Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems

By Mahmoud Darwish, Sinan Antoon, Munir Akash, Carolyn Forché

485 ratings - 4.4* vote

Mahmoud Darwish is a literary rarity: at once critically acclaimed as one of the most important poets in the Arabic language, and beloved as the voice of his people. He is a living legend whose lyrics are sung by fieldworkers and schoolchildren. He has assimilated some of the world's oldest literary traditions at the same time that he has struggled to open new possibilitie Mahmoud Darwish is a literary rarity: at once critically acclaimed as one of the most important poets in the Arabic

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Book details

Paperback, 210 pages
January 28th 2003 by University of California Press

(first published December 29th 2002)

Original Title
Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems
0520237544 (ISBN13: 9780520237544)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Ammara Abid

A man is travelling in the desert under the scorching heat of sun, suddenly dark clouds gathered, gust of wind start blowing & carried away all the heat. Moreover, the clouds pouring rain washes the man's soul from worries and hardships.
Mahmoud's poetry is that scroching heat of sun alongwith the gust of wind & dark clouds. That can't be blown & poured down always but from time to time it happened.
After a while it happened.
His words make us stand & realize the facts of life with such a mesmerising manner that you got captivated in his poems and there's no escape.
You have to suffer
You have to bear
You have to accept
You must know the truth
In spite of all that
You have to love.

My first book by him & I absolutely adore his collection and love his writing style. I'm really glad that I got a chance to read this brilliant book.

'What does life say to Mahmoud
You lived, fell in love, learned, and all those you will finally love are dead? '

'My longing weeps for everything. My longing shoots back at me, to kill or be killed.'

'We Travel Like All People
We travel like everyone else, but we return to nothing. As if travel were
a path of clouds. We buried our loved ones in the shade of clouds and between roots of trees.
We said to our wives: Give birth for hundreds of years, so that we may end this journey
within an hour of a country, within a meter of the impossible!
We travel in the chariots of the Psalms, sleep in the tents of the prophets, and are born again in the language of Gypsies.
We measure space with a hoopoe’s beak, and sing so that distance may forget us.
We cleanse the moonlight. Your road is long, so dream of seven women to bear
this long journey on your shoulders. Shake the trunks of palm trees for them.
You know the names, and which one will give birth to the Son of Galilee.
Ours is a country of words: Talk. Talk. Let me rest my road against a stone.
Ours is a country of words: Talk. Talk. Let me see an end to this journey. '

'An eagle settles on our bodies, and we chase after dreams. May we find them.
They soar behind us to find us here. There is no escape!
We live our death. This half-death is our triumph. '

'In this hymn we lay a dream, we raise a victory sign, we hold a key to the last door,
to lock ourselves in a dream. But we will survive because life is life. '

'We are captives of what we love, what we desire, and what we are. '

'Let us be kindhearted! Take me to the sea at dusk.
Let me hear what the sea tells you when it returns to itself in peace.
I won’t change. I will embrace a wave and say:
Take me to the sea again.
This is what the fearful do:
when a burning star torments them, they go to the sea.'

'Death, O my shadow who leads me, O my third person,
emerald and olivine’s irresolute color,
blood of a peacock, sniper of the wolf’s heart,
sickness of imagination, have a seat.
Leave your hunting gear at the window and hang your heavy key chain on the door.
Mighty one, don’t gaze into my veins looking for some fatal flaw.
You are stronger than my breathing, stronger than medicine, and the strong honey of bodily love.
You don’t need some sickness in order to kill me.
So be nobler than the insects.
Be yourself—transparent, a clear message from the Unseen.
And like love, be a raging storm among trees.
Do not sit in the doorways like a beggar or a tax collector.
Do not become a traffic cop in the streets.
Be powerful, of well-tempered steel, and take off that fox mask.
Be gallant and knightly, and launch your mortal assaults.
Say whatever you wish to say:
I emerge from meaning to meaning.
Life is fluid, I distill it.
I introduce it to my domination and my measure.'

'I have work to do for the afterlife, as if tomorrow I will not be alive.
I have work to do for the eternal presence of today.
Hence I listen, little by little, to the ants in my heart:
Help me bear the brunt of my endurance.
I even listen to the gasping scream of the stone: Free my body.
In the violin, I see longing migrate from an earthly country to a heavenly one.
I hold my dear one, eternity, in the palm of a woman’s hand.
First, I was created. After a while, I fell in love.
Then I got bored to death.
Later on, in my grave, I opened my eyes
and saw the grasses mirroring me from time to time.
What use is Spring, then, if it does not bring joy to the dead,
and if it does not restore life and the bloom of oblivion after life?
That is one way to solve the riddle of poetry, the riddle of my tender poetry at least.
Dreams are our sole utterance.'

'As if I am. As if I am not.
Every time I listen to the heart the words of the Unseen flood me, and trees grow tall in me.
I fly from dream to dream but I am without end.
A few thousand poetic years ago, I was born in a darkness of white linen,
but I could not distinguish between the dream of myself and my self.'

'In order to fight the beast in you, I asked a woman to give you milk.
I was unjust. But you were given pleasure, and you gave in.
Be kind to me, Enkidu. Go back to the dead.
It’s possible we might find an answer
to the question of who we are when we are alone.
The life of a single man is not complete,
and I am in dire need of an answer to this question.
Whom can I ask about crossing this river?
So rise and lift me up, O brother in salt!
When you sleep, do you know you are sleeping?
Rise up! Enough.
Move before the wise men, like foxes, surround me.
All is vanity. Your life is a treasure, so live it, richly.
It’s a single moment, promising its own sap—the distilled blood of the prairie.
Live your waking, not your dream: Everything dies.
Live your life in a beloved woman.
Life is your body, not some illusion.
Wait for a child to carry in your soul.
For us, procreation is immortality.
And all is vanity and mortal, or mortal and vanity.

'What was mine: my yesterday.
What will be mine: the distant tomorrow,
and the return of the wandering soul as if nothing had happened.'

'I don’t dream of anything now.
I desire only to desire.
I dream only of desiring harmony.'


I will slog over this endless road to its end.
Until my heart stops, I will slog over this endless, endless road
with nothing to lose but the dust, what has died in me, and a row of palms
pointing toward what vanishes. I will pass the row of palms.
The wound does not need its poet to paint the blood of death like a pomegranate!
On the roof of neighing, I will cut thirty openings for meaning
so that you may end one trail only so as to begin another.
Whether this earth comes to an end or not, we'll slog over this endless road.
More tense than a bow. Our steps, be arrows. Where were we a moment ago?
Shall we join, in a while, the first arrow? The spinning wind whirled us.
So, what do you say?
I say: I will slog over this endless road to its end and my own.


Perhaps you ask only for ambiguity when you turn your back to the river.
There, an autumn sprinkles water onto a stag from a passing cloud.
There, on what you left behind of the crumbs of your departure.
The Milky Way is your ambiguity, the dust of nameless stars.
Your ambiguity is a night in pearls lighting nothing but water.
As for speech , it can light the night of someone setting forth
between two odes and two rows of palms, with the single word: love.

I am the one who saw his tomorrow when he saw you.
I am the one who saw gospels written by the last idolater,
on the slopes of Gilead before the old countries, and after.
I am the cloud returning to a fig tree which bears my name,
just as the sword bears the face of the slaughtered.
Perhaps when you turn your shadow to me, you bestow unto metaphor
the meaning of something that is about to happen.


I was very sceptical about reading this book. I wished I could read the Arabic poems but I knew most would be lost on me as Darwish's language is too strong for me to understand. I also thought the translation would kill all the beauty but I was wrong.
It could be that some of the beauty of his words were lost in translation, but most were still there and I was left in awe. Very beautiful, very well-translated, very moving.


i wish i understood arabic and could read the original version ?


For some reason, my initial response to Darwish's poetry when I first started reading it was negative. It seemed gloomy and hopeless. But after a short break I came back to it and was strangely enchanted. "Strangely," because Darwish's poetry is, for me, like no other other literary landscape I have ever visited. It is big, somewhat like T.S. Eliot's but less densely populated, which makes it feel even bigger, and it is full of all sorts of optical illusions that make me go pleasurably cross-eyed, like when staring looking for a hidden 3-D picture.

It is tempting to interpret Darwish's poetry in the context of the Middle East and its medieval mathematicians. The poet is constantly dividing and multiplying things into each other, with the result that you get flashes here and there of eternity—of strangely rippling surfaces that hold beneath them incomprehensible depths.

Yet, together with the awe-inspiring grandeur of much of his poetry are lines of warm, ravishing beauty achieved with apparent simplicity, lines that remind me of the simple but memorable similes of the Song of Solomon.

Then there is the wisdom throughout his poetry that makes you want to write lines down on the frontispiece, page after page, in case you lose them.

In conclusion, reading this anthology was like encountering one of those clusters of massive wind turbines you see in remote areas: towering, majestic, slightly menacing, beyond, somehow not belonging, but touched with the breezes, smells, songs, storms and hues of their setting. Reading the poems then looking at the professorial, twinkly-eyed photo of Darwish on the inside dust jacket makes for quite a disconnect. Forgive me, but I was expecting wild eyes and whiskers (robe, staff, sandals!)

Unfortunately, It Was Paradise is a keeper.


I found Darwish's writing really moving - especially selections from Fewer Roses.

The mood of the translated texts are heavy with grief, loss, being lost and exiled, cast adrift, homeless and landless. The simple starkness of "Athens Airport" "What is your address? A woman of our group says: My village is the bundle on my back."

The poet holds on, almost desperately to memories, mood, language and
imagination to recreate his paradise lost. Time is "timeless" as if stunted and standing still -- locked, in shock, confusion and chaos -- trying to make sense of this endless rape of the peoples and their country. He seeks validation, empty as it is, over and over, in "I Talk Too Much" with his repeated and plaintive appeal:

"Is it true ladies and gentlemen, that the earth of Man is for all human beings?"
I am struck by the openness of spirit and that is transformed into
embrace, maybe forgiveness? for the incomprehensible invasion and occupation and failure to see his people's humanity. "He embraces his murderer. May he win his heart: Do you feel angrier if I survive? brother...my brother! What did I do to make you destroy me?... I will never cease embracing you. And I will never release you."

Perhaps, the books title is a bitter irony and lament that it is both the beauty and the "misfortune" that Palestine was indeed a paradise that made his land so desirable, so ripe for being occupied and appropriated for all its richness and significance and the center of so much bloodshed and destruction.

Reading Darwish's work in its non-native language, and not knowing details of the history of the people of this land makes me wonder how much of the texture and depth is lost in translation. Having limited knowledge of the many references made and significance of those references (eg: horses, hoopoes, mother's coffee..)probably means that this reader is missing out on a great deal of the nuances of his creation. But his poetry does offer the novice reader a window into Palestinian life, thoughts, emotions, sensuality, dreams, and the humanity that is purposefully made absent from/in US consciousness. Darwish offers us beauty, complexity, compassion, sensuousness, thoughts and images beyond war, violence and destruction that are the dominant images of Palestinians, stripped of their humanity by US media propaganda.

Giuliana Chamedes

beautiful!!darwish is a palestinian poet. longing, and the (impossible) quest for a home, are the recurring themes in these wonderfully translated poems. these poems build a deep and immediate relationship with you as you read them -- they give you the impression of walking slowly alongside a smiling, if teary-eyed, ageless bard, who contains boundless wisdom, and is able to sing you to sleep or sing you to revolution in one second flat.

Fred Dameron

Darwish's poetry is both beautiful and poignant. Writing from the underdog perspective of the Israeli Palestinian conflict we see the pain and anguish of the oppressed. We also see the hope for both peace and place that they continue to fight for. The big issue to the Palestinians is place. Where are they to call home? After all these years is Palestine still their home? Or, has their home been so Israelied that it is no longer the Palestinian home? All his poetry in this collection asks these questions: where is my home when I'm a refugee, is Palestine my home any more, or is New York City my home, Is home where I lay my head now or should I continue to fight for the place that my family was forced from in 47? Many good and proper questions that we should all be asking ourselves as this year of 2020 opens.

On a personal note: my youngest, Holly, wrote her Masters thesis on home and place. We spent two years worth of Friday afternoons doing the reading, helping her coalesce her thoughts, editing, and proofreading her work. With out this work for her this work of poetry would not have been so enjoyable as I saw the whole of Darwish's work through the prism of finding your place. Thanks kid.

Patrick Duggan

Mahmoud Darwish is the somewhat official poet laureate of Palestine, and his recent selected poems Unfortunately, It Was Paradise is a dynamic lyric voice full of wild imagery mixed with the fury of scripture. His voice is calm poverty in a storm of mideast chaos, a man who lived through and mourns the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon, but was himself inspired to write by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. With Israel currently shelling the entire state of Lebanon into the ashes of history, and nobody (read: America) really seeming to care, it seems an appropriate and unsettling book for the current geopolitical situation. Three hours of your time you won't regret having spent.


Best book title ever, no contest