Mahmoud Darwish died Saturday after complications from an open heart surgery in Houston, Texas at the age of 67.

This past July, I had the honor of hearing Darwish read during the Centennial Celebration of the establishment of the Ramallah municipality, held at the Ramallah Cultural Palace. The over 700-seat auditorium was filled to capacity, and we sat outside amongst hundreds of people who all came to hear this nationally renowned and beloved poet, watching him on large screens posted around the center (see photo above).

President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of national mourning to honor Darwish.

“The passing of our great poet, Mahmoud Darwish, the lover of Palestine, the pioneer of the modern Palestinian cultural project, and the brilliant national leader, will leave a great gap in our political, cultural and national lives,” Abbas said.

“Words cannot describe the depth of sadness in our hearts,” he added. “Mahmoud, may God help us for your loss.”

Palestinian TV has been airing the national poet reading his work. Darwish has long captured and captivated international acclaim for his poetic and political work. Above he is reading part of Ahmad ‘al Arabi which you can read a translation of here.

“He started out as a poet of resistance and then he became a poet of conscience,” said Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi. “He embodied the best in Palestinians … even though he became iconic he never lost his sense of humanity. We have lost part of our essence, the essence of the Palestinian being.”

Last year, Darwish recited a poem damning the deadly infighting between rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah, describing it as a public attempt at suicide in the streets.

Reuter’s covers a poignant excerpt from Darwish’s life in exile, and a brief, brief synopsis of his political and poetic life (although funny enough it almost looks like they just cribbed this piece by Haaretz from early July that I linked to up above…hmph).

EXILE

Just last month Darwish packed out a hall for a reading in Ramallah and millions watched on television an event to mark the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian “Nakba”, or catastrophe.

In 1948, Darwish was among that half of the Arab population of Palestine driven from their homes, in his family’s case near the port of Haifa. They later returned to live in the area.

**[NOTE: Reuters simplifies this return!!! Or I should say, it’s not a full picture. As reported in The Progressive,

Darwish was born in 1941 in the village of Birweh in the upper Galilee of Palestine. The creation of Israel in 1948 meant the wiping of Palestine off the map and the destruction of 417 Palestinian villages. Darwish’s village was one of them. The same year, he fled with some members of his family to Lebanon. Months later, he returned “illegally,” but too late to be included in Israel’s census of the Palestinian Arabs who remained. There was no record of his existence. Thus started his absent-present status. When Darwish eventually left in 1970, his absence made him even more present in the consciousness of Palestinians, and his poems became extremely popular, especially “Identity Card,” written in 1964, and excerpted here:

Record!
I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?
Record!
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged . . .]

Jailed several times, Darwish left in 1971 for the Soviet Union. Exile in Cairo, Beirut, Tunis and Paris followed.

In 1988, Israel’s parliament debated one work which incensed Israelis who saw an attack on the existence of the Jewish state — though Darwish said he wanted an end only to their occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip: “So leave our land. Our shore, our sea. Our wheat, our salt, our wound,” he had written.

“Take your portion from our blood and go away”.

In 2000, an Israeli minister proposed adding Darwish to the school curriculum — but the proposal went no further.

Darwish served on the executive committee of the PLO but broke with Arafat when the two disagreed over the 1993 Oslo accords on establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Fifteen years on, negotiations appear to most observers to be going nowhere. Violence, a split between Abbas and his Islamist rivals in Gaza and continued Israeli settlement in the West Bank leave few Palestinians hopeful of a viable state.

Last month, Darwish, a heavy smoker who had twice before undergone major heart surgery, spoke to Reuters of his fading health and his gloomy assessment of the world he would leave.

His last works are imbued with a sarcastic humour and a sense of both Israelis and Palestinians, however antagonistic, bound irredeemably together to share an uncertain future.

“Sarcasm helps me overcome the harshness of the reality we live, eases the pain of scars and makes people smile,” he said.

“History laughs at both the victim and the aggressor.”

In a new poem called “The Written Script”, Darwish related a dialogue between a victim and his enemy who fall into a pit:

He saw Israelis bent on suicide, taking Palestinians with them, if the occupation of the West Bank went on: “A killer and his victim die together in one hole,” he says in the piece.

Another recent poem “The Dice Thrower”, told how Darwish saw death coming yet he clung to life: “To Life I say: Go slow, wait for me until the drunkenness dries in my glass.

“I have no role in what I was or who I will be.

“It is chance and chance has no name.

“I call the doctor 10 minutes before the death, 10 minutes are sufficient to live by chance.”

As a poet, I’ve learned the significance of not only the tool of poetic license, but also the incredible range and independence, voice and grounding poetry offers. While from my opinion, poetry doesn’t hold the same weight in the U.S. anymore, poetry continues to capture the hearts of nations across the world, and Darwish was no stranger to this admiration–long esteemed for his passion, his conviction to the Palestinian people, and for being their “heart, and our tongue,” said Issam Makhoul.

My heart is deeply saddened by this loss. At this time, his vision and voice are so greatly needed. For those who are less familiar with his work, you can read some more of his translated poems online.

Zichrono Livracha Mahmoud Darwish. May your memory forever be a blessing.