Fatie Darwish MBE

Fatie Darwish

Notice in the Telegraph.co.uk:  died on 17 February in Damascus, where she was buried. RIP. Beloved wife of the late Dr Said Sayyed Darwish and mother of Mimie. To celebrate Fatie’s remarkable, courageous life, a service will be held at noon on Thursday 29 May at Holy Cross Church, 22 Cortayne Road, London SW6 3QA.


In the summer of 2004, I became one of the scores of people Fatie must have taken at some time on a discovery tour of old Damascus.  We went to view a section of Jane Digby’s once glorious home.   Another day, Fatie showed me Jane’s grave and that of her Syrian husband’s, as he chose to be buried with her.


I lived in Damascus for two years, however, it wasn’t until I returned to Syria for visits that Fatie and I became friends.  I am not quite sure how that friendship began, but with her wonderful collection of books which she generously lent out and her acute memory and love for poetry and literature, Fatie introduced me to a literary view of Syria.  I also got insights into the personal stories of the people she had met and heard a little of her adventures and rescues.

Fatie was around the same age as my father, and I believe they could have been shaped from the same star dust.  That may partly explain my love for Fatie.  She seemed so familiar.

Our shared love for Syria and specifically Damascus was something else which drew me to Fatie.

Fatie had a love for the world and people that went beyond the moment.  In her company, I could feel its power and endurance.  I can feel it now.  Fatie was perhaps’ eccentric’.   But like the poetry she read and recited, she was a classic.IMG_5139


In 2009, Fatie and I attended a performance of Agatha Christie’s “Three Blind Mice”. It was performed by some of my former colleagues at the British Council.   Not long after that I recorded Fatie read aloud the libretto “Captain Noah” by Michael Flanders .

Fatie Captain Noah

Fatie Captain Noah

On a visit to Damascus in 2010, I recorded Fatie reading and reciting poetry.

She began reading from “The Gates of Damascus” by James Elroy Flecker.  I am so sorry now that I stopped her from completing the poem.  (Please see the full text of the poem below .)

  Four great gates has the city of Damascus
                And four Great Wardens, on their spears reclining,
        All day long stand like tall stone men
                And sleep on the towers when the moon is shining.

Keen to record Fatie reciting a poem, rather than read one,  I kept my little recorder on. Fatie didn’t seem to mind the gentle pressure from me, but she was very frustrated with herself when she forgot lines.  She began with the preface to “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” by T.E. Lawrence.

I loved you, so I drew these tides of
Men into my hands
And wrote my will across the
Sky and stars
To earn you freedom, the seven
Pillared worthy house,
That your eyes might be
Shining for me
When I came


Fatie must have found a book of poems as she continued reading.  I don’t think she completed a poem, but read some of the following verses, obviously poetry she was very familiar with.

From Emily Bronte’s “Remembrance”   http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16161

Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,
While the world's tide is bearing me along;
Other desires and other hopes beset me,
Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong!

No later light has lightened up my heaven,
No second morn has ever shone for me;
All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given,
All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee.


Fatie began to read a couple of verses from Bronte’s “No Coward Soul is Mine”, and moved to “The Prisoner”.


No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,


From “The Prisoner”  t http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/the_prisoner.html#mHsR8UVphvyK2i3F.99

O dreadful is the check–intense the agony–When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;When the pulse begins to throb–the brain to think again–The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.


Riches I hold in light esteem (March 1, 1841)

Riches I hold in light esteem
And Love I laugh to scorn
And lust of Fame was but a dream
That vanished with the morn–And if I pray, the only prayer
That moves my lips for me
Is–”Leave the heart that now I bear
And give me liberty.”

Yes, as my swift days near their goal
‘Tis all that I implore
Through life and death, a chainless soul
With courage to endure!

Rupert Brooke

The Soldier

The Soldier

by Rupert Brooke

If I should die, think only this of me:
   That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.  There shall be
   In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
   Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
   Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.


Fatie Portrait favourite

The Gates of Damascus 


        Four great gates has the city of Damascus
                And four Great Wardens, on their spears reclining,
        All day long stand like tall stone men
                And sleep on the towers when the moon is shining.

        This is the song of the East Gate Warden
        When he locks the great gate and smokes in his garden.

 Postern of Fate, the Desert Gate, Disaster's Cavern, Fort of Fear,
 The Portal of Baghdad am I, and Doorway of Diarbekir.

 The Persian Dawn with new desires may net the flushing mountain spires:
 But my gaunt buttress still rejects the suppliance of those mellow fires.

 Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard
 That silence where the birds are dead yet something pipeth like a bird?

 Pass not beneath! Men say there blows in stony deserts still a rose
 But with no scarlet to her leaf--and from whose heart no perfume flows.

 Wilt thou bloom red where she buds pale, thy sister rose? Wilt thou not fail
 When noonday flashes like a flail? Leave nightingale the caravan!

 Pass then, pass all! "Baghdad!" ye cry, and down the billows of blue sky
 Ye beat the bell that beats to hell, and who shall thrust you back? Not I.

 The Sun who flashes through the head and paints the shadows green and red,
 The Sun shall eat thy fleshless dead, O Caravan, O Caravan!

 And one who licks his lips for thirst with fevered eyes shall face in fear
 The palms that wave, the streams that burst, his last mirage, O Caravan!

 And one--the bird-voiced Singing-man--shall fall behind thee, Caravan!
 And God shall meet him in the night, and he shall sing as best he can.

 And one the Bedouin shall slay, and one, sand-stricken on the way
 Go dark and blind; and one shall say--"How lonely is the Caravan!"

 Pass out beneath, O Caravan, Doom's Caravan, Death's Caravan!
 I had not told ye, fools, so much, save that I heard your Singing-man.

        This was sung by the West Gate's keeper
        When heaven's hollow dome grew deeper.

 I am the gate toward the sea: O sailor men, pass out from me!
 I hear you high in Lebanon, singing the marvels of the sea.

 The dragon-green, the luminous, the dark, the serpent-haunted sea,
 The snow-besprinkled wine of earth, the white-and-blue-flower foaming sea.

 Beyond the sea are towns with towers, carved with lions and lily flowers,
 And not a soul in all those lonely streets to while away the hours.

 Beyond the towns, an isle where, bound, a naked giant bites the ground:
 The shadow of a monstrous wing looms on his back: and still no sound.

 Beyond the isle a rock that screams like madmen shouting in their dreams,
 From whose dark issues night and day blood crashes in a thousand streams.

 Beyond the rock is Restful Bay, where no wind breathes or ripple stirs,
 And there on Roman ships, they say, stand rows of metal mariners.

 Beyond the bay in utmost West old Solomon the Jewish King
 Sits with his beard upon his breast, and grips and guards his magic ring:

 And when that ring is stolen, he will rise in outraged majesty,
 And take the World upon his back, and fling the World beyond the sea.

        This is the song of the North Gate's master,
        Who singeth fast, but drinketh faster.

 I am the gay Aleppo Gate: a dawn, a dawn and thou art there:
 Eat not thy heart with fear and care, O brother of the beast we hate!

 Thou hast not many miles to tread, nor other foes than fleas to dread;
 Home shall behold thy morning meal and Hama see thee safe in bed.

 Take to Aleppo filigrane, and take them paste of apricots,
 And coffee tables botched with pearl, and little beaten brassware pots:

 And thou shalt sell thy wares for thrice the Damascene retailers' price,
 And buy a fat Armenian slave who smelleth odorous and nice.

 Some men of noble stock were made: some glory in the murder-blade;
 Some praise a Science or an Art, but I like honorable Trade!

 Sell them the rotten, buy the ripe! Their heads are weak; their pockets burn.
 Aleppo men are mighty fools. Salaam Aleikum! Safe return!

        This is the song of the South Gate Holder,
        A silver man, but his song is older.

 I am the Gate that fears no fall: the Mihrab of Damascus wall,
 The bridge of booming Sinai: the Arch of Allah all in all.

 O spiritual pilgrim rise: the night has grown her single horn:
 The voices of the souls unborn are half adream with Paradise.

 To Mecca thou hast turned in prayer with aching heart and eyes that burn:
 Ah Hajji, wither wilt thou turn when thou art there, when thou art there?

 God be thy guide from camp to camp: God be thy shade from well to well;
 God grant beneath the desert stars thou hear the Prophet's camel bell.

 And God shall make thy body pure, and give thee knowlede to endure
 This ghost-life's piercing phantom-pain, and bring thee out to Life again.

 And God shall make thy soul a Glass where eighteen thousand aeons pass.
 And thou shalt see the gleaming Worlds as men see dew upon the grass.

 And sons of Islam, it may be that thou shalt learn at journey's end
 Who walks thy garden eve on eve, and bows his head, and calls thee Friend.

James Elroy Flecker

Fatie Darwish



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