Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian icon, poet, and author, credited with encapsulating the Palestinian consciousness through his works. His poetry ranges from the romantic to the political, as he dealt with the turmoil of being exiled from his home country at a young age. He carries a strong legacy, having won numerous prizes, the title of ‘Palestine’s national poet’, and his poems being recited everywhere from social media to school curriculums in the Arab world.
His poems are packed with beauty - with images of butterflies, olive trees, and doves, to name a few - all out to preserve the Palestinian culture through means of ‘resistance poetry’. In his poetry, he asserts the Palestinian identity, as a means to bind Palestinians together to achieve strength and unity and ultimately to conserve their rich culture. This is achieved through brave and unapologetic self-expression, which is what cemented his status as a Palestinian cultural icon. Despite a high level of criticism following his works and him even being arrested several times, he continued to write.
He speaks on his role as a mouthpiece for the collective Palestinian experience, in his 2004 acceptance speech at the Prince Claus Awards: “This esteemed prize is given to me yet at the same time it is not mine. I receive it because I signed my name on the poem. Yet it is not mine because the poem contains several voices and broken places that do not meet in a map… It is not my voice, but the discourse of the victim to himself and to the world that he will not concede to silence or death”.
He spoke more on the purpose of his poetry, as a means of resistance, in the same speech: “A person can only be born in one place; however, he may die several times elsewhere: in the exiles and prisons, and in a homeland transformed by the occupation and oppression into a nightmare. Poetry is perhaps what teaches us to nurture the charming illusion: how to be re-born out of ourselves over and over again, and use words to construct a better world, a fictitious world that enables us to sign a pact for a permanent and comprehensive peace… with life.”