A Poem for Land Day: Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘The Second Olive Tree’

On March 30, 1976, Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinians as they were protesting the Israeli government’s expropriation of thousands of acres of Palestinian land. In the years that followed, March 30 has been marked as “Land Day.”

“Ancient olive trees cared for by Franciscan monks, Palestine, Jerusalem, Garden of Gethsemane / American Colony”

Today, to commemorate the day, we have a poem by Mahmoud Darwish in translation by Marilyn Hacker.

The Second Olive Tree

By Mahmoud Darwish

Translated by Marilyn Hacker

The olive tree does not weep and does not laugh. The olive tree

Is the hillside’s modest lady. Shadow

Covers her single leg, and she will not take her leaves off in front of the storm.

Standing, she is seated, and seated, standing.

She lives as a friendly sister of eternity, neighbor of time

That helps her stock her luminous oil and

Forget the invaders’ names, except the Romans, who

Coexisted with her, and borrowed some of her branches

To weave wreaths. They did not treat her as a prisoner of war

But as a venerable grandmother, before whose calm dignity

Swords shatter. In her reticent silver-green

Color hesitates to say what it thinks, and to look at what is behind

The portrait, for the olive tree is neither green nor silver.

The olive tree is the color of peace, if peace needed

A color. No one says to the olive tree: How beautiful you are!

But: How noble and how splendid! And she,

She who teaches soldiers to lay down their rifles

And re-educates them in tenderness and humility: Go home

And light your lamps with my oil! But

These soldiers, these modern soldiers

Besiege her with bulldozers and uproot her from her lineage

Of earth. They vanquished our grandmother who foundered,

Her branches on the ground, her roots in the sky.

She did not weep or cry out.  But one of her grandsons

Who witnessed the execution threw a stone

At a soldier, and he was martyred with her.

After the victorious soldiers

Had gone on their way, we buried him there, in that deep 

Pit – the grandmother’s cradle. And that is why we were

Sure that he would become, in a little while, an olive

Tree – a thorny olive tree – and green!