Partaw Naderi's Biography and Poetry
Translated by Dr. Sharef Fayez

Partaw Naderi, as a socio-political activist and poet, has more media and public visibility than any of his contemporaries in the country or abroad. To a large extent, his poetry is also a reflection of his social and political views. In the media and public arena, he is often seen as a literary authority and spokesperson of the second generation of modern Afghan poets. Perhaps more than any poet of his generation, he has used blank verse, with a strong satirical tone, to express his socio-political views and visions. He has also used fixed poetic forms, such as quatrains, couplets and odes, to express his inner feelings, but the modern blank verse remains a major medium of his poetic views and expressions.   

Like many other Afghan artists and intellectuals, he was arrested by the Communist Regime in Kabul on charges of anti-regime activities and imprisoned in the infamous Pul-i-charkhi Prison in the fall of 1984. He remained in prison until the end of 1986. In September 1997, he fled to Pakistan, where he worked for the Dari program of the BBC World Service until 2002.  His cultural reports for the Dari program of BBC Radio enjoyed popularity among the educated Afghans in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and the Gulf. Since the establishment of the Transitional government of Afghanistan, he has worked as a civic education manager for the Afghan Civil Society Forum in Kabul. Nadiri is also a leading member of the Afghan Pen Association based in Kabul

Born in 1952 in an idyllic village in Badakhshan, one of the most beautiful mountainous provinces in northeastern Afghanistan, Nadiri in his poetry expresses his deep love for nature, rural life, and simple mountain people. To escape the suffocating dust, pollution and chaos of Kabul city and perhaps to recreate his nostalgic village life, he has built his own house on the hillside of a small valley in Ghargha in the western part of Kabul, where he lives with his wife and children.   

From his early age, he loved reading literature, particularly poetry. The beautiful mountainous setting of his village inspired him to write his own lyrics. After graduating from Kabul Teacher Training School, he wished to study journalism at Kabul University, but, as a graduate of a government-funded teacher training school, he was required to study either social or natural sciences at Kabul University. Despite this restriction, he believes his study of geology and biology has enriched his poetry and sense of realism.

In addition to poetry, he has published a large number of articles on literary, political and social issues. His published collections include:

  • An Elegy for Vine,

  • Leaden Moments of Execution,

  • A Lock on the Gate of Ashes    

  • The Big Picture, The Small Mirror

  • The Other Side of the Purple Waves

  • The Bloody Mouth of Freedom

Images of poverty, imprisonment, drought, Taliban-style tyranny and obscurantism, destruction and death abound in his poems.  Like many of his contemporaries, he is haunted by the Taliban’s reign   of terror, whose images recur in most of his poems. In his poetry, he sees the Taliban movement as a diabolic force bent on destroying or disfiguring what is best in Afghan arts and culture. He often associates the movement in his works with what has been most decadent, chauvinistic, and barbaric in the history of Afghanistan and Islam.  On of his famous poems titled “The Other Side of Purple Waves” is an expression of his poetic rage against the savagery of the Taliban. In this and many other poems written since the rise of the Taliban movement, the poet has used images of war, obscurantism, religious ferocity, drought, famine, and destruction caused by the rabid fanatics of the Taliban movement.

Latif Nazemi, a known Afghan poet and critic, in an introduction to Nadiri’s collection of poems titled Leaden Moments of Execution writes:

You are a kind country man, coming from a distant village to Kabul city. For several years, you had breathed the prison air, and then exile swallowed you, the way it swallowed me.

When there was a “Lock on the Gate,” you wrote the “Elegy for the Vine” and from “The Other Side of the Purple Waves” you opened two windows before you -- the window of life and the window of nature -- and from behind these windows I have known you without having seen you.

In the poem “The Big Picture, the Small Mirror” you wrote the life story of a mother, like many other mothers in villages and cities – the mothers whose bitter destinies are inscribed by the … history, as you have written – women from the green tribe of nobility who speak the language of the people of paradise.

You think that poetry is a kind of crying, crying with one’s fresh and crystal words. Your voice is the imaginative voice of an affectionate villager bringing to one’s ears the fragrance of wheat, rice fields, and the songs of sparrows from the orchards of the north. 

Nadir, like many other Dari poets, wrote the bulk of his poetry when the Taliban were threatening to destroy the artistic and literary heritage of the Dari-speaking people of the country. Indeed, this cultural genocide by the Taliban is a dominant theme and obsession in his poetry during and after the Taliban era, and this must not be interpreted as an anti-Pashtun trend in his works when considering the relentless tribal, ethnic and religious ferocity of the Taliban movement in the second part of the 1990s. In many of his poems translated in this selection, particularly in “The Idol-Breaker’s Calendar,” “Auction,” and “In the Frozen Streets of Eclipse,” the poet expresses a haunting preoccupation about the Taliban as an anti-culture movement threatening to destroy the literary and historical legacy of his people. In his public life, he has also defended this legacy as part of his larger continued campaign for democracy and human rights.         

Most of the poems translated in the following selection are recommended by the poet and reviewed by him for accuracy and quality. He considers “In the Frozen Streets of Eclipse” and “The Other Side of the Purple Wave” as two of his best poems. “The Big Picture, The Small Mirror,” a more popular poem celebrating the purity, devotion, love, humility, patience, forgiveness, and sanctity of mothers, depicts a patriarchal society ruled by a dominating father who symbolizes male chauvinism, dictatorship, and lack of all the virtues epitomized by the mother, but he is survived by his wife, the mother and the son, who symbolize life and freedom. In this poem, Nadiri presents a sentimental, but true, picture of the motherly side of the Afghan society often ignored in many books and studies on Afghanistan.  

The Big Picture
The Small Mirror

My mother was from the green salvation tribe
She spoke the language of the people of paradise   
She put on a silk chador of faith
Her heart was like God’s empyrean
majestic as His truth
And no one knew that I heard God’s voice
in the beatings of her heart     
And no one knew that God was in our house
And that the sun rose when she began to talk  

My mother was from the green salvation tribe
She put on a silk chador of faith
When my mother walked to me
on each of her small footprint a small window would open
into which I could see the green gardens of paradise and
pick my fortune fruit from the top branch of an apple tree

My mother was from the green salvation tribe
She put on a silk chador of faith
Her forehead resembled God’s loveliest song’s exordium
which I droned everyday in a lyrical tone
and then knew what a God’s poem meant

My mother was from the green salvation tribe
She spoke the language of the people of paradise 
And waited for a white pigeon to come and wash
its lovely feathers every morning
in the paradise’s most crystal springs
And the white pigeon read His message to my mother
from a sacred sphere of the Koran

My mother was from the green salvation tribe
She has such an extended family history
that only the sun can remember it
And the sun told me that when she was born
her father lighted a candle in a leprosy home
to mourn the decline of his tall, straight figure
And the sun told me that my mother with her sacred thumb
turned the pages of her life book
to search the meaning of the word “smile”
Unfortunately she couldn’t memorize the happy meaning
of smile until the last moments of her life
My mother was familiar with crying and could derive
a thousand derivates from “crying”
My mother in a thousand languages had kept the bitter meaning
of crying in the dark memory of her eyes
And my mother’s eyes -- mirrors of God’s manifestation --
had an excellent memory

My mother was a stranger to the spring;
her life was like a trail of ants
that passed from the grand rock of misfortune
stricken every season by dark clouds of malice and insult
And everyday my mother would pick up from there  
bundles and bundles of flowers of misfortune
My mother was patient as a stone
When my father sailed his small emotion boat
on the red shore of fury
my mother would seek refuge on the beach of tolerance
and wipe her tears with the corners of her chador
and united with God

My father was a strange man
When my father tied his turban of pride around his head
he thought the sun was a white pigeon
which flew off his high shoulders
And he thought he could ration the sunlight for my mother
And he thought the moon was a colorful worry bead  
that he could hang from his horse’ high mane
My father was a strange man
When he called me before him
I felt a disaster was looming a few steps from him
And my words were like frightened sparrows
which left my mouth’s autumn-stricken orchards
And fear was a dirty shirt, which disfigured my real complexion        
When my father called me before him
my speech blood ceased to flow
in the red vessels of my tongue
And at that time my mother’s heart was a bright crystal
flashing freely in the depth of the darkness valley
And my mother watched her destruction in the broken mirrors
of perturbation and waited for an event to occur  

My father was a strange man
When he tied his turban of pride around his head
his small empire would appear before him
within the four walls of our house
And then he would lash freedom, which was me
and life, which was my mother,
and shackled both of us

May her soul rest in peace!
She still thanked God and prayed for my father:
May God keep his shadow over our heads!

The Red Epitaph

This palm tree has lost all hope for the spring
This palm tree has hundreds of scars of war
the scars of a thousand tragedies of everyday
       the scars of a thousand calamities of every night
It’s a red epitaph at the crossroad of the century
Here by the river -- this river of tear and blood --
the roots of this tree intertwine with
the blind roots of time
       in the chillness of the tragedy
       in the chillness of the blood
Here the sky from the red sterile clouds
has cast this bloody shroud
       on the broken lap of the coffin --
       the coffin of the rain’s mirror
This palm tree has lost all hope for rain
This palm tree has lost all hope for the spring
This palm tree has hundreds of wounds
       by scourges of the polar night winds
Oh my tree! My only tree!
Oh my spring!
Many years have passed since the blossom bird
       left your yellowing branches
How sad I feel
when butterflies are also leaving you!  


I drank all night
I drank all night
I used so much of my freedom that I ran out of it  
Why should I worry if Afghanistan falls?
Why should I worry if one hot noon
zealots of lash and iron
with their rope of fanaticism hang my brothers?
Why should I worry if the virgin girls of the Hindo Kosh hills
are auctioned off beyond the Gulf’s salt waters
at the vicinity of Mecca --
who knows?--perhaps at Mecca itself.
Let Islam rule over my homeland;
Islam is the supreme law of Muslims
To the zealots, my father and
your father are not Muslims
even though the poor old men pray five times a day
at the local mosque
My father and your father
must believe in such a way
that the one-eyed Amir ul-Mumineen can see them
And Osama Bin Ladin is the last Messiah 
My father and your father must believe
Your father and my father must believe

Peshawar, July 2002

We Are Afraid of Darkness
( To Naimat Husayni )

My God!
My God!
I am worn-out in your land
I am worn-out in your land
In your land, there is no chance to bloom
In your land, the sun is beheaded behind my house wall
In your land, all windows of expectations
facing sunrise are closed
We are afraid of darkness
We are afraid of darkness

( Leaden Moments of Execution )

April 2001


All I had
was a small knapsack
which I carried from one house to another
One day I lost it
in one of the old city streets

Kabul, 1981

The Idol-Breaker’s Calendar

The spring is dead and a flock of black vultures
have laid on the sun’s bloody seat
a feast of stars’ bones and skull of the moon
The spring is dead and nobody measures life and light
with the sun’s breaths
And nobody knows that the sun in my land
has grown several centuries old
in three hundred sixty-five days
Spring is dead and nobody knows
who from the devil party fired the first bullet
during the execution rite of the sun
Spring is dead and the ashamed mourning multitudes
in the blue seclusion of Nirvana
heard only the sound of a blast
that blew apart the history’s millennia-old mind
The spring was dead when the “Islamic Gateway”
was auctioning pieces of our torn body
at the crossroads of conspiracy
at the crossroads of the “Idol-Breaker’s Calendar”
The centuries-old dead bodies died
several thousand times in their old graveyards
And the centuries-old dead bodies
died of shame several thousand times again
in the old graveyards
When the “Islamic Gateway” on
the broken faces of Kabul walls
inscribed in bold-faced letters:
Congratulations on the Victory

April 2001

Lantern of Apprehension

I hang the lantern of my apprehension
from the ceiling of an old cave
fearing the terror of a savage intruder 
I speak in the language of all birds, flowers, and plants
I cause to flow the spirit of the river
in my permanent isolation’s vessels 
I make a song from the breeze’s disheveled syllables
to rhyme with freedom
I hang the lantern of my apprehension
from the ceilings of ancient caves
I become a bird out of freedom
whose flight links one edge of the sky to another
And I call love by its real name
And I ask life to tell
what ID it has beyond its nickname
And with what a story
it goes to sleep when cuddling death
I feel a tremor in my heart
perhaps a bleeding dear is crashing
in a desert amid some spreading fear
And why so hastily, as the breathings of the wind,
I hang the lantern of my apprehension      
from the ceiling of a cave
in which death is born for the first time

March 2002

Overwhelming Grief

I beg the wind before it blows away:
Wind, oh dear wind!
From where did you bring this aroma of bread?
For in my house, bread is still an unending tale                                             

The wind is also bringing fear from deserts
where wolves are thirsting for the history’s blood
All this caravan of tulips and green thoughts
with swallows once heralding the spring
-- all lost and wandering now  --
is rotting in the depth of its grief
And the ringing sound of the caravan’s bell,
with awful grief, warns:
This disaster, still small, is growing in size

The wind arrives and the orchard --
empty as the palms of an orphan—
keeps its gate closed 
for not having much to offer
Save its colorful banquet cloth, everything else is despoiled:
not a piece of bread on its table cloth
not a blade of grass on its stream’s bank
not a lantern under the canopy of its pine trees
not anything else to offer 
This house is in utter ruins, fluttering, like a disaster flag,
over the dome-tops of the tall pine trees
Bodies of green trees are fallen on the ground
like martyred bodies
as if deceitfully stabbed from behind 
Their branches bearing leaves of destruction with
every leaf from the bud turned to ashes
with their eyes searching for water
The wind is no longer humming behind the door
knowing that for years now – to the woe of the orchard!--
fire has flown from the stream’s recollection
in place of that crystal water

In the Frozen Streets of Eclipse

I passed through winters of a remote land
where an old man from a dark history street
stood everyday on the ancient Zenborak Wall*   
to curse the brilliant civilization of his tribe
Then he would roll up his sleeves
and plant the black poplar of his sermons
by the false stream
I passed through winters of a remote land
where I saw the sun’s hands
failing to put a coin on a child’s small palm
The sun’s generous hands
were empty of any shining generous coins 
in the frozen streets of eclipse
The sun’s generous hands
was rotting in the night’s dark pockets
I passed through winters of a remote land
where it was possible to offer bread fragrance
as a rich perfume gift to the most beautiful city girl
And it was possible to graft the blossom of bread image
to the perfume of illusion 
in the flower vase of the children’s minds
and look forward for rain.
I passed through winters of a remote land
where by a bakery I saw a people
counting the coins that the king of poverty
had minted “hunger” on both side
As I returned home at night with a bundle of hunger
my children understood from my hands’ broken lines
the meaning of geographical nothingness
And they drank water from the pot of thirstiness
And for expectation, they expected a flower bouquet 
at the crossing point of winds
My children, knowing the culture of hunger,
speak foreign languages
translating the word “bread” from morning to evening
from the kitchen dictionary into a thousand languages 
My children know
that “bread has overcome
the amazing prophetic mission.” **
My children know
that the destruction alphabet has been written
on the school’s blackboards with a fire-made chalk
And that the red rain of the disaster
has flooded the school’s orchard of songs
with the blossom of silence
My children know
that the school is a monkey unleashed
in the black jungle of guns --
a despised exile in the island of tanks
I passed through winters of a remote land
where I heard an old man’s voice   
flowing in the ruptured vein of every explosion
inviting death to watch the city
And he still shackles life
in the lowest level of hell
And stones the spring
in the green mirror of plants
I recognize his voice
his voice invites the sinister crows     
to the high branches of the orchard.
His voice sings a lullaby to the child of light
in the cradle of dawn
beheading wakefulness
His voice is a carnivorous plant 
rooted in history’s stench
I passed through winters of a remote land
where I learned that no person awake at night
had ever heard the sun’s coughing
from the other side of the darkness’ hills
And I know there is nothing in the land
save a swarm of the explosion’s vultures
biting into the ripped body of the day
And the old village farmer thrashes his harvest
in a circle of nothingness
And hunger is measured by a centurial measurement
which the sun has lighted
the human rights as a golden dome
over the pavilion of its awareness
There is nothing on the earth
where nobody trusts his shadow
And the curve of every street is a passage
linking the Seven Adventures of Rustem ***
to the reality of history.
I have come from winters of a remote land
where my feet recognize
the trail of misery in its every span
What should I say?
The silk skirt of my sentences is short
The “button” of my words is broken
What fabric should I design for the tall figure of my pain?

Kabul, April 1996

*An ancient wall built on the Zenborak Mountain in Kabul city
** An allusion to a line from Farogh Farrokhzad, a famous Iranian poet
*** Rustem is the central hero of Ferdowsi’s epic The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings )

The Other Side of the Purple Waves

On my back, I carry a heavy knapsack
       on perilous trails
I come from a great land, in whose streets
the sun is a common currency
And on the high towers of my land
the torch of freedom is green 
And poplars in the gardens of my land  
       touch the stars of love

I come from a great land, where I am a stranger
       and speak a strange language
I don’t know the language of the gun,
the red bullets and the blood track
And the columns of smoke, blood and explosion
       collide with the rhythms of my poems  
The rhythms of my poems do not rhyme with
       the metallic syllables of rifles and tanks
The rhythms of my poems come from my vibrant soul

The rhythms of my poems respire
       in the growth of a flower in a pot
       in the dance of a bough in the garden
       in the song of a child in the school
       in the smile of a star in the sky
The rhythms of my poems come from
            the brightness of a light in darkness
            the murmur of a spring in a mountain
            the warbling of a bird in a forest
            the dance of a lily in a stream
I come from a great land, where newspapers
       are printed with the ink of the sun
And in the darkest ages of history, one can turn them
into a light to brighten the orchard’s mind
            to see the flowers of truth.

I come from a great land, where newspapers
       have taken over the realm of lies
Therefore, I long for a night-letter
For long I haven’t seen the great figure of truth
       in its small mirrors
For long I have seen people buying from the stands
       lies in bundles to communicate with lies
       and to drown themselves in lies
For long I have seen many poets sailing their paper boats
on the newspapers’ muddy shores
For long I have seen the guardians of the blank verse
standing on the colorful gray towers of infamous letters
measuring the summer heat of jealousy
With borrowed helmets, they have been striking their swords
at all that is lyrical and
throwing stones at the sublime steeple of couplets
And with an unclean prayer renouncing  
the permanent purity of prayer
For long I have seen one who once swelled his black throat
with the night’s strings echoes
letting his voice ring in the sacred spring of the sun
For long I have seen the city sky losing its moon coin in a mist
And the stars, the sky’s virgins, anointed their eyes
with the sunset salve
And nobody knows where the sun has gone
as if that golden boat has hit a huge black rock
at the far end of the purple waves
and dark specters have carried the coffin of its name
to the broken shore of the south.
The windows’ close-minded night
is a stranger to the delicate passing of light
And the shy girls sitting by their lanterns
watch the fall figure of the wind
from behind the seven curtains of darkness
And the shy girls sitting by their lanterns wash
their permanent veil of modesty
in the pitch spring water

And the children hang their smile by the silk ribbon of their tresses.
I am going
And in the most inaccessible moments of freedom
I pour on my face a handful of water
from the most distant spring
that flows from the most distant mountain
And I tie my sad lyrics to the wings of white pigeons
and open the sail of my bosom 
in the direction of mountain gusts
until the settled particles of this wild civilization
go away from the thin vessels of my thought.
Here all the birds know that the fall with its yellow lash of bigotry
has silenced the green song of blooming
on the tongues of grass, bushes and trees
And the milk of life is being poisoned
in the white thought in the breast of the green moments.
And the budding babies from the lap of the tree mother
fall on the ground.
Here all the birds know that the tall Lady Spring
in the market places of the jungle
has auctioned its green garb to the fall winds
Oh wind, wind, wind!
When these wild loose horses, with their scruffy manes,
neigh in life’s green valleys
the pain of green branches
fill my troubled mind’s mirrors
The mirrors of my troubled mind
paint the hard concept of the stone.
I am going, going, going and take my life with me --
this dark space of my rented room.
And I know that none in this city
will ever say to another one: May you come back!
I am going, going, going and sailing the boat of my steps
       on the green ocean deserts.
And I give my hands to the tall branches of the garden
so that with the nocturnal prayer of the tree
I may embrace the sky
And I will talk to love in the language of the loneliest flower.
And I will take water to watch the desert and
fly the pigeons of my voice
over the rooftop of the sun’s pigeon tower.
And with the red throat of anemones
I will sing a song for martyrdom and for faith and
for the capture of the mountain, desert, valley, and river
I will saddle the white horses of memory.
I am hearing the roar of the laughter of ruthlessness
       from the wounded throat of the blind streets.
I know misery and breathe loneliness.
Misery is running through my veins,
Misery is my permanent twin brother.
Misery puts on my shoes and walks with my feet.
Misery plays chess with me and
       I have never told him: Shoo!
Misery is in my house
Misery is playing with my only child and steals its bread
Misery has given to me its blind eyes as a gift.
And I see the world with its blind eyes.
Misery is singing its poems from my throat
And writes at the end of each poem:
       “Pertaw Naderi”

I feel homesick for the sun
If perchance you see him
        ask him if someday he can enter my house
with a glowing face from light.
I will sacrifice the black sheep of expectation.
I will no longer care for the benefit of these shady flowers.
For how long should I pound my fists
on the chest of the brutality wall?
For how long should the horizons silver their mirrors
from the blood of my hands?

I feel homesick for the sun.
For a long time every day
       I have been turning the pages of
the dictionary of my life’s moments
And I see the entries have new ID cards and
they have received permits to live in the land of
       the new meanings and odd concepts.
For example, the red apple means
       the clotting of the red blood cells.
The sun is a Rustem in a dungeon who has passed out
       by guffaws of the demon of death
Life is a repugnant leftover bulging out of the death’s mouth
Democracy rots in the gun’s barrel and it is so great
that it is measured with the expansion
       of a bullet flight.
Luck is a lock on the gate of the magic city
whose key leads one to a great misery
       in the deepest pit of vileness.

I feel homesick for the sun.
I feel homesick for the sun.
I will return to my great land.
I will return to my great land.
I will return to my great land.

Kabul, 1993

The Bloody Mouth of Freedom

I don’t drink wine
my pain is sharper than what the wine can relieve
Simple ordinary reliever
relieve the pain that is light from the start
I was raised on a mountainside whose height
the local farmers use to measure the sunlight’s length
I was raised on a mountainside and drank flasks of stars
and slept on the moon lap
And on the loving wing of the sun
I flapped like a lover across the sky
I have given my soul to the mountains whose foreheads
the moon kisses at night and the sun does at dawn
Torrent of rivers start from the mountains of my land
The mountains of my land withstand the Desert Dusty Storms
to pitch their pavilions on their sunny tops.
The mountains of my land have always conquered history
and guarded freedom
I love my mountain land
with its hungry multitudes
My mountain land is a ferocious wounded lion and
its bloody wounds resemble
the bloody mouth of freedom shouting its great life
Let the driveling fools repeat their surrender in English terms
But as always I have a room in Ferdowsi castle
On whose door is written: “Freedom”

Peshawar, July 2002