"Like a Balcony": The Philosophical Text within the Poetic Metaphor

By Karaki, Balqis Al- | Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, Annual 2015 | Go to article overview

"Like a Balcony": The Philosophical Text within the Poetic Metaphor


Karaki, Balqis Al-, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics


"Like a house's balcony, I overlook whatever I desire." At first glance, this line by the late Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish may not seem to bear multiple or complex meanings. A daring attempt at interpretation, however, can show that this simple metaphor is capable of bearing and provoking various philosophical ideas. To achieve this end, the interpretation invites the ideas of several theorists of metaphor and imagery, including Bachelard, Derrida, Heidegger, Ricoeur, Nietzsche, and Deleuze, in approaching Darwish.

I. Justifying the Imposition

"Metaphor is less in the philosophical text ... than the philosophical text within metaphor" (Derrida 258). This bold, intriguing statement by Derrida may be valid if we keep in mind that for a philosophical text to exist within a metaphor, a certain type of reading experience is required in order to find or create the philosophical text. The subject of this article is Mahmud Darwish's poem "'Ara shabahi qadiman min ba'id' (I see my ghost coming from afar) (Limadha 11-15), which is widely referred to by its first line: "'Utillu ka shurfati baytin 'ala ma 'uricT (Like a house's balcony, I overlook whatever I desire). (1) Among the desirable things the subject of the poem looks out on are: his friends holding the evening mail, a seagull, troop trucks, a neighbor's dog, the name of the Arab poet al-Mutanabbi, a Persian flower, trees, wind, ancient prophets, his image, words in the Arabic dictionary, the Persians, the Romans, the Sumerians, the new refugees, a crushed necklace of one of Tagore's poor women, a hoopoe, the supernatural world, his language, his frightened body, and, finally, his "ghost coming from afar." The poem is quite popular among those interested in Arabic poetry, yet such admiration may have nothing to do with potential philosophical dimensions that can be uncovered in an analytic reading.

Darwish published this poem in 1995, and read it numerous times across the world until his death in 2008. Several YouTube videos of Darwish reciting the poem are available, with a total view count of approximately 35,000. In the middle of this performance, Darwish received a loud applause as he read:

   I overlook the procession of the ancient prophets
   As they climb barefoot to Jerusalem
   And I ask: Is there a new prophet
   For this new time? (13)

One can easily argue that the reason for this applause is simply the political context. This may be true, but one must keep in mind that no other Palestinian poet, no matter how politically oriented his poems are, has received similar appreciation for his poetry. Thus there must be something in Darwish's poetry--something besides the political element--that draws this attention. As regards this poem, one can endlessly go looking for aesthetic reasons to justify this appreciation. One can claim, for example, that the poem's music is behind its "beauty"; that the poem is appreciated because some of its images are novel and unfamiliar; or that it is able to move the audience because it touches upon some common human concerns. These and other reasons which can be drawn from the wide literature of literary criticism may be correct in part, but may also be "fantastic creations" as well: "... where one did not know how to explain one learned to create," Nietzsche reminds us (Daybreak 27). And as it is probably impossible to come up with a prescription for writing a poem that will be appreciated with such a degree of "subjective universality" (to use Kant's terms) or "transsubjectivity" (to use Bachelard's), the real, complete set of reasons and causes behind this appreciation will remain inaccessible, or at least very difficult to put together accurately without serious reduction.

As in other artistic performances, no one among the members of the audience seems to have brought a pen and paper to Darwish's recital. This is because no one is there to interpret the poem, or to attend a lesson in philosophy or a lecture in politics. …

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