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In the Presence of Absence

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  2,886 ratings  ·  322 reviews
"Darwish is to be read with urgency, in the night, when nothing else moves but his lines." —The Village Voice

By one of the most transcendent poets of this generation, a remarkable collection of prose poems that explores themes of love, pain, isolation, and connection. In this self-eulogy written in the final years of Mahmoud Darwish's life, Palestine becomes a metaphor for
Paperback, 171 pages
Published November 29th 2011 by Archipelago Books (first published 2006)
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Average rating 4.33  · 
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Atri(on hiatus)
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
No matter how near you come, you will remain distant. No matter how often you are killed, you will live. So do not think that you are dead there, and alive here. Nothing proves this or that but metaphor. Metaphors that teach beings the play of words. Metaphors that form a geography from a shadow. Metaphors that will gather you and your name. So ascend with your people, higher and farther than what the myths have prepared for you and me. Write yourself, the history of your heart, from the moment ...more
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mahmoud-darwish
But words are beings: the game will bewitch you until you become part of it; you will spend your life defending the right of the game to lure you into the maze, to lure you into humour. You read and you do not understand what you read, and so you read more, enjoying the power of words to differ from the mundane. Words are waves. You learn to swim out of the tempting wave which covers you with foam. Words have the rhythm of the sea and the call of the mysterious: “ Come to me, to me in search of ...more
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Far away our dreams have nothing to do with what we do. The wind carries the night and goes on, and there is no destination.

The destination differs from one road to another. But many and rugged are the roads and life’s supplies are scarce.

Scarce are the songs.

Songs, we need only to listen closely to hear death apologizing to those it has tapped, and to steal a glance at the riches of prose.
Stars gaze down at us, my friend, like golden buttons shimmering on eternity’s coat. They gaze down
Dec 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-best
One must be careful when witnessing a self-elegy. Too sentimental or nostalgic and the piece becomes saccarine and cloying, even self indulgent. Too brusque or critical and it becomes an allegory to the reader, not self-elegy at all but the adoption of a perceived voice in the presence of obsequious self-consciousness, and unpleasant to read at all that. Darwish's In the Presence of Absence falls into neither of these camps but rather, navigating between whirlpools, strikes at a beautifully movi ...more
Manuel Alberto Vieira
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"[...] Stars gaze down at us, my friend, like golden buttons shimmering on eternity's coat. They gaze down at us from a distant death that has yet to reach us. As I recite my address to you, a star slips into my words and illuminates my darkness: Perhaps death is a metaphor to remind us of a secret life we failed to notice. So what is it?

What is it? Were we to know, our plans would have changed, for what we do not know exists and what we do know is limited and bound to change. Grass, stronger th
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Adults.
Recommended to Helen by: None.
This is a book of poetic prose and poetry written when the popular Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish knew there was nothing that could be done to save his life - he knew he would die of a heart ailment. The book is therefore almost his epitaph - a farewell - a summation of his life. It's truly powerful, filled with unexpected metaphor and insight.

A theme running through the book is the poet's years of wandering - since he was the child of Palestinian refugees. Darwish's poetry touches on universal them
Christopher Iacovetti
'When one letter is brought together with another, that is to say one absurdity with another, an obscure form reveals the clarity of a certain sound. This slow clarity opens a path for meaning to take the shape of an image. Three letters become a door or a house. Thus, lethargic letters, which carry no value when separate, build a house when they come together. What a game! What magic! The world is gradually born out of words' (p. 27)

‘You ask: What is the meaning of “refugee”? They will say: One
Whitney Blank
Aug 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
So far, I've not been let down by opening to a random page and reading whatever I find out loud. Beautiful!
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If possible I would put 5++++ stars for this book
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
For the best experience: play rain sounds, grab coffee, and don't rush through this book. This is the kind of prose that you want to enjoy over a long period of time. 4.5 stars tbh but I'll round it up.

An excerpt that I loved:
“The poison-tipped questions were shot at you: What will you write without exile? What will you write without the occupation? Exile is existence. The existing occupation is what hinders the efficacy of the imagination. I will write better. But why are such questions never p
Jun 18, 2019 marked it as to-read
Shelves: middle-east, poetry
Longing is the absent chatting with the absent. The distant turning toward the distant. Longing is the spring’s thirst for the jar-carrying women, and vice versa. Longing allows distance to recede, as if looking forward, although it may be called hope, were an adventure and a poetic notion. The present tense is hesitant and perplexed, the past tense hangs from a cypress tree standing on its rooted leg behind a hill, enveloped in its dark green, listening intently to one sound only: the sound of
Feb 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Longing is a scar inside the heart and a country’s fingerprint on the body. But no one longs for his wound, no one longs for pain or nightmare, but for what was before. For a time where there was no pain except of primary pleasures that melt time, like a sugar cube in a cup of tea, and for a time of heavenly images.”

May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I kept picking this up, reading a few pages, and then having to put it down because I was so overwhelmed with its beauty -- honestly I can't even quote a favorite section because there was something profoundly moving on nearly every single page. Darwish really is one of the most amazing writers I've ever read.
Dec 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A quietly, urgently beautiful self-elegy from an incredible Palestinian poet, including explorations of longing, home, migration, exile, return, life, death. Elicited such deep, deep feelings.
Literary Review The
Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In the Presence of Absence
Manu Samriti Chander

Translated by Sinan Antoon

(Brooklyn, NY: Archipelago Books, 2011)

In his sonnet “When I have fears that I may cease to be,” Keats laments the “cloudy symbols of a high romance” whose shadows he would never live to trace, the poems that he would never write. It’s an emotional sonnet, a poem of feeling. And yet Keats leaves us with the image of a solitary poet standing “on the shore / Of the wide world” thinking “Till Love and Fame”—those things he stan
It is the type of book that you would want to carry around with you everywhere. Opening a random page would still put you in utter awe at this brilliant translation of Mahmoud Darwish's farewell literary work to the language.

Not only is it well-written and thought-provoking, you would find yourself completely immersed in Darwish's struggle between being present when he is absent from his land.

"All your poetry is measured by the sea's cadence, yet you do not know the sea? The sea is a bed of aq
Sep 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Pleasant little book. A (auto)biography of a man who reminisces over intimate memories, details of mundane life, and his relationship with poetry and being a writer. We are transported through the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, experienced first by a child who has trouble understanding what is happening to him and the world around him; later by a refugee who longs for the smells of his birthplace once more and who struggles to put those experiences in writing from a place far away from home; and ...more
Feb 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I can say with confidence that this is one of the most beautiful works I've ever read. It's not poetry, yet it's not prose, either. Darwish writes beautifully, with wonderful images. It's the type of writing where, after reading a paragraph, or even a sentence, one must stop and just absorb its raw beauty. It also opened my eyes to an area of the world tangled in complexity, and this provides a view from someone deeply woven into this intricate fabric. It's truly unique and utterly wonderful.
Aug 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
A masterpiece of complex, sensitive and reflective prose and poetry translated from Arabic into English.
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It feels ridiculous to write a review for this book so this is more a record of how I felt reading it. I started it in my childhood bedroom and finished it in the city I moved to, in my lonely apartment. I can’t be sure of the faithfulness of the translation, but it read beautifully to me. The legacy of Arabic poetry still echoes through. At first sentences seemed too long and too verbose but when you read closely they feel vital. The theme of longing spoke to me most. The chapter on Gaza. The c ...more
Frank Ashe
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
part memoir, part poetry, part prose
an amalgam of all these and more
near death, the living and the dead selves talk, discussing life, love, and exile
jo ianni
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't say enough or more good things about this book. I am in love.
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I could read this over and over again! Lots of soul-shaking poetry about homeland, loss, absence, and dreams.
Arnoldo Garcia
Nov 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetas
Mahmoud Darwish is the poet of the human revolution. His poems and poetics will enter the human lexicon of scarred and sacred writing, earthly wisdom, worldly scripture, commonplace revelations and philosophy of the streets and shadows.

Displacement, otherization, privatization, militarization, war as the extension of neoliberalism (permanent waregfare), refugees, statelessness, national/transnational conglomerations and expropriations, being a stranger on your own the land, the copyrighting of i
Eric Steere
Jul 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, in this final collection before his death in 2008, provides urgent substance and reflection with his status as a "refugee poet" and his complex relationship with both writing and his homeland under occupation. The aptly titled In the Presence of Absence, a series of untitled self-elegies presented as untitled vignettes explore his person, his writing, and how writing both connects and severs him from place. Elusive, problematic, and explosive in translation. As ...more
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A superb translation, poetic and lovingly done. Darwish is excellent as always.
Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book of prose is absolutely magnificent! The depth and beauty of this mans words is earth shattering! And I love how each piece kind of flows into the next so much so its almost like the book is just this story that is both haunting and glorious.
World Literature Today
"In the Presence of Absence is an intimate autobiographical self-elegy, and as in much of Darwish’s earlier collections, the poetry here is rich with allusions to Arabic literature, history, culture, and art, especially as they interact with the Hebrew Bible, Christianity, pre-Islamic cultures, and colonialism." - Maimuna Dali Islam, College of Idaho

This book was reviewed in the November 2012 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full review by visiting our website:
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
a prose poem about exile, age, and death directed at what at times feels like a friend, a son, a lover, or the author himself. lots about palestine but also the places a refugee from that land might spend their exile, lots about enjoying life and happiness but also about dying.

quite beautiful throughout, but also very heavy.
Oct 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Beautiful prose, and the ending passages about returning from exile are especially effective. Still, I didn't connect with this book as I have with Darwish in the past; some too-surreal sentences & metaphors seemed to appear out of nowhere...probably the translation, but it was kind of jarring. ...more
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محمود درويش
Mahmoud Darwish was a respected Palestinian poet and author who won numerous awards for his literary output and was regarded as the Palestinian national poet. In his work, Palestine became a metaphor for the loss of Eden, birth and resurrection, and the anguish of dispossession and exile.

The Lotus Prize (1969; from the Union of Afro-Asian Writers)
Lenin Peace Prize (1983; from the USSR)

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“وتسأل: ما معنى كلمة وطن؟
سيقولون:هو البيت،وشجرة التوت ،وقن الدجاج،وقفير النحل،ورائحة الخبزو السماء الأولى.
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