la;Rnaa kaavaakii se falak kaa pesh-e paa uftaadah hai
miir :tilism-e ;Gubaar jo yih hai kuchh us kii bunyaad nahii;N

1) the sky's fight with hollowness/empiness/decay is {trivial / old news / 'trodden underfoot'}
2) Mir, since this is a 'tilism'/enchantment of dust, nothing is its foundation



kaavaak : 'Hollow, empty (within); tending to decay, rotten inside; cracked; useless; awkward; presumptuous'. (Platts p.808)

S. R. Faruqi:

In this verse there are many excellences of theme and meaning. First of all, to call the sky a 'tilism of dust' is an extremely eloquent and metaphorical idea. The sky is not only dust, but rather is a tilism/enchantment made of dust. Or it is a kind of dust that has been made through enchantment. About the meaning of :tilism , see


Ancient people too knew that the sky was no firm thing, but rather a trick of sight, in the sense that when we see blueness above the earth, we consider that this is something like a blue roof, and so on. But in reality the sky is only a blue illusion. Sahabi Astarabadi has this [Persian] quatrain:

'Oh nonexistence, you are the mirror of our existence,
That is, it's possible for us to see, but only according to our scope.
Everything that is visible is an appearance, not a substance
What you see is not a sky, but a blue roof.'

About this Shibli writes:

'For example, when a dust devil arises, then we see only roundness and dust that is revolving. But the actual thing that's inside it-- that is, wind-- we don't see. What we consider to be the sky is an illusion. It is not a sky. On this basis Hazrat Sufiyah gave two names: 'appearance'-- that is, something that is seen and is not real; and 'substance'-- that is, something that is real and is not seen'.

Now let's return to Mir's verse. The sky is only a 'tilism of dust'. It has no reality. That is, whatever we're seeing, it's blue dust. It's a tilism. But we assume about the sky that it's always circling/rotating. That is, the sky is always enmeshed in effort, striving, running around. In the first line he's told us the reason for this: that the sky is absorbed in a war against 'hollowness, emptiness'.

The basic meaning of kaavaak is 'decayed, hollow, cracked' [khokhlaa]. Thus Mir himself has much earlier said, in the first divan [{603,5}]:

diivaar-e kuhnah hai yih mat bai;Th us ke saa))e
u;Th chal kih aasmaa;N to kaavaak ho gayaa hai

[it's an old wall, this-- don't sit in its shade!
get up and move, for the sky has become decayed/cracked]

Thus the sky feels that it is decayed/cracked. (Or again, in the dictionary sense it is hollow, empty inside.) The proof that the sky is absorbed in a fight against this hollowness/decay is that it is constantly circling.

But this fight of the sky against its own hollowness is pesh-e paa uftaadah -- that is, something that lies fallen underfoot. Something that lies fallen underfoot is a thing of little value and no dignity; thus it's ineffectual and useless. (In poetry, themes that are called 'trodden underfoot' are ones with no uniqueness, or ones that have been versified without any uniqueness or inventiveness.)

The fight of the sky against its own hollowness is 'trodden underfoot' because: (1) the sky is only a tilism of dust, it's a thing with no foundation; that is, its very nature is such that it's hollow and unreal. Thus it may fight a thousand times, may strive and endeavor, but its own nature cannot change. (2) The second reason is that the sky is like a building or a wall without a foundation. Thus even if it would fight a hundred battles against its own weakness, it would of course remain hollow/decayed.

In both cases, the following ideas are common: (1) The sky (that is, the surface of the sky, which we see) is without substance and without reality. (2) He has expressed, by merging it with a poetic theme, the observation that the sky keeps circling around. (3) Either the sky is a tilism, which is founded on dust; or else the sky is nothing, there's nothing but dust and more dust. Seen from afar, this dust looks firm to us; thus the sky's appearing firm is a tilism, a charm, of dust.

And whatever meaning has been expressed [so far], its condition is that we take se to mean 'against'. For example, we say vuh mujh se la;Raa -- that is, he fought against me. If se is taken to mean 'because of' (for example, us kaa mu;Nh ;Gu.s.sah se sur;x ho gayaa ), then the meaning will be created that the sky, because of its hollowness/emptiness, is absorbed in fighting and strife. Now the meaning of kaavaakii will be 'mischievousness, unbridledness'.

The basic meaning of kaavaak is 'decayed, hollowed, cracked', but the thing that has become 'decayed, hollowed, cracked' is also considered to be of little worth/weight (in the sense that it is empty within, although firm from the outside). On this basis kaavaak also began to be used as 'mischievous' and 'heedlessly wilful'-- that is, devoid of character. In nuur ul-lu;Gaat this meaning is not found, but it is in Platts and Steingass. (In farhang-e aa.sifiyah the word does not appear; Farid Ahmad Barkati dictionary has given for kaavaakii se the meaning of kamiinepan se , which is correct.)

Thus now the meaning of the verse becomes that 'the sky that fights against us-- the reason for this is its baseness and hollowness/emptiness'. But the sky's seeking a fight ought to have no effect. Its fight-seeking is a commonplace and unreal ('trodden underfoot') thing. The sky is only a tilism of dust (in both senses that were mentioned at the beginning); it has no substance. The word 'foundation' takes on special importance here. The sky is without foundation; that is, it is a kind of building that rests on the air, it has no stability. Or else it is without foundation because it has no substance, no reality.

The third meaning is that the sky's fighting is without foundation-- that is, it has no power or effect. In the light of this reading, in kuchh us kii bunyaad nahii;N the antecedent for us could be la;Rnaa , and the meaning of jo becomes 'since'. That is, in the light of the third reading, the prose of the second line will be: ay miir , aasmaan chuu;N-kih :tilism-e ;Gubaar hai , isli))e us ke la;Rne kii kuchh bunyaad ( ;haqiiqat ) nahii;N .

[See also {423,11}; the introduction to SSA, volume 1, p. 167.]



The first line is so opaque and peculiar-looking that it almost feels like a 'tilism' in itself. It would be bizarre enough if the 'sky' were something that was, literally, 'trampled underfoot', but actually it's weirder than that: grammatically speaking, it's the sky's 'fight', the la;Rnaa , that's trampled underfoot. How do you trample an abstraction underfoot? All the seeming everydayness and specificity is leached out of 'trampled underfoot'. It can only be taken to mean 'useless' or 'contemptible'. (And of course, anybody who works with ghazal can't fail to think of 'trampled underfoot' as meaning 'commonplace, stale, shopworn' when applied to themes-- which doesn't help much with the meaning either.)

Furthermore, it's not clear why the sky would have a fight 'with', or 'against', something like 'hollowness, emptiness'. After all, the sky is well known to be the celestial 'sphere' [sipihr], and that image surely doesn't refer to a solid ball of substance that would leave no room for the human world. We're obliged to push the image away from the literal 'hollowness', toward the metaphorical sense of either 'decayed, rotten' or something like 'presumptuous, unbridled'. The first line, in short, is truly perverse. It presents us a seeming opposition (the sky vs. being trampled into the ground), and then undoes the imagery (the sky is not lofty but 'fighting', the 'trampling underfoot' has nothing to do with actual boots on the ground).

Then the second line both does and doesn't resolve the case. The second line says, in effect, 'What do you expect? It's all just magic and illusion anyway.' However we slice and dice the details, 'this' is a 'tilism of dust'. As SRF notes, the 'this' could refer to the sky, the sky's 'fight', or the human world in general. The radical movement of imagery in the first line (from the high sky to the low ground), which is then so entirely undercut by efforts to make sense of it, is perfectly suited to the environment within a tilism. The result is a smashingly effective and punchy verse.

Note for grammar and translation fans: If we take kuchh us kii bunyaad nahii;N as equivalent to us kii bunyaad kuchh nahii;N , then how should we translate it? (If you prefer is kii bunyaad , it makes no difference.) In English, 'it has no foundation' is the simplest way to go; but that might more precisely be us kii ko))ii bunyaad nahii;N . 'Its foundation is nothing' seems to capture the Urdu structure more exactly. But 'its foundation is nothing' could suggest that some abstraction like 'Nothing' (or Nothingness?) might be its foundation-- so that, in a sense, it actually would have a foundation. And does kuchh nahii;N actually mean 'nothing', rather than 'no thing' or 'not a thing'? (Now we're in danger of slipping into Lear's 'Nothing can come of nothing' territory.) By going for 'nothing is its foundation' I've tried (vainly?) to keep the various possibilities in balance. The effect of all this is like falling down the rabbit hole into Alice's universe. Or maybe into a tilism?