by Faiz Ahmad Faiz
translated by Agha Shahid Ali
Each star a rung,
night comes down the spiral
staircase of the evening.
The breeze passes by so very close
as if someone just happened to speak of love.
In the courtyard,
the trees are absorbed refugees
embroidering maps of return on the sky.
On the roof,
the moon - lovingly, generously -
is turning the stars
into a dust of sheen.
From every corner, dark-green shadows,
in ripples, come towards me.
At any moment they may break over me,
like the waves of pain each time I remember
this separation from my lover.
This thought keeps consoling me:
though tyrants may command that lamps be smashed
in rooms where lovers are destined to meet,
they cannot snuff out the moon, so today,
nor tomorrow, no tyranny will succeed,
no poison of torture make me bitter,
if just one evening in prison
can be so strangely sweet,
if just one moment anywhere on this earth.
reblogged from poem-locker.
If you’re interested in seeing the poem in its original Urdu, find it in the Google Books preview of An Anthology of Modern Urdu Poetry—edited and translated by M.A.R. (Rafey) Habib, published by The Modern Language Association of America.
At Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s birth centenary in 2011, Professor Javed Majeed urges the reader to contextualize Faiz’s poetry. Majeed argues the political significance of three poems that Faiz had written in prison: ‘Zindan ki aik shám’ (A Prison Evening), ‘Zindan ki Aik Subha’ (A Prison Morning), and ‘Qaid-e Tanhai’ (Solitary Confinement).
Faiz’s poetry needs to be interpreted against the background of the political upheavals of the twentieth century. His life spanned the two world wars, the rise of fascism in Europe, the growth of religious nationalism in the Indian subcontinent, decolonisation and the partition of India, and the uncertainties of postcolonial nationhood, most vividly brought home by the break up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 …
I am going to talk about three poems Faiz wrote while in prison on his experience of imprisonment. I have chosen the prison poems because in many ways prisons and camps of various kinds (such as the concentration camp, the POW camp, and the refugee camp) were the defining spaces of the twentieth century … In these poems Faiz explores issues of freedom and constraint, the creation of hope in the midst of despair, and the use of the language of the Urdu ghazal or love lyric and Sufi poetry to create a sense of political commitment.
Continue reading Javed Majeed’s speech.
Art by MF Hussain.
Because the rhythm and rhyme of an Urdu ghazal cannot be captured in an English translation, wouldn’t it be great to actually hear one in Urdu? Watch Faiz Ahmad Faiz perform his poem ‘Iss WaQt too yeh Laghta hai’ at his last televised mushaira, a poetry reading event akin to a poetry slam.
At this moment it seems like nothing exists
No moon, no Sun, neither darkness nor radiance
In front of eyes, there is some beauty behind laced curtains
In the domains of heart, some pain resides
Maybe it is just an illusion or something I heard
In the street, there are sounds of someone’s vanishing footsteps
Perhaps in the dense tree, in fancy boughs
No dream will ever come to seek refuge.
No estrangement, no affection, no involvement
No one is yours, for me no one a stranger
It is true, this lonesome moment is very cruel and testing
But, O’ my heart, this is only just a moment,
Take courage, there is all the time that remains to live
Read Dr. A. Khan’s commentary in his article ‘Frost and Faiz: Two Shining Stars of the Poetic Galaxy.’