I am an old poet and I am still stirred and inspired by the profound and eloquent advice Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish generously offers in his poem, To A Young Poet. My teenage-poet daughter, who I have been meticulously grooming to take careful note of the ways of world and how people negotiate their desires within the confines of inequity and injustice, has left my assiduous tutelage to begin her own journey. I gave her a copy of Mr. Darwish’s poem to light her way.
“Breaking bread with the dead,” is how W. H. Auden so accurately described part of the process of creating poetry. Your ideas, your style, the cadences carried in your poems are invariably informed by those not so gentle people-the poets you have read and heard and who have settled in your very being. On September 23, 2011, when Palestine requested full United Nations membership, I awoke to the silent, waspy voice of Darwish saying, “get up girl and meet the world with a new poem.”
To A Young Poet
Translated By Fady Joudah
Don’t believe our outlines, forget them
and begin from your own words.
As if you are the first to write poetry
or the last poet.
If you read our work, let it not be an extension of our airs,
but to correct our errs
in the book of agony.
Don’t ask anyone: Who am I?
You know who your mother is.
As for your father, be your own.
Truth is white, write over it
with a crow’s ink.
Truth is black, write over it
with a mirage’s light.
If you want to duel with a falcon
soar with the falcon.
If you fall in love with a woman,
be the one, not she,
who desires his end.
Life is less alive than we think but we don’t think
of the matter too much lest we hurt emotions’ health.
If you ponder a rose for too long
you won’t budge in a storm.
You are like me, but my abyss is clear.
And you have roads whose secrets never end.
They descend and ascend, descend and ascend.
You might call the end of youth
the maturity of talent
or wisdom. No doubt, it is wisdom,
the wisdom of a cool non-lyric.
One thousand birds in the hand
don’t equal one bird that wears a tree.
A poem in a difficult time
is beautiful flowers in a cemetery.
Example is not easy to attain
so be yourself and other than yourself
behind the borders of echo.
Ardor has an expiration date with extended range.
So fill up with fervor for your heart’s sake,
follow it before you reach your path.
Don’t tell the beloved, you are I
and I am you, say
the opposite of that: we are two guests
of an excess, fugitive cloud.
Deviate, with all your might, deviate from the rule.
Don’t place two stars in one utterance
and place the marginal next to the essential
to complete the rising rapture.
Don’t believe the accuracy of our instructions.
Believe only the caravan’s trace.
A moral is as a bullet in its poet’s heart
a deadly wisdom.
Be strong as a bull when you’re angry
weak as an almond blossom
when you love, and nothing, nothing
when you serenade yourself in a closed room.
The road is long like an ancient poet’s night:
plains and hills, rivers and valleys.
Walk according to your dream’s measure: either a lily
follows you or the gallows.
Your tasks are not what worry me about you.
I worry about you from those who dance
over their children’s graves,
and from the hidden cameras
in the singers’ navels.
You won’t disappoint me,
if you distance yourself from others, and from me.
What doesn’t resemble me is more beautiful.
From now on, your only guardian is a neglected future.
Don’t think, when you melt in sorrow
like candle tears, of who will see you
or follow your intuition’s light.
Think of yourself: is this all of myself?
The poem is always incomplete, the butterflies make it whole.
No advice in love. It’s experience.
No advice in poetry. It’s talent.
And last but not least, Salaam.