Speak, translated by Sarah Jilani

Speak: for your lips are free
Speak: for your tongue is still yours
Your fine body belongs to you
Speak: for your life is still yours
Look, inside the blacksmith’s forge:
The fire is strong, the iron red-hot
The locks have begun to open
The chains are breaking loose
Speak: this little time is still enough
Before the end of your life or voice
Speak: for the truth is still alive
Speak: say what you need to say.


I found the translation of the phrase ‘ستواں جسم’ rather challenging, as it was difficult for me to come up with an appropriate translation. There were many words that could have been used in varying combinations: ‘perfect figure’, ‘lean body’ etc, however in the end I decided to use ‘fine body’, as I thought this was the closest match to ‘ستواں’ and best conveyed the meaning of the Urdu phrase. The most difficult part of translating this poem was actually translating the word ‘بول’.The word itself is an incredibly powerful and integral part of the poem, and is composed of strong consonants. Its direct translation into English would be the word ‘say’, however this seemed weak in comparison, and it felt to me like the poem was losing its meaning and power with ‘say’. Instead, I chose to use the word ‘speak’, which is again monosyllabic like ‘بول’ and ‘say’, allowing the keeping of a similar meter. Most importantly, the initial ‘sp’ sound in Speak contains the plosive ‘p’ which helps to retain the power of the plosive sound from the letter (b) ب in ‘ بول’. However, by translating ‘بول’ as ‘speak’ rather than ‘say’, the sequence of words had to be adjusted. Rather than adding a direct translation for the word ‘کہ’ , I opted to replace it with a colon. Had we translated ‘بول’ as ‘say’, ‘کہ’ would have been translated as ‘that’. However, this would not have made sense with ‘speak’. Although adding a colon altered the rhythm of the poem slightly, this was justified by the way in which the colon drew further emphasis to ‘speak’, allowing the message of the poem to be truly conveyed.


Original poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz