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Inking the Resistance: Poets of Palestine (Part 1)

Having lived under unjustified occupation for decades, the poets of Palestine have committed to inscribing the resistance through the might of their words. Recognizing the power of words and poetry in conveying the lived reality marred with exile and despair, loss and grief and the endless term of the occupation they have chosen to ink the resistance with their poetry.

Under the occupation, as the oppressor seized and dominated all other means of expression and the existence of those oppressed, these poets found refuge in their poetry. But more than that, these poets have documented the prolonged history of resistance and the longing for liberation—a crucial counter-narrative to that of the oppressors.                                           

By writing down a counterpart to the larger dominant narratives, this poetry enables the dismantling of larger, self-conflated meta-narratives crafted after years of occupation by oppressors. They have resorted to non-violent means of resistance and with its aid have concretised their lived history through poetry.

The duality of these poems recollect the tormenting past while yearning for a just and promising future, one that keeps the flames of resistance alive. These poems are a reclamation of history– a history that accounts for the horrors and miseries of those who prevailed and who perished in the pursuit.

It is a writing of an alternative history, a history of their realities that get lost as the preparator assumes power and ostensibly dismisses them.

This fictional portrayal then no longer remains the same. In this poetry crafted at the intersection of hope and hopelessness, the fictional tapestry of words underlies a non-fictional truth. Carefully woven into form and expressions, they account for losses big and small and the monstrosity that remains untold.

The silenced voices then roar within the poems and prose and ink the resistance with memories of the struggle.

Poetry in Arab tradition holds a significant role in preserving oral and lived history, communicating ideas and valuable means of expression. Furthermore, it is embedded deeply in the Arab identity and for centuries has extensively contributed to global literature.

Moreover, with its ability to connect people despite the spatial differences, it has assisted in the consolidation of a national identity. Mahmoud Darwish’s poems have captured the Palestinian condition and the struggle, shaping the politics of resistance.

The poetry of Arab and Palestinian poets who composed amidst times of occupation, displacement and in the spirit of resistance is listed below. For the past 75 years, they have had, and are still having, a significant influence on Palestinians and civil rights movements across the world.

In this three-part article series, we explore poets of Palestine who through their resistance literature have preserved the spirit of resistance. 

Mahmoud Darwish:

Mahmoud Darwish

"The Essential Breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging, exquisitely tuned singer of images that invoke, link, and shine a brilliant light into the world's whole heart," is how Arab American poet Naobi Nihab Nye describes this towering figure of Palestinian poetry.

Regarded as the national poet of Palestine, his work captures the pain of displacement and exile and longing for the homeland.

Metaphorically linking Palestine to the loss of Eden, the cycle of birth and resurrection and the anguish of dispossession and exile, his writings reflect the psyche of millions of displaced Palestinians. At the age of 19, he wrote Asafir bila ajniha, or Wingless Birds, his first collection of poetry.

His works, such as The Music of Human Flesh and Unfortunately, It Was Paradise, resonate globally for their lyrical beauty and poignant political themes. Darwish published almost 30 volumes of poetry and eight books of prose during his career.

Darwish wrote poetry about the misery of refugees during the Nakba and the anticipation of a return to the homeland.

As a poet of Resistance, Darwish wrote extensively about homeland and the pain of exile, highlighting the consequences of the occupation. In his poetry, he expressed a longing to belong and has become a prominent voice of resistance.

Read an excerpt from Darwish’s poem Bitaqat Hawiyya (Identity Card) written in 1964.

Write down: I am an Arab                                Robbed of my ancestors' vineyards                        And of the land cultivated                                          By me and all my children                                            Nothing is left for us and my grandchildren Except these rocks...                                                      Will your government take them too, as reported?                                                                        Therefore,                                                                Write at the top of page one:                                        I do not hate people,                                                        I do not assault anyone,                                      But...if I get hungry,                                                        I eat the flesh of my usurper.        Beware...beware...of my hunger,                            And of my anger.   

Passport is another one of Darwish’s poems that embodies the sentiments of dispossession and suffering.


They did not recognize me in the shadows        That suck away my color in this Passport          And to and them my wound was an exhibit        For a tourist Who loves to collect photographs They did not recognize me,                                    Ah... Don't leave                                                          The palm of my hand without the sun          Because the trees recognize me Don't leave me pale like the moon!

All the birds that followed my palm                          To the door of the distant airport                            All the wheatfields                                                      All the prisons                                                              All the white tombstones                                          All the barbed Boundaries                                        All the waving handkerchiefs                                  All the eyes were with me,                                        But they dropped them from my passport

Stripped of my name and identity?                          On soil I nourished with my own hands?        Today Job cried out.                                            Filling the sky:                                                          Don't make an example of me again!                    Oh, gentlemen, Prophets,                                      Don't ask the trees for their names                    Don't ask the valleys who their mother is        >From my forehead bursts the sward of light    And from my hand springs the water of the river                                                                                            All the hearts of the people are my identity            So take away my passport!                                       

                                                -Mahmoud Darwish

Darwish's poetry has been instrumental in communicating the emotional experiences of exile and the unbreakable spirit of resistance.  

Read Part 2 of the article series to uncover more about Palestinian poets. 

Edited by: Victoria Muzio

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