Page last updated at 13:03 GMT, Tuesday, 12 August 2008 14:03 UK

Darwish: 'Identity and humanity'

Mahmoud Darwish, widely considered the Palestinian' national poet, died on Saturday at the age of 67. In an interview with the BBC Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi paid tribute to a man who was both a close friend and a writer who played a key role in articulating Palestinian identity.

Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish
Ms Ashrawi describes Darwish as private, quiet and lonely

It is hard to describe a personal loss. It is a very heavy feeling because this loss is tangible.

Palestinians feel they have lost their voice. It is easy to describe Mahmoud as a national poet, but he is much more than that.

For Palestinians, he not only shaped your language, he also shaped your self-perception - who you are. This is whether you are a man or woman, rich or poor, educated or not.

He did it in a creative, sensitive, human, comprehensive way, that made us realise who we were and what we were capable of - the worst and the best.

He also forged a common language, shared values and perceptions with the rest of the world, so he got us in touch, not only with our identity, but with our basic humanity.

But he also gave us answers to things that were extremely difficult to cope with, like a sense of exile and alienation, of captivity and siege. These are abstractions, but we live them every day, and he translated his personal experience in ways that would make them more understandable to each and every one of us. He gave us the tools to deal with this sorrow.

You rarely find a poet that can bring out thousands of people to his poetry readings. His lyrics were set to music, people sang his poems, had them embroidered or used them as logos. It was not just because he had a deceptive simplicity in his work, but also because he never insulted people's intelligence, he never spoke down to them.

You could see him in earnest conversation with somebody down the street, with my younger daughter for example, paying attention to her as if this was the most important individual in the world.

He would engage in discussions and analysis and accept criticism from anybody, and at the same time he wrote with his own personal passion, but also with a collective passion that really captured how people felt.

On this earth there is that which deserves life and is worth living for,
On this earth is the woman of the land,
The mother of beginnings and the mother of endings,
She used to be called Palestine, she is still called Palestine,
My lady, because you are mine, I deserve life.
Final verse, by Mahmoud Darwish, as translated by Hanan Ashrawi
But I think basically he was intensely alone. He was a lonely man who was always surrounded by people. He was always speaking to thousands, but he was a very unobtrusive person. He was personal, very private, very quiet, very human and with a remarkable sense of humour.

He ended his life as a sad person, because he felt that what the Palestinians had done to themselves was much worse than all the injustices and pain they had suffered at the hands of others.

He was very realistic about who were are, but he still felt that there was some sort of purity and integrity in being a Palestinian; the justice of the cause itself, the humanity, were a source of strength.

Now he felt it was tainted by the confrontations, the divisions, the extreme polarisation, the ideological commitments that reduced Palestinian reality to a very cheap power struggle.

He was an advocate of freedom after all. He was an advocate of fresh air and sunshine and to see Palestinians not just killing each other, but also turning away from the sunshine, turning away from their basic goals of freedom, of human dignity, made him feel we were hurtling into the abyss, the darkness - this is what he couldn't take.

Mahmoud Darwish is due to be buried on Wednesday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Palestinian 'national poet' dies
09 Aug 08 |  Middle East
Palestinian poet derides factions
16 Jul 07 |  Middle East

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