RAMALLAH, GAZA, AMMAN, WASHINGTON – Mahmoud Darwish, the poet whose verse and prose gave a voice to the suffering of the Palestinians, died in Texas on Saturday after heart surgery, hospital officials said. He was 67.
A hospital spokeswoman in Houston said the 67-year-old poet died after an operation but did not give a cause of death.
“Mr. Darwish has died at 1:35 P.M. (1835 GMT),” said Ann Brimberry, a spokeswoman for the Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas, where he was being treated.
The predominant Palestinian poet, whose work has been translated into more than 20 languages and won numerous international awards, died following open heart surgery at a Houston hospital, said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas’s office earlier released a statement saying that “the great poet” was in a very critical condition. His culture minister said Darwish had been on life support following a heart operation two days earlier.
Darwish was placed on life support three days ago following complications arising from the surgery, a friend told AFP in Jerusalem earlier, asking not to be named.
Atallah Kheiry, the Palestinian ambassador to Jordan, said Abbas would send a plane to repatriate Darwish’s body today.
“A farewell ceremony will be held in Amman and later the body will be flown to Ramallah,” seat of the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Kheiry said.
He said he expected the body to arrive in Jordan within 48 hours.
Kheiry said Abbas had “asked Palestinian officials to contact the Israeli authorities to press them (to allow) for the burial of Darwish in his native Galilee.”
Darwish previously underwent heart surgery in 1984 and 1998, with the latter operation inspiring the verse: “I have defeated you, death/ All the beautiful arts have defeated you.”
Widely seen as the Palestinian “national poet”, Darwish’s writing was much translated. He won new generations of admirers with work that evoked not just the pain of Palestinians displaced, as he was a child, by the foundation of Israel 60 years ago, but also subtle paradoxes and broader human themes.
He enjoyed a following across the Arab world, where he had the kind of readership contemporary poets in English and other European languages, eclipsed by novelists, can only dream of.
Just last month he packed out a hall for a reading in that West Bank city where he had made his home, and millions watched on television an event that commemorated the 60th anniversary of the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, of Israel’s creation in 1948.
Born to a large Muslim family, he emerged as a Palestinian cultural icon who eloquently described his people’s struggle for independence, and as a vocal critic of both the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian leadership. He gave voice to the Palestinian dreams of statehood, crafted their declaration of independence and helped forge a Palestinian national identity.
He was among that half of the Arab population of Palestine driven from their homes, in his family’s case near the port of Haifa. They later returned to live in the area.
Darwish first gained prominence in the 1960s with the publication of his first poetry collection, “Bird without Wings.” It included a poem (``Identity Card”) that defiantly spoke in the first person of an Arab man giving his identity number - a common practice among Palestinians when dealing with Israeli authorities and Arab governments - and vowing to return to his land.
Many of his poems have been put into music - most notably “Rita,” “Birds of Galilee” and “I yearn for my mother’s bread” - and have become anthems for at least two generations of Arabs.
Jailed several times and stripped of an Israeli passport, Darwish left in 1971 to study in the Soviet Union. Exile in Cairo, Beirut and Paris followed. Darwish also served on the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But he broke with PLO leader Yasser Arafat and resigned his post in protest at the 1993 Oslo accords with Israel by which the Palestinians agreed to establish a state alongside Israel.
Darwish wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence in 1988, read by Arafat when he unilaterally declared statehood.
A lifelong smoker, Darwish had suffered previous serious ill health, twice undergoing heart surgery in the past.
In a recent poem “The Dice Thrower”, Darwish told the story of his life and said death was coming yet he clung to life:
“To Life I say: Go slow, wait for me until the drunkenness dries in my glass/ I have no role in what I was or who I will be/ It is chance and chance has no name/ I call the doctor 10 minutes before the death, 10 minutes are sufficient to live by chance.”
Last month, Darwish told Reuters his latest writing was imbued with a sarcastic humor and a sense of both Israelis and Palestinians, however antagonistic, sharing an uncertain future.
“Sarcasm helps me overcome the harshness of the reality we live, eases the pain of scars and makes people smile,” he said. “The sarcasm is not only related to today’s reality but also to history. History laughs at both the victim and the aggressor.”
Darwish married and divorced twice. He did not have any children. – Agencies