The Birds’ Eyes Open, translated by Iona Mandal

A bird flutters its wings at night
the night, tree and bird
three travellers in the darkness
come and stand in a straight line
the night gets entangled in darkness
night, what did you do to my shadow
the forest is small
and hence, might appear dense to you
It was for the bird’s sleep that I turned dark
after comforting the bird each night
I return to my destination
is your destination the morning
when I died I was named the night
now my name means separation
when will you be born again
when this bird will be awake
the warble of the birds is my birthday
separation and the tree stretch their hands
and the birds’ eyes open.


This is one of the finest and poignant compositions of Sara Shagufta which makes the reader sigh at its embedded melancholic strain. Unlike other languages, Urdu is composed from right to left. Be that as it may, it isn’t just about the heading of the content, yet in addition about understanding the different ramifications, for example, its impact on the length of the sentences. The poem did not present any challenges as regards rhyme, metre or the use of metaphors, the very quality of which makes it difficult to translate. However, Urdu as a language has its own translation challenges. Multiple synonyms for a single word create challenges in translation. This came in as a test while translating the word kamān which could
mean a destination or even a bow. Its use needed interpretation keeping in mind the context of the poem while utilizing the equivalent at a suitable spot and in this case, choosing destination seemed logical. One of the noticeable features of the poem was the stark absence of punctuation marks throughout its length. The poem raises a few questions which are devoid of interrogation marks. I decided to retain the same pattern in my translation without disrupting the flow of the poem. The use of onomatopoeia – words that imitate sounds is a device which often poses challenges in translation and may not translate well from one language to another. While translating the word faḌfaḌātī, I decided to use the word flutter to denote the sound and because it rhymed alphabetically.


Original poem by Sara Shagufta