Dr. Sharif Fayez

Big Picture, Small Mirror - Poetry & Biography of Partaw Naderi


Partaw Naderi, 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. Naderi 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, Naderi 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,

  • A Lock on the Gate of Ashes   

  • The Big Picture, The Small Mirror

  • The Other Side of the Purple Waves

  • The Bloody Mouth of Freedom


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 Naderi’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, Naderi presents a sentimental, but true, picture of the motherly side of the Afghan society often ignored in many books and studies on Afghanistan.


Big Picture, Small Mirror


Translated from Persian by Dr. Sharif Fayez


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 every day 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 every day 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!  


Kabul, October 1991

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