A Prison Evening

I was looking for a transliteration of an Urdu poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and found it; but then I found this also, and it was amazingly beautiful -- from The Wondering Minstrels :

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.

-- Faiz Ahmed Faiz (translated from Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali)

(The beauty and clarity of this translation became even more apparent when I compared it to the one by Shiv K. Kumar in my copy of Selected Poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, which begins: "From the sinuous pathways of evening stars / the night climbs down, step by step...")

Read about Faiz (1911-1984) in the Wikipedia.


Anonymous said...

This is truly beautiful Nancy,it is funny how much a good transalator is 'undervalued' in capturing the essence and the more subtler nuances of another language.
I love reading your blog!

Priya (Toronto)

Peter said...


Dick Jones said...

Beautiful indeed, but it does throw up once again the old issue of 'translation' & 'version'. I am entirely unqualified to comment on either former or latter in this case, but I'm currently translating a poem from French into English & the principal struggle is between having a clear sense of the poet's voice & speaking in one's own.

Nancy said...

You're absolutely right; I suppose that I would prefer to read a beautiful poem, even if it's the 'version' of a good poet - but it is a problem that will always attend translation. Not only that, but 'good' translations from the 19th century, say, are hard (for me)to read today, because our own language keeps changing...

CdV said...

Wow. Took my breath away.