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Neither Lions Nor Foxes

by Khalilullah Khalili (1908–1987)



How long

will you persist sword and dagger?

How long

with artifice and cunning?

One is fit for lions,

the other for foxes.

So:

Be fully human and free from both.



Poetry is prized in Afghanistan. Khalili’s work lives in the classical Persian tradition of Rumi. While a few Afghans learn the Holy Qur’an by heart in Arabic, favorite verses of Rumi, Hafez, and others are memorized much more widely and passed down through the generations. Sound is paramount with an emphasis on metre and rhyme impossible to capture in translation. When on 5 September 1963 Khalili recited Neither Lions Nor Foxes at the Kennedy White House, he did so in Persian with an English gloss.

This rendering comes from An Assembly of Moths, a 2003 volume of translations into English by the poet’s son Masood Khalili and collaborator Whitney Azoy.

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