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The poem “Identity Card” is written by Mahmoud Darwish. He is an Arabic poet and the original title of the poem is “Bitaqat Huwiyya”. The poem was first published in his poetry collection “Leaves of Olive” in 1964. In Arabic, the name of the collection is “Awraq Al-Zaytun”. The poem talks about the identity of the seemingly identity-less people of Palestine. The poem talks about the IDPs, i.e. the Internally Displaced Persons of Palestine under the regime of Israel. The poem explores the emotions like anger, frustration and helplessness felt by the people who are reduced to Cards as their only proof of identity.
About the poet
Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1941 in Al-Birwa. He was a celebrated Palestinian poet and author of numerous poetry collections and books. He was regarded as the national poet of the country. He was awarded the Lotus Prize for Literature in 1969 and the Al Owais Award in the early 2000, among many others. The recurring theme of his poems was the political and social upheaval suffered by Palestine. He regarded Palestine as the Garden of Eden as well as a symbol for loss and rebirth. Some of his most notable works were “Passport”, “Under Siege” and “A Lover From Palestine”.
The poem is written in free-verse. It is a form of dramatic monologue, where the speaker expresses his or her innermost thoughts to an implied listener. The poem is written in 63 lines. These lines are divided into 6 stanzas, each varying in length.
Put it on record. I am an Arab And the number of my card is fifty thousand I have eight children And the ninth is due after summer. What's there to be angry about?
In these initial lines the speaker boldly proclaims his Arab identity. He tells the listener, an Israeli official, to put on record what he says. He cites his card number as fifty thousand. He shares that in his family he has eight children, with the expectation of the ninth child after summer. The speaker questions the reason behind the listener being angry about these facts. He portrays a tone of pride and resilience in both his identity and family. He is proud of his Arab identity and his family.
In this stanza, the poet asserts his Arab identity with boldness. He addresses an Israeli official, urging them to record his declaration. He declares his card number as fifty thousand. He does this to emphasize how despite the authority’s efforts to dehumanize him and his people by assigning numbers to them, he is bold enough to assert the individuality of his identity. The poet also mentions his eight children, with the anticipation of a ninth. He does this not only to give a familial detail but also as a testament to the poet’s connection to his heritage. In the last line the poet questions the listener about his anger. This is done to highlight the layer of defiance, challenging any negative reactions to his proud declaration.
Put it on record. I am an Arab Working with comrades of toil in a quarry. I have eight children For them I wrest the loaf of bread, The clothes and exercise books From the rocks And beg for no alms at your door, Lower not myself at your doorstep. What's there to be angry about?
In these lines the speaker, an Arab, continues to assert his identity and work. He declares himself as someone laboring alongside comrades in a quarry. With pride, he again mentions having eight children and describes that he takes all the effort to provide for them. He works hard to provide them with food, clothes and education. He emphasizes his pride at his self-sufficiency by stating that he does not beg for alms at the listener’s door. He refuses to lower himself at their doorstep. He repeats the question again about what there is to be angry about. This conveys a sense of resilience and an open challenge to any potential judgment or hostility from the listener.
In this stanza, the poet continues to assert his Arab identity and pride in his work. He proudly declares himself as someone engaged in labor alongside his comrades in a quarry, portraying a sense of solidarity and shared efforts. He again mentions having eight children to reflect not only familial responsibility but also the efforts he puts into providing for them. He uses the metaphor of wrestling for the necessities like bread, clothes, and exercise books from the rocks to signify the challenging nature of his work and the determination to secure the essentials for his family. He refuses to beg for alms at the listener’s door to highlight his pride in his dignity and self-sufficiency. The repetition of the question at the end regarding what there is to be angry about reinforces a sense of resilience and an open challenge to any potential judgment or hostility from the listener.
Put it on record. I am an Arab. I am a name without a title, Patient in a country where everything Lives in a whirlpool of anger. My roots Took hold before the birth of time Before the burgeoning of the ages, Before cypress and olive trees, Before the proliferation of weeds. My father is from the family of the plough Not from highborn nobles. And my grandfather was a peasant Without line or genealogy. My house is a watchman's hut Made of sticks and reeds. Does my status satisfy you? I am a name without a surname.
In these lines the speaker portrays himself as a name without a title. He expresses patience in a country characterized by pervasive anger. The speaker traces his roots back to a time before the birth of time itself, emphasizing a profound connection to history. He describes his family background as humble, with his father from the family of the plough, not nobility, and his grandfather being a peasant without a distinguished lineage. The dwelling is depicted as a modest watchman’s hut made of sticks and reeds. The speaker challenges any preconceived notions about his status, emphasizing being a name without a surname.
In this stanza, the poet proudly says he’s an Arab with no fancy title. He talks about being patient in a country where everyone seems angry. He claims his roots go way back before time began, showing a strong connection to history. His family background is simple – his dad and grandfather were just regular people, not highborn. He describes his home as a simple hut made of sticks and reeds, and he challenges any ideas people might have about him, saying he’s just a name without a last name. These lines tell a story of the poet embracing his Arab identity, valuing simplicity, and standing against expectations from others.
Put it on record. I am an Arab. Colour of hair: jet black. Colour of eyes: brown. My distinguishing features: On my head the `iqal cords over a keffiyeh Scratching him who touches it. My address: I'm from a village, remote, forgotten, Its streets without name And all its men in the fields and quarry. What's there to be angry about?
In these lines, the speaker, expressing his Arab identity again, talks about his physical characteristics. He says that he has jet black hair and brown eyes. His distinctive feature is the `iqal cords over a keffiyeh’, a traditional Arab headdress over his head. He warns the listener that the headdress can scratch anyone who touches it. The speaker states his address is in a remote and forgotten village with unnamed streets, where the majority of the people work in the fields and quarry. Again, he ends the stanza by repeating the question about what there is to be angry about to convey the sense of resilience and challenges any potential negativity regarding his identity and background.
The poet emphasizes his Arab identity in this stanza by detailing physical features like jet black hair and brown eyes. He mentions his traditional Arab headdress, `iqal cords over a keffiyeh’, as a distinctive element that makes him stand apart and gives him his individuality as a Palestinian. He cautions that his headdress can be scratchy to touch which highlights the sense of protectiveness over his cultural symbols. The poet then provides a glimpse into his origin. He says that he comes from a remote and forgotten village with unnamed streets, where people engage in labor in the fields and quarry. This portrayal adds a layer of simplicity and rural life to his identity. The repetition of the question regarding what there is to be angry about again highlights a sense of resilience over his cultural and familial background.
Put it on record. I am an Arab. You stole my forefathers' vineyards And land I used to till, I and all my children, And you left us and all my grandchildren Nothing but these rocks. Will your government be taking them too As is being said?
The speaker repeats his declaration of recording what he is saying. He asserts his identity as an Arab and accuses the listener of stealing his ancestors’ vineyards and the land he once cultivated with his children. All that remains for him and the coming generation of his grandchildren and even their children are rocks and nothing else. The speaker questions whether the government will also take away these rocks. He has heard rumors that the government will take everything from them and leave them with nothing at all. He expresses a deep sense of loss and concern about the ongoing dispossession of land.
In these lines, the poet repeats the act of putting words on record, emphasizing the gravity of his words. The poet strongly asserts his Arab identity and accuses the authority of stealing ancestral vineyards and cultivated land from him and his forefathers. They have reduced it to rocks. He talks about how his grandchildren and their own children will only inherit rocks and nothing else. This vivid imagery symbolizes the profound loss of heritage and livelihood. The repetition of the question about how the government will take away the mere rocks as well adds an element of fear and uncertainty. The poet effectively uses these elements to convey the themes of identity, displacement, and the impact of political actions on individuals.
So! Put it on record at the top of page one: I don't hate people, I trespass on no one's property. And yet, if I were to become hungry I shall eat the flesh of my usurper. Beware, beware of my hunger And of my anger!
In the concluding lines, the speaker boldly declares that the listener should put on record that he has no hatred towards any people and doesn’t trespass on anyone’s property. He is peaceful and does not bother anyone. However, he issues a stark warning that if hunger were to drive him, he would consume even the flesh of his usurper. The speaker warns the authorities to beware of his hunger and anger.
In the final lines, the poet says he doesn’t hate people and doesn’t bother anyone. However, he warns that if he gets hungry, he might eat the person who took everything from him. This warning reflects a mix of wanting peace but also feeling desperate and angry due to the loss of his belongings. The mention of eating the usurper’s flesh is a strong way to express the consequences of oppression. This is a reference to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. However, it’s important to note that the poet’s lines can be interpreted as a reversal or a response to the rhetoric of aggressors. While Hitler’s ideology promoted hatred and violence, the poet, in contrast, asserts that his actions would only be driven by hunger and survival.