Mahmoud Darwish, whose poetry encapsulated the Palestinian cause, is to get the equivalent of a state funeral in the West Bank following his death this weekend – an honour only previously accorded to the PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Tributes for Darwish poured in yesterday, a day after he died, at the age of 67, from complications following heart surgery in a hospital in Houston, Texas.
"He translated the pain of the Palestinians in a magical way," said Egypt's vernacular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm. "He made us cry and made us happy and shook our emotions. Apart from being the poet of the Palestinian wound, which is hurting all Arabs and all honest people in the world, he is a master poet."
Darwish's funeral in Ramallah tomorrow will be the first sponsored by the Palestinian Authority since Arafat died in 2004. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of national mourning. People gathered on Saturday night in the darkened streets of Ramallah, holding candles and weeping.
The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, said his country shared Palestinian admiration for "this great figure whose poetry, which reflects nostalgia and liberty, speaks to us all".
"Mahmoud Darwish knew how to express the attachment of an entire people to its land and the absolute desire for peace. His message, which calls for coexistence, will continue to resonate and will eventually be heard," Mr Kouchner said.
The poet had made his home in the West Bank city since returning in the 1990s from a long exile during which he rose to prominence in Arafat's PLO.
"The Palestinian question, in Mahmoud Darwish's poetry, was no longer a legend, but the story of people made of flesh, blood and feelings," said Zehi Wahbi, a friend of Darwish and a Lebanese television presenter and poet.
For the Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa, Darwish was "the voice of Palestinian civilisation, with its pains, sadness and ambitions".
Widely seen as the Palestinian national poet, Darwish's writing was much translated. He won new generations of admirers with work that evoked not just the pain of Palestinians displaced, as he was as a child, by the foundation of Israel 60 years ago, but also subtle paradoxes and broader human themes.
In 2000, Israel's Education Minister, Yossi Sarid, suggested the inclusion of some of Darwish's poems in the Israeli high school curriculum. But the prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, overruled him, saying Israel was not ready yet for his ideas to be included in the school system.
Darwish enjoyed a following across the Arab world, where he had the kind of readership contemporary poets in English and other European languages, can only dream of. "He turned the Palestinian cause into songs that transcended the cause and all other Arab issues," said Abdel-Rahman al-Abnoudi, a prominent Egyptian poet and a friend of Darwish. He gave voice to Palestinians' dreams of statehood, helping to craft their 1988 declaration of independence. He penned the words Arafat spoke at the United Nations in 1974: "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
Darwish in his own words
From "Identity Card"
I am an Arab
I have a name without a title
Patient in a country
Where people are enraged
Were entrenched before the birth of time
And before the opening of the eras
From "A State of Siege"
The soldiers measure the space between being and nothingness with field-glasses behind a tank's armoury
We measure the space between our bodies and the coming rockets with our sixth sense alone
From "My Mother"
I long for my mother's bread
My mother's coffee
Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day
I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother.
From "A lover from palestine"
Her words and silence Palestinian
Her voice Palestinian
Her birth and her death Palestinian