book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

Poems by Faiz

Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Victor Gordon Kiernan (tr.)

Faiz, Faiz Ahmad; Victor Gordon Kiernan (tr.);

Poems by Faiz fulltext

Oxford University Press, 1971/2000, 288 pages

ISBN 0195651987

topics: |  poetry | urdu | translation | bilingual

A polymath looks at Urdu literature

Victor Kiernan was an important historian with socialist views. In his Lords of Human Kind (1978), he analyzes the attitude of colonial europe, and finds that the colonial justified his brutal treatment of the native population by positing that

natives had no souls, so that killing them was nothing like murder. Like any killing, it could come to be viewed as sport. Late in the 19th century, a man in Queensland showed a visitor “a particular bend in the river where he had once, as a jest, driven a black family, man, woman and children, into the water among a shoal of crocodiles...

This inhuman treatment eventually came back to haunt Europe, and Kiernan suggested that the dictatorships, till then unknown in Europe, may have been an import from the colonial experience in South America, and the experience of "quelling barbarians in Asia reinforced feudal instincts at home," especially in Russia, where the civil war saw unprecedented brutality, which "infected" the Bolsheviks afterwards.

But Kiernan was more than just an analyst of events -
he also had strong literary interests, and has written on the poetry of
Horace and on Shakespeare.  (see obit by Eric Hobsbawm in
The Guardian.)

An interest in colonialism

Kiernan's interest in imperialist excess
started from his undergraduate years at Cambridge.  He joined the
Communist party while at the end of his B.A., in 1934. Subsequently, he
befriended a number of Asian students and started looking at the issues of
British and European imperialism.  He started looking at Britain's
imperialist interests in China in the 19th c., and the motivations for
British and Chinese diplomacy - while also considering the problems of
class conflicts in China.  This led to his first book, British Diplomacy in
China, 1880-1885.

At the same time, he was also working with an Indian Marxist study group
and through this he met Shanta Gandhi who was then studying medicine and
raising money for the Spanish Civil War by joining a dance troupe. Shanta
was sharing a room with Indira Nehru who was her friend from school in
Pune.  However, Shanta was recalled to India, presumably for not attending
much to her studies.

Move to Lahore - marriage

Shortly thereafter, Victor - who was then on a four-year fellowship,
himself went to India - apparently to observe the excesses of colonialism
up close.  It was to be a one year visit.  However, here Victor met up and
proposed to Shanta;  they got married and moved to Lahore.  The culture of
the city attracted him and eventually, he was to
spend eight years teaching at two colleges here.

It was in Lahore that Victor met Faiz.  Two years elder to Victor, Faiz was
then teaching at the Government College Lahore.  Among the students here
was Alys George, a member of the British Communist Party who had come to
India after several years of intense interactions with Indians in London,
including V K Krishna Menon.  She was already known to Victor.  Her sister
Christobel had married noted literateur MD Taseeer (Iqbal wrote a novel
nikah-nama for the wedding), and they had access to the Urdu literary

In 1941, Alys married Faiz in Srinagar, where Taseer was the principal of
S.P. College; Sheikh Abdullah presided at the wedding.  Alys was to be
his companion in his lifelong battles with autocracy.

The Lahore of 1940

In his introduction, Kiernan beautifully evokes the atmosphere of
Amritsar and Panjab:

	the Panjab was still in many ways a Sleepy Hollow where life moved
	at the pace of the feeble cab-horses drawing their two-wheeled
	tongas; where young men could indulge in old carefree idle ways,
 	with long hours of debate in coffee-houses and moonlight picnics by
 	the river Ravi.

	In this mode of living, verse-making played a part it has long since
	lost in the busy practical West. It was a polite accomplishment, a
	hobby cultivated by men, and a few women in varied walks of life;
	often, to be sure, a racking of brains over elusive rhymes not much
	more elevating than a Londoner's crossword-puzzle.

	The mushA'ira or public recitation by a set of poets in turn, the
	novice first, the most admired writer last, was a popular social
	gathering, as it still remains; an audience would often guess a
	rhyme-word or phrase before it came: and join in like a chorus.

Faiz had emerged as one of the rising voices in this milieu.

Kiernan's translations

Meanwhile, Victor had picked up Urdu and Persian - he was a quick learner
- fluent in Greek and Latin before high school itself.  He soon and
started translating Iqbal.  After some time, he started working
on translating Faiz:

	translations from Faiz were begun in a forest rest-house on the
	banks of Woolar Lake in Kashmir in the summer of 1945, continued at
	intervals over the next dozen years, and published in 1958 at Delhi
	(later reprinted at Lahore).  --from Foreword

Kiernan's "Poems from Iqbal" were published in 1955 and "Poems: Faiz" in
1958.  In 1971, the Faiz volume was thoroughly updated (reflecting also
aspects that Faiz had in the interim edited) and published as "Poems by
Faiz" in 1971.

It is the OUP India reprint of this last edition that I purchased when
I fell in love with Faiz after my encounter with him in
The rebel's silhouette by Agha Shahid Ali.
I also acquired (with some difficulty) a copy of Lazard, and also some
other translators.

A respect for Urdu

The first thing that struck me about this book is that unlike all other
translations of Indian poetry - including those by Indians - this volume
respects the original language, to the extent of providing both the
nashtaliq and a romanized versions for each poem.  Just as you would in
a translation of Dante or Goethe, the original language is preserved.

In addition to the original text - which is executed by one of the
period's top calligraphers - the text also includes a direct meaning, and
the final, poetic interpretation.

Even for someone like me, who stumbles on the persian vocabulary of Urdu,
the transliterations are helpful since I do understand the basic
structure of Hindustani.

Quality of Translations

The translations are uniformly very good.  One of the loudest champions
of Kiernan as a translator for Faiz has been Khushwant Singh, who had met
Victor and Shanta in Lahore, and he has repeatedly rated these as the "best
translations of Urdu poetry":

	In my humble opinion, the best translations of Urdu poetry into
	English were done by Victor Kiernan of the works of Faiz Ahmed
	Faiz. It was a joint effort. Kiernan was teaching English at
	Lahore's Chiefs College. Faiz was teaching English in an Indian
	college. Kiernan had an Indian wife and was fluent in
	Hindustani. They became friends and together worked on the
	translations. They are a joy to read.
		The Telegraph

but perhaps he had first read Kiernan, and not bothered to compare him
with Naomi Lazard or Agha Shahid Ali.  Both of them seem to convey the
sense of English poetry as well and to my ears, more effectively on
occasion.  Other translators like Shiv K. Kumar or Daud Kamal also have
done very readable work.  But perhaps Singh was saying this before Agha,
and Lazard's volume has always been hard to locate in the subcontinent.

Nonetheless, Kiernan's renditions does speak to you, and it is poetry of
high standard by most reckonings.

Excerpts : Introduction

[Kiernan provides a 30 page introduction, taking the reader through the
life of Faiz, nuanced with beautiful descriptions of the Urdu literary
soiree - the mushA'iras, and also the indo-persian history of peotry
against which Urdu poetry - even modernist voices such as Faiz - need to be
understood. ]

Background to Faiz

Poets in this century, like leaders of nations, have emerged from some
unexpected nooks and corners. Faiz Ahmed's forbears were Muslim
peasants of the Panjab....

His father [Sultan Mohammad Khan], born with the instincts of a wanderer,
set off in early life to Afghanistan, where he rose high in the service of
the Amir 'Abel ul-Rahman-1 and acquired some of the habits of a feudal

Having fallen foul of his royal employer and escaped in disguise, he
turned up in England, where his advent aroused curiosity in the highest
circles: Afghanistan was always a sensitive spot in the perimeter of the
empire. Cambridge and Lincoln's Inn, a bizarre exchange for Kabul and
Kandahar, made a lawyer of him, and he returned at length to his
birthplace to practise: not with great financial success, for lavish
habits were hard to shake off, and an old man's tales of bygone
splendour fell on less and less credulous ears.

[name at birth: Ahmed Faiz, religious like nearly all Muslim names, would
mean 'Bounty of the Highly Praised One' -- the Prophet.
Later he took a second Faiz (= abundant) as his takhallus...

he was born in Kala Kader, near Sialkot in Punjab.]

If his son inherited an adventurous bent, his journeys of discovery
were more of the mind....

Amritsar and Lahore

there was no hostile frontier then as now between Amritsar and Lahore
and the Panjab was still in many ways a Sleepy Hollow where life moved at
the pace of the feeble cab-horses drawing their two-wheeled tongas; where
young men could indulge in old carefree idle ways, with long hours of
debate in coffee-houses and moonlight picnics by the river Ravi.

In this mode of living, verse-making played a part it has long since
lost in the busy practical West. It was a polite accomplishment, a
hobby cultivated by men, and a few women in varied walks of life;
often, to be sure, a racking of brains over elusive rhymes not much
more elevating than a Londoner's crossword-puzzle.

The mushA'ira or public recitation by a set of poets in turn, the
novice first, the most admired writer last, was a popular social
gathering, as it still remains; an audience would often guess a
rhyme-word or phrase before it came: and join in like a chorus.

Radio, then getting under way, was lending It a new medium, broadening into
an entertainment for a whole province what had begun long ago as the
recreation of a small Court Circle.  It might be highly artificial, as when
participants were supplied beforehand with a rhyme to manipulate; and a
scribbler well endowed with voice could make the most hackneyed phrase or
threadbare sentiment sound portentous by delivering them in the
half-singing or chanting (tarannum) fashion, or the declamatory style of
recitation, that many affected.  Still, the institution has helped to keep
poetry before the public, and, along with floods of commonplace, to make
known an occasional new talent.

Faiz Ahmed rhymed with the rest, and unlike some innovators, complied with
usage by adopting a pen-name or takhallus -- that of Faiz, meaning
'bounty' or 'liberality': He is therefore, in full, Faiz Ahmad 'Faiz'.

Poetic Voice

He emerged quickly from among the [swarms of] poetasters...  To outward
appearance he was a good-natured, easy-going fellow, fond of cricket and
dawdling, those favourite pastimes of Lahore, and readier to let others
talk than to talk himself. It was characteristic of him that when reciting
his verses, whether among a few friends or in a crowded college gathering,
he spoke them quietly and unexcitedly.

Their quality was naturally mixed. The fine quatrain that stands at the
beginning of his first book of verse published in 1941 (no. l in this
anthology) was not the first to be written. He began with exercises,
conventional enough, on well-worn topics, sighing over the cruelty of a
non-existent mistress or extolling the charms of the grape.

But if Lahore was still on the surface an uneventful place, the tides of
history were washing to and fro in India and the world outside, and their
ripples reaching the Mall Road and the Kashmir Gate. Independence was only
a decade away, and Faiz's lines were soon being coloured by patriotic
feeling... socialism was the new
revelation that young idealists could invoke to exorcise communal rancours,
by uniting the majority from all communities in a struggle against their
common poverty, and to make independence a blessing to the poor as well as
to the elite. History was to take a different turning; older forces and
allegiances were to prove stronger, for a long time to come at least.

But for young poets and story-writers national and social emancipation
seemed to go together, and both to go with their own new-found freedom to
try new subjects and methods. They were reading, and sometimes imitating
(Faiz seldom if ever did this directly) Western writers like T. S. Eliot
and Auden and Day Lewis. Their Progressive Writers' Association was a
force in the land, and the Panjab had its own branch. Besides taking part
in this Faiz, with the realistic sense he has always had that the poet is
also a citizen, was getting in touch with groups of workingmen, and would
spend evenings teaching them reading and writing and the ABC of politics.

[Faiz joined the Progressive Writers' Movement since its first
Lucknow meeting in 1936.  It had writers from several languages, and was
also called Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind.  The movement
brought together major socialist and Marxist-inspired writers such as
Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto, Mulk Raj Anand and Ismat Chughtai.
[Kiernan was also involved with the movement from its inception at a
London meeting. ]

Dreams of a progressive modern state

Before 1939 he had made a name for himself in literature; the war and its
aftermath made room for him in political history too. This is not the
place for a detailed review of his political or civic activities, but it
is proper to emphasize that the ideals inspiring them have had a vital
part in his literary development as well. They involved him in dilemmas
inescapable in an India verging on revolution or civil war, and then in a
raw new Pakistan painfully collecting itself into a nation. No straight
road through this chaos was to be found, and every individual had to make
decisions of his own. In all that part of the world movements and
loyalties have been apt, like its rivers, to come and go suddenly, one
day in full spate, the next dried up. Faiz has remained all this time
faithful to what might be called an enlightened, humanistic socialism;
the kind of activity open to him has fluctuated with circumstances.

After independence came in 1947, accompanied by partition, he continued
to hope, as he has always done, for good relations between the two

When Gandhi was murdered by a Hindu fanatic, for trying to protect the
Muslim minority in India, Faiz was, as a London newspaper said, "a brave
enough man to fly from Lahore for Gandhi's funeral at the height of
Indo-Pakistan hatred."

This hatred had been inflamed by the massacres, most terrible in the
Panjab, that raged during the process of partition. To Faiz these horrors
could only be expunged by the building of his new nation on principles of
social justice and progress. One of his best-known poems (|Freedom's Dawn)
expressed the tragic disillusionment of finding the promised land a
Canaan -- or so it seemed to him -- only flowing with milk and honey for
feudal landowners and self-seeking politicians.

With the removal by death of Pakistan's first and most trusted leaders, and
reform and development sluggish, this disillusion soon became
widespread. Editor now of the Pakistan Times of Lahore, Faiz made use of
prose as well as verse to denounce obstruction at home and to champion
progressive causes abroad; he made his paper one whose opinions were known
and quoted far and wide, with respect if not everywhere with approval.

[After the death of Jinnah in 1948, Faiz penned a touching encomium,
ending with:

	From the great grief that envelops the nation today, must emerge a
	new courage and a new determination to complete the task that the
	Quaid-i-Azam began, the task of building a free, progressive and
	secure Pakistan, to restore our people the dignity and happiness
	for which the Quaid-i-Azam strove, to equip them with all the
	virtues that the nobility of freedom demands and to rid them of
	fear, suffering and want that have dogged their lives through the

A similar vein of optimism animates an editorial he had written after
Gandhi's murder earlier that year itself:

	An agonizing 48 hours at the time of writing this article, have
	passed since Mahatma Gandhi left this mortal coil. The first impact
	of the shock is slowly spending itself out, and through the murky
	mist of mourning and grief a faint light of optimistic expectation
	that Gandhiji has not died in vain, is glowing.

	At least we can tell at the top of our voice to suspicious friends
	in India that the passing away of Gandhiji is as grievous a blow to
	Pakistan as it is to India. We have observed distressed looks, seen
	moistened eyes and heard faltering voices in this vast sprawling
	city of Lahore to a degree to be seen to be believed.

Arrest : Rawalpindi Conspiracy case

In March 1951, he was suddenly arrested, along with a number of other
figures, civil and military, in March 1951.  The Rawalpindi Conspiracy
trial unfolded its slow and somewhat mysterious length, during which a
death-sentence was a lingering possibility, down to 1953, when Faiz was
condemned to four years' imprisonment."

His health suffered, but he was able to read, and think his own
thoughts, and collect materials for a long-promised (but still, alas,
unperformed) history of Urdu literature. To him as a poet his prison
term might be called a well-disguised blessing.
his editorial desk asphyxiated him... he lamented that as soon as a new
couplet began to stir in his mind he had to get up and go back to his

Prison enabled him to write what for him was a considerable number of poems,
in which his ideals took on fresh strength by being alloyed with harsh
experience, and which were eagerly devoured by the public, in spite of the
charges weighing over him. p.25

Poetry in Prison

A number of later commentators have described this productive period in
prison,  See for example, Ted Genoways' Let Them Snuff Out the Moon(pdf):
Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Prison Lyrics in Dast-e Saba," (Annual of Urdu
studies, Volume 19, 2004).

As Kiernan has noted above, in south asian culture, the cachet of poetry
transcends the boundaries of religion and politics.  Perhaps for this
reason, the jailors appeared to have permitted him not only to write the
poems, but also to read it to other inmates twice each month - each
reading eventually acquiring the aura of a festival.  Alys was permitted
to take the poems back on one visit, duly stamped "approved" by the

Thus the volume Dast-e-saba was published in 1953, while he was still
in prison, and another volume, Zindan-nama, in 1956.
They were on people's lips within weeks.

In a fitting memorial to the episode, Sajjad Zaheer, one of the accused,

	long after the people forget all about the Rawalpindi Conspiracy
	Case, the Pakistani historian, when he comes across the important
	events of 1952, will consider the publication of this small book of
	poems as a most important historical event.

(about two-thirds of the poems in this collection, are from these prisons
collections - poems 17 to 50 here.)

Apolitical life

Released in 1955, Faiz took up journalism again, but this quickly
brought another, briefer spell in jail, one incident in a prevailing
confusion that political affairs were falling into, and that led to the
assumption of power by the army. 

This did away with political confusion for the next decade, but also with
nearly all political life, and it drastically curtailed the freedom of the
press. Faiz's health moreover was no longer good, and a habit of perpetual
cigarette-smoking, with a marked prejudice against physical exercise in any
form, has not in these latter years improved it.

He had to look for other kinds of work, cultural rather than political and
in a way more congenial. He helped to make a film, which won international
awards, about the lives of the fisherfolk, whom he visited and greatly
liked, among the rivers of East Pakistan.  He had plans for a national
theatre, and with his wife sponsored a variety of local dramatic
experiments.  Drama is an art that found no entry into Islamic countries
through the ages, and that Faiz believed might have a serious function in a
new nation like Pakistan. In other elements of culture Indian Islam was
rich, and it was his design to bring to light all that was capable of
healthy growth among them, to help to form them into a modern national

Faiz in 1970

He has. been living of late years at Karachi, that odd medley of Victorian
facades and modern industry and spreading suburban villas; always with a
hankering for the picturesque dilapidation of the old city of Lahore, and
even, in sentimental moments, for his paternal village, where it may be
conjectured that he would quickly die of boredom.
In these years, he has travelled the world a good deal, as his literary
fame spread...

Most remarkably, he has made frequent short visits to India. Urdu poetry
has been one of the slender bridges left standing between the divided
countries, and Faiz's poems are welcomed on both sides of the border. Some
of his best poems have been in honour of peace.

What he has written, however much less than what he might, has
brought him to something like the position of an unofficial poet
laureate in West Pakistan, a land where poetry still makes an
appeal potent enough to disarm some political and even religious
prejudice.  Criticism, even abuse, for his opinions have never ceased
to come his way, and there are traces of this to be discerned in some
of his poems.  To be a nationalist writer is easy, to be a national
writer hard.  As a poet whom his countrymen are proud of, and at
the same time a target of frequent attacks, Faiz's situation has been
a contradictory one, reflecting the contradictory moods of a nation
still -- as Iqbal said of all the East -- in search of its soul.

[Kiernan now gives an elaborate description of the background to Urdu poetry.]

The emergence of Urdu

Some of Faiz's poetry is simple and direct, out often it is couched
in a literary idiom some knowledge of which is needed for its
appreciation, and one more artificial -- or artful-- than most.

Urdu itself as a language might be called a bundle of anomalies,
beginning with the fact that this language of many virtues has no true
homeland.  It originated, from the early stages of the 'Muslim', or
rather Central-Asian, conquest of India, as the lingua franca of the
'camp' (its name derives from the same Turki root as the English word
horde). It was a mixture of the Arabicized Persian used by the
invaders, themselves a miscellany of Turks and others, with some of the
still unformed Hindi dialects of the upper Gangetic valley, or

In verb structure it was native Indian, a fact which entitles it to be
classed as an Indian language; in vocabulary largely foreign. ...  With the
crumbling of Muslim political ascendancy in the 18th century Urdu emerged
as successor to Persian... Its original function as a lingua franca now
belonged to the colloquial mixture often called 'Hindostani', on the level
at which modern Urdu and Hindi are virtually identical.
Muslims and Hindus had lived side by side for ages (and most Muslims were
descendants of Hindu converts), and in humdrum practical matters
understood one another well enough.

However, for more complex ideas -- they had acquired little of a shared
vocabulary.  Hence when modern conditions brought the necessity of
thinking on new lines, an elite culture suffused on each side with
religious influences drew them in opposite directions.

Learned Urdu has a diction heavily Persian and Arabic, learned
Hindi heavily Sanskritic; and their scripts, the Persianized form of
Arabic on the one hand, the Nagari or Sanskrit on the other, complete
their mutual unintelligibility.
Thus Urdu, originally a channel between older and newer inhabitants
of India, in the past century has come to be one of the stumblingblocks
to fellow-feeling.

When the Mogul empire faded, and with it the old cultural links with
Persia, it was chiefly the poetical part of the legacy of Persian that Urdu
fell heir to. For public business, legal or administrative, and higher
education, English was the successor. The Muslim community, socially an
unbalanced one of feudal cast, with only an embryonic middle class, had few
professional or commercial men with reason to write prose; and fallen from
power, unable for long to adapt itself to new times, it had stronger
feelings than thoughts, an impulse towards emotional verse more than
towards rational prose.

The first novel in India

[Urdu emerged as a literary language primarily in the late 18th c.
courts at Delhi (Sauda, 1713-1810) and Lucknow (Mir Taqi Mir, 1722-1810).
Mir was also the first to write a prose autobiographhy.

This brief history does not mention the long reign of Persian as the
court language of the Mughals.  Clearly, the poetic traditions of Urdu
are a direct descendant of this Persian background.

In fact, contemporary to Mir, the earliest prose novel in India was
written in Persian by Syed Hasan Shah, a munshi working with the company
sAhibs at Kanpur.  Published in 1790 with the title Fasana-e-Rangeen (a
colourful tale) it has vivid descriptions of Kanpur of the 1780s, and the
bungalows of the sahibs along the ganges.  Most of the sAhibs have
learned Persian, to the extent that his employer can even follow the
ghazals of Hafiz.  This is the period when Hastings set up a college at
Calcutta to teach Persian (and increasingly, Urdu / Hindustani) to
company officials.

The book was translated into Urdu in the late 19th c., titled Nashtar
("surgeon's knife", signifying a lover's pain).  It was
Translated based on the Urdu version by Qurratulain Hyder (1992), with
the title The dancing girl.

The language of business remained Persian until it was superceded by
English in the 1830s.  Meanwhile, Urdu, the language based on the central
North Indian region near Agra, but with a Persianized vocabulary, was
emerging as the medium of choice for court poetry.  It would be much
enriched in the following decades, in the courts of Avadh and
particularly with Ghalib at Delhi.

Ghalib and the vicissitudes of Urdu literature

In Ghalib the language found the poet still regarded as its greatest.
He belonged, until the Mutiny swept it away, to the shadowy Mogul
court at Delhi, with its poignant contrast between present and past
to kindle his imagination. Urdu prose on the contrary was virtually
making its first start with Sir Sayyed Ahmad,  who likewise began in
Delhi but shook its ancient dust off his feet and entered English
service before the Mutiny; his mental life was one of wrestling with
the problem, for Muslim India, of its present and its future.

Subsequent progress has been uneven, and since the birth of Pakistan it has
been a disputed issue there whether, or how rapidly, Urdu can be made the
medium of higher education, [including science.] Faiz is one of those
most firmly convinced that it is capable of meeting every modern

As a poetical medium, Urdu might almost be a language made up by poets for
their own benefit; a one-sided benefit no doubt by comparison with Western
languages like English whose foremost poets, from Shakespeare down, have so
often been first-rate prose writers as well. 

The rise of Panjab in Urdu literature

Between Mutiny and Great War two shifts, not unrelated, were taking place
in Urdu poetry. It was coming to be less a lament for a lost past, and more
an expression of the sensations of a Muslim community struggling to find
its place in a changed world. Secondly, its main inspiration was migrating,
with the coming of Iqbal, from the old centres, Delhi and Lucknow,
northward to the Panjab; from early in this century to the partition, the
two regions disputed the palm warmly between themselves, the older one
priding itself at least on higher polish and technical proficiency.

By the end of the century, Persia was rousing Itself again, and Islam in
Asia stirring in its sleep; while from southward the European ideas that
had long been at home in Bombay and Calcutta were now filtering into the
Panjab. As in other ages, these new currents were to make for bigger
upheavals here than elsewhere, among a folk even in their physical
proportions larger than life compared with most other Indians. Inevitably
old communal jealousies would revive alongside of new things. Altogether it
was a land riddled to an exceptional degree with contradictions old and
new; one of sturdy peasants as well as landlords, one steeped in rustic
humour and realism as well as possessing in Lahore a city which did not
forget that it was once the Mogul imperial capital; a province that others
seemed to have left far behind, but with lurking energies and untested
capabilities waiting to break out, for good or evil, when the sleeping
giant should awaken.

It might even be said that Urdu poetry was taking wing to the Panjab
because here it found most contraries and complexities to stimulate it. All
three communities were writing Urdu verse, and in the same idiom; Muslims
were easily in the lead, and have provided all the important names. Less at
home in the new age than their Hindu neighbours they struck the visitor as
having, by and large, less practical capacity, with far more
imagination. p.31

The spirit of Urdu poetry

So much of the spirit and tone of Urdu poetry derives from Persian
tradition that this ancestry must often be kept in mind, even when a poet
like Faiz is alluding to quite contemporary matters.  Verse forms and
metres, besides diction, have helped to preserve continuity; and, still
more strikingly, a common stock of imagery, which can be varied and
recomposed inexhaustibly in much the same way that Indian (and Pakistani)
classical music is founded on a set of standard note-combinations (ragas)
on which the performer improvises variations.

In a society saturated with religious forms and phrases (though, like
aristocratic Europe, seldom religious in its conduct) poetic imagery
was bound to flow very often into their mould.  In Islamic orthodoxy,
there was small room for anything artistic, except the sublime
simplicity of its best architecture.  But side by side with it was the
mystical cult ofthe Sufis, who sought through prayer and spiritual
exercises, sometimes music and dance -- eschewed by the orthodox...

Much of the mood and phraseology of Sufism, its catalogue of the 'states
and stages' (hAl-o-maqAm) of the pilgrim soul, its vital relationship
between the spiritual guide and his disciples, was taken over into poetry.
When a poet did not picture himself seated in a court circle, it
would often be the circle of disciples round their master that he conjured
up.  Nor were the two so far apart as might seem; mystics had often
clothed their thoughts in verse, courtiers and even rulers might also be
disciples; a divine Beloved could melt imperceptibly into an earthly one,
an ideal feminine, an unattainable mistress who was also the wine-pourer at
the never-ending feast, as uncertain, coy, and hard to please as Fortune,
dispenser of life's never-ending deceptions.

Love and religion shared besides a common emblem in wine, another
refinement of gross fact into ideal essence. If in the feudal courts liquor
forbidden to the faithful ran freely, and a Ghalib might be a serious
drinker, poetically wine stood for exaltation, inspiration, and the tavern
was the abode of truly heart-felt spiritual experience as opposed to the
formal creed of the mosque.  Drunkenness and madness are near allied, and
the later -- junu.n, 'rapture' in the literal sense of possession by a
spirit (jInn) - retained some of the aura that surrounds it among
primitive people; it might be either the passion of the worshipper of
beauty throwing the world away for love or the ecstasy of the acolyte
despising material success in his heavenly quest.  p.35

The ghazal

Ambiguity belonged to the essence of the Urdu-Persian style; in its
visionary landscape things melted into one another like dreams, and
everything had a diversity of meanings, or rather, any precisely definable
'meaning' was lost in a diffused glow.  A poet might really have mystic
moods, or might really be in love -- with a woman, or, as in Greece or
Rome, with a man ; but for his poetry, for his hearers, that was not the
real point, any more than for us when we listen to a piece of music whose
composer may have felt religious, or been in love.

The most characteristic verse form was the ghazal, a string of any number
of couplets in any metre, rhyming AA BA CA DA.

Its standard topic is love, its tone one of graceful trifling, and in
ordinary hands it is not much more than a metrical exercise; so much so
that in modern Urdu it constitutes a poetic hemisphere by itself, and a
writer may be classed either as a serious poet or, with a touch of
disparagement, as a ghazal writer.  The form has nevertheless been used by
the foremost poets for the weightiest purposes; and it too has helped to
provide a rainbow bridge between the impressionism of the past and the
realism of the present.


One who notably turned the ghazal to new purposes was Mohamed Iqbal
(1873-1938 ), the greatest Urdu poet to arise since Ghalib.
Born like Faiz at Sialkot, close to the mountains and close to the
religious and cultural frontier that now divides India from Pakistan,
he was a Panjabi of the professional middle class who wrote English
prose and Urdu and Persian verse; a Panjabi, that is, whose mental
horizons were far more expansive than those of his own province,
and who as a result in some ways soared above its realities, in other
ways fell short of them.

In Urdu he wrote chiefly short poems, lyrical, religious, or satirical; in
classical Persian long didactic poems addressed to the whole of Muslim
Asia.  He went through an early phase of addiction to English models,
including description of Nature, and at the same time of attachment to the
ideal of a free Indian nation with Hindu and Muslim as fellow-citizens.

He studied in England and Germany, and was impressed especially by
Nietzsche. Later his antipathy to Western imperialism in India and Asia
deepened, but there came also disenchantment with the Indian national

From Iqbal to Faiz

Iqbal left no true inheritor either of his philosophy or of his manner. But
Faiz, who appeared on the literary scene just when Iqbal was departing from
it, is not only the most gifted poetically of those who have come after :
he has had all his life the same fundamental sense that poetry ought to be
the servant of a cause, a beacon to "poor humanity's afflicted will", not a
mere display of ornamental skill.

The glorious daybreak Iqbal was looking forward to did not dawn; most of
the Muslim peoples were not yet finding their way either back to a
renewed faith or forward to a modern organization. Even to him it grew
clear that Pan-Islamic hopes would not be realized soon, and he turned
his attention more to the predicament of his own community, and came to
be identified with the programme of a separate Muslim state.  He is
therefore, though he died a decade before the partition, venerated --
often uncritically, as in all such cases -- as the moral founder of

Excerpts : Translations

1. Last night

Last night your faded memory filled my heart
Like spring's calm advent in the wilderness,
Like the soft desert footfalls of the breeze, .
Like peace somehow coming to one in sickness.

more literal version : Verses (ash'Ar)

		Last night your lost memory so came into the heart
		As spring comes in the wilderness quietly,
		As the zephyr moves slowly in deserts,
		As rest comes without cause to a sick man.

	rAt yu.n dil me.n teri kho'i hUI yAd A'i,
	jaise vIrAne me.n chupke-se bahAr A jA'e,
	jaise shahrAon me.n haule-se chale bAd-e-nasIm,
	jaise bImAr ko be-wajah qarAr A jAye.    

Vikram Seth : Last Night

Last night your faded memory came to me
As in the wilderness spring comes quietly,
As, slowly, in the desert, moves the breeze,
As, to a sick man, without cause, comes peace.

Khushwant Singh

		At night your lost memory stole into my mind
		As spring silently appears in the wilderness;
		As in desert wastes morning breeze begins to blow
		As in one sick beyond hope, hope begins to grow…

--Agha Shahid Ali-

At night my lost memory of you returned

and I was like the empty field where springtime,
without being noticed, is bringing flowers;

I was like the desert over which
the breeze moves gently, with great care;

I was like the dying patient
who, for no reason, smiles.

5. A scene

On gate and roof a crushing load of silence —
From heaven a flowing tide of desolation —
The moon's pale beams, whispered regrets, lying
In pools ebbing away on dusty highroads —
In the abodes of sleep a half formed darkness —
From Nature's harp a dying strain of music
On muted strings faintly, faintly lamenting.

		contrast this with the following version by Naomi Lazard;
		it is clear that Lazard is far more economical, and leaves
		you with a more profound melancholy at the end:

A Scene

	The weight of silence crushes doors, walls, windows:
	pain streams down from the sky;
	moonlight tells its malancholy legend
	that mingles with the roadside dust.
	Bedrooms lie in semi-darkness,
	and life's harp strums its worn-out tune
			in soft, lamenting notes.

ek manzar एक मंज़र (a scene)

	bAm-o-dar khAmushI ke bojh se chUr,
	AsmAno.n se jU-e-dard rawA.n,
	chA.nd kA dukh-bharA fasAna-e-nUr
	shAhrAho.n kI khAk me.n ghalTAn,
	khwAbgAho.n me.n nIm tArIkI,
	muzmaHil lai rabAb-e-hastI kI
	halke halke suro.n me.n nauHa-kunAn!

		बाम-ओ-दर ख़ामुशी के बोझ से चूर
		आसमानों से जू-ए-दर्द रवाँ
		चाँद का दुख भरा फ़सानःए-नूर
		शाहेराहों की ख़ाक़ में ग़ल्ताँ

		ख़्वाबगाहों में नील तारीकी
		मुज़्महिल लय रबाबे-हस्ती की
		हल्के-हल्के सुरों में नौहा-कुनां

	from the brilliant new website  rekhta
	for Urdu poetry (founded Sanjiv Saraf, 2013)

	bAm-o-dar बाम-ओ-दर : roof and door
	jU-e-dard जू-ए-दर्द: river of pain
		jU : source of spring;  jU-e : river, stream; seeker
	rawA.n : soul, life, moving, active
	fasana-e-nur : story of light (also maker of light)
		fasana फ़साना: fiction writer; tale; fable; fabricator;
		nur नूर: light; ray; lustre; glow;
	shAhrAho.n शाह-राहों : highways (शाह-राह : king's road)
	khAk (qhAk) : dust
	ghalTAn : rolling (cloth rolled around a stem) - wallowing
	khwAbgAhon : rooms of dreams; bedrooms [Akbar's 5-storied tiered
				 building in Fatehpur sikri]
	nIm : half  (also: young (as a chicken); impotent; middle)
	tArIkI : obscurity, dingy, dark; (< tArIk तारीक - opp of roshan)
	muzmaHil मुज़्महिल : fatigued, exhausted, idle ;  to go away; to come to nought
	rabAb-e-hasti - string-instrument of life
	hasti : life / existence
	nauHa-kunA.n नौहा-कुनाँ : grieving, mourning

literal translation

	roof and door crushed by a weight of silence,
	from the skies a river of pain flowing,
	the moon's grief-filled story of light
	wallowing in the dust of highways;
	in bedrooms a half-darkness,
	exhausted melody of the rebeck of existence
	sounding a lament on faint, faint notes.


The original nazm has a complex verse pattern; some translators
have tried to incorporate some verse, but usually these
don't work.  Here is a version by Sarvat Rahman

	Roofs and doorways beneath the weight of silence bent,
	A river of pain from the skies streaming down,
	The heart-rending tale of the moonlight,
	In the dust of roadways spent.
	In sleeping rooms, semi-obscurity,
	Of life’s violin, the faint melody
	In muted tones making lament.

6. Love, do not ask (mujh-se pahli-si mahabbAt) p.65

Love, do not ask me for that love again
Once I thought life, because you lived, a prize --
The time's pain nothing, you alone were pain;
Your beauty kept earth's springtimes from decay,
My universe held only your bright eyes --
If I won you, fate would be at my feet.

It was not true, all this, but only wishing;
Our world knows other torments of love,
And other happiness than a fond embrace.
Dark curse of countless ages, savagery
Inwoven with silk and satin and gold lace,
Men's bodies sold in street and marketplace,
Bodies that caked grime fould sand thick blood smears.
Flesh issuing from the cauldrons of disease
With festered sores dripping corruption -- these
Sights haunt me too, and will not beshut out;
Not be shut out, though your looks ravish still.

This world knows other torments than of love,
And other happiness than a fond embrace;
Love, do not ask for my old love again.

Other translators

	This is among Faiz's most widely translated poems...

Agha Shahid Ali: Don't ask me for that love again

 		(from The rebel's silhouette, 1995)

That which then was ours, my love,
don't ask me for that love again.
The world then was gold, burnished with light --
and only because of you. That's what I had believed.
How could one weep for sorrows other than yours?
How could one have any sorrow but the one you gave?
So what were these protests, these rumors of injustice?
A glimpse of your face was evidence of springtime.
The sky, wherever I looked, was nothing but your eyes.
If You'd fall into my arms, Fate would be helpless.

All this I'd thought, all this I'd believed.
But there were other sorrows, comforts other than love.
The rich had cast their spell on history:
dark centuries had been embroidered on brocades and silks.
Bitter threads began to unravel before me
as I went into alleys and in open markets
saw bodies plastered with ash, bathed in blood.
I saw them sold and bought, again and again.
This too deserves attention. I can't help but look back
when I return from those alleys --what should one do?
And you still are so ravishing --what should I do?
There are other sorrows in this world,
comforts other than love.
Don't ask me, my love, for that love again.

Naomi Lazard: Don't ask me now, Beloved

		from The true subject: Selected Poems of Faiz (1988)

Don't ask me now, Beloved, to love you as I did
when I believed life owed its luster to your existence.
The torments of the world meant nothing;
you alone could make me suffer.
Your beauty guaranteed the spring,
ordained its enduring green.
Your eyes were all there was of value anywhere.
If I could have you, fate would bow before me.
None of this was real; it was all invented by desire.
The world knows how to deal out pain, apart from passion,
and manna for the heart, beyond the realm of love.
Warp and woof, the trappings of the rich are woven
by the brutish spell cast over all the ages;
human bodies numbed by filth, deformed by injuries,
cheap merchandise on sale in every street.
I must attend to this too: what can be done?
Your beauty still delights me, but what can I do?
The world knows how to deal out pain, apart from passion,
and manna for the heart, beyond the realm of love.
Don't ask from me, Beloved, love like that one long ago.

Mahmood Jamal: Do not ask of me, my love

			from Modern Urdu Poetry (1986)

	Do not ask of me, my love,
	that love I once had for you.
	There was a time when
	life was bright and young and blooming,
	and your sorrow was much more than
	any other pain.
	Your beauty gave the spring everlasting youth:
	your eyes, yes your eyes were everything,
	all else was vain.
	While you were mine, I thought, the world was mine.
	Though now I know that it was not reality,
	that's the way I imagined it to be;
	for there are other sorrows in the world than love,
	and other pleasures, tool
	Woven in silk and satin and brocade,
	those dark and brutal curses of countless centuries:
	bodies bathed in blood, smeared with dust,
	sold from market-place to market-place,
	bodies risen from the cauldron of disease,
	pus dripping from their festering sores—
	my eyes must also turn to these.
	You’re beautiful still, my love,
	but I am helpless too;
	for there are other sorrows in the world than love,
	and other pleasures too.
	Do not ask of me, my love,
	that love I once had for you!

Shiv K. Kumar’s translation

				from The Best of Faiz, 2001

	Ask me not for that old fervour, my love.
	I had then imagined
	that your love would spark off my being,
	counterpoise the giant agony of the world
	that your beauty would bring every spring to eternal blossom.
	And what else was there to cherish but your eyes?
	once you were mine
	would not fate itself bow to me?

	I had only willed it all
	but it was not to be,
	for there are sorrows other than heartache,
	joys other than love’s rapture.

	If there are spells of those dark, savage, countless centuries
	bodies robed in silk, satin and velvet
	then aren’t there also bodies
	traded down streets and alleyways
	bodies smeared in dust, bathed in blood
	bodies emerging from ovens of sickness
	bodies with pus oozing from chronic sores?
	If these images also seize my eye
	even though your beauty still enthralls,
	it’s because there are sorrows other than heartache,
	joys other than love’s rapture
	so ask me not for that old fervour, my love.

Do Not Ask (tr. Daud Kamal)

		from The Unicorn and the Dancing Girl : Poems of Faiz (1988)

Do not ask me
For that past love
When I thought you alone illumined this world
And because of you
The griefs of this world did not matter.
I imagined
Your beauty gave permanence to the colors of spring
And your eyes were the only stars in the universe.
I thought
If I could only make you mine
Destiny would, forever, be in my hands.

Of course, it was never like this.
THis was just a hope, a dream
Now I know
There are afflictions
Which have nothing to do with desire
Which have nothing to do with love.
On the dark loom of centuries
Woven into silk, damask, and goldcloth
Is the oppressive enigma of our lives.
Everywhere-- in the alleys and bazaars--
Human flesh is being sold--
Throbbing between layers of dust-- bathed in blood.
The furnace of poverty and disease disgorges body after body--

Your beauty is still a river of gems but now I know
There are afflictions which have nothing to do with desire
Raptures which have nothing to do with love.
My love, do not ask me ...


first two stanzas

mujh-se pahli-si mahabbAt meri mehbUb na mAng main-ne samajhA thA ke tu hai, to darakhshAn hai hayAt terA gham hai to gham-e-dahar kA jhagRA kyA hai teri surat se hai Alam mein bahAron ko sabAt teri Ankhon ke sivA duniya mein rakkhA kyA hai tu jo mil jAye to taqdir nigUn ho jAye yun na thA mein ne faqat chahA thA yun ho-jAye aur bhI dukh hain zamAne me.n mohabbat ke siwA rAhaten aur bhi hain vasl ki rAhat ke sivA an-ginat sadiyon ki tArik bahemAna tilism resham-o-atalas-o-kamkhwAb mein bunavAye huye jA-ba-jA bikte huye kUchA-o-bAzAr mein jism khAk me.n lithaRe huye khUn me.n nahlAye huye jism nikale huye amarAz ke tannUron se pIp bahatI huI galate huye nAsUron se laut jAti hai udhar ko bhi nazar kyA kIje ab bhi dilkash hai tera husn magar kya kIje aur bhI dukh hain zamAne me.n mohabbat ke siwA rAhaten aur bhi hain vasl ki rAhat ke sivA mujh se pehli-si mahabbat meri mehbub na mAng [other romanizations: mujh se pehli si mohabbat meray mehbub na maang mujh se pahli si mohabbat meri mahbub na mang ]

in devnagari script

		मुझ से पहली सी मोहब्बत मेरी महबूब न माँग
		मैं ने समझा था कि तू है तो दरख़शाँ है हयात
		तेरा ग़म है तो ग़म-ए-दहर का झगड़ा क्या है
		तेरी सूरत से है आलम में बहारों को सबात
		तेरी आँखों के सिवा दुनिया में रक्खा क्या है
		तू जो मिल जाये तो तक़दीर निगूँ हो जाये
		यूँ न था मैं ने फ़क़त चाहा था यूँ हो जाये
		और भी दुख हैं ज़माने में मोहब्बत के सिवा
		राहतें और भी हैं वस्ल की राहत के सिवा

		मुझ से पहली सी मोहब्बत मेरी महबूब न माँग

		अनगिनत सदियों के तारीक बहिमाना तलिस्म
		रेशम-ओ-अतलस-ओ-कमख़्वाब में बुनवाये हुये
		जा-ब-जा बिकते हुये कूचा-ओ-बाज़ार में जिस्म
		ख़ाक में लिथड़े हुये ख़ून में नहलाये हुये
		जिस्म निकले हुये अमराज़ के तन्नूरों से
		पीप बहती हुई गलते हुये नासूरों से
		लौट जाती है उधर को भी नज़र क्या कीजे
		अब भी दिलकश है तेरा हुस्न मग़र क्या कीजे
		और भी दुख हैं ज़माने में मोहब्बत के सिवा
		राहतें और भी हैं वस्ल की राहत के सिवा

		मुझ से पहली सी मोहब्बत मेरी महबूब न माँग


daraKHshaa.n दरख़्शाँ درخشاں  : shining,brilliant,resplendent
hayaat हयात حیات  : life, existence
Gam-e-dahr ग़म-ए-दहर غم دہر  : sorrow of the world
aalam आलम عالم : The Universe / World (also condition/ situation)
bahaaro.n बहारों بہارں  : springtimes
sabaat सबात ثبات  : stability, durability
taqdiir तक़दीर تقدیر  : divine decree, fate, destiny
niguu.n निगूँ نگوں  : inverted,bent,hanging down
zamaane ज़माने زمانے : time, age, season
raahate.n राहतें راحتیں < rAhat : rest, comfort
vasl वस्ल وصل  : union
an-ginat अन-गिनत  ان گنت  : innumerable
sadiyo.n सदियों صدیوں  : centuries
tilism तिलिस्म  طلسم  : magic, curse, spell

atlas अतलस  اطلس  : satin,s
kim-KHaab किम-ख़ाब کمخاب  : precious cloth/ brocade
bunvaa.e बुनवाए  بنوائے  : woven   
jaa-ba-jaa जा-ब-जा  جا بہ جا  : everywhere  
kuucha-o-baazaar कूचा-ओ-बाज़ार  کوچہ و بازار  : lane and street
amraaz अमराज़ امر ض :  diseases
tannuuro.n  तन्नूरों  تنوروں  : ovens
piip पीप  پیپ  : puss
naasuuro.n  नासूरों  ناسوروں  : wounds

dilkash दिलकश دل کش  : attractive, alluring
husn हुस्न  حسن  : beauty


For completeness' sake, I also provide the following verse translation,
from 2002.  Clearly, the verse fails to compensate for the loss of

Sarvat Rahman’s translation (in rhyme)

Don’t ask me now, Beloved, for that love of other days
When I thought since you were, life would always scintillate
That love’s pain being mine, the world’s pain I could despise.
That your beauty lastingness to the spring would donate,
That nothing in the world was of worth but your eyes;
Were you to be mine, fate would bow low before me.
It was not so; it was only my wish that it were so;
Other pains exist than those that love brings,
Other joys than those of lovers’ mingling.
Dark fearful talismans, come down the centuries,
Woven in silk and damask and cloth of gold;
Bodies that everywhere in streets are sold
Covered with dust, all their wounds bleeding".

	from 100 Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, tr. Sarvat Rahman

To my mind, Lazard has the clearest enunciation among the host
of translators that Faiz has attracted.

9. A Few Days More [chAnd roz aur]

	Only a few days, dear one, a few days more.
	Under oppression’s shadows condemned to breathe,
	Still for a time we must suffer, and weep, and endure  
	What our forefathers, not our own faults, bequeath:
	Fettered limbs, each impulse held on a chain,
	Minds in bondage, our words all watched and set down;
	Courage still nerves us, or how should we still live on,  
	Now when existence is only a beggar’s gown,  	
	Tattered and patched every hour with new rags of pain?

	Yes, but to tyranny not many hours are left now;
	Patience, few hours of lamenting remain. 	

	In this close bounds of an age that desert sands choke  
	We must stay now -— not for ever and ever stay!
	Under this load beyond words of a foreign yoke
	We must bow down for a time —not for ever bow!  	
	Dust of affliction that clings to your beauty today,
	Crosses unnumbered that mar youth's few mornings, soon gone, 
	Torment of silver nights, that can find no cure,
	Heartache unanswered, the body’s long cry of despair—
	Only a few days, dear one, a few days more.


If ink and pen are snatched

If. ink and pen are snatched from me, shall I
Who have dipped my finger in my heart's blood complain
Or if they seal my tongue, when I have made
A mouth of every round link of my chain?

more literal version:

	If my property of tablet and pen is taken away, what grief is it,
	When I have dipped my fingers in the blood of the heart?
	A seal has been set on my tongue : what of it, when I have put
	A tongue into every ring of my chain?

matA'-e-lauh-o-qalam chhin-ga'I to kyA gham hai,
ke khUn-e-dil me.n dabo-lI hai.n un.gliyan main-ne.
zaban pe muhr lagI hai to kyA, ke rakh-dI hai
harek halqa-e-zanjir me.n zabAn main-ne.

Freedom's Dawn (August 1947)

This leprous daybreak, dawn night's fangs have mangled --
This is not that long-looked-for break of day,
Not that clear dawn in quest of which those comrades
Set out, believing that in heaven's wide void

Somewhere must be the stars' last halting-place,
Somewhere the verge of night's slow-washing tide,
Somewhere an anchorage for the ship of heartache.

When we set out, we friends, taking youth's secret
Pathways, how many hands plucked at our sleeves!
From beauty's dwellings and their panting casements
Soft arms invoked us, flesh cried out to us;
But dearer was the lure of dawn's bright cheek,
Closer her shimmering robe of fairy rays;
Light-winged that longing, feather-light that toil.

But now, word goes, the birth of day from darkness
Is finished, wandering feet stand at their goal;

Our leaders' ways are altering, festive looks
Are all the fashion, discontent reproved; --
And yet this physic still on unslaked eye
Or heart fevered by severance works no cure.
Where did that fine breeze, that the wayside lamp
Has not once felt, blow from -- where has it fled?
Night's heaviness is unlessened still, the hour
Of mind and spirit's ransom has not struck;
Let us go on, our goal is not reached yet.

tr. by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi:

			opening lines of “Dawn of Freedom (August 1947) 

	This scarred morning light,
	this Dawn, bearing the wounds of night,
	surely, this is not the morning we waited for
	in whose ardent pursuit we had set out
	hoping, that somewhere, in the wild expanse of the skies
	there must be a haven of the stars.
	There must be a shore awating the night's sluggish wave [...]

from the Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu Literature
ed. Mehr Afshan Farooqi, 2010. 


ye dAgh dAgh ujAlA, ye shab-gaziida sahar,
vo intizAr thA jis-kA, ye vo sahar to nahiiN,
ye vo sahar to nahiiN jis-kii Arzu lekar
chale the yAr ke mil-ja`egi kahiiN na kahiN

falak ke dasht meN taroN kii Akhiri manzil,
kahin to hogA shab-e sust mauj kA sahil,
kahin to jAke rukegA safiina-e-gham-e-dil.

jawAn lahu kii pur-asrAr shAhrahoN se
chale jo yAr to dAman pe kitne hath paRe;

diyAr-e-husn kii be-sabr khwAbgAhoN se
pukArti-rahiiN bAhen, badan bulAte-rahe;
bahut 'aziiz thii lekin rukh-e-sahar ki lagan,
bahut qariin thA hasiinaN-e-nuur kA dAman, ,
subuk subuk thii tamannA, dabii dabii thii thakan.

sunA hai ho bhii chukA hai firAq-e-zulmat-o-nuur,
sunA hai ho bhii chukA hai visAl-e-manzil-o-gAm;

badal-chukA hai bahut ahl-e-dard kA dastuur,
nishAt-e-vasl halAl o 'azab-e-hijr harAm.

jigar kii Ag, nazar kii umang, dil kii jalan,
kisii pe chAra-e-hijrAN kA kuchh asar hii nahiiN.
kahAN se A'ii nigAr-e-sabA, kidhar ko ga'ii?
Abhii charAgh-e-sar-e-rah ko kuchh khabar hii nahiiN;
Abhii girAnii-e-shab meN kamii nahiiN A'ii,
najAt-e-diidA-o-dil ki ghaRii nahiiN A'ii;
chale-chalo ke vo manjil abhii nahiiN A'ii

32. Bury Me Under Your Pavements

			[nisar main teri galiyon ke] (1953)

Bury me, my country, under your pavements,
Where no man now dare walk with head held high,
Where your true lovers bringing you their homage
Must go in furtive fear of life or limb;
For new-style law and order are in use;
Good men learn, – ‘Stones locked up, and dogs turned loose’

Your name still cried by a rash zealot few
Inflames the itching hand of tyranny;
Villains are judges and usurpers both–
Who is our advocate, where shall we seek justice?
But all hours man must spend are somehow spent;
How do we pass these days of banishment?

When my cell’s window-slit grows dim, I seem
To see your hair spangled with starry tinsel;
When chains grow once more visible, I think
I see your face sprinkled with dawn’s first rays;
In fantasies of the changing hours we live,
Held fast by shadowy gates and towers we live.

This war is old of tyrants and mankind:
Their ways not new, nor ours; the fires they kindle
To scorch us, age by age we turn to flowers;
Not new our triumph, not new their defeat,
Against fate therefore we make no complaint,
Our hearts though exiled from you do not faint.

Parted today, tomorrow we shall meet —
And what is one short night of separation?
Today our enemies’ star is at its zenith–
But what is their brief week of playing God?
Those who keep firm their vows to you are proof
Against the whirling hours, time’s warp and woof.

first stanza:

	nisAr mai.n terI galyo.n ke, ai watan, ke jahA.n
	chali hai rasm ke ko'I na sar uThAke chale,
	jo ko'i chAhne-wAlA tawAf ko nikle
	nazar churAke chale, jism-o-jAn bachAke chale ;
	hai ahl-i-dil ke liye ab ye nazm-e-bast-o-kushad,
	Ke sang o khisht muqaiyad hain aur sag azad.

33. A Prison Nightfall

	Step by step by its twisted stairway
	Of constellations, night descends; 
	Close, as close as a voice that whispers
	Tendernesses, a breeze drifts by;
	Trees of the prison courtyard, exiles
	With drooping head, are lost in broidering
	Arabesques on the skirt of heaven.

	Graciously on that roof's high crest
	The moonlight's exquisite fingers gleam ;
	Star-lustre swallowed into the dust,
	Sky-azure blanched into one white glow,
	Green nooks filling with deep-blue shadows,
	Waveringly, like separation's
	Bitterness eddying into the mind.

	One thought keeps running in my heartSuch
	nectar life is at this i􀠑stant,
	Those who mix the tyrants' poisons
	Can never, now or tomorrow, win.
	What if they put the candles out
	That light love's throneroom? let them put out
	The moon, then we shall know their power.

A Prison Evening

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.

49. Be Near Me [pAs raho mere qAtil]

	Be near me -—
	My torment, my darling, be near me
	That hour when the night comes,
	Black night that has drunk heaven's blood comes
	With salve of musk—perfume, with diamond-tipped lancet,
	With wailing, with jesting, with music,
	With grief like a clash of blue anklets—
	When, hoping once more, hearts deep-sunk in men’s bosoms
	Wait, watch for the hands whose wide sleeves still
	Enfold them,
	Till wine’s gurgling sound is a sobbing of infants
	Unsatisfied, fretful, no soothing will silence,—
	No taking thought prospers,
	No thought serves;
	-- That hour when the night comes,
	That hour when black night, drear[y], forlorn, comes,  
	Be near me,
	My torment, my darling, be near me!

* See also: Version by Naomi Lazard

original lyrics (latin and devanagari)

tum mere pas raho,					तुम मेरे पास रहो
mere qatil, mere dildAr, mere pas raho --		मेरे क़ातिल, मेरे दिलदार, मेरे पास रहो
jis ghaRI rAt chale,					जिस घड़ी रात चले
AsmAno.n kA lahU. pIke siya rAt chale			आसमानों का लहू पी के सियह रात चले
marham-e-mushk liye, nishtar-e-almAs liye,		मर्हम-ए-मुश्क लिये नश्तर-ए-अल्मास चले
bain kartI hU'i, han.sti hU'i, gAtI nikle,		बैन करती हुई, हँसती हुई, गाती निकले
dard ke kAsnI pAzeb bajAtI nikle;			दर्द के कासनी, पाज़ेब बजाती निकले
jis ghaRI sIno.n me.n DUbe hU'e dil			जिस घड़ी सीनों में डूबे हुए दिल
AstIno.n me.n nihA.n hAtho.n ki rah-takne lagen,	आस्तीनों में निहाँ हाथों की, रह तकने लगे,
As liye;						आस लिये
aur bachcho.n ke bilakne kI taraH qulqul-e-mai		और बच्चों के बिलखने की तरह, क़ुल-क़ुल-ए-मय
bahr-e-nAsUdgI machle to manA'e na mane;		बहर-ए-नासुदगी मचले तो मनाये न मने
jab ko'I bAt banA'e na bane,				जब कोई बात बनाये न बने
jab na ko'I bAt chale:					जब न कोई बात चले
jis ghaRI rAt chale,					जिस घड़ी रात चले
jis ghaRI mAtaMi, sunsAn, siya rAt chale,		जिस घड़ी मातमी, सुन-सान, सियह रात चले
pAs raho,						पास रहो
mere qAtil, mere dildAr, mere pas raho.			मेरे क़ातिल, मेरे दिलदार, मेरे पास रहो

literal version

	You be near me,
	My destroyer, my sweetheart, be near me—
	At the hour when night comes,
	When dark night having drunk the blood of the heavens comes
	Bearing the salve of mush, bearing the lancet of diamond,
	Comes out making lamentation, laughing, singing,
	Comes out sounding blue-grey anklets of Pain; .
	At the hour when hearts sunk in breasts
	Have begun to watch out for hands hidden in sleeves,
	With hope,
	And gurgling of wine, like a sobbing of children,
	Because of frustration is fractious, and though
		you may soothe it will not be soothed;
	When whatever thing you try to bring about
		will not be brought about,
	When nothing succeeds:
	At the hour when night comes,
	At the hour when mourn, dreary, black night comes,
	Be near, my destroyer, my sweetheart, be near me.


Foreword						      9
Preface						      		13

Introduction						      		21

I. Poems from Remonstrance (NAQSH-E-FARYADI) 1943

 1. Last Night [rAt yun dil men]					49
 2. God Never Send [khudA woh vaqt na lAye]				51
 3. Nocturne [nim shab chand]					55
 4. Tonight [Aj kI rAt]						59

 5. A Scene [bAm o dar khAmushi]					63
		contrasts: Naomi Lazard

 6. Love, Do not Ask
	[mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na mAng]		65
			* Agha Shahid Ali
			* Naomi Lazard
			* Mahmood Jamal
 			* Shiv K. Kumar
			* Daud Kamal

 7. To the Rival [A ke vAbasta hain (rAqib se)]			69
 8. Solitude [phir koi AyA dil e zAr]				77
 9. A Few Days More [chAnd roz aur]					79
10. Dogs [kutte: ye galyon ke awara]				83
11. Speak [bol ke lab]						87
12. Poetry's Theme [mauzu e sukhan: gul hui jAti hai]		91
13. Our Kind [ham log : dil ke aiwAn men]				97
14. To a Political Leader [siyAsi: sAl hA sAl ye be AsrA]		101
15. Oh Restless Heart [ai dil e be tab : tIragI hai ke]		105
16. My Fellow man, My Friend
	[mere hamdam mere dost: gar mujhe iskA]			109

II. Poems From Fingers of the wind (DAST-E-SABA) 1952

17. If Ink and Pen [matA e lauh]					117
18. At Times [kabhi kabhi yAd men ubharte]				119
19. {#dawn|Freedom's Dawn (August 1947)]
	[ yeh daGh daGh ujala ]				123
20. Tablet and Pen [lauh o qalam : ham parwarish]			129
21. Do not Ask							133
22. Her Fingers [sabA ke hAth men narmi]				135
23. Lyre and Flute [shorish e barbat o nai]				137
24. Once More [phir hashr ke sAmAn hue (qita)]			149
25. This Hour of Chain and Gibbet
	[tauq o dAr: ravish ravish hai vuhi]				151
26. At the Place of Execution
	[sar e maqtal : kahan hai manzil e rah]			155
27. Whilst We Breathe [qitA: hamare dam se]				159
28. Among Twilight Embers [shafaq ki rAkh men jal bujh]		161
29. Two Loves [do ishq]						163
30. To Some Foreign Students [un talabah ke nAm]			173
31. August 1952[raushan kahin bahAr ke imkAn]			179
32. Bury Me Under Your Pavements
	[nisar main teri galiyon ke]					183
33. A Prison Nightfall
	[zindAn ki ek shAm : shAm ke pech o kham]			189
34. A Prison Daybreak [zindan ki ek subh : rAt bAqi thi]		193

III. Poems from Prison thoughts (ZINDAN-NAMA) 1956

35. Oh City of Many Lights
	[ai raushniyon ke shahar : sabr sabza sukh rahi]		201
36. The Window [daricha : garti hain kitni]				205
37. 'Africa, Come Back' [A jAo AfriqA]	209
38. This Harvest of Hopes [ye fasl umedon ki]			213

IV. Poems from Duress (DAST-E-TAH-E-SANG) 1965

39. Sinkiang [ab koi Tabi bajegA]					219
    Song (on the dance floor) [ghazal: bisAt e raqs pe_]		221
40. Loneliness[tanhai]						225
41. Evening [chashm-e-nam]						227
42. Not Enough [Aj bAzAr mein]					231
43. Solitary Confinement [qaid e tanhai]				235
44. Hymn of Praise [hamd : malka e shahr e zindagi]			239
45. Like Flowing Wine [Dhalti hai mauj e mai]			243
46. My Visitor [mulAqAt meri : sAri diwAr siya hogai]		245
47. This Hail of Stones [khatm hu bArish e sang: nigahAn Aj mere]	249
48. Before you Came [rang hai dil kA mire]				253
49. Be Near Me [pAs raho mere qAtil]				257
50. An Idyll [manzar : rAhguzar sAe shajar]				261

V Uncollected Poems

51. Song [dard tham jAegA gham na kar]				267
52. 'Black out' [jab se be nUr huI]					269
53. Heart attack [dard itna thA]					273
54. Prayer [du'aa: Aiye hAth uThAye.n ham bhI]			277

Other reviews and critiques

Urdu poetry and the peerless art of translation

Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times | Jun 23, 2012

In my humble opinion, the best translations of Urdu poetry into English
were done by Victor Kiernan of the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It was a
joint effort. Kiernan was teaching English at Lahore's Chiefs
College. Faiz was teaching English in an Indian college. Kiernan had an
Indian wife and was fluent in Hindustani. They became friends and
together worked on the translations. They are a joy to read.

In my not-so-humble opinion my translations came next in merit. I have
done a better job than any other Indian, Pakistani or foreign scholar
in giving Urdu poetry good readability. My method is to first memorise
the original and keep repeating it in my mind. I do this many times in
bed as I retire for the night. The translation emerges bit by bit as I
doze off. My translations have been well received. My rendering of
Iqbal's Shikwa and Jawab-i-Shikwa published by the Oxford University
Press has gone into more than 14 editions. It goes on selling. So do my
compilations made jointly with Kamna Prasad, but translated entirely by
me: Celebrating the Best of Urdu Poetry (Penguin). I quote one
memorable verse by her.

	Raat yoon dil main teree khoyee huee yaad aaee
	Jaisey veeraney main chupkey sey bahaar aa jaaye
	Jaisey sahaaron mein hauley sey chalaey baad-e-naseem
	Jaisey beemaar ko bevajah qaraar aajaaye

	Last night the lost memory of you stole into my mind
	Stealthily as spring steals into a wilderness;
	As on desert wastes a gentle breeze begins to blow
	As in one sick beyond hope, hope begins to grow.

Tariq Ali on Victor Kiernan

Kiernan's knowledge of India was first-hand. He was there from 1938-46,
establishing contacts and organising study-circles with local
Communists and teaching at Aitchison (formerly Chiefs) College, an
institution created to educate the Indian nobility along the lines
suggested by the late Lord Macaulay. What the students (mostly
wooden-headed wastrels) made of Kiernan has never been revealed, but
one or two of the better ones did later embrace radical ideas. It would
be nice to think that he was responsible: it is hard to imagine who
else it could have been. The experience taught him a great deal about
imperialism and in a set of stunningly well-written books he wrote a
great deal on the origins and development of the American Empire, the
Spanish colonisation of South America and on other European empires.

He was by now fluent in Persian and Urdu and had met Iqbal and the
young Faiz, two of the greatest poets produced by Northern
India. Kiernan translated both of them into English, which played no
small part in helping to enlarge their audience at a time when imperial
languages were totally dominant. His interpretation of Shakespeare is
much underrated but were it put on course lists it would be a healthy
antidote to the embalming.

He had married the dancer and theatrical activist Shanta Gandhi in 1938
in Bombay, but they split up before Kiernan left India in 1946. Almost
forty years later he married Heather Massey. When I met him soon
afterwards he confessed that she had rejuvenated him
intellectually. Kiernan's subsequent writings confirmed this view.

Throughout his life he stubbornly adhered to Marxist ideas, but without
a trace of rigidity or sullenness. He was not one to pander to the
latest fashions and despised the post-modernist wave that swept the
academy in the 80s and 90s, rejecting history in favour of
trivia. Angered by triumphalist mainstream commentaries proclaiming the
virtues of capitalism he wrote a sharp rebuttal. "Modern Capitalism and
Its Shepherds" was published once again in the New Left Review in
October 1990:

Merchant capital, usurer capital, have been ubiquitous, but they have not
by themselves brought about any decisive alteration of the world. It is
industrial capital that has led to revolutionary change, and been the
highroad to a scientific technology that has transformed agriculture as
well as industry, society as well as economy. Industrial capitalism
peeped out here and there before the nineteenth century, but on any
considerable scale it seems to have been rejected like an alien graft, as
something too unnatural to spread far.

It has been a strange aberration on the human path, an abrupt
mutation. Forces outside economic life were needed to establish it; only
very complex, exceptional conditions could engender, or keep alive, the
entrepreneurial spirit. There have always been much easier ways of making
money than long-term industrial investment, the hard grind of running a
factory. J.P. Morgan preferred to sit in a back parlour on Wall Street
smoking cigars and playing solitaire, while money flowed towards him. The
English, first to discover the industrial highroad, were soon deserting
it for similar parlours in the City, or looking for byways, short cuts
and colonial Eldorados.

The current crisis would not have surprised him at all. Fictive
capital, I can hear him saying, has no future.

Tariq Ali


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This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Sep 18