In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy ... ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy,
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself:
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted: Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me ... and I forgot, like you, to die
translated by Fady Joudah
Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian poet and author who was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. He won numerous awards for his works. Darwish used Palestine as a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile. According to the Internet he has been described as incarnating and reflecting ‘the tradition of the political poet in Islam, the man of action whose action is poetry’.
Born in a village near Galilee, Darwish spent time as an exile throughout the Middle East and Europe for much of his life. He was imprisoned in the 1960s for reading his poetry aloud while travelling from village to village without a permit. Under the influence of both Arabic and Hebrew literature, Darwish was exposed to the work of Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda through Hebrew translations.
‘In Jerusalem’ is considered one of his most important poems. Jerusalem is the centre city of the three religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And remains the centre of conflict on legitimacy over it. This poem was a popular response after Donald Trump supported Israel in making it capital.
Jerusalem is first depicted as the personification of love and peace (lines 1 -7). And then the rising-up from the ashes. A personal rising as well as the rising of Palestine. A forgetting of any past religious association – I walk from one epoch to another without a memory. A bathing in the pure light of the holy – all this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. The stone could refer to the Foundation Stone behind the ‘Wailing Wall’ which could be regarded as the fountain of all true light from God.
Then the transformation and transfiguration to a true state outside both time and place. The message from Isaiah that redemption is possible on belief. The white biblical rose has a flavour of Christianity and purity but there is no ascension and the reference is to the prophet Muhammad.
The poem ends with a return to Earth and the dramatic ending by a woman solider shouting: It’s you again? Didn’t I kill you? This is followed by that wonderful response – I said: You killed me … and I, forgot, like you, to die.
Death cannot destroy; and the survival of Palestine is inferred – or in fact life in general, whether Jew or Arab. A poem that transcends all the waring religious factions. Perhaps, in due time, Jerusalem will revert to the love and peace denoted in the opening lines.