Afzal Ahmed Syed :: Two poems

From the Urdu--

Afzal Ahmed Syed (b. 1946) is a leading voice and an acknowledged master of classical and modern Urdu poetic expression. He has published four collections of poetry since 1984. An English translation of his selected poems, Rococo and Other Worlds, was published by Wesleyan UP in 2010.

Translator’s Note:

The two nazms translated for this issue reflect the wide range of Syed’s subject matter and its treatment, while also echoing the understated haunting, and a search for poetic excess common to his expression. The first poem, published in 2009, simultaneously mourns the murder and celebrates the life of a dancing girl, one of the many victims of the short Taliban occupation of the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan. Typical of Syed’s style, the poem remains true to its historical circumstance—referencing the street, the incident, the place of her murder (slaughterhouse rotary)—and yet transcends the immediate by collapsing the present with the past and the future. It places the murdered girl on the altar alongside Mohenjo-Daro’s famous dancing girl, and wishes for her (imagined) trainees to continue dancing. History, poetry, and lived experience come together in his bare yet penetrating voice.

Syed’s second poem evokes a fatalistic yet hopeful sense of alienation that could be a universal human experience. The poem speaks for itself, but one can read his search for a new language to converse with one’s self as a parable for his work, or in fact all poetry. Is such a language possible? Perhaps, only poets have the key to it. Syed is surely leading the way in Urdu.


The Dancer of Bonair Street*

With apologies to all those

whose throats were cut on the rotary slaughterhouse

the poem at this time

only talks about the dancer of Bonair Street

who was dragged out of her house

and slaughtered


The poem does not know

the identity

Of those who picked up her photos

and her hard-earned currency notes

Thrown at her corpse


The poem only knows

that she had resisted the warning

And wants the young girls whom she trained

to continue their practice


In the end

the poem puts her on the altar

besides Mohenjo-Daro’s dancing girl

(who was once worshipped)



is in agreement with the poem.


*Bonair Street is a road in Swat


Learning a New Language

 In a building near the shore

Where no one reaches alone

Except me and a neighborhood dog

I am learning a new language

To converse with



--Translated from the Urdu by Taimoor Shahid

Taimoor Shahid is a poet, translator, and scholar. He has published two book length works. His writings have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Vallum 9:1 “Poets from Pakistan,”  Annual of Urdu Studies, #NewWriting, Tanqeed, Scroll, The Dawn, Chapati Mystery, Aaj, and Dunyazad, among others. He is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago.