Tuesday, February 07, 2006

 

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

(Thanks to Harry R. for recovering the text of this post.)

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911 - 1984) was the most important poet of Pakistan and of the Urdu language in the twentieth century and widely admired through the Islamic world. Born to a wealthy family in the Punjab, he received an excellent education in both English and Arabic literature. During the 1930's, he became involved in the Socialist movement and acquired the political views which were to be of fundamental importance throughout the rest of his life. After serving in the British army during the Second World War, he moved with his family to Pakistan after the Partition in 1947 and become editor of a leftist newspaper, The Pakistan Times. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1951 after being accused of participating in a left-wing plot to overthrow the government; he spent four years, mostly in solitary confinement under the threat of execution. Freed and returned to his position at The Pakistan Times in 1955, he was again removed and reimprisoned in 1958, then freed again and named Pakistan's most important poet by the very government which had imprisoned him. After winning the Soviet Lenin Peace Prize in 1962, he enjoyed wide-spread recognition. He was named chairman of the National Council of Arts but exiled when that Pakistani government fell, living in exile in Beirut for a number of years where he become especially beloved by the Palestinians who saw their struggles as much as Pakistan's in his poetry. He was finally able to return to Pakistan in the 1980's, where he died in 1984.


From the very beginning, Faiz's poetry drew on the tradtion of Urdu love poetry, as a poem like "Last Night" makes clear:


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.

(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)


"The Day Death Comes" illustrates the complex relationship that can exist between the lover and the beloved:


How will it be, the day death comes?
Perhaps like the gift at the beginning of night,
the first kiss on the lips given unasked,
the kiss that opens the way to brilliant worlds
while, in the distance, an April of nameless flowers
agitates the moon's heart.


Perhaps in this way: when the morning,
green with unopened buds, begins to shimmer
in the bedroom of the beloved,
and the tinkle of stars as they rush to depart
can be heard on the silent windows.


What will it be like, the day death comes?
Perhaps like a vein screaming
with the premonition of pain
under the edge of a knife, while a shadow,
the assassin holding the knife,
spreads out with a wingspan
from one end of the world to the other.


No matter when death comes, or how,
even though in the guise of the disdainful beloved
who is always cold,
there will be the same words of farewell to the heart:
"thank God it is finished, the night of the broken-hearted.
Praise be to the meeting of lips,
the honeyed lips I have known."


(Translated by Naomi Lazard)


But early on Faiz felt the need of extending his poetry to deal with more than the traditional subjects of love:


"Don't Ask Me for That Love Again"


That which then was ours, my love,
don't ask me for that love again.
The world was then gold, burnished with light --
and only because of you. That 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 in 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?
There are other sorrows in this world,
comforts other than love.
Don't ask me, my love, for that love again.


(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)


But his resolution to this conflict -- whether to choose the traditional subject of the beloved or the subject of political and social activism -- is not the expected one "Don't Ask Me for That Love Again" seems to suggest; rather than abandoning the traditions of romantic poetry, Faiz transforms them so that the "Beloved" becomes not just a woman but Pakistan itself, represented by the "city of lights" in the poem of that name:


"City of Lights"


On each patch of green, from one shade to the next,
the noon is erasing itself by wiping out all color,
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.

(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)


This is Faiz's great innovation and contribution to the long tradition of Urdu poetry -- to extend its subject matter to include the political and social within the context of the romantic poetry of the beloved.


Faiz also wrote powerfully of his experiences in prison in a number of his finest poems, such as "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 had 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.

(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)

Nor does he ever lose hope that things will become better for his beloved, his country, and that he and his suffering will have a part in making a better world come about:

"August 1952"

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.

(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)

What must never be forgotten, however, is the suffering of the nameless:

"In Search of Vanished Blood"

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.

(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)

Finally, Faiz seems to recognize that there is no overwhelming once-for-all victory in the struggle, nor is there any one individual who can lead the way and solve all the problems; instead, there is an ongoing process and a succession of individuals who contribute what they can, a process which never ends:

"You Tell Us What To Do"

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 would 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.

(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)

Comments:
From my RSS reader; some spacing problems:

~~
Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911 - 1984) was the most important poet of Pakistan and of the Urdu language in the twentieth century and widely admired through the Islamic world. Born to a wealthy family in the Punjab, he received an excellent education in both English and Arabic literature. During the 1930's, he became involved in the Socialist movement and acquired the political views which were to be of fundamental importance throughout the rest of his life. After serving in the British army during the Second World War, he moved with his family to Pakistan after the Partition in 1947 and become editor of a leftist newspaper, The Pakistan Times. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1951 after being accused of participating in a left-wing plot to overthrow the government; he spent four years, mostly in solitary confinement under the threat of execution. Freed and returned to his position at The Pakistan Times in 1955, he was again removed and reimprisoned in 1958, then freed again and named Pakistan's most important poet by the very government which had imprisoned him. After winning the Soviet Lenin Peace Prize in 1962, he enjoyed wide-spread recognition. He was named chairman of the National Council of Arts but exiled when that Pakistani government fell, living in exile in Beirut for a number of years where he become especially beloved by the Palestinians who saw their struggles as much as Pakistan's in his poetry. He was finally able to return to Pakistan in the 1980's, where he died in 1984.



From the very beginning, Faiz's poetry drew on the tradtion of Urdu love poetry, as a poem like "Last Night" makes clear:



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.



(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)



"The Day Death Comes" illustrates the complex relationship that can exist between the lover and the beloved:



How will it be, the day death comes?

Perhaps like the gift at the beginning of night,

the first kiss on the lips given unasked,

the kiss that opens the way to brilliant worlds

while, in the distance, an April of nameless flowers

agitates the moon's heart.



Perhaps in this way: when the morning,

green with unopened buds, begins to shimmer

in the bedroom of the beloved,

and the tinkle of stars as they rush to depart

can be heard on the silent windows.



What will it be like, the day death comes?

Perhaps like a vein screaming

with the premonition of pain

under the edge of a knife, while a shadow,

the assassin holding the knife,

spreads out with a wingspan

from one end of the world to the other.



No matter when death comes, or how,

even though in the guise of the disdainful beloved

who is always cold,

there will be the same words of farewell to the heart:

"thank God it is finished, the night of the broken-hearted.

Praise be to the meeting of lips,

the honeyed lips I have known."



(Translated by Naomi Lazard)



But early on Faiz felt the need of extending his poetry to deal with more than the traditiional subjects of love:



"Don't Ask Me for That Love Again"



That which then was ours, my love,

don't ask me for that love again.

The world was then gold, burnished with light --

and only because of you. That 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 in 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?

There are other sorrows in this world,

comforst other than love.

Don't ask me, my love, for that love again.



(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)



But his resolution to this conflict -- whether to choose the traditional subject of the beloved or the subject of political and social activism -- is not the expected one "Don't Ask Me for That Love Again" seems to suggest; rather than abandoning the traditions of romantic poetry, Faiz transforms them so that the "Beloved" becomes not just a woman but Pakistan itself, represented by the "city of lights" in the poem of that name:



"City of Lights"



On each patch of green, from one shade to the next,

the noon is erasing itself by wiping out all color,

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,

,u 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.



(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)



This is Faiz's great innovation and contribution to the long tradition of Urdu poetry -- to extend its subject matter to include the political and social within the context of the romantic poetry of the beloved.



Faiz also wrote powerfully of his experiences in prison in a number of his finest poems, such as "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 had 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.



(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)



Nor does he ever lose hope that things will become better for his beloved, his country, and that he and his suffering will have a part in making a better world come about:



"August 1952"



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.



Whe 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.



(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)



What must never be forgotten, however, is the suffering of the nameless:



"In Search of Vanished Blood"



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 kep 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.



(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)



Finally, Faiz seems to recognize that there is no overwhelming once-for-all victory in the struggle, nor is there any one individual who can lead the way and solve all the problems; instead, there is an ongoing process and a succession of individuals who contribute what they can, a process which never ends:



"You Tell Us What To Do"



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 would 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.



(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)
 
Bless you and thank you. I should be able to fix the various problems with a lot less effort than it would have taken to redo this whole entry. Thank you, again.
 
Hedgie,
Thanks for the work this takes. I'm enjoying the variety.

Noi
 
Thanks, Velma. Glad noibean is enjoying the entries.
 
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