art of resistance, Israel, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Palestine

Rashid Hussein: The tortured soul and a poet star of Palestine.

Rashid Hussein (1936-1977) was born in Musmus, Palestine. He published his first collection in 1957 and established himself as a major Palestinian poet and orator. He was the first celebrity poet to appear on Arab – Israeli stage, Darwish called him „the star“, he showed them it was possible to write about „human things“ – bread, hunger, anger.


Hussein was a tortured soul, he wanted to be accepeted by the Israeli Jewish society, he wanted to connect the Palestinians and Israelis. But that wasn’t easy.

His song The locked door was dedicated “to my Jewish friend who asked me – why don’t you describe the Negev and kibbutz and moshav in your poetry?”

You tell me to describe the beauty of the kibbutz and moshav

And the Negev and the Yarkon that drapes its sands as a gown.

But you have forgotten, my brother, that you have locked me out.

Do you want me to be a lying clown?

You’ve locked me out.

Hussein was dedicated to the Palestinian cause, he wanted his Israeli friends(and all the other people) to understand what it meant to be and live as a Palestinian without Palestine.

Without a Passport

I was born without a passport
I grew up
and saw my country
become prisons
without a passport

So I raised a country
a sun
and wheat
in every house
I tended to the trees therein
I learned how to write poetry
to make the people of my village happy
without a passport

I learned that he whose land is stolen
does not like the rain
If he were ever to return to it, he will
without a passport

But I am tired of minds 
that have become hotels 
for wishes that never give birth
except with a passport

Without a passport
I came to you
and revolted against you
so slaughter me
perhaps I will then feel that I am dying
without a passport

Hussein married a Jewish woman and went on to live in New York. He started to drink a lot, his life was in ruins. He tried to change the minds of his Israeli friends, but it seemed like there were forces in Israel which fear the Arab friend more than the Arab terrorist. Hussein tried to make sense of his life far away from home, he kept on spending the money and drinking.


„It seems telling that almost everyone who writes or talks about Rashid mentions food and drink, and in particular his almost desperate need to shower with edibles all those he loved“ , writes Adina Hoffman in her book My Happiness Bears No Relation to HappinessA Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century (biography of another great Palestinian poet, Taha Muhammad Ali). She also writes:

„He seems to have possessed an uncanny gift for making each of those around him feel his confidant in an instant, as many of his friends were also driven by the need to try and protect him – most pressingly, from himself.“

And really, he was so vulnerable, and his young life (41) ended in vain. His friend, I.F. Stone, said Rashid died of the disease called “homelessness.”  Mahmoud Darwish dedicated his poem On Fifth Avenue he greeted me to Rashid Hussein, and I think that one is a great way to end this post. I’ve also decided to put in black and white  photos of Palestine, it just seemed right (photos ©Occupied Palestine).

On Fifth Avenue he greeted me (For Rashid Hussein)

On Fifth Avenue he greeted me.

He leaned against a wall of glass.

There are no willows in New York.

He brought tears to my eyes,

He gave the river back its waters,

We drank coffee,

And parted seconds after.


For twenty years

I’ve known him to be forty

Tall as a coastal song

He came to us a blade of wine

And left, a prayer’s end.

He flung out poems

At Christo’s Restaurant

And all of Acre would rise from sleep

To walk upon the sea.


 He had roses. He had chains.

Nothing hurt him behind barbed wires

But his mighty wound.

Lovers would pass and promise meetings,

There were seacoasts that we lifted,

There were wild grapes that we tasted,

There were blue herbs that cried out

And we mingled in their cry.


We tore all songs apart,

We were torn apart by gazes

From dark eyes.

We fought and were killed.

While the knights came and went.


In every void

We saw the singer’s silence

Blue to the point of vanishing.

For twenty years

He has been throwing his flesh

In all directions

To the fowl and fish.


The son of two peasants

From a limb of Palestine,

Southern and pious,

He was big of feet

And pale of voice.

Brown to the point of familiarity,

He was poor as any butterfly.


He could see further

Than prison gates

He could see closer

Than studies on Art

He could see us,

See our refugee cards.


Simple, in cafes and in language

He liked the flute, and beer

The prose of meadows

The poetry of wheat.


 He visited his family Saturdays

To rest from the terrible, divine ink

And the police’s questioning.

He only published

Two slim books of his early poems

And gave us all the rest.


… Pale as the sun in New York,

From where will the heart pass,

Is there room, in this asphalt wood,

For the feathers of a dove?

My mailbox is empty

And dawn here does not sting

Nor any star burn in this crowding.


My evenings are narrow.

The body of my love is paper

No one wraps around my evenings,

Wishing to be river and cloud.

From where will the heart pass,

Who will pick up the dream

Fallen outside the bank and opera house?

A cascade of pins

Drowns my ancient desires.


 I no longer dream

I desire to desire

No. This is not my time.

Give me my limbs to embrace

And my winds to go forth.


From cafe to cafe

I want the other language

I want the difference

Between fire and memory.

Give me my limbs to embrace

And my winds to go forth.


Why do poems evade me when I’m far from Jaffa?

Why does Jaffa vanish when I touch her with my hand?

No, this is not my time.

Murals against the backdrop of the Jabalia refugee camp in Palestine. 24/09/2010

 He disappeared down Fifth Avenue

Or a Northern Pole

And all I remember of his eyes

Were cities that come and go.

He vanished.


We met again in a year

At the airport in Cairo

He said

If only I were free

In the prison cells of Nazareth.


He slept a week,

He woke two days.

He drank nothing of the coffee

But its colour.


We retraced our past steps,

The land that crawls in our blood like insects,

The death of friends,

Those who shared our days,

Then scattered.

They did not love us as we wished them to.

They did not love us, but they knew us.


He would rave when he woke

And wake when he wept.

Life has passed me by

And I’ve lost the essence of it all.

He disappeared with a sunset

Over the deep Nile

And I prepared a eulogy for him,

A funeral of palm.


My continuous suicide,

Can’t we start again from any parting,

Can’t you glow like the plants of Galilee

Or flame like a murdered man?

He disappeared.

crw5789cigszc1 On Fifth Avenue he greeted me.

He leaned against a fountain of cement.

There are no willows in New York.

Has anyone of us died? No.

Have you changed? No.

Is the journey still the journey

With the harbour in the heart?


He was so far

That he vanished like a deer

In a lake of fog.


He did not know or ask the time

Nor was he moved by those upright trees

Beneath his tenth floor window

In Manhattan

He only listened to the secret ringing

Of his bell

And saw another winter come.


Are we to remain like this,

Moving to the outside

In this orange day

Only to touch

The dark and vague inside?


I carry the earth’s weight

Girls have taken of my soul and gone.

Birds have nested in my voice,

Then have broken me and flown.

And the singing has dispersed me,

And misplaced me.


No, this is not my time.

No, this is not my flesh.

Translated by Rana Kabbani


14 thoughts on “Rashid Hussein: The tortured soul and a poet star of Palestine.

  1. Michael Beckerman says:

    In 1960 my father received a Fulbright to teach in Tel Aviv. My brother and I, 11 and 9 were along, as was my mother. After driving around Europe we took the S.S. Herzl to Haifa. On the boat my parents met Rashid and they became fast friends. Many weekends Rashid took my parents to visit Arab villages so they could see “the other side” of the Israeli experience. I’ve never forgotten him–I just have some cameo memories–but he was an extraordinary man, and made a real difference in the lives of my parents and in my life as well.

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience, it means a lot. Recently I received an e-mail by one of Rashid’s old friends and he said a similar thing – Rashid was a man of great talents, and nice and kind to many. He stays remembered and alive among people, in their memories and through his works.

      • Michael Beckerman says:

        I wish I had been older so I could have understood more. But it seems that meeting Rashid was a profound thing for my parents. Does he have any family still alive?

  2. I am the son of filmmaker Lionel Rogosin who made a film with Rachid and Amos Kennan in 1973. I am finishing a film on this film and am looking for photos with Rachid as a young poet in Israel. I would like to get the pictures you put up and need some more. Can you help? Do you have any leads? There is a portrait of Rachid in my film and a song set to one of his poems. He was very close to my father and the family. Many thanks Michael Rogosin
    link to our website

    • Hi Michael, nice to hear from you.
      Concerning the photos – these are from the book The World of Rashid Hussein by Kamal Boullata, published in 1979. I think you would need to look there for more photos and contact the publishers. I think there should be no problems with that, since your efforts are noble and in line with Rashid Hussein’s legacy. Unfortunately, that is all I can tell you/help you with. Looking forward to seeing the film when it’s finished. If there is something else I could help with, let me know. All the best, Ivana.

  3. Pingback: “. . . hear my child’s approaching footsteps at the threshold of your soul? . . . ” (Rashid Hussein) | Palestine InSight

  4. Pingback: “. . . For I had no address. I am a man in transit . . .” (Rashid Hussein) – Palestine InSight

  5. Pingback: “. . . I had no address. I am a man in transit . . .” (Rashid Hussein) – Palestine InSight

  6. Pingback: “. . . I stood silenced For I had no address . . .” (Rashid Hussein) – Palestine InSight

  7. Pingback: “. . . I am all that remains of our earth . . .” (Rashid Hussein) – Palestine InSight

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s