Partaw Naderi Anthology

Poems translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari the Poetry Translation Centre

Partaw Naderi born in 195 2 in Badakhshan province a region bordering present-day Tajikistan, Partaw Naderi is widely regarded as one of the foremost modernist posts of Afghanistan. Like many of his educated, Dari – speaking compatriots, he is steeped in classical Persian literature and the depth of this knowledge has had a marked impact on his poetry, notably his mastery of free verse, which remains comparatively unusual in contemporary Afghan poetry .Partaw has argued  that it is this familiarity with classical poetry and his meters’ that has allowed him to risk writing free verse; and his metrical control, and the music of his poetry, is both daring and highly effective .

Outside observers of present-day Afghanistan, one of the most war-ravaged places on earth that is on the brink of becoming a failed state can have little awareness of the country’s extraordinary cultural heritage, since so little has been left intact. Universities, libraries, bookshops, publishers, magazines have all been systematically destroyed. Until the advent of internet (to which very few Afghans have access since most remain without electricity)it was virtually impossible to read contemporary poetry – or indeed any poetry ; for years, books could only be published and bought in Iran and Pakistan  .Yet situated at the heart of the ancient silk Road, Afghanistan is the place where, over centuries, major civilizations met, exchanged ideas and flourished. The most famous poet in America’ (according to the BBC World Service) Mawlana Jalal-ad-Din Mohammad Rumi ,was born in Balkh ,and it is Rumi who has had the most profound influence on Partaw ‘s development as a poet.

It is unsurprising that partaw’s life has partaken of the tragic events that have waylaid his country. His promising career as a poet was cut short when he was arrested and imprisoned in the notorious pul-e-Charkhi prison outside Kabul by the soviet-backed regime in 1975. Undeterred, he used his three years of imprisonment to read and write as much as he was able, and he emerged with a deepened sense of the significance of poetry, especially during times of extreme conflict. Apart from a few years during the worst excesses of the Taliban regime when he was forced to seek refuge in Pakistan, Partaw doggedly remained in his country and he continues , today, to play an active part, especially online, in stimulating his people to strengthen their culture against all odds. As he writes in The Mirror; this determination to fight for his culture is hard won: ‘l come from the unending conflicts of wisdom / I have grasped the meaning of nothingness.

Those of us lucky enough to live in comfort in the west can often think that poetry is irrelevant and pointless, a mimority pursuit for the educated elite. Yet in many part of the world, including Afghanistan, poetry is the most important art form. Safe and cocooned in luxury, we forget how vital and essential the right to joy can be, how the first move of repressive regimes is to shut down its poets. Partaw once likened a poem to a spectrum formed by white light hitting a prism; the task of the poet being to fuse all the colors of the rainbow into a pure beam of light. Out of the darkness that is present-day Afghanistan, I hope that this small sample of Partaw’s poems will reveal the precision and power of his imagery, and the clarity and startling colors of his prismatic poems.

Sarah Maguir

The Mirror

I have spent a lifetime in the mirrors of exile
busy absorbing my reflection
Listen —
I come from the unending conflicts of wisdom
I have grasped the meaning of nothingness


Lucky Men

When your star is unseen in this desolate sky,
your despair itself becomes a star.

My twin, the steadfast sun, and I
both grasp its far-flung brilliance.

        *      *      *      *

In a land where water is locked up
in the very depths of desiccated rocks,
the trees are ashamed of their wizened fruits.

The honest orchard is laid waste —
such a bloodied carpet
is spread before the future.

        *      *      *      *

Yesterday, leaning on my cane,
I returned from the trees’ cremation.

Today, I search the ashes
for my lost, homeless phoenix.

Perhaps it was you who shadowed me,
perhaps it was only my shadow.

        Even though the lucky men in my land
lack stars in the heavens, lack shadows on the earth

they welcome any stars
that grace their devastated sky.

O, my friend, my only friend,
turn your anguish into constellations!

Peshawar City
November, 2002

Star Rise

I am the twin of light
I know the history of the sun

rise from the blisters on my hands


I know the language of the mirror —

its perplexities and mine
spring from one race

our roots can be traced
to the ancient tribe of truth

February, 1994

The Bloody Epitaph

This palm tree has no hope of spring
This palm tree blossoms
with a hundred wounds
— the daily wounds of a thousand tragedies
— the nightly wounds of a thousand calamities
This palm tree is a bloody epitaph
at the crossroads of the century


Here, by the river,

  • a river of blood and tears —

the roots of this palm tree
are congealed with disaster
are knotted with the blind roots of time


Here, the sky
unwinds its bloody cloth
from barren red clouds
to shroud the shattered lid of a coffin

  • a broken mirror of rain

This palm tree has no hope of spring

This palm tree has no hope of spring
This palm tree is starred
with a hundred bruises
from the whip of the north wind
My palm!
My only tree!
My spring!
Many years have passed
since the bird of blossoms
flew away from your desiccated branches

        Butterflies abandon you
My heart is broken

November, 1989


The earth opens her warm arms
to embrace me
The earth is my mother
She understands the sorrow
of my wandering

My wandering
is an old crow
that conquers
the very top of an aspen
a thousand times a day

Perhaps life is a crow
that each dawn
dips its blackened beak
in the holy well of the sun

Perhaps life is a crow
that takes flight with Satan’s wings

Perhaps life is Satan himself
awakening a wicked man to murder

Perhaps life is the grief-stricken earth
who has opened up her bloodied arms to me

And here I give thanks
on the brink of ‘victory’

Peshawar City
July, 2002

I Still Have Time

It’s well past midnight
I should get up to pray
The mirrors of my honesty
have long been filmed with dust

I should get up
I still have time
My hands can yet discern
a jug of water from a jug of wine

as time’s wheeled chariot
hurtles down the slope of my life

Perhaps tomorrow
the poisonous arrows aimed at me
will hunt down my eyes
two speckled birds startled into flight

Perhaps tomorrow
my children
will grow old
awaiting my return

Peshawar City
August, 2000


In the lines on your palms
they have written the fate of the sun

lift up your hand —

the long night is stifling me

June, 1994

My Voice

I come from a distant land
with a foreign knapsack on my back
with a silenced song on my lips

As I travelled down the river of my life
I saw my voice
(like Jonah)
swallowed by a whale

And my very life lived in my voice

December, 1989


Your voice is like a girl
from the farthest green village

whose tall and graceful frame
is known to the pine trees on the mountains

Your voice is like a girl
who, at dusk,

will bathe in the clear springs of heaven
beneath the parasol of the moon

who, at dawn,
bears home a jar of pure light

who will drink sip by sip
from the river of the sun

Your voice is like a girl
from the farthest green village

who wears an anklet
forged from the songs of a brook

who wears an earring
spun from the whispering rain

who wears a necklace
woven from the silk of a waterfall

all of which grace the garden of the sun
with their many-coloured blossoms of love -

and you
are as beautiful as your voice

On a Colourful Morning

I kissed her -
her whole body shivered
Like a branch of almond blossom in the wind
Like the moon, like a star
trembling on the water
I kissed her -
her whole body shivered
Her cheeks showed one colour
her gaze revealed another
And the sun rose from her tender heart
And the thousand-and-one nights of waiting
And on a colourful morning
I shared a bed
with the meaning of love

July 2002,
Peshawar City

Original poems © Partaw Naderi
Translations © Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari