LOST in Translation

Poetry has long been a cornerstone of South Asian culture, a means of expressing profound emotions and complex philosophies in concise verses. South Asian languages are to be credited for facilitating this expression of ideas. They possess inherent qualities that make them particularly conducive to crafting exquisite poetry. From their technical structure allowing for easy construction of meter, stanza and rhyme to their wealth of words carrying layers of meaning, South Asian languages serve as the perfect tool for the job.

While the west has obtained a glimpse of the beauty of eastern poetry through the works of persian poets such as Rumi and Hafez, there lies a ocean of beautiful poetry from poets of the Indo Pak subcontinent still to be discovered. It is my intent to provide our readers with a glimpse into the pearls contained within the vast ocean of poetry written by great poets of the Urdu and Hindi language.

As can be expected, there will be something that gets lost in translation for readers of the English language. To minimize the impact of this concession, I have structured the presentation of poems in three tiers (with the idea being that the reader gets closer to the original source as they progress through the tiers):

Translation in Rhyme

First is the rhymed translation. The primary purpose is to render a translation that maintains the essence of the original poetry verse while also leading to enjoyment and pleasure for the  reader by employing standard poetic metrical structure.

Translation in Prose

Second is the translation in prose. The primary purpose is to give an explanatory translation that conveys the original intent of the poetry verse without regards to metrical structure. As such, I may make use of footnotes where necessary to offer commentary on the translation so that the intended meaning is fully conveyed. (Note that this is NOT meant to be the literal translation of the verse since in poetry, such translation can lead to nonsensical text in some cases.)


Third is the transliteration. While the English reader will not understand the transliterated rendering of the poetry verse, it is meant to give a sense of the poetic elements of the original poem and how the original text flows. Feel free to skip this as you like. (Readers who understand the original language, e.g. Urdu, can of course gain enjoyment from the transliterated text.)

Why Read This Blog?

Language plays a key role in shaping the very fabric of human existence. It serves as the conduit through which thoughts, ideas, and emotions traverse the boundaries of our minds and allow us to connect with others.

Poetry offers a unique and enriching experience that transcends that of conventional language. It invites us to engage with language in its most artistic and distilled form, where every word carries weight and significance. It can serve as a healer for the broken heart, a panacea for the depressed mind, and an inspiration for the subdued spirit. Reading poetry encourages introspection, empathy, and creativity, nurturing a deeper connection with both our own emotions and those of others. In a world often driven by the rush of the practical, taking time to read poetry offers a cherished space for the soul to pause, reflect, and flourish.

Poetry from the South Asian region is particularly poignant due to the cultural traits and societal norms. The region’s great poets have spent a lifetime writing about unrequited love, pangs of separation, and an unfulfilled desire for the beloved, leading to a profound sense of sadness in their poems. Interplaying these feelings with the imagination of great poets leads to beautiful expressions of love for the beloved. As an example of this fusion, here’s a verse from Mirza Ghalib, a great poet of the Indo Pak subcontinent:

Translation in Rhyme

As morning dew meets the sun’s embrace so bright. It fades to mist, a fleeting, graceful flight.

So too my being, in my lover’s sweet glance. I perish, fulfilling my purpose in trance.

Translation in Prose

It is the nature of the morning dew to vaporize upon experiencing the morning sun’s light.

Likewise, my existence is also limited to a favorable glance from my beloved.


Parṭav-e-khur se hai shabnam ko fanā ki talīm

Meiṇ bhī huṇ aik ināyat kī nazar hone tak

Here, Ghalib uses symbolism to convey that just like the morning dew waits the whole night to be bestowed the sun’s morning rays (after which it gladly disintegrates), his whole life (spent in darkness like the dew through the night), will have accomplished its purpose if his beloved was to bestow a gracious glance upon him (after which he would gladly embrace death).

With this brief introduction, I hope you are motivated to come along this journey with me and I hope you will enjoy reading the poetry as much as I enjoy writing about it. And please be sure to express your enjoyment by not just reading the posts but also commenting on them. Your feedback will make the experience much more enjoyable for everyone!

(Note that it is common to use a pen-name in eastern poetry and for the poet to refer to this name in the last verse of the poem at times.)


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