A Poem from Wasif Bakhtari, translated by Dr. Sharif Fayez
Wasif Bakhtari, a great modern Afghan poet and scholar, wrote a poem titled “Eagle from Heights” before the war in the early 1970s when Kabul was beginning to enter into a political turmoil, which, after the Soviet occupation, led to the most tragic disaster of the 20th century. In the poem, the Kabul of the 1970s is compared to the ancient city of Babylon, in which its commanders after a long war had become too arrogant to communicate with one another and this brought about the fall of Babylon. According to the Biblical scriptures, this was a punishment from God.
Lack of communication, if continued with cynicism, in which the media are indulging excessively, can bring about another disaster to this city and the country as a whole. Tolerance in communicating with one another and sincerity in promoting a spirit of optimism about the future can be effective in preventing the current political crisis from becoming violent.
In some way, the life story of Bakhtari during the years of wars and political turmoil is not different from that of his generation – a story of moving from revolution to disillusion, from ideology to intellectual liberation. This is the story of a generation that experienced the nightmares of communism, confronted the demons of the occupation, and then suffered the destructive factional fighting of the mujahidin and the barbaric oppressions of the Taliban.
Eagle from Heights…
Translated by Sharif Fayez
Ancient myths have it that
when Babylon, that splendid city –
that ancient poplar in the jungle of history –
conquered other lands,
its generals insolently indulged in superiority,
to an extent that they thought of themselves as deities,
And the arrogance of its citizens surpassed that of the conquerors.
And these incited the wrath of God,
who punished them in such an odd way
that they could not understand their own talks
If one uttered some greeting song
to another it would sound as a cursing call.
Thus an ominous cloud hung over Babylon
with tongues of its citizens darting as those of cobras,
their souls over-flowing with all kind of spite and malice,
their foreheads wrinkling from excessive grimace
And with the sound of fury ringing all around, words of kindness
were no longer heard.
Except the futile cursing weed, nothing was shooting forth in the
gardens of their hearts.
They spoke of war and slashing, and every word they uttered was a
Oh combatants, twisting as ivies on the branches of hatred,
have you not turned this city into a Babylon of the bewildered,
whose hatred and vengeance
have borne these bitter fruits in this garden of unripe dreams?
You are fighting as if not understanding your words
How ignorantly we have become a discordant band!
our spirits, like mirrors stained with poison of pain;
our words, like grass shriveled from autumn chill;
our hearts, like cradles vacant of children of hope;
Like witches, carrying their spells, facing the night,
we have turned our faces against the sun.
If they have cast fire in our pine-land,
if the raucous winds rise to respond to the cry of the grass,
consider this not as a wasteland -- this land of perpetual bubbling springs.
The stain on the mirrors will not last forever.
If nothing other than the cursing weed grows in the garden of hearts,
consider it not as an end to growth.
For every ending is a beginning and the path leads to the boundless,
never mind if the traveler does not look for another path
other than the old trodden and tiring one.
Why should we be like a stained mirror?
We should be flowing like a river.
We should be unswervingly standing like a mountain,
Weakness comes from a tree standing alone.
Creative pride comes from trees standing together.
The eagle from heights is screaming:
though the horizons have no ending in sight.
I must fly away from the city’s dark ramparts of the night
lest the Devil of the nights of heavy steps
raise its flag on the last stronghold;
lest this fire-wing bird of golden gait --
called moments of life --
fly away from the trembling bough of our fleeting life;
lest they leave us like a dried flower
inside the pages of the book of history;
lest the ashes of history fall from the top of the fire
burning from the pure fire-wood of our souls.
For if this burning fire went off
there would not be a word of hope for Arash the Archer.
If the light of reconciliation breaks this night into a new dawn
then let me set a red stone from my own blood—the dew on the flower leaf of life – into the history’s ring.