Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Yeats's Ireland, Darwish's Palestine: The National in the Personal, Mystical, and Mythological

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Yeats's Ireland, Darwish's Palestine: The National in the Personal, Mystical, and Mythological

Article excerpt

'The search for authenticity, for a more congenial national origin than that provided by colonial history, for a new pantheon of heroes and (occasionally) heroines, myths, and religions-these too are made possible by a sense of the land reappropriated by its people"

(Said, 1994:273).

When the tree, the sky, the river, the goddess and her garden, dancing faeries, the ant, and its ant food all coalesce and become the homeland, we realize that we are in the presence of an art that endows the poem with the power not only to challenge but also to create a new reality. It can be said that William Butler Yeats and Mahmoud Darwish forged for their peoples unique national traditions, which they hoped would create their Ireland and Palestine, respectively, against opposing hostile forces of erasure. The seeming hopelessness of their peoples' predicaments and histories have inspired these poets to demand of their poetry the ability to offer something beyond the feebleness and insincerity of this world, something inspirational, irrational, and imaginative, which would create a reality of extremity, challenge, and an unearthly defiance.

This article will attempt to show how Yeats and Darwish used the personal, mythological, and the occult to mobilize people around a national heritage and the creation of a homeland, and not, as many believe, to escape into abstract and mystical worlds of unreality. Both poets attempted to penetrate to the deepest levels of the human psyche through mysticism, history, and myth to be able to speak to the collective mind of their peoples, to unite them around the idea of a nation.

As Marjorie Howes (1996) argues in Yeats s Nations, Yeats was interested in "the permeability of individual minds, their access to one another and to some larger entity" (85) and the use of symbols and ritual, which are elements of the occult, to penetrate the "unconscious 'depths of the mind,'" (ibid) in the way a hypnotist would in order to be able to guide the people towards Irish national unity. Yeats, then, as Howes shows, would be the magician whose magic would greatly impact the thoughts and actions of his people. In this sense, Yeats's art, especially the Irish theater "was intended, not merely to express the Irish nation, but to help create it, to 'give Ireland a hardy and shapely national character'" (ibid). The idea is to be able to make possible what in the rational world of reality seems impossible. The irrational mind, which Yeats attempted to tap in his theatre, can be "immeasurably bold-all is possible to it" (Yeats quoted in Howes, 1996: 69).

This is precisely the effect that Darwish hoped to create in his audience, as I will argue, through the magical effects of his hypnotic poetic lines, especially those borne out of an intensely personal and close brush with death in his poem "Mural," published in the year 2000 after complicated heart surgery in 1999. Here Darwish (2003) has a long negotiation with death in which he enlists the help of "armies" that have defeated death, including "all the arts ... " (139) and Anat, the Canaanite goddess of fertility and war whom he implores "O Anat, my special Goddess, sing" (ibid: 135) to help him triumph over death, and as we shall see to help Palestine triumph over the forces of annihilation and erasure. It becomes obvious to the reader/listener that Darwish's "I" in this poem coalesces with the poet's name and the land and all become Palestine; he, Mahmoud, is the poem and Palestine. Darwish in the poem likens his condition as one who has a brush with death to that of the Palestinian when he says, "I find myself present in the fullness of absence," (ibid: 125), which is a play on the identity that the then newly established Israel bestowed upon Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes in 1948 (the absent-present status) and some who then returned as Darwish's own family did. Throughout the poem, Darwish is obsessed with documenting his experience: "Write to be. …

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