To Catch Butterflies by Noshi Gillani

Featuring: Noshi Gillani, Nukhbah Langah, Lavinia Greenlaw


Preparing the literal translations of Noshi's poems was a real challenge for me. This is not simply due to the fact that she is writing in Urdu, but her choice of complex imagery and ideas made translating her poems into English extremely difficult. In addition, the brevity of her poems embodied the intensity of her emotions, and this was one of the qualities of her poetry that I definitely wanted to translate into English.

There are many other poems which reflect Noshi's passion for playing with paradoxical symbolism and creating ambiguities. For instance, the poem ‘The Breeze Rewrites' combines the obscure invisibility of the breeze with its power to write whatever she desires to write. In this poem, the breeze can be observed as the personification of the poet who feels as free as the breeze when she starts writing poetry. Most of the poems express love/hate, imprisonment/freedom, real/imaginative binaries. I find this aspect of her poems is the most difficult to  translate into English and I struggled hard to find the appropriate words to convey these conflicting ideas.

Another aspect of Noshi's poems that I found particularly difficult to translate was following her rhyme scheme. Most of the poems are written in free verse but the ones which had rhyming words at the end of the couplets were virtually impossible to be replaced by rhyming words in English.

In the end, after going through various stages of working on these translations, it was a very rewarding experience for me. Despite knowing both Urdu and English languages proficiently, I discovered the musicality and complexity of both these languages which we perhaps overlook in our everyday spoken and written experiences. This experience also deepened my love for poetry as the most appealing form of creative expression and my interest in translation as a way of creating a bridge between cultures.   

Extracted from Translating Noshi Gillani by Nukhbah Langah


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