On This Earth What Makes Life Worth Living

By Mahmoud Darwish

Translated by Karim Abuawad

On this earth what makes life worth living:

the hesitance of April

the scent of bread at dawn

an amulet made by a woman for men

Aeschylus’s works

the beginnings of love

moss on a stone

the mothers standing on the thinness of a flute

and the fear of invaders of memories.

On this earth what makes life worth living:

September’s end

a lady moving beyond her fortieth year without losing any of her grace

a sun clock in a prison

clouds imitating a flock of creatures

chants of a crowd for those meeting their end smiling

and the fear of tyrants of the songs.

On this earth what makes life worth living:

on this earth stands the mistress of the earth

mother of beginnings

mother of endings

it used to be known as Palestine

it became known as Palestine

my mistress:

I deserve, because you’re my mistress

I deserve life.

Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008): is a Palestinian poet born in the village of al-Birweh, in Galilee. A few months before the declaration of the State of Israel, Darwish’s family was expelled to Lebanon. Upon their “illegal” return to Galilee in 1949, the family found their village razed, their property appropriated by the state. Darwish went into exile in 1970, returning to live in Ramallah, Palestine after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.

He’s considered one of the most prominent poets writing in Arabic in the twentieth century. He made many contributions among which helping to popularize free-verse, a project championed by earlier poets to free modern Arabic poetry from the strict meter and rhyme that characterized the earlier traditional poetry.

Many of his poems have become lasting, and quite recognizable, songs, the most famous of which is the poem he wrote for Rita, the Jewish girl who was Darwish’s first love. The first line of the poem, which reads “There’s a rifle between Rita and me,” encapsulates this romantic encounter between a Palestinian living in Israel without citizenship and his lover who enlists in the Israeli army.

More recently, Darwish published the long poem Mural (2000), an extensive monologue where the poet talks to, and argues with, Death which has come to claim him several times before finally succeeding in 2008.

In June, 2010, the Council of Paris inaugurated “Mahmoud Darwish Square” in honor of Darwish and his artistic legacy. In the words of Paris mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, Darwish “is not just any poet [but] a Palestinian poet, a poet whose inspiration is born of his suffering in exile.”