When Autumn Came
Faiz Ahmed Faiz, 1911 – 1984
This is the way that autumn came to the trees:
it stripped them down to the skin,
left their ebony bodies naked.
It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves,
scattered them over the ground.
Anyone could trample them out of shape
undisturbed by a single moan of protest.
The birds that herald dreams
were exiled from their song,
each voice torn out of its throat.
They dropped into the dust
even before the hunter strung his bow.
Oh, God of May have mercy.
Bless these withered bodies
with the passion of your resurrection;
make their dead veins flow with blood again.
Give some tree the gift of green again.
Let one bird sing.
In this poem, Faiz tries to give a vivid description of autumn season. The poet tells how autumn came and affected the trees, and then the birds. This poem may be considered a metaphor of human life and the autumn in the life of a tree may be conceived as a phase in human life. The poet is metaphorically saying that ‘a tree has a season and a man has a time.’ Following the poem, when autumn came, the trees lost their greenery, they suddenly become leafless and the birds stop singing and dies. It’s like a phase in our life where there is devoid of hope and all the vitalities of life.
Yet, the poem ends with a positive note. The poet prays to the God of May for the renewal of life and hope for those desolate beings. Autumn being a natural process, there is little harmful effect on both trees and birds, and also on their inter-dependants. Autumn is followed by spring. There is always hope. The trees will become green again and the birds will sing again. For the poet, the death in autumn is a sign of rebirth.
In terms of literary expressions, Faiz considers leaves as the source of life and energy of trees. For him, leaves are the ‘hearts’ of the trees. When tress are shaken and stripped off their leaves, they seem lifeless. However, the poet clings to the hope for a new beginning. The poem gives the message for a life and hope amidst all troubles in life.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born on February 13, 1911, in Sialkot, India, which is now part of Pakistan. He had a privileged childhood as the son of wealthy landowners Sultan Fatima and Sultan Muhammad Khan, who passed away in 1913, shortly after his birth. His father was a prominent lawyer and a member of an elite literary circle which included Allama Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan.
In 1916, Faiz entered Moulvi Ibrahim Sialkoti, a famous regional school, and was later admitted to the Skotch Mission High School where he studied Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Arabic, followed by a master’s degree in English, from the Government College in Lahore in 1932, and later received a second master’s degree in Arabic from the Oriental College in Lahore.After graduating in 1935, Faiz began a teaching career at M.A.O. College in Amritsar and then at Hailey College of Commerce in Lahore.
Faiz’s early poems had been conventional, light-hearted treatises on love and beauty, but while in Lahore he began to expand into politics, community, and the thematic interconnectedness he felt was fundamental in both life and poetry. It was also during this period that he married Alys George, a British expatriate and convert to Islam, with whom he had two daughters. In 1942, he left teaching to join the British Indian Army, for which he received a British Empire Medal for his service during World War II. After the partition of India in 1947, Faiz resigned from the army and became the editor of The Pakistan Times, a socialist English-language newspaper.
On March 9, 1951, Faiz was arrested with a group of army officers under the Safety Act, and charged with the failed coup attempt that became known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. He was sentenced to death and spent four years in prison before being released. Two of his poetry collections,Dast-e Saba and Zindan Namah, focus on life in prison, which he considered an opportunity to see the world in a new way. While living in Pakistan after his release, Faiz was appointed to the National Council of the Arts by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government, and his poems, which had previously been translated into Russian, earned him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963.
In 1964, Faiz settled in Karachi and was appointed principal of Abdullah Haroon College, while also working as an editor and writer for several distinguished magazines and newspapers. He worked in an honorary capacity for the Department of Information during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, and wrote stark poems of outrage over the bloodshed between Pakistan, India, and what later became Bangladesh. However, when Bhutto was overthrown by Zia Ul-Haq, Faiz was forced into exile in Beirut, Lebanon. There he edited the magazineLotus, and continued to write poems in Urdu. He remained in exile until 1982. He died in Lahore in 1984, shortly after receiving a nomination for the Nobel Prize.
Throughout his tumultuous life, Faiz continually wrote and published, becoming the best-selling modern Urdu poet in both India and Pakistan. While his work is written in fairly strict diction, his poems maintain a casual, conversational tone, creating tension between the elite and the common, somewhat in the tradition of Ghalib, the reknowned 19th century Urdu poet. Faiz is especially celebrated for his poems in traditional Urdu forms, such as the ghazal, and his remarkable ability to expand the conventional thematic expectations to include political and social issues.
A Selected Bibliography
Naqsh-e faryadi (1943)
Dast-e saba (1952)
Zindan namad (1956)
Dest-i tah-yi sang(1965)
Harf harf (1965)
Sar-e vadi-ye sina (1971)
Mat¯a`-i lauh o qalam (1973)
Rat di rat (1975)
Intikh¯ab-i Pay¯am-i Mashriq : manz¯um Urd¯u tarjumah (1977)
Sham-e shahri-yaran (1978)
Mere dil, mere musafir (1980)
Poetry in Translation
Poems (1962) trans. by V.G. Kiernan
Poems by Faiz (1971) trans. V.G. Kiernan
The True Subject: Selected Poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1988) trans. Naomi Lazard
The Unicorn and the Dancing Girl (1988) trans by Daud Kamal, ed. by Khalid Hasan
The Rebel’s Silhouette (1991) trans. Agha Shahid Ali
The Rebel’s Silhouette: Selected Poems (1995) rev. ed. trans. Agha Shahid Ali