Ghazal: White Sail

After “Baadbaan…” by Parveen Shakir

White sail, the open sea,
+++horizon so blue, yes.
I see myself keeping watch.
+++Could it be you? Yes.

Without you, nothing’s
+++been easy, and this is worse.
So close and yet so far.
+++Yet you made it through, yes!

No wait, wait… the sail veers….
+++Ah, it was just the light,
a trick on the eyes like
+++the man in the moon. Yes.

Our world is ended, my love.
+++Our heroes all dead,
the people arrayed against
+++themselves. No truce, yes.

Our righteous rage, how we
+++let the facts go begging,
left our flag drowned beneath
+++an ocean of blood, yes.

Like compulsive gamblers,
+++we bet and lost and lost.
Losing became winning.
+++Did we have a clue? Yes.

Our vanities and hopes?
+++Not for me anymore.
No, now I long for what you have.
+++The last truth, yes.

Partisans, martyrs,
+++we are a handful of dust
wasted by the winds of life.
+++And I love you. Yes.

Eugene A. Melino

Originally published in Contemporary Ghazals No.5, Spring 2015.
Published online in Poetry in Form, June 5, 2017 (Online).

parveen-shakir_01-Parveen Shakir (1942 – 1994), belonged to a rising generation of women poets in Pakistan. Considered a master of the ghazal, she is known for bringing a distinctly feminine perspective to a form long dominated by masculine voices. Several amazing YouTube videos show her reciting at televised mushairas, traditional poetry events that feature ghazals. Unless you speak Urdu, you won’t understand a word, but you’ll see a young Shakir more than holding her own before peers and audience. You’ll feel the excitement as the audience and panelists call out, repeat her lines, nod in affirmation and even laugh out loud. And if you listen carefully, you’ll be able to discern each qafia and radif. As a reader of her own work, she possessed tremendous polish and confidence. It’s an object lesson in the power oral reading gives the poet.

Shakir wrote several books of poetry, only one published in English (and no longer in print) despite her popularity in Pakistan. A Google search will turn up a few English translations of her ghazals. “Baadbaan…,” the poem used in this adaptation, was not one of them. But twenty-five years ago, it became a popular hit recording by Tahira Syed, one of Pakistan’s most famous singers and herself the daughter of the Pakistani classical singer, Malika Pukhraj. My poem began with a literal interlinear translation from, a Website dedicated to Urdu poetry. Next followed a study of Shakir’s life and her works available in English. Rekhta was also the source of Syed’s “Baadbaan” music video. After writing my own analysis of Shakir’s words and listening to Syed’s recording so many times that I was able to sing it in Urdu, which I do not speak, I began writing my rather free adaptation.

This ghazal is not a translation. The best of it was inspired by Shakir’s words and Syed’s wonderful rendition. Its flaws are totally my own. If it spurs interest in Shakir’s poetry and encourages real translations of her books, it has served its purpose. Without good translations, poets writing the ghazal in English are largely blind to the heart and soul of a grand tradition, especially its contemporary practitioners, and more especially its great ladies.

Eugene A. Melino