“State of siege” by Mahmoud Darwish

This article is also available in: Italiano

“State of siege” is probably the best collection of poems by Mahmoud Darwish, able to show many of the themes dear to the great author without giving up a strong topicality

State of siege

State of Siege (Hàlat Hisàr) is a ‘text’, as the author himself defined it, drawn up in Ramallah in January 2002, in the weeks when the city was besieged by the Israeli troops of General Ariel Sharon.
Mahmud Darwish, who lived in Ramallah, therefore found himself in the hala, that is, in the ‘condition’ of being besieged. With this ‘text’ the Palestinian poet does not just want to describe the state of siege, he wants instead and above all to give substance to the words to express the hala when we find ourselves under siege.


The ‘state of the siege’ in Darwish’s verses goes beyond the condition of life in which the concrete multitudes of which the poet is the spokesman are found, expressing their feelings and thoughts. The result is that the ‘text’ is made up of fragments that sometimes resonate like ancient aphorisms, often laments of loneliness, all with the thought of death at the bottom which also runs through the entire work of Darwish. They are the object of reflection: poetry in its making, history, the ‘place’, that is the space of thought, the strength that is impressed in the affirmation of one’s identity.

Darwish’s masterpiece

“State of siege” is one of the rarest and most valuable collections of poetry by Mahmoud Darwish, so extraordinary that it is enchanted by every single verse. The great Palestinian poet will lead us to fully experience the condition of being besieged, nourishing it with compositions of the highest taste and refinement. This condition, however, is only the starting point for a journey that will touch on many of the hot topics in Darwish, including the condition of exile, love, peace and Palestine.


Forced at home, in fact, the great author will be able to give free rein to his feelings, allowing us to explore a status of pure poetic inspiration, something like an illumination, able to envelop every aspect of the world; something very similar to a mystical ecstasy that, thanks to Darwish’s pen, allows the reader to touch the sky.

Siege as a state of mind

Although the two experiences are abysmally different, it is impossible not to read a parallel between that siege and the very complicated moment we are facing due to Covid, both of which originate from a curfew. Of course, it is very different to be besieged by an occupying army and to be at peace with a pandemic, but the condition of “having to pass the time” is something common to both experiences and one of the main sources for the fantasy of the author.


In fact, in several points it is evident how Darwish’s reflections start from a simple observation of what is around him, leaving the mind free to wander in this silence and forced rest. Precisely for this minimal but significant parallelism, “State of siege” becomes a book more current than ever, able not only to make us experience the most extraordinary poetry, but also to offer us elements to escape “our siege”, a theme more than never fundamental and inevitably destined to become the symbol of these years.

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