thaa va.sf un labo;N kaa zabaan-e qalam pah miir
yaa mu;Nh me;N ((andaliib ke the barg'haa-e gul

1) the description/praise of those lips was on the tongue of the pen, Mir
2) or else in the mouth of the Nightingale were leaves of the rose



va.sf : 'Describing; declaring; praising; —description, expression of qualities; praise, encomium; attribute; epithet; quality, property; —merit, virtue, worth'. (Platts p.1195)

S. R. Faruqi:

The theme of rose-leaves in the mouth of the Nightingale, it's possible that he got from the [Persian] verses of Hafiz:

'In the beak of some Nightingale was a single leaf of a beautiful rose,
But despite that wealth/equipment he was absorbed in strangely sorrowful laments.
I asked, "In the midst of union, why this complaint and lamentation?"
He said, "The glory/appearance of the beloved has caused me to do this."'

In Hafiz's verses there's a strange kind of unfathomable mystery; in the world's romantic poetry, its peer will hardly be found. But Mir too, making use of ambiguity and metaphor, has not only renewed the theme, but has also done justice to 'meaning-creation'.

First of all, notice that the verse has two meanings: (1) on the tongue of the pen the description of those lips was as though in the Nightingale's mouth would be rose-leaves; (2) in the Nightingale's mouth those were not rose-leaves-- it seemed as though on the tongue of the pen the praise of the beloved was flowing.

With regard to the first meaning, the metaphor is equal to a natural reality. That is, for the beloved's praise to be flowing on the tongue of the pen is a metaphor, and for a rose-leaf to be in the Nightingale's mouth is a natural reality. With regard to the second meaning, the natural reality is in fact a metaphor; that is, there is no natural reality, only a metaphor of the speaker's experience. That is, both levels of reality (reality = metaphor, and metaphor = reality) are present in this verse.

Now let's look further. For a rose-leaf to be in the Nightingale's mouth is a metaphor for union. It's a reality that if the mouth of the Nightingale (the lover) would arrive at the rose-leaf (the lip of the beloved), then this is union itself, and Hafiz's verses too confirm this. Thus if on the tongue of my pen the praise of the beloved's lips would flow, then, so to speak, union has been vouchsafed to me.

Now let's consider additional aspects. Just as it's not easy to attain union, in the same way it's also not easy for the praise of the beloved's lips to flow from the tongue of the pen. Then in this, there are again two aspects. One is that praise of the beloved's lips is not easy, because her lips are so beautiful and delicate that it's difficult to praise them-- where would one find words, where would one find narrative power, to express the beauty of her lips?

The second is that just as between the Nightingale and the rose-leaves there is, in addition to the psychological distance, a physical distance too-- that is, for one thing the Nightingale doesn't have the courage, for how could he be granted access to the rose-leaves?; and for another thing, the Nightingale is usually very far from the rose, and similarly between the tongue of the pen and praise of the beloved's lips there's a physical distance too. That is, both are very far from each other.

The next point is that praise of the beloved's lips is just as fresh and dewy, delicate, and colorful as the beloved's lips themselves; that is, the speaker is proud of the accomplishedness of his speech/poetry. Then, since it's not necessary that the tongue of the pen from which the praise is flowing should belong to the speaker himself, it's possible that the tongue of the pen would belong to one person, and the speaker would be someone else. That is, that he wouldn't have the experience in poetry, but rather would be expressing a spectator's view.

Pursuing the reading of the accomplishedness of the poetry, we can also say that in the second line the described thing is plural (rose-leaves) and the 'description' is singular. That is, one praise of the lips of the beloved is equal to a number of rose-leaves.

The final point is based on the word yaa in the second line. Let's suppose that in the verse is not realistic description, but rather some imagined scene-- for example, that the speaker sees in a dream that in the Nightingale's mouth are rose-leaves. In the morning, remembering that dream, he says, 'What is the meaning of what I saw, or what is the interpretation of the dream? Is the point of the dream that praise of the beloved's lips flows on the tongue of the pen, the way that a rose-leaf is in the Nightingale's mouth? Or is the interpretation that somewhere praise of the beloved's lips is flowing, and this dream alludes to that?'

[See also {383,7}.]



How cleverly suggestive it is that the Nightingale doesn't have the usual 'beak' [cho;Nch] of a bird, but instead a much more human-feeling 'mouth'.

That being said, the idea that the Nightingale is somehow nibbling on (or even ingesting?) parts of his beloved rose's body can feel a bit disquieting. SRF interprets it as 'union', but if so it seems to have a dubious or unhealthy flavor of dismemberment, since the rose's leaves are all too easily seen as torn off and separated from the rose. But then, they might be old leaves that have dropped naturally, in which case their presence in the Nightingale's mouth would perhaps represent memory and mourning. And perhaps the leaves are to be imagined as less intimate than the petals [pa;Nkhrii] would have been.

At least sometimes, however, the Nightingale seems to be quite unselfconsciously candid about actually eating the rose [{1424,1}]:

bulbul ne kal kahaa kih bahut ham ne khaa))e gul
lekin hazaar ;haif nah ;Thahrii havaa-e gul

[the Nightingale said yesterday, 'we have eaten a lot of roses
but it's a thousand pities-- the scent of the rose didn't last']

The verse in any case doesn't invite us to devote much energy to imagining the details of the scene. After all, that yaa means that the whole scene might not be taking place at all. The verse proposes to us that either the first line 'or' the second line is taking place, and we can simply decide that it's the first line, so that the second line remains as a metaphor-- one that surely represents the Nightingale as having some kind of ambiguously transcendent experience.

The wordplay is unusually rich and complex. The lips (of the beloved, of the poet), the tongue (of the pen, of the poet), the mouth (of the poet, of the Nightingale), all resonate to fine effect.