[My all-time favorite poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote in Urdu at least three remarkably powerful and beautiful poems about Bangladesh.]  Edward...


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[My all-time favorite poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote in Urdu at least three remarkably powerful and beautiful poems about Bangladesh.] 

Edward Said characterized Faiz as one of the most powerful poets in the twentieth century and compared him to Pablo Neruda and WB Yeats. Indeed, I've always been inclined to place Faiz in the revolutionary tradition of poetry, constituted as it is by a remarkable constellation of poets such as Kazi Nazrul Islam (India/Bangladesh), Nazim Hikmet (Turkey), Pablo Neruda (Chile), Aime Cesaire (Martinique), Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rico), Roque Dalton (El Salvador), Otto Rene Castillo (Guatemala), Mahmud Darwish (Palestine), Kim Chi Ha (Korea), to name but a few. Of course, it is not at all surprising that both Neruda and Hikmet were Faiz's close friends and comrades. 

An internationalist in the Marxist tradition, Faiz courageously lent moral support to the cause of Bangladesh's national liberation while forcefully denouncing—on more occasions than one—Pakistan's horrific genocide in Bangladesh.

So Faiz visited Bangladesh several times. During the 1960s, he visited Dhaka and immediately impressed a whole host of Bangladeshi writers, journalists, and intellectuals on the left (particularly, if not exclusively, Shahidullah Qaiser, Munir Chowdhury, Murtaza Bashir, Shawkat Osman, Shakoor Ahmed, and Muzaffar Ahmed). It's not for nothing that back in the year 1964, the Bangla Academy accorded Faiz Ahmed Faiz a grand reception in Dhaka.

It's historically significant that the weekly called _Lail-O-Nahar_—one that Faiz used to edit with exemplary integrity and oppositional courage—warned openly that if the National Assembly on March 03, 1971 was to be postponed, the very history of Pakistan would inaugurate an unprecedented rupture with the existing order of things yielding concrete consequences. And Faiz was damn right: Bangladesh arose as a distinct, independent, sovereign nation-state in 1971, following a bloody war. 

Faiz also visited Dhaka after Bangladesh had  become independent. That visit in 1974 was his last one. Badruddin Umar—Bangladesh's notable leftist thinker and activist—told me in 2016 that Faiz and he had got together in Dhaka that year and discussed things both poetic and political (true, once Faiz even wrote letters to Umar when Faiz was visiting Algeria). Following his visit to Dhaka, Faiz composed a poem (see the last poem below) in which "the last line is almost certainly an allusion to the apology that was never offered to Bangladesh," as the Faiz translator S Abbas Raza points out.

It's also telling that the first question Faiz asked while in Dhaka in 1974 was: "So how is Nazrul doing?" Nazrul died two years later. And, of course, there are many striking parallels between the revolutionary Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I will write about those parallels on another occasion.

I first read Faiz in English translation when I was in high school. I immediately and enthusiastically translated Faiz's poems into Bengali in my late teens, and some of my translations appeared in the literary magazine called _Ganamon_, edited by A.N.M. Abdus Sobhan and published from Faridpur.

So what follow are three poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz in English translations. The first two were translated by the great Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali and the last one by S Abbas Raza.] 


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.


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.


After so much cordiality we are once again strangers
After how many meetings will we again be friends?
When will we see the unsullied green of spring?
After how many monsoons will the stains of blood
be washed?

The time of the end of our love was so cruel
After nights of intimacy the mornings so unkind
My quickly defeated heart did not even allow me
After my entreaties, the chance to fret and fuss
What you had gone to say, Faiz, to swear upon your life
After everything was said, that still remained unsaid.


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