In his book Dast-e-tah-e-sang Ahmad Faiz of India writes:
"I don't know the reason why I wrote poetry but it could be the environment of my childhood in which much was talked about poetry and there was inducement by friends and heart-related affairs. I am talking about the first part of Naqsh-e-Faryadi which carries my writings of the period 1924-25 to 1928-29. Those were my student days. These verses are the outcome of the intellectual and emotional experience gained by every young man of that age. But now when I look back I find that it was not a single period rather there were two periods with different subjective and objective experiences. The period between 1920 and 1930 was the period of a strange carelessness, contentment and emotional confusion. Besides serious discussion about important national and political movements in our poetry and prose most of us would write as if indulging in frivolities."
In this excerpt, Faiz is referring to the period in which Hasrat Mohani, Josh, Hafeez Jullundhari and Akhtar Sheerani were the great names in the realm of Urdu poetry. In the first part of Naqsh-e-Faryadi one can observe their influence. Some ghazals and poems such as Intiha-e-kaar, Akhiri Khat, Intezaar, Khuda wo waqt na laye, Mere Nadeem etc. can be cited as examples. However, according to Faiz, that period did not last long because the country came under the cloud of economic depression. These changed circumstances cast a gloom on his poetry which is evident from the last few poems of the first part of Naqash-e-Faryadi.
In 1934, Faiz completed his studies and in 1935 joined M.A.O. College Amritsar as a lecturer. It is here that Faiz met Sahibzada Mahmuduz Zafar and his enlightened wife Dr. Rashid Jahan. Both husband and wife were among the pioneers of a progressive writers movement in India. The young Indian writers studying in London in the mid-thirties were enormously inspired by the Communist Revolution in Russia, and this led to the birth of this literary movement. The Association was formally founded in Lucknow in 1936 in a meeting of the writers and intellectuals in which Syed Sajjad Zaheer -- one of the members of the London group along with Sahibzada Mahmuduz Zafar and Dr. Rashid Jahan -- were present.
The main objective of the PWA was to create social awareness among the common man through literature so as to help establish a progressive social order in the country. Faiz writes that the singular important lesson from participation in the movement was that "it is not possible rather it is aimless to detach oneself from his environment. The writer should therefore highlight the experience of the life of a common man in its true reality." Faiz became active in this movement and the second part of Naqshe Faryadi depicts the change in his thinking, such as in the poems "Mujh se pehli si muhabbat mere mahboob na mang", "Soch", "Chand roz aur meri jan", "Kutte", "Bol keh lab azaad haen tere", "Mauzu-e-sukhan" and "Shahrah". Thus begins the period of Faiz's poetry with a purpose.
Naqash-e-Faryadai was published in 1941 and eleven years later Dast-e-Saba appeared. In 1952, Faiz was imprisoned in Hyderabad Jail along with other prisoners accused for conspiring to overthrow the government of Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan. The group accused of conspiracy was led by Major General Akbar Khan and some other senior army officers but among the outsiders involved were Faiz and Syed Sajjad Zaheer, the secretary general of Communist Party of Pakistan. The idea behind having these two gentlemen in the group was to facilitate the recognition of the new government by Soviet Russia. The period between Naqsh-e-Faryadai and Dast-e-Saba (1940-1952) was of great political turmoil in India. Not only the world saw the emergence of the phenomenon called Fascism but a world war was fought and won by the Allied forces against this menace. Since Soviet Russia was allied with America and England in World War II, the leftist elements throughout the world joined the Allied efforts against Fascist forces. In order to play his role in this direction, Faiz served the British army from June 1942 to December 1946.
During this period, the Indian independence movement also entered a crucial stage. The Muslims of the subcontinent demanded a separate nation, Pakistan, which became a reality in 1947. After leaving the army, Faiz took over as the Chief Editor of the Pakistan Times. Besides the poems Faiz wrote in incarceration, Dast-e-Saba also carries some poems of the period 1940 to 1951.
Although all the Faiz poems written in prison depict the poet's extreme sensibility characterized by prison environment, there are four thematic poems written on different subjects that deserve special mention. In the poem "Ai dil-e-betaab thehr", Faiz used the word teeragi (darkness) for the advent of Fascism and expressed his usual optimism: Subh hone ko hae ai dil-e- betaab thehr (Dawn is round the corner. Be patient my heart).
Another poem, "Ek Siyasi Leader ke Naam" ("To A Politician") was addressed to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi's stand on world war surprised all those who considered Hitler and Mussolini's Fascism as a great menace for the world. Gandhi proposed that "Allies should invite Hitler and Mussolini to take what they want of the countries Allies called their possession." Advocating his philosophy of pacifism, Gandhi wrote to the British: "Let them take possession of your beautiful island with its many beautiful buildings. You will give all this but neither your minds nor you souls."
"Tujh ko manzoor nahin ghalba-e-zulmat lekin
Tujh ko manzoor hae yeh hath qalam ho jaen
Aur mashriq ki kamingah mein dharakta hua din
Raat ki ahni mayyat ke tale dab jae"
(You don't like that the darkness conquers everything
But you want that these hands are chopped off
And the Day that pulsates in the hideout of East
Gets buried under the steely corpse of night.)
A third poem, 'Subh-e-Azaadi', was written on India's day of independence. Faiz was moved by the events that preceded and followed the partition of India, in which millions perished or were made to leave their homes in destitution. All this suffering brought more misery to the common man. Faiz declared it "a blotted light and night-bitten morn." Later events proved the correctness of the poet's vision.
A fourth poem is addressed to the Iranian students who fell victims to the brute show of force by the Iranian monarch after the unsuccessful bid of Dr Mossadegh to topple him. It is a moving poem full of pathos:
"Yeh kaun jawan haen arz-e-ajam
Yeh lak lut
Jin ke jismon ka kundan
Yun khak mein reza reza hae
(Who are these young men, O the land of Ajam
The jewel of whose bodies
Is scattered on dust in pieces)"
The subsequent book, Zindan Nama (The Letter from Prison) was also the outcome of the same incarceration (1951-1954) and contained some of his famous poems on the subject of incarceration. It also carried a poem entitled "Ham jo tareek rahon mein mare gaye" ("We who were killed in dark pathways"). The poet here refers to the wave of McCarthyism in America that targeted the leftists and fellow travelers. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the leftist husband-and-wife team who were executed in America on made-up charges of espionage. The poem inspired by the letters of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg circulated throughout the world is full of intense patriotic feelings in a universal tone:
"Tere honton ke phoolon ki chahat mein ham
Dar ki khushk tehni pe dare gaye)
Terehathon ki shamaon ki hasrat mein ham
Neem tareek rahon mein mare gaye
(In love of the roses of your lips
We offered ourselves to the dry twig of gallows
Longing for the radiance of your glowing hands
We let ourselves be slain in half-lit pathways)""
Faiz's next book Dast-e-tahe Sang (Hand Under a Stone) was published in the early sixties. Besides his many other famous poems written during incarceration or otherwise it also carries the thematic poem "Aaj bazaar mein pa ba jaulan chalo" ("Let us walk with fetters in the street"). It was written in 1959 when Faiz was once again imprisoned under Ayub's martial law. He was taken to the Lahore Fort's torture cell passing through the streets of Lahore in a horse driven cart with his fetters on. Faiz's book Sar-e-wadi-e-Sina (In the valley of Sinai) was the outcome of his poems written between 1965 and 1971. The collection also includes two thematic poems, "Lahu ka Suragh" and "Zindan zindan shor-e-anal Haq" written on the occasion of the firing on the Karachi people protesting against the rigged election of Ayub Khan as president defeating Miss Jinnah, the sister of the founder of the country:
"Na mudai na shahadt hisab pak hua
Yeh khoon-e-khak nashinan tha rizq-e-khak hua
(Neither plaintiff nor witness but the decision was made
It was the blood of the wretched of the earth so it mingled with the earth)
Faiz wrote two poems about the September '65 war. One is called "Black Out" and the other is the dirge of a soldier killed in battle which begins with the verse "Utho ab mati se utho/Utho mere lal". The title poem "Sare-Wadi-e-Sina" is written on the occasion of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. On the twentieth anniversary of the inception of Pakistan in 1967, he wrote his masterpiece poem, "Dua" ("Prayer"), a poem that jolts the sensibility of every reader. It is full of wishes that every common man of Pakistan aspires for.
Sham-e-Shehr Yaran is the next book. It carries various poems written during journeys abroad, some Punjabi poems and other poems written on request. The only poem on an event is "Dhaka se wapsi par" ("On Return from Dhaka"). Written in 1974, it begins with the verses:
"Ham keh thehre ajnabi itni mudaraton ke baad
Phir banenge aashna kitni mulaqaton ke baad
Kab nazar mein ayegi bedagh sabze ki bahar
Khoon ke dhabbe dhulein ge kitni barsaaton ke baad
(We who became strangers after so much expression of affection
After how many meetings shall become friends again
When shall we see the beauty of blotless verdure?
How many monsoons will wash out the patches of blood from it?)"
His last two short books "Mere Dil Mere Musafair" (1978-1980) and "Ghubare Ayyam" (1981-1984) contain poems written in exile. After Ziaulhaq imposed martial law in the country Faiz spent most of his time in Beirut and abroad. In Beirut he edited Afro-Asian Writers Journal Lotus an assignment given to him by his friend Yasser Arafat. These two books carry most of his writings relating to civil war in Beirut and Palestinian cause. Besides the titled poem "Dil-e-Man Musafir-e-Man" that describes the emotions of a person in exile there are some thematic poems related to the Pakistan's political scenario resulting from Ziaulhaq's tyrannical dispensation. "Teen Awazain",
"Yeh Matam-e-waqt ki gharri hae" and "Ham to majboor-e-wafa haen" represent the current situation. The last one is written on the execution of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto:
Tujh ko kitnon ka lahu chahie ai arz-e-watan
Jo tere aarz-e-be rang ko gulnaar karein
(The blood of how many people you require my country
To impart flowerlike tinge to your colorless face)
In a poem in Ghubar-e-Ayyam entitled "Idhar na dekho", Faiz castigated those writers and intellectuals who were sold to the regime and compared them with those who "decorating their bodies with the cross of truth left the world and are now prophets among the people."