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Theater of Famine - An Ode to the Soul
Arabic Treasures

Theater of Famine - An Ode to the Soul

Theater of Famine - An Ode to the Soul

Original art created for Ithraeyat by artist and calligrapher Hussain Said Alrushdi.

By Fatma Theyab and Hassan AlBather
August 13th, 2023

We journey towards a home not of our flesh. Its chestnut trees are not of our bones. 

Its rocks are not like goats in the mountain hymn. The pebbles' eyes are not lilies. 

We journey towards a home that does not halo our heads with a special sun. 

Mythical women applaud us. A sea for us, a sea against us. 

When water and wheat are not at hand, eat our love and drink our tears... 

There are mourning scarves for poets. A row of marble statues will lift our voice. -Mahmoud Darwish.

Pure sustenance, the quality of life – the food of which man was made to taste and savor – found its purpose in hunger and thrives on the whims of desire. The legendary poet Mahmoud Darwish starts his verse with the bereavement of seeking a refuge without the luck of finding one, and then moves to describe the pains of famine, saying: “When water and wheat are not at hand, eat our love and drink our tears…”.

Eating is carried out instinctively by animals, while man revels in its rituals. The first man wondered what to eat, and how to acquire it. What of this weakness that afflicts one when they are hungry and empty-handed and the great pleasure that possesses them when they finally have something to eat? 

Meanwhile modern man wonders: how does one starve? What is the meaning of eating? Can one find actual sustenance in swallowing love and tears? Is eating limited to food and drink? Darwish answers all of these questions with one line, saying that to abstain from eating is to unlock the whispers of the soul. 

This is the same soul that rebels when it suffers the cramps of hunger and the bitterness of forced patience until it finally finds what calms it down. Then if famine casts its horrifying shadow on its loved ones and the soul feels drained and powerless before it, it has no other option but to ingest love and imbibe salty tears. As the thirst in their veins will not be quenched by drinking shadows, they will not be satiated with mere wisps of meaning.

Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet who has won numerous literary awards, is considered one of the most important Arab poets of the past century and a greatly influential pioneer of contemporary Arabic poetry. In his poetry, Palestine becomes the map of the human soul. Darwish says, “I want to find a language that transforms language itself into steel for the spirit.”   


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