Her hands planted the rootless sprig

Four poems by Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman, translated from Dari by Diana Arterian and Marina Omar.

Nadia Anjuman’s poetry startles. When considered in conjunction with the knowledge of her young age, it provokes something deeper, less easily pinned down. Her poems are in turns playful, hopeful, devout, despondent. She leans on imagery of the garden and the stars, as well as the body. Despite the difficulty of her life and the content of the poems, one of her most remarkable and consistent habits is her hopefulness. Many of Anjuman’s pieces show her coaxing herself into optimism and rationality.

As a teenager in Herat, Nadia Anjuman attended the Golden Needle School. Under the guise of practicing needlepoint (a pastime approved by the Taliban government), a group of women gathered to meet and discuss literature with local professors. In 2001, with Afghanistan’s liberation from the Taliban, Anjuman began attending Herat University and soon published a book of poetry entitled Gul-e-dodi (Dark Flower). In Gul-e-dodi, Anjuman portrayed the difficult realities of her life and thus her generation of Afghani women, those with few rights who had been raised during the reign of a violent and oppressive governmental power. Her readership was not limited to Afghanistan—Gul-e-dodi found readers in Iran, Pakistan, and beyond. As a result of her writing, Anjuman was awarded scholarships and fellowships. She continued to write poetry despite the objections of her husband and his family, and she was set to publish a second volume of poetry in 2006 entitled Yek Sàbad Délhoreh (An Abundance of Worry).

Anjuman was killed in November of 2005 at the age of twenty-five. While the particulars of her death remain unclear, it appears that it was the result of a physical struggle between Anjuman and her husband. In 2007, Anjuman’s complete works (entitled Divâne Sorudehâye Nadia Anjoman: The Book of Poems of Nadia Anjuman) were published by the Iranian Burnt Books Foundation. Gul-e-dodi has been reprinted three times and sold over three thousand copies. As I continue to work on translating Anjuman’s poems—sending them out for publication, applying for grants, talking to people about her—I hope to avoid trapping her in the common tropes of the young genius, the dead woman writer, and/or the oppressed Afghani woman. The details of her life do not eclipse the brilliance of her verse.

—Diana Arterian


by Nadia Anjuman



by Nadia Anjuman

One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers


One day a lullaby

will bring sleep to the weary eyes of homeless children

One day I will sing praise

to the spirit of fire

with soothing songs of rain

On that day

I will write a rich and exalting poem

with the sweetness of a tree’s fruit and the beauty of the moon


Sarataan 1380 / Summer 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar

تا بیکران خالی

by Nadia Anjuman


Eternal Pit

by Nadia Anjuman

Once she was filled with the familiar

Her hands planted the rootless sprig

with intuition—

so it would grow


Once, in the bright spring of her mind

ran many great thoughts


Once, at times

her hand tamed the trees


Once even her guts were obedient

perhaps they feared her power


But today

her hands are wasted and idle

her eyes burnt sockets

her bright thoughts are buried in a swamp



She distrusts even her feet

They defy her

taking her where she doesn’t want to go


She sits in a corner of quiet

lost in a sea of darkness

emptied of the thought of time


eternal pit


Sawr 1380Spring 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar


by Nadia Anjuman



by Nadia Anjuman

How sincere, how pure

You, with such faith in your blossoming

ready in your chamber of patience 

Spring did not come

and you with your airy dreams

only smiled

and looked with your heart toward the future

But sadly

spring never stirred within

and luck didn’t smile on you

and when you found love

the harsh trial of that storm

plucked your bud of hope and

      and you snapped before opening


Asad 1380 / Summer 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar

ناز دخترانه

by Nadia Anjuman


Girlish Heart

by Nadia Anjuman


Each morning my heart is restless –

it longs for night’s solitude

becomes weary and joyless

peeved by the day

And yet in the afternoon

it sings for sunrise

When night falls

the branch of my heart’s fantasy grows

innocent of itself

Facing the sky

it flies upward, infinitely

(If my hand reached the moon

If the night bought my relief from a star

If the sun did not rise…

I would cover the city of night with lights

to gaze forever, star-drunk…)

Oh, my dreaming heart

you drown my days

in fantasy

How long will this old woman of a heart

move like a girl?


Swar 1379 / Spring 2000


translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar


a failed defense against our common fate


Retrato_de_Sor_Juana_Inés_de_la_Cruz_(Miguel_Cabrera)Three poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, translated and with a note by Edith Grossman. 

My usual practice in translating poetry is to focus on rhythm and meter and give much shorter shrift to rhyme, not because it lacks importance (rhyme is actually an integral part of a poem’s rhythmic structure) but because for me it is extremely difficult to re-create in English the abundant rhymes, both assonant and consonant, that proliferate in Spanish and seem to be there for the taking. Not so in English. A poetic genius like Yeats makes rhyming seem a simple, natural matter, no more difficult than drawing breath, but for lesser mortals, moving from an easily rhymed language to one in which finding rhymes can best be described as arduous is an excruciating process. Even more discouraging is the sad fact that, more often than not, a translation that stresses the re-creation of rhyme begins to resemble not the source poem but doggerel plagiarized from a cheap greeting card. Then too, lines can become drastically convoluted in a translator‘s desperate effort to create rhymes and convey the sense of the original. Consequently, experience has led me to concentrate on the rhythm of the poem and take as my own the wisdom found in the Duke Ellington tune: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”  

—Edith Grossman

Sonetot 145

Procura desmentir los elogios que a un retrato de la poetisa
inscribió la verdad, que llama pasión

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Éste que ves, engaño colorido,
que del arte ostentando los primores,
con falsos silogismos de colores
es cauteloso engaño del sentido;


éste, en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores,
y venciendo del tiempo los rigores
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido,


es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada,
es un resguardo inútil para el hado:


es una necia diligencia errada
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado,
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.

Sonnet 145

In which she attempts to refute the praises of a portrait of the poet,
signed by truth, which she calls passion

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

This thing you see, a bright-colored deceit,

displaying all the many charms of art,

with false syllogisms of tint and hue

is a cunning deception of the eye;


this thing in which sheer flattery has tried

to evade the stark horrors of the years

and, vanquishing the cruelties of time,

to triumph over age and oblivion,


is vanity, contrivance, artifice,

a delicate blossom stranded in the wind,

a failed defense against our common fate;


a fruitless enterprise, a great mistake,

a decrepit frenzy, and rightly viewed,

a corpse, some dust, a shadow, mere nothingness.

translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman

Soneto 147

En que da moral censura a una rosa, y en ella a sus semejantes

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Rosa divina que en gentil cultura

eres, con tu fragante sutileza,

magisterio purpúreo en la belleza,

enseñanza nevada a la hermosura.


Amago de la humana arquitectura,

ejemplo de la vana gentileza,

en cuyo ser unió naturaleza

la cuna alegre y triste sepultura.


¡Cuán altiva en tu pompa, presumida,

soberbia, el riesgo de morir desdeñas,

y luego desmayada y encogida


de tu caduco ser das mustias señas,

conque con docta muerte y necia vida,

viviendo engañas y muriendo enseñas!


Sonnet 147

In which she morally censures a rose, and thereby all that resemble it

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

O rose divine, in gentle cultivation

you are, with all your fragrant subtlety,

tuition, purple-hued, to loveliness,

snow-white instruction to the beautiful;


intimation of a human structure,

example of gentility in vain,

to whose one being nature has united

the joyful cradle and the mournful grave;


how haughty in your pomp, presumptuous one,

how proud when you disdain the threat of death,

then, in a swoon and shriveling, you give


a withered vision of a failing self;

and so, with your wise death and foolish life,

In living you deceive, dying you teach!

translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman

Soneto 164

En que satisface un recelo con la retórica del llanto

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz


Esta tarde, mi bien, cuando te hablaba,

como en tu rostro y tus acciones vía

que con palabras no te persuadía,

que el corazón me vieses deseaba;


y Amor, que mis intentos ayudaba,

venció lo que imposible parecía:

pues entre el llanto, que el dolor vertía,

el corazón deshecho destilaba.


Baste ya de rigores, mi bien, baste:

no te atormenten más celos tiranos,

ni el vil recelo tu quietud contraste


con sombras necias, con indicios vanos,

pues ya en líquido humor viste y tocaste

mi corazón deshecho entre tus manos.


Sonnet 164

In which she responds to jealous suspicion with the rhetoric of weeping

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

This afternoon, my love, when I spoke to you,

I could see in your face, in what you did,

that you were not persuaded by mere words,

and I wished you could see into my heart;


and Love, assisting me in my attempt,

overcame the seeming impossible,

for among the tears that my sorrow shed

was my breaking heart, liquid and distilled.


Enough of anger now, my love, enough;

do not let tyrant jealousy torment you,

nor base suspicion roil your serenity


with foolish specters and deceptive clues;

in liquid humor you have seen and touched

my broken heart and held it in your hands.

translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman