Overview | Poets | Poems
By Abdullah Qazi
March 12, 2018
Unlike other art forms, poetry is cherished by almost every group in Afghan society, and is considered a great way to express oneself. Poetry is commonly read and recited by men, women, modern-day progressives, as well as conservative Muslims. Poetry in Afghanistan, in both Persian (Dari) and Pashto, dates back thousands of years.
The most famous Persian poet who was born in what is today called Afghanistan is the 13th century Sufi poet Jalaluddin Rumi Balkhi. His works are widely read, not just in the Persian speaking countries of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Iran, but the West as well. Balkhi’s poetry is very spiritual in nature. The themes of his poetry resonate with all sorts of people. His poems have been translated into many languages, including English, Spanish, French, Spanish, Italian, and even Russian.
The most famous Pashto poet is considered to be Khushal Khan Khattak. Khattak, who is referred to as the national poet of Afghanistan, was a warrior poet that lived in the 17th century. He mostly wrote about unity, honor, war, love, and every day life.
Poetry is not the just the domain of men in Afghanistan. The nation’s most famous female poet is Rabia Balkhi, a woman who lived in the 10th century, and wrote powerful Persian poems about love. Rabia Balkhi was imprisoned and killed by her brother for falling in love with a slave. It is commonly believed that she wrote her last poem on the wall of the room she was imprisoned in, using her own blood.
Many Pashtun women in Afghanistan use landai, a type of oral poetry, originating thousands of years ago, to express love and grief. Landai is a type of poem (usually anonymous) that is composed of two lines and typically has 22 syllables. One of the most famous landai poems came from Malalai, an Afghan heroine who played a major role in the Battle of Maiwand during the second Anglo-Afghan war. During the battle, when the tide turned against the Afghan fighters and their morale dropped, Malalai cried out:
Young love if you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand;
By God someone is saving you as a token of shame;
The common belief is that this landai motivated the Afghan fighters to fight harder, ultimately defeating the British invaders.
As a form of entertainment, Afghans participate in what is referred to as Sher Jangi, which translates to “poetry fighting” or “poem battle”. One person composes a verse, and his or her opponent must respond by composing a coherent second verse that begins with the last letter of the first verse. The game goes back and forth until one of them fails to come up with a coherent response.
|Classical Dari and Pashto Poets
Jalaluddin Rumi Balkhi– (Dari)
|Important Contemporary Dari and Pashto Poets
Ustad Khalilullah Khalili (Dari)
Selection of Poems (translated into English)
Sometimes I forget completely
what companionship is.
Unconscious and insane, I spill sad
energy everywhere. My story
gets told in various ways: a romance,
a dirty joke, a war, a vacancy.
Divide up my forgetfulness to any number,
it will go around.
These dark suggestions that I follow,
are they a part of some plan?
Friends, be careful. Don’t come near me
out of curiosity, or sympathy.
Consider the difference
in our actions and God’s actions.
We often ask, “Why did you do that?”
or “Why did I act like that?”
We do act, and yet everything we do
is God’s creative action.
We look back and analyze the events
of our lives, but there is another way
of seeing, a backward-and-forward-at-once
vision, that is not rationally understandable.
Only God can understand it.
Satan made the excuse, you caused me to fall,
whereas Adam said to God, We did this
to ourselves. After this repentance,
God asked Adam, Since all is within
my foreknowledge, why didn’t you
defend yourself with that reason?
Adam answered, I was afraid,
and I wanted to be reverent.
Whoever acts with respect will get respect.
Whoever brings sweetness will be served almond cake.
Good women are drawn to be with good men.
Honor your friend.
Or treat him rudely,
and see what happen!
Love, tell an incident now
that will clarify this mystery
of how we act freely, and are yet
compelled. One hand shakes with palsy.
Another shakes because you slapped it away.
Both tremblings come from God,
but you feel guilty for the one,
and what about the other?
These are intellectual questions.
The spirit approaches the matter
differently. Omar once had a friend, a scientist,
Bu’l-Hakam, who was flawless at solving
empirical problems, but he could not follow Omar
into the area of illumination and wonder.
Now I return to the text, “And He is with you,
wherever you are,” but when have I ever left it!
Ignorance is God’s prison.
Knowing is God’s palace.
We sleep in God’s unconsciousness.
We wake in God’s open hand.
We weep God’s rain.
We laugh God’s lightning.
Fighting and peacefulness
both take place within God.
Who are we then
in this complicated world-tangle,
that is really just the single, straight
line down at the beginning of ALLAH?
How does a part of the word leave the world?
How can wetness leave water?
Don’t try to put out a fire
by throwing on more fire!
Don’t wash a wound with blood!
No matter how fast you run,
your shadow more than keeps up.
Sometimes, it’s in front.
Only full, overhead sun
diminishes your shadow.
But that shadow has been serving you!
What hurts you, bless you.
Darkness is your candle.
Your boundaries are your quest.
I can explain this, but it would break
the glass cover on your heart,
and there’s no fixing that.
You must have shadow and light source both.
Listen, and lay your head under the tree of awe.
When from that tree, feathers and wings sprout
on you, be quieter than a dove.
Don’t open your mouth for even a cooooooo.
When a frog slips into the water, the snake
cannot get it. Then the frog climbs back out
and croaks, and the snake moves toward him again.
Even if the frog learned to hiss, still the snake
would hear through the hiss the information
he needed, the frog voice underneath.
But if the frog could be completely silent,
then the snake would go back to sleeping,
and the frog could reach the barley.
The soul lives there in the silent breath.
And the grain of barley is such that,
when you put it in the ground,
Are these enough words,
Or shall I squeeze more juice from this?
Who am I, my friend?
Who makes these changes?
I shoot an arrow right.
It lands left.
I ride after a deer and find myself
chased by a hog.
I plot to get what I want
and end up in prison.
I dig pits to trap others
and fall in.
I should be suspicious
of what I want.
The Adam Khel Afridi Maids
Are both rosy and fair;
Among them there are many beauties
With every kind of charm.
With great bright eyes, long curling lashes
And eyebrows arched and wide,
With honey lips and rosy cheeks
And forheads like the moon;
With tiny mouths like budding roses
And teeth even and white,
Their heads all clad in blackest tresses
Fragrant as ambergris;
Their bodies smooth as any egg,
Without a trace of hair,
Their feet petite, with rounded heels,
Their haunches plump and wide;
Their stomachs slim, their bosoms broad,
Their waists perfectly narrow,
Their figures straight as letter “I’s”
And shining silver white
Although I wander, like a hawk,
About the barren hills
Many a pretty little partridge
Has fallen prey to me.
Young and unskilled, or old and sly,
A hawk always seeks prey,
And an old hawk’s stoop is surer
Than that of a young bird.
Either the waters of Landdai
Or the Bara stream
Taste sweeter, more refreshing both,
Then sherbet in my mouth.
The peaks that flank Matari pass
Rise straight up to the sky;
In climbing, ever climbing them
One’s angles soon gain strength.
I came into Tirah county
Among the Adam Khels;
Now, sat at heart, I’ve taken leave
Of all these gentle souls.
All love’s affairs are well portrayed
By fire, O Khushal:
Although you cover up its flames
The smoke will still be seen.
Life’s no life when honor’s left;
Man’s a man when honor’s kept.
Nation’s honor and nation’s fame;
On life they have a prior claim.
With thoughts of these I do remain;
Unvexed with cares of loss or gain.
The knowing , the perceptive man
is he who knows about himself,
for in self knowledge and insight
lies knowledge of the holiest.
If in his heart there is no fear,
his deeds are not those of the good,
pay no heed to one who’s skilled
in quoting the Qur’an by heart.
The coming of winter
When Libra travels from the sun, then does winter come.
The world, once weak with summer’s heat, grows stong again;
Man eats with joy and finds the taste of water sweet;
Lovers embrace again, arms and lips entwined.
The warrior welcomes now his coat; the horse, his winter trappings;
The one feels not his armor; nor the other his saddle’s weight.
From SWAT the falcon now returns, like traveled yogi coming home;
And in the radiant moonlight hours comes the heron screaming in the sky.
If leadership rests inside the lion’s jaw,
So be it. Go snatch it from his jaws.
Your lot shall be greatness, prestige, honor and glory.
If all fails, face death like a man.
I am caught in Love’s web so deceitful
None of my endeavors turn fruitful.
I knew not when I rode the high-blooded stead
The harder I pulled its reins the less it would heed.
Love is an ocean with such a vast space
No wise man can swim it in any place.
A true lover should be faithful till the end
And face life’s reprobated trend.
When you see things hideous, fancy them neat,
Eat poison, but taste sugar sweet.
By blood, we are immersed in love of you.
The youth lose their heads for your sake.
I come to you and my heart finds rest.
Away from you, grief clings to my heart like a snake.
I forget the throne of Delhi
when I remember the mountain tops of my Afghan land.
If I must choose between the world and you,
I shall not hesitate to claim your barren deserts as my own.
Pir Of Herat Khwaja Abdullah Ansari
From the unmanifest I came,
And pitched my tent, in the Forest of Material existence.
I passed through mineral and vegetable kingdoms,
Then my mental equipment carried me into the animal kingdom;
Having reached there I crossed beyond it;
Then in the crystal clear shell of human heart
I nursed the drop of self in a Pearl,
And in association with good men
Wandered round the Prayer House,
And having experienced that, crossed beyond it;
Then I took the road that leads to Him,
And became a slave at His gate;
Then the duality disappeared
And I became absorbed in Him.
O my idol! A cloud from Paradise
Has bestowed an emerald gown on the earth.
Deserts are like blood-stained silk
And the sky has the fragrance of musk.
With a mixture of musk and red wine
An artist has drawn an image of my love on the desert.
The world has become peaceful
For both the tiger and the deer.
For such occasions. we need a sun-faced idol,
And a moon. leaning on a cushion of sun.
We must have an idol with cheeks like rubies,
And red wine to match the cheeks.
The world has become a peacock,
With roughness here and smoothness here.
Mud smells of roses,
As though kneaded with rose water.
A tree with a bitter seed
Fed with butter and sugar
Will still bear a bitter fruit.
From it, you will taste no sweetness.
Oh’ Great Mountain, reaching far into the sky!
How long will you find satisfaction in self love?
Though just a tiny butterfly, I am yet free,
To dance on a flower head while you remain shackled.
I am the bitter fruit falling upon the earth.
Thus in the clutches of time I remain.
O spring of liberty! Your grace, what else it could be
But to render this bitter fruit sweet?
The greatest wealth of this world is the company of friends,
The agony of death:
Separation from them,
But since they are all together, the friends,
Resting deep in the heart of the dust,
What difference does it make
Whether alive or dead.
Out of pain and sorrow destiny has molded me.
What, Alas, has been my joy from the cup of life?
Like a candle burning in the blowing wind,
I tremble, I burn, … I die.