zer-e falak rukaa hai ab jii bahut hamaaraa
is be-fa.zaa qafas me;N mu:tlaq havaa nahii;N hai

1) under the sky/sphere, our life now greatly falters/hesitates
2) in this unspacious/unflourishing cage, there is absolutely no air



ruknaa : 'To stop, to rest, to stick, to falter (in speech, &c.), to stammer; to be closed; to be enclosed; to be hindered, be prohibited; to be sad, be vexed'. (Platts p.597)


fa.zaa : 'Width, spaciousness, openness, extensiveness'. (Platts p.782)


mu:tlaq : 'Freed, free, unrestricted, unconfined; unconditional; indefinite; unrestrained, uncontrolled; not shackled; independent, absolute, entire, universal; principal, supreme; —adv. Wholly, entirely, altogether, absolutely; at all; not in the least, never'. (Platts p.1044)

S. R. Faruqi:

This verse originates in a [Persian] verse of Maulana-e Rum's. In the 'Masnavi' (sixth daftar) the Maulana says,

'This ground, since it is a cradle for small children,
Is a narrow place for grownups.'

Rumi's verse refers to a Sufistic lack of enthusiasm-- that people of courage/spirit are like wise adults, for whom the raising of children becomes a very minor thing. In Mir's verse there's the theme of sadness of heart, but in it too is a lack of enthusiasm. That is, he is sad at heart because the house of the universe seems small.

It's worth noting how the idea was conveyed that 'in this cage there's absolutely no air'. An ordinary poet (for example, Josh or Firaq) would have written down some trifling word in order to fill out the meter, but Mir's lack of enthusiasm has searched out the fresh and meaningful word be-fa.zaa , which is both for its affinity with havaa , and in its own right.

[Farid Ahmad Barkati in his dictionary has defined be-fa.zaa incorrectly, but other dictionaries can help.] The meaning of fa.zaa is both 'extent, breadth' and also 'happiness, flourishingness, hustle and bustle'. Thus the word be-fa.zaa , in its correct meaning, has in this verse a miraculous effect. In the second divan itself, Mir has altered this theme and in truth pulled out a superb verse [{922,6}]:

ruk jaa))e dam gar aah nah nah karye jahaa;N ke biich
is tang-naa))e me;N kare;N kyaa jo havaa nah ho

[the breath would falter if one would not sigh, in the world
in this narrow strait what can one do, if there's no air?]

(For one more beautiful use of tang-naa))e , see


Qa'im has brought out a new aspect of the theme of the narrowness of the world:

kyuu;N nah jii ghabraa))e zer-e aasmaa;N
ghar to hai ma:tbuu(( par bas mu;xta.sar

[why would the inner-self not feel anxious beneath the sky
the house is agreeable but-- well, compressed]

In the [dictionary] farhang-e aa.sifiyah one meaning for jii has been given as 'breath', and as a 'warrant' a verse of Nasikh's has been given:

dil bar me;N hai jism me;N nah jii hai
kuchh merii ;xabar tumhe;N ajii hai

[there is neither a heart in the breast, nor a jii in the body
so there-- as if you have any information about me!]

From this verse the meaning of jii as 'breath is not proved, nor does this meaning appear in any dictionary. But if on the basis of the aa.sifiyah this meaning would be accepted as correct, then an additional aspect is added to Mir's verse: that because of a lack of air, the breath has stopped.

In this way we see that although Mir has translated Bedil's verse, he has not lost his originality.

A discussion about translation:
Mir has translated this verse from Bedil. In this connection, and to see how Ghalib has used this theme, see the introduction to SSA volume 1, pp. 37-38. In our culture, translation is a way of deriving benefit, and has been considered a tribute of praise from one poet to another. And if the translation should be superior to the original, then what more could anyone want? Anand Ram Mukhlis says [in Persian],

'All my fingernails have become perfumed like rose-leaves--
Whose sash is this that I am opening?'

Yaqin has a verse:

kyaa badan hogaa kih jis ke kholte jaame ke band
barg-e gul kii :tar;h har naa;xun mu((a:t:tar ho gayaa

[what body will it be, such that while opening the ties of the robe
every fingernail has become perfumed like a rose]

It's a separate matter that Yaqin's translation is not very good (and in this respect Yaqin can be considered an objectionable case), but to translate the verse was no bad thing in itself, because Mir has not only translated many verses (the present verse is before us), but also himself reworked Yaqin's translation of Anand Ram Mukhlis's verse some years later, in the sixth divan, like this [{1094,8}]:

us gul-e tar kii qabaa ke kahii;N khole the band
rango;N gul-barg ke naa;xun hai mu((a:t:tar apnaa

[I had somehow opened the ties of the robe of that moist rose
my fingernail is perfumed in the style/color of a rose-leaf]

Undoubtedly Mir's verse has gone even beyond Anand Ram Mukhlis's, and it is some orders of magnitude better than Yaqin's. But it is nevertheless a translation of Mukhlis's. In truth Mir had some kind of unreasonable sort of quarrel with poor Yaqin; thus in nikaat ul-shu((araa he has raked up some trivial story against him, and has also inappropriately accused him of stealing Mukhlis's verse.

Otherwise, even more than translations from earlier poets, translations from contemporaries have the aspect of tributes of praise, and in classical times the 'literary community' entirely expected that if not most of them, then a considerable number would be acquainted with the verse that had been translated. Mir has translated one more verse by Anand Ram Mukhlis:


Mukhlis's verse is superb, but Mir took his verse beyond Mukhlis's.

Indeed, in the verse below that Mir has translated from Arzu, Khan-e Arzu comes off very well:


In any case, the point of this discussion is to reveal the truth about Mir's objection against Yaqin, and to prove that to translate is a good thing; otherwise, Mir would not have so casually done it.

Many days after writing this much, in Navab Siddiq Hasan Khan's tazkirah sham((a-e anjuman my eye fell on this [Persian] verse by Mirza Jalal Asir:

'Under the sky, my temperament is sorrowful because of the turmoil of heart-narrowness--
Please just lift up the curtain of this low tent a bit more.'

I thus learned that here Bedil is a 'captive' [asiir] of Jalal Asir. [[That is, he based his verse on Jalal's.]]

[See also {451,3}.]



I have taken the liberty of placing SRF's theoretical discussion of translation after his analysis of the verse itself, rather than before. Actually it's a very interesting discussion, and raises some points worth considering. For is {731,4} really a 'translation' of Mukhlis's verse? What about {101,9} and Arzu's verse? In both cases, SRF claims in his discussion of those verses only that Mir has 'borrowed the theme' from the earlier Persian verse. Here, he has upgraded the claim to that of 'translation'. Obviously he's here construing the process of translation rather broadly, to include what I would call 'transcreation'.

The word mu:tlaq is also wonderfully chosen. In addition to its adverbial meaning ('absolutely, entirely'), it can be an adjective meaning 'free, unconfined' (see the definition above). Thus the second line could also be read as 'in this unspacious cage, there is no free air'.