book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

The rebel's silhouette: selected poems

Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Agha Shahid Ali (tr.)

Faiz, Faiz Ahmad; Agha Shahid Ali (tr.);

The rebel's silhouette: selected poems

University of Massachusetts Press, 1995, 102 pages

ISBN 0870239759, 9780870239755

topics: |  poetry | urdu | india | pakistan | translation

      Why should I mourn if my tablet and pen are forbidden,
      when I have dipped my fingers in my own blood until they stain?
      My lips have been silenced, but what of it? For I have hidden
      a tongue in every round-mouthed link of my chain.
		- from Faiz's first prison composition, tr. Ted Genoways

In March 1951 Faiz Ahmed Faiz was editor of the liberal Pakistan Times, and his Marxist, anti-government, politics were well known. However, as one of the leading poets of the nation, his arrest in the early hours of March 9, 1951, was rather unexpected. Faiz told his wife Alys that he felt the detention was in order to silence him on the eve of the Punjab elections. However, the arrest warrant, issued under an obsolete British-period law, was for "indefinite detention without trial". That morning, the Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan announced a failed coup attempt (later known as the Rawalpindi conspiracy) on radio, naming Faiz as one of the conspirators. It turned out that Faiz had attended some of the key meetings related to the coup at Major General Akbar Khan's house a month back, though the extent of his personal culpability in the coup is uncertain. He was eventually sentenced to prison for four years. Most of this period he was in Hyderabad prison, in the middle of the Sindh desert.

Victor Kiernan remarks of this period:

	His health suffered, but he was able to read, and think his own
	thoughts...  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 office.

	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. 
					Poems by Faiz,p.25

Earlier Faiz had been noted for his romantic poetry, although he had already
composed a number of political poems as well.  In his months in prison, he
found himself writing far more poetry than he had in the last few years,
Surprisingly, the jailors 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 censors. 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, wrote:

	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.

Indeed, who today knows about the failed Rawalpindi conspiracy, but Faiz
remains a household name for poetry lovers.

Much of the above is based on this scholarly paper by Ted Genoways:
"Let Them Snuff Out the Moon": Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Prison Lyrics in
Dast-e Saba," (Annual of Urdu studies, Volume 19, 2004); please check it
out for many more details.

The poems

Faiz's silhouette of a "rebel" was formed largely by these volumes, though
there were many precursors.  How the poems avoided censorhip remains
unclear, though urdu poetry is so laden with conventional symbols.  Many
symbols are quite classical in Urdu literature - e.g. the image of the
government as the hangman, the qatil, goes back to urdu poetry after the
rebellion, when 30,000 civilians were strung up from trees in Delhi by the
British Raj.  Other traditional symbols, often with a Persian ancestry,
include chaman (garden), sanam (idol), sayyaad (captor) and qafas
(prison) to refer conventionally to other realities and to escape
censorship.  Some of these meanings may be quite opaque, and Ted Genoways
suggests as much, but I suspect that jail authorities, who are competent
people selected through academically rigorous exams, must have been privy
to much that was being said.

Having said all this, I must say that most of the poems are actually from
other (later) texts; nonetheless, it is the rebel image that was formed
during these difficult prison years, when a death sentence seemed imminent.

Translations of Faiz

Given the popularity these poems achieved, translations started
coming up.  One of the earliest was by Poems by Faiz
by Victor Kiernan, (originally 1958, revised 1971).  This remains one of
the finest translations, and also a lovely volume because it presents the
originals in Urdu (nashtaliq), transliterated roman, and also in a more
direct, literal version, along with the poetic denouement.

But noted US poet Naomi Lazard's The true subject: Selected Poems of
Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1988), brought in a new freshness and a more direct
connection with the original. She embarked on this venture after meeting
Faiz in Pakistan in the 1960s, but more purposefully after they met in
Honolulu at a liteary conference in 1979.

At this point, Lazard had told Faiz, based on a reference in Robert
Graves' White Goddess, that "The true subject of poetry is the loss of
the beloved."  It turned out - and Lazard provides the entire circle of
quotations - that this was originally what Faiz had told the Welsh poet
Alun Lewis when they had met in Burma in 1944.  Lewis had written the
phrase in a letter to Graves, who eventually used it in his novel that
Naomi read...

However, as Agha laments in a long tribute to Faiz's poetry and Naomi's
translation (Grand Street, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Winter, 1990),
pp. 129-138), Naomi's volume of translations remained largely ignored; as
indeed, was all of the literature from the Muslim world.  He was shocked to
note how:

	Faiz Ahmed Faiz's death, on November 20, 1984, was front-page news in
	the papers of India, Bangladesh, the Middle East, the Soviet Union,
	and many other countries. ...  The leading obituary in the Times of
	London was that of Faiz.  But there was not a word in the New York
	Times.  And none in Newsweek. None in Time.

This oblivion extends to Arab poets - a poet like Mahmoud Darwish was
noted only in context of how his militant poem, Those who pass between fleeting words,
had upset many Israelis.  

This syntax which hides the very significance of literature in the Muslim
world, bothered Agha very deeply.  The ignorance of major poets bothered

	To have to introduce Faiz's name, a name that is mentioned in
	Pakistan - to quote Naomi Shihab Nye - as often as the sun is,
	seemed a terrible insult.

It is out of this feeling of inadequate response that Agha, who had been
translating Faiz for some time, brought out the Rebel's silhouette in 1991.

Surprisingly, within a few years, Faiz's reputation would improve
considerably, in part no doubt due to Agha's own work.  Three years after
this article by Agha, Carolyn Forché brought out her landmark anthology,
Against Forgetting: Twentieth-century Poetry of Witness, which carried four
poems by Faiz (three were Naomi translations, one by Agha).  By 1996, J.D. McClatchy's
Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry had Faiz as a featured poet
(along with AK Ramanujan, Taslima Nasrin, and Jayanta Mahapatra).

By 2000, Agha was editing the section on "Middle East and Central
Asia", in Jeffery Paine's Poetry of Our World, where Faiz
and Ramanujan (edited by Anita Desai), were the only poets profiled from
South Asia (two translations by Lazard and four by Agha).

Quality of Translations

While Naomi Lazard and Agha Shahid Ali are definitely
superlative in their translations of Faiz, there are many other claimants
and translators for Faiz.  Some, such as Mahmood Jamal or Azfar Hussain,
are competent, but fail to transmit the excitement of Faiz in English.
The polymath historian Victor Kiernan does a remarkable job, and his
poetry has the essence of Faiz, but I feel that he is sometimes fails to
be economic enought.  Shiv K. Kumar is also very effective. 

However, there are too many others who are rather pedestrian (e.g. K C Kanda)
- the NBT paper they are printed on is a tragedy of printer's ink.

My personal assessment is that both Naomi and Agha are reasonably
faithful to the originals, though perhaps Agha takes a little more freedom
than does Naomi.

The Rebel's Silhouette is an epochal book.  These poems have found a wide
audience on the web, and I cite sources below where I could, others are
found at too many sites.  Enjoy these poems, but do get a copy, if nothing
else, then for Agha's illuminating introduction.


        Last Night                                       3
        Don't Ask Me for That Love Again                 5
        Ghazal                                           7
        Solitude                                         9
        Ghazal                                          11
        Ghazal                                          13
        Ghazal                                          15
        August 1952                                     17
        A Prison Evening                                19
        A Prison Daybreak                               21
        Ghazal (We all were killed this)                25
        Fragrant Hands                                  29
        Ghazal (Ask no more about separation)           31
        City of Lights                                  33
        Ghazal (let the breeze pour colours)            35
        We Who Were Executed                            39
        Evening                                         43
        Solitary Confinement                            45
        Ghazal (your sorrow is in search of someone)    47
        Poem (it was me it was my shirt)                51
        Two Elegies: 1. Appointments                    53
        Two Elegies: 2. The Rain of Stones Is Finished  55
        Before You Came                                 57
        Be Near Me                                      59
        Vista                                           61
        In Search of Vanished Blood                     63
        The City from Here                              65
        Black Out                                       67
        Let Me Think                                    69
        The Heart Gives Up                              73
        Stay Away from Me (Bangladesh I)                75
        Bangladesh II                                   77
        Desire                                          79
        Evening in Ashkabaad                            81
        Wash the Blood off Your Feet                    85
        On My Return from Dhaka (Bangladesh III)        87
        It Is Spring Again                              89
        A Letter from Prison                            91
        For Vera                                        93
        A Night in the Desert                           95
        So Bring the Order for My Execution             99
        You Tell Us What To Do                          101



Last night 3

       [original: rAt yun dil me teri khoI hui yAd Aye]

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.

     compare different translations at

Don't ask me for that love again : 5

   	   [mujh se pehli si mohabbat meri mehboob na mAng]

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.

 i find that even those who don't follow Urdu at all (myself included,
 pretty much), can still find themselves moved by the power of the
 original lines

            mujh se pehli si mohabat mere mehboob na mang
            mai ne samjha tha ke tu hai to darakh'shan hai hayat
            tera gham hai tu gham e dehar ka ghag'da kya hai
            teri soorat se hai alam main baharoon ko sabat
            teri aankhon ke siwa dunya main rakha kya hai?
            tu jo mil jaye to taqdeer nigoon ho jaye
            yun na tha maine faqat chaha tha yun ho jaye
            aur bhi dukh hain zamane main mohabbat ke siwa
            rAhaten aur bhi hain wasal ki rahat ke siwa
            un ginat sadyoon ke tareek bahi'mana talism
            resham o utlas kimkhwab main bunwaye hue
            ja baja bikte hue kocha o bazar main jism
            khak main luthre hue khoon main nehlaye hue
            laut jati hai idhar ko bhi nazar kya kijye
            ab bhi dilkash hai tera husn magar kya kijye

            aur bhi dukh hain zamane main mohabat ke siwa
            rAhaten aur bhi hain wasal ki rAhat ke siwa
            mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mehboob na mang

       also read this Agha Shahid Ali tribute at Milli Gazette


Someone, finally, is here! No, unhappy heart, no one -
just a passerby on his way.
The night has surrendered
to clouds of scattered stars.
The lamps in the hall waver.
Having listened with longing for steps,
the roads too are fast asleep.
A strange dust has buried every footprint.
Blow out the lamps, break the glasses, erase
all memory of wine. Heart,
bolt forever your sleepless doors,
tell every dream that knocks to go away.
No one, now no one will ever return.
Tr. by Agha Shahid Ali


	phir ko’ii AyA, dil-e-zAr! nahiin, ko’ii nahiin;
	rAh-rau hogA, kahiin aur chalA jAegA.
	dhal chukii rAt, bikharne lagA tAron kA ghubAr,
	larkharAne lage aiwAnon mein khwAbiida charAgh,
	so ga’ii rAsta tak takke har ek rah guzAr;
	ajnabi khAk ne dhundlA diye qadmon ke surAgh.
	gul karo shamiin, barhA do mai-o-miinA-o-ayAgh,
	apne be khwAb kivAron ko muqaffal kar lo;
	ab yahAn ko’ii nahiin, ko’ii nahiin Ayega!

link: listen to faiz reading tanhA'i_

August 1952 : p.17

It's still distant, but there are hints of springtime:
some flowers, aching to bloom, have torn open their collars.
In this era of autumn, almost winter, leaves can still be heard:
their dry orchestras play, hidden in corners of the garden.
Night is still where it was, but colors at times take flight,
leaving red feathers of dawn on the sky.
Don't regret our breath's use as air, our blood's as oil --
some lamps at last are burning in the night.
Tilt your cup, don't hesitate! Having given up all,
we don't need wine. We've freed ourselves, made Time irrelevant.
When imprisoned man opens his eyes, cages will dissolve: air, fire,
water, earth -- all have pledged such dawns, such gardens to him.
Your feet bleed, Faiz, something surely will bloom
as you water the desert simply by walking through it.

A prison evening : 19

    	     [original: Zinda ki ek shAm]

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 or torture make me bitter,
if just one evening in prison
can be so strangely sweet,
if just one moment anywhere on this earth.

	[the ending alters somewhat the layout of faiz, which ends with
	"let's see them extinguish the moon":
		Dil se paiham khayal kahta hai
		Itni shireen hai zindagi is pal
		Zulm ka zahar gholnewale
		Kamran ho sakenge aaj na kal
		Jalvagahe-visaal ki shamayein
		Vo bujha bhi chuke agar to kya
		Chand ko gul karen, to hum jane.

	 whereas Agha puts the moon reference much earlier.  I feel this
	 weakens the poem somewhat.  also, he adds a reference to the prison;
	 this may be intended for the non-clued-in English reader;  but he
	 has already said that in the title.

	 Ted Genoways renders the last stanza as:

		But one thought keeps running through my heart—
		how sweet these moments are. Though
		there are those who may concoct tyranny's poisons,
		they will have no victories, not today or tomorrow.
		So what if they douse the candles in rooms
		where lovers meet? If they’re so mighty,
		let them snuff out the moon. ]


Fragrant Hands : 29

    (For the unknown woman who sent me a bouquet of flowers in prison)

A strange arrangement to comfort the heart-
someone has made that possible
in a corner of the cell
with giving generous hands,

and the air is now so softened,
I compare it with the beloved's hair,
the air is so drowned,
I think a body, wearing a jewellry of blossoms,
has just passed this way.

And as the air holds itself together,
a bouquet of compassion,
I can say:

Let thousands of watches be set on cages
by those who worship cruelty,
fidelity will always be in bloom -
this fidelity on which are grafted
the defeats and triumphs of the heart.

Should you, Oh air, ever come across her,
my friend of fragrant hands, recite this from Hafiz of Shiraz to her:
"Nothing in this world is without terrible barriers -
Except love, but only when it begins."

City of Lights : 33

On each patch of green, from one shade to the next,
the noon is erasing itself by wiping out all colour,
becoming pale, desolation everywhere,
the poison of exile painted on the walls.
In the distance,
there are terrible sorrows, like tides:
they draw back, swell, become full, subside.
They've turned the horizon to mist.
And behind that mist is the city of lights,
my city of many lights.
How will I return to you, my city,
where is the road to your lights? My hopes
are in retreat, exhausted by these unlit, broken walls,
and my heart, their leader, is in terrible doubt.
But let all be well, my city, if under
cover of darkness, in a final attack,
my heart leads its reserves of longings
and storms you tonight. Just tell all your lovers
to turn the wicks of their lamps high
so that I may find you, Oh, city,
my city of many lights.

We Who Were Executed

    (After reading the letters of Julius and Ether Rosenberg)
	 [original: ham jo tarIk rAhoN meN mAre gaye
	 tere honToN ke phUloN kI chAhat meN ham...	 ]

I longed for your lips, dreamed of their roses:
I was hanged from the dry branch of the scaffold.
I wanted to touch your hands, their silver light:
I was murdered in the half-light of dim lanes.

And there where you were crucified,
so far away from my words,
you still were beautiful:
color kept clinging to your lips -
rapture was still vivid in your hair -
light remained silvering in your hands.

When the night of cruelty merged with the roads you had taked,
I came as far as my feet could bring me,
on my lips the phrase of a song,
my heart lit up only by sorrow.
This sorrow was my testimony to your beauty–
Look! I remained a witness till the end,
I who was killed in the darkest lanes.

It's true– that not to reach you was fate–
but who’ll deny that to love you
was entirely in my hands?
So why complain if these matters of desire
brought me inevitably to the execution grounds?

Why complain? Holding up our sorrows as banners,
new lovers will emerge
from the lanes where we were killed
and embark, in caravans, on those highways of desire.
It's because of them that we shortened the distances of sorrow,
it's because of them that we went out to make the world our own,
we who were murdered in the darkest lanes.

Evening (shAm)

The trees are dark ruins of temples,
seeking excuses to crumble
since who knows when–
their roofs are cracked,
and their doors lost to ancient winds.
And the sky is a priest,
saffron marks on his forehead,
ashes smeared on his body.
He sits by the temples, worn to a shadow, not looking up.

Some terrible magician, hidden behind curtains,
has hypnotized Time
so this evening is a net
in which twilight is caught.
Now darkness will never come–
and there will never be morning.

The sky waits for this spell to be broken,
for History to tear itself from this net,
for Silence to break its chains
so that a symphony of conch shells
may wake up the statues
and a beautiful, dark goddess,
her anklets echoing, may unveil herself.
	links: original and this translation
	       faiz reading shAm at lib. congress

Before you came : 57

Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of sight,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.

Now everything is like my heart,
a color at the edge of blood:
the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,
the gold when we meet, the season ablaze,
the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,
and the black when you cover the earth
with the coal of dead fires.

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?
The sky is a shirt wet with tears,
the road a vein about to break,
and the glass of wine a mirror in which
the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

Don't leave now that you're here—
Stay. So the world may become like itself again:
so the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

Be Near Me : 59

	[original: pAs raho, 1965
	tum mere pas raho
	mere qatil, mere dildAr, mere pAs raho]

You who demolish me, you whom I love,           pAs raho
be near me. Remain near me when evening,
drunk on the blood of the skies,                tum mere pas raho
becomes night, in its one hand                  mere qAtil, mere dildAr, mere pAs raho
a perfumed balm, in the other                   jis ghaRi rAt chale
a sword sheathed in the diamond of stars.       Asmanon ka lahu pi ke siyah rAt chale
                                                marham-e-mushk liye nashtar-e-almAs liye
Be near me when night laments or sings,         bain karti hui hasti hui gAti nikle
or when it begins to dance,
its steel-blue anklets ringing with grief.      dard ki kAsni pAzeb bajAti nikle
                                                jis ghaRi seene me dube hue dil
Be here when longings, long submerged           Astinon mein nihAn hAthon ki rah takne lagein
in the heart's waters, resurface                As liye
and when everyone begins to look:               Aur bachon ke bilakhne ki tarAh kulkul-e-may
Where is the assassin? In whose sleeve          behr-e-nAsudgi machle to manAye na mane
is hidden the redeeming knife?                  jab koi bAt banAye na bane
                                                jab na koi bAt chale
And when wine, as it is poured, is the sobbing  jis ghaRi rAt chale
of children whom nothing will console -         jis ghaRi mAtmi sunsAn, siyah rAt chale
when nothing holds,                             pAs raho
when nothing is:                                mere qAtil, mere dildAr, mere pAs raho
at that dark hour when night mourns,				 [Dast-e-Tah-e-Sang, 1965]
be near me, my destroyer, my lover,
be near me.

Links: audio: Faiz reads pas raho at the US Lib of Congress archive

Vista : 61

Deserted street, shadows of trees and houses, locked doors -
We watched the moon become a woman,
baring her breast, softly, on the edge of a rooftop.
Below the earth was blue, a lake of stilled shadows,
on which a leaf, the bubble of a second, floated
and then burst, softly.
Pale, very pale, gently, very slowly,
wine that is cold colour
was poured into my glass,
and the roses of your hands, the decanter and the glass,
were, like the outline
of a dream, in focus, for a moment.
Then they melted, softly.
My heart once again promised love, softly.
You said, "But softly."
The moon, breathing as it went down, said,
"More, yet more softly."

In Search of Vanished Blood 63

        [original: yatIm lahU, 1971
        kahin nahi hain kahin bhI nahi lahU kA suhrAg]

   There's no sign of blood, not anywhere.
   I've searched everywhere.
   The executioner's hands are clean, his nails transparent.
   The sleeves of each assassin are spotless.
   No sign of blood: no trace of red,
   not on the edge of the knife, none on the point of the sword.
   The ground is without stains, the ceiling white.
   The blood which has disappeared without leaving a trace
   isn't part of written history: who will guide me to it?
   It wasn't spilled in service of emperors --
   -- it earned no honor, had no wish granted.
   It wasn't offered in rituals of sacrifice --
   -- no cup of absolution holds it in a temple.
   It wasn't shed in any battle --
   -- no one calligraphed it on banners of victory.
   But, unheard, it still kept crying out to be heard.
   No one had the time to listen, no one the desire.
   It kept crying out, this orphan blood,
   but there was no witness. No case was filed.
   From the beginning this blood was nourished only by dust.
   Then it turned to ashes, left no trace, became food for dust.

	online at:

Let me think : 69

	[original: ek zara sochne do
	kon si shAkh mein phool Aye the sabse pehle
	kon be-rang hui ranj-o-talab se pehle]

Let me think
just for a while...
In that withered garden,
more bare than even a desert now,
which branch first burst into blossom?
And which was the first to lose its colours
before everything succumbed to regret?
At what exact moment
were the trees drained of blood
so when the veins snapped,
nothing could be saved?
Oh, let me think...

Yes, let me think for a while...
Where in that once-teeming city,
forsaken even by loneliness now,
was that fire first lit
that burned it down to ruins?
From which of its blacked-out rows of windows
flew the first arrows?
In which home was the first candle lit?
Let met think ...
	sochne do . . .

You ask me about that country...
Whose details now escape me.
I don't remember its geography,
nothing of its history.
And should I visit it in memory,
it would be as I would a past lover,
After years, for a night,
no longer restless with passion, with no fear of regret
I have reached that age
when one visits the heart merely as a courtesy,
the way one keeps in touch
with any old neighbour.
so don't question me about the heart.
Just let me think...

Stay Away from Me (Bangladesh I) : 75

How can I embellish this carnival of slaughter,
	how decorate this massacre?
Whose attention could my lamenting blood attract?
There's almost no blood in my rawboned body
and what's left
isn’t enough to burn as oil in the lamp,
not enough to fill a wineglass.
It can feed no fire,
extinguish no thirst.
There's a poverty of blood in my ravaged body—
a terrible poison now runs in it.
If you pierce my veins, each drop will foam
    as venom at the cobra's fangs.
Each drop is the anguished longing of ages’
the burning seal of a rage hushed up for years.
Beware of me. My body is a river of poison.
Stay away from me. My body is a parched log in the desert.
If you burn it, you won’t see the cypress or the jasmine,
but my bones blossoming like thorns in the cactus.
If you throw it in the forests,
instead of morning perfumes, you’ll scatter
the dust of my seared soul.
So stay away from me. Because I’m thirsting for blood.

	Here Faiz is protesting the 1971 killings of three million
	East Pakistani civilians by the Pakistani Army.
	Sajed Kamal provides some background on this poem and the next..

Bangladesh II : 77

This is how my sorrow became visible:
its dust, piling up for years in my heart,
finally reached my eyes,

the bitterness now so clear that
I had to listen when my friends
told me to wash my eyes with blood.

Everything at once was tangled in blood—
each face, each idol, red everywhere.
Blood swept over the sun, washing away its gold.

The moon erupted with blood, its silver extinguished.
The sky promised a morning of blood,
and the night wept only blood.

The trees hardened into crimson pillars.
All flowers filled their eyes with blood.
And every glance was an arrow,

each pierced image blood. This blood
—a river crying out for martyrs—
flows on in longing. And in sorrow, in rage, in love.

Let it flow. Should it be dammed up,
there will only be hatred cloaked in colors of death.
Don't let this happen, my friends,

bring all my tears back instead,
a flood to purify my dust-filled eyes,
to was this blood forever from my eyes.

It is spring again : 89

It is spring.  And the ledger is opened again.
from the abyss where they were frozen,
those days suddenly return, those days
that passed away from your lips, that died
with all our kisses, unaccounted.
The roses return: they are your fragrance;
they are the blood of your lovers.
Sorrow returns.  I go through my pain
and the agony of friends still lost in the memory
of moon-silver arms, the caresses of vanished women.
I go through page after page.  There are no answers,
and spring has come once again, asking
the same questions, reopening account after account.

You tell us what to do : 101

When we launched life
on the river of grief,
how vital were our arms, how ruby our blood.
With a few strokes, it seemed,
we would cross all pain,
we would soon disembark.
That didn't happen.
In the stillness of each wave we found invisible currents.
The boatmen, too, were unskilled,
their oars untested.
Investigate the matter as you will,
blame whomever, as much as you want,
but the river hasn't changed,
the raft is still the same.
Now you suggest what's to be done,
you tell us how to come ashore.

When we saw the wounds of our country
appear on our skins,
we believed each word of the healers.
Besides, we remembered so many cures,
it seemed at any moment
all troubles would end, each wound heal completely.
That didn't happen: our ailments
were so many, so deep within us
that all diagnoses proved false, each remedy useless.
Now do whatever, follow each clue,
accuse whomever, as much as you will,
our bodies are still the same,
our wounds still open.
Now tell us what we should do,
you tell us how to heal these wounds.


Born in India and considered the leading poet on the South Asian
subcontinent, Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) was a two-time Nobel nominee and
winner of the 1962 Lenin Peace Prize. His evening readings in
Hindi/Urdu-speaking regions drew thousands of listeners. Associated with the
Communist party in his youth, Faiz became an outspoken poet in opposition to
the Pakistani government. He was also a professor of English literature, a
distinguished editor and a major figure in the Afro-Asian writer's
movement. This volume offers a selection of Faiz's poetry in a bilingual
Urdu/English edition with a new introduction by poet and translator Agha
Shahid Ali.

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This review by Amit Mukerjee was last updated on : 2015 Aug 25