Source: The Secret Mirror: Essays on Urdu Poetry, by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (Delhi: Academic Literature, 1981), pp. 119-139. The essay was translated by Frances B. Khan, then reviewed by Prof. M. U. Memon, and the author himself. In this online version a few long paragraphs have been broken up, and the punctuation slightly adjusted for clarity, by FWP. Verse numbers have been added to correspond to "A Desertful of Roses."
The original Urdu essay , "Ghalib ki ek ghazal ka tajrubah" (1967), is reprinted with other essays in the author's "Shi'r, ghair-shi'r, aur nasr" (Poetry, Non-poetry, and Prose), Allahabad: Shabkhun Kitab Ghar, 1998 [1973],  pp. 399-415.

A Ghazal by Ghalib

by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

*Preliminary Remarks* -- *Background Information* -- *The Ghazal* -- *Verse 1* -- *Verse 2* -- *Verse 3* -- *Verse 4* -- *Verse 5* -- *Verse 6* -- *Verse 7* -- *Verse 8* -- *Verse 9* -- *Verse 10* -- *Verse 11* -- *Verse 12* -- *Conclusion*

Preliminary Remarks

The basic principle underlying this analysis is as follows: because poetry consists of words, and words are made up of both meaning and sound pattern, the music of the latter creates the poem's meaning, and the meaning creates the poem's music. Both these processes work simultaneously, and their interaction is such that a just assessment of the poem's meaning and significance cannot be obtained if they are considered separately. Words are the basic and fundamental element of a poem. It follows then, that a true study of poetry is only possible when, having first taken into account the words as individual entities, we then study their mutual interaction, and all the explicit and implicit associations and allusions that have arisen from their being woven into a textual fabric. The point to be stressed is this: when words are used in a poetic context, they acquire a stature over and above their apparent and literal meaning. Perhaps this mysterious gaining of stature comes largely from the music which results when words are arranged according to a given melodic pattern. For example, we cannot find in fa'ilun, fa'ilun, fa'ilun, fa'ilun the same music which we can in even in such a trite line as main jalata raha ansuon ke diye.

Moreover, it is not solely this indefinable and irreducible music which is produced by words in a poetic context. When words have been foregrounded through their use in such figures of speech as image, simile, and metaphor, they then give rise to a variety of connotations and allusions. Whether or not these are all equally relevant, they nevertheless, because of their concrete nature and emotional appeal, have a swift and penetrating psychological impact, and draw in their train all kinds of less obvious and otherwise hidden meanings. For this reason, poetic analysis strives to ascertain all the most significant latent possibilities of a poetic text. If it is conceded that the poem draws into its orbit all kinds of exoteric and seemingly farfetched meanings and associations, it naturally follows that the most complex meaning ought to be the truest one, because the more remote the meaning is, the more subtle and delicate will its aesthetic effect be. This is so because true poetry is not a statement of the hackneyed banalities of existence, but makes the experience of life more meaningful and intense.

With regard to this theory that the most difficult meanings are the most significant ones, it is irrelevant to ask whether or not the poet consciously intended his poem to contain such abstruse meanings. In the first place we don't usually possess the declared intention of the poet (luckily however we do have it for a few of Ghalib's verses), and even if we did, it would not then follow that the meanings not. consciously included by the poet are not to be found in his verses. For most shers we don't usually have the testimony of the poet, and so no one can make the claim convincing that the meaning he proposes is the one that the poet intended. More important than this, however, is the fact that unless a poetic text explicitly rules out a particular interpretation, we are fully justified in whatever meanings we discover there. Indeed one major proof of the greatness of a poet lies in the complex and varied spectrum of interpretations that his poetry affords. It can be seen from the above brief account of the principles involved in close critical analysis of the poetic text, that this kind of analysis can be regarded as a special kind of sharh navisi, or textual commentary.

The sharh writer usually searches for what he thinks is the most exact and accurate meaning of a sher, and understands this to be the one that emerges from the surface of the text. He will only take into account those metaphors and allusions which in their nature and tenor correspond to accepted norms. Where the sharh offers a variety of meanings, it does so with a particular preference for one. Moreover, this kind of explication de texte does not concern itself with the tension resulting from a particular arrangement of words, or with the multi-faceted poetic irony (and all its various shades and tones of voice) which is to be recovered from the deep structure underlying these words. Nevertheless, both verbal analysis and traditional sharh aim at ascertaining the meaning of a poem. The difference that must be made clear is this: though every poem is capable of a sharh, not all are amenable to a verbal analysis. This is because the latter can only flourish where there is tension, irony, and an abundance of associative links. While there is no guarantee that each poem of each poet will always contain these elements, yet every good poem will necessarily contain the possibility of such hidden meanings in its deep structure. To conclude: every good poem can respond to close textual analysis, in the light of which its meaning blossoms forth.

Background Information

Texts used: Diwan-e Ghalib, edited by Malik Ram (second edition, 1965), and Diwan-e Ghalib, edited by Imtiaz Ali Arshi (first edition, 1958).

Metre: Mudare'-muthamman-akhrab-makfuf-mahzuf. This metre's base form is: mafa'ilun fa'ilatun mafa'ilun fa'ilatun. Metrical variation used here: maf'ul fa'ilat mafa'il fa'ilun. Ghalib has composed many good ghazals in this metre. In fact it accounts for many of the best ghazals in the "authorised" edition of his works. In Urdu, another variation of this metre is also popular. It is called mudare'-muthamman-akhrab. It scans as follows: maf'ul fa'ilatun maf'ul fa'ilatun. In the authorised edition, Ghalib has only one ghazal in this variation, whereas Mir and Dard have used it a lot. Perhaps this is because this measure is more suited to calm pensive thought. Ghalib's restless and mercurial temperament infuses his verse with a sense of speed and movement, but does not permit that solemn stately music which is the hallmark of reflective verse.

The Ghazal [{214}]

1. Unless one creates a wound-mouth,
there is no way to open the way of communication with you.

2. The world from beginning to end consists of the dust of Majnun's frenzy;
how long then must one keep paying attention to Laila's hair?

3. Melancholy is not capable of instigating a loving attentive response,
yet perhaps if one becomes pain itself, one can find a place in the heart.

4. Friend, do not reproach me for weeping;
after all, sooner or later, someone must undo tbe knot of the heart.

5. If even the tearing of my liver did not cause me to be enquired after,
why should I shame the front of my shirt by tearing it?

6. The rent pieces of my liver have turned the vein of every thorn into a blossoming bough;
how much longer then must I continue to be a gardener of the wilderness?

7. The lightning that strikes the sight makes vision impossible;
you are not that which eyesight can behold.

8. Each brick and stone is the nacre which produces the pearl of defeat and shattering;
the exchange that brings madness incurs no loss.

9. Your promise was such a test of one's patience that life was unable to last that long;
where then was the leisure to desire you?

10. The frenzy of the creative mind begets despair;
 this pain is not such that it can be brought on at will.

11. The habitual task of head-beating fills the idleness of insanity,
but what can one do when the hands become fractured and broken?

12. O Asad, it is still far off that the candle of the poetic word may grow in beauty;
first of all, the heart must be created which has been rendered soft and ductile by molten flame.

The Analysis

1. Unless one creates a wound-mouth,
there is no way to open the way of communication with you.

Whether this sher is concerned with ishq-e haqiqi (sacred love) or ishq-e majazi (human love)--Hali preferred the former possibility--the crux of it resides in the word "mushkil". It is used here in the sense of "impossible," and refers to that which it is possible to hope for but impossible to achieve. (One often uses the expression "Aisa hona mushkil hai" about something which one hopes for but which cannot happen.) A wound is like a mouth because it resembles two red lips, and because the bone which can be glimpsed through a deep wound shows like the whiteness of teeth.

The silent testimony of the wound is, however, as eloquent and expressive as the speech of a real tongue. Iftikhar Jalib comments (in another context) that the speech of the wound is "full of force and vigour, awe-inspiring and inducive of change." In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has Mark Antony use the same kind of imagery when confronted with Caesar's corpse:

Over thy wounds now do I prophecy­-
Which like dumb mouths do ope their ruby lips,
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue­-
(III, 1,259-261)
But Ghalib's theme is even more subtle: the very thing (i.e. the dumb mouth of the wound) which is indicated as the means whereby communication with the beloved can be achieved, is itself dumb and completely devoid of the power of speech. This particular kind of delicate tension arising from the expression of irony is often found in Ghalib, for example [{169,1}]:
In the house of darkness my night of sorrow overwhelms:
there is a candle as a sign of dawn, but it too is silent.
Ghalib's own comment on this sher is as follows: "The subtlety of the theme is this: that very thing which is declared to be an indication of dawn, is also in fact usually considered to be one of the causes of darkness. How dark must that house be where the very symbol of dawn is also a proof of darkness!"

To make a tongueless wound represent the means of speech implies the impossibility of speech. How powerless to speak must that person be whose only tongue is a wound, and how difficult it must be to find someone able to converse with him. This is indeed the height of irony, and an example of what I said previously: words expand in meaning when used in a poetic context, and poetic irony is an important and effective method of giving depth to meaning. An image similar to the wound-mouth has been used by Ghalib in another sher [{212,3}]:

The pain of dejected melancholy does not allow the luxury of restless agitation,
otherwise the burying of the teeth in the heart would be the promise of laughter.
In this example, teeth sunk into the heart form the shape of a wound, and the wound is smiling.

His whole life long it pleased Gha!ib to exercise the knack that he had for this particular kind of word-play, and no Urdu poet has equalled him in this respect. Consider for example the congruity of the following expressions in the opening sher of the gazal we are analysing: dahan-e zakhm (wound-mouth), rah-e sukhan (way of speech), wa kare (be opened). These expressions are not simply there to complete the line, but have relevance to the structure. Ghalib has very often used this rhetorical device called mura'at-ul-nadhir (congruity of expression) with telling effect.

2. The world from beginning to end consists of the dust of Majnun's frenzy;
how long then must one keep paying attention to Laila's hair?

The expressions vahshat-e Majnun and turra-e Laila are related to each other in an external way, while ghubar-e vahshat and turra-e Laila are related to each other through their inner form: both have a twisting, spiralling shape. Moreover, just as a thick cloud of dust obstructs the vision, so the hair of Laila both literally and figuratively makes the beholder blind. Keep in mind the congruity found between turra-e Laila (Laila's hair) and sar-ba-sar (head to head, throughout), for the basic irony of this verse is that although both Laila's tresses and the dust-storm have similar internal and external features, yet it is the dust-storm which captures our attention most of all, though its form is obviously less attractive than that of Laila's tresses.

When the whole world itself has been turned to dust, how long can we continue to lament for the dusty tresses of Laila? Or again, if the whole world is simply dust, i.e. unreal, how long can one go on fantasizing about Laila? Indeed if the whole world is dust and contains nothing substantial, how long can one keep labouring under the illusion that it isn't dust at all, but Laila's hair? "If nothing exists, what is there to be deceived by?" --as Ghalib said in another sher [{46,3}]..

Finally, if the whole world has been reduced to a dust­cloud on account of Majnun's madness, how long can one be held captive by a vision of Laila's hair, and not take note of Majnun's madness? The keyword of the verse is khayal, which means both "considered thought" and "imagination"; the latter meaning contains the idea of "illusion," which also should be kept in mind.

3. Melancholy is not capable of instigating a loving attentive response,
yet perhaps if one becomes pain itself, one can find a place in the heart.

In this sher too, there is the same kind of irony that we find in the opening sher. The ambiguity in the second line is worth noticing. In which heart is one to find a place, after being transformed into pain? The lover's or the beloved's? But neither alternative is easy to accept. How difficult it must be to find space in the beloved's heart. For merely to communicate with her/him requires a wound-mouth. As for the lover himself, when once he is, from head to toe, all sorrow, where will he have a heart for someone to dwell in? And so neither possibility is really feasible. The key-word is dil (heart) but the construction tarab insha-e ulfat too, found in the first line, is worth noting. Ghalib has often used this kind of complex genitive construction to great effect. The effect of such construction is to suggest more than one meaning and a sense of continuous tension, very difficult to explain in words, but perceptible to the trained reader.

In the sher under consideration the end-rhyme also gives rise to a peculiar ambiguity. Does koi (some one, anyone) refer to the beloved or the lover? It is possible that dil is used to refer to the lover and koi to the beloved. The meaning that emerges then, is that the beloved's melancholy alone cannot give that sense of exhilaration to the lover which only her attentiveness can bring. Only if the beloved makes the lover's heart her home in the same way that sorrow has, will the heart have a chance of blooming. Also, how contracted and narrow must that heart be which is not able to accommodate even the beloved, unless before entering there she has already been transformed into pain.

An unusual feature of this ghazal is that many of the second lines of the shers begin with some word or other of wonder, exclamation, interrogation, or emphasis. These give the lines a special expressive vigour. Though these words come with an almost explosive force in the second line of the sher, their effect is one of melancholy which contains nevertheless a certain careless elan. A mocking tone is also present, which is directed not only at the poet's own uncouthness, slow-wittedness, and insensitivity, but also at these qualities in others.

4. Friend, do not reproach me for weeping;
after all, sooner or later, someone must undo the knot of the heart.

The confidant who censures the poet for lamenting, does not have the latter's perception or insight: the word akhir (at last, at some time or the other) is an ironic comment on his intellectual and emotional immaturity. Yet in a covert, subtle way the poet is himself a target: how can tears which themselves form a kind of chain, help to untie a knot? A subtler point is that a knot will become even tighter after it has been soaked in water: if, to begin with, it was merely difficult, to undo it now will be absolutely impossible.

Notice the way in which images of difficulty and impossibility are used time and again in this ghazal. Later on we will see what an important role the images and metaphors of impossibility and difficulty play in creating the atmosphere and effects of this ghazal, and how the whole ghazal thereby acquires a continuity.

5. If even the tearing of my liver did not cause me to be enquired after,
why should I shame the front of my shirt by tearing it?

This is a sher which on the surface appears different from a famous sher [{34,2}] in another ghazal, but in fact contains the same underlying idea:

The mirror has not yet received more than one stroke of polish;
I only realized this when I began to have a torn neckline.
Here, the first stage in polishing the heart is that of rending the shirt-front. But this rending occurs precisely when the heart and the liver have been torn. Indeed the first stage is that of tearing apart the heart and liver, and although the rent opening of the shirt-front is no doubt indicative of intense distress and pain, it still only represents the initial stage of the polishing process. In the sher under analysis the poet has not yet reached that stage when he is completely overcome by the trauma of an ineradicable grief and a paralysing blow to the spirit, when all effort appears futile and every act meaningless. Notice the way in which the following phrases tie in with one another: chak (rent, tear), rah-e pursish (the passage of inquiry), and wa na hui (did not open); and how chak-e jaib (rent in the neck­line) has the same kind of visual form as a path.

A further consideration is that the constitution of the liver is such that it cannot be cut into straight pieces but only into ragged curly twists. When access to the beloved cannot be achieved by means of these difficult and tortuous defiles, how can the relatively straight and easy way of the gariban-e chak (a torn neck­line) succeed in doing so? There is also an element of irony in this sher: the straight way is usually thought of as the one most certain to lead to the intended destination, but here the straight rent in the neckline has the opposite effect.

6. The rent pieces of my liver have turned the vein of every thorn into a blossoming bough;
how much longer then must I continue to be a gardener of the wilderness?

In another (Persian) sher, Ghalib deals with a theme of similar purport and complexity, and in a manner which contains both grace and dignity:

I have dipped the point of each thorn in my heart's blood,
and in this manner have laid down the rules for gardening in the wilderness.
Notice that in the sher under analysis, the phrase baghbani-e sahra (gardening the wilderness) remains exactly the same as in the above sher, but instead of har sar-e khar (each head of thorn) there is the more subtle phrase rag-e har khar (the vein of each thorn). It is more subtle because here the liver's blood has flowed with such abundance and ease that even the dry veins of the thorn have been moistened by it. Consider the way form and meaning cohere.

But the true beauty of the verse lies in the am biguity of the second line. Ta chand (for how long?) is the keyword of the sher, and points in several directions at once. One interpretation could be: "I have been directed to garden this desert wilderness. With slivers of my liver, I have turned every vein of every thorn in this wilderness into a blossoming branch. How long will I have to go on rendering this service?" In other words, what more can be expected of anyone? Another reading might be: "Now that I have watered every vein of every thorn with shreds of my liver; what else do I possess which can be used to irrigate it?" Yet another interpretation could be: "I have made every thorn blossom. Do I still then have to continue caring for this wilderness, without having the opportunity of tending a real garden?" A further reading might go: "I have caused each and every thorn to flower, yet the desert still remains a wilderness. How much longer then do I have to go on cutting up my heart and liver?" The following questions could also be asked: "Since every thorn has been made to blossom, the desert is no longer a wilderness. Am I then still to be considered an attendant only of the desert?" Or, "Despite lavishing so much of my liver­blood on the desert, am I still nevertheless to remain an outsider to the garden?"

The basic emotion beneath this multi­faceted verse is one of failure and despair, together with a bleak disenchantment where the life of action is concerned. Life or the world is like a desert, and the pain the poet experiences in his heart, which he externalises in verse, is like a piece of his liver. We try to adorn life in every conceivable way, and waste our whole lives in the process, yet still our destiny remains only unfulfilment and alienation. The fourth, fifth and sixth shers are pervaded by this irony. Indeed, all the shers we have analysed so far, show irony in one form or another. I should make it clear, however, that I am using the word "irony" in the widest possible sense: it includes all that which on the surface appears to be simple, but which at bottom is diverse and complex. Those meanings which may contrast with or even contradict other meanings emerging from the surface of the text, can be said to be examples of irony. The particular irony of sher six lies in the idea that despite the life-giving moisture in the vein of every thorn, the wilderness remains arid, and its gardener only a desert madman.

Ghalib has made use of another special feature in the sound pattern of this sher. Alliteration is not very highly regarded in Urdu and Persian poetry, yet Ghalib has used it in such a way that it plays an important role in creating the beauty of the verse, without ever seeming clumsy, laboured, or obvious. In the second sher the "r" sound has been used five times (including the radif): ghubar, sar-ba-sar, turra, kare. Take away the contribution that these sounds make, and the mental images of the tangled hair of Laila and the spiralling dust-storm would not seem nearly so vivid. Turn now to the sounds "kh" (lakht, shakh, khar), "r" (jigar, rag, har, khar) and hard "g" (jigar, rag, gul) in the sixth sher. We can see how effective these sounds are in creating an image of freshness in the sher, corresponding to the blossoming of the wilderness. The strange and unusual blend of sound seems to enact the process of flowers blossoming.

7. The lightning that strikes the sight makes vision impossible;
 you are not that which eyesight can behold.

In the phrase tu voh nahin (you are not that) we find a long sigh tinged with regret, a strange kind of mockery. The object of this scorn is the poet himself as well as the rival, or his run-of the mill insensitive and worldly competitors, all of whom insist on beholding the beloved in a physical sense. Urfi has, in a famous sher, introduced an additional element along with mockery: a kind of double meaning which implies that his beloved is different from that of the usual lover. But Urfi's sher is devoid of that stark regret which pervades Ghalib's sher:

Raise the veil so that it may be known
that actually, my friends worship someone else.
On other occasions, Ghalib's regret seems to have been transformed into images of ectasy and rapt innocence which nevertheless contain a touch of wry playfulness:
Even vision acted there as a veil:
intoxicated, every look became dispersed and scattered on your face. [{158,7}]

When that beauty which illuminates the heart is itself, like the noonday sun,
capable of burning away all vision; why should it conceal itself behind a veil? [{115,3}]

The compound nazara-soz (that which burns away all vision) has been used both in the second of the shers just quoted and the sher under analysis; we also have the word nazara (sight, spectacle) in the first verse.

But it is the phrase nakami-e nigah (failure of seeing, of vision) which gives the sher under analysis an unexpected turn. The subtlety of the theme is that loss of sight did not occur after the attempt was made to see. Instead, at the very moment that the attempt was being made, the lightning quality of the vision of beauty left the eyes bereft of the power of sight. In Ghalib's view the fundamental tragedy of life comes when things waste away or are destroyed without fulfilling their purpose. The eyes have been made to see, but they are not destined to see. Indeed, implicit in the existence of the eye is its ultimate inability to see. In other words, existence amounts to non-existence, and creation implies destruction; we live in order to see you, but you are not that which can be seen. So life has no purpose, for no purpose can ever be achieved.

There is another facet of this sher which links it up with the matla. "You are not that which can be seen by the physical eye." Perhaps, however, you can be beheld by the eyes of the heart. And the eyes of the heart only become open when the physical eye is closed. It is the strangest of ironies and paradoxes that you are that which is meant to be seen but only on condition that the physical eye is closed. Another idea arising from this is that when we strive to behold your splendour and
fail in the attempt, this failure to see acts on us like a stroke of lightning. In other words, the sorrow and pain of not being able to see blinds us like lightning, and so to attempt to see you through the physical eye is in fact to become bereft of sight.

8. Each brick and stone is the nacre which produces the pearl of defeat and shattering;
the exchange that brings madness incurs no loss.

Consider carefully the play on words here in sang-o-khisht (stone and brick), sadaf (nacre), gauhar-e shikast (pearl of defeat and breaking), nuqsan (loss), sauda (trading, exchange), and junun (madness). However, instead of the phrase sang-o-khisht in the first line, either sang or khisht would have been sufficient. Two words instead of one have been used merely for the sake of the metre. This is the first sher in seven where the poet's hand seems to falter. One could, however, explain the use of sang-o-khisht by saying that both rocks and bricks are hurled at madmen. Yet this world be mere hair-splitting. I feel that the use of both sang and khisht does not enhance the meaning. Either sang or khisht would have been sufficient.

This sher is an example of Ghalib's verbosity. Yet the word shikast (defeat, breaking) helps to redeem it somewhat. To say that it is the body alone which becomes broken through the onslaught of stones and bricks would be too simple an explanation of this sher. There is more to it than meets the eye. Reality cannot be truly known until a man loses his sense of ego or self, the sher seems to say. That crushing of the spirit which produces the true pearl of life is brought about through being pelted from street to street by a shower of stones.

And so the onslaught of stones refers not only to physical defeat but also to the fact of being attacked and defeated on all sides by the world; the suggestion of being driven from street to street by these stones further emphasises this idea. The phrase patthar khana (to be pelted by stones) is thus meant to be taken both literally and figuratively, indicating as it does that true defeat is of the spirit and mind rather than of the body; it comes about through the ignominy and disgrace of madness and is really a state of grace: it is the broken heart which attracts God.

9. Your promise was such a test of one's patience that life was unable to last that long;
where then was the leisure to desire you?

Commentators have been mistaken in their interpretations of this sher. The most usual explanation given is as follows: Your promise was a tremendous test of our patience, and we spent our whole life waiting for its fulfilment. And then, in the very act of waiting we died, not having therefore had the leisure to desire you. This explanation completely ignores the true meaning of the word kahan (where?) in the second line. Consider carefully the following well known shers of Ghalib from two different ghazals:

There are a hundred mirrors in front of you, if you but raise your eyes,
but where is the strength to shoulder the burden of the kind privilege of sight? [{130,1}]

Where can such heat be found even in the fires of hell?
The burning of hidden sorrows is greater by far. [{160,2}]

In both examples kahan (where?) is used so that hai (is) is understood. In other words, it means "is not." This is because kahan is used with reference to present time. If, for example, kahan had been used alongside the past tense, in the second line of the second sher quoted, then the meaning would be "was not". Therefore, the meaning of the sher under discussion is not that we did not have time to desire you (past tense). The line clearly states "There is not the time and leisure left to desire you" (present tense). And so it becomes obvious that the poet is referring to a state of affairs in the present.

Another difficully arises if we explain the sher as follows: "We died while waiting for you and so we had no time left to desire you." Such an interpretation would assign different meanings to tamanna (desire) and intizar (waiting), and this would involve the worst kind of rhetorical hair-splitting--something one does not often find in Ghalib. (Intizar and tamanna have similar implications: one only waits for what one desires). And so the meaning of this verse is not "We were waiting for you and therefore did not have time to desire you." If this sher is read alongside the following two shers, found elsewhere in Ghalib, the meaning wili become much clearer:

If we lived on your promise, know that it was because we knew it to be false.
For had we believed, we would have died of joy. [{20,2}]

Yes, people do become happy, but never die in union.
It was my desire (to die) in the night of separation that came home to roost. [{208,11}]

In the first sher the true implication of the promise of union is that the result would only be death from happiness. And in the second, the arrival of the night of union results again in another death from a surfeit of happiness. Both shers deal with the same situatiun. The poet does not have the time and leisure to realise his desires. If he had had faith in the promise, he would have died from happiness and would not have had to wait; even if he did not die due to the happiness of promise, the reality of the night of union would be so overwhelming that he would die without having actually enjoyed the pleasures of union.

Now turn to the sher under analysis:

Your promise was such a test of one's patience that my life was unable to last that long;
where, then, was the leisure to desire you?
There was the promise of union, but the promise tried one's patience so sorely that the spirit was not able to endure it and fled its prison of mortal flesh. Where the promise was, there was death also. To whom and where, then, is the leisure left for desire? Desiring was possible when waiting was possible; and waiting, in turn, was possible only when there was life. However, life was not equal to the patience required for a promise to be fulfilled, and ended just as this was about to happen. A drab prose explanation of this sher would go as follows: "Death intervenes at that instant when the promise is to be fulfilled­-my lifetime not extending that far--and so when will I have the leisure to desire you?" This is a good example of Ghalibian irony, for what kind of promise is it that not only does not give us an adequate life-span, but also does not allow us even the leisure for desire itself?

10. The frenzy of the creative mind begets despair;
 this pain is not such that it can be brought on at all.

The phrase tabi'at-e ijad (the creative-inventive temperament) can refer to several things: the world of nature; the poetic temperament with its creative-inventive tendency; the creative nature of man in general; or simply the urge itself to create and invent. All these forms of creativity share an underlying agitation and restlessness. Indeed this state of agitation is such that ultimately it produces only a kind of despair, because despite all the restless energy and the continual attempts at creation, nothing is achieved. Perhaps this is because creativity and the urge to construct carry within them the malignant seeds of their own decay and destruction. It may be that despite its wild profligate nature, the predestined end of this creative tendency is despair and frustration. This is Ghalib's most basic theme. Time and again he comes back to the idea that life is one huge desolate wasteland, the reason being that all our striving simultaneously contains within it the elements of its own undoing. (We have examples of this in shers 1, 2 and 5 of the ghazal which is the topic of this paper). If an act of will cannot prevent the pain of despair, neither can it produce it, and so, if the sorrow at issue is that of love, it follows that man's creative nature is incapable of producing or inhibiting it at will, try however it may.

Bekhud Dehlvi has noted that paida kama (to create) and ijad (invention; to invent) share similar implications, and the choice of words is therefore especially apt. Since one cannot inhibit pain, one cannot escape it. However, since sorrow itself is an abstract invisible entity, how can it be said to become manifest through birth? Also, if the necessary result of creativity is despair, then it is only despair that we can create: however much we aim at a positive achievement, the result will always be a negative reality, hence despair. No one can escape this fate.

11. The habitual task of head-beating fills the idleness of insanity,
but what can one do when the hands become fractured and broken?

The topic of this sher calls to mind a much better one by Mir. However, the similarity consists in the way the ideas are developed, the thought processes, rather than the thought itself, or the mood. Mir says [m{11,4}]:

Even in prison, the rebelliousness of my frenzy did not go;
now only the stone is a cure for this restlessness of my mind.
After beating the head with such insistence and for such a long time, the hands have become mangled and broken. Indeed, the blows have been such that it would seem that the very purpose of life was to suffer them. Nevertheless, even if the hands are now powerless, there are other resorts: we can still run against the wall, or knock our heads against a stone. Here the phrase "what else is there to do" (phir kya kare koi), instead of being simply a straight question, implies the resigned acceptance of a last resort. In a similar vein, the second line implies that there are in fact other possibilities, e.g., knocking the head against a stone.

12. O Asad, it is still far-off that the candle of the Poetic Word may grow in beauty:
first of all, the heart must be created which has been rendered soft and ductile by molten flame.

The compound farogh-e shama' (the growth of the light of the candle) has been used by Ghalib with particular skill in another sher [{194,3}]:

How fair is the ascendance in luck of my illness, for you have come to inquire after me!
The growth of the light of the candle that burns at my headboard is the awakening fortune of my sickbed!
The first and last sher of the ghazal ultimately have the same effect: the candle of poetry can contain no splendour and light until the heart has become molten. The connotations in shama' (candle) and gudakhta (molten) are especially worth noting. How can the heart which has become molten endure the heat of the poetic word! It is the very same kind of paradoxical statement which is found in lighter vein in the following sher:
Asad, the knot in the dress of the beloved is a bud of paradise;
If it opens, I could prove that there is a world of garden!
The knot in the girdle of the beloved cannot be opened and so that vision of the garden which is the whole world, is also impossible. In the following sher too, we find Ghalib making the same kind of impossible proposition, along with an under­current of irony:
Existence is but a deceitfully pleasing letter, like the mirage-wave;
So let's stand a lifetime of the artful scorn of the attractive title!
The playful irony of the unwan (title, beginning) is that there is no "title" or "beginning". Just as the wound-mouth which is the means for initiating communication is nevertheless mute, so the heart, which has caused the splendour of the candle of poetry, has nevertheless become molten, and ceasing to be a heart, has embraced death.

One more point is worth considering: it is the increasing lustre of the candle which tells us that it is coming to an end: the flame of the candle flickers more intensely just before going out, and so if this final brighteness of the candle is produced by the molten heart in its most extreme intensity, then the life of the latter must indeed be short. For both the candle and the heart, the inevitable result is death.


In addition to the twelve shers found in this ghazal, there are five others not found in the "authorised" diwan, and they need not be analysed here. However, it should be noted that out of these seventeen, the twelve which Ghalib selected for the published diwan display exceptional unity of meaning, technique, and style, as well as continuity of mood. However, one could also make the point that those which were excluded also show a similar internal coherence. The deleted matla' (first sher) is particularly worthy of attention:

Where is that frenzy that can bring us to the loss of self-availability
and which can divert being into that reality the word of which is non-being?

This matla' presents us with a basic problem of existence as seen by Ghalib: loss of selfhood can bestow on life the emptiness that is supreme existence (non-being), but for this to happen one must induce the extremity of a supremely painful experience, a relinquishing of the self through total madness.

The fundamental dilemma that pervades the whole of this ghazal is expressed in the form of paradox, of a self-defeating complexity which surfaces again and again. The ghazal given in the "authorised" diwan begins with the word "mushkil" (difficult). It is the keyword tbat prevades the whole of the ghazal both in letter and spirit. For every problem there is a solution, yet the solution is not only a problem in itself, it is also a kind of solution which only increases the complexity of the problem. In this way the problem and its solution form a never-ending circle. Just as word and meaning are one, so are the problem and its solution. This was the tragedy of Ghalib.

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