One of the foremost poets in the Indian sub-continent, Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born in Sialkot in Pakistan. He studied philosophy and English literature, but poetry and politics preoccupied him more than anything else. For writing poetry that always antagonizes the ruling Úlite and challenges colonial and feudal values, like such rebellious writers as Ngugi of Kenya and Darwish of Palestine, Faiz had to go to jail repeatedly during both colonial and postcolonial times in Pakistan. Inspired by the Marxist ideology, Faiz’s poetry exhibits a strong sense of commitment to lower-class people, yet it always maintains a unique beauty nourished by the long, rich tradition of Urdu literature. His love poems are as appealing as his political poems, and he is considered primarily responsible for shaping poetic diction in contemporary Urdu poetry. Which poems deal with love, and which ones with politics? What evidence is there that Faiz is a courageous poet? What is his attitude towards loneliness and death?
Loneliness like a good, old friend
visits my house to pour wine in the evening.
And we sit together, waiting for the moon,
and for your face to sparkle in every shadow.
Last night your lost memory visited my heart
as spring visits the wilderness quietly,
as the breeze echoes the silence of her footfalls
in the desert,
as peace slowly, softly descends on one’s sickness.
Do not strike the chord of sorrow tonight!
Days burning with pain turn to ashes.
Who knows what happens tomorrow?
Last night is lost; tomorrow’s frontier wiped out:
Who knows if there will be another dawn?
Life is nothing, it’s only tonight!
Tonight we can be what the gods are!
Do not strike the chord of sorrow, tonight!
Do not repeat stories of sufferings now,
Do not complain, let your fate play its role,
Do not think of tomorrows, give a damn–
Shed no tears for seasons gone by,
All sighs and cries wind up their tales,
Oh, do not strike the same chord again!
Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.
See how in the blacksmith’s shop
The flame burns wild, the iron glows red;
The locks open their jaws,
And every chain begins to break.
Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, ’cause the truth is not dead yet,
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.
If they snatch my ink and pen,
I should not complain,
For I have dipped my fingers
In the blood of my heart.
I should not complain
Even if they seal my tongue,
For every ring of my chain
Is a tongue ready to speak.
The wall has grown all black, upto the circling roof.
Roads are empty, travellers all gone. Once again
My night begins to converse with its loneliness;
My visitor I feel has come once again.
Henna stains one palm, blood wets another;
One eye poisons, the other cures.
None leaves or enters my heart’s lodging;
Loneliness leaves the flower of pain unwatered,
Who is there to fill the cup of its wound with color?
My visitor I feel has come once again,
Of her own will, my old friend–her name
Is Death: a friend in need, yet an enemy–
The murderess and the sweetheart!
Translated by Azfar Hussain
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