“tum yeh kehtay hau ki woh jung ho bhi chuki”
Tr: You claim that the war is long over.
A cursory reading of the first line would yield the observation that it is set in the past tense: You claim the war is long over. The past tense – the indicator of irreversible culmination of time and irreplaceable loss contributes a nuance to a sentence that is beyond the tangible present or the futuristic future. Whether this can be attributed to the infallible charm of melancholy in Shelly’s strain: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought”, or the human reluctance to accept loss, is hard to say. With a poet, this shade of brooding loss serves as handy embellishment to lay the foundation of a poetic thought that seeks to interrogate and subvert a totalistic belief, without attracting censure . By poetic thought I, in an strategically essentialist vein, imply the overriding thought that constitutes the essence of the poem – the force that drives the poet to pen the poem. With a sympathetic audience the chances of the resonation of the poetic sensibility are more than in its absence.
Faiz employs this nuance of semantic usage to great effect in the poem. He immediately sets the subject of the main phrase in a past tense. Now what purpose does this serve? Before I delve into that question, let me examine the construction of the phrase. What difference does the war was over – a syntactic past, rather than a semantic past convey? Why should the past tense be implied by ‘long over’, to qualify the auxiliary ‘is’, a marker of present?
I believe the answer lies in the differential amplification that the two usages entail. The semantic past allows for an increased distancing from the ‘action’ in mimetic-linguistic terms as occurring at the last place in the sentence. Further, since ‘is’ marks the present, it allows for a notion of contrast with the present to seep in, and hence immediate identification. Were the verb ‘was’ to be used, the double past would arguably set up a larger distance. But such a difference would be applicable to identification that would also subvert the poem’s poetic effect. The mixing occurs at a further level with the framing phrase: tum ye kehtay hau: you claim that.
The finite verb ‘claim’ is an interesting play on ambiguity. It is set in the present as occurring at the time of speech or the indefinite past as being a recollection at the time of speech – a differential postponement by a chain of signifiers. The interplay of this ambiguity has a direct bearing on the nature of the poem and its subject. At one level this duality is symbolic of the ambiguous nature of war as extracting the best of men in terms of bravery and yet also signifies the worst in the nature of man in terms of war atrocities and destruction. On a macro-framing level it is a tussle between nationalist prestige- imagined or otherwise, identity – constructed or otherwise, ambition (perceived or otherwise) and reality (believed or otherwise). Such narratorial distancing serves as the underlying framework on which the hallowed notion of war as a purging and liberatory activity, is set bare.
Here we arrive, therefore at the answer to the question about the difference between syntactic and semantic usage. The semantic past allows for a distancing from the war through a radical aesthetic displacement without resorting to propaganda or compromising the tradition. It is a preferable and more radical displacement than an emotive critique practiced by the likes of Jalib, which departs radically from conventions of Urdu poetry.
The distancing allows the poem to interweave the future which is deeply rooted in the distant past with the present and future. It allows for the demolishing of the spatial time and space – a deconstruction as it were. Liberated from the notions of spatial time, the poet can peep into the past in light of the future and vice versa and question its validity or truthfulness. In this sense the poet assumes the role of an omniscient narratised narrator who can doubt or question the linguistic truth arrived at by social agreement. And thus Faiz engages in a recollection of the claims made by a silent second person in what would be termed as “Transposed speech, free indirect style” where in the character’s words or actions are reported by the narrator, but without using a subordinating conjunction (He confided to his friend: his mother had passed away).
But since the reader understands by a close reading of the first line that the poem is not a recollection but a reflection, musing, by virtue of which every narration is transformed into an interrogative rather than a declarative. And so the poem attains a circular movement. Every single narrative leads to the first line: you claim that the war is long over? Is it really over? If it is over then why can our blood not paint the annals of freedom red with colours of a vibrant humanistic democracy? If the war is really over why then do we wait?
More severe trials,
More tears to mourn.
POEM: TRIALS OF LOVE
BY FAIZ AHMED FAIZ/ Tr. HUZAIFA PANDIT
You claim the war is long over
Though, the barren trenches lay unused.
No bugle was sounded, no marches held.
No ranks formed, no flags flutter, no notice supplied
to stir complacent allies into combat.
You insist: cure is beyond us.
Feeble, frail, youth past us.
Heads crushed under stones
Outsourced from the plains of tyranny.
Atlas is dead!
We can’t lift mountains of dry ice
hired from the plains of tyranny.
We console now in parentheses:
Wonders of an imagined history.
Is the warm bloom of our blood
in the beloved’s barren lane past us?
Will white roses and red chrysanthemums
never spring again under her feet?
Will this silent frost never thaw?
Won’t the cry for truth ever echo again?
Won’t the lovers ever rise and rebel
For their right to the scaffold?
The trials of love borne-
Injury, death and war indemnity
We only await fresh supplies
Through snaking tunnels of snowed misery.
More loss, more death to mourn.
More severe trials,
More tears to mourn.
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