The Prison Cell by Mahmud Darwish

Summary: The Prison Cell by Mahmud Darwish is a poem about prisoner who looks beyond the boundaries of his cell and wishes to be free, and beyond his physical existence in prison he is truly free in his mind.

Stanza 1:

  • The prisoner thinks that he can, inside a prison cell make things that seem impossible come true
  • In this case, the prisoner finds it "possible" to ride a horse inside the cell for the cell walls to "disappear"
  • From within the cell their are no bounds because he sees no walls

Stanza 2:

  • The guard speaks to the prisoner about what changes he made to the cell such as making the ceiling into a "saddle"
  • The guard is angered by this and tells the prisoner that he does not "care" for poetry
  • The guard locks the prisoner's cell

Stanza 3:

  • The guard comes back to see the prisoner in the morning and shouts at the prisoner
  • The guard asks the prisoner some questions about where he got the water, the trees and the music
  • The prisoner answers the guard and says that he got the water from the Nile, trees from the orchards of Damascus and music from his heartbeat
  • The guard gets mad and says that he doesn't like the prisoner's poetry and locks the prisoner's cell

Stanza 4:

  • The guard returns in the evening and asks the prisoner more questions about where the moon, the wine, and freedom come from
  • The prisoner answers the guard and says that he got the moon from the nights of Baghdad, wine from the vineyards of Algiers and the freedom from the chain the guard chained him with last night
  • This time though the guard was sad and he begs the prisoner to give the guard his freedom back

Other Notes:

  • The guard and the prisoner value a spiritual freedom
  • One can enjoy spiritual freedom in prison and the prisoner in this poem finds spiritual freedom in his cell by riding his horse through walls that melt away
  • There is a comparison between the thoughts of the prisoner and the guard
  • The boundless frontier is contrasted with the binding existence of the prison cell
  • There is an irony within this poem and that is the guard feels at loss of freedom and not the prisoner

© 2009 copyright The Prison Cell | Mahmud Darwish