Mahmoud Darwish and Yehuda Amichai in a Web of Opposition and Contradiction

“Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly”- Morticia Addams.

The conversation that began in The Artifice article Fear and Loathing in Israel/Palestine continues with two critical poets; Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian and Yehuda Amichai, Israeli. Each poet searches their soul to look at the opposition and contradiction in Israel/Palestine as well as Jew/Arab and Muslim/Jew. Mahmoud Darwish’s earlier works were pluralist towards Israel/Palestine; however, a few years later, contradiction became clear. Yehuda Amichai speaks from his point of view, as a Zionist. Then again, there are poems that are contrary to Amichai’s self-interest and have inclusion of the Arab. There are moments, which echo mutual respect and then there are moments that interweave opposition, contradiction and the illusion of normal.

Contradictions and Oppositions

Contradictions and oppositions between Arabs and Jews define the others’ existence. The simplest comparison between Arab and Jew, they have the same Semitic genes, belief in a monotheistic creator and do not worship idols. Each has their own house of worship, scripture and language. Opposition begins with Persian influence over Arabs and European and East Asian influence over Jews (Difference Between Arabs and Jews 2012, and Wade 2000). Contradiction is found in their religious scriptures, which lead to a causal effect of contradictions and oppositional interpretations. Civil unrest remains in Israel/Palestine as well as between Jew/Arab and Muslim/Jew. As the web of Zion’s nationalism creates havoc for the Arabs caught in its filament each has their own version of what is normal. Mahmoud Darwish explores the sameness of Arab/Jew and Israeli/Palestinian through his inclusive poem He is quiet and so am I.

Darwish and Amichai in Quiet Like Me
Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian and Yehuda Amichai, Israeli. He is quiet and so am I…

He is quiet and so am I…

He is quiet and so am I.

He sips tea with lemon, while I drink coffee.

That’s the difference between us.

Like me, he wears a wide, striped shirt,

And like him, I read the evening paper.

He doesn’t see my secret glance.

I don’t see his secret glance.

He’s quiet and so am I.

He asks the waiter something.

A black cat walks between us.

I feel the midnight of its fur

And he feels the midnight of its fur…

I don’t say to him: The sky today

Is clear and blue.

He doesn’t say to me: the sky today is clear.

He’s watched and the one watching.

I move my left foot.

He moves his right foot.

I hum the melody of a song

And he hums the melody of a similar song.

I wonder: Is he the mirror in which I see myself?

And turn to look in his eyes…but I don’t see him.

I hurry from the café.

I think: Maybe he’s a killer…

Or maybe a passerby who thinks

I am a killer.

He’s afraid …and so am I.

Mahmoud Darwish in a pluralist pose that reflects his vision of unity in the poem A Lover from Palestine.
Mahmoud Darwish in a pluralist pose that reflects his vision of unity in the poem A Lover from Palestine.

Mahmoud Darwish wrote poems, which linger with lyrical elegance. He professed pluralism; pleading for reconciliation of the past yet, aware of the realities of Israel/Palestine. Darwish put forth the message to strive for the long-lost unity in his 1966 poem A Lover from Palestine. As the Zionist began their journey into Palestine Darwish was empathic to the Israeli and reverently welcomed them; “So that our next generation may recall the path of return to our home”(Lines 94-95). Darwish continues his plea for unity in the following poem.

A Lover from Palestine

Yesterday I saw you in the port,

A long voyager without provisions.

Like an orphan I ran to you,

Asking the wisdom of our forefathers:

How can the ever-verdant orange grove be dragged

To prison, to exile, to a port,

And despite all her travels,

Despite the scent of salt and longing,

Remain evergreen?

I write in my diary:

I love the oranges and hate the port

And I write further:

on the dock

I stood, and saw the world through Witter’s eyes

Only the orange peel is ours, and behind me lay the desert. /(25-39)

However, Darwish’s empathetic welcome led to devastating opposition. How long can one remain welcoming while watching their land, home and loved ones uprooted? An opposition begins to cultivate within Darwish’s later poems, although still lingering and lyrical yet, somewhat contradicting from A Lover of Palestine. Darwish explores a different flavor; more embittered and acerbic in his 1969 poem Diary of a Palestine Wound.

Diary of a Palestine Wound 

We do not need to be reminded:

Mount Carmel is in us / (1-2).

We and our country are one flesh and bone.

Before June we were not fledgling doves

so our love did not wither in bondage / (6-8).

The shadow that descends over your eyes

demon of a God

who came out of the month of June

to wrap around our heads the sun-

his color is martyrdom

the taste of prayer.

How well he kills, how well he resurrects!

The night that began in your eyes –

in my soul it was a long night’s end / (12-20):

And we came to know what makes the voice of the nightingale

a dagger shining in the face of the invaders. / (24-25)

This land absorbs the skins of martyrs / (34).

We are its wound, but a wound that fights / (38).

In the rubble of legends he searches for his own eyes

to show

that I am a sightless vagrant on the road

with not one letter in civilization’s alphabet / (50-52).

Time to prove my love for the land and for the nightingale:

For in this age the weapon devours the guitar

And in the mirror I have been fading more and more

Since at my back a tree began to grow /(56-59).  

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself (I am large; I contain multitudes.)” Walt Whitman poses this question of contradiction in his work Songs of Myself (The Critic 1860).

Mahmoud opposition
Mahmoud Darwish in contemplation of opposition and contradictions as is reflected in I have the wisdom of one condemned …

Contradiction and opposition are now blatant in Darwish’s poem I have the wisdom of one condemned. His work began to reflect the method similar to the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. It is clear in his poetic structure that some internal change took place. His poetry is much shorter and less lyrical, less pluralist and more self-centered. It is if Darwish had transformed his illusion of normalcy; the empathy turned to apathy; the wound left gaping and death all-consuming as conveyed in the following poem.

I have the wisdom of one condemned…

I have the wisdom of one condemned to die,

I possess nothing so nothing can possess me

and have written my will in my own blood:

‘O inhabitants of my song: trust in water’

and I sleep pierced and crowned by my tomorrow…

I dreamed the earth’s heart is greater

than its map,

more clear than its mirrors

and my gallows.

I was lost in a white cloud that carried me up high

as if I were a hoopoe

and the wind itself my wings.

At dawn, the call of the night guard

woke me from my dream, from my language:

You will live another death,

so revise your last will,

the hour of execution is postponed again.

I asked: Until when?

He said: Wait till you have died some more.

I said: I possess nothing so nothing can possess me

and have written my will in my own blood:

‘O inhabitants of my song: trust in water.

“Life is for the living. Death is for the dead. Let Life be like music. And death a note unsaid” -Langston Hughes. Hughes struggles with the oppositions of life and death, which are a daily activity in Israel/Palestine between Israeli/Arab and Jew/Muslim. The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai writes with brevity and in a monism manner with self-interest, which is clear in the titles; I Don’t Know if History Repeats Itself, I know A Man, I Have Become Very Hairy, and I Want To Die In My Own Bed. Amichai’s has other poems, which center on the speaker’s voice; A Pity. We Were Such a Good Invention, Ein Yahav, God Full of Mercy, and Great Serenity: Questions and Answers. However, there are a few poems that focus on Israeli/Arab and even a poem that speaks of a relationship with an Arab.

An Arab Shepherd is Searching for His Goat on Mount Zion

An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
The Sultan’s Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the “Had Gadya” machine.

Afterward we found them among the bushes,
And our voices came back inside us
Laughing and crying.

Searching for a goat or for a child has always been
The beginning of a new religion in these mountains.

Yehuda Amachia Poet
Yehuda Amichai- uses cultural symbolism in his poem An Arab Shepherd is Searching for His Goat on Mount Zion as well as in his work Endless Poem.

In the poem An Arab Shepherd is Searching for His Goat on Mount Zion, there is despair; the heart of the Jew and the heart of the Arab beat together. One pulse between them; pounding loudly in a fearful moment. Conversely, once the fear shattered the light shines through; the hearts separate no longer in unison do they beat. They revert back to what they know and each beat, beats with an indifference. In addition, Professor Alick Isaacs’ analysis of Amichai’s poem describes opposition and conflict between the Arab and Jew through their shared cultural symbolism. For example, the missing Jewish child and the Arab’s lost goat are like the sacrifice of Isaac and/or Ishmael according to Isaacs. Amichai continues the shared culture of Arab/Jew, Israel/Palestine, and Muslim/Jew both past and present with grace in the Endless Poem.

Endless Poem

In a modern museum

In an old synagogue

In the synagogue


Within me

My heart

A museum

Within a museum

A synagogue

Within it


Within me

My heart

Within me

My heart

Within my heart

A museum

Yehuda Amichai’s Endless Poem, is a perpetual mirror that faces parallel to the echoes of the infinite. These eminent reflections are endless symbolism of the grace of humanity. The Endless Poem, is simple and rhythmic of humanity, religiosity and evolution in all its architectonic. Amichai explores the present state of Israel/Palestine as a modern museum; it then proceeds to an antiquated synagogue with Judaism at the heart of it all. He takes the modern humanity infused it with the antiquated religion to find himself. Amichia mirrored self-reflection between old religion and beliefs to present human conditions in Israel/Palestine. The division between the old and the new creates division, oppositions and contradictions. A synagogue made by humans to house the spirit within its prescribed parameters; the museum made by humans to house the spirit of humanity through art and collaborative creation that knows no boundaries. The past must look into the future; the future must reflect the past and contradictions, and oppositions collide and energy transfers back and forth and keeps the beat of the human heart between Israeli/Palestine, Arab/Jew and Muslim/Jew.

Unison in the flags of Israel and Palestine
Symbol of unison with blended flags of Palestine and Israel

Juxtaposition of Poetic Discord

“Beyond the edge of the world, there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard,” thus spoke Haruki Murakami from Kafa on the Shore. These words paint a scene of contradictions and opposition which apply to the poets Darwish, Amichai and Israel/Palestine. Both poets explore despair and try to decipher the past from the present within the cyclical seasons of life. To close with encouraging words on opposition and contradiction from Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, “I have never agreed with my other self wholly. The truth of the matter seems to lie between us.” These words weave a web of conversation between Israel/Palestine, Muslim/Jew and Arab/Jew.

Works Cited

Amichai, Yehuda. “An Arab Shepherd is Searching For his Goat on Mount Zion.”

“Endless Poem.” Trans. Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Darwish, Mahmoud. “He is quiet and so am I.” 15 Apr. 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Darwish, Mahmoud. “A Lover from Palestine.” 5 Sep. 2013. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Darwish, Mahmoud. “Diary of a Palestine Wound.” Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Darwish, Mahmoud. “I have the wisdom of one condemned.” 13 Sep. 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

“Difference Between Arabs and Jews.” Difference May 2012. Web.18 Mar. 2014.

Hughes, Langston. The Collected Poems by Langston Hughes. Ed. Arnold Rampersad. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.

Issac, Alick. “Jerusalem 3000- Lecture 12- Jerusalem, symbol of the Future.” 20 Jan. 2015.

Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. New York: Vintage Random House, 2005. Print.

Wade, Nicholas. “Semitic Genetics.” New York Times May 2000. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

Whitman, Walt. “Review of Leaves of Grass.” The Critic July 1860: 43-4. Web. 04 Apr. 2014

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  1. Interesting insight in two great poets.

  2. I like Darwish work.

  3. Ellyn Wilcox

    The poetry is beautiful.

  4. Even people who generally dislike poetry will like both of their work.

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Yes, their work could be understood universally; or at least those countries that have gone through colonization.

  5. DaniloSag

    Amichai’s work is easy to read because it generally contains no esoteric illusions to ancient classical events that seem to be a requirement in most poetry today. Great stuff.

  6. Baggett

    Darwish and yet he is one of the most important poets of our time.

  7. Poetry of Mahmoud Darwish is lyrical and beautiful as well as political. Everyone should read it.

  8. Meghann

    I would encourage all to read their collection of work, if not to learn more about the spirit of Israel/Palestine then to just read some great poetry.

  9. Yehuda is Israel’s greatest modern poet

  10. Amichai’s work is easy to read because it generally contains no esoteric illusions to ancient classical events that seem to be a requirement in most poetry today. Great stuff.

  11. Adnan Bey

    I love the way you incorporate actual poems into this. Both were great poets for their time and I know Darwish is still very highly regarded in the world (I have not heard of Yehuda though so this was quite educational and interesting. Thanks for the interesting read.

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Spectre- thank your comment regarding the incorpration of poems into the article. I also linked in some wiki info on both poets for furter information. One such piece of informaiton I found interesting regarding Darwish is that “The Palestinian Declaration of Independence is a statement written by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.” Glad I was able to introduce you to Yehuda Amichai.
      With grace

  12. Remedios

    They’re both first-rate poet in any language really.

  13. Anh Tilley

    Amichai can haunt your world and make you laugh all in the same poem.

  14. great poets

  15. Darwish is one of the finest poets in the world!

  16. Faustina Jung

    I like how Darwish writes of oppression, love, death and coffee.

  17. Ben Hufbauer

    I think this is a lyrical and poignant portrait of what poetry can teach us. Even in the midst of the tragedies of history there are traces of hope and beauty. Thanks for writing and sharing this essay and the work of these poets.

  18. MichelleAjodah

    I love Darwish’s work, and enjoyed that you used it to discuss the conflict between Israel and Palestine. I’m sure this is the type of discourse both he and Yehuda Amichai wanted their work to encourage.

  19. Jacque Venus Tobias

    Michelle thank you for such a wonderful comment my heart feels full.

  20. this is why I like poetry. it is because it conveys messages and carry hopes to everyone

    many thanks

  21. Interesting reading this in light of some foreign affairs occurring now.

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