Poetry Feature: Asian American


Rafiq Kathwari
13 Versions, from the Urdu
Sir Muhammed Iqbal (1887-1938)

Bright Rose
Withered Rose
Your Love's Horizon is What I want
Nourished by the Night
Two Stars
A Walk in the Sky
On Shakespeare
Search a Little Longer
The Coal to a Diamond

Arthur Sze
Five translations, from the Chinese

Return to Chaing Village
by Tu Fu (712-770)

In the Bamboo Grove
by Wang Wei (701-761)

Drinking Alone with the Moon
by Li Po (701-762)

Drinking Wine
by T'ao Ch'ien (365-427)

To the Tune of Sky-Clear: Autumn Thoughts
by Ma Chih-yuan (1260-1324)

Rafiq Kathwari
13 Versions from the Urdu: Sir Mohammed Iqbal

About the poet
: Sir Mohammed Iqbal (1887-1938), who published nine volumes of poetry, continues to inspire millions in South Asia. He advocated ceaseless endeavor, wrote with equal ease in Persian, Urdu, and English. His magnum opus, Javed Nama (addressed to Javed, Iqbal's son), composed in Persian, develops the recurrent theme in Iqbal's work: the potentiality of man, as partner with God, in shaping the destiny of the universe; the poet soars the spheres with Rumi, meeting many icons of history. The reference to Dante's Divine Comedy is obvious. -- RK


O Himalaya, tell of that time when man first lay
in your lap. O let me imagine that dawn
unstained by red. Run backward, cycle of
day and night, ancient eras a moment in your lifetime.
You are a poem whose first verse is the sky.
Your bright turbans dazzle the Pleiades.
Lightning across your peaks sends black tents wandering
above the valley. The wind polishes the trembling mirrors
at your hem. Streams cascade down your forehead,
your cheeks quiver. As morning air cradles intoxicated
roses and the leaves are silenced by the rose-gatherer's wrists,
so speech is silenced in the roar of falling water.

Bright Rose

You cannot loosen the heart's knot,
perhaps you have no heart,
no share in the turmoil

of this garden, where I yearn
but gather no roses.
Of what use to me is wisdom?

Once out of the garden,
you are at peace. I am anxious,
scorched as I search.

Even Jamshid's empty cup
foretold the future, may wine
never satisfy my mouth,

that open circle in the mirror.

(Jamshid's cup: the mythical Persian king Jamshid
saw the reflection of all events in a wine cup.)

Withered Rose

By what words can I deem you
desire of the nightingale's heart?
The morning breeze was your cradle,
the garden a tray of perfumes.

My tears rain like dew,
and in my barren heart your ruin
an emblem of mine,
my life a dream of roses.


A candle among the roses
In the garden
A shooting star
A loop of the moon's robe
A speck in the sun's hem
In and out of eclipse

Consul of day
In night's kingdom
Unknown at home
Lucid in exile
Unlike the moth
The firefly is light

A Fragment (From "Firefly")

Song is the nightingale's scent
Scent is song of the rose
Rose's scent is the firefly's radiance

Your Love's Horizon is What I Want

The simplicity of what I want!

Tease me with a glance
Test my patience. That's what I want!

Let's bestow bliss on the pious
Seeing you face to face is what I want!

I am a speck of dust reaching for the sky
"You can't behold," is the command I want!

One day I will leave this gathering I love
Snuffed like a candle is not what I want!

I have told our secret in public
I have no manners. Scold me. That's all I want!


"Why didn't you make me eternal?"
Beauty asked God one day,

who replied: "The world's fiction
is carved from nothingness.

In changing colors you were born:
true beauty is ephemeral."

The moon overheard this dialogue,
beamed it to the morning star

who woke the dawn, whispering sky's secret
to the dewdrop, earth's guardian.

Dew drenched the rose petals,
and spring left the garden weeping.

Nourished by the Night

The stars asked the moon:
"We have grown weary shining.

Are we destined to journey forever?
When will we rest?"

The moon replied: "My friends,
you who are nourished by the night,

movement is in all Creation,
time is a galloping steed.

This path has no resting-place.
In rest hides death.

Those who gallop are free,
those who rest are destroyed.

The path's beginning is passion,
and absolute passion the end."

Two Stars

As two stars approached
each other, one said:

"If we could only stay
only could stop whirling,

If the sky were kinder
we'd shine together."

But this desire of two
bears longing in itself.

Stars are fated to revolve
in orbits ordained.

Together is a dream.
Separation the law.

A Walk in the Sky

I walked alone, the bewildered stars,
past day and night, circled
my journey's secret. I left the old order.

What can I tell you about Paradise,
desire's horizon? Birds in olive trees,
houris unveiled, goblets clinking.

Beyond Paradise, a place so dark
even Layla's curls would pale,
so icy, Venus herself would hide.

"What is this place?" "This is hell,"
an angel answered to my surprise.
"Here, borrowed fire creates turmoil:

those who come here are their own flame."

On Shakespeare

The river mirrors the glow of dawn
Night silence mirrors night song

The rose mirrors the fame of spring
Bridal cup mirrors virgin Wine

The sun's glory revealed in the sun
Your passionate speech mirrors my heart

Concealed from the world's eyes
You revealed the world with your own

Nature protects her secrets so jealously
Never again will there be such knowledge


Search a Little Longer

Lift the veil from your face
The stars are witnesses

Do not tease
Come out boldly

Become a healer
Passion is in your heart

How long will you beg like Moses on the mountain
The flame is within you

Create a new Mecca with every speck of your dust
Rid yourself of idolatry

Observe the limits in this garden
Even if you want to boast

First create the confidence of Alexander in yourself
Then lust after the glory of Darius


(Written in 1932 on Spanish soil,
mainly in the Mosque of Cordoba)
[See the 12 Section for full presentation. Eds.]


Chain of day and night
Fashioner of events
Basis of life and death
Two tone silken thread
Fiber of attributes
Pitch of prospects
Chain of day and night
Sitting in judgment
Setting a value on us
When we're lacking
Death is your destiny
Death is my destiny
What else is reality
The flow of one age
Neither day nor night
All crafts vanish
Black and white fade
Annihilation the end

But in this form
Hues of eternal life
Splendor of man's love
Love is life's base
Death has no claim on love
Love itself the tide
Stemming the torrent
Love is unnamed eras
Love is Gabriel's breath
Love is the Prophet of God
Love is the Word of God
Love is the radiant rose
Love is raw wine
Love the goblet of kings
Love draws life's music
Love is passion for life
Love is fire of life

O Mosque of Cordoba
Born of love with no past
Color or stone or brick
Harp or song or speech
Man's passionate creation
A drop of blood turns
Even stone into hearts
The heart's voice is joy
Burning and melody
You illuminate the heart
My song burns the breast
You draw man's heart
To the presence of God
But the passion of love
For God is man's alone
I spark man's passion
Though his sight is finite
His heart is wider than the sky
So what if God has rights
He doesn't earn the pain
I am an Indian infidel
Witness my fervor
In my heart prayers
On lips blessings
Love is my flute
Love is my song
In my every bone
"God is God"

Witness of man's worth
Your glory mirrors his soul
Firm columns soar
Palms in Syrian sands
Sinai's light gleams roof
Gabriel crowns the minaret
A Muslim can never despair
Standing where the Prophets stood
His horizon infinite
Tigris Danube Nile flood his veins
Cup-bearer and horseman
In love a warrior
A sword's shadow his armor
"There is no god but God"

You reveal man's secret
Ardor of his days
Dissolution of his nights
His submission
As is God's hand
So is the believer's
Man prospers on deeds
He is clay and fire
Divine within
Free of both worlds
His ambition small
His purpose large
Pure-hearted in war or peace
God's compass revolves
Around man's faith
And the world is illusion
Man of God is reason's horizon
The harvest of love
Fire of the gathering
Heaven's passion

Art lover's Mecca
Faith's grandeur
You made Andalusia holy
Only Muslims mirror your grandeur
O those Arab horsemen
Pledged to truth
Revealed this new secret
People who embrace Faith
Renounce the material
They enlightened the West
Yemen's scent persists
Even today Arabia's music
Lingers in Andalusia's breeze

Alas for centuries
No Calls to Prayer
Echo the minaret
In which valley
At which destination
Is love's caravan inducing frenzy
As all Europe swept away the old order
Repainted the face of the West
So today those torrents stir Muslims
A divine prophecy seals my lips
But let us watch secrets surface
From the ocean's depth
Watch the sky change hue

A cloud drenched in twilight
The sun scatters rubies
A peasant's daughter sings
Youth sails on heart's boat
On the Guadalquivir
Someone dreams of another age
New order still veiled by fate
Another dawn is approaching
In my mind's eye
If I unveil my thoughts
Fan the flames of my song
Europe couldn't endure
Life without revolution is death
As man's creations are soulless
Without passionate belief
So my song


The Coal to a Diamond

Iqbal after Nietzsche

My stuff is so vile, I am less than dust
while your gleam rends the mirror's heart.
My darkness lights the chafing-dish
before I am incinerated. A miner's boot
tramples my head, covering me with ashes.

Do you know my life's gist?
A condensed sliver of smoke, transformed
into a single spark, in feature and nature
starlike, your every facet a splendor,
light of the king's eye, the dagger's jewel.

Friend, be wise, the diamond replied, assume
a bezel's dignity! Loam strives to harden
to fill my bosom with radiance. Burn
because you are soft. Banish fear and grief.
Be hard as stone, be diamond.

About the translator
: Rafiq Kathwari's work appeared most recently in Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English, Ed.: Agha Shahid Ali (Wesleyan, 2000) and in Big City Lit® (May 2001). He lives in New York City.

~ . ~

Arthur Sze
Five translations, from the Chinese

Photo: © 2001 George Kunze

Return to Chiang Village
by Tu Fu (712-770)

Shaggy red clouds in the west—
the sun's foot is down to level earth.
By the wicker gate, sparrows are chirping.
The traveler returns from over a thousand li.

Wife and children panic at my presence;
quieted, they still wipe tears.
In this age of turmoil, I floated and meandered.
A miracle of chance to return alive!

Neighbors crowd the fence tops
and also sigh and sob.
In the deep night, we are again holding candles,
facing each other as in a dream.

In the Bamboo Grove
by Wang Wei (701-761)

I sit alone in the secluded bamboo grove
and play the zither and whistle along.
In the deep forest no one knows,
the bright moon comes to shine on me.


Drinking Alone with the Moon
by Li Po (701-762)

Among the flowers with a jug of wine,
I pour, alone, lacking companions,
and, raising cup, invite the bright moon:
facing my shadow makes three people.
But the moon is unable to drink,
and my shadow just follows my body.
For a time the moon leads the shadow;
be joyous as long as it's spring!
I sing, and the moon wavers.
I dance, and the shadow stumbles.
When sober, we were intimate friends;
now drunk, each of us separates.
May we be bound and travel without anxieties—
may we meet in the far Milky Way.


Drinking Wine
by T'ao Ch'ien (365-427)

I built my house near where others live,
and yet without noise of horse or carriage.
You ask how this can be?
A distant mind leaves the earth around it.
I plant chrysanthemums below the eastern fence
Then gaze at mountains to the south.
The mountain air is fine at sunset;
Flying birds go back in flocks.
In this there is a truth:
I wish to tell you but lose the words.

To the Tune of Sky-Clear Sand: Autumn Thoughts
by Ma Chih-yuan (1260-1324)

Withered vine,
old tree,

A small bridge,
running water,

Ancient road,
west wind,
lean horse,

sun sinking
in the west—

and a man,
at the sky's edge.

About the translator: Arthur Sze has published seven collections of poems, including The Redshifting Web (Copper Canyon, l998), and The Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese (Copper Canyon Press, 2001). He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts.