The department welcomed poet, Nabila Jameel, this week. She delivered an outstanding lecture on Persian and Urdu poetry, from classical to modern, and the complexities of its translation. We read and discussed texts by several Urdu and Persian poets that included Alama Iqbal, Rumi, and Hafiz and explored women’s voices too in Zebunissa, Parvin E’tesami and Parveen Shakir.
For me these are new poets, and voices of extraordinary resonance. These lines from “When I want to Kiss God” by fourteenth century poet, Hafiz particularly struck me in their sharpness of image, concern for the sublime, and the tension inherent in its secretive confessional tone:
No one is looking
I swallow deserts and clouds
And chew on mountains knowing
They are sweet
Bones! (Hafiz, 64)
We also read Zebunissa (1638-1702) who was a princess of the Muhgal Empire held captive for the final twenty years of her life by her father. The verse that she wrote then still has bold political register in contemporary debates about society, gender and Islam:
I will not lift my veil,
For if I did, what may befall who knows.
As Nightingales do directly love the rose,
And as the Brahman worships Lakshmi’s grace,
Thus lost in contemplation of my face,
The poor beholder may forget and fail. (Zebunissa, 124)
This strong, female persona declares and defends her position in defiant lyricism and also questions and reflects upon the role of woman in society.
You can read Jameel’s work in Stand magazine, the Poetry Review and in a recent anthology by Bloodaxe: Out of Bounds.
The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master. Daniel Ladinsky (trans.) Penguin Compass, 1999.
Annie Krieger Krynicki. 2005. Captive Princess: Zebunissa, Daughter of Emperor Aurangzeb. OUP