Faiz: Political poetry for the soul

Published: February 13, 2012

His poems have been lovingly read, cried upon and enthusiastically discussed by many Pakistanis who loves this country PHOTO: FILE

A piece of Faiz’s poetry looks like any other poetry. Black printed script on white parchment. The staid, two-dimensionality of parchment. The mundane blackness of the script. But as the reader’s gaze sweeps upon the verses, he is conscious of a clamor therein; a raging storm extricated within the dull entrapments of font and page, pining to be let loose, to disturb the tranquil air, to prod awake the sleeping conscience, to alter the course of the clouds, the blow of raucous winds, and flow of mighty rivers.

Yes, these grandiose metaphors do complete justice to Faiz’s poetry, because the end he sought through it aimed to challenge the rude tenacity of the status-quo in Pakistan. As a common man, he was strongly disillusioned by the lack of social justice, freedom of expression and democratisation which defined the political landscape in Pakistan throughout the years between 1950 and 1980. Through Faiz’s poetry, dictatorial regime was confronted with uncompromising hatred, with the common man being encouraged to decry it thus:

  Bol ke lub azaad hain teray

 Bol, ke zubaan ab tak teri hai

 Bol, ke sach zinda hai ab tak!

Unsympathetic authoritarianism was shown the naked dagger through the spine-chilling imagery of a poem titled “Hum dekhain ge”, in which the tyrants were conveyed the horrible tidings of the “rattling ground”, “fearsome lightening in the skies”, the “tossing of their crowns” and the “seizing of their thrones”, all of which were to lead to their doom and the salvation of the oppressed.

The message of gearing into action for the country’s sake is a recurring theme in Faiz’s work. He writes:

Chashm-e-num, jaan-e-shoreeda kaafi nahin.

Tohmat-e-ishq-e-posheeda kaafi nahin

He writes that silent love and tears do not suffice one’s duty to the country. Strife and struggle are necessary in the face of tyranny and exploitation. In his poem Aaj Bazaar Mein, which he wrote during his captivity in Lahore Jail, he calls out for those with “exposed palms”, “muddy hair” and “blood on the chest” to move forward. The closing verses may be rendered in English thus:

Come, gather your possessions,

O people with injured hearts.

Come, O Friends,

Let us go and get killed.

A committed Marxist, Faiz sought the liberation of the subjugated from tyranny. His poems have been lovingly read, cried upon and enthusiastically discussed by many Pakistanis who loves this country, the Pakistani language and Pakistani literature – simply because the verses brim with Faiz’s love for the state and its people.

It is, however, crucial to bear in mind that Faiz Ahmad Faiz was just not another political poet. While his poetry came with a political message, it has been immortalized for its literary value. The imagery, metaphors and musicality of the poems – all work together to establish Faiz as a poet who set forth his own style of writing, while borrowing sparingly from Mirza Ghalib’s style, popular during the European Surrealism of the early 1920s.

For an average reader, Faiz’s sensitivity to beauty and nature, and the careful rendering of those sensations into verse, is nothing short of a breathtaking wonder. A work titled “Manzar” serves as an excellent example of Faiz’s mastery with images. His use of an image of ‘the lingering blue shadow’, which transitions into ‘the blue lake’. The serenity of the lake is disturbed by a falling leaf that creates transitory ripple. The image of the flowing lake dissolves to give way to the cascading hues of wine, as it flows to stain the walls of the glass. The magic of the verses can be felt upon the skin. The images, forever marveled upon.

Faiz’s greatest poetic achievement is the marriage of art and ideology in his poetry.

The verses allow for both literary pleasure and social consciousness. It is a pity that the current generation, while taking pride in Western authors, hardly ever turns to marvel upon our own legends. Faiz Ahmad Faiz is a poet who should be read, re-read, and read once more by all.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sane

    It is amazing that a LUMS student has such a deep insight of our legendary literature. Faiz a poet of nature and conscious is adequately explained. Good piece of writing. Recommend

  • zeeshan shami

    it is tragic to hear a lot of ppl in our society critcise great writers like faiz and manto by labelling them as anti-islam.these writers,poets were true assets of pakistan.the religious fanatics can never stand anyone who doesn’t conform to their religious fascist view of the world.Faiz and manto were freethinkers and that’s why the mullahs can’t stand their work.Recommend

  • asad


    great analysis
    refreshing and originalRecommend

  • Libra88

    Good to read this piece. Writer having good knack of literature and seems a thorough reader too. Keep it up. Write more on such personalities.Recommend

  • AR Billa

    An exceptional article. Something new. Not like usual writings.Recommend

  • Critic

    I am a keen reader of ET Blogs. But, hardly find subjects like this. Its a worth reading. Keep writing.Recommend

  • http://natashasuleman.wordpress.com Natasha Suleman

    The ONLY reason why I got interested in Urdu poetry. Love Faiz.Recommend

  • Raza

    Excellent write…as usual. Recommend

  • the only rationalist left

    With no offense, Faiz’s poetry is for the simpletons. The wreck that modern verse is, that is what Faiz’s poetry.

    Simply, mundane, thought-dulling ideas and visions, entwined in a mess, that is Faiz’s Urdu poetry. Urdu ka ichaar. Recommend

  • the only rationalist left

    So Ghalib’s poetry is surrealist? God, how ignorant you are.

    What is this Pakistani language? Urdu? lol.

    Urdu is an Indian language. Recommend

  • Faiza Rahman

    @the only rationalist left:

    Faiz borrowed from both Ghalib and Surrealism. That is what I was implying. A pity that the meaning got lost in the editing. Apologies! Recommend

  • AR

    @the only rationalist left: Urdu is not a Pakistani language? How ignorant are you! Just because its inception took place in the geographical locality of what is a part of india today does not make it not Pakistani. Look up the importance of Urdu in the creation of the country in the first place, and you will perhaps start to appreciate just how ‘Pakistani’ our national language happens to be Recommend

  • Noori

    Excellent keep it up !!!Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/talentidols sadiaali

    i love his poetry it’s about political nd general his poetry is very true now a days too. :)Recommend

  • Sane

    @the only rationalist left
    Yes, his poetry for ‘simpletons’ as Faiz says himself ‘Tanga Bano key name’, ‘Dehqano key nam’. He writes to downtrodden masses to standup against tyrants & corrupts. Masses are simpletons; and his poetry is for masses not for elites. Anyways one can not compare between Ghalib, Iqbal, Josh, Dag and Faiz. They all are the class of their own & their poetry enlightened people.

    We must also not bring Islam & Mullah in every discussion. This piece is purely about a literary person and his poetry. Where comes Islam or Mulla fits in. Recommend

  • Sameer

    You said it very well, Ms. Rehman. His poetry needs to be “read, re-read, and read once more by all”. Good work. It was due to his revolutionary poetry and his practical struggle that his work suffered deliberate negligence.Recommend

  • Zalmay

    @ AR
    Urdu is spoken by a small minority in Pakistan and the rest of Pakistanis that attempt to speak it butcher the language. Urdu is not spoken by Pashtuns, Baloch, Sindhis and Punjabis, which makes it a language of the Mohajirs i.e. Indians. Recommend

  • Sane

    Urdu if not spoken by some of the sections of people then at least they understand. However, they can also speak and always try to learn better speaking. Urdu is our National Language. People are always fluent in their native language. Urdu is spoken and understood in whole Pakistan, India and even some of the gulf countries. Even Arabs in those areas understand Urdu and some are adequately fluent in speaking. None of the language other than Urdu has this attribute in sub continent. Pushto, Sindhi, Pujabi and other language are also beautiful but not spoken or understood widely like Urdu.

    Mohajirs are Pakistanis not Indian. The term Mohajir is wrongly used for people who migrated in the love of this county who are great contributor is getting freedom to make a country for all other nations as well. They must better be called ‘Suchay Pakistani (True Pakistani)Recommend