Proverbs and Poems from Afghanistan

AFGHN-10225 Jalalabad 

If literacy rates were measured by a nation’s proverbs and poetry, Afghanistan would be one of the most literate countries on earth.  These two forms of the oral tradition have been embraced for centuries and reveal the heart and soul of the Afghan people.


Proverbs are part of every culture and have been for thousands of years.  Francis Bacon said that the wit, genius, and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs.  Here are some common Afghan proverbs which provide unique insights into the ancient culture.


There is a path to even the tallest mountain.

AFGHN-10010NFHindu Kush Mountains 

The mountains are our people.

AFGHN-12819 The harsh land is integral to this nomadic herder culture with deep roots in high pastures. “Koh-o mar-domon moya,” a saying goes: “The mountains are our people.” Qala-e Sabzi.

A warm fire is better than a delicious meal.

AFGHN-10124-(1)Refugees return to their bombed out neighborhood in Herat

If there is only bread and onions, still have a happy face.


In a ditch where water has flowed, it will flow again.

AFGHN-12258Irrigation channel, Kandahar 

Many drops make a river.

AFGHN-10064NFBetween Sarobi and Kabul 

A real friend is one who takes the hand of his friend in times of distress and helplessness.



Not even the five fingers of our hands are alike.

AFGHN-10090Textile Dyer, Kabul

There is blessing in action.

AFGHN-10146Bakery run by Afghan widows

AFGHN-12998Brick Workers, Bamiyan Province

First a friend then a brother.



In Afghanistan, the tradition of poetry writing and recitation dates back a thousand years.  To lend credibility to an argument, the preface,  “The poet says…”   denies the listener the opportunity to disagree.  Although many do not read or write, they can recite long passages of both classic and modern poetry.


If leadership rests inside the lion’s jaw,
So be it. Go snatch it from his jaws.
Your lot shall be greatness, prestige, honor and glory.
If all fails, face death like a man.

Hanzala of Badghis – 9th century poet

Wounded Afghan fighter outside of Jalalabad


Ah! How beautiful is Kabul encircled by her arid mountains
And Rose, of the trails of thorns she envies
Her gusts of powdered soil, slightly sting my eyes
But I love her,  for knowing and loving are born of this same dust

My song exhalts her dazzling tulips
And at the beauty of her trees, I blush
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-I-Mastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose the path to Kabul in order to reach Paradise
For her mountains brought him close to the delights of heaven
From the fort with sprawling walls, A Dragon of protection
Each stone is there more precious than the treasure of Shayagan

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye
Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs

And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls …

 – Saib-e-Tabrizi, 17th century poet 


AFGHN-10130 Nomads at prayer at sunrise


The earth opens her warm arms
to embrace me
The earth is my mother
She understands the sorrow
of my wandering

My wandering
is an old crow
that conquers
the very top of an aspen
a thousand times a day

Perhaps life is a crow
that each dawn
dips its blackened beak
in the holy well of the sun

Perhaps life is the grief-stricken earth
who has opened up her bloodied arms to me

And here I give thanks
on the brink of ‘victory’

–  Partaw Naderi

July, 2002 

62 Responses to “Proverbs and Poems from Afghanistan”

  1. this is really cool and make me cry for all my lovely afghan people

  2. His photography is feast for the eyes and greatest lesson for people devoted to photography. We will all do well by worshipping his work. Proverbs have added moe=re ornaments.

  3. Pulau Karimunjawa

    Proverbs and Poems from Afghanistan | Steve McCurry’s Blog

  4. it makes me cry when i see afghanistan

  5. You have done an excellent job Steve! Thank you so much for sharing. You have stood with the powerless; Afghan nation. Afghanistan as you said, is one of the most ancient countries in the world. In fact, it’s a world heritage and it’s sad that media has given a bad reputation to this beautiful country. Once again, I admire your work and wish you all the very best!:). I do hope that soon Afghanistan will be peaceful and stable enough so that people can go there and visit the country in person.

    Best,.. Tariq

  6. […] Only the inimitable great photographer Steve McCurry can make us see beauty where others see poverty…, and intertwine poetry and proverbs to give us a glimpse of what I, at least, see as an enigma: […]

  7. great post thanks Fun…

    […]Proverbs and Poems from Afghanistan « Steve McCurry's Blog[…]…

  8. I am someone that would like to use some of you work to make some poems from my heart, and not from your words. Hopefully you can let me do it. i admire your work and Hopefully i will be able to find more of your work one day.

    Thank You

  9. some good proverbs from Afghanistan

  10. zabiullah Says:

    beautiful work.

  11. apple…

    […]Proverbs and Poems from Afghanistan « Steve McCurry's Blog[…]…

  12. Thank you Steve!
    It always really hurts me to see that people from all over the world know very very little about us and about our culture.
    I have always been trying to educate people about Afghans and Afghanistan, I want them to know that we are not terrorists or extremists we are human after all, every human can not be perfect and so is it with Afghans.

    • Cynthia Carter Says:

      I understand. And my heart is filled with sorrow for your people and your country.

  13. changing our vision…looking at a different angle…new perspective….GREAT !

  14. Hello,
    I’m a student at Clark University and have taken a couple classes with a Mr. Frank Armstrong, who sends me links to your blog. I must say that each time I visit, I feel overwhelmed in the best way possible. Your work is phenomenal.

  15. Your work is admirable!

  16. Great collection!

  17. Amazing pictures and blog, keep it up!!!

  18. varun chopra Says:


  19. Good lord those are gorgeous photos. It’s always an amazing visit to your blog! Thank you. Have a beautiful weekend.

  20. I always leave here awestruck and amazed at your artistry! Such exquisite use of light!

  21. Ekaterina (Russia, Yekaterinburg) Says:

    Not just pictures… it’s people,country, history.
    Steve, thanks a lot for this feeling i have inside after looking.

  22. Excellent images as always. Your blog kind of teaches me how to think and how to photograph, always.

    On a lighter note a friend of mine and I was wondering, while out in the streets at noon, what do you do from 11 am to 3 pm! Do you at all take out the camera?

    Thanks for sharing all the wonderful photos.

  23. Wonderful pictures from Afghanistan!!! Wish to go there ont day.

  24. I think this is one of the best posts I have read in recent months. I love each of your shots, intense & soulful. This country is so beautiful. Have you spent many years there?

  25. Hello Steve,
    No word for your work. I love it. I ll go there in few monthes for my first time, if you have some informations for me….it ll be great.
    Thank you!

  26. Says:

    Afghanistan is indeed very beautiful, especially through your lens!

  27. Fantastic pictures!
    You are truly on of my favorite photographer and these pictures just kept on convincing me of that!

  28. Fantastic pictures, would love to seee Afganistan, sadly, probably not a good place for a woman photographer at the moment.

    • Fareedoone Aryan Says:

      there are a whole lot of opportunities if you wish to come to my country, get in touch and we can arrange some thing

      • Shukriya, but I think I might wait till there is peace! From what I have learnt Afganistan was a beautiful country, hope , inshalla it will one day soon.

  29. mind blowing pictures steve..

  30. Anonymous Says:

    wonderful, thanks for sharing

  31. K. Agung Patriadi Says:

    Great, Beautiful!

  32. You, who see beauty in the world, are one of the best good will ambassodors around. I think your blog should be required viewing in school, and on all those so filled with hate.

  33. i am very happy and should thanks from the whom create the blog and show the afghan culture .

  34. I am an art student, taking a photography class, and in my research for an essay I happened to stumble upon your website, and now your blog. With the poetry, quotes, and photographs of the beautiful yet many times unseen pieces of our world I am in awe of, truly in awe of your work, and ability to convey so much in one single photograph, a snap in time but at the same time, a story of the ages. I would only hope, that one day I could bring such a feeling to any human being. thank you greatly for this experience.

  35. I had never seen a yellow burka ! Is beautiful and the blue background makes it an incredible picture !

  36. Khalid Rahim Says:

    Did you know that Jalaledin Rumi migrated from Afghanistan to Turkey
    and Sufism birth home is here.
    Steve can you explain to your nation with photojournalism the code of Pashtuns ”Pashtunwali” and our Jirga system and our Hujra and we Pashtuns want our lives back. Our outlook is not narrow as propagated by western media and we still sing and dance on happy occasions.

  37. […]  Jalalabad     If literacy rates were measured by a nation's proverbs and poetry, Afghanistan would be one of the most literate countries on earth.  These two forms of the oral tradition have been embraced for centuries and reveal the heart and soul of the Afghan people.    PROVERBS are part of every culture and have been for thousands of years.  Francis Bacon said that the wit, genius, and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs.  Here … Read More […]

  38. Fabulous images and proverbs.

  39. […] Saib-e-Tabrizi. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. via […]

  40. […] Naderi, Poems, Proverbs, Saib-e-Tabrizi. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. via […]

  41. Beautiful images and proverbs, Steve. A pity that in a country capable of generating this culture violence rules.

  42. Anther amazing composition… Thanks for sharing…

    Meanwhile want to share a news that, Homai Vyarawalla (Born 1913) India’s first woman photojournalist, won second highest civilian award Padma Vibhushan By Govt of India this year. It took her 98 years to get recognition and honor she deserves. Once she gets so frustrated that she burnt all her negatives.

    I am not sure how happy others photographer around world are?

  43. No more words for this unique set of words & photos…

  44. Margaret Mair Says:

    I want to say thank you for the whole, but in particular for the second-to-last photograph, so rich and so enigmatic that it touches me with wonder.

  45. great .. simply amazing.. your every image is a classic poetry.

  46. I love the poems!!! Thanks for sharing to the world!!!! I think the Afghans have fascinating culture!!!

  47. thank you, this is precious!

  48. […] have been embraced for centuries and reveal the heart and soul of … Original post: Proverbs and Poems from Afghanistan « Steve McCurry's Blog Share and […]

  49. Steve, thank you for sharing this insight into Afghan culture. It adds so much depth and meaning to our perception of this intriguing country. Humanity longs for free expression and your images poignantly illustrate the beauty of these universal words of wisdom.

  50. Partha Sengupta Says:

    Brilliant images and an wonderful information.

  51. Thank you for this lovely glimpse into such an ancient culture.

  52. Lita Husin Says:

    Brilliant !

  53. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PhotojournSG, Booom and photo feeds, maracajah. maracajah said: Proverbs and Poems from Afghanistan:  Jalalabad     If literacy rates were measured by a nation’s proverbs and … […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 37,259 other followers

%d bloggers like this: