'Under Siege' by Mahmoud Darwish
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Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
Close to the gardens of broken shadows,
We do what prisoners do,
And what the jobless do:
We cultivate hope.
A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent
For we closely watch the hour of victory:
No night in our night lit up by the shelling
Our enemies are watchful and light the light for us
In the darkness of cellars.
Here there is no "I".
Here Adam remembers the dust of his clay.
On the verge of death, he says:
I have no trace left to lose:
Free I am so close to my liberty. My future lies in my own hand.
Soon I shall penetrate my life,
I shall be born free and parentless,
And as my name I shall choose azure letters...
You who stand in the doorway, come in,
Drink Arabic coffee with us
And you will sense that you are men like us
You who stand in the doorways of houses
Come out of our morningtimes,
We shall feel reassured to be
Men like you!
When the planes disappear, the white, white doves
Fly off and wash the cheeks of heaven
With unbound wings taking radiance back again, taking possession
Of the ether and of play. Higher, higher still, the white, white doves
Fly off. Ah, if only the sky
Were real [a man passing between two bombs said to me].
Cypresses behind the soldiers, minarets protecting
The sky from collapse. Behind the hedge of steel
Soldiers piss—under the watchful eye of a tank—
And the autumnal day ends its golden wandering in
A street as wide as a church after Sunday mass...
[To a killer] If you had contemplated the victim’s face
And thought it through, you would have remembered your mother in the
Gas chamber, you would have been freed from the reason for the rifle
And you would have changed your mind: this is not the way
to find one’s identity again.
The siege is a waiting period
Waiting on the tilted ladder in the middle of the storm.
Alone, we are alone as far down as the sediment
Were it not for the visits of the rainbows.
We have brothers behind this expanse.
Excellent brothers. They love us. They watch us and weep.
Then, in secret, they tell each other:
"Ah! if this siege had been declared..." They do not finish their sentence:
"Don’t abandon us, don’t leave us."
Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees...
Added to this the structural flaw that
Will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas.
A woman told the cloud: cover my beloved
For my clothing is drenched with his blood.
If you are not rain, my love
Sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
Saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon
[So spoke a woman
to her son at his funeral]
Oh watchmen! Are you not weary
Of lying in wait for the light in our salt
And of the incandescence of the rose in our wound
Are you not weary, oh watchmen?
A little of this absolute and blue infinity
Would be enough
To lighten the burden of these times
And to cleanse the mire of this place.
It is up to the soul to come down from its mount
And on its silken feet walk
By my side, hand in hand, like two longtime
Friends who share the ancient bread
And the antique glass of wine
May we walk this road together
And then our days will take different directions:
I, beyond nature, which in turn
Will choose to squat on a high-up rock.
On my rubble the shadow grows green,
And the wolf is dozing on the skin of my goat
He dreams as I do, as the angel does
That life is here...not over there.
In the state of siege, time becomes space
Transfixed in its eternity
In the state of siege, space becomes time
That has missed its yesterday and its tomorrow.
The martyr encircles me every time I live a new day
And questions me: Where were you? Take every word
You have given me back to the dictionaries
And relieve the sleepers from the echo’s buzz.
The martyr enlightens me: beyond the expanse
I did not look
For the virgins of immortality for I love life
On earth, amid fig trees and pines,
But I cannot reach it, and then, too, I took aim at it
With my last possession: the blood in the body of azure.
The martyr warned me: Do not believe their ululations
Believe my father when, weeping, he looks at my photograph
How did we trade roles, my son, how did you precede me.
I first, I the first one!
The martyr encircles me: my place and my crude furniture are all that I have changed.
I put a gazelle on my bed,
And a crescent of moon on my finger
To appease my sorrow.
The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!
Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health,
The health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease:
The disease of hope.
And in what remains of the dawn, I walk toward my exterior
And in what remains of the night, I hear the sound of footsteps inside me.
Greetings to the one who shares with me an attention to
The drunkenness of light, the light of the butterfly, in the
Blackness of this tunnel!
Greetings to the one who shares my glass with me
In the denseness of a night outflanking the two spaces:
Greetings to my apparition.
My friends are always preparing a farewell feast for me,
A soothing grave in the shade of oak trees
A marble epitaph of time
And always I anticipate them at the funeral:
Who then has died...who?
Writing is a puppy biting nothingness
Writing wounds without a trace of blood.
Our cups of coffee. Birds green trees
In the blue shade, the sun gambols from one wall
To another like a gazelle
The water in the clouds has the unlimited shape of what is left to us
Of the sky. And other things of suspended memories
Reveal that this morning is powerful and splendid,
And that we are the guests of eternity.
Translated by Marjolijn De Jager
Submitted by C.K.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Under Siege: A Masterpiece by Mahmoud Darwish
Mahmoud Darwish's "Under Siege" is a remarkable poem that portrays the feelings of despair and hopelessness experienced by Palestinians under Israeli occupation. The poem is a powerful commentary on the human condition and the struggle for freedom and dignity. With its vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and haunting language, "Under Siege" stands as a masterpiece of modern Arab literature.
The Historical Context
Before delving into the poem's interpretation, it is important to understand the historical context in which it was written. Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1941 in the village of Al-Birwa, in Galilee, Palestine. His family was forced to flee their home during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and they became refugees in Lebanon. Darwish grew up witnessing the oppression and violence of Israeli occupation, which informed his poetry and political activism.
"Under Siege" was written in 2002, during the Second Intifada, a period of intense violence and unrest in the Palestinian territories. The poem was a response to the Israeli military siege of Ramallah, Darwish's home city, which lasted for more than a month. During this time, Darwish was confined to his house, along with other residents of the city, and he wrote "Under Siege" as a reflection on his experiences and emotions.
The Poem's Structure and Style
"Under Siege" is a long, free-verse poem divided into twelve sections, each marked by a Roman numeral. The poem is characterized by its use of repetition, parallelism, and rhetorical questions, which give it a distinct rhythm and intensity.
The first section of the poem sets the tone and establishes the central metaphor of the siege. Darwish writes:
Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time Close to the gardens of broken shadows, We do what prisoners do, And what the jobless do: We cultivate hope.
This opening stanza introduces the theme of hope in the face of adversity, which runs throughout the poem. The metaphor of the siege is developed in the following sections, as Darwish describes the physical and psychological effects of the blockade on the residents of Ramallah.
The Use of Metaphors
One of the most striking aspects of "Under Siege" is its use of powerful metaphors to convey the emotions of the speaker. For example, in section VI, Darwish writes:
We have the right to love madly, And in a tunnel we embrace the light.
This metaphor of the tunnel represents the hope and determination of the Palestinian people, who are struggling to find a way out of the darkness of oppression. The image of embracing the light suggests a sense of unity and solidarity among the people, despite their difficult circumstances.
Another powerful metaphor in the poem is that of the "citadel" in section VIII. Darwish writes:
In the citadel of besieged hearts We are all commanders Each of us holds his piece of the map And knows it by heart.
This metaphor suggests the resilience and strength of the Palestinian people, who are united in their struggle for liberation. The image of the citadel also suggests a sense of protection and safety, despite the violence and chaos around them.
The Role of Language
Throughout the poem, Darwish makes use of rich and evocative language to create a sense of atmosphere and emotion. The language is at times lyrical and poetic, and at other times direct and blunt. The effect is to create a vivid and poignant picture of life under occupation.
For example, in section III, Darwish writes:
The siege tightens The noose tightens The handcuffs tighten The prison cell narrows The world shrinks And the horizon is lost.
This repetition of the verb "tighten" creates a sense of suffocation and claustrophobia, as the speaker describes the tightening grip of the siege. The short, simple sentences convey a sense of urgency and desperation, as the world seems to be closing in on the people.
The Theme of Hope
Despite the bleakness of the situation, "Under Siege" is ultimately a poem about hope. Throughout the poem, Darwish emphasizes the importance of holding onto hope, even in the darkest of times. In section XI, he writes:
We shall remain Like a wall upon your chest, And in your throat Like a shrad of glass, A cactus thorn, And in your eyes A sandstorm.
This image of the Palestinian people as a "wall" suggests their resilience and determination in the face of oppression. The use of the metaphor of the "cactus thorn" and the "shard of glass" suggests that the people may be small and insignificant, but they can still cause discomfort to their oppressors. The image of the "sandstorm" suggests the overwhelming force of the Palestinian people, who will not be silenced or defeated.
"Under Siege" is a powerful and moving poem that captures the essence of the Palestinian struggle for liberation. With its vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and haunting language, the poem stands as a masterpiece of modern Arab literature. More than that, however, the poem is a testament to the human spirit and the resilience of the Palestinian people. Despite the oppression and violence they face, they continue to hold onto hope and fight for their freedom and dignity.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Under Siege: A Poem of Resistance and Hope
Mahmoud Darwish’s Under Siege is a powerful poem that captures the essence of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and dignity. Written in 1982 during the Israeli siege of Beirut, the poem is a testament to the resilience and courage of a people under occupation. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language of the poem, and how they contribute to its message of resistance and hope.
The poem begins with a vivid description of the siege, as the speaker addresses the city of Beirut:
"Here on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time Close to the gardens of broken shadows, We do what prisoners do, And what the jobless do: We cultivate hope."
The opening lines set the tone for the rest of the poem, as the speaker acknowledges the harsh reality of the siege, but also affirms the resilience of the people. The image of the hills facing the dusk and the cannon of time suggests a sense of vulnerability and danger, while the gardens of broken shadows evoke a sense of loss and destruction. However, the speaker refuses to give in to despair, and instead chooses to cultivate hope, a powerful metaphor for the human spirit’s ability to resist oppression.
Throughout the poem, Darwish uses powerful imagery to convey the impact of the siege on the people of Beirut. For example, he describes the city as a wounded bird, struggling to fly:
"Beirut, the wounds of your sky are martyrs' crowns And your night is a ceremony to remember the dead. Beirut, your morning is a womb for the fugitive And your evening is a harbor for the shipwrecked."
The image of the wounded bird is a poignant one, as it suggests both the fragility and the resilience of the city. The wounds of the sky are martyrs' crowns, a powerful metaphor for the sacrifice of those who have died in the struggle for freedom. The morning as a womb for the fugitive and the evening as a harbor for the shipwrecked evoke a sense of refuge and safety, but also of displacement and loss.
Darwish also uses language to convey the emotional impact of the siege on the people of Beirut. For example, he describes the sound of the bombs as a "song" that "penetrates the walls and shakes the bed." This use of language is particularly effective, as it suggests both the physical and emotional impact of the siege on the people. The bombs are not just a sound, but a song, a haunting melody that echoes through the city and into the hearts of its inhabitants.
Another powerful image in the poem is that of the sea, which is both a symbol of freedom and a reminder of the siege:
"Beirut, the sea is your mirror And in it, you see yourself In it, you drown and resurrect."
The sea is a powerful symbol of freedom, as it represents the vastness and the possibility of the world beyond the siege. However, it is also a reminder of the siege, as the city is surrounded by water and cut off from the rest of the world. The image of drowning and resurrecting suggests a sense of struggle and resilience, as the people of Beirut continue to fight for their freedom despite the obstacles they face.
The poem also explores the theme of memory, as the speaker reflects on the history of the city and its people:
"Beirut, we remember you in the days of glory In the days of pain, we remember you A woman passing between two silences And between the swords of the invader."
The image of the woman passing between two silences and between the swords of the invader is a powerful one, as it suggests both the vulnerability and the strength of the people of Beirut. The theme of memory is also important, as it suggests that the struggle for freedom is not just about the present, but also about the past and the future.
In conclusion, Under Siege is a powerful poem that captures the essence of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and dignity. Through its use of imagery, language, and themes, the poem conveys a message of resistance and hope, as the people of Beirut continue to cultivate hope in the face of oppression. Darwish’s poem is a testament to the resilience and courage of a people under occupation, and a reminder that the struggle for freedom is ongoing and universal.
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