shab us dil-e giriftah ko vaa kar bah zor-e mai
bai;The the shiirah-;xaane me;N ham kitne harzah-kosh

1) last night, having opened that bound/captive/closed heart with the power of wine
2) we had seated ourself in the wine-house-- how much were we {triflers / time-wasters}?!



giriftah : 'Taken, received, accepted; clutched, seized; captured, made captive; —obstructed; shut, closed; involved (in), afflicted; embarrassed; —s.m. One who is made captive, &c., a captive, prisoner'. (Platts p.904)


shiirah : 'Juice (of fruit); sap; syrup; —new wine'. (Platts p.740)


harzah-kosh : 'One who labours over nonsense or trifles, &c.'. (Platts p.1225)

S. R. Faruqi:

harzah-kosh : expending one's strength on commonplace things, doing trifling tasks

The theme of this verse-set is entirely commonplace. But in it there are a number of extremely subtle excellences of expression, on the basis of which this has become an example of first-rate poetry, and provides a superb proof of the dictum that the excellence of a verse is founded not on meaning (that is, the subject of the utterance) but rather on expression (that is, style/method). The following points are worthy of note:

(1) The style is story-like and dramatic. And he has left the story ambiguous and incomplete. Ambiguous, because he didn't make clear who was the one [in {239,8}] who called out. Some Advisor, or some rakish fellow-drinker, or some voice from the unseen; or again, was it the inner voice of those wine-drinkers (or at least of the speaker)? Incomplete, because he didn't explain what was the effect of that voice, and of hearing the realities expressed by that voice, on the listeners; nor whether the speaker himself gives direct advice by means of this event for us to learn some lesson, or to renounce something (for example, wine drinking).

We've only been given accounts of two separate, and apparently unconnected, events. Some friends, with the intention of removing their heart-afflictedness, gather in a wine-house. A voice comes, which recounts the details of past wine-drinkers, and the passing of former gatherings of wine-drinkers, and therefore the didactic outcomes of these gatherings. After this, 'the rest is silence', as Beckett has said. How meaningful is this silence itself, perhaps it wouldn't be necessary to elaborate.

(2) The idea of opening the 'bound heart' through the power of wine is apparently pleasant. But first reflect that in 'through the power of wine' is a kind of violence, a kind of tyranny. That is, the attempt to open the 'bound heart' is in reality a kind of tyranny over that person; and the heart is so 'bound' that without exercising force, it can't be opened. But in the second line he has called the people whose hearts he is opening with the power of wine, harzah-kosh -- that is, those who do trivial tasks/actions.

That is, the attempt to open the 'bound heart', or the act of opening it, is in reality a vain/trifling deed. There can be several reasons for this. For example, even if the heart would be open for a little while, then so what? And if it wouldn't be open, then so what? Or, what's the pleasure in opening the heart by force? If it would be open of its own will, that would be quite different. Or, the people who want to remove the heart's boundness are doing a vain deed-- the heart's very use is that it would remain bound like a knot.

(3) Then, those people have been called 'sharp-minded' [in {239,8}]. This can be sarcastic; or it can also be that the person who is calling out to them is, by praising them or addressing himself to their vanity, making them entirely ready to listen to his words.

(4) Jamshid has been called [in {239,9}] the founder of the wineglass-- that is, its maker, its seeker-out, or its shaper. In Arabic, the form va.z((a is also used for the making of some imaginary or false thing; for example, false hadiths are called mau.zuu(( (meaning 'crafted, made up').

(5) He has mentioned Jamshid first of all; that is, the maker of the wineglass arrives first, its making afterwards. Jamshed and his company of flute/music and drinking existed without the wineglass, and the life of the wineglass was able to continue after Jamshed.

(6) Thus he has first mentioned the end of Jamshid, then has said that now his wineglass too no longer remains. Indeed, [in {239,10}] the tulip flower (which has the shape of a wineglass and the color of wine) has remained. That is, the 'Cup of Jamshed' too has been erased; now, if anyone wants to know what it must have been like, then he should look at the tulip flower, which has a similarity with the wineglass but cannot itself do the work of the wineglass.

It's true that since opium, which gives peace and unconsciousness, is made from the poppy, in a way it has a superiority over Jamshid's 'World-showing Cup' [jaam-e jahaa;N-numaa]. In the 'World-showing Cup' the past and future state of the world could be seen. The things obtained from the poppy's cup are peace and dreams-- that is, in place of awareness it creates unawareness. Since in the tulip there's a black scar, to give it the similitude of a 'trace/mark' is very fine. The evocation of opium is not only hypothetical, because in the next line the 'poppy' has been mentioned.

(7) The willow is used as a simile for Majnun; thus in place of the young men drinking wine, the swaying of the willow [in {239,11}] suggests hopelessly bad fortune and an instructive outcome. For calling the willow the 'willow of Majnun', there are three reasons. One is that the leaves of the willow are scattered/disarranged and drooping, and call to mind disordered locks of hair; then, the willow tree is very delicate and light of body. The second reason is that because it's light, this tree trembles in even a very small breeze. The third reason is that drops of water drip from its leaves; because of this it's called 'weeping willow' in English. Thus the swaying of the willow is in reality the trembling of its quivering and weakness. The similitude between the swaying of the wine-drinking young men and the swaying of the willow has an effect of evoking fear and sympathy.

(8) The 'brick of the wine-cask' [in {239,11}] is the brick (or some heavy thing) with which the mouth of the wine-cask is closed up. The cask for which the skull of the Master Wine-seller [piir-e mai-farosh] would be acting as a brick-- what kind of wine will be inside it, is impossible even to imagine. The whole wine-house has been ruined; perhaps some attacking army has put the wine-drinkers, the Cupbearers, and everybody to the sword, and cut off the Master Wine-seller's head and placed it atop the wine-cask.

If this deed shows pride and contempt, then it makes one tremble; and if it was done only casually, then it would make one tremble even more. For destruction and desolation, what better metaphor than this can there be? One part of Gottfried Benn's poetry is full of terrifying images. But even in his poetry, nothing will emerge to equal the Master Wine-seller's head being used as a 'brick' for the wine-cask. And imagine that when the head had been cut off and placed atop the wine-cask, then a stream of blood, and then drops, would have fallen into the cask and would have kept reddening the wine.

Another suggestion, too, is that the times have changed: he who yesterday was the Chief of the Wine-house and the Elder of the Magi, has had his head cut off and made into the 'brick' of the wine-cask. Now there's a new Cupbearer, and new wine-drinkers. Tomorrow perhaps this doom will overtake them in their turn.

Nazir Akbarabadi has used the 'brick at the foot of the wine-cask', but his theme is different:

tuu jis jaa ;xisht-e paa-e ;xum thii vaa;N sar rakkh diyaa ham ne

[the place where you were the 'brick at the foot of the wine-cask'-- there we placed our head]

In Mir's own poetry, for the 'brick of the wine-cask' see:


The present ghazal is a superb example of the heights of imagery, 'meaning-creation', and 'tumult-arousingness'.



This is the first of five verses of a verse-set that continues through {239,11}. SRF discusses them all together, which works well for his purposes. I will add some further thoughts about each individual verse, separately.

SRF envisions a group of friends sitting together in the wine-house. Based on this verse in isolation, it seems more likely that 'we' were sitting alone, meditatively drinking and contemplating time, fate, and our own wine-opened heart, since the reference to 'that heart' (singular) in the first line goes better with a solitary drinker. But then, the speaker could have opened up his own heart with wine, and could still be sitting with a group of friends as he had done so.

SRF's plural sense of the company is strongly supported by {239,8}, in which the mysterious voice clearly addresses a group of people. So we could imagine that the 'we' in the present verse is being used for the speaker alone (in relation to his own heart), but that the speaker then proceeds to let us learn, in the second verse of the verse-set, that he was sitting with a group of friends at the time.

Sitting there last night, half-drunk, what triflers we were, how much we were harzah-kosh ! Because of the 'kya' effect created by kitne , the reading could also be 'as if we were at all triflers!' (on the contrary, we were engaging in significant mental work); or else 'how much were we triflers?' (were our thoughts trivial, or not?). Such alternatives go well with the larger all-is-vain thrust of the verse-set: if everything we do is brief, futile, and doomed, is it really possible to escape from triviality and the waste of time?

But in any case, who could resist a comparison with Ghalib's most famous verse-set, since it develops along strikingly similar lines? It begins here:


and continues through G{169,12}, so it's a little longer than Mir's. In it wine appears less centrally, but time and transience and ineluctable loss are at the heart of it, just as they are of Mir's own. Both verse-sets are explicitly hortatory and didactic, but are also so suffused with a musically despairing calm that their larger mood is one of romantic melancholy.

Note for grammar fans: In the second line, it would also be possible to read ham kitne harzah-kosh as 'how many triflers were we?' (an appeal for a count), or as 'how many triflers we were!' (there were such a lot of us there!). But reading kitne as 'how much, to what an extent' yields a more compelling range of meanings.