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Modern Poetry of Pakistan: An Introduction

Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984), reciting at a mushaira near the end of his life.

Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984), reciting at a mushaira near the end of his life.

Iqbal's will to revive the ideal Muslim community and resurrect the perfect "Man of God" in each individual Muslim consciousness is replaced by an unflagging hope for the success of the revolution everywhere against injustice. "Workers of the world unite" is reconceived to exhort the oppressed everywhere to keep the faith against all odds, to continue the struggle, for their efforts will indeed bring about an upheaval that will redress the wrongs and crown the reviled, the despised, the rejected, the robbed and impoverished with success and surcease from their pain. Ironically, in reinterpreting the idiom and imagery of old, Faiz ends up reinterpreting Islamic values in secular, physical, material (Marxist) terms.

Video: Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984) recites his poetry at a mushaira



This history and this background is necessary to appreciate what the various poets from the seven language traditions of Pakistan are attempting to do in their own respective ways in the poems that are included in Modern Poetry of Pakistan. Yes, there are individual motivations, local traditions, legends, and history, topical details, regional, and often shared, folklore, political tensions, social and cultural enticements and anxieties, that provide inspiration. But all the poets share the context that is sketched out above. Within this context, it will be a little easier, perhaps, to see thematic modulations and departures, formal revisions and innovations, and the differentiated imageries, idioms, sensibilities that the poets have brought to their work.

The poems are not to be read within some abstract notion of a universal poetic practice, which often means today whatever the Western world considers familiar and appealing on its own terms. They cannot be assessed either on the basis of Western or European ideas of Modernism, Postmodernism, and other academic labels that have been devised on the basis of literature and art forms familiar to this part of the world.

These poems have to be read and appraised within the rich traditions that they originate and grow from. Only then can translation truly serve its purpose. For it is not the objective of the translators to render the original in such a way that it becomes indistinguishable from the idea of a poem as generally understood in the language of translation. The movements, the timing, the formal shadow, the sensibility of the original language must somehow continue to show itself in the translated version.

 

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