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Ahmad Faraz: Modern English Translations of Urdu Poems

intro and translations by Michael R. Burch

Ahmad Faraz [1931-2008], born Syed Ahmad Shah, was a Pakistani poet generally considered to be one of the greatest modern Urdu poets. Faraz was a poet accessible to ordinary readers due to his "fine but simple style of writing." Ethnically a Hindkowan, he studied Persian and Urdu at Edwards College, then at Peshawar University, where he later became a lecturer after receiving his Masters degree. During his college days, the poets Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ali Sardar Jafri impressed him and became influences on his work.

Faraz was born in Kohat, Pakistan to Syed Muhammad Shah Barq. In an interview he recalled how his father once bought clothes for him and his brother on Eid (a festival day). He didn't like the clothes procured for him, preferring those given to his elder brother. This lead him to write his first couplet:

Laye hain sab ke liye kapre sale se (He brought clothes for everybody from the sale)
Laye hain hamare liye kambal jail se (For me he brought a blanket from the jail)

Faraz became an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s military dictatorship, saying, "My conscience will not forgive me if I remain a silent spectator of the sad happenings around us. The least I can do is to let the dictatorship know where it stands in the eyes of the concerned citizens whose fundamental rights have been usurped. I ... refuse to associate myself in any way with this regime ..."



The Eager Traveler
by Ahmed Faraz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Even in the torture chamber, I was the lucky one;
When each lottery was over, unaccountably I had won.

And even the mightiest rivers found accessible refuge in me;
Though I was called an arid desert, I turned out to be the sea.

And how sweetly I remember you, oh, my wild, delectable love —
Like the purest white blossoms, on talented branches above.

And while I’m half-convinced that folks adore me in this town,
Still, all the hands I kissed held knives and tried to shake me down.

You lost the battle, my coward friend, my craven enemy,
When, to victimize my lonely soul, you sent a despoiling army.

Lost in the wastelands of vast love, I was an eager traveler,
Like a breeze in search of your fragrance, a vagabond explorer.



I Cannot Remember
by Ahmed Faraz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

I once was a poet too (you gave life to my words), but now I cannot remember
Since I have forgotten you (my love!), my art too I cannot remember

Yesterday consulting my heart, I learned
that your hair, lips, mouth, I cannot remember

In the city of the intellect insanity is silence
But now your sweet, spontaneous voice, its fluidity, I cannot remember

Once I was unfamiliar with wrecking balls and ruins
But now the cultivation of gardens, I cannot remember

Now everyone shops at the store selling arrows and quivers
But neglects his own body, the client he cannot remember

Since time has brought me to a desert of such arid forgetfulness
Even your name may perish; I cannot remember

In this narrow state of being, lacking a country,
even the abandonment of my fellow countrymen, I cannot remember



Come
by Ahmed Faraz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Come, even with anguish, even to torture my heart;
Come, even if only to abandon me to torment again.

Come, if not for our past commerce,
Then to faithfully fulfill the ancient barbaric rituals.

Who else can recite the reasons for our separation?
Come, despite your reluctance, to continue the litanies, the ceremony.

Respect, even if only a little, the depth of my love for you;
Come, someday, to offer me consolation as well.

Too long you have deprived me of the pathos of longing;
Come again, my love, if only to make me weep.

Till now, my heart still suffers some slight expectation;
So come, snuff out even the last flickering torch of hope!



The following are links to various translations by Michael R. Burch:

Wulf and Eadwacer
Sweet Rose of Virtue
How Long the Night
Caedmon's Hymn
The Wife's Lament
Deor's Lament
Lament for the Makaris
Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs
Basho
Oriental Masters/Haiku
Sappho
Miklós Radnóti
Rainer Maria Rilke
Renée Vivien
Ono no Komachi
Allama Iqbal
Bertolt Brecht
Ber Horvitz
Paul Celan
Primo Levi
Tegner's Drapa
Robert Burns
Ahmad Faraz
Sandor Marai
Wladyslaw Szlengel

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