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Tuesday 8 April 2014

Mahmoud Darwish: Identity Card


Mahmoud Darwish: photo by Dar Al Hayat, n.d.; image edit by AnomalousNYC, 11 August 2008

Put it on record.
........I am an Arab

And the number of my card is fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth is due after summer.
........What's there to be angry about?

Put it on record
.........I am an Arab

Working with comrades of toil in a quarry.
I have eight children
For them I wrest the loaf of bread,
The clothes and exercise books
From the rocks
And beg for no alms at your door,
Lower not myself at your doorstep.
.........What's there to be angry about?

Put it on record.
.........I am an Arab.

I am a name without a title,
Patient in a country where everything
Lives in a whirlpool of anger.
.........My roots
Took hold before the birth of time
 ........Before the burgeoning of the ages,
Before cypress and olive trees,.........
.........Before the proliferation of weeds.

My father is from the family of the plough
.........Not from highborn nobles.

And my grandfather was a peasant
.........Without line or genealogy.

My house is a watchman's hut
.........Made of sticks and reeds.

Does my status satisfy you?
.........I am a name without a surname.

Put it on record.
.........I am an Arab.

Color of hair: jet black.
Color of eyes: brown.
My distinguishing features:
.........On my head the 'iqal cords over a keffiyeh

 ........Scratching him who touches it.

My address:
.........I'm from a village, remote, forgotten,
.........Its streets without name
.........And all its men in the fields and quarry.

.........What's there to be angry about?

Put it on record.
.........I am an Arab.

You stole my forefathers' vineyards
.........And land I used to till,
.........I and all my children,
.........And you left us and all my grandchildren
.........Nothing but these rocks.
.........Will your government be taking them too
.........As is being said?

.........Put it on record at the top of page one:
.........I don't hate people,
.........I trespass on no one's property.

And yet, if I were to become hungry
.........I shall eat the flesh of my usurper.
.........Beware, beware of my hunger
.........And of my anger!

Mahmoud Darwish (13 March 1941-9 August 2008): Identity Card, from Leaves of Olives, 1964; English translation by Denys Johnson-Davies

Passport of Mahmoud Darwish: photographer unknown, via Mahmoud Darwish Foundation

Mahmoud Darwish wall graffiti, Ramallah, Palestine: photo by outside the bubble, 1 May 2009


TC said...

Souhad Zendah reads Mahmoud Darwish's "Identity Card" in English and Arabic at Harvard University, 16 September 2008

Mahmoud Darwish reads "Identity Card" (in Arabic)

George Qurmuz: musical setting of Mahmoud Darwish: Identity Card

Marcel Khalife performs Mahmoud Darwish: Passport

Darwish: Rita and the Rifle

Darwish: I'm From There

Carol Peters said...

tyvm for this

TC said...


And thank you very much for appreciating it. (An example to lurkers everywhere.)

A great poem written at age twenty by a world poet whose work towers over (and would embarrass, if they were capable of being embarrassed) the mayfly importances of the Ampo scene.

The translation is awfully good as well. Translator a very interesting fellow. One could look him up.

And while going on about the virtues of the post, let me just add that, while I'm acutely aware that a hundred hours spent compiling interesting and relevant attendant links for any post will more often than not add up to Zero Exit Link Activity, still I never mind embarking upon pointless acts of monumental labour, so long as they're in a good cause. Such as this one.

Maureen said...

A great poem, yes! I have read widely in the translator work of Darwish. He never fails to move me.

TC said...

Thanks, Maureen.

Just to make it plain, Mahmoud Darwish wrote the poem, and the translator is Denys Johnson-Davies.

Hazen said...

It may sound strange to say it, but there is something deeply satisfying in this poem, though it is about injustice. I hear the voice of a man who knows and understands his reality in the deepest sense, is justified by a history beyond the personal. “My roots took hold before the birth of time, before the burgeoning of the ages . . .”

Mose23 said...

Namelessness and statelessness; he lays it out so quietly. That fundamental ambiguity - the desire for a visible identity against the uses put to it by the occupying forces.

That anger breaking out in the last few lines hits hard.

TC said...


I don't think it's strange to say that. I think that's the appropriate and indeed necessary response. When a poem speaks the truth, it is a rare enough thing. When a poem speaks the truth with bravery on an issue that affects everyone -- that is, the simple issue of human dignity, and its proscription by a dominating transgressive power -- one has cause to be deeply moved.

"Beyond the personal" is a realm into which few wish to tread. But only in that realm can these matters be addressed.

As WB says,

"...he lays it out so quietly. That fundamental ambiguity - the desire for a visible identity against the uses put to it by the occupying forces... That anger breaking out in the last few lines hits hard."

The outbreak of anger hits all the more powerfully for having been withheld so long within the quiet discourse.

The Palestinian man whose experiences I cited in the previous post, upon returning from a visit to his homeland some years back (this just after one of those annual Israeli new year's "gifts" to the people of Gaza -- a lethal shower of white phosphorus, or what our puppetmasters used to fondly call "WMDs" -- by any other name & c.), spoke of the continuing oppressive effects of the Occupation.

He also spoke of hope, and promise.

"We will survive, and they will go."

I asked his reason for being confident on this score.

"We have one weapon they cannot match," he said.

"You mean, patience?"

He smiled. "No, numbers. We're better at making babies than they are."

And I went and looked it up.

He was right.

The expressiveness, the deep emotion, the flashes of anger in Souhad Zendah's reading of the Darwish poem in her own and the poet's native language are very moving to observe.

We are once again reminded that the issues that matter in this world go well beyond the automatic division-by-gender models currently available in "the West".

Miraculously, it does seem there are certain things upon which the women and the men of Palestine have little trouble agreeing -- almost as though they actually came from the same planet.

TC said...

There are numerous English translations of this great poem. Souhad Zendah, in the first link given at the top of this post, reads one that is commonly given. (It seems that link may have gone up in invisible ink. There's perhaps been some confusion about this. You know how it is on the net.)

The one I like best is the one I've given. The translator is a master in the field. And when he started out, the field was almost entirely his.

Denys Johnson-Davies on translating Arabic literature

Barry Taylor said...

The rocks in the quarry, in the fields, the stolen vineyards, the patrimony of rocks, the uprooting of the native, the stony infertility of the imposed order - I can't help hearing echos of the gospel:

“And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth, and immediately it sprang up,
because it had no depth of earth: but when the sun was up,
it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.”
Mark 4:5, 6.

TC said...


A few years back I was much moved by seeing a small show of photos from those Occupied lands. The rocks and stones, the tanks, the grim-faced soldiers armed to the teeth, anxiously surveilling everything, the huge stone blocks planted by the IDF at points of entry/exit in small villages, effectively cutting the villages off from the world... and yes, you'd expect that in such a landscape, barren by nature and made a great deal more barren by the cruel alien domination, everything living would be suffering, withering away.

One particularly effective shot showed a mature olive tree whose roots had been exposed, the soil beneath carved away, by an IDF bulldozer "clearing" a village.

And yet amid these scenes of deprivation, amazingly, the photo series also showed another side -- the pride, determination, courage and stubborn resistance of the Palestinian people; above all, their continuing fierce insistence on keeping on with, and, when appropriate, celebrating life.

In the series there were a half dozen shots of a wedding in a tiny, arid, isolated and largely decimated hill-country village. The circumstances were bleak enough. that was plain.

Equally evident were the joy of the participants in the wedding, of their families and indeed of the community in general. A celebration of life going on -- in the face of official political "history", perhaps, but all the more affecting for that.

nickareeno said...

A great poem. Thanks, Tom.

TC said...

Agreed -- and always good to hear from you, Nick.

Unknown said...

An agony of soul with the lines of immortal poem in our poetic world. I am also translated this landmark poem into my mother tongue Balochi.