, Analysis of ‘Memory for Forgetfulness’ by Mahmoud Darwish,

Analysis of ‘Memory for Forgetfulness’ by Mahmoud Darwish

Memory for Forgetfulness

Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian poet and has penned many poems depicting the sad state of the Palestinians. He is regarded as the national poet of Palestine. Memory for Forgetfulness written by him is not a poem but prose. However we cannot put it into a prose category because there are many small poems in this work. Darwish has published more than 30 volumes of poetry and eight books of prose. He was the editor of various periodicals like Shu’un Filistiniyya, Al-Fajr, Al-Jadid and Al-Karmel. He started writing at the age of 17. His poetry was about the problems faced by the refugees in the Nakba and their inevitability of return. The core idea of his poems is the concept of Watan or homeland. He has won many awards and his work has been translated into 20 languages. For his prose poems like Memory for Forgetfulness he has the Israeli invasion of 1982 as the setting. The sights and sounds of the city under siege is vividly portrayed in these works. He explores the streets of Beirut which is war ravaged and he does this on August 6th, Hiroshima Day. The book is translated into English by Ibrahim Muhawi and he has done it keeping the spirit of the book intact and it has the same impact as the original work.


Memory for Forgetfulnessis a reflection of the historical aspects and political aspects of the invasions. It is a collective and personal memory. Some questions are raised. The meaning of exile is looked into. The role of the writer in the war is another question raised. The relationship between writing (memory) and history (forgetfulness) is raised in this work. This story is interspersed with a lot of poems, so categorising it as prose might not seem right. Darwish had written that Memory for Forgetfulness was written in prose form because a state of siege could not be expressed in poetic style. : “I haltmy quest for figurative language. I bring my quest for meaning to a complete stop,because the essence of war is to degrade symbols and bring human relations, space,time, and the elements back to a state of nature, making us rejoice over the watergushing on the road from a broken pipe. Water under these conditions comes to uslike a miracle.”

Memory for Forgetfulness opens with the writer wanting to make a cup of coffee. There is unrelenting bombardment and the window near the burner is exposed to snipers and bombers and there is no way he could make a cup of coffee. The water supply also could not be counted on. Darwish pleads “I want the aroma of coffee. I need five minutes. I want a five-minute truce for the sake of coffee.” This book was written after Darwish left Beirut and it is a description of one day under siege. Life in Lebanon for the Palestinians after 1948 was paradoxical as they had nowhere to go. A generation was born with no purpose as they did not know where they belonged to. He wrote the refugees in Lebanon “were still being born without a reason, growing up for no reason, remembering for no reason, and being put under siege for no reason.” There was some kind of negotiations with the Israelis but to no avail. He put it beautifully, “We said we’d leave. ‘By sea?’ they asked. ‘By sea,’ we said … ‘But first they must break the siege of the sea. They must clear the last path for the last thread of our blood.’”

Darwish describes his childhood in this book. He and his family had few good times on the beaches of Lebanon after they were sent off from Galilee. Those were his last few days of happiness and innocence. Soon their life was under siege. The poet kept searching for the boy he had lost on the beaches. He grew up but did not allow the boy to grow up. Maybe he wanted atleast those good days to stay intact. If that memory also slips into forgetfulness then there was nothing to look for in life. He also refers to a poem ‘Identity Card’ that was written twenty years earlier where he tells he is an Arab to a government employee just to provoke him. When the poem came out the Arab public in Nazareth were electrified and this then became his poetic identity.

Mahmoud Darwish represents the second half of the twentieth century ‘state of Palestine’. He had to leave his home town and go to Lebanon and then come back home, join the PLO, live in Tunis and more shunting back and forth. His personal experiences and the political upheavals were the same. So he could connect well with his people. He thought his poetry might break the siege but he has admitted more than once that the power of his poetry could not stand up to reality and the armies. However since his work portrayed what every Arab suffered he established himself as the national poet of Palestine.

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