July 27, 2006 at 11:46 pm 4 comments

Agha Shahid Ali

Listen (to Shahid Ali’s brother read)

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere–“ ”to make Me beautiful–“
“Trinket”– to gem– “Me to adorn– How– tell”– tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates–
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar–
All the archangels– their wings frozen– fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open– for God– the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day–
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love– you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee–
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

How wonderful it is to come upon a ghazal, in its full lyrical glory, in english, where you least expected it, on public radio!

This reading is from one of Shahid Ali’s last interviews (on the National Public Radio (NPR) in July 2001). His health was rapidly deteriorating. As he was unable to read the poem himself, his brother reads it (you can hear Shahid, in the background, appreciating the reading).

An excellent post by Amardeep Singh, in which he talks about Shahid and Ghazals. And a more personal piece by Amitav Ghosh.

An excerpt, from the latter article:

“On one occasion, at the Barcelona airport, he was stopped by a security guard just as he was about to board a plane. The guard, a woman, asked: “What do you do?”

“I’m a poet,” Shahid answered.

“What were you doing in Spain?”

“Writing poetry.”

No matter the question, Shahid worked poetry into his answer. Finally, the exasperated woman asked: “Are you carrying anything that could be dangerous to the other passengers?” At this Shahid clapped a hand to his chest and cried: “Only my heart.”

Shahid Ali was also very popular translator of Urdu poetry, notably Faiz’s poems, which can be found in The Rebel’s Silhouette (, and have been quoted many times on our blog).



Entry filed under: Agha Shahid Ali, Black Mamba, English.

I Loved You The Dacca Gauzes

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Taqi  |  February 19, 2009 at 10:06 am

    I’ve found heaven in a poem

  • 2. Agha Shahid Ali | English 133 Poetry Blog  |  April 21, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    […] the poem “Tonight” on the Poetry Foundation website. Hear Shahid’s brother read the poem on the Audio Poetry blog. Read this essay on the ghazal and Shahid’s poetry.   Create a free edublog to get […]

  • 3. Web Design  |  December 7, 2011 at 2:58 am

    I just bookmarked you so please keep up the great work and I’ll return often to comment.

  • 4.  |  January 13, 2012 at 11:11 am

    certainly like your web site but you have to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very troublesome to inform the reality however I will definitely come again again.


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