Friday, 14 December 2007

Faiz Ahmed Faiz - A Progressive Pakistani 20th Century Poet

I personally have a great love for this poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (see right), especially when sung by Noor Jehan. I found this fascinating article about it and thought I would share it. It might be an idea to read the article and then listen to the ghazal. If you are not conversant in Urdu then at least you have an idea about what she is saying.

by Simon Korner @

"Don't Ask Me for That Love Again"

Romantic love disturbed by rumours of injustice, and the strange sweetness of a prison evening. Simon Korner intoduces a poem by Pakistan's great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. (

Just as the poetry of Pablo Neruda was massively popular with ordinary Chileans - who regarded him as their national poet - so Faiz Ahmed Faiz was loved by millions of Pakistanis, who knew his poems by heart. His funeral in 1984 was a day of mourning for the whole country, and many Faiz poems have been set to music and are still widely sung.

Faiz, a Communist like Neruda, was born in British India in 1911, the son of a lawyer. He joined the newly formed Progressive Writers’ Movement in the 1930s, served in the Indian Army during the Second World War, becoming a Lieutenant Colonel, and after Partition - which he condemned - moved to Pakistan, where he became editor of the Pakistan Times, an English-language daily. He also worked as managing editor of the Urdu daily Imroz, and was actively involved in organising trade unions.

In 1951 Faiz was accused of plotting a coup with a group of Pakistani army officers and, after four years on death row, was released in 1955 after worldwide pressure from such stars as Paul Robeson. In 1962 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union. He went into exile in Moscow, London and Beirut, eventually returning to Pakistan.

Faiz as a young manMuch of his poetry follows the conventions of ghazal, the classical form of traditional Urdu poetry, which had been influenced by Persian literature. But Faiz’s work revolutionises the conventions, extending the meanings of many traditional terms. For instance, Faiz often addresses poems to his "beloved", a central word in the ghazal vocabulary. In his hands, it refers to both a person and also to the people as whole, even to revolution. He sees the individual as existing within a wider context: “The self of a human being, despite all its loves, troubles, joys and pains, is a tiny, limited and humble thing.”

His most famous poem Don’t Ask Me for That Love Again, which is not in the strict ghazal form, explains why he can no longer cocoon himself inside romantic love:

“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.”

He goes on to recall powerfully the total absorption of being in love:

“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, whenever I looked, was nothing but your eyes.”

But such romanticism is answered in the second part of the poem, where his later experiences are described:

“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…”

The youthful, Romeo-like quality in the line “If you’d fall into my arms, Fate would be helpless” cannot be sustained in the face of reality:

“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.”

An alternative translation of these lines puts it even more strongly:
“Everywhere – in the alleys and bazaars –
Human flesh is being sold -
Throbbing between layers of dust – bathed in blood.”

He can’t ignore this reality once he has seen it, and yet neither can he forget his human beloved. “And you are still so ravishing – what should I do?” This, perhaps, is the source of the poem’s power – its refusal to opt for simple heroics and straighten out the ambivalence he feels. He can’t deny how sweet love is, and yet in spite of this he also acknowledges that:

“There are other sorrows in this world,
comforts other than love.
Don’t ask me, my love, for that love again.”

It isn’t that he scorns love but that he understands that it can’t exist in isolation from the world. The phrase “comforts other than love” suggests the joys of political struggle and comradeship, as though these could be a different, wider form of love. In that repetition of “my love” in the final line, Faiz nevertheless re-emphasises how difficult it is to leave behind his former bliss. This is a poem about the heavy burden of taking on responsibility, and the inner struggle that that entails.

Don’t Ask Me for That Love Again
mujh se pehli si mohabbat meray mehbub na maang

mein ne samjha tha kay tu hai to darakhshaan hai hayaat
I had thought if I had you, life would shine eternally on me
tera gham hai to gham-e-dahar ka jhagdra kya hai
If I had your sorrows, those of the universe would mean nothing
teri surat se hai aalam mein bahaaron ko sabaat
Your face would bring permanence to every spring
teri aankhon ke sivaa duniya mein rakkha kya hai
What is there but your eyes to see in the world anyway
tu jo mil jaaye to taqdir niguun ho jaaye
If I found you, my fate would bow down to me
yun na tha mein ne faqat chahaa tha yun ho jaaye
This was not how it was, it was merely how I wished it to be

anaginat sadiyon ki taarik bahimanaa talism
The dreadful magic of uncountable dark years
resham-o-atalas-o-kamkhvaab mein bunavaaye huye
Woven in silk, satin and brocade
jaa-ba-jaa bikate huye kuuchaa-o-baazaar mein jism
In every corner are bodies sold in the market
khaak mein lithade huye khuun mein nahalaaye huye
Covered in dust, bathed in blood

jism nikale huye amaraaz ke tannuuron se
Bodies retrieved from the cauldrons of disease
piip bahatii hu_ii galate huye naasuuron se
Discharge flowing from their rotten ulcers
laut jaati hai udhar ko bhi nazar kyaa kije
Still returns my gaze in that direction, what can be done
ab bhi dilkash hai tera husn magar kya kije
Even now your beauty is tantalizing, but what can be done

aur bhii dukh hain zamaane mein mohabbat ke sivaa
There are other heartaches in the world than those of love
raahaten aur bhi vasl ki raahat ke sivaa
There is happiness other than the joy of union
mujh se pehli si mohabbat meray mehbub na maang
...Don’t ask me, my love, for that love again.”

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