Source: The Secret Mirror: Essays on Urdu Poetry, by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (Delhi: Academic Literature, 1981, pp. 34-50. Scanned by FWP, May 2008. A few typos have been corrected.

Ghalib, the Difficult Poet

by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
translated from the Urdu by M. U. Memon

Herself in love with the difficu1t, she loves to tell beads;
For she loves the fun of balancing a hundred hearts on the palm of a hand. {8,1}
Zauq once observed about Ghalib: "Mirza Nausha does not realIy recognize his own good verses!" -That may be true; but Ghalib weIl knew his innermost intent, what he wanted, and, no less, how to conceal, rather to camouflage, it artfuIly. Thus he often remarked that the poetry of his earliest period--excellent example though it is of intricate thought, delicate idea, and metaphor interwoven with metaphor--was, quite frankly, in imitation of Bedil, Shaukat, and Asir, and also nearly meaningless. He writes to Abd ur-Razzaq Shakir, "FinaIly, with the advent of discretion, I rejected this diwan, tore it up completely, leaving about ten or fifteen shers in my present diwan as samples of my former style." And though he writes to Nawab Shamsul-Umara that he has consigned his older diwan to oblivion, the simple truth is that hundreds of shers of his current diwan are in no way less difficult than the "rejected" ones. This public admission of correction and selection was not without advantage: on the one hand it led people into believing that finalIy Mirza Nausha did come round to the accepted style in poetry, and on the other, into marvelling that if such should be the difficulty and obscurity in the shers of the authorized diwan, God knows what insoluble enigmas would be packed in the rejected one! Two results were simultaneously achieved: the myth that Ghalib, who of his own admission had "babbled" considerably in his youth, finaIly came to prefer simplicity over intricacy and sense-informing, and the popular belief that Ghalib was after all a difficult poet, the last, and, perhaps, the best representative of Bedil's style. Two results, at farthest remove from each other, were thus gained in one sweep: eloquent examples of Ghalib's witty and paradoxical mind.

But if the rejected diwan was reaIly a compendium of nonsense, why this persistent claim to "creation of meaning"? Why insist, "Maulvi Sahib, (just see,) what delicate meaning!"? Why claim, "My sher is not nonsense, what more can I say!"? Why the contention, "Sentence after sentence I have (often) left implied"?; and why also the complaint, "Brother, I am greatly amazed at your hesitancy about the meaning of this verse"? These remarks are about the accepted verse, of course. Now if clarity and explicitness were the test of true poetic skill, clearly these remarks were grossly out of place. In fact, from beginning till end Ghalib followed only a single style. The style did not change, it became smoother and more polished; and as he moved from better to best, the synthetic heaviness of his diction--which was the effect of Persian words and idioms which he had incorporated into his Urdu verse simply because Urdu was neither the language of his ancestors nor was he himself fuIly conversant with its idiom--was progressively relieved by assiduous practice and replacement of the Persian with the Urdu idiom. As to the difficulty of his verse, his diwan is difficult from end to end; and this is due primarily to his complex mind that enabled him to simultaneously absorb and express diverse experiences.

An explanation is in order here. In using the adjective "difficult" to describe Ghalib's verse, I am following what is only a common usage. I am rather inclined to call it ambiguous, not difficult, the former being to my mind something infinitely superior. I consider difficulty a defect and ambiguity a merit in poetry. Difficulty results from a static situation, while dynamism and indeterminacy are the basic characteristics of ambiguity. Difficulty is like a code or a riddle. If we can break the code or solve the riddle, we may penetrate to its intent. Ambiguity, on the other hand, is like a problem; here one is confronted with a series of solutions each of which is right. While difficulty knows only one level, ambiguity operates on several levels, being in itself the characteristic of a mind capable of expressing in one breath truths suggestive of different significations and permeated by different states. Unaware of this delicate difference, Ghalib termed as difficulty what was really his ambiguity, though it seems that he knew the essential character of the latter. His own definition of difficulty applies with greater justification to ambiguity. Ambiguity, let us say an ambiguous poem, is rightly expected to have some meaning for everyone. Difficulty, by contrast, leaves the key to the meaning of the riddle of a verse in the hands only of one who is able to undo that riddle, and insists that once the meaning is known it would be final and definite. A verse may be difficult for me, either because I do not know the meanings of the words employed in it, or because I do not know quite what the given idiom means; or, finally, because I am unable to perceive the true meaning of the allusion contained therein. The same may be easy for others. Examples:

Of whose cruel style of brush does the image complain?
Every image, every picture is paper-dressed. {1,1}

Again I am reminded of my wet eye,
My heart is jigar tishna for lamentation. {35,1}

The crime of shedding people's blood is proved on the wine carafe,
The wavelet of wine trembles to see your style of walking. {60,5}

Aside from the fact that the first sher is also somewhat ambiguous, its entire difficulty lies in its allusion. Once the allusion is explained, the apparent meaning effortlessly emerges. If we know that jigar tishna in the second verse simply means very thirsty, we are able to understand the meaning without much difficulty. A riddle, its key being the drunken gait of the beloved, conceals the meaning in the third verse. The difficulty of these shers is thus due not so much to their intrinsic intricacy as to the intellectual and scientific capacity of the reader, or else to the structure of his mind. Some people are able to solve puzzles easily but are men of ordinary ability in other matters. Some others, while quite stupid in solving riddles, nevertheless possess superior intelligence. Some other examples of difficult verse:

Now don't let the fly enter the garden;
For this means the murder of the innocent moth.

Don't let your captives sit within the circle of lamentation,
Nay, do not draw the blue line around your cheek.

Can I really tell of the prosperity of my sickness of love!
What heart blood I quaffed was free from the sufferance of having to become kimus. {39,4}

One freely encounters such examples of difficulty in qasida and marsiya. Scattered throughout Ghalib's own qasidas are shers our comprehension of which depends on prior knowledge of idiom and terminology. Why associate Ghalib with such superficial and extrinsic difficulty, something as easily found in, say, Nasikh and Momin? To say that Ghalib gave up his love of difficulty is to say that Ghalib changed his very nature. Inasmuch as Ghalib's expression is based on experience more than on emotion, on intellectuality more than on sentimentality, such intricacies were also dear to him as, through verbal mechanics, endow the experience related in a given verse with a state that affords the reader a spectrum of possibilities for his response. The reader appreciates that the underlying sense of the verse is not what his mind has just started to perceive, and yet despite the relative unambiguity of the sense, the ingathering of the many relatively unconnected responses in his mind is nevertheless enhancing the enjoyment of the verse. Thus he allows these apparently unconnected responses to steal into his feelings.

Above I have attempted to make the point that Ghalib was difficult because it was not possible for him to go against his nature. The statement can be rephrased: since his nature was endowed with a powerful urge to be entirely unique, he consciously chose to express his "differentness" in a manner opposed to public taste. It was almost as if he told himself, "I must write differently from others," and then set about executing his design by choosing an intricate style which was radically different from the simple one then in vogue. Such, indeed, is the diagnosis of Muhammad Husain Azad. A very correct diagnosis no doubt, but not taken to its logical conclusion. The question arises: Why, after all, only an intricate style to be distinct? For that matter, Mir's diwan too was [according to {92,8x}] "not less than the Garden of Cashmere," yet Ghalib's contemporaries hardly ever paid more than mere lip service to Mir. Neither Zauq nor Momin nor yet Nasikh fashioned his poetry after Mir. Perhaps it will not be inexact to say that by Ghalib's time people had forgotten all about Mir. Mir's outstanding contribution to the form of Urdu ghazal, namely, casting an indigenous Hindi metre into the mould of Urdu, was so well neglected that none of the many hundred poets wrote more than a ghazal or two in this metre, though Ghalib did manage to compose a few verses patterned after Mir's kam tamam kiya. The gentle intimacy and feeling of companionship that gave Mir's tone its essential quality had by now been entirely given up and replaced by the insipid thought-hunting of a Nasikh, the hollow challengings of an Insha, the brittle feminine perceptions of a Momin, and the lofty sententiouness of a Zauq, --Mir had been edged away from the foreground. Mushafi, always proud of his affiliation with Delhi, held himself at a respectable distance from Mir, carefully avoiding any incursion into what was essentially Mir's territory. In spite of his sufic arrogance -- a trait that came closest to Mir's disposition -- Atash kept nursing his love of verbal pyrotechnics and physical aspects of the "jugglery" of love. In such a situation, nothing would havebeen easier for Ghalib than to write in Mir's style and, into the bargain, earn for himself the title of the Reviver of Mirian Style. But he did not do that. A second possibility lay in abandoning the grave and courteously polished tone of the Delhi school in favour of Nazlr Akbarabadi's forthright earthiness and celebration of the body. Ghalib would have none of that, either. A third possibility was to introduce a touch of irony in Jur'at's "kissing and necking" and thus give it a shade of grace and a measure of meaningfulness in expression. This, too, was not Ghalib's choice.

We have been moving all along to the inescapable conclusion that Ghalib quite consciously selected a style which was totally unacceptable then and remains esssentially inimitable even today. It may also be admitted that what helped along his choice of style was in a way his own consciousness as a patrician who could ill afford "to be fettered by plebeian ways and sways." The basic question however remains: Among a variety of styles, why did he pick the one which was the most incompatible with the tradition of Urdu poety as it was viewed then? There were many ways of looking different, why only this one?

If it is maintained that he adopted this style in following Bedil, because he was himself liberally fed on Persian poetic tradition and Bedil was a Persian poet, then, why only Bedil? Why not Hafiz, Sa'di or Naziri? And why not Iraqi and Attar, inasmuch as Ghalib's own poetry does not lack mystical elements and grandeur? Or Khusrau, since Ghalib was one of his great admirers?

Only one satisfactory answer is possible for these questions, which is again not entirely satisfactory. Ghalib was a slave to his nature. His disposition demanded that his tone resound with a lofty, ambitious cadence. Further, this cadence should not be artificial, but the result of intellectual and rational observations tbat span the entire range of human experience and situations, and yet their major constituent should be not the workaday world of ordinary mortals, but rather a state of apocalyptic vision. These intellectual and rational observations may be conveniently likened to light-rays emitted by a lamp. The rays illuminate the area surrounding the lamp, but the lamp remains entirely detached from its immediate environment. A poet of this temperament penetrates within himself from beyond himself, remaining altogether detached in the process. Instead of merging the without and the within, he rather steps away from the without, using himself as a lever to investigate the external reality from every possible perspective. This is a special type of impersonality in poetry, scarcely to be matched in any, let alone Urdu, poetry.

This may give the false impression, and hence even raise the objection, that since Ghalib had studied Bedil at an early age, and his formative years too had been spent quite close to the latter's poetry, small wonder therefore that he received the full impact of Bedil's influence. Yet the view that Ghalib accepted Bedil's influence altogether unquestioningly is rather doubtful. More importantly, a true poet in due course sloughs off the negative or disproprotionate influences imbibed during apprenticeship. Keats had been deeply influenced by Milton's blank verse. Even so, he left the Hyperion unfinished because it had in his estimation become too terribly Miltonic. Likewise, Iqbal first accepted Dagh's influence, but soon pulled himself out of his orbit. Today, Iqbal's ghazals that he wrote while still under Dagh's influence hardly strike us as typically his. Gautier's romanticism exerted a powerful pull on Baudelaire, who made his acquaintance with Edgar Allen Poe at a relatively mature age. But on reading Poe he soon realized that he had so far simply lived in the dark. Why go so far afield? Let us take Miraji, a poet of our own age and language. Who would deny Miraji's indebtedness to Mir, over and against the idiom espoused by the Progressives? His ghazals bear out this fact clearly. Still, he did not allow his genuine expression to get even a whiff of Mir's spirit. Thus it will not do to say that since Ghalib had deeply studied Bedil in his adolescent years, he therefore became irretrievably lost to him. All of us read and admired Sahir Ludhianvi in our adolescence. Today few of us would find a reason to continue in our admiration of him.

After these supplementary remarks on Muhammad Husain Azad's diagnosis, a few more things need be said which will help distinguish Ghalib's poetic mind more easily. First, the fact of Bedil's influence on Ghalib, as I have already pointed out. But it must be observed that although of his own admission Ghalib considered "Bedil's writing-reed to be the walking-staff on which he leaned throughout his exploits in the realm of poetry," he did not altogether depend on Bedil.

Asad! everywhere the verse has founded fresh gardens;
I have come to love the springful inventiveness of Bedil's style. {8,5x}

Ghalib, I fear not losing my way in poetry's realm;
Bedil's writing-reed is to me the staff of Khizr in the vast land of poetry. {12,7x}

Even despite these shers, to which some personal confessions of the poet may be added, a mere reference to Bedil will not be enough to comprehend Ghalib. As I have mentioned above, Ghalib was a master propagandist. Quick to perceive the possibility of public appreciation drifting away from him, he managed just in time to throw in the much needed confession: I used to be a follower of Bedil, but now, with the advent of discretion, I have parted ways with him. Once we know that Ghalib did not part with Bedil, we are also no longer obliged to give in to the common assumption that he wholly, almost slavishly, depended on him. Bedil's nature was endowed with an occultist mysticism. Ghalib shows no trace of it. Bedil, again, was not only a poet, he was also an adept in, if not an originator of, a particular metaphysics that went a shade beyond ontology. A rationalism, a sanity, possessed Ghalib. Bedil had almost none of it. Thus Bedil's poetry cannot be a metaphor for Ghalib's verse. This is not to say that Ghalib did not learn anything from Bedil. Indeed he did, quite a bit, but the world he created out of the element of practical thought -- an element that predominated in his nature -- is more relevant to us, and is different from Bedil's. Ghalib did learn much of the art of poetry from Bedil, but he accepted the latter's influence just because the latter was more complex in thought than either Saib or Urfi. Had there been no Bedil, Ghalib would have no doubt accepted Saib and Urfi as his mentors. Having once learnt from Bedil the art of manipulating words to derive maximum profit out of them, Ghalib injected into this art his characteristic sensibility. Those things that he has glossed over by referring to them merely as "imaginary ideas" are in fact expressions of that sensibility and rationalism for which one looks in vain in Bedil.

There may be another reason for adopting Bedil's lofty and ambitious style: Ghalib is one of the few great Urdu poets who were born in a feudal household. And Ghalib was quite proud of his lineage. Zauq held a razor or, at best, a sword in his hand. Momin did betray a certain aristocratic breeding, but his genealogy was no match for Ghalib's. It was next to impossible to conceive of the existence of a poet in the atmosphere of social prestige and power in which Ghalib grew up and in the family to which he belonged. Yet a poet in such an environment could not have composed a verse like

Mir's dust settled at a distance from her;
Reverence like this is learned only from love.
Few critics have appreciated the fact that Ghalib's, just as Josh's, family background demanded that a poet born into it must of necessity reflect a royal, rather than a sufic, freedom and high purpose. Had Nazir Akbarabadi been born into Josh's family, he too would have composed a poetry characterized by the cracking and crashing of thunderbolts. Ghalib's intellectualist realism, though occasionally revealing a romantic impulse to break loose from bondage, is indicative of a milieu fostered on conventional intellectual and rational superiority. The sensibility whose effects are felt throughout Ghalib's poetry could have done justice to, and revealed itself, only in a style which was intellectualist, ambiguous, and intricate. To grasp things in their bewildering plurality, then express them in such a way that all their different levels are laid bare simultaneously -- this is anything but intuitive madness. Madness, for instance Mir's, grasps the essential unity of objects, tries to state intricate truths in the simplest terms. Intellectualism, on the other hand, comprehends the subtlety of objects, contriving to see in simple truths such dimensions as remain hidden from others. The intellectualist style cannot be simple.

Madness has occupied an important place in poetry, especially in Urdu poetry. Aristotle had of course identified poets with the mad, and Shakespeare too grouped the lover, the lunatic, and the poet together. All great poets, more especially all great romantic poets, reflect more or less that imbalance of mind which in its early stage rejects the intellectual mode of cognition in favour of the imaginative, the intuitive, modes, and is also quite capable of transmuting itself in its final stage into complete madness by a total rejection of the intellect as a source of perception. Madness and intellect are, in fact, two modes of knowledge. In poetry, as in metaphysics, madness holds ascendancy over mind. The disequilibrium resulting from insistence on the power of imagination and vision often also reflects itself visibly in the private life of the poet, and its expression can sometimes assume even frightening proportions. Baudelaire has given expression to these states with a peculiar intensity and terrible restlessness in his Journals. At one point he writes: "I have nurtured my hysteria with delight and terror. I am always in a state of vertigo; and today, 23 January 1862, I received a strange intimation: I felt the wings of imbecility fly over my head." In a poem written before the onset of frenzy, "Voyagers," he writes:

Pour us your poison: our comfort; we wish -- its fire so
inflames our brains -- to sink deep into the gulf's
depths, and -- what matters whether Paradise or Hell --
into the abyss of the Unknown, in search of something new.

Such extreme insistence on a direct source of knowledge is conspicuously absent from Ghalib. And though he mentions the wings of the anqa and the shadow of the huma, one doubts whether he really believed in them. Keats had grown fearful of darkness in his last days. A friend who looked after him would string the candles in such a way that as soon as one went out, another would be lit up. Coming awake suddenly one night, Keats saw a candle light up by itself and he cried: "Severn! Severn! Look -- fairies have come to retrieve my soul!" Had Ghalib seen this spectacle, he would have been reminded instead of "a wave of fiery blossoms." Death found an ardent lover in Mir, who wrote:

To spend your strength unstinting till your life is forfeit too­
That is a joy that Khizr and Masiha never knew. (trans. Ralph Russell)

Up to the candle, we saw a moth go.
Then there was only dancing, whirling, anguished flame.

Amazed that Mir succumbed to your grief?
Was there some way for him to live?

Your blood clung so to her sleeve, Mir
She was brought to tears, washing it clean. (trans. C. M. Naim)

We didn't live to see her keep her word
Alas, our life ran out on us. (trans. C. M. Naim)

And that same death provided Ghalib with opportunities of mental sport, witticism and newness in speech, and intellectual sophistry. For instance:

O frustration, that gentle one's sword is sharp,
Still to my dying day I shall nurture my desire to see her face to face.

The tenacity of life is the springtime of the wonder of seeing;
The spilt blood is like henna on the feet of Death, making it slow-footed.

See, see the boundless surging of desire;
The killing sword is breathless too. {1,3}

Blood-letting made the earth a colourful garden;
The growing of gardens is apparent in the mad rush of the wounded gazelle.

On May 23, 1861, some six months before Baudelaire wrote his diary, Ghalib exclaimed: "There is neither the art of poetry nor the understanding thereof. On what does the banker bank? Ah Delhi! Woe for Delhi! Blast Delhi! Let Delhi die!" This was the maximum extent of Ghalib's madness. Like Mir, he too was maddened to see a city, beautiful like painted canvases, torn to pieces. But unlike Mir, it was not for him to see a beautiful face in the moon. This elegiac letter on Delhi"s ruination is moving enough to make anyone weep; but Ghalib's is a madness born out of shock and sorrow, and not that which Baudelaire had cultivated with "terror" and "delight" after having irrevocably banished reason. Ghalib's poetry is the product of a mind which is in full possession of its reason; Ghalib is an intellectualist, but one who does not allow himself to be lost to the phenomena of nature. His entire romanticism is a romanticism of revolt. He is romantic and yet keeps firm hold on his heart, all the while goading his mind to spur on -- that is why his poetry is so difficult to understand. This difficulty, it may be noted, does not stem from intricate phraseology, but is rather the final link in a process of thought in which intuitive madness is subordinated to a six-dimensional mind.

The mirror-door is open to the six dimensions;
Here there is nothing to distinguish the perfect from the not-perfect. {41,4}

My desire has untied the knots of Bcauty's veil;
Now there's nothing which hides it, but my own power of sight. {41,5}

Ghalib characterizes the beloved as difficulty-loving; one must see how he defines difficulty. We have already decided why Ghalib was difficulty-loving; we have also noted that his difficultness is due mainly to a six-dimensional ambiguity. We must now see what are the internal mechanics of his verse that set this six-dimensional ambiguity at work.

Herself in love with the difficult, she loves to tell beads,
For she loves the fun of balancing a hundred hearts on the palm of a hand. {8,1}

This gesture of carrying away a hundred hearts in the palm of one hand quite pleases the beloved, who is not satisfied to express her predilection in words alone, but also exhibits in her hand a rosary of red carnelian, thereby giving a metaphorical expression of her nature. Instead of saying, "I am difficulty­loving and also like to carry many hearts in my hand," she simply takes a rosary in her hand; she thus exposes two facts simultaneously by means of an expression which is not indebted to direct words for its meaning. Clearly, therefore, a style that depends for its expression on metaphor is seen as the touchstone of love-of-difficulty. Among others, one great advantage gained from using metaphor is that it outweighs the reality for which it stands. Thus the reality it represents gains over and above its ordinary dimension, or a hitherto-unknown dimension is added to it. Another advantage is that a metaphor can simultaneously point to numerous truths. In this way not only is the conventional beauty of verse, namely ijaz (conciseness, brevity), realized, but sometimes it also becomes possible to present two mutually exclmive facts in the same breath. A further step is to express two mutually exclusive realities in a way that makes them appear as one. Baudelaire had defined romanticism as a "manner of feeling." One can conveniently enlarge upon his definition: inasmuch as the human mind is sometimes capable of incorporating all at once a spectrum of states and observations within its ambit, it is inclined to articulate this multi-dimensional mode of perception by recourse to metaphor.

I have just spoken about blending into a single whole a series of antithetical facts. Form and content, too, are a pair of mutually dissimilar facts; but they, too, can be effectively fused into a single fact by metaphor. A hundred and fifty years ago, A.W. Schlegel remarked that modern literature "strives for an intimate interpenetration of form and content as two opposites." Assuming the object of a metaphor as content and metaphor itself as form, we can see the miraculous power of metaphor. In the verse at hand, the beloved, out of sheer love-of-difficulty, suggests her love of stealing a hundred hearts by the metaphorical act of holding a rosary in her hand. Thus the red beads of the rosary assume the place of hearts; and just as the beads find warmth and motion by the touch of the beloved's fingers, so do the hearts of lovers; just as each bead, though remaining tied to the same place, travels up and down with the motion of her fingers, so do lovers' hearts remain, despite all their madness, despite also the interplay of hope and fear, nearness and remoteness, tied to the same place. The beloved's henna-painted, fair, and tapering fingers have the same relation with the red beads of the rosary as does dawn to dusk: no matter how blood-shot the dusk is, not a shred of whiteness is subtracted from the dawn. Thus, holding a rosary in hand (a metaphor), and carrying away hearts (the actuality) become one.

The emergent fact is that Ghalib considers metaphor as the test and sign of love-of-difficulty. But in this metaphor are seen throughout effects of the particuhr sensibility about which I have spoken above, and one which is non-existent in Mir. The result of this sensibility -- that is, intellectual masterfulness -- is that Ghalib's metaphor causes that blending of form with content from which neither can be meaningfully extracted. In more conventional usage, where metaphor is used merely as a garment, it can be easily ripped off the body of the verse, thus weakening its impact and beauty, but not its essential meaning. Not so with Ghalib. Since metaphor cannot be extracted from the poem in Ghalib, our efforts to do so might succeed in killing the verse, but in nothing more. And. this is the difficulty of Ghalib. We try to detach the metaphor, we ruin the verse. Let us take the verse in question. We have detached the metaphor. All we have before us is the bare statement that the beloved is difficulty-loving and likes to carry away a hundred hearts in a single palm. We have already, inevitably, lost all those subtle meanings that the latter act is capable of offering when tied to the phrase "the telling of red beads."

Indeed, poets of frenzy -- those who so deeply believe in the superiority of imagination as a source of comprehension and gnosis that they outright reject rational thought -- too have achieved this harmony of form and content by using metaphor. Mir and Faiz are two illuminating examples. Even so, this harmony is seldom exploited to yield that advantage to which I drew attention earlier: namely, their metaphor seldom enlarges reality enough to accommodate different aspects of reality hitherto hidden from us. The secret of Ghalib's ambiguity lies in this point alone. And he achieves this quality by an unusual preoccupation with meanings that lie beyond words themselves, a preoccupation which is not found in other poets. The verse presented earlier as an example of Ghalib's mental preoccupation may be examined afresh.

See, see the boundless surging of desire;
The killing sword is breathless too. {1,3}

A number of facts lie at the root of the metaphor employed here. These facts, however hypothetical, are in turn metaphors of a number of other facts. Both these hypothetical facts and those for which they stand as metaphors are suppositions. The only tangible and basic fact is that the lover loves the beloved. Its metaphor is that the lover is quite prepared to sacrifice his life for his beloved, or has received such an overwhelming impact from the beloved's beauty that this impact may be likened to death. Reverse the metaphor and you will see the beloved emerge as killing the lover; stretch the metaphor and you will find that the lover can ill afford the beloved's indifference, which is like death to him. In poetry, these metaphors have already become facts -- facts that are now expresed by a fresh set of metaphors, namely: the beloved keeps a sword and similar weapons in readiness to kill the lover; the lover, since he is in love with the beloved, is quite prepared to meet his end at her hands; this readiness to be killed is the expression of desire which the lover feels in his heart for the beloved; and since the beloved behaves with perpetual indifference, she feels no qualms in killing the lover.

Metaphor, in fact, takes the place of reality; and it is at this point that Ghalib's verse is born. One becomes breathless in a state of intense desire and emotion, especially in the moment of sexual excitement. The sword, swishing in the air, about to fall on the lover's neck, here represents extreme agitation, as if it is restless to decapitate the lover; though it is not at all clear who is surging forth with desire. The sword, impatient to run across the lover's neck? But it can as well be the lover, who is quite restless to die and whose restlessness has affected the sword; so also the beloved, who is undergoing such uncontrollable emotional excitement in this moment of her lover's execution that much of her own agitation has infected the sword. And yet the truth is very simple indeed: the lover is quite eager to be killed; however, the metaphor has so enlarged it that many more states originally absent may be seen in it.

A recondite Arabic word or a far-fetched allusion might have made the verse under review only difficult, but clearly the poet has here occupied himself with those other meanings of very common words that lie beyond the words themselves. How does this transcendence come about in the phrase "boundless surging of desire"? Though the word "desire" is conventionally used to show the state of the lover's heart, it is so employed here that if it does not negate the conventional sense it also does not stop other senses from creeping into it. Where breathlessness points to unusual ardour and longing, it brings along another aspect also, the aspect of sexual excitement, which is further reinforced by the highly symbolic word "sword." The transcendental sense of the word "sword" is heavily charged with sexual overtones. Thus, "sword" and "breath of sword" will be seen here as strengthening between them the sexual connotations of which each is capable.

A poetry written under the spell of divine, intuitive frenzy cannot offer these complexities, for which one perforce has to look into the pages of Shakespeare. This novel manner of assimilating mind and metaphor is the main source of Ghalib's difficulty, the primary condition for whose study is that one right away rid oneself of the common mistake of identifying Ghalib's difficulty with the technical difficulty of qasida and marsiya. Ghalib's difficulty was not an end in itself; its end lay rather in articulating different layers of consciousness in a single moment.

This should not lead us into thinking that a conventionally difficult verse is necessarily bad and a simple verse necessarily worse. A simple, i.e. an unambiguous, verse can be both good and great, and so can be a difficult one; but one must be clear that ambiguous and difficult are not synonymous terms. A natural consequence of dismissing Ghalib as a dfficulty-loving poet would be to change him into a panegyrist who composed qasidas instead, or else consider him guilty of artificially erecting an ugly edifice of ideas by clumsily stacking one word against another.

Speaking of her husband, Elizabeth Barrett Browning once observed that whereas many poets liked to stand in glaring sunshine, her husband (was one of those who) preferred the dim lights of a dark house. History has mostly given its verdict in favour of poets who stood in broad sunshine, but Elizabeth Barrett Browning ignored a third category of poets: those who inhabit the dim lights of a dark house but whose very existence works as a catalyst in transforming the half-light into sunshine. Ghalib was of those.

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