Poems of Belonging

Poetry can express diverse and colliding emotions that offer a lens into the tensions of everyday life and how each of us belongs to the world around us. Notions of belonging also can be intertwined with questions of identity, ethnicity, and citizenship. Here, we look at how two poets with very different biographies understand their belonging to a place, and their view of a place to which they cannot belong. As you read “Jerusalem” by Hebrew poet Yehuda Amichai, and “I Belong There” by Arabic poet Mahmoud Darwish in conversation with each other, consider how each writer understands the notion of bayit, which means home in both Hebrew and Arabic. Through their works, both poets examine some of the complexities we all face as we think about belonging to—or feeling excluded from—a place, a community, a people, and the world. Poetry, with its multi-layered language and deep symbolism, can help us to confront topics that are filled with emotion, ambiguity, and complexities.

  • What is the relationship between home and belonging? How does each poem reflect these relations?
  • Amichai’s poem is set in Jerusalem, grappling with belonging to the Old City. What kind of relationship does the poem evoke with Jerusalem? What kind of diverse narratives does it highlight?
  • Darwish’s poem illustrates a journey toward belonging, considering the complexities of feeling at home. What provides the narrator with a sense of belonging? To where does he feel that he belongs, and from what does he want to break free?
  • If Amichai and Darwish were speaking with each other about their feelings of ‘home’ and ‘belonging,’ when do you think they would agree and when do you think they would disagree?”
  • What shapes your own sense of belonging? 


Published in the collection Poems 1948-1962, Yehuda Amichai’s “Jerusalem” portrays an image of a city that grapples with boundaries of belonging. In each of the poem’s three stanzas, the narrator reflects on the visibility and invisibility of his imagined enemy, and the degree to which this tension demonstrates their shared belonging and their distinct otherness. By attending to the most common aspects of everyday life—laundry, white sheets, a towel—the narrator renders a sense of closeness with “my enemy,” underscoring how changing our perspective can help us see each other as humans. At the same time, the distance between the two figures—and their separate worlds—remains visible. But the image of the boy holding the kite reminds us of a shared belonging to childhood, family, and hope, and how shifting our gaze can bring us closer together.


Yehuda Amichai

On a roof in the Old City
laundry hanging in the late afternoon sunlight
the white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
the towel of a man who is my enemy,
to wipe off the sweat of his brow.

In the sky of the Old City
a kite
At the other end of the string,
a child
I can’t see
because of the wall.

We have put up many flags,
they have put up many flags.
To make us think that they’re happy
To make them think that we’re happy.

Translated by: Stephen Mitchell


יהודה עמיחי

עַל‭ ‬גָּג‭ ‬בָּעִיר‭ ‬הָעַתִּיקָה‭,‬
כְּבִיסָה‭ ‬מוּאֶרֶת‭ ‬בְּאוֹר‭ ‬אַחֲרוֹן‭ ‬שֶׁל‭ ‬יוֹם‭:‬
סָדִין‭ ‬לָבָן‭ ‬שֶׁל‭ ‬אוֹיֶבֶת‭,‬
מַגֶבֶת‭ ‬שֶׁל‭ ‬אוֹיֶב
לְנַגֵּב‭ ‬בָּה‭ ‬אֶת‭ ‬זֵעַת‭ ‬אַפּוֹ‭.‬‭ ‬

וּבִּשְׁמֵי‭ ‬הָעִיר‭ ‬הָעַתִיקָה
וּבִקְצֵה‭ ‬הַחוּט‭ ‬‮–‬
שֶׁלֹּא‭ ‬רָאִיתִי‭ ‬אוֹתוֹ‭,‬
בִּגְלַל‭ ‬הַחוֹמָה‭.‬‭ ‬

הֶעֱלֵינוּ‭ ‬הַרְבֵּה‭ ‬דְּגָלִים‭,‬
הֶעֱלוּ‭ ‬הַרְבֵּה‭ ‬דְּגָלִים‭.‬
כְּדֵי‭ ‬שׁנַּחְשֹב‭ ‬שֶׁהֵם‭ ‬שְׂמֵחִים
כְּדֵי‭ ‬שֶׁיַּחְשְׁבוּ‭ ‬שֶׁאַנַחְנוּ‭ ‬שְׂמֵחִים‭.‬

Yehuda Amichai has been called one of the greatest Hebrew poets of the modern age. Born in Germany in 1924 under the name Ludwig Pfeuffer, Amichai immigrated to pre-State Israel with his family and grew up speaking and writing in Hebrew. During his lifetime, he published more than a dozen volumes of poetry, many of which have been translated into 40 languages around the world. Some of his best-known poems include “Memorial Day for the War Dead,” “Tourists,” and “Ecology of Jerusalem.” He was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 1982, as well as many other Israeli and international awards. His poems address every aspect of life—though he said that all of them were in some way political. “Real poems deal with a human response to reality,” he said, “and politics is part of reality, history in the making.” Amichai died in 2000.


Published in 1986 in the collection Fewer Roses, Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “I Belong There” grapples with elements of belonging: memories, family, a house. The poem begins with the statement “I belong there,” followed by a journey in which the narrator searches for belonging while exploring the different dimensions that determine one’s relationship with a place. Darwish draws on common tropes such as nature, parents, and the image of a house to highlight the depths of the human need to belong. At the same time, the narrator’s need to undertake this journey challenges notions of stability that should enable belonging. Ultimately, this poem invites us to consider the difference between a “house”—often linked to a geographical place that can be beyond our grasp—and a “home,” created from words, memories, and emotions that cannot be taken away.


Mahmoud Darwish

I belong there. I have many memories. I was born as everyone is born.

I have a mother, a house with many windows, brothers, friends, and a prison cell

with a chilly window! I have a wave snatched by seagulls, a panorama of my own.

I have a saturated meadow. In the deep horizon of my word, I have a moon,

a bird’s sustenance, and an immortal olive tree.

I have lived on the land long before swords turned man into prey.

I belong there. When heaven mourns for her mother, I return heaven to her mother.

And I cry so that a returning cloud might carry my tears.

To break the rules, I have learned all the words needed for a trial by blood.

I have learned and dismantled all the words in order to draw from them a

single word: Home.

Translated by: Munir Akash and Carolyn Forché

أنا من هناك

محمود درويش

أَنَا مِنْ هُنَاكَ. وَلِي ذِكْريَاتٌ. وُلِدْتُ كَمَا تُولَدُ النَّاسُ. لِي وَالِدَهْ

.وبيتٌ كثيرُ النَّوافِذِ. لِي إِخْوَةٌ. أَصْدِقَاءُ. وَسِجْن
بِنَافِذَةٍ بَارِدَهْ

وَلِي مَوْجَةٌ خَطَفتْهَا النَّوارِسُ. لِي مَشْهَدِي الخَاصُّ. لِي عُشْبَةٌ زَائِدَهْ

وَلِي قَمَرٌ فِي أقَاصِي الكَلاَم، وَرِزْقُ الطُّيُورِ، وَزَيْتُونَةٌ خَالِدَهْ

.مَرَرْتُ عَلَى الأَرْضِ قَبْلَ مُرُور السُّيُوفِ عَلَى جَسَدٍ حَوَّلُوه إِلَى مَائِدَهْ

،أَنَا مِنْ هُنَاكَ. أُعِيدُ السَّمَاءَ إِلَى أُمِّهَا حِينَ تَبْكي السَّمَاءُ عَلَى أمَّهَا

.وَأَبْكِيِ لِتَعْرفَنِي غَيمَةٌ عَائِدَهْ

.تَعَلّمْتُ كُلِّ كَلامٍ يَلِيقُ بمَحكَمَةِ الدِّم كَيْ أُكْسِرَ القَاعِدهْ

تَعَلّمتُ كُلِّ الكَلاَمِ ، وَفَكَّكْتُهُ كَيْ أُرَكِّبَ مُفْرَدَةً وَاحِدَهْ

….هِيَ: الوَطَنُ

Mahmoud Darwish was born in 1941 in the village of al-Birwa in Western Galilee in pre-State Israel. In June 1948, following the War of Independence, his family fled to Lebanon, returning a year later to the Acre (Akko) area. Darwish published his first book of poetry at the age of 19 in Haifa. He left Israel in 1970 to study in the Soviet Union, subsequently moving to Egypt and Lebanon, where he joined the Palestine Liberation Organization. Darwish published more than 30 volumes of poetry and eight books of prose, and he was the editor of several periodicals, including some literary magazines in Israel. Darwish indicated that his poetry was influenced by Iraqi poets Abd al-Wahhab Al-Bayati and Badr Shakir al-Sayya, French poet Arthur Rimbaud, and 20th-century American poet Allen Ginsberg. Darwish is widely regarded as the Palestinian national poet.

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