The great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, one of the Arab world’s foremost writers, died Saturday in a Texas hospital following open-heart surgery.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, declared three days of mourning on Sunday, saying that Mr. Darwish was “the pioneer of the modern Palestinian cultural project,” adding, “Words cannot describe the depth of sadness in our hearts.”
Darwish published two books with UC Press: Memory for Forgetfulness, a work of poetic prose written about his experience living in Beirut during the 1982 Israeli bombardment of Lebanon, and Unfortunately, It Was Paradise, his selected poems including works written over a 20-year period.
His more than two dozen books of poetry and prose are rooted in his experience of Palestinian exile and the bitter Middle East conflict, in a career spanning nearly five decades.
“Darwish is the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging,” the poet Naomi Shihab Nye once said of him.
He received numerous literary awards during his career, including the Lenin Peace Prize, the 1969 Lotus prize from the Union of Afro-Asian Writers, France’s Knight of Arts and Belles Lettres medal in 1997, and the 2001 Prize for Cultural Freedom from the Lannan Foundation, according to the Academy of American Poets.
Born in 1941 in the Arab village of Al Barweh in what is now northern Israel, Darwish, along with his family, left for Lebanon during the 1948 war that followed the creation of the Jewish state, though they returned to Israel a few years later.
In 1988 he wrote the official Palestinian declaration of independence and served on the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) until 1993.
Darwish was harshly critical of Israel over the years and was detained several times in the 1960s before going into self-imposed exile in 1970. He had been living in the West Bank town of Ramallah since 1995.
Darwish previously underwent heart surgery in 1984 and 1998, with the latter operation inspiring the following verse: “I have defeated you, death/ All the beautiful arts have defeated you/ The songs of
Mesopotamia, the obelisks of Egypt, the carved tombs of the pharaohs on the altar have defeated you, and you are vanquished.”
The New York Times obituary is available here.