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International Reflective Writing


Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born on February 13, 1911, in Sialkot, India, which is now part of Pakistan. He had a privileged childhood as the son of wealthy landowners Sultan Fatima and Sultan Muhammad Khan, who passed away in 1913, shortly after his birth. His father was a prominent lawyer and a member of an elite literary circle which included Allama Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan.

In 1916, Faiz entered Moulvi Ibrahim Sialkoti, a famous regional school, and was later admitted to the Skotch Mission High School where he studied Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. He received a Bachelor's degree in Arabic, followed by a master's degree in English, from the Government College in Lahore in 1932, and later received a second master's degree in Arabic from the Oriental College in Lahore.After graduating in 1935, Faiz began a teaching career at M.A.O. College in Amritsar and then at Hailey College of Commerce in Lahore.

Faiz's early poems had been conventional, light-hearted treatises on love and beauty, but while in Lahore he began to expand into politics, community, and the thematic interconnectedness he felt was fundamental in both life and poetry. It was also during this period that he married Alys George, a British expatriate and convert to Islam, with whom he had two daughters. In 1942, he left teaching to join the British Indian Army, for which he received a British Empire Medal for his service during World War II. After the partition of India in 1947, Faiz resigned from the army and became the editor of The Pakistan Times, a socialist English-language newspaper.

On March 9, 1951, Faiz was arrested with a group of army officers under the Safety Act, and charged with the failed coup attempt that became known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. He was sentenced to death and spent four years in prison before being released. Two of his poetry collections, Dast-e Saba and Zindan Namah, focus on life in prison, which he considered an opportunity to see the world in a new way. While living in Pakistan after his release, Faiz was appointed to the National Council of the Arts by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's government, and his poems, which had previously been translated into Russian, earned him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963.

In 1964, Faiz settled in Karachi and was appointed principal of Abdullah Haroon College, while also working as an editor and writer for several distinguished magazines and newspapers. He worked in an honorary capacity for the Department of Information during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, and wrote stark poems of outrage over the bloodshed between Pakistan, India, and what later became Bangladesh. However, when Bhutto was overthrown by Zia Ul-Haq, Faiz was forced into exile in Beirut, Lebanon. There he edited the magazine Lotus, and continued to write poems in Urdu. He remained in exile until 1982. He died in Lahore in 1984, shortly after receiving a nomination for the Nobel Prize.

Throughout his tumultuous life, Faiz continually wrote and published, becoming the best-selling modern Urdu poet in both India and Pakistan. While his work is written in fairly strict diction, his poems maintain a casual, conversational tone, creating tension between the elite and the common, somewhat in the tradition of Ghalib, the reknowned 19th century Urdu poet. Faiz is especially celebrated for his poems in traditional Urdu forms, such as the ghazal, and his remarkable ability to expand the conventional thematic expectations to include political and social issues.




Do not strike the chord of sorrow tonight!
Days burning with pain turn to ashes.
Who knows what happens tomorrow?
Last night is lost; tomorrow's frontier wiped out:
Who knows if there will be another dawn?
Life is nothing, it's only tonight!
Tonight we can be what the gods are!

Do not strike the chord of sorrow, tonight!
Do not repeat stories of sufferings now,
Do not complain, let your fate play its role,
Do not think of tomorrows, give a damn--
Shed no tears for seasons gone by,
All sighs and cries wind up their tales,
Oh, do not strike the same chord again! 


Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.

See how in the blacksmith's shop
The flame burns wild, the iron glows red;
The locks open their jaws,
And every chain begins to break.

Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, 'cause the truth is not dead yet,
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.

You Tell Us What to Do

When we launched life
on the river of grief,
how vital were our arms, how ruby our blood.
With a few strokes, it seemed,
we would cross all pain,
we would soon disembark.
That didn't happen.
In the stillness of each wave we found invisible currents.
The boatmen, too, were unskilled,
their oars untested.
Investigate the matter as you will,
blame whomever, as much as you want,
but the river hasn't changed,
the raft is still the same.
Now you suggest what's to be done,
you tell us how to come ashore.

When we saw the wounds of our country
appear on our skins,
we believed each word of the healers.
Besides, we remembered so many cures,
it seemed at any moment
all troubles would end, each wound heal completely.
That didn't happen: our ailments
were so many, so deep within us
that all diagnoses proved false, each remedy useless.
Now do whatever, follow each clue,
accuse whomever, as much as you will,
our bodies are still the same,
our wounds still open.
Now tell us what we should do,
you tell us how to heal these wounds.

Bangladesh II

This is how my sorrow became visible:
its dust, piling up for years in my heart,
finally reached my eyes,

the bitterness now so clear that
I had to listen when my friends
told me to wash my eyes with blood.

Everything at once was tangled in blood—
each face, each idol, red everywhere.
Blood swept over the sun, washing away its gold.

The moon erupted with blood, its silver extinguished.
The sky promised a morning of blood,
and the night wept only blood.

The trees hardened into crimson pillars.
All flowers filled their eyes with blood.
And every glance was an arrow,

each pierced image blood. This blood
—a river crying out for martyrs—
flows on in longing. And in sorrow, in rage, in love.

Let it flow. Should it be dammed up,
there will only be hatred cloaked in colors of death.
Don't let this happen, my friends,

bring all my tears back instead,

a flood to purify my dust-filled eyes,

to was this blood forever from my eyes.

--- translated by Agha Shahid Ali

In Search of Vanished Blood

There's no sign of blood, not anywhere.
I've searched everywhere.
The executioner's hands are clean, his nails transparent.
The sleeves of each assassin are spotless.
No sign of blood: no trace of red,
not on the edge of the knife, none on the point of the sword.
The ground is without stains, the ceiling white.

The blood which has disappeared without leaving a trace
isn't part of written history: who will guide me to it?
It wasn't spilled in service of emperors --
-- it earned no honor, had no wish granted.
It wasn't offered in rituals of sacrifice --
-- no cup of absolution holds it in a temple.
It wasn't shed in any battle --
-- no one calligraphed it on banners of victory.

But, unheard, it still kept crying out to be heard.
No one had the time to listen, no one the desire.
It kept crying out, this orphan blood,
but there was no witness. No case was filed.
From the beginning this blood was nourished only by dust.
Then it turned to ashes, left no trace, became food for dust.

---- Translated by Agha Shahid Ali

Noshi Gillani

Noshi Gillani is a Pakistani poet who writes in Urdu. Born in 1964 Gillani's  fifth collection of poems: Ay Meeray Shureek-E-Risal-E-Jaan, Hum Tera Intezaar Kurtay Rahey (O My Beloved, I Kept Waiting for You) was published in Pakistan in 2008. The candor and frankness of her highly-charged poems is unusual for a woman writing in Urdu and she has gained a committed international audience, performing regularly at large poetry gatherings in Pakistan, Australia, Canada and the US. Unknown outside the Pakistani community, the translations made by the Poetry in Translation Centre mark her introduction to an English-speaking audience.

Source: Poetry in Translation Centre:



I have a feeling
That wherever I glance
There will be disaster

--- The literal translation of this poem was made by Nukhbah Langah
--- The final translated version of the poem is by Lavinia Greenlaw

Can Someone Bring Me My Entire Being?

Can someone bring me my entire being? 
My arms, my eyes, my face?

I am a river flowing into the wrong sea
If only someone could restore me to the desert

Life goes on but I want no more from it 
Than my childhood, my firefly, my doll  

My vision does not admit this new season
Take me back to my old dream

Of finding one face among the many in my city 
Whose eyes can read deep into me  

My life has been a boat in a whirlpool for so long
O god, please let it sink or drift back to the desert

--- The literal translation of this poem was made by Nukhbah Langah
--- The final translated version of the poem is by Lavinia Greenlaw

The Wind, Too, Can Change Direction

Do you know?
The wind, too, can change direction 
The birds might leave their nests at dawn 
And forget to find their way back 
Sometimes in spring the tree branches out
Before autumn the leaves separate 
Like the paths my life takes 
Blown this way and that like dust 
The strange smile taking shape on your lips 
Says 'So, what's new?' 
Of everything in the story, you are new 
Do you know? 
But how could you know this? 
Your encampment of love and faith
Could blow away like dust 
The wind, too, can change direction

--- The literal translation of this poem was made by Nukhbah Langah
--- The final translated version of the poem is by Lavinia Greenlaw

Rifat Abbas

Rifat Abbas is a popular poet among Siraiki speakers due to his innovative ideas and his creative use of poetic form. known as the Kafi. The Kafi, written in the form of a sonnet or ghazel, was first introduced by the great Siraiki Sufi poet, Khwaja Ghulam Farid (1841-1901) and is a beautiful poetic form that embodies romance along with spirituality.

In 2005 Abbas was given the Khawaja Ghulam Farid Award for Siraiki poetry for his collection Ishq Allah Saeen Jagiya.The Siraiki language (also written as Seraiki and Saraiki) is spoken by over 40 million people in central Pakistan.  It is a language rich in oral tradition, but rather less of it has been historically committed to writing.

Sources: Saraiki Literature: Academic dictionaries and encyclopedias: 
Poetry Translation Centre: 


In the bowl of this world
Look at the rose of our passion, my friend
Even if we don't eat together
Even if we don't sit together
We can at least dream together, my friend
Even if we don't drink together
Even if we are strangers
Let us consider the color of our wine, my friend
The sun is setting on the lanes
The river is almost at my door
Let us examine our restless hearts, my friend

--- The literal translation of this poem was made by Nukhbah Langah
--- The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop

Shadab Zeest Hashmi: Call to Prayer

Shadab Zeest Hashmi is the editor of the annual Magee Park Poets Anthology. She graduated from Reed College in 1995 where she completed “Passage Work”, a creative thesis comprising poems that explore the impact of British colonialism on the culture of her native Pakistan. Her poems have appeared in New Millennium Writings, Hubbub, Poetry Conspiracy, The Bitter Oleander, Nimrod International and Pakistani Literature. Her work has also appeared online, in and the online publication of Poetic Matrix. In 2007, she won the Andalusia Prize for Literature, in 2004 she received the Stout Award for one of the poems published in Hubbub and was invited as the Laurie Okuma guest poet at San Diego State University. She won the SAARC medal for literature in 1991. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson.

Call to Prayer

In a city hillocked and covered
with cherry blossoms
this time of the year
the runner
carrying the message of war
has reached
bales of cotton
Caravans bringing sugar and rice
The elders in their white gowns
have been moved
from their perch in the mosque
A cloud of quiet departs
The women are busying themselves
with salves
with feeding the horses that will carry
their men
The next call for prayer
will be made in full armor
Arrows threading the men’s bodies
will be removed during prayer


A guard forces you to urinate on yourself
Another barks out louder than his dog
the names of your sisters
who live in the delicate nest
of a ruby-throated hummingbird
Each will be a skeleton he says

Was there someone who gave you
seven almonds for memory, 
a teaspoon of honey every morning?
Cardamom tea before bed?
Someone who starched your shirts 
in rice water, then ironed them?
Held your chin 
To say the send-off prayer
before school?

You’re tied to a metal coil
And memory 
is a burnt wire.



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