Thursday, March 13, 2008

Let Them Snuff Out the Moon

A Prison Evening

Each star a rung,
night comes down the spiral
staircase of the evening.
The breeze passes by so very close
as if someone just happened to speak of love.
In the courtyard,
the trees are absorbed refugees
embroidering maps of return on the sky.
On the roof,
the moon - lovingly, generously -
is turning the stars
into a dust of sheen.
From every corner, dark-green shadows,
in ripples, come towards me.
At any moment they may break over me,
like the waves of pain each time I remember
this separation from my lover.

This thought keeps consoling me:
though tyrants may command that lamps be smashed
in rooms where lovers are destined to meet,
they cannot snuff out the moon, so today,
nor tomorrow, no tyranny will succeed,
no poison of torture make me bitter,
if just one evening in prison
can be so strangely sweet,
if just one moment anywhere on this earth.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Translated from the Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali


Another translation I like, by Ted Genoways (from this excellent article on Faiz in the Annual of Urdu Studies) below. It is, I feel, more faithful to the original. I haven't been a ble to find a transliterated version of the poem online and I don't trust my Urdu reading skills enough to do so myself from the original Urdu script (I don't have the poem in Devanagiri). If any one can help out here please do!

A Prison Nightfall

Rung by rung, night descends
its spiral staircase of stars.
A breeze passes gently by,
as if words of love had been whispered.
Trees in the prison courtyard, like exiles
with heads bowed, are absorbed
in embroidering arabesques on the skirt of the sky.
On the crested roof are glittering
the beautiful fingers of moonlight,
dissolving star-shine into dust
and washing the blue sky into white.
In the green corners, dark shadows collide
as if the ache of separation
might eddy and fill my mind.

But one thought keeps running through my heart—
how sweet these moments are. Though
there are those who may concoct tyranny’s poisons,
they will have no victories, not today or tomorrow.
So what if they douse the candles in rooms
where lovers meet? If they’re so mighty,
let them snuff out the moon.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Translated from the Urdu by Ted Genoways


Space Bar said...

'embroidering maps of return' is so much better (in my opinion) than the other one. what a coincidence about faiz! :D

Szerelem said...

I think Ali's translation are so wonderful - though I do think he embellishes a lot. Still.

Just realised the coincidence about Faiz! He is definitely one of my favourite (if not most favourite) poet. I have been saying thi s a lot lately, but I haven't been much of a poetry reader and any (growing) interest is credited to Faiz, Darwish and Hikmet. Brilliant all three and such wonderful companions.

Roxana Ghita said...

very beautiful picture and poetry as well! I posted a very similar image some days ago, the coincidence is so striking :-) because the pictures are really like twins. translation is always such an intriguing and complexe business, I must wonder about the original in this case because the two are just so very different! I like the first one better.

Szerelem said...

I had to track back to your blog to have a (second) look at the picture and you're right...they really are like twins!!

Quite amazing, that! =)

Agree about translations - I think poetry is even more difficult. In all honesty no translation can ever come close to matching Faiz - his imagery and language is not very easily translatable and I'm thankful I can read him in the original.

elizabeth said...

fucking brilliant pairing. (excuse my language).

I have been told over and over again that Ali is much more inaccurate, and accept that caveat. But it remains the case that he's the primary (non-musical) vector through which I've really been able to engage Faiz's work, and until I get around to learning Urdu, he'll probably remain as such. The Genoways is a good instructive comparison though.

Falstaff said...

The poem in Devanagiri:

Zinda ki ek shaam

Shaam ke pecho-kham sitaron se
Zeena-zeena utar rahi hai raat
Yoon saba paas se guzarti hai
Jaise keh di kisi ne pyaar ki baat.
Sahne-zinda ke be-vatan ashjar
Sarnigun mahav hain banane mein
Damne-aasman pe nakshe-nigaar.

Shaane-baam par damakta hai
Meherban chandi ka dast-e-jameel
Khaak mein dhul gayi hai aabe-najoom
Noor mein dhul gaya hai ashr ka neel.
Sabz goshon mein neelgoon saaye
Lahlahate hain jis tarah dil mein
Mauj-e-dard-e-phirak-e-yaar aaye.

Dil se paiham khayal kahta hai
Itni shireen hai zindagi is pal
Zulm ka zahar gholnewale
Kamran ho sakenge aaj na kal
Jalvagahe-visaal ki shamayein
Vo bujha bhi chuke agar to kya
Chand ko gul karen, to hum jane.

- Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

While I generally agree that Shahid tends to over-embellish Faiz in his translations (though I can think of no one more qualified to embellish on Faiz), I have to say that in this particular case Shahid's translation is not only more evocative but also more accurate. Space Bar already makes the point about "arabesques on the skirt of the sky" (shudder!). And Genoways translation of the second stanza is really bad. His rendition of "Noor mein dhul gaya hai ashr ka neel" turns a glorious image into a detergent ad. Noor is not (at least in this context) white - Shahid's word-choice ("sheen") is so much more accurate. And saying dark shadows "collide" when the original
reads "lahlahate hain" is unforgivable - it turns a gloriously undulating image into something confrontation, and totally misses the sense of rise and swell that is central to Faiz's image.

My chief criticism of Shahid's translation is not so much the embellishment (though some of it does seem unnecessary) but the way he puts the snuffing out of the moon in the middle of the stanza rather than at the end. In that one respect I'd say the Genoways translation is superior, because it keeps the sense of the last line as a challenge thrown in the face of tyranny, ending the poem on a rebellious upbeat [1], instead of softening it (as Shahid does) into something sentimental. It always strikes me how much more sentimental and well, languorous a poet Faiz is in Shahid's translations of him than he is in the original.

All of this means, of course, that I'm going to have to find the time to do a translation of my own. Sigh.

Oh, and one really must read this poem with it's companion piece - A Prison Morning (in Shahid's version 'A Prison Daybreak')

[1] This is particularly troublesome because the abruptness of that last line is fairly critical. In fact, the very form of the poem in its original - with its
abcbded rhyme scheme and its sense of a second quatrain left incomplete, seems designed to make that last line seem a pulling short, as though to suggest both constraint and defiance.

Falstaff said...

P.S. My version here

Szerelem said...

e: Thank you :)
As Falstaff says, there's probably no one better to embellish Faiz than Ali. And I still haven't read better translations of Faiz's works.

falstaff: Thank you!For the poem, the lovely comment (aside: now you're using footnotes in comments too??!) and the translation.

I agree with everything you say about Ali and the two translations - in particular about the placement of snuffing out the moon. That is actually the reason I wrote that the Genoway translation is probably more accurate and captures the ending of the original better than Ali's translation.

And I love Zindaan ki ek subh as well...

hideindisguise said...

You just take the most awesome pictures!!! :) and great poem!