Following is a translation by Michael Keefer and Nica Mintz of Günter Grass’s “Was gesagt werden muss”, which we posted earlier. It is the best by far; it manages to preserve the poetic intent without sacrificing precision.
Why have I kept silent, silent for too long
over what is openly played out
in war games at the end of which we
the survivors are at best footnotes.
It’s that claim of a right to first strike
against those who under a loudmouth’s thumb
are pushed into organized cheering—
a strike to snuff out the Iranian people
on suspicion that under his influence
an atom bomb’s being built.
But why do I forbid myself
to name that other land in which
for years—although kept secret—
a usable nuclear capability has grown
beyond all control, because
no scrutiny is allowed.
(This article first appeared in The Economic Times, May 19, 2007, while the Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, was still alive. Darwish was born exactly seventy-one years ago in the Western Galilee village of al-Birwa on March 13, 1941.)
In his 2004 film Notre Musique [Our Music], a journalese-philosophical meditation on war and reconciliation, Jean-Luc Godard gave pride of place to Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. In the film, repeating what he had once told an Israeli journalist, Darwish inverts the relationship with the ‘other’: “Do you know why we Palestinians are famous? Because you are our enemy. The interest is in you, not in me…” By saying that he was important because Israel is important Darwish wasn’t just referring to the erasure of identity and history the Palestinians have had to struggle against, but perhaps more to the continuum of suffering, of that erasure, that has been passed down, as it were, to the Palestinians by the Jews. Not that Darwish now needs to affirm his self as an inversion of his ‘enemy’, or that he needed a Godard to affirm his being. In fact, it is quite the other way round, he was in the film because one cannot make a film on reconciliation without him, and his is a poetry of love, loss, of memory and exile that is more a challenge to the occupier than slogans and bombs ever can be.
I am reminded of, yet once again,
if I ever forgot,
occupied with, all over again,
a crazy, intense
conversation with my students,
some weeks ago.
As Ibn ‘Arabi’s Moses,
we heard out of Time:
“take off thy shoes” (20:12).
Spurred by our reading
of Tayeb Salih’s tumultuous Season of Migration to the North,
“a moment of ecstasy is worth the whole of life,”
Frantz Fanon’s Black tender Skin, and the Whiteness
of colonial Masks that pierce us,
whirling with, in, and around us,
and the imprisonment
of four-hundred at San Quentin
— that notorious jail
from Hollywood’s dungeons.
I learnt from your poems howTo wait upon deathAnd how waiting is a game asTreacherous as death.I learnt from you how the rootOf waiting is grasped in despairAnd that there is no despairMore deceitful than hope.Continue reading “In Memory of Mahmoud Darwish”
The great Polish poet and Nobel laureate is no more. Katha Pollit of The Nation pays tribute.
In the way that you can be surprised when someone dies, no matter how rationally foreseeable the death is, I was startled to open my New York Times on February 2 and find an obituary for Wislawa Szymborska, the great Polish poet who won the Nobel Prize in 1996. Only 88, I wanted to say. Much too young.
Szymborska’s poems are mostly short, and her output was not voluminous—only around 400 published poems. And yet, she is one of the few contemporary poets you can call beloved and not have it be a condescension or an insult. In TheNew York Review of Books Charles Simic called her poems “poetry’s equivalent of expository writing,” which captures their accessibility, their logical clarity and their interest in facts (especially odd ones), stories, things and people, but doesn’t convey their charm or vitality. Expository writing is, after all, a required class for college freshmen—the opposite of fun, dazzle, originality, pathos. For me, Szymborska’s signature quality is the way she puts tragedy and comedy, the unique and the banal, the big and the little, the remembering and the forgetting, right next to each other and shows us that this is what life is:
After every war
someone has to tidy up.
Things won’t pick
themselves up, after all.
Someone has to shove
the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded with corpses
can get by.
Coriolanus in the public forum from Ralph Fiennes’s excellent adaptation.
Here’s the full speech:
Most sweet voices!
Better it is to die, better to starve,
Than crave the hire which first we do deserve.
Why in this woolvish toge should I stand here,
To beg of Hob and Dick, that do appear,
Their needless vouches? Custom calls me to’t:
What custom wills, in all things should we do’t,
The dust on antique time would lie unswept,
And mountainous error be too highly heapt
For truth to o’er-peer. Rather than fool it so,
Let the high office and the honour go
To one that would do thus. I am half through;
The one part suffer’d, the other will I do.
Here come more voices.
Your voices: for your voices I have fought;
Watch’d for your voices; for Your voices bear
Of wounds two dozen odd; battles thrice six
I have seen and heard of; for your voices have
Done many things, some less, some more your voices:
Indeed I would be consul.