"The Adam of Two Edens" by Mahmoud Darwish -review by John Farris
"The Adam of Two Edens"
by Mahmoud Darwish
Jusoor and Syracuse University Press. New York, 2000
Edited by Munir Akash and Daniel Moore, 206 pp
In his comprehensively contextualised introduction to "The Adam of Two Edens", co-editor Munir Akash recalls the visionary German poet Johann Christian Hölderlin who on the evening of his departure from his home to Bordeaux, France, where a position awaited him as tutor and minister to the household of a German national living there, wrote of his self-imposed exile, "My decision to leave my native land, perhaps forever, has cost me bitter tears ... I shall and must remain German even if my needy heart and stomach send me away to Tahiti." Noting that Hölderlin was able to withstand only three months of what was after all a voluntary exile before going mad, appearing at the house of a friend, "pale as a corpse" emaciated, with hollow wild eyes, long hair and beard, and dressed like a beggar, and that within the space of two years there was so little hope for his recovery he was committed to a clinic for the insane. He goes on to say that Mahmoud Darwish, the author of the wonderfully crafted and lyrically moving poems that make up this collection, is without the luxury of Hölderlin's pathos, having been only six years old when Berwah, the Palestinian village of his nativity, was completely obliterated, destroyed by an encroaching Israeli army, and he was forced to flee with his mother to a refugee camp in Le Lebanon, exiled forever -- and completely against his will. To illustrate the inevitability of this exile, Akash quotes Moshe Dyan, a former defense minister of Israel as saying, "we come to this country which was already populated by Arabs and are establishing Hebrew, that is a Jewish, state here ... you do not even know the names of the Arab Villages and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist -- and not only do the books no longer exist, the Arab villages are not there either." This then is the cultural construct from which the work of Darwish springs; that of an egregiously wounded exile decrying the obliteration of homeland and a cultural past going back to Mesopotamia and Sumer whose countrymen -- if that term can be used when technically these people are stateless -- are yet locked in an armed struggle that seems more horrific and hopeless -- but never meaningless -- with each passing day -- a struggle that goes essentially back to when the land was called Canaan. Speaking to this issue, the narrator of "On a Canaanite Stone On The Dead Sea" states,
... All the prophets are my kin.
But heaven is still far from its earth
and I am still far from my words
He goes on to say
A war rages against me, a war rages inside me. Stranger, hang your weapons in our palm tree
and let me plant my wheat in Canaan's sacred soil.
take wine from my jars ...
Go ahead, be one of us, if that's what you want.
Stranger,take the stars of our alphabet from us
and together we will write heaven's message
to man's 'fear of
mankind itself' ...
Making poems since his first decade that got him in trouble with elementary school teachers for his concern with his predicament, publishing a first collection, "Leaves of Olives" in 1964 when he was twenty-two, and following this with a subsequent nineteen others as well as seven books of prose that have been translated into more than twenty-two languages, Mahmoud Darwish was an early advocate of Resistance Poetry from his days with the leading Lebanese literary journal of that time, Shi'r (Poetry). A modernist whose early work reflects the strophic concerns of established Middle Eastern poets that go back to the Ruba'iyat -- a genre of poetry of Persian origin that is a quatrain with the rhyme scheme aaba and adopted by the Arab world under that influence, as well as non-Middle Eastern poets like the Chilean Pablo Neruda and the Russian Vladimir Mayakovsky, "The Adam of Two Edens" represents what has been said to be some of his finest work to date.
Referred to as "the poet of the pain of exile," Darwish has been the recipient of many international literary awards that include the Lotus Prize in 1969, the Lenin Prize in 1983 and France's highest medal as a "Knight of Arts" and Belles Lettres in 1997. Reviewed in the New York Times on the publication of "The Adam of Two Edens" in March of 2000, a columnist wrote,"The poetry of Mahmoud Darwish ... becomes a weapon in the hands of right wing Israeli politicians who would like to bring down the Israeli government ... The storm began brewing last week when Yossie Sarid, the iconoclastic educational minister, announced that Mr. Darwish's poetry would be included in a new multi-cultural literature curriculum for Israeli high school students ... The outcry from hardliners in the opposition was not long in coming ... Prime Minister Ehud Barak weighed in saying that Israel was not yet ready for Darwish's poetry to be taught in the schools."
Asked for something in celebration of the second anniversary of the State of Israel, an eight-year old Darwish wrote, "you can play in the sun as you please, and have your toys, but I cannot. You have a house, while I have none. You have celebrations While I have none. Why can't we play together." The following day, Darwish was summoned by the Israeli military governor who ridiculed his Arabic language and threated both him and his family. The young Darwish left his office shaken, unable to understand why a poem had so upset the military governor. In ensuing years, he was imprisoned several times and frequently harassed by the Israeli apparatus, always for the same crime:reading poetry or traveling in his country without a permit.
Dedicated to his home town of Berweh, in the district of Acre in upper Galilee of Palestine, Darwish writes that "it was once teeming with life." An inscription quotes the character of Columbus in Abel Posse's "The Dogs of Paradise", "unfortunately it was paradise," and one of the fourteen poems that comprises this collection is entitled "The Speech of a Red Indian" that begins,
So we are who we are, as the Mississippi flows,
and what remains from yesterday is still ours --
but the color of the sky has changed.
oh white master,
lord of the horses,
what do you want from those making their way
to the night woods?
He goes on to say,
Tamer of horses, teach your horse
to ask forgiveness of nature's soul
for the way you've treated our trees
let Columbus scour the seas to find India,
it's his right!
He can call our ghosts the names of spices, he can call us Red Indians ...
comparing the obliteration of his Palestine in the interest of the entity of Israel to the establishment of a United States of America in the face of the culture of its cnothic peoples, allowing the reader even the indigenous name of the District of Columbia, as Naconchtanke and its people as the Conoy. It is a line of the poem "Eleven Planets in the Last Andalusian Sky," that gives the collection its name:
I'm the Adam of two Edens lost to me twice
expel me slowly, kill me slowly
with Garcia Lorca
under my olive tree.
This is a poet whose sensibility is as old and familiar as salt.