Fadwa Tuqan became the Grand Dame of Palestinian letters, and was also known as ‘The Poet of Palestine.’ She is considered to be one of the very best contemporary Arab poets.
I always used to attend the annual poetry festival held in Baghdad for many years when Saddam Hussein was in Power.
I met Professor Jabra Ibrahim Jabra the head of the Department of Literature at Baghdad University and we became very good friends. He was a Palestinian. He taught me a great deal about the Poetry of the Arabs which helped me compose my anthology of Arabic poetry ‘Feathers and the Horizon.’
He agreed that poetry transcends racial, religious and political differences bringing people together in harmony.
He gave me poems by Fadwa Tuqan whose poetry he admired, for my anthology. He also told me a great deal about her life. He told me she was very critical of the British for the creation of the State of Israel in Palestine and for the Divide and Rule policy in India. Also that she greatly admired the poetry of Pakistani poets including Meer Taqi Meer.
Fadwa was the sister of the poet Ibrahim Tuqan and was born in Nablus in 1917- one hundred years ago. She began writing in traditional forms, but soon became a pioneer of Arabic free verse poetry. Her work often deals with feminine explorations of love and social protest.
After the Nakba ‘Catastrophe’ of 1948, she began to write about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.
After the Six Day War of 1967, she also began writing patriotic poems. Her autobiography ‘Difficult Journey―Mountainous Journey’ was translated into English in 1990.
Fadwa received the International Poetry Award, the Jerusalem Award for Culture and Arts and the United Arab Emirates Award, the in 1990. She also received the Honorary Palestine prize for poetry in 1996. She was the subject of a documentary film directed by novelist Liana Bader in 1999.
Fadwa died on 12 December 2003 during the height of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, while her hometown of Nablus was under siege.
The poem ‘Wahsha: Moustalhama min Qanoon al Jathibiya (‘Longing: Inspired by the Law of Gravity’) was one of the last poems she penned, while largely bedridden.
Fadwa is widely considered to be a symbol of the Palestinian cause and is indeed considered by many to be one of the most distinguished figures of modern Arabic literature.
In his obituary for The Guardian, Lawrence Joffe wrote: ‘The Palestinian poet – Fadwa Tuqan, who has died aged 86, forcefully expressed a nation’s sense of loss and defiance’.
Moshe Dayan, the Israeli General at the time, likened reading one of Fadwa’s poems to facing 20 enemy commandos.
Yet the true power of her words derived not from warlike imagery, but from their affirmation of Palestinian identity and the constant dream of return.
I particularly admire her Poem, ‘Existence’ translated by Michael R Burch reproduced here.
In solitary life, I was a lost question;
In the encompassing darkness,
my answer was concealed.
You were a bright new star
radiating light from the darkness of the unknown,
revealed by fate.
The other stars rotated around you
—once, twice —
until it came to me,
your unique radiance.
Then the bleak blackness broke
And in the matching tremors
of our two hands
I found my missing answer.
Oh you! Oh you intimate, yet distant!
Don’t you remember the coalescence
Of your spirit in flames?
Of my universe with yours?
Of the two poets?
Despite our great distance,
Existence unites us – Existence!