The land of my poem is green

Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian national poet. His work evokes the loss of his homeland and is suffused with the pain of dispossession and exile. Mural is a translation of two of his later works by his close friends John Berger and Rema Hammami. Illustrated with original drawings by John Berger, the book is a testimony to one of the most important and powerful poets of our age.

The following are excerpts from the long poem Mural.

Image courtesy Verso

The land of my poem is green and high
coming to me from the bed of my precipice
Strange you are
It’s enough that you alone are there
to become a tribe …
I sang in order to feel the wasted horizon in the pain of a dove
not to explain what God says to man
I’m no prophet
I don’t proclaim that my fall is an ascent

I am the stranger from all I was given by my language
And if I’ve given my affections to Arabic
They have surrendered me to the feminine participle
And the words when far
are a land bordering a distant star
And the words when near
are an exile
And writing is not enough for me to declare:
I found my presence filling in absence
and whenever I searched for myself I found others
and whenever I searched for them I found only myself
the stranger
Am I a crowd of one?


My nurse says: you are better now
And injects me with a tranquilizer:
Be calm
and worthy of what you’re about to dream
even a little …

I saw my French doctor
open my prison cell
and beat me with a stick
assisting him were two local policemen

I saw my father return
from the Hajj
fainted from the Hijazi sunstroke
he said to the flock of angels surrounding him:
Extinguish me!

I saw Moroccan boys playing soccer
pelting me with stones:
Pass your word back and scram!
and leave us our mother
O father trespassing in the cemetery!

I saw Rene Char

sitting with Heidegger
two metres away from me
I saw them drinking wine
not looking for poetry
The dialogue was a ray of light
And there was a passer-by waiting

I saw three comrades weeping
as they were sewing me a shroud
with gold thread

I saw Ma’ari expel his critics
from his poem
I’m not blind
To see what you all see
Vision is a light that leads to nothingness … or madness

I saw countries embrace my good mornings saying:
Be worthy of the bread’s aroma
May the flowers of the pavement make you elegant
There’s still fire on your mother’s hearth
And the welcome is as warm as bread!

The land of my poem is green

Illustration by John Berger

These are excerpts from Mahmoud Darwish's Mural translated by John Berger and Rema Hammami with illustrations by John Berger and published by Verso. Republished here with permission from the publisher.
Rema Hammami is an associate professor of anthropology at Birzeit University where she has been a faculty member in the Institute of Women's Studies since 1995.
Storyteller, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, dramatist and critic, John Berger (1926–2017) was one of the most internationally influential writers of the last fifty years.