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Favorite Poems from the Middle East

Robert Pinsky reads poems from Israel and Palestine.

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  • ROBERT PINSKY:

    Here are two poems from the Middle East, one by an Arab and one by an Israeli.

    The poems are not different in feeling from what other sources give us. But they fulfill poetry's ability to crystallize feeling in a way more memorable, more nuanced, more haunting, than other kinds of language.

    First, a poem by the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, as translated from the Arabic by Tania Nasir:

    I AM FROM THEREI come from there and remember, I was born like everyone is born, I have a motherand a house with many windows,I have brothers, friends and a prison.I have a wave that sea-gullls snatched away.I have a view of my own and an extra blade of grass.I have a moon past the peak of words.I have the godsent food of birds and an olive tree beyond the ken of time.I have traversed the land before swords turned bodies into banquets.I come from there. I return the sky to its mother when for its mother thesky cries, and I weep for a returning cloud to know me.I have learned the words of blood-stained courts in order to break the rules.I have learned and dismantled all the words to construct a single one:Home

    And here is a passage from "Jerusalem, 1967," a poem by the late Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, as translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell:From "Jerusalem 1967"

    Always beside ruined houses and iron girderstwisted like the arms of the slain, you findsomeone who is sweeping the paved pathor tending the little garden, sensitivepaths, square flower-beds,Large desires for a horrible death are well cared-foras in the monastery of the White Brothers next to the Lions' Gate.

    But farther on, in the courtyard, the earth gapes:columns and arches supporting the vain landand negotiating with one another: crusaders and guardian angels,a sultan and Rabbi Yehuda the Pious. Arched vaults with acolumn, ransom for prisoners, and strange conditions in rolled-upcontracts, and sealing-stones. Curved hooks holding air.Capitals and broken pieces of columns scattered like chessmenin a game that was interrupted in anger,and Herod, who already, two thousand years ago, wailedlike mortar-shells. He knew.

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