A flame of your breath rises

Three poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz translated by Umair Kazi

 Ahfaz_with_Faiz_Ahmad_FaizI can’t remember when I first encountered Faiz’s poetry, which is to say, I can’t think of a time when Faiz wasn’t a part of my world. The idiom I grew up with in Pakistan was suffused with his words. I knew them before I understood them and I’d heard the music before I could feel its pathos. Iqbal Bano’s renditions of Yaad (Memory) and Hum Dekhenge—without which no mention of Faiz’s poetry is complete—rang out unceasingly from my grandfather’s tape player; as did Begum Akhtar’s Sham-i-fiaq ab na pooch and Mehdi Hassan’s Gulon mein rang bhare, songs that immortalized Faiz’s words beyond the page.

UmairBut what is a song other than a marriage of the language of music with the music of language? If you listen closely to Iqbal Bano singing “Memory”, you’ll hear how the melody swells when she intones, uth rahi hai…(“it” rises); her voice crackles at the incidence of aanch (“it” the flame); then gets softer and scanter at mudham, mudham (“dimly, softly”) and, finally, at qatra, qatra (“drop by drop”), the barely perceptible, heavy silence between the repetition of these words brings to the listener’s mind an image of tiny plumes of dew forming on the nib of a leaf, dropping, and then forming again.

I was motivated to translate these poems because I wanted to share with my non-Urdu speaking friends and readers the vision of a poet, whose language continues to shape me. For us migrants, Faiz’s poems and songs conjure the journey that is our destination, the placeleness that is our home. None of these is a first-time translation; however I do think that they capture some nuances of Faiz’s poems that other translators have either missed or foregone in order to accommodate for other—perhaps, in their judgment more important—elements of his poetry. Faiz’s use of colloquial language, for instance, is frequently sacrificed to stronger expressions of his images. Urdu is capable of generating noun combinations through the addition of nouns with nouns and with other parts of speech—the muted genitive “-i-”, obviating prepositions and articles, allows the poet to express layered images with an economy of syllables that is irreproducible in English; consequently, translators often translate those images as elaborated phrases. I have, when I could, avoided this practice in favor of creating new words in harmony with the original image, thought, and sentiment.

— Umair Kazi



by Faiz Ahmed Faiz



dasht-e-tanhā.ī meñ ai jaan-e-jahāñ larzāñ haiñ

terī āvāz ke saa.e tire hoñToñ ke sarāb

dasht-e-tanhā.ī meñ duurī ke khas o khaak tale

khil rahe haiñ tire pahlū ke saman aur gulāb


uTh rahī hai kahīñ qurbat se tirī saañs k aañch

apnī khushbū meñ sulagtī huī maddham maddham

duur ufuq paar chamaktī huī qatra qatra

gir rahī hai tirī dildār nazar kī shabnam


is qadar pyaar se ai jaan-e-jahāñ rakkhā hai

dil ke rukhsār pe is vaqt tirī yaad ne haat

yuuñ gumāñ hotā hai garche hai abhī sub.h-e-firāq

Dhal gayā hijr kā din aa bhiī ga.ī vasl kī raat


by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

In the desert of solitude, my love, are tremors

the shadows of your voice, mirages of your lips


In the desert of solitude, beneath the ash

and dust of distance, blossom the jasmines and roses

of your touch


A flame of your breath rises somewhere nearby,

smoldering          softly     in its own perfume


far beyond the horizon       your heartening eyes

drop shimmering dew


How lovingly, my love, your memory visits me,

lays her hand on my heart:

I surmise—though, this is the dawn of parting


—that the day of migration has waned

      and the night of our union, crested

translated from Urdu by Umair Kazi


by Faiz Ahmed Faiz



āsmāñ aaj ik bahr-e-pur-shor hai

jis meñ har-sū ravāñ bādaloñ ke jahāz

un ke arshe per kirnoñ ke mastūl haiñ

bādbānoñ kī pahne hue farġhaleñ

niil meñ gumbadoñ ke jazīre ka.ī

ek baazī meñ masrūf hai har koīī

vo abābīl koī nahātī huī

koī chiil ġhote meñ jaatī huī

koī tāqat nahīñ is meñ zor-aazmā

koī beDā nahīñ hai kisī mulk kā

is kī tah meñ koīābdozeñ nahīñ

koī rocket nahīñ koī topeñ nahīñ

yuuñ to saare anāsir haiñ yaañ zor meñ

amn kitnā hai is bahr-e-pur-shor meñ




by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The sky today is a sea-lane

busy with the ships of passing




whose decks are masted

with sunbeams draped in

diaphanous sails


The city’s domes are the islands

of this sea


where everyone is busy

risking it all:


see that blackbird swimming,

that eagle

    diving in…


There is no contest of power

here: no battleship fleets or flags;


no submarines creeping on the

seabed; no rockets or cannons


And, though, every element

here is bursting with charge—


just look how peaceful

these bustling waters are


Samarkand, 1978

translated from Urdu by Umair Kazi

kahāñ jāoge

by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

kahāñ jāoge


aur kuch der meñ luT jā.egā har baam pe chāñd

aks kho jā.eñge ā.īne taras jā.eñge

arsh ke diida-e-namnāk se baarī-baarī

sab sitāre sar-e-khāshāk baras jā.eñge

aas ke maare thake hare shabistānoñ meñ

apnī tanhāi.ī sameTegā, bichhā.egā koī

bevafā.ī kī ghaDī, tark-e-madārāt ka vaqt

is ghaDī apne sivā yaad na aa.egā koī

tark-e-duniyā kā samāñ khatm-e-mulāqāt ka vaqt

is ghaDī ai dil-e-āvāra kahāñ jāoge

is ghaDī koī kisi kā bhi nahīñ rahne do

koī is vaqt milegā hī nahīñ rahne do

aur mile gā bhī is taur ki pachtāoge

is ghaDī ai dil-e-āvāra kahāñ jāoge


aur kuchh der Tahar jaao ki phir nashtar-e-sub.h

zakhm kī tarah har ik aañkh ko bedār kare

aur har kushta-e-vāmāñdgī-e-ākhir-e-shab

bhuul kar saa.at-e-darmāndagī-e-ākhir-e-shab

jaan pahchān mulāqāt pe isrār kare



Where Will You Go?

by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

In a little while,

the moon will be

robbed on every



mirrors will thirst

for vanished reflections.


One by one, the stars will



exploding into

dust that will rain down


from heaven’s moist eyes.


Inside night-quarters

tired beyond hope


someone will gather his

loneliness, he will spread it



at this faithless hour,

at this time of turning away—


when every man is only for

himself without memory

of another,


at this hour of severance,

at the end of our tryst

with the world:


wild heart, where will you go

at this hour?


No one will recognize you, let it go.

Who will you find now? Let it go.


And whoever you come across

by chance, you’ll regret seeing:


wild heart, where will you go

at this hour?


Stay a little longer—


wait until morning’s fleam

has roused every eye once more

              like a wound;


then all the helpless slain

at the end of the night—


forgetting the destitute hour,

the end of the night—


will insist on meeting,

on being called by name

translated from Urdu by Umair Kazi

we get straight to the point, our diction impeccable

 Two poems by Dag T. Straumsvåg translated from Norwegian by Robert Hedin

UFO-Ar På dei Norske Bygdene

by Dag T. Straumsvåg


I motsetnad til i USA, landar det sjeldan ufo-ar på dei Norske bygdene. Men vi har huslege flygande tallerkenar, særleg ved juletider. Utan varsel stupar dei ut av himmelen og krasjar i det gule håret vårt, lagar mysticke mønster i hjernebølgjene våre. Kva vil dei med oss? Er dei fiendtlege? Vi anar ikkje.  Sjølv  konene våre snur seg bort, mållause. Vi kan høyre ei høg summing, som om ein datamaskin inne i vraket framleis verkar, som om nokon har overlevd og samtalar frenetisk på eit framandt tungemål, nokon som kan ha svar på alle spørsmåla våre. Vi meiner den vitskapelege tilnæmingsmåten er best og sikrar ulykkesstaden, granskar og katalogiserer alle vrakdelar.  Temperaturen fell snøgt under null. Vi kryp sman kring leirbålet, ein forvirra flokk primatar som plukkar lus frå håret til kvarandre i det bleike desemberljoset.

UFO's in the Norwegian Countryside

by Dag T. Straumsvåg

Unlike in the U.S., UFOs in Norway don’t often land in the countryside.  Instead we have domestic flying saucers, especially at Christmastime. With no warning, they fall out of the clear, blue sky, crashing in our blond hair, making mystical patterns in our brain waves. What do they want? Are they hostile? We don’t have a clue. Even our wives shake their heads, unable to speak. There’s a high-pitched humming sound, as if the computer inside is still working, as if someone had survived and is speaking frantically in a strange tongue, someone who has all the answers to our questions. We believe the scientific approach works best, so we secure the crash site, inspect and catalogue each piece of wreckage. The temperature is quickly falling below zero. We gather around the fireplace, a bewildered bunch of primates picking lice out of each other’s hair in the faint December light. 

translated from Norwegian by Robert Hedin


by Dag T. Straumsvåg

Vi kjøpte ein cocker spaniel, men han var ikkje realistisk nok, så vi gav han bort. Då gullfisken døydde skifta vi til apparat. Den gamle brødristaren, komfyren med keramikktopp. Aparat er heller ikkje feilfrie, men av/på-knappane fungerer så godt at vi bestemde oss for å utvikle eit likande system for oss sjølve. I staden for av/på-knappar brukar vi klubber. Ein kakk i skallen betyr “det er din tur til å ta oppvasken,” ein rapp over skinnleggen betyr “la meg vere i fred,” eit tungt slag in solar plexus betyr “kan du gjenta det, er du snill?” Livet er mykje enklare no. Ungane steller seg i kø kvar kveld for å ta oppvasken, eg får lese avisa i fred, og når vi pratar går vi rett på sak med upåklageleg diksjon.



by Dag T. Straumsvåg

We bought a cocker spaniel, but it wasn’t realistic enough, so we gave it away. When the goldfish died, we turned to appliances. Our old toaster. The glass-topped stove. Appliances are not flawless either, but the on/off buttons worked so well we decided to develop a similar system of our own.  Instead of buttons, we use baseball bats. One rap on the skull means “It’s your turn to do dishes,” one smack to the shin means “Leave me alone,” a heavy blow to the solar plexus means “Can you repeat that, please?” Life’s a lot simpler now. The kids line up every night to do the dishes, I get to read the paper in peace, and when we’re talking, we get straight to the point, our diction impeccable.

translated from Norwegian by Robert Hedin

And we wolfed down the rocks they put on the table.

Three poems by Edwin Madrid translated by Julia Velasco

Lección de las piedras

by Edwin Madrid

Pan duro como piedra,

piedras que convirtió Dios en pan;

panes elaborados con el sudor de la frente,

frente de piedra,

pan de sudor.

Pan pan y vino vino.

Cuerpo y sangre del hambre del mundo.

Piedra hambre.

Pan remordido por el hombre,

hombre de piedra,

mujer pan,

piedra comiéndose pan.

Dios duro como piedra,

la piedra del mundo.

Lesson of Rocks

by Edwin Madrid

Bread hard as a rock,

rocks that God turned into bread;

loaves prepared with the sweat of the brow,

a brow of rock,

a bread of sweat.

Bread is bread, and wine, wine.

Body and blood of hunger in the world.

A rock of hunger.

Bread eaten away by man,

man made of rock,

bread woman,

rock eating bread.

God hard as a rock,

the rock of the world.

translated from Spanish by Julia Velasco

Cena o escena

by Edwin Madrid

Picó la ruccula y la endivia con desgano; echó sobre ellas migas de almendra y macadamia, vinagre de jerez y aguacate. Al tomar el lomo de ternera en sus manos, parecía que destajaba el corazón de su enemiga. Acomodó la mesa, sin brillo ni fragancia, y se sentó a esperar. Cuando él llegó, cenaron en silencio. El resto se publicó en el diario de la tarde.

Dinner Scene

by Edwin Madrid

She chopped with apathy the arugula and the endive; she topped it with crumbs of almond and macadamia, sherry vinegar and avocado. When she grabbed the beef sirloin in her hands, she seemed to be chopping out her worst enemy’s heart. She set the table, with no glow or fragrance, and sat to wait. When he got there, they ate in silence. The rest could be read in the afternoon’s paper.


translated from Spanish by Julia Velasco


by Edwin Madrid

Solo dijimos: a caballo regalado no se le mira los dientes. Y devoramos las piedras que colocaron sobre la mesa.


by Edwin Madrid

We just said: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. And we wolfed down the rocks they put on the table.

translated from Spanish by Julia Velasco

I was perfectly calm before sinking

Two poems by Max Jacob translated by Sophia Lecker


Les Régates de Concarneau

by Max Jacob


Les noyés ne coulent pas toujours au fond. Il suffit même à un troublé dans l’eau de se souvenir qu’il a su nager et il voit son pantalon s’agiter comme les jambes d’un pantin. Aux régates de Concarneau, c’est ce qui m’arriva. J’étais parfaitement tranquille avant de couler, ou bien ces élégants des yoles qui passent remarqueront mes efforts ou bien…bref, un certain optimisme. La rive toute proche! Avec personnages israélites grandeur nature et des plus gracieux. Ce qui me surprit au sortir de l’eau, c’est d’avoir été si peu mouillé et d’être regardé non comme un caniche, mais comme un homme.

The Concarneau Regattas

by Max Jacob

Drowning people don’t always sink to the bottom. It is even enough for someone struggling in the water to remember that he knew how to swim and then he sees his trousers flap around like the legs of a jumping jack. That’s what happened to me at the Concarneau regattas. I was perfectly calm before sinking, or well those elegant people in their skiffs passing by will notice my efforts or well…in short, a certain optimism. The shore so close! With life-sized Israelite individuals of the most gracious sort. What surprised me in getting out of the water was that I was hardly damp, and that people looked at me not as a poodle, but as a man.

translated from French by Sophia Lecker

Le Fond Du Tableau

by Max Jacob


C’est une petite partie de campagne! une petite partie autour d’un puits. La pauvre enfant est seule sur la plage, sur les rochers en pente de la dune et on dirait qu’il y une auréole autour de sa tête. Oh! je saurai bien la sauver! moi, le gros boursouflé je cours, j’accours. Là-bas autour du puits on joue la Marseillaise et moi j’accours pour la sauver. Je n’ai pas encore parlé de la couleur du ciel parce que je n’étais pas sûr que ce ne fût avec la mer un seul tableau lisse couleur des tableaux d’école en ardoise souillée de craie, oui, avec une trainée de craie en diagonale, comme le couteau de la guillotine.

The Depths of the Painting

by Max Jacob

It’s a little party in the countryside! A little party near a well. The poor little girl is alone on the beach, on the steep rocky slope of the dune, and you might say there is a halo around her head. Oh, I’ll know how to save her! Me, the fat puffy one, I rush I run. Down there near the well they are playing the Marseillaise and I’m rushing to save her. I haven’t mentioned yet the color of the sky because I wasn’t sure that with the sea it doesn’t make a smooth painting the color of a blackboard smeared with chalk, yes, with a diagonal trail of chalk like the blade of a guillotine.

translated from French by Sophia Lecker