Reading the Poem “Identity Card” by Mahmoud Darwish

Monday 02 September 2013
This was posted on our Facebook Community Page yesterday, that is 1st September 2013, SUNDAY under our KAVITA RAVIVAAR/कविता रविवार/THE SUNDAY POEM series. The post generated tremendous interest, and till now, as per the Facebook Page Insight stats, nearly 1700 people have viewed it. Well, the poem is so powerful and the poet so special, this had to be so. We reproduce this post from our Facebook Page so that those who view only our blog also get to read and share this.


“Identity Card” by Mahmoud Darwish

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-- 2008) was an iconic Palestinian poet, generally considered its National Poet—the National Poet of a non-existent nation, as he would be referred to. Dispossession and exile were the leitmotif of his poetry. Today as part of our series KAVITA RAVIVAAR/ कविता रविवार/THE SUNDAY POEM we reproduce Darwish’s probably the most famous poem “Identity Card”, published in 1964 in his collection Leaves of Olives. However, Raymond Deane, an Irish critic, in his obituary on Darwish, published on, on 13th August 2008 stated, “Darwish repeatedly ... felt burdened by being forever associated with a poem such as “Identity Card... He protested the view that “Palestinians are supposed to be dedicated to one subject — liberating Palestine. This is a prison. We’re human, we love, we fear death, we enjoy the first flowers of spring. So to express this is resistance against having our subject dictated to us. If I write love poems, I resist the conditions that don’t allow me to write love poems.” Nonetheless, he also asserted that “most of my poetry is about love for my country”, and this poem has not lost any of its power nearly five decades after it was first written, mainly because perhaps the unique conflict and dilemma of the Arab identity have become all the more sharpened and continue to be under unspoken stress and blatant attacks. 

The entry on the poet on Wikipedia states: “Darwish published over thirty volumes of poetry and eight books of prose. He was editor of Al-Jadid, Al-Fajr, Shu'un Filistiniyya and Al-Karmel (1981). On 1 May 1965 when the young Darwish read his poem “Bitaqat huwiyya” [Identity Card] to a crowd in a Nazareth movie house, there was a tumultuous reaction. Within days the poem had spread throughout the country and the Arab world. Published in his second volume "Leaves of Olives" (Haifa 1964), the six stanzas of the poem repeat the cry “Write down: I am an Arab.”

Darwish was, besides being an influential poet, was a prominent political voice. When he died, he was mourned by nearly ten thousand Palestinians and the Ramallah Cultural Palace was renamed in his honour. He was a key contributor to the development of Palestinian national identity along with Yassir Arafat.
Let us read this powerful poem, which in our contemporary politics and assertion of Identity, has lot of relevance for India...--Kumar Vikram

"Identity Card"
Mahmoud Darwish - 1964

Write down!
I am an Arab
And my identity card number is fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the ninth will come after a summer
Will you be angry?

Write down!
I am an Arab
Employed with fellow workers at a quarry
I have eight children
I get them bread
Garments and books
from the rocks..
I do not supplicate charity at your doors
Nor do I belittle myself at the footsteps of your chamber
So will you be angry?

Write down!
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
My roots
Were entrenched before the birth of time
And before the opening of the eras
Before the pines, and the olive trees
And before the grass grew

My father.. descends from the family of the plow
Not from a privileged class
And my grandfather..was a farmer
Neither well-bred, nor well-born!
Teaches me the pride of the sun
Before teaching me how to read
And my house is like a watchman's hut
Made of branches and cane
Are you satisfied with my status?
I have a name without a title!

Write down!
I am an Arab
You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors
And the land which I cultivated
Along with my children
And you left nothing for us
Except for these rocks..
So will the State take them
As it has been said?!

Write down on the top of the first page:
I do not hate poeple
Nor do I encroach
But if I become hungry
The usurper's flesh will be my food
Of my hunger
And my anger!

English Translation Courtesy:

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