Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies VoI. III, No.1, Fall 1979, pp. 60-77. This is the first academic article I ever wrote, and I'd like to thank my teacher, C. M. Naim, for his advice and help with it; in particular, he pointed me toward the 'Andalib Shadani material. I was too inexperienced then to realize that I could just thank him in a footnote.

Convention in the Classical Urdu Ghazal:
The Case of Mir

Frances W. Pritchett

   Mir Muhammad Taqi 'Mir' (1724-1810) is a recognized master of the Urdu ghazal, and in Three Mughal Poets, we are fortunate to have a lucid and detailed introduction to his work. This introduction is doubly valuable because the ghazal itself is a genre almost unknown to Western readers; its complexity and compression have long been the despair of translators. The authors of Three Mughal Poets, Ralph Russell and Khurshidul Islam, have thus been careful to provide a context within which Mir's ghazals can be understood and enjoyed by the nonspecialist reader. From the authors' preface, it appears that the chapters on Mir are chiefly Russell's work--including the important chapter "The Love Poetry of Mir," which provides an interpretive context for Mir's romantic ghazals (Rxxii)./1/

    This interpretive context Russell finds in "Mir's love story," which he describes as "a tragedy" (R98). Russell's account of this love story is drawn--exclusively, it appears--from two of Mir's masnavis (long narrative poems rhymed in couplets). These two masnavis, Mu'amlat-e 'ishq (which Russell translates as "The Stages of Love")  and Khwab o khyal-e Mir ("Mir's Vision"), are written in the first person. The former describes a passionate love affair, ending in separation, between the narrator and a married woman who is apparently related to him; while the latter describes an attack of madness suffered by the narrator, characterized by his obsession with the face of a beautiful woman which he sees in the moon (R96-98).

    Now it is always hazardous to take a work of art, simply because it is [61] written in the first person, as an accurate account of its author's life. The narrator may be an invented persona, or the author may have reshaped the events of his own life for any of a number of (artistic or other) reasons. Caution is especially necessary in dealing with a poem like Mu'amlat-e 'ishq, which, as Russell himself acknowledges, "was written long after the events it describes," and "does not tell the whole story" (R96). Russell assumes, however, that the masnavi is basically an account of an early love affair ofMir's and that it "recalls and describes in a series of pictures those episodes which remained especially vivid in Mir's memory" (R96). The other masnavi, Khwab o khyal-e Mir, Russell takes as describing the aftermath of this love affair, in which Mir's outraged family "persecuted him so bitterly that they drove him mad" (R97). Some independent evidence does exist of an estrangement between Mir and his relatives, followed by his temporary breakdown or "madness," although in his autobiography he is "discreetly silent" about the cause of his relatives' hostility./2/ For the sake of argument, therefore, let us assume that the two masnavis may be somewhat autobiographical and consider the use to which Russell puts them.

    Relying on these masnavis, Russell makes no further attempt to examine the facts of Mir's life. Rather, he uses Mu'amlat-e 'ishq as though it were a specific instance of a general, archetypal pattern--a pattern which he proceeds to describe in great detail. This pattern is a kind of ideal of an eighteenth-century North Indian Muslim love affair. Its source is unclear, but it seems to be an abstraction made by Russell himself from a combination of Mu'amlat-e 'ishq and his own historical and sociological knowledge about the period. The central characters are an archetypal "boy who falls passionately in love for the first time in his life" and his beloved, a girl constrained by "the conditions of parda society" (R117). The boy's love at first sight, the girl's fearful hesitancy and "calculated cruelty" (R121) toward him, the stresses and strains they undergo in reaching "a stage where love has at length triumphed over every difficulty" (R130), the pain with which he "sees her love for him dying out" (R139), and finally his refined "spiritual exaltation," which results from having "by constant self-discipline passed all the tests of love" (R156)--all these stages are carefully described and integrated into a logical progression. As for the girl, Russell even feels able to identify "in the character of Fancy Day [of Thomas Hardy's Under the Greenwood Tree] a girl who resembles in many ways the heroine of the Urdu ghazal" (R 134).

    [62] The plausibility of this ideal-typical love of "the boy" and "the girl" is reinforced by some of Mir's finest couplets, which Russell has arranged and interpreted to correspond to the stages of the love affair. The whole effect is coherent and elegant, well suited to win new Western admirers for Mir's art. Russell's interpretive goals also require him to claim a high degree of sociological accuracy for his model and to maintain, for example, that the boy's falling in love at first sight was "the normal inception of love in the real-life conditions of his day" (R109). For Russell intends to recreate, for our benefit, the social context that he feels was used by the original audience in understanding ghazal poetry: "'The poet assumes in his reader precisely what the modern reader does not possess--a full knowledge of all the situations of love to which the social conditions of Mughal India gave rise" (R106-7).

    Russell's portrait of Mir as an archetypal, ideally faithful lover does not, however, stand unchallenged. For to Russell's Mir, who "has by constant self-discipline passed all the tests of love" (R 156), whose devotion is such that he can "love, for as long as he lives, a woman whom he expects never to see again" (R157), must be juxtaposed 'Andalib Shadani's Mir--who seems to be a different person entirely. In a long article called "Mir sahib ka ek khas rang" ("A Special Mood of Mir's"), Shadani calls attention to a much-neglected side of Mir's poetry: "If anyone undertakes a thorough inquiry into the works of Mir, without being influenced by the opinions of others, he will certainly arrive at the conclusion that Mir's poetic subject is 'the love of beardless youths' " (S136)./3/ Shadani finds this tendency both pervasive and characteristic: "Mir is absolutely unique in this quality. You will not find 'the lads of Delhi' in such abundance anywhere else" (S137). According to Shadani, this pederastic theme has remained unnoticed because the size of Mir's huge divan (collected works)--which includes more than 14,000 couplets--has encouraged editors to omit verses that did not suit their own preferred image of Mir (S137-38).

    Although he introduces some anecdotal material (S139, 168-69), Shadani's primary source is Mir's own ghazals, and here his approach is quite different from Russell's. Although he feels that "the greater part of Mir's writing deserves to be called 'pederastic' " (S138), he generally restricts his examples to instances in which the sex and age of the [63] beloved are indisputably clear from the verse itself. Russell's examples, by contrast, are mostly couplets in which the sex and condition of the beloved are impossible to determine from the actual words of the verse. (As we have seen, Russell simply appropriates Mir's couplets to give substance to the "love story" he has derived from other sources.)

    By thus drawing upon Mir's explicitly pederastic verses, Shadani is able to marshal a formidable amount of evidence. He shows that in depicting "the lads of Delhi," Mir emphasizes their attractiveness and appealing ways. Mir describes their pastimes: they fly kites, play ball, straddle wooden sticks as "horses" (S145-46). If their admirers write them letters, they mischievously fold them into paper airplanes (S146). They dress in deliberately provocative style; many let their hair hang charmingly loose, while others affect irresistible turbans (S147-49). Mir portrays these boys as coquettish, proud, exploitative, cruel, fickle, and quite heartless toward their lovers (S150-59) , and he portrays himself repeatedly as the helpless victim of.their charms:

When I had some wealth, even then I spent it on boys--
And now that I wander as a mendicant, Mir, it is thanks to them.

Evil days have come to me through friendship with boys;
My father often used to warn of this day.

Was it a disaster that I gave my heart to boys?
In the city all, old and young, are discussing it./4/
Shadani concludes his argument with an enumeration of no less than thirty-two epithets used by Mir to identify boys of different castes and classes: sons of Sayyid, gardener, soldier, Brahman, perfumer, judge, washerman, etc., are all admired in specific couplets (S170-75). He thus demonstrates the quantity--if not quality--and explicitness of Mir's pederastic verse.

    Shadani argues that Mir probably experienced such love in his own life and might in fact have been attracted to his close friend, the strikingly handsome poet Taban, who was himself a lover of boys (S139). But his evidence is anecdotal and inconclusive (S168-69); it is supplemented by the sociological analysis contained in his two Urdu critical articles: "The Effect of Persian Pederasty on Urdu Poetry"/5/ and [64] "Persian Ghazal and the Cruelty of the Beloved."/6/ This analysis is summarized in his discussion of Mir (S142). Briefly, he argues that pederasty was widely practiced in medieval Persia and that poems were accordingly addressed to the beloved as a youth. Such love, however, is inherently one-sided. "The qualities of loveliness of a 'delicate boy' may be a cause of infatuation to a poet. But where are those qualities of youthfulness in the poet, which could excite feelings of love in his beloved? Therefore, on the beloved's side, indifference will necessarily be shown" (S142), and such indifference will in turn give rise to every kind of rejection, cruelty, abuse, and exploitation by the beloved youth. For since the boy does not sexually desire the lover, if he has.any use for him at all it must be as a means to some other end. Given the fundamental asymmetry of the relationship, who can blame the boy? (S159). Shadani maintains that poetry written by the exploited, disdained lovers of such boys set the pattern for the classical Persian ghazal. Then this pattern--perhaps along with the fashion of pederasty--passed into Urdu through Persian influence.

    What conclusions can be drawn from such directly contradictory images of Mir? Was he bisexual? Was he a fickle or promiscuous lover? Russell acknowledges the problem in a long footnote:

We have throughout this chapter written on the assumption that the beloved of Mir's ghazals is, like his mistress in The Stages of Love, the typical woman of parda society. The Stages of Love is itself substantial evidence for the view that for Mir's ghazals this assumption is probably justified. But in parda also found outlets in homosexual love and in resort to a class of cultured courtesans. Thus boys and courtesans, as well as respectable parda women, appear in the Urdu ghazal in the role of the beloved. In most verses the expression is too generalized for the class or sex of the beloved to be identifiable....Nor is the concept of constancy a, so to speak, monogamous one. Constancy to one's beloved meant complete submission to her or his will: it did not necessarily imply that a man might not have more than one beloved. Mir, like most of the cultivated men of his day, must have mixed freely and intimately with courtesans. In the passage quoted on p. 35 above, the "beautiful women...whose long tresses held me their captive" can surely only have been courtesans (Rl09).
Thus, Russell recognizes that "boys and courtesans, as well as respectable parda women, appear in the Urdu ghazal in the role of the beloved." He seems reluctant, however, to apply this general observation to Mir, and confines himself to noting a single reference to [65] courtesans--which does not even occur in a ghazal (R35; 10n). He hastens to defend Mir from any charge of unfaithfulness by advancing a notion of constancy that seems idiosyncratic, to say the least: "Constancy to one's beloved meant complete submission to her or his will: it did not necessarily imply that a man might not have more than one beloved." He is driven to such uncomfortable maneuvers by his determination to make Mir's ghazals accord with "the tragic story of his own love affair" (R96) as Russell has constructed it.

    Both Russell's and Shadani's views thus attempt to account for Mir's poetry by putting it in a biographical and sociological context. Russell's Mir addresses most of his poetry to a parda-confined beloved because he really loves such a woman, and his affair with her is entirely typical of the "real-life" love affairs of his place and time. Shadani's Mir addresses most of his poetry to "beardless boys" because he is really attracted to such boys and because ghazals typically express the real-life love experiences of lovers of boys.

    Such contradictory visions of Mir's life and times arise from the effort to extract from Mir's ghazals information that they simply do not contain. Certainly there are Urdu poets whose work cannot be understood without reference to the age in which they lived: Akbar Allahabadi, for example, uses fashionable English words to give his verses their sarcastic bite. But Mir is a poet in the true classical vein, an inheritor of the tradition Annemarie Schimmel describes in her perceptive introduction to Three Mughal Poets:

The ideal of the Persian poets, especially of the ghazal writers, was not to sing their personal feelings and ideas in a new and very individualistic form...or to pour out their hearts in what we used to call Erlebnislyrik, but rather to express their feelings according to certain established intellectual structures....One may also compare the poet in classical style to the painter of miniatures or the calligraphy artist, who creates according to an accepted pattern of lines and colours, and yet seeks, by means of a slight movement of his brush or his pen, to give the whole picture a personal and new touch, even if he paints Majnun in the wilderness for the hundredth time (Rviii).
At the heart of these "established intellectual structures," Schimmel singles out one fundamental theme: "The suffering lover is one of the central themes and perhaps the one central subject of Persian, Turkish, and Urdu poetry" (Rx). Schimmel's emphasis on the theme of "the suffering lover" suggests an approach to classical ghazal poetry--including Mir's--very different from the one used by Russell and [66] Shadani, but before adopting such an approach, we must explore the importance of the "suffering lover" theme in ghazal history and convention.

    The theme of the "suffering lover" is prominent not only in Persian, Turkish, and Urdu poetry but in Arabic poetry as well. It can be traced back to the earliest period of Islam--and perhaps further, according to von Grunebaum./7/ As early as the seventh century, Madinian ghazal was well known for its depiction of "an idealizing, languishing, and hopeless love."/8/ The most famous ghazal poet of the Madinian school, ]amil (d. 701), was from the tribe of 'Udhra, and the Madinian ghazal itself came to be called "'Udhri." H. A. R. Gibb describes its rapid success: "From the moment of its creation, it achieved a great and growing popularity; Jamil was followed by a host of 'martyrs of love,' real or fictitious, whose woes and tears were destined to furnish themes to poets in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish for a thousand years."/9/

    A. Kh. Kinany sees such 'Udhri love as offering its adherents "a compromise between their human instincts and their puritanical religion; they understood it as a love which could reach the divine without abandoning the human."/10/ The definitive traits of 'Udhri love were "intensity, despair, chastity, and faithfulness"; frequently, it also involved "religious resignation, humility (on the part of the lover) and cruelty (on the part of the beloved)."/11/ 'Udhri lovers "suffered indeed tremendously from all the pangs of unrequited love" and deliberately courted such suffering as a self-chosen form of martyrdom: to them pain was "the only genuine criterion of true love."/12/ As the literary cult of the suffering lover developed, the portrayal of the pains of love grew more detailed and exaggerated--to the point that sometimes "the reader cannot help wondering whether the self-conscious lover is enamored of his alleged beloved or of his own luxuriant sensibility."/13/

    Yet at the heart of this tradition was the quasi-religious belief that the true lover who suffered and even died from love was a kind of [67] martyr. Although this belief seemed sacrilegious to some orthodox Muslims, it was nevertheless both widespread and popular during the early centuries of Islamic history. The belief was bolstered by a saying ascribed to the Prophet himself: '"He who loves and remains chaste and conceals his secret and dies, dies a martyr."/14/ After a thorough study of the "martyred lover" concept, L. A. Giffen concludes:

Since many serious scholars professed the opinion that there was an innocent passionate love and that its victims under certain circumstances might attain martyrdom, it seems necessary to consider these ideas as having their roots and justification in Islamic thought, and that probably the primary rationale for the existence of the martyrs of love is found in those two criteria, self-denial and painful death, in which they parallel or resemble the other categories of martyrs in Islam./15/
This legitimation of analogies between profane and sacred suffering and love undoubtedly contributed to the growth of the ghazal's tone of erotic-mystical longing and lament.

    The concept of 'Udhri love thus has at its heart the vision of love as suffering. Details of its history are still subject to critical dispute--especially concerning its sources, which have been variously identified as Hellenistic, puritanical, mystical, etc. But its main outlines are clear enough, and its historical importance is not in doubt. For its central theme, the sufferings of the "martyr of love," heavily influenced the Arabic, then Persian, then Urdu ghazal--and particularly the work of Mir. It was never, of course, the only theme, for the ghazal has always been hospitable to many kinds of concern. In it, "anything might be touched on that stirred the emotions--the caprices of fortune's whirligig, the mystery of life in the world, the upsurging happiness of springtime, or the joys and sorrows of friendship or other earthly attachments."/16/ The ghazal has been used to titillate, to philosophize, and to amuse.

    Yet in the ghazal's system of conventions, images of longing, pain, loss, and separation clearly predominate. The moth's suicidal love for the candle-flame, the nightingale's worship of the rose, and the caged bird's yearning for the garden directly express the longing of the suffering lover for an inaccessible beloved. The garden's death in autumn, [68] the bird's nest struck by lightning, the candle burnt out overnight, and the withering of the rose are images of ultimate separation and loss. Human figures--Laila and Majnun, Shirin and Farhad, Yusuf and Zulaikha--are those of suffering lovers who endured lifelong separation and even died of love. Even religious figures--Abraham, Moses, Mansur--are often portrayed as suffering through their love of God. Moreover, the ghazal's conventional secondary characters are those who contribute to the lover's suffering: the unworthy but successful rivals, the smugly unsympathetic advisor, the hypocritical and falsely pious men of religion, and the beloved's ruthless door-guardian. Even the tavern where the lover takes refuge is menaced by the censorious police inspector. Even the lover's confidant and his messenger are likely to betray him by themselves becoming his rivals. But nothing they can do is as painful to the lover as the cruelty, scorn , fickleness, or indifference of the beloved.

    The beloved is by convention so inaccessible, or the devoted lover's code of secrecy so stringent, that very little can be known about the beloved's identity--not even, in most cases, his or her sex. In Persian, since gender discrimination in pronouns and verb endings does not exist, such lack of information occasions no surprise. In Urdu, however, the same effect has been deliberately created through a grammatical distortion: the beloved is always grammatically masculine, even when feminine in sex. Thus, in the absence of decisive reference to feminine or masculine features--references for which there is little scope in the narrow space of a single couplet--the beloved inhabits a kind of grey area of sexual ambiguity. This sexual indeterminacy is a unique feature of ghazal convention, and a most significant one.

    Furthermore, because of the ghazal's conventions of description, the beloved is almost always personally indeterminate as well. The beloved is an ideal image of beauty rather than a particular, recognizable, beautiful individual. Many of the beloved's features--dark curly hair, rosy cheeks, graceful stature, devastating glances, etc.--can in fact belong either to a woman or to a "beardless boy," for the beauty of the latter is invariably conceived as delicate rather than virile. Such impersonal idealization enhances the impression of the beloved's remoteness. For "detailed conventional description...implies the absence of its object," as Andras Hamori has noted. "The retouching of the specific into the ideal is absurd if the specific happens to be walking by your side. And indeed, in many cases the kind of movement such description triggers in the mind is an outward journey, towards a [69] remote object."/17/

    The fragmentariness of the ghazal makes a repertoire of conventional images virtually indispensable. In most ghazals, each couplet is an entirely separate unit of thought--in effect, a miniature poem--with only a common rhyme scheme and meter to bind it to the other couplets. This fragmentary quality is a source of both weakness (narrowness, disconnectedness) and strength (concentration, intensity)./18/ The evocative use of traditional concepts and images, which already include many layers of meaning, permits complex thoughts and feelings to be expressed within the narrow scope of a couplet. Even modern ghazal poets, however they may rework, transform, or question traditional images, usually continue to rely on them.

    Analyzing ghazal conventions, Gopi Chand Narang argues that a development over time from realism to abstraction has taken place in the ghazal. He ascribes this development to the influence of Islam, with its "rigid and austere" nature and its rejection of extramarital love. This puritan influence restricted the poet to speaking of his love only "in universal terms." Thus, 

the concept of the beloved, which had a physical entity as its basis, changed to in the course of time, a mere abstraction, a thing of dreams. In the Ghazal there are many instances when a lover seems more interested in 'ishq (love) per se, or in the imaginary creation of his desire than in ma'shuq, or the object of his desires. This accounts for the despair, resentment and even anger of the lover, and also for the introspection (dakhiliyat), which so dominates the Ghazal. Given the social and moral pressures and the restrictions imposed by the form, the Ghazal ...evolved an elaborate system of symbolic imagery and conventions./19/
Though the causes of this development may be more complex than Narang has recognized, the classical ghazal's beloved certainly remains "a mere abstraction" far more often than he/ she/ it obtains a clear identity. As Narang has perceived, it is precisely the abstractness of the beloved that makes for the painful introspection of the poet.

    Thus, the suffering lover and the ambiguous or unavailable beloved must be seen as two sides of the same coin; it is to this conclusion that my argument has been moving. The beloved is outside the poem, away [69] from the poet's presence, unavoidably detained, coquettish, fickle, aloof, indifferent, disdainful, cruel, dead, a personalized abstraction, a divinity; the beloved is, in short, inaccessible either temporarily or permanently. The beloved of the classical ghazal may be anything at all, but almost never a familiar person sitting cozily in the lover's lap. This absence of the beloved gives the lover both cause to suffer and the scope to dwell on his sufferings: a single couplet would seem even more confining if the lover and the beloved were both actively present. If the lover's defining trait is his suffering, the beloved is defined above all by inaccessibility.

    Throughout its history, the ghazal's images of pain, loss, and desire have remained remarkably consistent. Poets have confined themselves, like Schimmel' s artist painting "Majnun in the wilderness for the hundredth time," to expressing their individuality "by means of a slight movement" of brush or pen. Ghazal poets have studied their own literary tradition with unusual care, and have assimilated and built upon the work of its masters. They have often deliberately adopted meters and rhyme schemes used by their predecessors, and have even made it a point of pride to rework and improve particular couplets. Their central artistic concern has been not the material of their private lives, but the material of their well-known and valued literary tradition. Poets who seem never to have experienced passionate love during the whole course of their lives have, in accord with this tradition, adopted the poetic stance of the suffering lover, and poets who have lived greatly differing private lives in greatly differing social conditions have written strikingly similar couplets. Such is the power of convention in a genre in which conventions are greatly esteemed, highly developed, and poetically almost indispensable./20/

    It is precisely this conventionality of theme and content that Russell is unwilling to recognize in Mir's ghazals. Mir's poetic attitude toward his beloved is predominantly introverted and melancholy; his verse expresses the moody, fatalistic pride of the lover who endures infinite pain without any real hope of reward. After the analytical excursion we have just made through ghazal history and convention, we can recognize such an attitude as typical of the mainstream of ghazal tradition. Yet according to Russell, the general background which "the poet assumes in his reader" is sociological: "a full knowledge of all the situations of [71] love to which the social conditions of Mughal India gave rise" (Rl06-07). And the specific background is Mir's private life: Russell works hard to recreate an incident in which Mir appears as the suffering lover of an inaccessible woman, so that all his ghazals can be treated as originating in and depicting this event. But we have seen that the theme of a suffering lover longing for an inaccessible beloved is as old as the ghazal tradition itself, and forms one of the dominant themes of that tradition. Surely Occam's razor must be applied: if the dominant theme of Mir's ghazals can be explained without reference to his private life and immediate social surroundings, then these factors need not be invoked as primary explanations of his poetry.

    As for Shadani, the point he makes is perhaps more legitimate than the theoretical framework in which he places it. It is quite true, as he has effectively demonstrated, that Mir has written many couplets in which the poet portrays a beloved who is specifically identified as a boy. To him, this fact is evidence that Mir's private life actually involved such pederastic affections. Yet the prevalence of literary convention in the ghazal nullifies the force of this argument. The traditional beloved was so indeterminate and inaccessible that his or her gender could be, if specified at all, casually (or discreetly) varied at the poet's pleasure. Furthermore, the suffering-lover theme, with its emphasis on the beloved's cruelty and inaccessibility, cannot be attributed, as Shadani would have it, to the real-life experiences of medieval Persian lovers of boys. For the suffering lover theme antedates medieval Persian pederasty by some centuries; the theme is part of an unbroken literary tradition that may have been augmented by Persian pederasty but was certainly not created by it.

    Thus we emerge with a vision neither of Mir the tragic lover, his whole life shaped by the memory of a youthful passion, nor of Mir the pederast, helplessly preoccupied with the charms of "the lads of Delhi," but rather of Mir the consummate poet, who uses the traditional themes and conventions of the ghazal with brilliance, individuality, and intense emotional power. To say that all jewellers work with the same limited repertoire of precious stones is no denigration, but rather a definition of their craft. And to say that all ghazal poets work with the same limited repertoire of images and conventions is a description, not a criticism, of their art.

    In fact, Mir is recognized, even more than other ghazal poets, as "a true chronicler" not of the events of his life, but of his inner "moods, feelings, and susceptibilities." His verse is felt, even by an unsympathetic critic, as "moving and powerful," a kind of poetry which [72] "at its best, comes from the heart and goes to the heart."/21/ He can express moods of melancholy, futility, pain, and despair with such simple dignity that his ghazals are evocative even in translation. But poetry which "comes from the heart" reveals the depths of the inner life, not the literal facts of outward circumstance. Mir may or may not, in "real life," have loved parda-confined women, boys, or courtesans; from the form and content of his ghazal poetry, it is impossible to tell. Even from other sources, it is hard to judge with certainty; but that is a separate problem, and a legitimate exercise in historical research.

    This conclusion has implications not only for our understanding of Mir, but for the study of classical ghazal poetry in general. It suggests, above all, that the question "Who is the beloved?" is a thoroughly unhelpful and misleading one, if the answer expected is a personal name or sociological description. Russell's attempted reply--a girl like Fancy Day (Rl34)--is called into question by Russell's own admission that "in most cases the expression is too generalised for the class or sex of the beloved to be identifiable" (Rl09). Russell makes it clear in another article that he is fully aware of the beloved's ambiguity: "Not only may 'beloved' mean a purdah woman, a boy, a courtesan, God, or anyone of a whole range of ideals; every comparison appropriate to anyone of these may be freely used of any other....Linked with this universality is, once more, the exaggeration of ghazal expression."/22/

    If we cannot identify the beloved in personal or sociological terms, however, it does not follow that we must read each couplet in a vacuum. For the beloved inhabits a ghazal universe, which is peopled by other characters as well. Some of the principal ones have been noted above: the rivals, the advisor, the confidant, the messenger, the religious hypocrites, etc. These figures are deliberately created types: they have exactly the traits necessary for the roles they play, and no others; and the traits they do have are determined by convention rather than by any concern with sociological accuracy. It has been argued that some of them once accurately represented real figures in society,/23/ but that day, if it existed, is gone; at an early stage in ghazal history, they hardened into poetic constructs. These secondary characters are so clearly one-dimensional that no one dreams of asking, "Who is the advisor?" or "Who are the rivals?" The lover, however, appears to be the poet [73] himself, and knowing who the poet is, we are naturally inclined to ask, "Who is his beloved?" Yet this mistaken question results, as we have seen, in contradictions like that of Mir-the-tragic-lover versus Mir-the- pederast. Recognition that the lover is not the poet's real-life self, but an artistic persona or type, makes it easy to recognize that the beloved too is a type, and may have even less connection with any actual individual.

    All these ghazal characters exist in relation to each other, and in what might be called the "social conditions" of the ghazal world. As a creation of human imagination and artistic vision, this ghazal world is in fact more completely knowable than any actual society. Even the natural settings and material objects of this world are not fully rounded, indefinitely complex "real" gardens and deserts, wine flasks, and bird cages; rather, they exist as clusters of well-defined conventional traits, connected by well-defined conventional relationships. In a recent article, Narang has sketched the structure of this ghazal world. He sees it as a series of variations on the "inevitable eternal triangle" of lover / beloved / rival. Individual images are thus members of mutually related image complexes. Such triangular image complexes include "nightingale / rose, spring / flower-picker, gardener, autumn"; "moth / candle / morning"; "Farhad / Shirin / Khusrau"; "eye / face / veil"; "drunkard / wine, cupbearer, tavern / police inspector"; "madman / desert, waste-land, spring / chain, prison."/24/ This triangular pattern, at its most general, seems to consist of a desirer, an object of desire, and an obstacle or threat to the fulfillment of desire. A system of such triangular structures can be a highly effective organizing tool for the study of the classical ghazal as a "historical literary genre."/25/

    Convention plays a similar, and equally powerful, role in another body of poetry that thematically resembles the classical ghazal: the courtly love poetry of medieval Europe. "Because of the sameness of imagery and attitude among many of the poets of courtly love--because all their ladies look alike and all their phrases were predictable--we can probably conclude that the love-experience they sang of was fictional, part of a literary tradition. The public performance of a love song suggests the same was not heard as part of the poet's autobiography."/26/ Like the classical ghazal poet, the troubadour adopts [74] the stance of a suffering lover longing for an inaccessible beloved. Unlike the beloved of the ghazal, however, his lady is far above him both in moral perfection and in social rank, and there is never any doubt about her sex or status. Though the lover devotes himself humbly and passionately to her service, he has no real hope, for "she is defined by her unattainability, she is a victory too great to be won. His only triumph is to make an observance of his devotion. All of his acts, therefore, take on the nature of a sacrament, a formal celebration of love, without hope of reward."/27/ At times, this quasi-religious devotion comes very close to the erotic-mystical love that is a hallmark of the classical ghazal. Not only the basic poetic stance but many images (rose, bird, garden, mirror, sword, religious symbols, etc.) and attitudes (love as secret, nonmarital, all-absorbing, ennobling) are also common to both genres.

    Courtly love is even, in the self-consciously canonical formulation of Andreas Capellanus, defined as suffering: "Love is a certain inborn suffering derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex."/28/ The rules by which this suffering should be understood and expressed include, in his view, the following:

He who is not jealous cannot love.
When made public love rarely endures.
The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love.
He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little. Every act of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved.
A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.
A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved./29/
Such a cult of suffering and frustration obviously has many points in common with the classical ghazal in general and 'Udhri love in particular. But what should be made of such similarities? Any statement about the nature, sources, or context of courtly love--including the assertion that it existed/30/--will find its challengers, and a nonspecialist [75] must tread warily. Similarities between the genres can, moreover, be explained from a variety of perspectives.

    Some scholars see courtly love as a result of such factors as "the imbalance of the sex ratio in combination with the desire for social ascent through marriage and the dread of losing status."/31/ They therefore seek to show that similar social conditions were operative in the Arab world as well:

Among the Arabs of the Near East there was an older poetical tradition of frustrated and excessively sentimental love which appears to have been connected with the deprivations resulting from female infanticide and the increasing monopolization of women by the wealthy and the powerful in a polygynous society./32/
    Other scholars maintain that courtly love poetry was imported from Moorish Spain and should thus be seen as a literary offspring of the classical Arabic ghazal. Eleventh-century Spanish poets at Muslim courts were all "trained in the classical Arabic tradition," and "some even went to Arabia to perfect themselves in the art."/33/ Many of these poets "taught that a man shows his good character and his good breeding by practicing a chaste love (al-hawa al-udri) rather than a sensual love."/34/ The eleventh-century Andalusian writer 'Ibn Hazm takes the martyrdom of lovers as a matter of course:
Sometimes the affair becomes so aggravated, the lover's nature is so sensitive, and his anxiety so extreme, that the combined circumstances result in his demise and departure out of this transient world. The well-known dictum of the Fathers declares that "He who loves and controls himself, and so dies, the same is a martyr."/35/
And such views were readily transmitted. "Communication between these Moslem states...and the adjoining Christian states was both easy and frequent. Often the poets themselves were the mediums of communication....Even the metrical forms and the themes of the Spanish poets are like those that were later used by the troubadours."/36/ Since medieval Europe acquired much of its "refinement of life" from [76] Islamic sources,/37/ such direct transmission is altogether plausible and offers much the simplest explanation of the two genres' similarity.

    Other scholars offer psychological explanations that, though they may become facile or reductionist, can at least attempt to account for the coherence and stability of generic conventions. Richard J . Koenigsberg, for example, attempts to show that "the code of conduct and pattern of behavior represented by Courtly Love reflected a clearly-defined and meaningful psychodynamic constellation" and that its persistence and popularity "must be understood in terms of its capacity to provide a means of coping with a conflict which is universal in men."/38/ His argument is based on an unusual comparative analysis of Freud and Andreas Capellanus:

In his First Contribution to the Psychology of Love Freud describes a special type of object-choice, effected by men, which is characterized by a series of conditions which the object must fulfill. The "series of conditions," as an examination of the paper will reveal, are virtually identical with the series of conditions which Capellanus describes as being crucial to the development and increase of love./39/
Koenigsberg concludes that courtly love "represents an institutionalized manifestation of an intense fixation upon the mother, its rules being designed to recreate the Oedipal situation and its corresponding effects."/40/ In his view, the relationship of a courtly lover and his beloved resembles that of a small boy and his mother. The beloved is distant and cruelly inaccessible, for she belongs to another; she arouses jealousy and impotent desire and a supreme devotion; she is the arbiter of merit, and her approval gives the most genuine sense of self-worth.

    Denis de Rougemont is another scholar who sees in courtly love the creation of a strongly marked psychological condition. For him, courtly love is a cult of "passion," epitomized by the "medieval archetype of Tristan." "Passion" is "that form of love which refuses the immediate, avoids dealing with what is near, and if necessary invents distance in order to realize and exalt itself more completely....I cannot decide whether passion derives from distance, or distance from [77] passion."/41/ Such psychological explanations seek to account for the often paradoxical attitudes of the ideal courtly lover and would explain the similarities between ghazal and courtly love poetry by viewing both as re-creations of the same fundamental emotional situation.

    Most courtly love poetry was not written by "real-life" courtly lovers--just as most classical ghazal poets did not really spend their whole lives in a state of acute erotic-mystical suffering. Both genres were developed to express certain moods and attitudes in a traditional, artistically disciplined form. But Mir and other great poets in both genres expressed themselves with emotion as well as technical skill. Their verses came "from the heart" and were nourished by the depths of their own inner lives. Emphasizing the genuine feeling expressed in courtly love poetry, C. S. Lewis makes a point equally applicable to Mir and other masters of the ghazal. He urges us to avoid "that fatal dichotomy which makes every poem either an autobiographical document or a 'literary exercise'--as if any poem worth writing were either the one or the other. We may be quite sure that [courtly love] poetry...was not a 'mere' convention; we can be quite as sure that it was not a transcript of fact. It was poetry."/42/


/1/ Ralph Russell and Khurshidul Islam, Three Mughal Poets (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), Author's Preface, p. xxii. All parenthesized page numbers prefaced by "R" refer to this work. Since the chapter I discuss is described as chiefly Russell's work, I identify it as such.

/2/ Muhammad Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 94.

/3/ Andalib Shadani, "Mir sahib ka ek khas rang," in his Tahqiqat (Bareilly: Khalil Academy, n. d.), p. 136. All parenthesized page numbers prefaced by "S" refer to this article. All English translations from it are my own.

/4/ "]ab kuch apne kane rakhte the, tab bhi sarf tha larkon ka / Ab jo faqir hue phirte hain Mir unhin ki badaulat hai" (S156).
"Hai tirah roz apna larkon ki dosti se / Is din hi ko kahe tha aksar pidar hamara" (S160).
"Kya qahr hua dil jo diya larkon ko main ne / Carca hai yahi shahr ka ab pir o jawan men" (S161).

/5/ Shadani, "Iran ki amard-parasti ka asar Urdu sha'iri par," Tahqiqat, pp. 193-222.

/6/ Shadani, "Farsi ghazal aur jafa-e mahbub," Tahqiqat, pp. 225-66.

/7/ Gustave E. von Grunebaum, Medieval Islam: A Study in Cultural Orientation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), pp. 313-14.

/8/ H. A. R. Gibb, Arabic Literature: An Introduction (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), pp. 44-45.

/9/ Ibid., p. 45.

/10/ A. Kh. Kinany, The Development of Gazal in Arabic Literature: Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Periods (Damascus: Syrian University Press, 1951), p. 255.

/11/ Ibid., pp. 253-54.

/12/ Ibid., pp. 257-58.

/13/ von Grunebaum, op. cit., p. 308.

/14/ Lois Anita Giffen, Theory of Profane Love among the Arabs: The Development of the Genre (New York: New York University Press, 1971), p. 99.

/15/ Ibid., p. 107.

/16/ Reuben Levy, An Introduction to Persian Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), p. 34.

/17/ Andras Hamori, On the Art of Medieval Arabic Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 28.

/18/ Sadiq, op. cit., pp. 18-19.

/19/ Gopi Cand Narang, "Tradition and Innovation in Urdu Poetry," in Poetry and Renatssance; Kumaran Asan Birth Centenary Volume, ed. M. Govindan (Madras: Sameeksha, 1974), p. 418.

/20/ A poem "which does not employ the traditional language, imagery, and concepts" of the ghazal is not "technically" a ghazal, "even though it may conform to the genre in other respects." M. A. R. Barker et al., A Reader of Modem Urdu Poetry (Montreal: McGill University, Institute of Islamic Studies, 1968), p. xiv.

/21/ Sadiq, op. cit., pp. 97-98.

/22/ Ralph Russell, "The Pursuit of the Urdu Ghazal," Journal of Asian Studies 29, no. 1 (November 1969):122-23.

/23/ R. Blachere, "The Ghazal in Arabic Poetry," Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1965), 2:1030.

/24/ Narang, op. cit., pp. 418-23.

/25/ For a discussion of this term, see Uri Margolin, "Historical Literary Gente: The Concept and its Uses," in Comparative Literature Studies 10, no. 1 (March 1973): 51-59.

/26/ Frederick Goldin, 'The Mirror of Narcissus' in the Courtly Love Lync (lthaca: Cornell University Press, 1967), p. 2.

/27/ Ibid., p. 130.

/28/ Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love, trans. John Jay Parry (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1959), p. 28.

/29/ Ibid., pp. 185-86.

/30/ See, for example, D. W. Robertson, Jr., "The Concept of Courtly Love as an Impediment to the Understanding of Medieval Texts," in The Meaning of Courtly Love, ed. F. X. Newman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1968), pp. 1-18.

/31/ Herben Moiler, "The Social Causation of the Counly Love Complex," Comparative Studies in Society and History 1 (1958-59): 158.

/32/ Ibid., p. 141.

/33/ Capellanus, op. cit., p. 7.

/34/ Ibid., p. 11.

/35/ 'Ibn Hazm, The Ring of the Dove: A Treatise on the Art and Practice of Arab Love, trans. A.J. Arberry (London: Luzac, 1953), p. 220.

/36/ Capellanus, op. cit., p. 8.

/37/ W. Montgomery Watt, The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1972), pp. 27-28.

/38/ Richard A. Koenigsberg, "Culture and Unconscious Fantasy: Observations on Courtly Love," The Psychoanalytic Revt.ew 54, no.1 (Spring 1967): 37.

/39/ Ibid., p. 41.

/40/ Ibid., p. 42.

/41/ Denis de Rougemont, Love Declared: Essays on the Myths of Love (New York: Random House, 1963), p. 41.

/42/ C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (London: Oxford UnivetSity Press, 1936), p. 22.

Ms. Pritchett did her undergraduate work at Radcliffe College and took her master's degree in South Asian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. She is currently finishing her Ph.D. dissertation, on qissa literature in Urdu and Hindi, at the University of Chicago.

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