Pashtun Women’s Poetry – Erotic Subversion (Part One)

Whatever our views on US involvement in Afghanistan, most of us could agree that the lives of the majority of women in that country are awful and probably aren’t going to get much better, no matter how the conflict ends.   The fact that a major cause of death for women is suicide by burning, setting themselves on fire with kerosene, would seem to tell us all we need to know about the misery of their lives.

These women must be so beat down that even the dream of escape has gone. However, Afghan women, at least Pashtun women,  are tough, and they have a source of joy and solace   – poetry – that allows them a voice, despite their oppressors.  The rebellious poetry of these women is the subject of a wonderful book,   “Songs of Love and War – Afghan Women’s Poetry” by poet and scholar, Sayd Bahodine Majrouh (poems included in this blog are from the book).  The author describes a poetic tradition that springs from a simple, communally composed, two-line poem, the landay, that is often intensely erotic and usually subversive of male power.

Give me your hand, my love, and let us go into the fields,
So we can love each other or fall together beneath the blows of knives.

Last night I was close to my lover, oh evening of love not to return again!
Like a bell, with all my jewels and deep into the night, I was chiming in his arms.

Is there not a single madman in this village?
My pants, the hue of fire, are burning on my thighs.

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