Poetry of Faiz Ahmad by Kousik Adhikari

Article Posted in: Research Articles

The Poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz: A Critical Study

By – Kousik Adhikari

Published in Ashvamegh: Issue XI: December 2015 

Abstract: The poetry of Faiz Ahmad Faiz has a special place in the developments of Urdu literature and poetry. His poetry does not only portray the personal sagas but also poeticizes the common people’s longings, sorrows and troubles. The article aims to critically study the poetry of Faiz, its characteristics, philosophy and its place in the world literature.


Keywords: Faiz, poetry, Urdu literature, society, philosophy.


This path of memory,

On which you have walked for so long,

Will end, if you were to proceed a few steps more,

Where it diverts to oblivion’s desolation;

And from there onwards neither you nor I exist.

My eyes, still on you, wait that any instant,

You may return, pass on, or just look back.

(Faiz, A Lover to His Beloved, Memory 3)


Faiz Ahmad Faiz (13 February 1911 – 20 November 1984) was an influential left-wing intellectual, revolutionary poet and one of the greatest poets of the Urdu language. He was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize for literature. Faiz also wrote poetry in the Punjabi language. He was a notable member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement (PWM). Faiz was also an avowed Marxist, for which he received the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union in 1962.

Faiz was born in February, 1910, in Sialkot of Pakistan. His father, Sultan Mohammed Khan was an affluent, well respected advocate in the town and the chairman of The District Board. Recalling his childhood, Faiz says that as a boy sometimes he assumed as if the colours of the sky changed their hues – that what one could see with the naked eye became something completely different to him. This faculty to transform the impression received by his brain through the physical eye into entirely new pattern of images perceived by his mind was his forte that stayed with him all his life, helping him create his own style in the narration of metaphor.

In his secondary school days, he read some verses in a poetry-session. Siraj Din, a learned man used to conduct such meetings. He appreciated Faiz’s composition and he also advised him to refrain from writing poetry till his education is complete. He added that he thought that writing poetry at that age was a waste of valuable time. As a result, Faiz stopped composing poetry. Faiz came in contact with professor Salim Chashti, the teacher in Urdu in his college days. Salim Chashti used to arrange poetry-evenings in the college. He would give his students a verse, and they were asked to compose a complete poem on the rhyme which was present in the given verse. Faiz also took part, and won high appreciation and applause at the sessions. The teacher in Urdu encouraged Faiz to do the reverse of what Siraj Din had recommended, and said that one day Faiz should be a good poet, if he exerted himself. For higher education Faiz came to Lahore – a cultural centre and started his studies at The Government College. A crowd of intellectuals and writers swarmed there, and soon Faiz was one of them. Faiz says that he liked nature but thought that a city with its small streets, roads, squares and shops had a beauty of its own; although it required a special perspective to see and appreciate that beauty. Faiz was ready with his studies and in 1934; he had taken master’s examination (M.A) in the Arabic and English literature. He began to work as a lecturer in the M.A.O. College, Amritsar, India. By that time, he was a known poet. His first poetic collection covers the period 1928-35. Its main theme was the perspective of the universe from a personal point of view. One’s own sorrow, joy, love, and feelings were the dominating thoughts. With a careful analysis of the book, one can divide it into two sections – in Faiz own words – the economical and the social view. The period which followed 1930 was highly influenced by the international economic crisis. During that period many people who had lived an uncertain life lost their jobs and wandered about to find some means to earn a living. Those were the days when children suddenly lost their laughter, previously settled farmers were forced to migrate to industrial towns, and housewives were put to prostitution. One can already see his poems like Don’t Ask Me My Darling. While working at the M.A.O. College, he came in contact with the front forces of politically conscious intellectuals. This central group formed The Progressive Writers Association. Faiz was there from the very beginning. In this time a very explosive political situation existed in India in those days. The Quit India Movement was never as strong and broad as during that period and the colonial power really felt the heat of the demand for liberty which came from all over the subcontinent. There was challenge, repression and protest. None could have escaped the effects of that dynamic political climate, and that applies to Faiz as well.


Faiz’s thoughts and ideas matured, his vision broadened. His poetry gained a new dimension. Love for the motherland and its liberty, the plight of the masses, sympathy with the workers’ struggle, drew him strongly. Gradually his love and feelings expanded to encompass the whole of mankind, and the freedom for the masses all over the world. He thinks that the first thing which we learnt was that it is impossible to think, if one detached oneself from the surroundings and the universe; because in the formation of the Self there are present all that happens around in the reality. He further thinks that if it is possible at all to think without any relationship with the external world; then it must be very unsound thinking, because a personal world is so small and limited. Special mention must be made here of the whole of human relations which unite the humanity based upon the common feelings of pain and sorrow which we experience. Thus he opines that in this way the personal sorrow and the universal sorrow are two separate dimensions of the same experience.

After 1947 there was a new era in Faiz’s Life. India got its freedom, and was divided into two countries -India and Pakistan. All pleasant dreams about freedom turned into nightmares when his own people took over power. One discovered that freedom actually meant slavery under one’s own lords. The oppressors had only changed their masks; otherwise, repression, violence and injustice were maintained as before. Freedom was just an illusion. A sort of pessimism, bitterness and disillusionment filled the atmosphere; but one was nowhere near to give up. Faiz worked actively in politics, and organised the workers in labour unions. His main achievement was the organization of the Postal Workers Union; probably the largest labour union in Pakistan.

Faiz found the pen in his hand again when he was appointed as the chief-editor of The Pakistan Times, the leading English newspaper in Pakistan. When he did not compose poetry, Faiz wrote as a daring journalist. In 1951, the ruling party fabricated a plot to hinder the progress of the democratic movement. All leading left-oriented intellectuals and workers were arrested. It was a difficult time. Faiz spent about four years in jail. His second and third collections of poetry portray the span from 1940 to his imprisonment in 1951. The third book Zindan Namma was written in the confinement. In April 1955 he was released, along with a number of other co-thinkers. In 1958, the ruling party was once more forced to put a stop to the advance of the struggle for democracy. When military took control Faiz was arrested again. In 1962 Faiz was awarded The Lenin Peace Prize in literature. Soon after that he got the post of the principal in a college in Karachi. Now he is a renowned, loved and respected poet in the whole of South-Asia. Many of his works were translated into other languages. Bhutto became the prime minister of Pakistan after the first democratic public elections were held in the nation’s history. Faiz was appointed as his cultural adviser. He held that position till the military took over the power again, and Bhutto was executed. After 1977 Faiz migrated abroad, and participated fully in The Afro-Asian Writers Association. He became the editor of its magazine Lotus which was issued from Beirut. Two of his poetry collections – Ghubare Ayyam and Mere Dil Mere Musafer – were written between 1977 and 1984. He also travelled widely, and read for his admirers in the poetry sessions held in various countries all over the world. He died in Lahore in November, 1984.


Poetry has always held within it the potential to bring about sweeping changes. It is perhaps for this potential that poets and poetry are feared by both the despot and the fanatic, because their worlds are built on absolute adherence to decadent dogmas and total servitude to blind beliefs. Poetry has the power to ridicule the dogma and question the belief. Luckily for them, most of the poets choose to work on a realm of pure fantasy. The sweat, toil and tears of the real world rarely find their way into the world of the poet. But then, there are other poets, the exceptions to the general rule. Poets whose works unleash the power of human imagination, poets whose works inspire revolutions, poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz. For Faiz understood that a society without meaningful poetry is a society in the last legs of its wretched existence, a society sans dreams, and thus a society sans hope. Faiz Ahmed Faiz was a member of the Progressive Writer’s Movement which was formed by a diaspora of writers ranging from the Gandhian Munshi Premchand to the Marxist Sajjad Zaheer. The artists of the PWM were committed to anti-imperialism and driven by an aim to bring arts to the masses. No longer was hunger, poverty, suffering and oppression topics barred from mainstream art. Inconvenient truths about the oppressed and the suppressed in British Indian society suddenly found form and expression through their works. Art to him was a tool for social change, a hammer with which society could be forged. Urdu as a language has a rich tradition of poetry. The PWM and Faiz, interestingly chose not to have a radical break from these traditions. Instead, they chose to use the vehicles of classical Urdu poetry such as the ghazal and the nazm to spread. At the hands of an artistic rebel like Faiz even surrealism proved to be a weapon in the historical advance of the proletariat. Faiz was organic in the sense that he was inspired by the Sufi tradition of dissent and Faiz was progressive in the sense that he was an avowed Marxist.

In his poem Solitary Confinement, he says:


Far away

A light flickered on the horizon –

In the domain of mind, arose the reign of pain;

In the world of fantasy, my restlessness increased;

In the realm of solitude, the dawn arrived.

After blending my day’s venom with life’s gall,

I filled the bowl of my heart with that drink.

Far away

A light flickered on the horizon –

A way from my sight, bearing the news of a dawn,

Some song, some scent or some pretty maid,

Passed by the way – incensing me with hope.

After blending my day’s venom with life’s gall,

I endorsed my longing for the day of reunion:

In the name of the friends of this libertine – home or afar,

In the name of Earth’s beauty, the grace of a human face.


(Faiz, Solitary Confinement, Memory, p-38)


Carlo Coppola described Faiz as a spokesperson for the world’s voiceless and suffering peoples whether Indians oppressed by the British in the ’40s, freedom fighters in Africa, the Rosenbergs during the Cold War America in the ’50s, Vietnamese peasants fleeing American napalm in the ’60s, or Palestinian children in the 1970s. Faiz was a wizard with words and had absolute control over the content of his poetry. This coupled with the universality of his works has helped Faiz survive even after his physical demise in 1984. It is easy to see that Faiz and his ideas are as relevant today as they were five decades back. The toppling of dictatorships in the Arab world make his words in Hum Dekhenge (We shall witness) seem prophetic. All throughout his life, Faiz refused to toe the ‘official line’. He wrote openly against military actions against what was then East Pakistan (present day Bangaldesh) when Pakistan was reeling under the jackboots of General Yahya Khan.


In his poem No Trace of Blood, he says:


Nowhere, there is any trace of blood!

Neither on the hands and nails of the slayer,

Nor any sign on the sleeve.

No redness on the dagger’s edge,

Nor any colour on the spear’s head.

No stain on the earth’s breast,

Nor any smear on the ceiling.

Nowhere, there is any trace of blood!

It was

Not spent in service of kings,

To gain some bounty;

Nor offered in a religious rite,

To obtain absolution;

Nor spilled on the battlefield,

To attain fame – as inscription on a banner.

It cried for attention –

That unprotected, helpless blood.

Yet, none had time or the will –

To listen to that blood.

No accuser nor any witness –

Just a “clean sheet”.

That blood from the figures of clay –

The Earth consumed it.

(Faiz, No Trace of Blood, Memory, P 34)

Love might stand for defiance, self-assertion, as well as resigned self-pity. It has played this part in many times and places, under a multitude of guises, always somewhere between life and art; where women went veiled it was bound to stand closer to art and fancy. All this lover’s fever might represent, or the hearer was free to think of it as representing, the spiritual seeker’s thirst for divine truth; and in this signification in turn, literal melted into metaphorical, and God himself might be either reality or symbol. In a society saturated with religious forms and phrases, (though, like aristocratic Europe, seldom religious in its conduct) poetic imagery was bound to flow very often into their mould. In Islamic orthodoxy, there was small room for anything artistic, except the sublime simplicity of its best architecture. But side by side with it was the mystical cult of the Sufis, who sought through prayer and spiritual exercises, sometimes music and dance–eschewed by the orthodox-, even by means of drugs, to soar from the dull earth into contact with, or absorption into, the divine essence. This cult came from Persia, but helped to make Islam in India more Indian, by its affinity with the bhakti stream in Hinduism. In the Panjab more than elsewhere the two escaped from the cloister and joined and fermented among common people, helping to create a body of folk-poetry where the religious brotherhood of man blended with thoughts of social equality, deliverance from feudal bonds. Much of the mood and phraseology of Sufism, its catalogue of the ‘states and stages’, of the pilgrim soul, its vital relationship between the spiritual guide and his disciples, was taken over into poetry, and had a further existence there as part of the counterpoint of mask and symbol. When a poet did not picture himself seated in a court circle, it would often be the circle of disciples round their master that he conjured up. Nor were the two so far apart as might seem; mystics had often clothed their thoughts in verse, courtiers and even rulers might also be disciples. A divine Beloved could melt imperceptibly into an earthly one, an ideal feminine, an unattainable mistress who was also the wine-pourer at the never-ending feast, as uncertain, coy, and hard to please as Fortune, dispenser of life’s never-ending deceptions. Love and religion shared besides a common emblem in wine, another refinement of gross fact into ideal essence. In the feudal courts liquor forbidden to the faithful ran freely, and a Ghalib might be a serious drinker, poetically wine stood for exaltation, inspiration, and the tavern was the abode of truly heart-felt spiritual experience as opposed to the formal creed of the mosque. Drunkenness and madness are near allied, and the later–junan, ‘rapture’ in the literal sense of possession by a spirit (jjnn), some of the aura that surrounds it among primitive people; it might be either the passion of the worshipper of beauty throwing the world away for love or the ecstasy of the acolyte despising material success in his heavenly quest.


In his When Spring Came, the poet says:

With the arrival of Spring,

Returned, also, from oblivion,

All those dreams, and youthful memories,

Which had died for your lips,

They had died, but were born again.

And all those roses have opened,

Which are infused with the scent of your memory,

Imbrued with the blood of your lovers.

And all those torments have returned too –

Regrets and sufferings of the friends,

The drunkenness induced by the embrace of nymphs,

The pains recalled by the mind;

Your and mine.

And all the queries, the replies too,

With the arrival of Spring have opened,

Once again all the accounts anew.

(Faiz, When Spring Came, Memory, P 14)


The poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, arguably one of the finest Urdu poets of all times and certainly the best known from the latter half of the twentieth century, creates a rich, silken and sonorous impression on its audience or readers, an effect which seems to defy description or analysis. One is moved and drawn in even before one fully understands what it is saying. This is probably true for all great poetry, but in the case of Faiz, even an initial exploration will reveal that this poetry gives voice to a contemporary sensibility, in tune with the spirit of the age, through traditional conventions and stylistics norms drawn from classical poetry going back from Ghalib and Sauda to the Persian masters. It manages to be classical without being pedantic and is fully modern without cutting of its classical moorings. Faiz’s poetry is not simply a happy accident or a mere fusion between the classical and modern. Its artistic appeal goes beyond this simultaneous access to the classical and the modern. There are other aspects of Faiz’s style, perhaps not so marked, but significant in their own way and the visual aspect of imagery is one such stylistic feature and holds a key (though obviously, one of many) to a better understanding of his stylistics. Thus faiz’s poetry is an important landmark in the field of not only Urdu literature but also the world literature as well.






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Introduction to the Author:

Kousik Adhikari Kousik Adhikari is a research scholar. He has published papers, poetry, translations in reputed international and national journals. He is interested in comparative literature, linguistics, anthropology, comparative religion etc.


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