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Be Near Me -- Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #748) Be Near Me
 You who demolish me, you whom I love,
 be near me. Remain near me when evening,
 drunk on the blood of the skies,
 becomes night, in its one hand
 a perfumed balm, in the other
 a sword sheathed in the diamond of stars.

 Be near me when night laments or sings,
 or when it begins to dance,
 its steel-blue anklets ringing with grief.

 Be here when longings, long submerged
 in the heart's waters, resurface
 and when everyone begins to look:
 Where is the assassin? In whose sleeve
 is hidden the redeeming knife?

 And when wine, as it is poured, is the sobbing
 of children whom nothing will console -
 when nothing holds,
 when nothing is:
 at that dark hour when night mourns,
 be near me, my destroyer, my lover,
 be near me.
-- Faiz Ahmed Faiz
translated by Agha Shahid Ali.

I don't find Urdu poets very easy reading (in English, unfortunately I don't
read Urdu). I'm intrigued and attracted to them by the extravagance of their
emotions, the intensity of their images. Perhaps it's translation, perhaps
it's their frequent use of the ghazal, hardly the easiest of form of poetry
to understand, but I often find it hard to figure out what's going on.

The exception is Faiz. He's one poet who manages to balance deep emotion, as
in this poem, with more complex issues of life and politics. (He has also
been lucky in having an exceptionally good translator in Agha Shahid Ali). I
have no particular sympathy for Faiz's Marxist politics, at least as
expressed by politicians, but with Faiz you get the feeling that his views
spring from a deep, passionate engagement with humanity, a concern for
people, a love of life that one cannot help connecting to. Perhaps Marxism
would have been more successful if it had had more poets like Faiz.

This poem though is not one of his political ones, but one just focusing on
love. I was going to say it's a simple poem, but perhaps it's not, since the
Beloved in this poem is both the one he loves and the one who he feels will
destroy him. It's a hugely extravagant and intense poem, but Faiz's skill
prevents it from going over the top.



Vikram's friend Vicente has some interesting comments to add:

There may in my view be more connection between "Hispanic" poets (Latin
American and Spanish/Portuguese), and Indian poets than meets the eye,
particularly but not exclusively the Northern Indian poets with strong
influences from the Mughal, Arabic and Islamic traditions. And even the
explicitly Hindu poets were not uninfluenced by the Islamic forms, nor were
they uninfluenced in turn. The southern coasts also share this influence,
due to the maritime Arab trade routes, which brought Kerala and Tamil Nadu
into contact with these same poetics (and had some influence no doubt in
reverse also).

The link is of course Islamic Spain, which lasted 500 years up to the
1490's, and the influence of Arab/Islamic forms in Al-Andaluz or Andalucia.
If you listen to the ancient Saetas of Seville, or the Cante Jondo (Deep
Song) of Granada, you could be forgiven for thinking you are listening to
the bitter sweet music and lyrics directly reflected in this poem by Faiz.
Here I am talking about the "real" saetas that can still be heard sung in
the streets of Seville during Holy week. The flamenco of today, or the pop
flamenco of The Gypsy Kings, are only a poor reflection.

The imagery of the oasis and desert (water and thirst, abundance and loss,
youth and age), the symbology of flowers, death and love, blood and revenge,
the sound of birds, the reverie of wine and the impermanence of all earthly
phenomena, are all the stock in trade of Spanish Andalucian poetics, and
continue in the contemporary "Andalucian" music of Morocco.

The pogrom against Jews and Muslims by Their Catholic Majesties Isabella and
Ferdinand (Los Reyes Catolicos) also served to disperse Andalucian music
across the whole globe. There are Sephardic Jewish songs, variations of
which can be found in Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Bombay, Cochin, Burma,
and Shanghai. Last year, I was telling a Jewish elder in Cochin about a
particular Sephardic song I like about domestic violence and choice in
marriage, which I have heard in Ladino (the Medieval Spanish and Hebrew
creole of Sephardic Jews), and lo and behold a version was known in the
Keralan creole of the Cochin Jews. Similarly, an old man of Vypin (Vypeen)
sang another song "Shingly Nona" to me two years ago which is a mix of
Keralan dialect and corrupted Portuguese [1].

The Granadan poet Federico Garcia Lorca was strongly influenced by the cante
jondo tradition, and did much to revitalise it, and his poetry, although
reflective of the surrealist (and Republican) trends of his time, is
recognisably within the broad stream in which Faiz also sits. Following the
"discovery" of the Americas in 1492, these streams of influence traveled
west, and can be felt amongst not only poets like Octavio Paz,
Pablo Neruda and Vicente Huidobro, but also novelists.


[1] has several
versions of this poem, in different languages/dialects.

14 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Kunal said...

Respectfully, this poem can be interpreted as an expression of Marx's philosophical thinking. Perhaps, you should reacquaint yourself with the philosophy of Marx if the meaning behind "Be Near Me" appeals to you. Nonetheless, thanks for posting this poem.

Kunal said...

Also, there has been and continues to be rich political art that is influenced by Marx's philosophy or is in keeping with Neo-Marxist thinking. Marx does more than address class struggle in his writing. He also discusses the concept of humanism. Americans have benefited from his writing and may continue to do so. Marx remains relevant today, especially for those who choose to take his ideas seriously.

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Emerald Engagement Rings said...

And when wine, as it is poured, is the sobbing
of children whom nothing will console -
when nothing holds,
when nothing is:
at that dark hour when night mourns,
be near me, my destroyer, my lover,
be near me.

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