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0421,
2
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{421,2}

aag the ibtidaa-e ((ishq me;N ham
ab jo hai;N ;xaak intihaa hai yih

1) we were fire, in the beginning of passion
2) now, {since / in that} we're dust-- the end/completion is this

 

Notes:

ibtidaa : 'Beginning, commencement, exordium; birth, rise, source, origin'. (Platts p.2)

 

intihaa : 'Termination, end, extremity, utmost point or limit, summit, utmost extent; completion'. (Platts p.88)

S. R. Faruqi:

The verse is full of powerful 'mood' and ambiguity. Apparently there's nothing in the verse that wouldn't immediately be understood, but consider the points below:

(1) For 'being fire in the beginning of passion', there are the following interpretations:

(1) When passion began, then we were burning in the fire of fervor and intensity of emotion and total ardor.

(2) In us there was the same violence and strength that there is in fire.

(3) In us there was a sharpness/vehemence like that of fire; no one was able to sit near us.

(4) We were destructive like fire; therefore,

(5) It was we who burnt ourself up.

(6) In us was the restlessness and heat that is in fire.

(7) When passion began, then we were burning in the fire of grief (and separation), as if we ourself had become fire.

(8) We were radiant like fire.

(2) But what is the symbolic interpretation of 'fire' itself? In this connection, some points are presented below that have been drawn from Sufis, and from early symbolic thought, both Eastern and Western:

(a) Fire is the fountainhead of life. Fire is moist/succulent (the gulzaar-e ;xaliil ). Fire is the opposite of moisture/succulence. Fire is red, is white, is black, is blue. Death is red, is white, is black. Life is red (the red of blood); life is white (the whiteness of dawn); life is black = is death = worldly life is a kind of death.

(b) Fire = restlessness = wildness. Fire = brightness = restlessness = wildness. Wildness = madness. Madness is the opposite of wisdom (intellectual wisdom); thus fire = wildness = madness = blackness (for there to be no light = for there to be no wisdom).

(c) Flame rises above itself = it flies upward = it is subtle/refined. The spirit, without any support, mounts upward = it flies upward = it is subtle/refined. Therefore fire = the spirit.

(d) Fire = movement = life. Movement = creative power = wisdom. Creative power is the origin of power in general. Fire = power in general.

(e) Fire = light = life. But light also burns; therefore fire = light = death. Life = existence = light. But life = light = fire = death. Therefore non-existence = existence.

(f) With regard to the unconscious, fire = desire.

(g) Sun, sky, fire = creative power, the order of the universe, consciousness (thought, the illumination of thought, wisdom, spiritual knowledge).

(h) Red color, redness = blood = sacrifice = uncontrolled (physical or emotional) ebullition.

(i) Fire = whiteness = that divinity that encompasses everything and is beyond understanding.

(j) The Divine Light is reflected on the human spirit. Sometimes for a moment, sometimes for a long time. Then, an occasion comes when the spirit becomes submerged in it. To these levels the Sufis have given the names of (1) 'sparkles'; (2) 'lightning-flashes'; (3) 'brilliance'. To Hazrat Musa was vouchsafed the sight of 'brilliance', which was in the form of fire.

(k) Through God's inspiration/breath, within the human spirit a flame is created; that becomes fire. For this reason God spoke to Hazrat Musa in the form of fire itself.

(On the above points, for further discussion see the two essays in shi((r ;Gair-shi((r aur na;sr called mu:taali((ah-e usluub kaa ek sabaq and miir aniis ke ek mar;siye me;N isti((aare kaa ni:zaam .)

Now let's consider the meanings of the second line: (1) We burned up and became ashes. (2) We were erased, and became dust. (3) We came to have no reality. (4) We are cold/sad like dust. (5) We are lightless like dust. (6) We returned to our essence/origin. (That is, to become fire was not according to our essence.) (7) To become dust is our limit/end (that is, it is our completion). (8) We endured much sorrow, burned and roasted greatly; the result is that we became dust (what more could we have done than this?). (9) In the beginning there was great heat, but the fire of passion finally became extinguished. (10) To become dust is the level of completion/perfection, but what kind of completion is it that has a rank equal to dust?

Now we'll consider the symbolic interpretations of ;xaak .

(1) Dust = earth = the female principle = generative and creative power.

(2) The female principle = earth, as opposed to sky = the male principle.

(3) Dust = the human body = the Lord's house. (In the fifteenth century many European churches construed and imagined the body in a similar way; for further discussion, see C. G. Jung's edited work 'Man and his Symbols'.)

(4) Dust = stone = completion. (Stone is considered to be round, and is the symbolic circle of completion.)

(5) Dust = the animal principle = unconscious.

(6) Dust = the origin of existence = nonexistence.

It should also be kept in mind that there are four elements, and fire and dust are two of these elements. The meaningfulness of 'four' too is, according to Jung, that of completeness, and the complete level of completion is reached when the circle would be squared. Through/from fire to become dust too has a divine aspect, because when dust is a female principle it is the mother of everything-- therefore of fire as well. Thus through/from fire to become dust is a circular progression that is contained within the square of the four elements.

In the book by Jung mentioned above, reference is made to an ancient alchemical image in which a circle is surrounded by a square. Inside the circle are one woman and one man. In this way the circle is a symbol of completeness, since inside it is the unification of the two opposites (man + woman, fire + dust). And the square is completely complete, because it contains two circles.

Since dust is a symbol of the human body (= existence), by means of it itself there is access to all of external reality. According to Jung, 'Society and state are only customary ideas, and they can claim to be real only to the extent that they are represented by individuals'. Jung says that modern man has ignored his own nature (= essential animality = dust). And this is the reason that today modern man can know himself to the extent that he attains consciousness of his own self. Thus in place of his true existence, he considers his own ideas and assumptions about his existence to be his existence.

Jung expressed these ideas in his book 'The Undiscovered Self'. For our purposes, it's not a question of whether these ideas are incorrect or correct. The basic point is that the idea that Jung is expressing, that dust = essential animality = nature, is very ancient in our culture. In Mir's verse the fundamental interpretation of 'dust' is that the limit of passion was that we became complete, we knew our existence directly in the light of our nature.

It's not that the meaning of the verse that is immediately understood, is incorrect-- that is, that passion turned us into dust. The difficulties of passion and the intensity of passion took our life. But this meaning is insufficient. Both 'fire' and 'dust' are fundamental words in our culture, and the way these words have been used in this verse demands that we enjoy the verse by keeping in view all its themes. Even if we simply make the verse into prose-- 'In the beginning of passion we were fire (and) now since we are dust (then) this is the end/completion'-- the question remains of what is meant by 'fire' and 'dust'.

The phrase ab jo hai;N ;xaak is also full of meaning. If there's a little sorrow in it, then there's also a great deal of confidence and pride as well-- that we have arrived at this stage/destination. If 'fire' and 'dust' are taken in their ordinary sense (fire = movement, heat, and life; and dust = death, coldness), then this verse is a melancholy kind of commentary on the whole regime of passion; or rather, on the whole regime of the universe-- that acting according to passion, which is the noblest human quality, would have such an outcome.

In short, from whatever perspective we view the verse, it has in it marvels upon marvels. Such a verse is hard to find within the kulliyat even of Mir-- not to speak of others. But how would Mir ever shy away? Giving the theme another twist, in the second divan he has said [{842,5}]:

sab mu))e ibtidaa-e ((ishq hii me;N
hove ma((luum intihaa kyaa ;xaak

[they all died only/emphatically in the beginning of passion
as if they would know what the end/completion would be!]

FWP:

SETS
MOTIFS
NAMES
TERMS == AMBIGUITY; MEANING-CREATION; MOOD

Verse {842,5}, cited by SRF, makes beautiful wordplay out of the quite untranslatable idiom kyaa ;xaak -- literally, 'what dust'-- to indignantly reject the idea that the lovers in the beginning of passion would have known the end. But what exactly would they not have known? The second line tells us simply 'the end is this'-- or equally, given the symmetry of the grammar, 'this is the end'. It's a gorgeous effect.

The 'end'-- or 'completion', or all the other possibilities noted in the definition above-- could apply to a variety of possibilities. It could mean the end of the speaker's being 'fire', or the end of the speaker's passion, or the end of the speaker's life, or the rounded-out 'completion' of some journey or project. It could similarly mean the end (or completion) for all lovers, or even for all human beings.

The end and the beginning, intihaa and ibtidaa , are a perfect pair of tightly interlocked opposites, both so similar-looking and similar-sounding because they follow the same Arabic grammatical pattern. They are 'frenemies'.

A lesser poet would have used 'ashes' [raakh], because of its affinity with 'fire'; it occupies exactly the same metrical space as ;xaak . But Mir knew that in the context of the second line ;xaak would inevitably evoke ashes as well as dust (as it easily can), and that evoking not only the residue of fire (ashes), but also the residue of life (dust), would greatly enrich the verse and widen the range of its possibilities.

The kind of Jungian archetypal riff that SRF does on 'fire' and 'dust' is interesting, and can no doubt be argued to be relevant to some degree (because it presents ancient beliefs, etc.). But to what degree, and how can we tell? After all, we can be entirely sure that Mir (1723-1810) never read Jung (1875-1961). I am glad that at the end of the whole riff SRF settles down to a more focused and straightforward conclusion: 'If 'fire' and 'dust' are taken in their ordinary sense (fire = movement, heat, and life; and dust = death, coldness), then this verse is a melancholy kind of commentary on the whole regime of passion; or rather, on the whole regime of the universe-- that acting according to passion, which is the noblest human quality, would have such an outcome'. This is quite large enough a meaning to ascribe to a verse thirteen words long, and a more plausibly Mir-like one.

In general, we as readers should be on guard against the risk of a kind of 'cheap thrills' approach to poetry. For any very minor poet could easily compose a commonplace verse featuring 'fire' and 'dust'. Would that entitle the verse to a similar degree of archetypal credit? Every time some ordinary verse mentions a 'rose', is it entitled to come trailing clouds of associative glory that sweep across continents and centuries? If poetic excellence were so easily achieved, it would be almost meaningless. The test must surely be, what does the verse *do* with its imagery? How is the imagery activated within a particular verse, how is it made to create special, extraordinary effects that are particular to that verse? How does one make a thirteen-word poem feel almost infinite? This question of 'meaning-creation' is why I love to explore the devices that the great poets use so remarkably. And for this, one doesn't need Jung.