The Prison Cell

By Mahmoud Darwish

We were saddened to hear about the death of Mahmoud Darwish, considered the national poet of the Palestinians, who died on Aug. 9, 2008, from complications after open-heart surgery. He was 67. This reprinted poem, translated by Ben Bennani, and article are in honor of Darwish’s life and contributions to humanity.
— The Editors

The Prison Cell

It is possible…
It is possible at least sometimes…
It is possible especially now
To ride a horse
Inside a prison cell
And run away…

It is possible for prison walls
To disappear,
For the cell to become a distant land
Without frontiers:

What did you do with the walls?
I gave them back to the rocks.
And what did you do with the ceiling?
I turned it into a saddle.
And your chain?
I turned it into a pencil.

The prison guard got angry.
He put an end to the dialogue.
He said he didn’t care for poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

He came back to see me
In the morning.
He shouted at me:

Where did all this water come from?
I brought it from the Nile.
And the trees?
From the orchards of Damascus.
And the music?
From my heartbeat.

The prison guard got mad.
He put an end to my dialogue.
He said he didn’t like my poetry,
And bolted the door of my cell.

But he returned in the evening:

Where did this moon come from?
From the nights of Baghdad.
And the wine?
From the vineyards of Algiers.
And this freedom?
From the chain you tied me with last night.

The prison guard grew so sad…
He begged me to give him back
His freedom.

— Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008)

Translated by Ben Bennani