Latest book: The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry, edited and translated by Ahmed Ali. I think I can reuse the illo of Babur and Humayun here, since Babur was probably reciting some verse.  In Persian, not Urdu, I know.

babur

Ali is a great guide– knowledgeable, enthusiastic, tolerant, a font of details.  What he isn’t (warning: my opinion) is a great translator. He’ll introduce a poem or a poet, rhapsodic over just how wonderful and beautiful they are, and it just kind of washes over me.  At random, here’s (most of) a ghazal by Mir Taki Mir, who is said to be the greatest of the 18C Urdu poets:

For days the thought of parting
Had haunted my afflicted breast
Now it was pain, and now a wound
At times a blow, at times a thrust.

At dawn the happy happy world
Was no less kind than on the night
Of sorrow, for the lamp was turned
To smoke, the moth reduced to dust.

Yet if annihilated was
The heart, it was but just as well,
For sometimes it was with the heat
Of love a burn, sometimes a hurt.

…If ever you chance to pass that way
O breeze, then tell her: Faithless one,
But sad and lonely Mir alone
Was in your garden a prickly thorn.

Part of it is because of the type of poetry I like, which is: very little.  I find classic English poetry excruciatingly dull, and I really kind of hate traditional meter, traditional poetic diction, and what seems like a thick overcoat of sentiment. And for the most part Ali seems to translate from Urdu into just that style of poetry.  Alert readers who like poetry: is this great stuff that I happen to be immune to?

(I like Chinese poetry much more.  It’s quick and visual, and not much given to repetition or sentimentality.  Also, I’m sure the Urdu poems are great in Urdu, which is why I’m blaming poor Mr. Ali.)

Still, it has its moments.  Some I am saving for the book, but I’ll give a few interesting bits that didn’t fit in.  There’s one long poem, by Mirza Mohammad Rafi Sauda, that’s highly entertaining; it’s the complaint of a man whose horse is an utter disaster.  Here’s the final stanza:

Thanks be at last my earnest prayer was heard,
And I could manage to reach the battlefield
Somehow, and with a warlike cry I made
To fight. But as a Maratha came to meet
Me, the lean beast, abject, dry as a bone,
Put me to utter shame and mean disgrace.
I egged it on with kicks and shouts in vain,
And charged on foot like a child without the mount.
Then in my helpless and apathetic state
I bolted from the scene of action, shoes
In hand, the steed in my arms, in shameful haste.

Another long poem by Mir Ghulam Hasan, retelling an epic, is interesting for having a description of the hero rather than just the heroine:

But when at last they came quite near
They saw a youth so comely, fair,
Of age about sixteen, in truth,
Nights of longing, days of youth.
Over his lip soft down showed new
Which shamed the heavens’ clear blue.
Nimble of body, strong of limb,
Fresh of face, both tall and slim,
His whole appearance like a mirror
Showing the garden of goodness, hair
So elegant, proud its every tress,
Glowing with health and youthfulness.
Wise of look and sharp of eye,
Forehead full of bravery.

Finally, on the emo side, here’s part of a poem by Momin Khan Momin on the death of his beloved.

Autumn has tarnishes the beauty of the rose,
Faded are the cheeks that once has glowed,
Who in the house had never thought it right
To go unveiled, is carried through the streets.
The head that was as cypress held erect
Now low is laid, gone all its wantonness.
The eyes of the beauty who was breath of my breath
Who dreamed with me my dreams, are closed in death.

 

 

 

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