulty obtaining residency cards, because we got in 'illegally’— meaning that we had been absent when the Israelis registered the Palestinian population. Our legal status according to Israeli law was 'present absentee,’ meaning that we were physically present, but without papers. Our lands were taken and we lived as refugees.”
Darwish then lived in Haifa after his family moved to a new village called Al-Jdaideh, where they owned a house. He said “I lived in Haifa for 10 years and I finished my high school studies. Then I worked as an editor for Al-Itihad newspaper. I was not allowed to leave Haifa for 10 years— I was under forced residency. We got our identification cards back. At first, the ID cards were red, then they were blue, and the blue cards almost looked like residency cards. I was forbidden from leaving Haifa for 10 years. From 1967 until 1970, I was not allowed to leave my house. The police had the right to come at night and make sure I was still at home. I was arrested and released without trial every year. Eventually, I had to get away.”
Darwish joined the Israeli Communist Party and worked in the party’s media department- including newspapers owned by the party, Al-Itihad and Al-Jadeed. He later became the editor of Al-Jadeed. He was accused of hostile activities against the state of Israel. He was hunted and detained five times by Israeli forces: first in 1961, and again in 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1969. He lived under forced residency until 1970.
Mahmoud Darwish had unconventional ideas about his own biography. “First, what matters to the reader about my biography is in my poems. There is a saying that every musical poem is an autobiography, while another theory states a reader doesn’t need to know the autobiography of a poet to understand and connect with his poetry. Second, I would like to feel that my autobiography has a benefit. I don’t need to hide that my biography is ordinary. I don’t like to complain much about personal life and its problems. Neither do I want to show off. Sometimes an autobiography pushes a person to show off, where the writer view themselves as a different persons. I wrote features from my biography in prose books such as Journal of an Ordinary Grief and Memory for Forgetfulness, especially about my childhood and the Nakba.”
In 1970, Darwish went to the Soviet Union to study. Darwish says, “The first trip outside Palestine was to Moscow. I was a student at the Social Sciences Institute. I didn’t have a home in the real sense, just a room on campus.
“I lived in Moscow for a year. Moscow was my first encounter with the outside world. I had tried to travel to Paris earlier, but the French authorities denied my entry in 1968. I had an Israeli document, but my nationality was not specified. The French security was not concerned with understanding the complexity of the Palestinian cause. How I had an Israeli document with an unspecified citizenship while I consistently said I was Palestinian. I was kept at the airport for hours before they flew me back to my occupied homeland.
Moscow was the first urban European city I lived in. I discovered its huge landmarks, rivers, museums and theaters. What would you expect a young man’s reaction to be when moving from a bounded residence to a huge capital! I learned a little bit of Russian to manage my personal matters. However, I was struck by the problems of daily life in Russia. It made the idea that Moscow is “heaven for the poor” evaporates in my mind, for I did not find it a heaven for the poor, like we were taught.
I lost my ideals of communism, which made me lose confidence in Marxism. There was a huge gap between what we imagined; the idea portrayed by the Soviet media about Moscow, and the reality that people lived in. The reality was full of deprivation, poverty and fear. When I spoke with Russians I felt they spoke in secrecy. On top of this fear, I had a feeling that the government was everywhere. This transformed the city of Moscow from a model city to an average city.”
Darwish talks about Cairo, the second stop after leaving his homeland, saying: “Going to Cairo was one of the most important events of my personal life. In Cairo, I was sure of my decision about leaving Palestine and not returning. It wasn’t an easy decision. I would wake up from sleep unsure of where I was. I would open the window, and when I would see the Nile I would be sure I’m in Cairo. I had a lot of nightmares, but I was fascinated with being in an Arab city, with Arabic street names, where people spoke Arabic. On top of that, I found myself living between the literary texts that I read and was fascinated with. After all, I’m practically a son of Egyptian culture and Egyptian literature. I met the writers that I read and whom I considered my spiritual fathers.
I met Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Abdel Halim Hafez and others. I met accomplished writers such as Naguib Mahfouz, Yusuf Idris, and Tawfiq al-Hakim. I did not meet Taha Hussein or Umm Kulthum, who I would have loved to meet.”
He added, “I was grateful for Mohammad Hassanein Heikal for appointing me to the Al-Ahram Literary Salon; my office was on the sixth floor, along with Tawfiq al-Hakim, Naguib Mahfouz, Youssef Idris, and Bent Al-Shate’. Tawfiq al-Hakim had his own office while the rest of us shared one. I started a good friendship with Mahfouz and Youssef, those paradoxical characters: Mahfouz was an accurate person, very observant of his schedule and appointments. He came at a certain hour and left at a certain hour. When I would ask, 'Do you want coffee, Mr. Najib?’ he would look at his watch before answering to figure if it was coffee time or not. On the other hand, Youssef had a chaotic life. He was a bright man. In Cairo, I befriended the poets that I loved: Salah Abdel-Sabour, Ahmed Hijazi, and Amal Denkul. They were among my closest friends, along with Al-Abnoudi. I grew close with all of the poets and writers that I had loved. Cairo was one of the most important stops of my life.
In Cairo, my poetic experience underwent a transformation, as if a new era began. When I was in the occupied land, I was seen as a poet of resistance. After the defeat in 1967, the Arab world would applaud all of the poetry and literature coming out of Palestine- whether it was bad or good. The Arabs discovered that within occupied Palestine, steadfast Arabs existed, defending their rights and their identity. Palestinian literary works took on the appearance of being holy, and therefore the works were not given any general literary critique. As a result, Arabs’ literary standards were lowered for Palestinian resistance poetry. One of the most important poems I wrote in Cairo was 'Sarhan Drinks Coffee in a Café’, published in Al-Ahram newspaper and later published in the book of poems, I Love You, I Love You Not”.
“After Cairo, I moved directly to Beirut. I lived there from 1973 until 1982. I still carry my nostalgia for Beirut to this day. I have a beautiful disease called nostalgia for Beirut. I don’t know the reason for it. I know the Lebanese don’t like such praise for their city. But Beirut has a special place in my heart. Unfortunately, after living in Beirut for only a few years- which was an idea workshop and a laboratory for literary, intellectual, and political ideologies, that competed amongst each other yet lived together at the same time- the war began, and I thought my poetic work staggered.
I think that the best of what I wrote during my staying in Beirut was That's Her Image and This is the Lover's Suicide. But the war brought bloodshed, bombings, death, hatred, and killings… All this appeared on the horizon of Beirut and blurred it. A few of my friends died there and I had to lament over them. The first friend I lost was Ghassan Kanafani. I think that civil war in Lebanon had obstructed many of the intellectual and cultural projects in Beirut, and caused the polarity and fights among people.
Since the beginning of war, I would express to my friends and acquaintances my pessimism of the outcomes of this war. I would pose this question: 'Could we not as Palestinians have been strung to this war?’ There were official replies that said, 'The Palestinian role was self-defense and to fight against being marginalized. But we made a mistake in Beirut when we established a para-state within a state.
I was ashamed in front of the Lebanese at the checkpoints made by Palestinians on Lebanese land, asking the Lebanese about their ID cards. Of course those actions had explanations and justifications. But I always felt ashamed. I would ask myself many questions regarding those matters: 'What does victory in Lebanon mean?’ This question preoccupied me. Let’s assume we ended and won the war, what does this victory mean? Occupying Lebanon and ruling it? I was very pessimistic. I didn’t write about the Lebanese war except for semi-critical writing.
After the war ended— the Palestinian-Lebanese war, or the civil war, from an unbiased perspective—you could see the positive effects of Palestinian interactions with the Lebanese culture or the Lebanese interactions with the Palestinian cause. There were positive sides. There was the Palestinian Research Institute, the 'Sho’on Felestiynia’ magazine (Palestinian Affairs), “Al-Karmel magazine”, and others.
`I felt my stay in Beirut was going to be longer than it was. I wasn’t ashamed, because I felt like a legal resident. But being forced to live in Lebanon against the will of the Lebanese through the forced co-existence, that bothered me. When the Palestinian leadership and fighters left Beirut I didn’t leave. I stayed in Beirut for a few months. I didn’t expect the Israelis to occupy Beirut. I didn’t find meaning in leaving on the ships with the fighters. But one morning when I was living in Al-Hamra, I walked out to buy bread and I saw a huge Israeli tank. Israel had entered before it announced its entry. Then I found myself alone wandering the streets and seeing nothing but tanks and Israeli soldiers and masked men. I had hard days, I didn’t know where to sleep.
I would sleep outside my home in a restaurant. I would call the neighbors to ask them if the Israelis were looking for me. If they said, 'Yes, they came,’ I would realize that they wouldn’t be coming back again, so I would go home, take a shower, rest and then go back to the restaurant. Until the major disaster, the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla, that is. Then I realized that staying in Lebanon was absurd and reckless.
“I arranged leaving with the Libyan ambassador in Beirut at the time. He had the ability to get me out of Al-Ashrafieh, which was controlled by the militia, to Syria. But he had to find a way to take me from my house to the entrance of Al-Ashrafieh. We worked with a Lebanese officer, who found a safe street because there was an agreement between the Israelis and the government to not attack that street. (The now-deceased president Shafik Al-Wazzan was going to pass there. So we took that street and got out of Beirut. Once we made it to Tripoli, we went to a restaurant to eat fish- because we had gotten tired of eating canned food- and after I went to the bathroom to wash my hands, I looked in the mirror and saw a nose with glasses on it. I didn’t recognize the owner of that face for seconds. As if I was looking at another person’s face. After I got to Damascus, I stayed there for a week. A funny incident happened at the Syria-Lebanon border. The Lebanese officer at the border asked for my documents. I carried a Tunisian diplomatic passport. He found that my residency had ended and that was illegal. So I said to him, 'You’re right, but haven’t you heard the news? Don’t you know that we have no embassies or departments?”
Darwish came to Damascus in late 1982 to host an evening event that was to take place in the University of Damascus auditorium. The auditorium did not have sufficient space for the public, so the organizers were forced to move the audience to the Assad stadium on public and military buses. The poet was surprised that the field and benches were full.
I left Damascus for Tunisia, during that time I saw President Arafat and the brothers in a tragic scene. I saw the Palestinian revolution staying at a hotel on the shore of the sea. The scene was very painful, and required writing a novel about this fate. But Arafat quickly rebuilt his organization. He said to me, 'Continue publishing 'Al-Karamel,’ as he was interested even in cultural affairs. I asked him, 'Where do I publish it?’ He said, 'Wherever you like- in London, in Paris, in Cyprus...’ I then went to Cyprus to arrange the issue of the license. 'Al-Karamel’ was published from Cyprus, while I edited it from Paris and it was printed from Nicosia. My aide was the great poet, Salim Barakat. He lived in Paris for about ten years, but in the form of an itinerant, as he traveled constantly, and remained close to the PLO in Tunisia.
“Paris was a stop rather than a residence or a living place. I do not know. But I know that in Paris my complete birth as a poet happened. If I were to classify my poetry, I cherish most the poetry that I wrote in Paris during the eighties and beyond. There, I had the opportunity to reflect and look at the homeland and the world and things from a distance- the distance of light. When you see from a distance, you see better, and see the scene entirely. Furthermore, Paris aesthetically inspires poetry and creativity- where everything is beautiful. Even its climate is beautiful. In Paris, there is a description of an autumn day: 'Does someone die on such a day?’ And the city of Paris is also the city of exiled writers who come from all over the world. You find the world summarized in this city. I was befriended with many foreign writers. Paris offered me the opportunity to devote more time to read and write. I do not know really if Paris hit me or a phase of maturity happened in Paris. Or did each factor encourage the other? In Paris, I published the poetry books Fewer Roses, It’s a Song, Eleven Planets, I See What I Want, along with Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? and half of Bed of a Stranger . I wrote the text of Memory for Forgetfulness- and the purpose of this prose poem was to be free of the impact of Beirut, where I described the day of the siege. Most of my new works I wrote in Paris. I was free to write, despite being elected as a member of the Executive Committee (of the PLO). In Paris, I wrote the text of the declaration of the Palestinian state, and I wrote many texts and articles in the weekly magazine 'Al-Youm Al-Sabe’ (the Seventh Day), as if I was trying to make up for the clamor that was haunted me in other cities."
After I was able to go back to a 'part’ of Palestine, but not my personal 'part’ but a 'part’ of the general homeland. I debated for a long time on the choice of returning. And I felt that my national and moral duty not to stay in exile. I would not be comfortable with what people might say if I stayed away: they would say I prefer Paris to Ramallah or Gaza. Thus I took the second brave step after leaving- that is the step of coming back. These steps were two of the most difficult things I encountered in my life: to go out and return. I chose Amman because it was close to Palestine, and it was a quiet city and its people are kind. I could live my life, and when I want to write, I got out of Ramallah to take advantage of being alone in Amman.
Tension is very high in Ramallah. And concerns of national and daily life steal the time of writing. I spend half my time in Ramallah and the other half in Amman, and did some traveling. In Ramallah, I oversaw the publishing of Al-Karmel magazine.”
GhanemZureikat, a friend of Darwish’s, reveals some of the details of his life: "Mahmoud came to Amman the end of 1995, because it was closest city to Palestine. At the beginning, when the Palestinian leadership entered Palestine, Mahmoud seriously began thinking of leaving Paris, and the options in front of him were Cairo or Amman. Some friends, including Dr. Khaled Karaki, who was the Minister of Information, encouraged and welcomed him to stay in Amman, and the idea was met with welcome even at the highest levels of the Jordanian state. When Mahmoud arrived in Amman, he began thinking of renting a modest apartment, as he had done in Tunisia. A good man, a Jordanian contractor named Marwan Abdallat, refused to rent to Mahmoud Darwish, and swore many oaths that the apartment was a gift and he refused to take the price. But Mahmoud rejected outright the offer, and finally bought the house at its production cost, or the price without a profit. He chose Amman, in his opinion, because it is the best city to be alone in, calmly, and write, and this was indeed the city that provided him with this feature. He had very few friends there. He liked the calmness and ease of navigation, and he was friends with many people from Oman, who were very kind to him.”
His life didn’t differ in Beirut, Paris, and Cairo from his life in Jordan, although the most prominent feature was that for most of the time, Darwish was in Amman to work hard. The best proof of this is that of his poetry published by Dar Riyadh Al Rayes in Beirut— Mural in 2000, State of Siege in 2002, Do Not Apologize For What You Did in 2004, Almond Blossoms and Beyond in 2005, In the Presence of Absence in 2006, The Trace of Butterfly in 2007 —most of these poetry books were written between Amman and Ramallah.
Mahmoud Darwish’s concept of home is fairly unique. "Home means to me to sit with oneself- with books, with music, and with white paper. The house is like a room to listen to one’s inner voice and try to use the time in the best way possible. At age of sixty one feels that he doesn’t have much time. Personally, I admit that I wasted a lot of time on useless matters- in travel, in relationships and so on. I am keen now to employ my time in the interest of what I think is best, writing and reading. Many people complain of loneliness or isolation, but, I am addicted to solitude, which I have made a close friendship with. Solitude is a major test of the capacity of one's coherence, and the expulsion of boredom is also a high spiritual force. I feel that if I lose my isolation, I lose myself. I am keen to stay in this isolation, this does not mean a break from life and reality and the people. I organize my time in the form that does not allow me to plunge in social relationships, which not all may be useful.
“When I was away from the homeland, I thought that the road would lead to home, and that the home was more beautiful than the way home. But when I went back to the so-called house, which is not a real house, I changed that saying and I said: 'The way home is more beautiful than the home because the dream is still more beautiful and pure more than reality that came from this dream.’ The dream was orphaned. I’ve started to say again that the trip home is more significant than home.
My strong relationship with home grew in exile. When you are in your home, you don’t glorify home: you don’t feel its importance and its intimacy, but when deprived of home, it turns into a need and a lust, as if it is the ultimate aim of the whole journey. Exile is the opposite of home. But now, I can’t define the exile with its opposite nor the homeland with its opposite. Now it’s different. Homeland and exile are both ambiguous.
The Daily Rituals of Writing
Darwish had daily rituals and habits that he didn’t want anyone to interfere with— in particular, his hours of reading and writing. He lived alone in his apartment. He had been married twice and both marriages were ended by a separation of mutual consent. He did not want anyone sleep in his house with him, except for a few friends who sometimes came to him from Palestine. He usually slept early, not later than twelve o'clock at night and woke up around eight o’clock in the morning. He would begin his days with shaving his beard, taking a bath, and drinking coffee. He would wear his finest clothes and shoes, as if he were going to an official meeting, and sit behind the desk waiting for inspiration to write or to capture revelations as he experienced them. Sometimes, he’d write a page or pages, and sometimes he wouldn’t write anything, but what was important was that this ritual was sacred. Darwish’s flat had three keys. He said that he was afraid of dying in his apartment without anyone knowing. He was afraid of dying alone like the poet Bseiso. He said, "Sixty is a scary figure too, what will happen next?"
The Dice Player and His Hobbies
Darwish was busy reading and writing most of his time. Aside from Arabic, he spoke Hebrew, English and French. He loved listening to the classical music of the great composers like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, and he would often listen to their music while writing. Darwish had a vast collection of music on both tape and CD. He loved to listen to Abdul Wahab, Umm Kulthum, and Abdel Halim Hafez. His favorite pastime was to play backgammon. He would become so engaged in backgammon games that he would occasionally yell like a child. When watching television, he was fond of historical programs and dramas, the latter being especially compelling during the month of Ramadan.
Darwish was friendly, honest, and loving to his friends and people in general. He was very modest, shy, and did not like social gatherings with more than six people for an audience. He was generous and often invited his friends over. He was moderate in his life- in his food, drink, and debates- and he was not an extremist in his opinions. He was very tolerant. He did not have enmity for anyone and he rarely disparaged other poets or their works.
He could not visit neighborhoods or wander in the streets like a common man because he was embarrassed when approached by large numbers of fans. He distributed of a large portion of his personal library to some of his friends, as if he did not want to keep more than a hundred books at a time on hand. He was received by a number of kings and presidents, including the Queen of the Netherlands, the King of Morocco, the Prime Minister of France, the President of Tunisia, and others.
Perhaps the most endearing aspects of Darwish’s personality were his ability to think quickly on his feet, his sense of humor, his utmost politeness in speech, his tact in dealing with others, and his celebration of the experiences of others, especially young poets. He never hesitated to express his admiration for a beautiful text without reservation. He was an attentive listener, following friends with interest and curiosity, not inclined to criticism. He did not like the role of the professor, which was expected of him by some. He listened and conversed well. He read the news, he read the books given to him, and he expressed his opinions.
In 1997, Darwish participated for the first time in the Jerash Festival. He was present for the opening of the North Stage, which had been closed for two thousand years. At the festival, he read his poems for his fans and followers and was accompanied by the oud player Samir Jubran. He later participated in the Jerash Festival several times, including hosting one of his famous poetry evenings, Palace of Culture. At Palace of Culture, he announced to his audience when he went to the podium: “I will read some of what you love, and some of what I love.” He read a few old poems, and with the magical touch of an experienced conductor, he started reading his selections and drew the audience into his poetry completely, absorbing the audience in his work.
World of Coffee
Darwish’s close friends share that he himself made them coffee, and he was creative with it, and that he did not like anyone else to make it or serve it to them but him. He insisted on making coffee with his own hands and serving his visitors. During the war in Beirut, he lived in an apartment with a glass separator between the bedroom and the kitchen. The kitchen was exposed to sniper fire, and when he wanted to go to make a cup of coffee he hesitated to take the risk of putting his soul in danger in order to pass through to the kitchen and make coffee. He describes this in Memory for Forgetfulness:
“How can I diffuse the aroma of coffee into my cells, while shells from the sea rain down on the sea-facing kitchen, spreading the stink of gunpowder and the taste of nothingness? I measure the period between two shells. One second. One second: shorter than the time between breathing in and breathing out, between two heartbeats. One second is not long enough for me to stand before the stove by the glass facade that overlooks the sea. One second is not long enough to open the water bottle or pour the water into the coffee pot. One second is not long enough to light a match. But one second is long enough for me to burn. I want the aroma of coffee. I need five minutes. I want a five-minute truce for the sake of coffee. I have no personal wish other than to make a cup of coffee. With this madness I define my task and my aim. All my senses are on their mark, ready at the call to propel my thirst in the direction of the one and only goal: coffee.
Coffee, for an addict like me, is the key to the day.
And coffee, for one who knows it as I do, means making it with your own hands and not having it come to you on a tray, because the bringer of the tray is also the bearer of talk, and the first coffee, the virgin of the silent morning, is spoiled by the first words. Dawn, my dawn, is antithetical to chatter. The aroma of coffee can absorb sounds and will go rancid, even if these sounds are nothing more than a gentle “Good morning!”
They shame me, without my knowing I’m ashamed in front of them. The obscure heaps up on the obscure, rubs against itself, and ignites into clarity. Conquerors can do anything. They can aim sea, sky, and earth at me, but they cannot root the aroma of coffee out of me. I shall make my coffee now. I will drink the coffee now. Right now, I will be sated with the aroma of coffee, that I may at least distinguish myself from a sheep and live one more day, or die, with the aroma of coffee all around me.
“Gently place one spoonful of the ground coffee, electrified with the aroma of cardamom, on the rippling surface of the hot water, then stir slowly, first clockwise, then up and down. Add the second spoonful and stir up and down, then counterclockwise. Now add the third. Between spoonfuls, take the pot away from the fire and bring it back. For the final touch, dip the spoon in the melting powder, fill and raise it a little over the pot, then let it drop back. Repeat this several times until the water boils again and a small mass of the blond coffee remains on the surface, rippling and ready to sink. Don’t let it sink. Turn off the heat, and pay no heed to the rockets. Take the coffee to the narrow corridor and pour it lovingly and with a sure hand into a little white cup: dark-colored cups spoil the freedom of the coffee. Observe the paths of the steam and the tent of rising aroma. Now light your first cigarette, made for this cup of coffee, the cigarette with the flavor of existence itself, unequaled by the taste of any other except that which follows love, as the woman smokes away the last sweat and the fading voice.
Now I am born. My veins are saturated with their stimulant drugs, in contact with the springs of their life, caffeine and nicotine, and the ritual of their coming together as created by my hand. “How can a hand write,” I ask myself, “if it doesn’t know how to be creative in making coffee!” How often have the heart specialists said, while smoking, “Don’t smoke or drink coffee!” And how I’ve joked with them- “A donkey doesn’t smoke or drink coffee. And it doesn’t write.”
I know my coffee, my mother’s coffee, and the coffee of my friends. I can tell them from afar and I know the differences among them. No coffee is like another, and my defense of coffee is a plea for difference itself. There’s no flavor we might label “the flavor of coffee” because coffee is not a concept, or even a single substance. And it’s not an absolute. Everyone’s coffee is special, so special that I can tell one’s taste and elegance of spirit by the flavor of the coffee. Coffee with the flavor of coriander means the woman’s kitchen is not organized. Coffee with the flavor of carob juice means the host is stingy. Coffee with the aroma of perfume means the lady is too concerned with appearances. Coffee that feels like moss in the mouth means its maker is an infantile leftist. Coffee that tastes stale from too much turning over in the hot water means its maker is an extreme rightist. And coffee with the overwhelming flavor of cardamom means the lady is newly rich.
No coffee is like another. Every house has its coffee and every hand too, because no soul is like another. I can tell coffee from far away: it moves in a straight line at first, then zigzags, winds, bends, sighs, and turns on flat, rocky surfaces and slopes; it wraps itself around an oak, then loosens and drops into a wadi, looks back, and melts with longing to go up the mountain. It does go up the mountain as it disperses in the gossamer of a shepherd’s pipe taking it back to its first home.
The aroma of coffee is a return to and a bringing back of first things because it is the offspring of the primordial. It’s a journey, begun thousands of years ago, that still goes on. Coffee is a place. Coffee is pores that let the inside seep through to the outside. A separation that unites what can’t be united except through its aroma. Coffee is not for weaning. On the contrary, coffee is a breast that nourishes men deeply. A morning born of a bitter taste.The milk of manhood. Coffee is geography.
In prison, I never did adjust to the absence of morning coffee. How selfish I was. I have deprived a fellow in the prison from a half cup of coffee, fate punished me, after a week, when my mother came to visit me along with a pitcher of coffee, Prison guard poured it on the grass.”
Darwish was a skilled cook, proficient in three dishes and creative in serving it: Molokhia, white beans and okra. He dwelt on the description of his method of cooking, and how he picks meat, and quality of spices he used, and details of salt, garlic, and others. The meal he loved, and his choice if someone invited him over and asked him to pick a meal was Mansaf, which he considered a delicious meal.
Darwish had been active in the years before his death, organizing book signing ceremonies for new publications at the Khalil Sakakini Center in Ramallah and at al-Balad Theatre in downtown Amman. The first signing ceremony was in December 2005, and more than 1,200 people came to attend. They were mostly young people— university students, workers in various sectors. Some came from Syria, and others from historical Palestine. The event was an opportunity to meet people. Darwish was happy to stop and chat with those who wanted their books signed, sometimes asking their names, where they were from, and he got acquainted with them or their parents. He held a signing ceremony for In the Presence of Absence on November 20, 2006. His last book signing was for The Butterfly Trace on February 23 2008.
At the beginning of 2008, Darwish began to distribute a thousand books from his library to the libraries of Jabl Al-Natheef and Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp. He wanted to share his huge library so people could read it.
He had a distinguished role as the President of the Palestinian Writers and Journalists Union. He also participated in a unification conference in Algeria, during which time writers and journalists came together, reuniting after a period of division. He served as President of the Palestinian Research Center, and he also was a member of the PLO Executive Committee. Darwish founded the literary magazine, 'Al-Karemel,’ was its editor. 'Al-Karamel’ was first issued in Beirut, and then was moved to Cyprus and Ramallah. It was distributed in many Arab countries.
“Darwish was not a sweet talker. He never gave up his beliefs, and he never terrorized anyone, big or small. Often, we had to go to the place where he’d be reading half an hour early or more to reassure and comfort him. He was always anxious before every event. He arranged his poems carefully: which poem to read first, second, and last. He would always ask which poem would make for the most beautiful beginning. Darwish started fights with Darwish, if we can say that, because he spent so much time alone with himself. He stopped his travels, and spent less time with friends, and became a craftsman and critic of his poetry, always adding and deleting. I’ve never seen someone be so careful with a liquid ink pen. He begins writing manuscripts poem by poem, and then starts building his chapters. And after publishing, he asks himself the big question: 'Can I write more beautiful poetry than this? '
Darwish would gather a small group of friends to be a microcosm of an audience to ask for their opinions. Some demanded that he should delete the introduction to 'In the Presence of Absence’ but he refused. Darwish was addicted to outdoing himself artistically; he wanted developed art to addresses the heart of the people. He insisted on reading some of his most difficult poems to audiences, and he never responded to requests. At the same time, he listened to his friends’ opinions. Once a friend asked him to write more than ten pages and he responded to it. Darwish wanted a few more years of life to complete a big job. He began racing time, always trying to do more. He presented his poetry all over the world: France, Italy, Korea, Ramallah, Haifa, Cairo, Tunisia, and Amman. He won many awards, including Golden Wreath of Struga Poetry Evenings from Macedonia, Plaque of Merit from the Egyption Ministry of Culture from Egypt, and an award from Tunisia. He donated the financial value of the last two prizes to scholarships for Palestinian students.
Darwish never forgot that he was a Palestinian refugee. He believed that his poetry was his weapon against the occupation. He also believed in the value of his poetry as a form of self-defense in support of Palestinian culture and memory, and the Palestinian right to freedom.
In 2008, Mahmoud Darwish left Amman and was not sure that he would return safely, and this is why he gave his Philippine housekeeper her money in advance, and gave the Egyptian guard his bank account information and told them that he probably would not come back. It was Sunday, July 27, 2008- the day before his trip to America. He traveled from Amman with his friend Akram Haniyeh on Monday, July 28. His friend Ali Halila was waiting for him in Houston to arrange his surgery.
Mahmoud Darwish died in the United States of America on Saturday, August 9, 2008, following an open-heart surgery at the Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center in Houston, after which he fell into a coma leading to his death. He did not have a written will, and did not say much in his last moments.
The Palestinian Authority President and President of the Executive Committee of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, mourned the passing of “the poet of Palestine”, Mahmoud Darwish. Three days of mourning were declared for all the occupied Palestinian territories to grieve over his death, calling Darwish Asheq Felestine, (lover From Palestine) a “leader of modern cultural project," and a “bright national leader.”
Darwish’s body was buried on August 13, 2008 in the city of Ramallah. He is buried on a plot of land next to the Ramallah Cultural Palace. His received a state funeral, which was attended by thousands of Palestinians and other personalities and led by President Mahmoud Abbas. The body of the poet was transferred to Ramallah after arriving in Amman, where many people of the Arab world gathered to see him off.