Faiz-Neruda: Great contemporary poets, friends and humanists

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) and Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1910-1984)—contemporary poets, friends and outstanding humanists—have left lasting impression on the world of literature. Their works won global recognition—Neruda was honoured with Nobel Prize for literature in 1971 and Faiz won Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. Both Neruda and Faiz, like many others, notably Nazim Hikmet and Mahmoud Darwish, were essentially humanists, anti-colonialists and anti-imperialists. Their great struggle and works were interwoven—these were inseparable. Their work complimented their struggle and vice versa.

The life and work of Neruda has amazing similarities with that of Faiz.

 

Pable Neruda (1904-1973) Pable Neruda (1904-1973) 

[i]Neruda (real name Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto), was born on 12 July, 1904, in the town of Parral in Chile. His father was a railway employee and his mother, who died shortly after his birth, a teacher. Some years later his father, who had then moved to the town of Temuco, remarried Doña Trinidad Candia Malverde. The poet spent his childhood and youth in Temuco, where he also got to know Gabriela Mistral, head of the girls’ secondary school, who took a liking to him. At the early age of thirteen he began to contribute some articles to the daily La Mañana, among them, Entusiasmo y Perseverancia –his first publication– and his first poem. In 1920, he became a contributor to the literary journal Selva Austral under the pen name of Pablo Neruda, which he adopted in memory of the Czechoslovak poet Jan Neruda (1834-1891). Some of the poems Neruda wrote at that time are to be found in his first published book: Crepusculario (1923). The following year saw the publication of Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada, one of his best-known and most translated works. Alongside his literary activities, Neruda studied French and pedagogy at the University of Chile in Santiago.

 

 

Between 1927 and 1935, the government put him in charge of a number of honorary consulships, which took him to Burma, Ceylon, Java, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, and Madrid. His poetic work during that difficult period included, among other works, the collection of esoteric surrealistic poems, Residencia en la tierra(1933), which marked his literary breakthrough.

The Spanish Civil War and the murder of García Lorca, whom Neruda knew, affected him strongly and made him join the Republican movement, first in Spain, and later in France, where he started working on his collection of poems España en el Corazón(1937). The same year he returned to his native country, to which he had been recalled, and his poetry during the following period was characterized by an orientation towards political and social matters. España en el Corazón had a great impact by virtue of its being printed in the middle of the front during the civil war.

In 1939, Neruda was appointed consul for the Spanish emigration, residing in Paris, and, shortly afterwards, Consul General in Mexico, where he rewrote his Canto General de Chile, transforming it into an epic poem about the whole South American continent, its nature, its people and its historical destiny. This work, entitled Canto General, was published in Mexico 1950, and also underground in Chile. It consists of approximately 250 poems brought together into fifteen literary cycles and constitutes the central part of Neruda’s literary work. Shortly after its publication, Canto General was translated into some ten languages. Nearly all these poems were created in a difficult situation, when Neruda was living abroad.

In 1943, Neruda returned to Chile, and in 1945 he was elected senator of the Republic, also joining the Communist Party of Chile. Due to his protests against President González Videla’s repressive policy against striking miners in 1947, he had to live underground in his own country for two years until he managed to leave in 1949. After living in different European countries he returned home in 1952. A great deal of what he published during that period bears the stamp of his political activities; one example is Las Uvas y el Viento (1954), which can be regarded as the diary of Neruda’s exile. In Odas elementales (1954- 1959) his message is expanded into a more extensive description of the world, where the objects of the hymns –things, events and relations—are duly presented in alphabetic form.

In July 1957, Neruda travelled to Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and took part in the Peace Supporters World Congress. He went to India and Burma together with Jorge Amado and Zelia Gattai. Later visited China from the Kuo-Ming province. During this trip he worked on his books Navegaciones y Regresos and Estravagario. He returned to Europe with Matilde and embarked on brief trips to the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. In September,he settled in Paris to continue working on Estravagario and Cien Sonetos de Amor.

In 1958, he was actively involved in Salvador Allende’s second presidential campaign and took part in the 11th Congress of the Chilean Communist Party. Neruda was elected member of its Central Committee during the September session.

In January 26, 1959, he had encounter with Fidel Castro at Cuba’s Caracas embassy. He also made short trips through different areas of Venezuela, going back to Chile in April. In NovemberNavegaciones y regresos was released by Losada publishers, Buenos Aires. In mid November 1959, he travelled to the cities of Rancagua, San Fernando, Parral and Linares with a Communist Party delegation. The next few years’ activities included travels to various countries, especially to then USSR in 1970 to take part in the deliberations of the Lenin Prize. The Book Canción de Gestawas published by the Imprenta Nacional de Cuba in a 25.000 copies edition. On March 30, 1960, he was given the grade of honorary academic member of the Universidad de Chile Faculty of Philosophy and Education. At the induction ceremony, he read a speech titled “Mariano Latorre, Pedro Prado and my own shadow”.

In June 1965, Neruda travelled to the US with Matilde Urrutia. He offered recitals in New Yorok, Berkeley and Washington, also took part in PEN Club meetings, besides doing a record for the Congress Library. The same year on 31st July, Cuban writers and intellectuals published “Open letter to Pablo Neruda”, in which they accused him of “having allowed being used by the United States of America. He responded: “… in the US and elsewhere I’ve been heard and respected for what I am and will ever be: a poet who does not hide his thinking and who has devoted his life and work to our people’s liberation”.

On October 28, 1966, he married Matilde Urrutia in a simple and private ceremony in the Isla Negra House, with only a few very close friends attending. This year the Art Friends Society published in Santiago his Arte de pájaros with illustrations by Nemesio Antúnez, Héctor Herrera, Mario Carreño and MarioToral.

In 1967, like every year, he travelled in May to Europe to attend the meetings of the Lenin Prize jury in Moscow. He also was declared guest of the Fourth Soviet Writers Congress. He received the International Literary Prize of Viaréggio-Versilia in Italy. This was the first version of the award, devoted to world personalities working for the culture and understanding among people.

During his visit to Columbia in 1968, he participated in the First Latin-American Festival of College Drama in the city of Manizales. He refused to accept the San Carlos Order’s Great Cross from Colombian President Carlos Lleras Restrepo. He offered poetry recitals at the National University of Colombia and the Colombian Language Academy .On October 15 in the Bogotá campus of the Inca University, he received the grade of Doctor Honoris Causa from the Karl Mark University in Leipzig, GDR.

In February 1969, he took part in the Communist Party legislative election campaign. He was made “Honorary member” of the Chilean Language Academy. On June 30, he gave a long TV interview for the show “Reunión con la Pernsa” on Universidad de Chile’s Channel 9. On July 12, he celebrated his 65th birthday in the company of secretaries of state, journalists, artists and intellectuals. On August 21 he received the grade of Doctor Scientiae et Honoris Causa from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. On September 4, the Senate honoured him with the Illustrious Sons of Chile Silver Medal. On September 30, he was nominated as presidential pre-candidate by the Chilean Communist Party.

On January 3, 1970, he abandoned his candidacy after the nomination of Dr. Salvador Allende as the Unidad Popular’s only candidate. Allende was elected President of Chile on September 4, 1970.

On January 21, 1971, the Chilean Senate approved his nomination as Chile’s ambassador in Paris. In July that year, he experienced the first the symptoms of the disease diagnosed to him two years ago: the appearance of nodules and prostrate growth. On October 1, he was awarded the Literature Nobel Prize. On December 7, he arrived in Stockholm with Matilde Urrutia to attend the ceremony of the Nobel Prize presentation, held on 10th. In his memoirs, the poet remembers: “The old king shook the hands of everyone, gave us the diploma, the medal, the check (…) It is said (or so it was said to Matilde just to impress her) that the king spent more time with me than with other laureates, that he shook my hand with evident sympathy. It was perhaps a reminiscence of the old kindness of monarchs towards bards”.

In March 1972, he attended as a guest the XIII Italian Communist Party Congress in Milan. On December 5, on his return to homeland, the Chilean people gave the poet a rousing welcome and great tribute at the Estadio Nacional. This proved to be his last public appearance. In early part of 1973, due to health difficulties, Neruda quited his position as Chile’s Ambassador in France. 12 days after the Coup d’état in Chile, he died at 10.30 PM in Santiago’s Clínica Santa María. On September 25, in an atmosphere of tension and collective mourning, a big crowd accompanied Pablo Neruda’s body to the Cementerio General. Once in the cemetery, provocative shouts in his honour and Salvador Allende’s were heard. He was provisionally buried in the Dittborn family’s mausoleum.

On December 11, 1999, Matilde Urrutia and Neruda’s remains were exhumed and carried to a ceremonial wake in the ex National Congress Honour Room. The next day, the poet’s wills was accomplished 19 years after his death: his body was buried in Isla Negra, facing the sea he loved and sang about so much. The ceremony’s only speech was pronounced by President Patricio Aylwin.

Neruda’s work is exceptionally extensive[ii]. For example, his Obras Completas, constantly republished, comprised 459 pages in 1951; in 1962 the number of pages was 1,925, and in 1968 it amounted to 3,237, in two volumes. Among his works of the last few years can be mentioned Cien sonetos de amor (1959), which includes poems dedicated to his wife Matilde Urrutia, Memorial de Isla Negra, a poetic work of an autobiographic character in five volumes, published on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, Arte de pajáros (1966), La Barcarola (1967), the play Fulgor y muerte de Joaquín Murieta (1967), Las manos del día (1968), Fin del mundo(1969), Las piedras del cielo (1970), and La espada encendida.

Pablo Neruda, a basic anthology is published in England by The Dolphins Book. It is an excellent anthology for English readers put together by Robert Pring-Mill, friend of the poet and very familiar with his work. This selection also includes a long preliminary study, also by Pring-Mill. Alain Sicard’s La pensee poetique de Pablo Neruda, one of the most complete and deep studies on the poet’s work, is published in France. The Spanish translation, El pensamiento poético de Pablo Neruda, is published in 1981 by Gredos.

Faiz in young days Faiz in young days 

[iii]Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born in Sialkot in the Punjab, then a part of India under British rule. He hailed from a well-to-do landowner’s family. Faiz’s father was a prominent lawyer, who was interested in literature, and whose friends included several prominent literary figures, including Muhammad Iqbal (1873-1938), national poet of Pakistan. Faiz received his education at mission schools in Sialkot in the English language, but he also learned Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. He studied English and Arabic literatures at Government College, Lahore, receiving in 1932 his M.A. in English, and in Arabic from Oriental College, Lahore. Besides formal studies, Faiz actively participated in the literary circles, which held meetings at homes of established writers. After graduating, he worked as a teacher from the mid-1930s in Amritsar and Lahore.

In the 1930s, Faiz joined the famous leftist progressive movement under the leadership of Sajjad Zaheer (1905-1973). During World War II, Faiz served in the Indian army in Delhi, and in 1944, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. With the division of the subcontinent in 1947, Faiz resigned from the army and moved to Pakistan with his family. Alys Faiz (died in 2003), whom he had married in 1941, later published a book of memoirs, Over My Shoulder (1993). Faiz became editor of the English daily, thePakistan Times. He also worked as managing editor of the Urdu daily Imroz, and was actively involved in organizing trade unions.

In 1951 Faiz and a number of army officers were implicated in the so-called Rawalpindi Conspiracy case and arrested under Safety Act. The government authorities alleged that Faiz and others were planning a coup d’état. He spent four years in prison under a sentence of death and was released in 1955. Faiz became the secretary of the National Council of the Arts, and in 1962 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union. After the military takeover of General Ziaul Haq on July 5, 1977, Faiz was once again under trouble and was forced to exile. After a period of exile in war-torn Lebanon from 1979 to 1982, Faiz returned to Pakistan and died in Lahore on November 20, 1984.

Faiz’s first collections of poetry, Naqsh-e faryadi (1943), Dast-e saba (1952), and Zindan Namah (1956), include his experience of imprisonment. Faiz describes his life behind the walls, in confinement, finding consolation in the thought that “though tyrants may command that lamps be smashed / in rooms where lovers are destined to meet / they cannot snuff out the moon…”

Faiz has written extensively. His contribution in poetry and prose is enormous[iv]. In Culture and Identity: Selected English Writings of Faiz, Sheema Majeed and Mohammad Reza Kazimi[v] have presented valuable work of Faiz.

Both Neruda and Faiz were actively involved in freedom movements.  Their poetry, musical, lyrical and inspiring, stem from the main theme of making their homelands and the world at large a better place for the downtrodden—‘the wretched of the earth’, a phrase masterly coined by Franz Fanon.

The remarkable thing about Neruda and Faiz was that in spite of their overwhelming revolutionary ideas, they never allowed ideological epiphany to burden their poems with shoddy rhetoric. They were masters of art and craft—a quality lacked by many revolutionary poets of their time. Neruda-Faiz legacy is universal and everlasting—both for nearly six decades inimitably articulated the suffering of their people, the agony of dispossession and exile.

Today, Ismail Kadare—winner of 2009 Spanish literary prize who considered as one of the greatest writers and intellectuals of the 20th century—narrates in the same masterly language and style the tragedy of his land (Albania), an incessant battleground. It is, in fact, not a story of one land alone. It is tragedy of millions of others as well—living in troubled lands around the globe where wars, civil strife, hunger, terrorism and militancy are posing problems of day to day survival. Today, Pablo Neruda and Faiz Ahmad Faiz are not alive, but the courage they demonstrated in their work is source of inspiration for all the leading poets and writers of the world.

Neruda and Faiz

Neruda and Faiz

Pablo Neruda and Faiz Ahmad Faiz were intimate friends, a fact little known in Chile and Pakistan. Chile and Pakistan are geographically far apart, but share amazing socio-political similarities in their post independence period. Both the countries produced charismatic leaders like Salvador Allende and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Tragically, they met the same fate—deposed and eliminated by military dictators at the behest of their imperialist masters. Pablo Neruda supported Allende and served under his government as did Faiz Ahmad Faiz under Bhutto. Pablo did not survive long after the 1973 US-backed military coup by Augusto Pinochet attacking the presidential palace and killing Allende. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arrested by General Ziaul Haq on July 5, 1977 and after a dubious kangaroo trial was hanged on April 4, 1979.

Since Allende and Bhutto pursued pro-people policies in countries long dominated by the military, they were overthrown by the collaborators of the neo-imperialists, killed at the behest of the military juntas of Pinochet and Zia and followed by long spells of repressive Military regimes which did not retreat until the Cold War drew to an end. Neruda and Faiz participated in the long-drawn struggle for freedom—both in colonial and post-independence eras—and their poetry is epitome of message of hope and commitment for creating a true democratic polity in which the forces of exploitation have no role to play. Their dream was common—to see human beings living in peace and tranquility. Neruda and Faiz were messengers of peace, equality and justice. Their commitment to their cause was infallible. Their poetry reflects the aspirations of masses. From literary point of view, they were masters of their craft. They were not mere revolutionary slogan-mongering who lacked in their work classical authenticity and modern sensibility. On the contrary, both Faiz and Neruda are considered even by their critics, great masters of poetic expression and authentic builders of new tradition of resistance in literature.

In the post-independence period and during the Cold War era, both Neruda and Faiz were still struggling as oligarchy of the rich and mighty, created by colonial masters, captured power denying people their due rights. Both used poetry as a means of resistance against colonial and post-colonial legacy of control, exploitation and denial of rights to the masses. They remained active players in the entire struggle and not mere idealist poets, sitting on the other side of the fence, criticizing others. This makes them distinguishable from many contemporary poets and writers, who believed in “art for the sake of art” and sided with the rulers of the day, either by their silence or inactions.

Faiz during his exile, had a chance of editing the magazine, Lotus, of Afro-Asian Writers’ Association. In Lotus English translations of Pablo Neruda’s poems appeared frequently. Faiz, in his many editorials while paying tributes to Neruda, aptly called him poet of humanity, ‘great voice of our time’, ‘true representative of masses’ and ‘poet of all times to come’. The message of Neruda, according to Faiz, is not only meant for his countrymen but all those who were once subjugated and then struggled for freedom but soon realized their liberation was myth and not reality as colonial masters left behind their cronies who proved to be more cruel than their masters. The poetry of Faiz and Neruda is realization of thismyth of independence—title of the book by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—and how to win real freedom—to undo colonial legacy, defeat the forces of exploitation and establish a just system for all.

How long will this struggle continue? The answer came from Edward W. Said, the great intellectual of our time. In an interview, while elaborating the legacy of Neruda and Faiz, Professor Said pointed out that “in a world so long might is right, the powerful in the global politics want the perpetuation of their control through handpicked cronies and lackeys in different countries, we will need poets like Faiz and Neruda to expose them and give us courage to fight against them”.

Professor Said always admired Faiz for his courage and resilience. Faiz, while in prison, expressed remarkably the love for his homeland and struggle against oppression in the following poem:

نثار ميں تيري گليوں پے، اے وطن، کہ جهاں
چلي هے رسم کہ کوئي نہ سر اٹھا کے چلے
جو کوئي چاهنے والا طواف کو نکلے
نظر چُرا کے چلے، جسم و جاں بچا کے چلےہے اهل ِ دل کے ليے اب يہ نظم ِ بست و کشاد
کہ سنگ و خشت مقيد هيں اور سگ آزادبهت هيں ظلم کے دست ِ بهانه جو کے ليے
جو چند اهل ِ جنوں تيرے نام ليوا هيں
بنےهيں اهل ِ هوس مدعي بھي، منصف بھي
کسے وکيل کريں، کس سے منصفي چاهيںمگر گزارنے والوں کے دن گزرتے هيں
تيرے فراق ميں يوں صبح و شام کرتے هيںبُجها جو روزن ِ زنداں تو دل يہ سمجھا هے
کہ تيري مانگ ستاروں سے بھر گئي هو گي
چمک اٹھے ہيں ِسلاسل تو هم نے جانا هے
کہ اب سحر تيرے رخ پر بکھر گئي هو گي غرض تصور ِ شام و سحر ميں جيتے ہيں
گرفت ِ سايہ ِ ديوار و در ميں جيتے ہيں

يونهي هميشه الجھتي رهي هے ظلم سے خلق
نہ ان کي رسم نئي هے، نہ اپني ريت نئي
يونهي هميشه کھلائے هيں هم نے آگ ميں پھول
نہ ان کي هار نئي هے، نہ اپني جيت نئي

اسي سبب سے فلک کا گلہ نهيں کرتے
تيرے فراق ميں هم دل برا نهيں کرتے

گر آج تجھ سے جدا هيں تو کل بهم هوں گے
يہ رات بھر کي جدائي تو کوئي بات نهيں
گر آج اوج پہ هيں طالع ِ رقيب تو کيا؟
يہ چار دن کي خدائي تو کوئي بات نهيں

جو تجھ سے عهد ِ وفا استوار رکھتے هيں
علاج ِ گردش ِ ليل و نهار رکھتے هيں

فيض احمد فيض، ۱۹۵۳، دستِ صبا

I give my life to your alleys, o nation, where
custom now dictates that one walk with head bowed,
when a lover leaves on a pilgrimage to love,
he must guard his eye, his body, his life.Here, then, is the new order of freedom, O heart
Stones and bricks are in captivity and dogs run free.Many are the pretenses for the oppressor’s hand
for the few who, in madness, take your name
the ones crazed by lust are both the accusers and the judges
who can we get to make our case? from whom can we seek justice?Yet the days go by for those who can,
in your separation, turn dusk to dawn.Now that the prison’s window has turned off
we know that stars must have decorated your hair.
Now that these chains are sparkling
we know that the day must has illuminated your face. And so we live, imagining dawns and dusks
And so we live, gripped by the shadow of these prison walls

Such has always been, this struggle between oppressor and oppressed
Neither are their customs new, nor our paths new
Such has always been, that we grew flowers amid fire
Neither is their defeat new, nor is our triumph new.

Which is why, we don’t offer complains to the sky
Which is why, we don’t mourn being away from you

If today we are apart, tomorrow we will be together
this separation for a night is nothing,
If today the rival’s sun is high, so what?
this god for four days is nothing.

Those who maintain their oath of fidelity to you
they possess the cure for the circulation of night and day.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, 1953, Wind’s Palm.

 

The poems of Neruda are still a source of inspiration for many in Pakistan, as in the elsewhere in the world. In Pakistan, translations of his famous works have been made in different regional languages, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi and Baluchi. He is hero of all nationalist-revolutionaries who still believe to be working to regain freedom from the occupant forces. Wherever there is injustice, denial of rights of peoples and violence, Neruda is understood and cherished as epitome of courage and source of limitless encouragement. Anwer Zahidi (born July 9, 1946), a Pakistani, has translated Neruda’s autobiography, which is certainly an invaluable addition to Urdu letters. The following poem of Neruda is translated in almost all the local languages of Pakistan:

 

“Because I love my country
I claim you, essential brother,
old Walt Whitman with your gray hands.

so that, with your special help
line by line, we will tear out the roots
and destroy the bloodthirsty President Nixon.

There can be no happy man on earth,
no one can work well on this planet
while that nose continues to breathe in Washington.

Asking the old bard to confer with me
I assume the duties of a poet
armed with a terrorist’s sonnet

because I must carry out with no regrets
this sentence, never before witnessed,
of shooting a criminal under siege,

who in spite of his trips to the moon
has killed so many here on earth
that the paper flies up and the pen is unsheathed

to set down the name of this villain
who practises genocide from the White”

The lines of these poems written way back in 1973 are still relevant. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, genocides in various parts of the world, use of religion for killing others, exploitation of world resources by a few—no man can be happy on the earth unless forces in Washington stop their unjust policies. We need another Neruda—a poet with a “terrorist’s sonnet” to counter men with guns killing each other in the name of religion or self-assumed “national interest”(sic).

———————————————
The writers, ardent readers and admirers of Pablo Neruda and Faiz Ahmad Faiz, during their recent visit to Chile (June11-22) met people from cross sections of Chilean society and discussed with Mr. Burhanul Islam, Pakistan’s first Ambassador to Chile, various vistas of promoting cultural ties between the two countries highlighting past connections like that of Faiz-Neruda.




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