“I long for my mother's bread,

And my mother's coffee,

And her touch.

Childhood memories grow up in me

Day after day.

I must be worthy of my life

At the hour of my death

Worthy of the tears of my mother…”

‘Homage to Mahmoud Darwish’, by Mona Saudi. (1977) Left art piece and (1979) right print.From Ithra’s art collection.

The renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941 – 2008) wrote this heartfelt poem while in an Israeli jail more than 50 years ago. Called "Ummi" (My Mother), his choice of words like bread, coffee, touch, and childhood evoke powerful sentimental imagery, unforgettable scents, and nostalgic feelings in whoever reads it. Bread across cultures is respected, sometimes even holy, and a metaphor for human survival, balance and peace. And when mother prepares bread and coffee, it takes on a whole other level of sentiment and timelessness.

Nostalgia, with its Greek roots, nostos meaning “to return home” and algos meaning “pain,” this poem truly captures the essence of nostalgia. The Lebanese singer Marcel Khalife turned the poem into a music piece, and it became an anthem of sorts for many Palestinians for their mother homeland. He was largely regarded as Palestine’s national poet.

Anyone yearning for their home, for their mother, for their childhood, can feel these words, especially at a time when there are millions of refugees and displaced people who long for past safer days. The COVID-19 crisis had also led to families and loved ones separating, whether getting cut off in different countries or even being unable to visit due to lockdowns and self-isolations. ‘Seeing mother,’ or any elderly parent or loved one, has a different connotation to it in the age of Corona.

Nostalgia is a scar in the heart, and the fingerprint of a country on the body…”

Darwish is a master of nostalgia, celebrating and revisiting the past without ever getting trapped by it.

Over his lifetime, the award-winning poet published more than 30 volumes of poetry and eight books of prose. At one time or another, he was editor of the periodicals Al-Jadid,Al-Fajr,Shu'un Filistiniyya, and Al-Karmel.

Nostalgia is not just feelings and memories, it is also our sense of identity, belonging and returning to who we were once, especially when in exile.

“I am old

Give me back the star maps of childhood

So that I

Along with the swallows

Can chart the path

Back to your waiting nest.”

Darwish died before his mother, and so he lived up to his words, with his death being worthy of his mother’s and the Arab world’s tears upon the loss of one its greatest poets.

Written by Rym Tina Ghazal