kyaa kahye kalii saa vuh dahan hai
us me;N bhii jo sochiye su;xan hai

1a) what can one say?-- that mouth is like a bud!
1b) as if you would say that that mouth is like a bud!

2) even/also in it, if you think, is speech/poetry/doubt



su;xan : 'Speech, language, discourse, word, words; —thing, business, affair (syn. baat )'. (Platts p.645)

S. R. Faruqi:

This verse is a miracle of poetic skill-- that he has transformed an utterly commonplace, utterly feeble theme. One form of 'theme-creation' is to present a shopworn theme in a new style (and in this way give strangeness to old, familiar themes). One form of presenting things in a new style is to create new meanings in the text, or to create more meaningfulness. In other words, through 'meaning-creation' freshness would be created in the theme.

In Mir's present verse, in the first line, through its insha'iyah structure, the following meanings have been created:

(1) What else can we say-- enough, we can say only this: that the beloved's mouth is like a bud.

(2) How would we talk with the beloved? Her mouth is (closed) like a bud. That is, the beloved doesn't speak at all, what would we say to her?

(3) Another aspect of this interpretation is, why would we speak to the beloved? Her mouth remains closed like a bud. That is, in the light of (2) the simple interpretation is that the person who wouldn't speak at all-- if we speak to her, then what would we say? And in the light of (3), there's a kind of hopelessness-- as if anyone would converse with such a person, whose mouth is like a bud!

(4) As if one would say that that mouth is like a bud! That is, this is not something to be said; it brings no results, because (as in the second line) in this utterance/idea too there's su;xan . (The meaning of su;xan will be discussed later.)

(5) Perhaps it would not be necessary to say that between the beloved's mouth and a bud there are at least three different kinds of similarity. One kind is that of condition-- that both don't speak. (After all, the petals of the bud are used as a simile for lips, and lips are used as a simile for petals.) The second kind is that of temperament-- that both are delicate. And the third kind is that of attributes-- both are narrow, they are not wide. (It's an interesting point that in the west, a wide mouth is a sign of beauty and with us a narrow mouth is considered beautiful.)

The requisites for a zila with dahan are provided in the whole verse, with extreme beauty and informality: kahiye , su;xan , sochiye . The word su;xan is supremely interesting, for among its meanings are also the aspects of 'objection, opposition' and 'doubt, dubiousness'. For example, Mir himself has said in the first divan [{352,3}]:

tuu sach kah'h rang paa;N hai yih kih ;xuun-e ((ishq-baazaa;N hai
su;xan rakhte hai;N kitne sha;x.s tere lab kii laalii me;N

[tell the truth-- is this color paan, or is it the blood of passion-practicers?
how many people have doubts about the redness of your lips!]

Here su;xan means 'doubt', although this meaning is not found in any dictionary. [Discussion of the problems with various meanings for su;xan given in Urdu and Persian dictionaries.] In fact the translation of the Persian phrase su;xan daashtan bar chiize is found in Mir himself, in the form of su;xan honaa about something. From the second divan:


In bahaar-e ((ajam there's a definition given for a Persian expression used 'when there's doubt as to whether something exists or does not exist'. It's clear that in the present verse this is the meaning that's been used-- 'What can you say, that mouth is like a bud; here, the situation is such that when you think, then you will realize that as yet it has not been decided whether that mouth even exists or not'. To assume that the mouth is so narrow and small that there is doubt about its existence or nonexistence, or to assume that the mouth is nonexistent, are both accepted in poetry. Ghalib:


In Ghalib's verse, the wit is fine, and also the use of both dictionary meaning and metaphorical meaning. But in Mir's verse the pleasure of the theme and the complexity of 'meaning-creation' are both at the degree of perfection. Here the idiom su;xan hai is a powerful example of the creative use of language, because it has a special affinity with the theme of the mouth of the beloved. As has been said earlier, it is used when there would be doubt about whether something existed or not. And for the beloved's mouth too, whether it even exists or not is a common theme.

[A discussion, with illustrations, of other idioms in Persian, such as su;xan niist , that use su;xan in the sense of 'doubt' or 'objection'.] Thus we see that su;xan hai can also be taken to mean 'there is doubt' and 'there is objection'. Now the second interpretation of the second lines becomes that if you think, then there's even/also doubt about whether the bud can be said to have a similarity with the beloved's mouth.

A third interpretation also emerges-- how would we say that that mouth is like a bud, because if we sit down and think about it, then about this idea too various kind of objections can be put forward. That is, about using the simile of something being 'as delicate as a bud' people will make objections that: (1) The simile is commonplace and shopworn. (2) It does not do justice in praising the beloved's mouth. (3) The thing which is being used for a simile [mushabbah-bih , vehicle] ought to be more powerful than the thing for which it is being used [mushabbah , tenor]. But here that is not the case, because the beloved's mouth itself is more delicate, more beautiful, etc., than the bud. (4) When the beloved's mouth is called 'like a bud', the intention is that it is not really a bud, but instead is better than a bud. Thus this is not praise of the beloved, but rather mockery. And so on.

In the light of all this discussion, the interpretation of the verse emerges as 'I wanted to speak of the beloved's mouth as 'like a bud', but when I reflected, then various objections and doubts came into view'. That is, in reality, in the verse nothing has been said about the mouth of the beloved, and in this way it has been given an absolute strangeness-- that I have no idea what I might/would say about the mouth of the beloved. If one would be a poet, this is how one should be [shaa((ir ho to aisaa ho]!

A theoretical discussion about creating 'strangeness' in poetry: This verse is a miracle of poetic skill-- that he has transformed an utterly commonplace, utterly feeble theme. This itself is a kind of 'defamiliarization'. This theory the Russian Formalists, especially Viktor Shklovsky and Boris Tomashevsky, have discussed with great power and at length. [Discussion of Tomashevsky's approval of the topsy-turvy use of chronology in 'Tristram Shandy'.] In the conclusion of his famous essay 'Art as Technique', Shklovsky says, 'The analysis and explanation of the forms of art takes place by means of the laws of art. It is not explained by means of "events".' [A similar quotation is provided from Tomashevsky's essay 'Thematics'.] Tomashevsky says in addition that 'The old and habitual ought to be talked about as if it is new and novel. We ought to talk about a common thing as if it were unfamiliar.'

It's clear that between these views and the principles of theme and 'theme-creation', there's a fundamental similarity. The foundation of theme is metaphor, but with us a metaphor too is turned into reality. That is, with us a metaphor is made into a metaphor, and in the original metaphor itself, qualities of reality are assumed. (See the introduction to SSA, volume 3, pp. 112-115). Then, through establishing in every metaphor a quality of reality, theme upon theme emerges, like Chinese boxes or Russian dolls. Thus a theme, or the basis of a theme, we can call, in Tomashevsky's language, 'realistic material'. In order to accomplish the act of creating strangeness, everything is proper by means of which a sense of strangeness and freshness would be able to be created in the thing.

According to I. A. Richards, the criterion for whether some text is excellent is the act of its remaining alive. Thus the reader/critic searches the inner signs of the text which can tell them where and how the act of making strange has been done. In fact, the act of determining the excellences of a text, in Richards's language, is also equivalent to examining the poetic action and its merit. And Coleridge has said the fundamental quality of poetic action to be that it establishes at once sameness and difference. That is, the things mentioned in the verse have a similarity with reality, and are also different from it. [More on Coleridge's views.]

The Russian Formalists, and long before them our own theorists, realized that the excellence of a metaphor/theme is in the extent to which by means of it a thing is seen differently. The idea that in the verse itself this quality (strangeness) is also present because it is metrical (in some fixed meter and rhythm), was known to the Romantic English critics, and even to Wordsworth as well. (Among us, Tabataba'i perceived it. He has written that the people who dislike wordplay and rhetoric as artificial, forget that meter and rhythm too are not natural qualities of language. In poetry, words are gathered together in an 'artificial' way that we call 'metrical poetry/composition'.)



SRF has discussed this little fifteen-word verse (and they're such short, simple words too!) at unusual length, so I've done a bit of compression; anyone who wants the fullest access to his views should of course consult the original Urdu. I've also taken the liberty of moving the main theoretical part of his discussion from the beginning to the end, so that it comes after the practical criticism. Please note that quotations from the Russian Formalists have been translated from Russian into English, then into Urdu, then back into English, and have inevitably suffered in the process.

Part of the endless discussability of this verse is created in the first line, with its brilliant combination of the 'kya effect' and the question of whether the line consists of two utterances or one. For kyaa kahiye can, like 'What can I say!' in English, be a simple exclamation, a form of the 'inexpressibility trope' (1a), a way of showing that the speaker is at a loss for words. Or else of course it can apply to the following clause, and can question or challenge the saying of it (1b).

And then, look at the clever and tricky beginning of the second line: us me;N , 'in that' (or is me;N , 'in this', if you prefer). And what is the 'that'? Something in the first line, no doubt-- but what, exactly? It could be 'in the speech-act' (of saying that the beloved's mouth is like a bud). It could be 'in the simile' (the one that likens her to a bud).

Or, of course, it could be, most irresistibly, 'in that mouth'. Then there are several ways we can spin it. For while SRF's interpretation of su;xan as 'doubt' or 'objection' is undoubtedly the wittiest and most amusing, we should not lose sight of the normal, obvious meaning of su;xan as 'speech' or 'poetry'. So we can say that her mouth is not like a bud, and the proof is that she can talk, while a bud cannot. Or we can say that her mouth is like a bud, because when it is contemplated, it too generates poetry. (Thus there's poetry 'in it', in the sense of 'in the contemplation of it').

And of course thinking seriously about the beloved's mouth also brings thoughts of the erotic and other possibilities of that mouth-- the cosmic powers of that mouth to kiss or to sneer, to exalt or overthrow the lover. For su;xan is fully as versatile as baat (see the definition above). In fact this vision of the beloved's mouth makes me think of the Krishna-lila in which Yashodha looks into her little son's mouth and sees the cosmos.

The role of the poet-- the one who should (or should not) 'speak' in the first line, and who should 'think' in the second line-- can be read as entirely constitutive. SRF concludes that the speaker ends up being unable to say anything at all about the beloved's mouth. That is a wonderful reading. And another wonderful reading is to conclude that only the act of the poet's thinking ( jo sochiye ) and speaking can give the beloved's mouth any meaning at all.

Compare a more straightforward kyaa kahiye verse about the poet's speaking, and the beloved's lips: