Mahmoud Darwish: Poems & Biography

Instructor: Paulina Bouzas

Paulina studied Creative Writing and Literature in Mexico City and holds an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Eastern Finland.

Mahmoud Darwish is considered Palestine's national poet. He won several awards for his work. In this lesson we will learn about his life and his most famous poems.

An Exile Poet

Can you imagine living in exile for more than 20 years? Poet Mahmoud Darwish not only wrote critically and bravely against his imperialist oppressors, but was also a dedicated activist, which the Israeli State punished him for with 20 years of exile. Let's learn more about his life.

Who was Mahmoud Darwish?

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1941 in al Birweh. During his lifetime he was imprisoned for political activism and for publicly reading his poetry. His activism started when in the 1960s he joined the Communist Party of Israel. In 1970 he moved to Russia where he attended university for one year; however, he moved to Egypt and Lebanon soon after that, where he worked as an editor of a Palestinian journal. It's also worth noting that when he joined the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1973, he was banned from Israel and lived more than two decades in exile, spending his time between Beirut and Paris. It wasn't until 1996 when he returned to Israel.

Picture of Mahmoud Darwish taken by his friend, Amer Shomali in 2006.

The poet married twice and had no kids. Some of his poems mention Rita, a Jewish woman he loved while living in Israel. He died in the U.S. in 2008 days after heart surgery. In 1997, French-Israeli director Simone Bitton produced the documentary titled Mahmoud Darwish.

Darwish is considered by many as Palestine's national poet. He published his first collection when he was only nineteen years old and since then he published numerous collections that have been translated into more than twenty languages. He won awards like the Lenin Peace Prize (1983), The Lannan Foundation Prize for Cultural Freedom (2001), The International Forum for Arabic Poetry prize (2007), among others. Let's take a look at some of his most recognized work.


During his teenage years Darwish wrote poems about refugees and recited his poetry at festivals. Later, his poetry dealt with both political and identity issues. In 1964, one of his most controversial poems ''Identity Card'' shook the Arabic world. After it was turned into a protest song, it led to the poet being placed under house arrest. In order to get a feel of the tone of the poem let's have a look a the opening verses:

''Write down!

I am an Arab

And my identity card number is fifty thousand''

As we can see here, some of his poetry evokes identity, exile and loss. Besides the themes in his poems, it is also relevant to mention his style. His first writings followed traditional Arabic poetic style. In the 1970s he started experimenting with new forms and often chose the free verse style for his poems. Because of their richness in images, metaphors and rhythm, many of his poems were set to music by Arab composers. This is the case with poems like ''Rita and the Rifle,'' and ''I lost a beautiful dream.''

Some of his poetry collections include:

  • Diary of a Palestinian wound (1969)
  • Light rain in a distant autumn (1971)
  • I see what I want (1990)

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