The Siege

Ahmed Faraz

My enemy has sent message for me,
That his army-men have laid siege around me.
On every tower and minaret of the city-wall,
His army-men are standing with bows in their hands.

The lightening-wave has been extinguished
Whose fervor awoke volcanoes from the soil.
Landmines are laid in the waters
Of the streamlet that came flowing to my street.
All people—outspoken and bold, are now bodily torn.
And all the rebels are sent to gallows.

All the mystics and mystic-initiates, all the guides and leaders
Have gathered in the high-towered palace, hoping favours.
All the honourable judges, ready to take oath,
Are sitting on the way, like adamant beggars.

You have been an admirer of poets’ dignity,
Those stars of the art’s sky are now before you.
At the wink of a ruler’s buddy,
A number of begging poets would gather before him.
Weigh the footing of these dauntless and the faithful
Look around you; see yourself, who is with you.

If you want to protect your life, the condition is this:
Put your pen and paper in the killing-yard.
Otherwise, you are the only aim of archers this time.
Therefore, shun off your sense of honour in the street.

Seeing these conditions, I told the emissary:
He doesn’t know what the History teaches us.
When a night murders a sun,
A new morning carves out a new sun.
Therefore, this is my reply to my enemy:
I am neither greedy for favour, nor afraid of revenge.
He takes immense pride in his sword’s power,
But he can’t judge the grandeur of a pen.

My pen is not the character of that protector
Who takes pride in besieging his own city.
My pen is not the bowl of that debased,
Who bestows praises upon the usurper.
My pen is not the tool of that burglar
Who breaks the roof his own house.
My pen is not the companion of that night-thief
Who throws up a lasso on the unlit houses.
My pen is not the rosary of that preacher,
Who keeps counting the moments of his prayer.
My pen is not the scale of that arbiter,
Who keeps two masks for his face to cover.

My pen is the safekeeping of my people.
My pen is the law-court of my conscience.
That’s why, whatever I wrote, I wrote with passion of life.
That gave to my poems the supple of bow, and the tongue of arrow.
Whether I lay cut here, or be spared, I believe,
Somebody will wreck this wall of oppression.
I swear for my torment-stricken life,
The voyage of my pen will not be futile.

The passion of love did not get a nature that weakens the lover.
Instead of seeing the height of the cypress, you are gauging its shadow!

Translated from Urdu by Arjumand Ara

Ahmed Faraz (1931-2008) wrote this poem, Muhaasirah (The Seige), when General Muhammad Zia-ul Haq overthrew the democratically elected government of Pakistan under Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977.

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