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

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