The Poetry of Social Commitment: A Comparative Study of P. B. Shelley and Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Wani Nazir

Wani Nazir, Pulwama, J&K, India

Modern world, although a colossal expanse of different nations, has shrunk into a small global village and in this global village literature of different nations has seeped into every other nation’s literature in such a way that a universal literature has been fostered all over the globe giving rise to a new study of Comparative Literature across the globe. Comparative literature is the study of international literary relations and it makes an endeavor to blur linguistic, regional, national, ethnic and religious boundaries. The ‘texts’ from varied origins, languages and cultures are given a chance to have an “interaction due to circulation and recirculation through translations, transcreation … across the globe”

Following the same track Urdu literature, too, during almost past hundred fifty [150] years has continued its endeavors and ventures to keep itself in harmony with the international developed tendencies besides its national colour, and if looked at meticulously, our eyes will not fail to see that these endeavors have been mostly conscious. Urdu, on the one hand to outstretch the circle of its own literature, and on the other hand to wed with the world wide scholastic and literary movements, has not left any stone unturned. Urdu literature has been influenced by the western literature mostly after the publication of MaulanaHaali’s,  Muqadima-e- Sh’er-u-Shayri.

A common thread of thought runs through some poets of both the literatures. This thread of thought also runs through Shelley an English poet and thinker, and Faiz an Urdu poet and revolutionary. In the writings of both, P.B Shelley and Faiz Ahmed Faiz fundamental issues surrounding the human condition are dealt with. Despite their religious, cultural and age differences, they feel and think alike in matters related to the existing human conditions in their societies.

The most striking affinity between Shelley and Faiz is their revolutionary creed and fervor. The bases of their revolutionary faith are surprisingly identical. They base their premise on the optimistic faith in a better future, the Golden Age. The optimistic faith underlies all the poetry of Shelley from Queen Mab to Hellas. In Queen Mab, Shelley’s revolutionary creed surfaces as he writes:
“Let priest-led slaves cease to proclaim that man
Inherits vice and misery, when force
And falsehood hand over the cradled babe
Stifling with rudest grasp all natural good”(Part IV lines 123-126)

But the same Queen Mab divines a bright future for mankind. God, Heaven and Hell are the three words which tyrants exploit now, but the time is not far off when the inherent good of man will triumph over evil as;
  “Yet every heart contains perfection’s germ”.(Part V line 148)

In his preface to Prometheus Unbound, P. B. Shelley admits:
‘I have what a Scottish philosopher characteristically terms “a passion for reforming the world
In one of his revolutionary poemThe Mask of AnarchyShelley opens up his volcanic spirit and calls on the people of England with inspiring voice to

                    ‘Rise like Lions after slumber
                    In unvanquishable number-
                    Shake your chains to earth like dew
                    Which in sleep had fallen on you-
            Ye are many-they are few.’(378-382)

Like Shelley, Faiz, in all his poetry emerges as a revolutionary from Naqshe-Faryadi to Ghubari-Ayyam. In his poem, When Autumn Came, he essays the oppression and exploitation on the poor and the weak by those at the helm of affairs by way of using the metaphor of autumn and fallen leaves, as:
This is the way that autumn came to the trees:
it stripped them down to the skin,
left their ebony bodies naked.
It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves,
scattered them over the ground.
Anyone could trample them out of shape
undisturbed by a single moan of protest.
The birds that herald dreams
were exiled from their song,
each voice torn out of its throat. (Faiz. 1988. 1-10)   

Like Shelley, Faiz is also sanguine about a better future, a beautiful tomorrow. This is the very asset which gifts him with optimism instead of grief and sorrow. This optimism doesn’t blind his eyes from dreaming of a beautiful future and from the hope of a new dawn. In one of his poems, Faiz divines the hope and optimism by versifying the idea as:

Faiz be grateful to autumn
                   to its cold winds
                   that are seasoned postmen
                   carrying letters as mere habit
                   from spring
                   its custom to announce thus
                   that it will surely come.(Faiz. 1995. 9-10)

Conscience enhances its verification and corroboration because of the intensity with which he gives a glad tiding of transmogrifying his Kishtiveeran (waste land) into a green and verdurous piece of land.

With this hope my waste land is verdurous
            That one day the clouds will rain on it.

Shelley,too, emerges as an optimistic in one of his odes, Ode to the West Wind. The ode ends in a note of optimism for the world:

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”(Last line)

In the same way, Faiz hopes even in the darkness:

Even though this dire moment is upon us
                   Remember, my heart, it is only a moment.  (Faiz. 1988. 11-12)

Faiz not only does have a hope of better dawn, but he is sanguine and confident. His idea is that if he does not reap the harvest of the struggle, what matters, those who will come after him will get enshrined with its beatifications.

 In this regard, SirajAjmali, the author of TarqiPasandTehreeqAur Urdu Gazal writes:

Faiz Ahmad Faiz is the name who observes the Tigris of life even among the frenzied drops of society.”(p. 23, translation from Urdu done by self)

Faiz’s poetry has a tremendous appeal. His verses, written in Urdu, translated into many languages, appeal not only the poets, writers, and the educated, but also to the common masses. His poetry communicates the experiences of people and their pain, suffering, and struggle of the societies collectively. Through his poetry, Faiz wishes to awaken and enlighten the people and develop in them an understanding of their own destiny. His powerful, motivated poetry paints not only a verbal picture of the struggle of humanity, the turmoil, the suffering and pathos but also the beauty and romanticism of our daily lives. With bold motivated expression, he beautifully paints any subject he touches, gives them a new meaning, a new trend, a new style; and the richness and depth of his thought gives Urdu poetry a new dimension.
His poetry with its understanding of humanity, realism and liberalism combined with finesse, pulsates and projects the events of the centuries. With the magic of his words, he influences three generations in his lifetime. His Naqsh-e-Faryadi, Dast-e-Saba and other literary works will continue to live on. Faiz’s sparkling wit, passion for the people, analysis of human mind and its identification with the throbbing of their heart endears him to scholars, teachers, students, music lovers and all those who have love for aesthetics. The lines from the earliest of his famous poems, Don’t Ask me for that Love Again:
      All this I’d thought all this I’d believed.
      But there were other sorrows, comforts other than love.
      The rich had cast their spell on history:
      Dark centuries had been embroidered on brocades and silks.
      Bitter threads began to unravel before me
      As I went into alleys and in open markets
      Saw bodies plastered with ash, bathed in blood.
      I saw them sold and bought, again and again.
      This too deserves attention …
      And you still are so ravishing- what should I do?
      There are other sorrows in this world,
      Comforts other than love.
      Don’t ask me, my love, for that love again (Faiz. 1995. 11-24),

tell us of the beginning of a new consciousness, an awareness that a man’s love for a woman cannot be-all and end-all of life, and he must be aware of, and deeply affected by the suffering of the poor and the exploited. This reflects that he was socially committed and learned to be the friend of the oppressed. Both Faiz and Shelley are saturated with their enthusiasm for a passion which is closely allied to their commitment to bring social change that we can feel just by going through two of their famous poems, Kuttay (The Dogs) and Song to the Men of England respectively.
1.     Shelley, P. B. The Works of P. B. Shelley. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. Cumberland House 1994,Print
2.     Shelley, P. B. The Selected Poetry and Prose of Shelley. Notes. Bruce Woodcock. Wordsworth. 2002, Print
3.     Hodgart, Patricia. A Preface to Shelley. London and New York:Longman. 1985, Print
4.     Hogg, T.J. Life of P. B. Shelley. (2 vol). Oxford University Press. 1906, Print
5.     Faiz.  The Rebel’s Silhouette: Selected poems. Trans. Agha Shahid Ali. Massachusetts, 1995. Print6.     Faiz. The True Subject Trans. Naomi Lazard. Vanguard. 1988, Print7.     AjmaliSiraj. TarqiPasandTehreeqAur Urdu Gazal. DilliKitabGhar. 1993