Faiz Ahmed Faiz, 100 Years

This year marks the centenary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the great poet of modern Urdu. Faiz was born in a small Punjabi village in British India and studied English and Arabic literature in Lahore before becoming a prominent public intellectual and advocate for an independent Pakistan. He is celebrated for expanding the traditional Urdu forms to embrace both intimate language and contemporary social struggles.

We remember Faiz with this beautiful translation by our late friend Agha Shahid Ali, the world-traversing Kashmiri poet who did so much to many Asian literary traditions to our shores. His translations of Faiz were published in 1992 in The Rebel’s Silhouette: Selected Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Shahid died in in 2001 at the age of 52. (Previously on Little Star, we have had occasion to mention Shahid’s border-erasing anthology Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English. This poem mentions the fourteenth-century master of the ghazal form, Hafiz-I Shirazi; see our translation by Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. (We also published a ghazal translation by Sidney Wade.)


for the Anonymous Woman Who Sent Me A Bouquet of Flowers in Prison

translated from the Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali


A strange arrangement to comfort the heart–
someone has made that possible
inthe corner of the cell
with giving,generous hands,

and the air is now so softened,
I compare it to the Beloved’s hair,
the air is so drowned,
I think a body, wearing a jewelry of blossoms,
has just passed this way.

And as the air holds itself together,
a bouquet of compassion,
I can say:

Let thousands of watches be set on cages
by those who worship cruelty,
fidelity will always be in bloom–
this fidelity on which are grafted
the defeats and triumphs of the heart.

Should you, Oh air, ever come across her,
my friend of fragrant hands,
recite this from Hafiz of Shiraz to her :
“Nothing in this world is without terrible barriers–
Except love, but only when it begins.”

Reprinted with permission from Rebel’s Silhouette. Translation copyright © 1991 by Agha Shahid Ali and published by the University of Massachusetts Press.

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