Partaw Nadir, as a socio-political activist and poet, has more media and public visibility than any of his contemporaries in the country or abroad. To a large extent, his poetry is also a reflection of his social and political views. In the media and public arena, he is often seen as a literary authority and spokesperson of the second generation of modern Afghan poets. Perhaps more than any poet of his generation, he has used blank verse, with a strong satirical tone, to express his socio-political views and visions. He has also used fixed poetic forms, such as quatrains, couplets and odes, to express his inner feelings, but the modern blank verse remains a major medium of his poetic views and expressions.  
Like many other Afghan artists and intellectuals, he was arrested by the Communist Regime in Kabul on charges of anti-regime activities and imprisoned in the infamous Pul-i-charkhi Prison in the fall of 1984. He remained in prison until the end of 1986. In September 1997, he fled to Pakistan, where he worked for the Dari program of the BBC World Service until 2002.  His cultural reports for the Dari program of BBC Radio enjoyed popularity among the educated Afghans in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and the Gulf. Since the establishment of the Transitional government of Afghanistan, he has worked as a civic education manager for the Afghan Civil Society Forum in Kabul. Nadiri is also a leading member of the Afghan Pen Association based in Kabul
Born in 1952 in an idyllic village in Badakhshan, one of the most beautiful mountainous provinces in northeastern Afghanistan, Nadiri in his poetry expresses his deep love for nature, rural life, and simple mountain people. To escape the suffocating dust, pollution and chaos of Kabul city and perhaps to recreate his nostalgic village life, he has built his own house on the hillside of a small valley in Ghargha in the western part of Kabul, where he lives with his wife and children.  
From his early age, he loved reading literature, particularly poetry. The beautiful mountainous setting of his village inspired him to write his own lyrics. After graduating from Kabul Teacher Training School, he wished to study journalism at Kabul University, but, as a graduate of a government-funded teacher training school, he was required to study either social or natural sciences at Kabul University. Despite this restriction, he believes his study of geology and biology has enriched his poetry and sense of realism.
In addition to poetry, he has published a large number of articles on literary, political and social issues. His published collections include: An Elegy for Vine, Leaden Moments of Execution, and A Lock on the Gate of Ashes.     
Images of poverty, imprisonment, drought, Taliban-style tyranny and obscurantism, destruction and death abound in his poems.  Like many of his contemporaries, he is haunted by the Taliban’s reign of terror, whose images recur in most of his poems. In his poetry, he sees the Taliban movement as a diabolic force bent on destroying or disfiguring what is best in Afghan arts and culture. He often associates the movement in his works with what has been most decadent, chauvinistic, and barbaric in the history of Afghanistan and Islam.  On of his famous poems titled “The Other Side of Purple Waves” is an expression of his poetic rage against the savagery of the Taliban. In this and many other poems written since the rise of the Taliban movement, the poet has used images of war, obscurantism, religious ferocity, drought, famine, and destruction caused by the rabid fanatics of the Taliban movement.
Latif Nazemi, a known Afghan poet and critic, in an introduction to Nadiri’s collection of poems titled Leaden Moments of Execution writes:
            You are a kind country man, coming from a distant village to Kabul city. For several years, you had breathed the prison air, and then exile swallowed you, the way it swallowed me.
            When there was a “Lock on the Gate,” you wrote the “Elegy for the Vine” and from “The Other Side of the Purple Waves” you opened two windows before you — the window of life and the window of nature — and from behind these windows I have known you without having seen you.
In the poem “The Big Picture, the Small Mirror” you wrote the life story of a mother, like many other mothers in villages and cities – the mothers whose bitter destinies are inscribed by the … history, as you have written – women from the green tribe of nobility who speak the language of the people of paradise.

You think that poetry is a kind of crying, crying with one’s fresh and crystal words. Your voice is the imaginative voice of an affectionate villager bringing to one’s ears the fragrance of wheat, rice fields, and the songs of sparrows from the orchards of the north.

Nadir, like many other Dari poets, wrote the bulk of his poetry when the Taliban were threatening to destroy the artistic and literary heritage of the Dari-speaking people of the country. Indeed, this cultural genocide by the Taliban is a dominant theme and obsession in his poetry during and after the Taliban era, and this must not be interpreted as an anti-Pashtun trend in his works when considering the relentless tribal, ethnic and religious ferocity of the Taliban movement in the second part of the 1990s. In many of his poems translated in this selection, particularly in “The Idol-Breaker’s Calendar,” “Auction,” and “In the Frozen Streets of Eclipse,” the poet expresses a haunting preoccupation about the Taliban as an anti-culture movement threatening to destroy the literary and historical legacy of his people. In his public life, he has also defended this legacy as part of his larger continued campaign for democracy and human rights.        

Most of the poems translated in the following selection are recommended by the poet and reviewed by him for accuracy and quality. He considers “In the Frozen Streets of Eclipse” and “The Other Side of the Purple Wave” as two of his best poems. “The Big Picture, The Small Mirror,” a more popular poem celebrating the purity, devotion, love, humility, patience, forgiveness, and sanctity of mothers, depicts a patriarchal society ruled by a dominating father who symbolizes male chauvinism, dictatorship, and lack of all the virtues epitomized by the mother, but he is survived by his wife, the mother and the son, who symbolize life and freedom. In this poem, Nadiri presents a sentimental, but true, picture of the motherly side of the Afghan society often ignored in many books and studies on Afghanistan.


The Big Picture, The Small Mirror

 My mother was from the green salvation tribe

She spoke the language of the people of paradise  

She put on a silk chador of faith

Her heart was like God’s empyrean

majestic as His truth

And no one knew that I heard God’s voice

in the beatings of her heart    

And no one knew that God was in our house

And that the sun rose when she began to talk  

 My mother was from the green salvation tribe

She put on a silk chador of faith

When my mother walked to me

on each of her small footprint a small window would open

into which I could see the green gardens of paradise and

pick my fortune fruit from the top branch of an apple tree

 My mother was from the green salvation tribe

She put on a silk chador of faith

Her forehead resembled God’s loveliest song’s exordium

which I droned everyday in a lyrical tone

and then knew what a God’s poem meant

 My mother was from the green salvation tribe

She spoke the language of the people of paradise 

And waited for a white pigeon to come and wash

its lovely feathers every morning

in the paradise’s most crystal springs

And the white pigeon read His message to my mother

from a sacred sphere of the Koran

 My mother was from the green salvation tribe

She has such an extended family history

that only the sun can remember it

And the sun told me that when she was born

her father lighted a candle in a leprosy home

to mourn the decline of his tall, straight figure

And the sun told me that my mother with her sacred thumb

turned the pages of her life book

to search the meaning of the word “smile”

Unfortunately she couldn’t memorize the happy meaning

of smile until the last moments of her life

My mother was familiar with crying and could derive

a thousand derivates from “crying”

My mother in a thousand languages had kept the bitter meaning

of crying in the dark memory of her eyes

And my mother’s eyes — mirrors of God’s manifestation —

had an excellent memory

My mother was a stranger to the spring;

her life was like a trail of ants

that passed from the grand rock of misfortune

stricken every season by dark clouds of malice and insult

And everyday my mother would pick up from there 

bundles and bundles of flowers of misfortune

My mother was patient as a stone

When my father sailed his small emotion boat

on the red shore of fury

my mother would seek refuge on the beach of tolerance

and wipe her tears with the corners of her chador

            and united with God

My father was a strange man

When my father tied his turban of pride around his head

he thought the sun was a white pigeon

which flew off his high shoulders

And he thought he could ration the sunlight for my mother

And he thought the moon was a colorful worry bead 

that he could hang from his horse’ high mane

My father was a strange man

When he called me before him

I felt a disaster was looming a few steps from him

And my words were like frightened sparrows

which left my mouth’s autumn-stricken orchards

And fear was a dirty shirt, which disfigured my real complexion       

When my father called me before him

my speech blood ceased to flow

in the red vessels of my tongue

And at that time my mother’s heart was a bright crystal

flashing freely in the depth of the darkness valley

And my mother watched her destruction in the broken mirrors

of perturbation and waited for an event to occur 

My father was a strange man

When he tied his turban of pride around his head

his small empire would appear before him

within the four walls of our house

And then he would lash freedom, which was me

and life, which was my mother,

and shackled both of us

May her soul rest in peace!

She still thanked God and prayed for my father:

May God keep his shadow over our heads!  


The Red Epitaph

 This palm tree has lost all hope for the spring

This palm tree has hundreds of scars of war

the scars of a thousand tragedies of everyday

            the scars of a thousand calamities of every night

It’s a red epitaph at the crossroad of the century

Here by the river — this river of tear and blood —

the roots of this tree intertwine with

the blind roots of time

            in the chillness of the tragedy

            in the chillness of the blood

Here the sky from the red sterile clouds

has cast this bloody shroud

            on the broken lap of the coffin —

            the coffin of the rain’s mirror

This palm tree has lost all hope for rain

This palm tree has lost all hope for the spring

This palm tree has hundreds of wounds

            by scourges of the polar night winds

Oh my tree! My only tree!

Oh my spring!

Many years have passed since the blossom bird

            left your yellowing branches

How sad I feel

when butterflies are also leaving you! 



 I drank all night

I drank all night

I used so much of my freedom that I ran out of it  

Why should I worry if Afghanistan falls?

Why should I worry if one hot noon

zealots of lash and iron

with their rope of fanaticism hang my brothers?

Why should I worry if the virgin girls of the Hindo Kosh hills

are auctioned off beyond the Gulf’s salt waters

at the vicinity of Mecca —

who knows?–perhaps at Mecca itself.

Let Islam rule over my homeland;

Islam is the supreme law of Muslims

To the zealots, my father and

            your father are not Muslims

even though the poor old men pray five times a day

at the local mosque

My father and your father

            must believe in such a way

that the one-eyed Amir ul-Mumineen can see them

And Osama Bin Ladin is the last Messiah 

My father and your father must believe

Your father and my father must believe

Peshawar, July 2002


 We Are Afraid of Darkness

(To Naimat Husayn)i

My God!

My God!

I am worn-out in your land

I am worn-out in your land

In your land, there is no chance to bloom

In your land, the sun is beheaded behind my house wall

In your land, all windows of expectations

facing sunrise are closed

We are afraid of darkness

We are afraid of darkness

(Leaden Moments of Execution)

April 2001





 All I had

            was a small knapsack

            which I carried from one house to another

One day I lost it

in one of the old city streets

Kabul, 1981


 The Idol-Breaker’s Calendar

The spring is dead and a flock of black vultures

have laid on the sun’s bloody seat

a feast of stars’ bones and skull of the moon

The spring is dead and nobody measures life and light

with the sun’s breaths

And nobody knows that the sun in my land

has grown several centuries old

in three hundred sixty-five days

Spring is dead and nobody knows

who from the devil party fired the first bullet

during the execution rite of the sun

Spring is dead and the ashamed mourning multitudes

in the blue seclusion of Nirvana

heard only the sound of a blast

that blew apart the history’s millennia-old mind

The spring was dead when the “Islamic Gateway”

was auctioning pieces of our torn body

at the crossroads of conspiracy

at the crossroads of the “Idol-Breaker’s Calendar”

The centuries-old dead bodies died

several thousand times in their old graveyards

And the centuries-old dead bodies

died of shame several thousand times again

in the old graveyards

When the “Islamic Gateway” on

the broken faces of Kabul walls

inscribed in bold-faced letters:

Congratulations on the Victory

April 2001



Lantern of Apprehension

I hang the lantern of my apprehension

from the ceiling of an old cave

fearing the terror of a savage intruder 

I speak in the language of all birds, flowers, and plants

I cause to flow the spirit of the river

            in my permanent isolation’s vessels 

I make a song from the breeze’s disheveled syllables

            to rhyme with freedom

I hang the lantern of my apprehension

            from the ceilings of ancient caves

I become a bird out of freedom

            whose flight links one edge of the sky to another

And I call love by its real name

And I ask life to tell

what ID it has beyond its nickname

And with what a story

            it goes to sleep when cuddling death

I feel a tremor in my heart

            perhaps a bleeding dear is crashing

            in a desert amid some spreading fear

And why so hastily, as the breathings of the wind,

            I hang the lantern of my apprehension      

            from the ceiling of a cave

            in which death is born for the first time

March 2002



Overwhelming Grief

I beg the wind before it blows away:

Wind, oh dear wind!

From where did you bring this aroma of bread?

For in my house, bread is still an unending tale                                             

The wind is also bringing fear from deserts

where wolves are thirsting for the history’s blood

All this caravan of tulips and green thoughts

with swallows once heralding the spring

— all lost and wandering now  —

is rotting in the depth of its grief

And the ringing sound of the caravan’s bell,

with awful grief, warns:

This disaster, still small, is growing in size

The wind arrives and the orchard —

empty as the palms of an orphan—

keeps its gate closed 

for not having much to offer

Save its colorful banquet cloth, everything else is despoiled:

not a piece of bread on its table cloth

not a blade of grass on its stream’s bank

not a lantern under the canopy of its pine trees

not anything else to offer 

This house is in utter ruins, fluttering, like a disaster flag,

over the dome-tops of the tall pine trees

Bodies of green trees are fallen on the ground

like martyred bodies

as if deceitfully stabbed from behind 

Their branches bearing leaves of destruction with

every leaf from the bud turned to ashes

with their eyes searching for water

The wind is no longer humming behind the door

knowing that for years now – to the woe of the orchard!–

fire has flown from the stream’s recollection

in place of that crystal water


In the Frozen Streets of Eclipse

I passed through winters of a remote land

where an old man from a dark history street

stood everyday on the ancient Zenborak Wall*  

to curse the brilliant civilization of his tribe

Then he would roll up his sleeves

and plant the black poplar of his sermons

by the false stream

I passed through winters of a remote land

            where I saw the sun’s hands

failing to put a coin on a child’s small palm

The sun’s generous hands

were empty of any shining generous coins 

in the frozen streets of eclipse

The sun’s generous hands

was rotting in the night’s dark pockets

I passed through winters of a remote land

            where it was possible to offer bread fragrance

            as a rich perfume gift to the most beautiful city girl

And it was possible to graft the blossom of bread image

            to the perfume of illusion 

in the flower vase of the children’s minds

and look forward for rain.

I passed through winters of a remote land

            where by a bakery I saw a people

counting the coins that the king of poverty

had minted “hunger” on both side

As I returned home at night with a bundle of hunger

            my children understood from my hands’ broken lines

the meaning of geographical nothingness

And they drank water from the pot of thirstiness

And for expectation, they expected a flower bouquet 

            at the crossing point of winds

My children, knowing the culture of hunger,

speak foreign languages

translating the word “bread” from morning to evening

            from the kitchen dictionary into a thousand languages 

My children know

            that “bread has overcome

            the amazing prophetic mission.” **

My children know

            that the destruction alphabet has been written

            on the school’s blackboards with a fire-made chalk

And that the red rain of the disaster

            has flooded the school’s orchard of songs

            with the blossom of silence

My children know

that the school is a monkey unleashed

in the black jungle of guns —

            a despised exile in the island of tanks

I passed through winters of a remote land

            where I heard an old man’s voice   

            flowing in the ruptured vein of every explosion

            inviting death to watch the city

And he still shackles life

            in the lowest level of hell

And stones the spring

            in the green mirror of plants

I recognize his voice

            his voice invites the sinister crows   

            to the high branches of the orchard.

His voice sings a lullaby to the child of light

            in the cradle of dawn

            beheading wakefulness

His voice is a carnivorous plant 

            rooted in history’s stench

I passed through winters of a remote land

            where I learned that no person awake at night

            had ever heard the sun’s coughing

            from the other side of the darkness’ hills

And I know there is nothing in the land

save a swarm of the explosion’s vultures

            biting into the ripped body of the day

And the old village farmer thrashes his harvest

in a circle of nothingness

And hunger is measured by a centurial measurement

which the sun has lighted

the human rights as a golden dome

over the pavilion of its awareness

There is nothing on the earth

where nobody trusts his shadow

And the curve of every street is a passage

            linking the Seven Adventures of Rustem ***

            to the reality of history.

I have come from winters of a remote land

            where my feet recognize

the trail of misery in its every span

What should I say?

The silk skirt of my sentences is short

The “button” of my words is broken

What fabric should I design for the tall figure of my pain?

Kabul, April 1996

*An ancient wall built on the Zenborak Mountain in Kabul city

** An allusion to a line from Farogh Farrokhzad, a famous Iranian poet

*** Rustem is the central hero of Ferdowsi’s epic The Shahnameh (The Book of Kings)


The Other Side of the Purple Waves

On my back, I carry a heavy knapsack

            on perilous trails

I come from a great land, in whose streets

the sun is a common currency

And on the high towers of my land

the torch of freedom is green 

And poplars in the gardens of my land 

            touch the stars of love

I come from a great land, where I am a stranger

            and speak a strange language

I don’t know the language of the gun,

            the red bullets and the blood track

And the columns of smoke, blood and explosion

            collide with the rhythms of my poems 

The rhythms of my poems do not rhyme with

            the metallic syllables of rifles and tanks

The rhythms of my poems come from my vibrant soul

The rhythms of my poems respire

            in the growth of a flower in a pot

            in the dance of a bough in the garden

            in the song of a child in the school

            in the smile of a star in the sky

The rhythms of my poems come from

            the brightness of a light in darkness

            the murmur of a spring in a mountain

            the warbling of a bird in a forest

            the dance of a lily in a stream

I come from a great land, where newspapers

            are printed with the ink of the sun

And in the darkest ages of history, one can turn them

into a light to brighten the orchard’s mind

            to see the flowers of truth.

I come from a great land, where newspapers

            have taken over the realm of lies

Therefore, I long for a night-letter

For long I haven’t seen the great figure of truth

            in its small mirrors

For long I have seen people buying from the stands

            lies in bundles to communicate with lies

            and to drown themselves in lies

For long I have seen many poets sailing their paper boats

on the newspapers’ muddy shores

For long I have seen the guardians of the blank verse

standing on the colorful gray towers of infamous letters

measuring the summer heat of jealousy

With borrowed helmets, they have been striking their swords

at all that is lyrical and

throwing stones at the sublime steeple of couplets

And with an unclean prayer renouncing 

the permanent purity of prayer

For long I have seen one who once swelled his black throat

with the night’s strings echoes

letting his voice ring in the sacred spring of the sun

For long I have seen the city sky losing its moon coin in a mist

And the stars, the sky’s virgins, anointed their eyes

with the sunset salve

And nobody knows where the sun has gone

as if that golden boat has hit a huge black rock

at the far end of the purple waves

and dark specters have carried the coffin of its name

to the broken shore of the south.

The windows’ close-minded night

 is a stranger to the delicate passing of light

And the shy girls sitting by their lanterns

watch the fall figure of the wind

from behind the seven curtains of darkness

And the shy girls sitting by their lanterns wash

their permanent veil of modesty

in the pitch spring water

And the children hang their smile by the silk ribbon of their tresses.

I am going



And in the most inaccessible moments of freedom

I pour on my face a handful of water

from the most distant spring

that flows from the most distant mountain

And I tie my sad lyrics to the wings of white pigeons

and open the sail of my bosom 

in the direction of mountain gusts

until the settled particles of this wild civilization

go away from the thin vessels of my thought.

Here all the birds know that the fall with its yellow lash of bigotry

has silenced the green song of blooming

on the tongues of grass, bushes and trees

And the milk of life is being poisoned

in the white thought in the breast of the green moments.

And the budding babies from the lap of the tree mother

fall on the ground.

Here all the birds know that the tall Lady Spring

in the market places of the jungle

has auctioned its green garb to the fall winds

Oh wind, wind, wind!

When these wild loose horses, with their scruffy manes,

neigh in life’s green valleys

the pain of green branches

fill my troubled mind’s mirrors

The mirrors of my troubled mind

paint the hard concept of the stone.

I am going, going, going and take my life with me —

this dark space of my rented room.

And I know that none in this city

will ever say to another one: May you come back!

I am going, going, going and sailing the boat of my steps

            on the green ocean deserts.

And I give my hands to the tall branches of the garden

so that with the nocturnal prayer of the tree

I may embrace the sky

And I will talk to love in the language of the loneliest flower.

And I will take water to watch the desert and

fly the pigeons of my voice

over the rooftop of the sun’s pigeon tower.

And with the red throat of anemones

I will sing a song for martyrdom and for faith and

for the capture of the mountain, desert, valley, and river

I will saddle the white horses of memory.

I am hearing the roar of the laughter of ruthlessness

            from the wounded throat of the blind streets.

I know misery and breathe loneliness.

Misery is running through my veins,

Misery is my permanent twin brother.

Misery puts on my shoes and walks with my feet.

Misery plays chess with me and

            I have never told him: Shoo!

Misery is in my house

Misery is playing with my only child and steals its bread

Misery has given to me its blind eyes as a gift.

And I see the world with its blind eyes.

Misery is singing its poems from my throat

And writes at the end of each poem:

            “Pertaw Naderi”

I feel homesick for the sun

If perchance you see him

             ask him if someday he can enter my house

with a glowing face from light.

I will sacrifice the black sheep of expectation.

I will no longer care for the benefit of these shady flowers.

For how long should I pound my fists

on the chest of the brutality wall?

For how long should the horizons silver their mirrors

from the blood of my hands?

I feel homesick for the sun.

For a long time every day

            I have been turning the pages of

the dictionary of my life’s moments

And I see the entries have new ID cards and

 they have received permits to live in the land of

            the new meanings and odd concepts.

For example, the red apple means

            the clotting of the red blood cells.

The sun is a Rustem in a dungeon who has passed out

            by guffaws of the demon of death

Life is a repugnant leftover bulging out of the death’s mouth

Democracy rots in the gun’s barrel and it is so great

that it is measured with the expansion

            of a bullet flight.

Luck is a lock on the gate of the magic city

whose key leads one to a great misery

            in the deepest pit of vileness.

I feel homesick for the sun.

I feel homesick for the sun.

I will return to my great land.

I will return to my great land.

I will return to my great land.

Kabul, 1993


The Bloody Mouth of Freedom

I don’t drink wine

my pain is sharper than what the wine can relieve

Simple ordinary reliever

relieve the pain that is light from the start

I was raised on a mountainside whose height

the local farmers use to measure the sunlight’s length

I was raised on a mountainside and drank flasks of stars

and slept on the moon lap

And on the loving wing of the sun

I flapped like a lover across the sky

I have given my soul to the mountains whose foreheads

the moon kisses at night and the sun does at dawn

Torrent of rivers start from the mountains of my land

The mountains of my land withstand the Desert Dusty Storms

to pitch their pavilions on their sunny tops.

The mountains of my land have always conquered history

and guarded freedom

I love my mountain land

with its hungry multitudes

My mountain land is a ferocious wounded lion and

its bloody wounds resemble

the bloody mouth of freedom shouting its great life

Let the driveling fools repeat their surrender in English terms

But as always I have a room in Ferdowsi castle

On whose door is written: “Freedom”

(Peshawar, July 2002)

Biography and Translations by
Dr.Sharif Fayez