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Faiz Ahmed Faiz: Modern English Translations of Urdu Poetry

Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984) was an influential Pakistani intellectual and one of the most famous poets of the Urdu language. His reputation is such that he has been called "the Poet of the East." A notable member of the Progressive Writers' Movement, Faiz was an avowed Marxist and a recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize. Despite his being repeatedly accused of atheism by Pakistan's political and military establishment, Faiz's poetry suggested a complicated relationship with religion in general and Islam in particular. He was, for instance, inspired and influenced by South Asia's Sufi traditions.

Faiz, who died shortly after being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948, was a humanist who opposed both right-wing and left-wing extremism. For example, despite having risen to the rank of Lt. Colonel and winning the British Empire Medal while serving in the British Indian army during WWII, he resigned when he saw the results of the Kashmir War. He also later wrote protest poems about the bloodshed in Bangladesh. After leaving the military, Faiz became the editor of the left-leaning Pakistan Times, where he spoke for peace, non-violence, internationalism and the philosophy of the Global Village. He was also an active member of the World Peace Council. Here is a statement that reflects his personal worldview:

Human ingenuity, science and industry have made it possible to provide each one of us everything we need to be comfortable, provided these boundless treasures of nature and production are not declared the property of a greedy few but are used for the benefit of all of humanity … However, this is only possible if the foundations of human society are based not on greed, exploitation and ownership but on justice, equality, freedom and the welfare of everyone … I believe that humanity which has never been defeated by its enemies will, after all, be successful; when at long last, instead of wars, hatred and cruelty, the foundation of humankind rests on the message of the great Persian poet Hafez Shiraz: "Every foundation you see is faulty, except that of Love, which is faultless." —Faiz Ahmad Faiz, 1962

Last Night
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Last night, your memory stole into my heart
as spring sweeps uninvited into barren gardens,
as morning breezes reinvigorate dormant deserts,
as a patient suddenly feels better, for no apparent reason ...

by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

Do not strike the melancholy chord tonight! Days smoldering
with pain in the end produce only listless ashes ...
and who the hell knows what the future may bring?
Last night’s long lost, tomorrow's horizon’s a wavering
mirage. And how can we know if we’ll see another dawn?
Life is nothing, unless together we make it ring!
Tonight we are love gods! Sing!

Do not strike the melancholy chord tonight!
Don’t harp constantly on human suffering!
Stop complaining; let Fate conduct her song!
Give no thought to the future, seize now, this precious thing!
Shed no more tears for temperate seasons departed!
All sighs of the brokenhearted soon weakly dissipate ... stop dithering!
Oh, do not strike the same flat chord again! Sing!

When Autumn Came
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

So it was that autumn came to flay the trees,
to strip them nude,
to rudely abase their slender dark bodies.

Fall fell in vengeance on the dying leaves,
flung them down to the floor of the forest
where anyone could trample them to mush
undeterred by their sighs of protest.

The birds that herald spring
were exiled from their songs—
the notes ripped from their sweet throats,
they plummeted to the earth below, undone
even before the hunter strung his bow.

Please, gods of May, have mercy!
Bless these disintegrating corpses
with the passion of your resurrection;
allow their veins to pulse with blood again.

Let at least one tree remain green.
Let one bird sing.

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