Folk Literature in Maḥmūd Darwīš’s Poetry
in La rivista di Arablit, a. XII, n. 24, dicembre 2022, pp. 7-22.
Maḥmūd Darwīš (1941-2008) used various folkloristic elements in his poetic oeuvre: proverbs, songs and sayings. The present article will strive to explain the significance of this use of folklore by Darwīš, the extent to which he used it, and the stages in his poetic career in which he used it. In order to answer such questions, we use a diachronic perspective of Darwīš’s poetry, on the one hand, and analyze the artistic and ideological significance of his use of folk literature, on the other.
Our study found that Darwīš’s use of the three afore-mentioned forms of folk literature was most prominent during the first stage of his poetic career, which lasted from 1960, the year in which he published his first poetry collection, ʿAṣāfīr bi-lā aǧniḥah (Wingless Birds), until 1970, the year in which he left the country. His poetry during that period was characterized by direct rhetoric and direct expression of the people’s concerns. His use of folklore during that period thus made artistic sense, and gave realism to the contents of his works.
Folk literature belongs to the type considered “non-canonical”, that is, it is a literature that lacks the “legitimacy” of official or “canonical” literature1. The latter’s canonicity, in Arabic, derives from the fact that it is written in the standard language, the language of the Quran. Folk literature, on the other hand, has usually been dismissed because it is not couched in the language of the Quran, and therefore lacks sanctity.
However, a realistic view of language forces us to recognize that it consists of several levels. No language is completely uniform. Rather, there are numerous levels, whose nature depends first and foremost on the sender and the receiver, as well as on the language’s discursive mechanisms and its many functions, one of which is intercommunication among its speakers (Sabīlā, al-ʿAlī 1998: 50-55). Furthermore, according to de Saussure there is a clear difference between the relatively stable written language and the dynamic spoken language (Murtāḍ 1994: 13). In fact, what characterizes Arabic is not levels of linguistic usage but a state of diglossia (al-Ḫūlī 1986: 17-26).
1See: Snir 1998: 90-911, 107; Cachia 1967: 13, 21; Ṣīmāḥ 1995: 81; Moreh 1976: 285-286; Khoury 2006b: 114-120; Badīr 1986: 15-18.