Mahmoud Darwish and the Struggle Between Poetic and Political Imaginations

Youssef Hussein Hamdan looks at Shukri Madi’s Mahmoud Darwish: Ideology of Politics and Ideology of Poetry (2013), which follows as “Darwish turns from the poet of resistance to the poet of freedom”:

By Yousef Hussein Hamdan

large_1380943865Mahmoud Darwish is the poet of transformations. Indeed, Shukri Madi, professor of literary criticism and theory at the University of Jordan, follows them in his latest book, Mahmoud Darwish’s Poetry: Ideology of Politics and Ideology of Poetry (محمود درويش: أيديولوجيا السياسة وأيديولوجيا الشعر), issued by the Arab Institute for Research and Publishing. The author contends that political ideology influences poetry and poetic imagination in various ways, particularly at the time of political struggles, as is the case of Darwish. However, it is clear throughout the book that political ideology is not the essence of poetry. In many ways, there is a struggle or a competition between poetic and artistic imagination and political imagination.

The title of the book points to an essential transformation in Darwish’s poetry. In his early poems, the political sound was loud and linked to specific historical moments, places (Palestine in most), events, and partisan perspectives. This gradually changed for the sake of the poetic sound, which is based on wide and comprehensive attitudes that include the entire human race and are situated beyond time, place, and specific events. This sound is prominently devoted to creativity and liberty.

The latter is more than the political sense: It is the liberty from the pressure of time, place, anxiety, illness, death, specific historical events, one-sided views, and significantly previous identified poetic forms.

Importantly, while transformations in Darwish’s poetry relate to conscious changes in the philosophical and life perspectives, it does not in any way mean, the author repeatedly insists, that Darwish gave up his and his people’s national and human rights. Rather Darwish attempted to look at this issue from a wider point of view, as a human problem without being under the pressure of confrontation.

The author argues that, despite changes which appeared in the order of the poetic components of Darwish’s poetry, the human being is always occupying the centre.

Hence, Darwish gave voice to the “other” or to his enemy in many of his poems. This allowed him to dismantle the other’s argument from within, in order to release him from narrow ideological and political illusions. In this sense, the concept of freedom is by no means limited in Darwish’s poetry to himself or his own people — rather it includes the enemy. The author argues that, despite changes which appeared in the order of the poetic components of Darwish’s poetry, the human being is always occupying the centre. He depicts this by drawing a triangle in which the human being permanently occupies the heart of the triangle. In Darwish’s early collections of poems, the issue of freedom represents the base of the triangle, and the poetic value and the place (homeland) occupy two sides of the triangle. In Darwish’s later works, the poetic value is the base and freedom and the place (the world) are the two sides of the triangle.

This is simultaneous with, and requires, transformations in artistic understanding and poetic conceptions. Darwish’s later poetry shows that poetry is a special artistic entity which has a relationship to politics, history, religion, and reality, but is not any one of them. Poetry is not a tool to transport ideas and emotions, but it is an aesthetic experience which includes ideas and emotions. It is a special language figuration that aims at triggering poetic pleasure and “being questions” while establishing a new aesthetic cognition. Poetry is a never-ending search for a new poetic-writing system and form of the poem. The language and images are intense, metaphorical, philosophical, ambiguous, and filled with historical and mythical symbols. There are multiple poetic meanings and no meaning is absolute. The specific event gets beyond its time and place to highlight the human being’s emotions, questions, dreams of justice and equality, and anxiety of life and death. The lyric voices turn to scenery and cinematographic images. Therefore, this new form of poetry requires contemplation and interpretation, instead of explanation.

The author discusses many poems from Darwish’s early works and later ones, including poems from his collections: أوراق الزيتون Olive Leaves (1964), أزهار الدم Blood Flowers (1967), حالة حصار A State of Siege (2002), أثر الفراشة The Butterfly’s Burden (2009), and لا أريد لهذه القصيدة أن تنتهي I Do not Want This Poem to End (2009). These works demonstrate Darwish’s transformation from poetry that is laden with political, local, and national concerns to another universal poetic conception, which addresses humanity everywhere and all times.

It is a transformation from the ideology of politics to the ideology of poetry, within which Darwish turns from the poet of resistance to the poet of freedom.

In this kind of poetry, the entire world is the poet’s land; the individual “I” overlaps with the collective We, the We gets closer to the Others, and the We and others turn to be universal. Additionally, the strong occupier takes the image of the weak occupied; the latter looks to liberate the enemy and the self, and all ages (past, present and future) integrate in one life and so are all places in one land. It is a transformation from the ideology of politics to the ideology of poetry, within which Darwish turns from the poet of resistance to the poet of freedom.

Yousef Hussein Hamdan is assistant professor of modern Arabic literature and literary criticism at the University of Jordan.

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