A sampling of Masood’s recently translated poems illustrated with drawings made by his wife, Sohailah Khalili, along with selected classical Persian calligraphy and other ornamentation.
Excerpts from translator Robert Darr’s introduction to Masood Khalili’s poetry
Near the beginning of the Masnavi, Rumi writes, “Loving, whether from this earthly side or from that divine side, ultimately guides us to that divine side.” Rumi does not equate these two kinds of loving but he does see them as fundamentally related to each other. Most of the great Sufi poets have, over many centuries, expressed similar sentiments. The wonderful thing about this perspective is that it has instilled the notion throughout the Persian-speaking world that passionate human love can be a form of worship and a path to God. Persian lyrical poetry has, especially in the style known as the ghazal, deliberately cultivated a language of romantic ambiguity intended to dissolve the strict separation between human and divine love. Moreover, the lexicon of human love provided the Sufi poets with a symbolic, mystical vocabulary.
Like waves rising and falling back into the ocean, Masood Khalili’s love poems repeatedly seek the Beloved’s attention and companionship, and complain about the suffering endured because of separation. Rumi writes that, “The lover’s ailment is separate from other ailments. Love is the astrolabe of the secrets of God.”
Masood was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1950. He grew up in a family steeped in poetry. His father, Ustad Khalili, was Afghanistan’s poet laureate, a prolific writer who favored the classical Khorasani literary style that had originated a thousand years earlier. Ustad Khalili was also a statesman who spent much of his life as Afghanistan’s ambassador to various countries, mostly in the Middle East. Masood inherited his father’s passion for literature and dedication to serving his country. Quite a number of Masood’s quatrains and ghazals are about treachery, brutality, and sorrow, the legacy of decades of war in Afghanistan. At a young age, Masood was exposed to the classical poetry of the Khorasani masters, Ansari, Sana’i, Attar, Rumi, and Bedil. In his ghazals we can also detect the influence of two of the most famous Shirazi Persian poets, Hafez and Sa’adi. His own poetry continues in the classical tradition, even as he contemplates the realities of today’s world. Dozens of Masood’s poems in this collection reveal a humane approach to the cultivation of a realistic spirituality for today’s world. His poems celebrate the acceptance of both joy and sorrow, despair and hope. He advocates the integration of life’s struggles with the cultivation of serenity. Masood’s humanitarianism can be loudly heard in his many poems that rail against injustice, and those which plead for the humane treatment of all people.
Regarding the Translations
Literary translations should, more or less, accommodate the tastes and conventions of the receiving language and culture. For this reason, I have translated Masood Khalili’s poetry into English as free verse, rather than trying to approximate the standard rhymes of classical Persian poetry. Had I kept more closely to the rhyming verse of Masood’s ghazals, his poem “The Rose of Hope” would have been translated as follows:
The Bed of the Embrace and the rest of the poems were translated in free verse.
More of Masood’s poems:
Below are some of Masood’s quatrains:
All Poems Copyrighted by Masood Khalili, 2021
Singing the Poems
The Afghan people love poetry and music. The lyrics of a great many Afghan songs are derived from the poetry of the classical masters. It is also not uncommon for modern Afghan poets to have their lyrics sung. A fine example of the latter can be heard in Naim Popal’s O Tears!, based on a poem by Masood Khalili.
The following poem by Masood, Desire To See Your Face, is sung by Hedayat Mahmood
Desire to see your face
مگر صبا گذری كرده ، خاك ِ كُوي ترا؟
كه دشت و دامنِ صحرا ، گرفته بوی ترا
Did perhaps the dawn breeze pass over the dust of your alleyway
so that the desert plains and foothills would catch your fragrance?
مگر به آهوی ِ صحرا ، چه مژده یی دادی؟
كه داده وعده به مجنون، گلاب ِ روی ترا
What good news was it that you perchance gave the desert gazelle,
who passed to Majnun the promise of seeing the rosewater of your face?
بيامدم به در ِ خانه ات ، هزاران بار
ولی چه سود ؟ نديدم رخ نکوی ترا
I came to the door of your home thousands of times
but for what gain? I did not see your lovely cheek.
برای آن که ، به میخانه ها ، رود خوبان
خدای كرد عنايت ، میِ سبوى ترا
For those fair ones who frequent the wine-houses,
God bestowed his grace, it was the wine of your cup.
چو از علاجِ مريضان ، بماند مات ، طبيب
بداد نسخه به ایشان ، شمیم موی ترا
While treating the afflicted the doctor became confounded;
He gave them the prescription; It was the perfume of your hair!
برای عفوِ گنهکار و مست و ساقی ِ شهر
بهانه کرد خدا ، زلف مشکبوی ترا
So as to forgive the sinner, the drunkard, and the city’s wine-mistress,
God’s excuse came that it was all because of your musk-scented curls.
اگر بیایی و ، خواهی چه آرزو دارم
به پایت اُفتم و گویم که آرزوی ترا
If you were to come ask me what I most dearly want,
I would fall at your feet and say that my desire is you!
Another of Masood Khalili’s poems, The Cage of Love, performed by Hedayat Mahmood:
« قفس عشق »
The Cage of Love
همچو من , هیچ دلی , بستر ِ فریاد , مباد /
هیچکس , سوخته ی آتش ِ بیداد , مباد
May no heart be veiled in lamentation as I am;
May no one be held so in the fire of injustice.
نیمه شب , تا به سحر , ناله و زاری کردم
که دلم , از قفس ِ عشق ِ وی , آزاد مباد
From midnight to dawn I moaned and cried out;
Let not my heart be freed from the cage of loving Her.
سیل ، اگر خانه ی شاهی بِبَرد ، غم مخورید
خانه ی بیوه زنی ، در دم ِ تند باد ، مباد
Should a flood carry away the king’s house, don’t grieve;
May the widow’s home not be exposed to hurricane winds.
بوم ِ منحوس ، اگر صید شود ، باکی نیست
باز ِشاهین نسبی ، در یَد ِ صیاد ، مباد.
If the wretched owl falls prey, no great concern,
but let not the royal hawk be taken by the hunter.
دوش دیدم پدر ِ پیر، به حسرت میگفت /
هیچکس ، دستخوش ِ آدم ِ کمزاد ، مباد
Last night I saw the aged father; Full of regret he said:
Let no one be under the command of an unworthy man.
ساقیا باده بیاور ، بطلب از یزدان
که خزان ، بر سر ِآن سرو ِ چو شمشاد مباد .
O Beloved, bring wine for the seeking of God!
May not autumn reach that cypress of graceful stature.
داغ ِ فرزند دهد ، هستی مادر بر باد
هیچ مادر ، به غم و ماتم ِ اولاد مباد.
By the scars of her children a mother’s life is upended;
Let no mother sorrow and mourn over her dear children!
Singing the poems in English
Maha Ayoub sings her beautiful version of Masood Khalili’s poem, My Oh My!
The following lovely rendition of the same poem My Oh My was composed and sung by San Francisco musician, George Grim.
Robert Darr’s American Folk version of the same poem can be found at:
The poem put to music:
My Oh My! How Very Lovely You Are!
O my poem, O my wine! My oh my, how very lovely you are!
Raise the wine glass, raise it; Oh, how very graceful you are!
In your eyes the sunset glows, in love you’re preeminent by far;
In the school of radiant beauties, my oh my, how unique you are!
O lover, you’re the meadow’s cypress, fragrant as jessamine!
O lover with a mouth so sweet! My oh my, how loving you are!
Your dwelling is in the desert, in your breast is lamentation;
Like the deer in love’s desert, my oh my, what seduction!
In separation’s midnight without your lovely scent, O my soul,
I remain and you are alone; My oh my, how I dream of you!
Should the goblet be broken, we are not concerned;
You’re the cup and the jar, the glass and the goblet!
I’m the passionate lover of your eyes, I am he slain by your lashes!
I’m your servant, your doorman; My oh my, how very lovely you are!
« ای وای چه زیبایی »
ای شعر و شراب من ، ایوای چه زیبایی
بردار قدح بردار ، ایوای چه رعنایی
در دیده شفق داری ، از عشق سبق داری
در مکتب مهرویان ، ای وای چه یکتایی
سرو چمنی ای یار ، همچون سمني اي یار
شیرین دهنی ای یار ، ای وای چه شیدایی
در دشت مکان داری ، در سینه فغان داری
چون آهویی دشت عشق ، ای وای چه شهلایی
در نیمه شب هجران ، بی بوی خوشت ای جان
من ماندم و تنهايي ، ای وای چه رؤیایی
بشکست اگر مینا ، باکی نبود مارا
هم جام و سبویی تو , هم ساغر و مینایی
من عاشق چشمانت ، من کشته ی مژگانت
من چاكر و دربانت ، اى واى چه زيبايي
The following poem by Masood is sung by Mir Wais Yousufzai
Masood recites a sad poem about springtime composed by his late father, Ustad Khalili
The video below features Masood Khalili, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Spain, addressing a large audience in about 2010. His remarks concern a cultural exchange program in which Afghan children had been studying The Little Prince, a children’s book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. During his talk, Masood quotes a famous Sufi poem: Baz Aa! Baz Aa! Har aan cheh hasti, Baz Aa!……………….