Friday, July 15, 2005

NEH Seminar: the Taxi Driver's Poet

Thursday morning, one of my NEH teachers showed up just a little late. Her car, it seemed, had been towed overnight from the University lot; she had scrambled to find a taxi to class.

On the way, her driver asked what she was doing in Chicago. When she said she was studying poetry, he told her, "I haven't had a very happy or successful life, but since I've come to the U.S., poetry has sustained me." (I paraphrase--but it was close to that.) He told her she should read his favorite poet. "So who was it?" I asked. (The poetry gods are rarely so clear in asking for one's attention.)

"Someone named Ahmed Faraz? Fariz?" She wasn't sure.

A little sleuthing suggests it was Faiz Ahmad Faiz, the great Pakistani poet, who turns out to be widely recorded as a lyricist as well. More information about him, along with this translation by Agha Shahid Ali, at the handy Minstrels site:

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.


Anonymous said...

Well! If I had dropped into your blog site prior to responding on the poetry listserv, I would not have been so redundant about the Minstrels, Poetry 180, ad nauseum!

Mea culpa! --'Moon

raven said...

Actually, Ahmad Faraz is another Pakistani poet.