by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

translated and edited by FWP

[[Translated (considerably abridged and sometimes slightly paraphrased) from shi((r-e shor-angez vol. 1, 1997 edition, pp. 26-61, in August-September 2003. Page numbers from the Urdu text have been inserted, for ease of access to the original. The translation is intended especially for this website, and has not been published.]]

PART ONE: Is the 'Lord of Poetry' [;xudaa-e su;xan] Mir or Ghalib?

[Pp. 26-28: We are very far from having done justice to Mir. Only a handful of significant critical works exist, and even those are all too often unhelpful. They set forth and perpetuate some unjustified myths about Mir. Among these are:

==A notorious judgment attributed to Sheftah, who allegedly said that Mir's highs were very high and his lows very low. In fact, what Sheftah said was that his highs were very high and his lows not very low.

==Mir's alleged disdain for iihaam and wordplay, a notion based on a literal reading of a single verse and contradicted over and over again by his poetry itself.

==Mir as the official 'poet of grief', whose life is one huge swamp of sorrow and suffering.

Pp. 28-34: What is meant by the notion of 'lord of poetry' [;xudaa-e su;xan]? A number of vague assertions and unexamined assumptions have been bruited about, but they get us nowhere. Evidence suggests that this title was in fact used for a poet whose body of work included poetry in all the significant genres. (Dard had only written ghazals, which is probably why Mir referred to him as 'half a poet' in Azad's famous anecdote [*scroll down to page #208#*].) A passage in one of Ghalib's letters [to Hatim 'Ali 'Mihr'] also supports this meaning. Ghalib in this passage refers to ghazal, ode, and masnavi as the significant genres; others would add quatrain and elegy, to make five; if the secondary genres of shahr-ashob [shahr aashob], vasokht [vaaso;xt], and hajv [;hajv] are included, the total is eight. Mir composed in them all; he is even said to have invented the vasokht.

Like almost all great poets Eastern and Western, Mir loved words and wordplay. He also had a broader range of experience of life than any other major Urdu poet. He mixed with many kinds of people from all different social classes, traveled widely, and experienced various ups and downs in his own life. This breadth and depth of human experience unquestionably contributed to the scope and universality of his poetry.]

To compare Ghalib and Mir, or to examine them together in order to shed light on one by means of the other, is not a mistaken endeavor. Rather, it's really the first stage of appreciating the worth of both. It has often been said that Ghalib and Mir are different types of poet. I have always rejected this view. The styles of both are certainly different, but both are the same type of poet, in the sense that [35] both have the same poetics. That is, in answer to the question 'what are the excellences of poetry?', both would have had almost the same views. The assumptions of both about poetry were of the same kind. It's not enough to say merely that both were guardians of the same tradition, because Dard and Sauda and Atish and Nasikh, and so on, were all guardians of that same tradition too. This is the reason that there's a superficial similarity as well among all those poets....

My point is that on a creative and inventive level, Mir and Ghalib used this tradition in almost the same way. The idea that in the beginning Ghalib composed obscure and convoluted ghazals, but later under Mir's influence rejected that style and adopted Mir's simplicity, is entirely false. People forget that a number of Ghalib's very famous and comparatively easy ghazals too are memorials of the time when he was composing obscure and convoluted ghazals. People also forget that Ghalib had composed this [unpublished] verse [G{92,8x}] almost in the days of his boyhood:

miir ke shi((r kaa a;hvaal kahuu;N kyaa ;Gaalib
jis kaa diivaan kam az gulshan-e kashmiir nahii;N

[the state of the poetry of Mir-- what can I say, Ghalib!
whose divan is not less than a garden of Kashmir]

The poetics of Ghalib and Mir are of one kind, but the two seem to be different types of poet because the temperaments of their imaginations were different and their language was different. Ghalib's imagination was soaring and subtle [aasmaanii aur baariik], Mir's imagination was earthy and unbridled [zamiinii aur be-lagaam]. Ghalib devised for his poetry a language of the kind that can be called 'literary' language. Mir turned everyday language into poetic language. In this task others shared as well-- for example, Jur'at and Mus'hafi and some minor poets. But without Mir's earth-grasping and unbridled imagination, and without the vigor of everyday idiom in the language and the informal but limited use of Persian and Arabic, and without [36] Mir's depth-possession [tah-daarii] and ambiguity of expression, and without Mir's kind of complexity-- the lack makes Jur'at, Mus'hafi, Ahsanullah Bayan [a;hsanull;aah bayaan], Yaqin [yaqiin], Taban [taabaa;N], etc., seem like schoolchildren compared to Mir.

Ghalib never adopted Mir's language and style. The kind of 'noble' and 'literary' language of which he was the creator, couldn't at all accept language like Mir's. To say that ghazals like G{215} and G{162}, etc., are in a language like Mir's is entirely mistaken.... It's not that Ghalib derived no benefit from Mir. But this benefit was on the level of theme, not that of style....

Some people say that most, if not all, of Ghalib's best poetry [37] is borrowed from Mir. Asar Lakhnavi [a;sar lakhnavii] is prominent among them. From this point of view the conclusion can be drawn that there's no need to read Ghalib at all-- Mir's poetry is enough. That much of Ghalib's poetry has been borrowed from Mir, and from other early poets, has been said so often, that it won't be inappropriate to go into a bit of detail to refute the claim.

The first point is that composing verses 'on' the verses [shi((r par shi((r kahnaa] of earlier poets is nothing peculiar to Ghalib. It was the custom of that time, and Mir has done it too.... Rather, on a number of occasions Mir has even directly translated from the old [Persian] poets. Ghalib has perhaps never done this at all. If a translation is the bearer of creative energy, then it's no bad thing. My point is only that in Ghalib there's something like an echo, while Mir's borrowing is often direct, although creative. [Some examples are provided and discussed.]

[39] So what does all this prove? That it's the custom of every poet: in that time more or less everybody used to compose verses 'on' the verses of the ancients. Atish takes it so far that without Mir he couldn't even have broken off a morsel [of food]. And almost always he's lowered Mir's themes. It's surprising that Asar Lakhnavi and his supporters have laid no charges against Atish.

The second point is that wherever Ghalib has borrowed a theme or some aspect of something from Mir, he has always created something new in it, or endowed it with more meaningfulness. Instead of writing a verse 'on' a verse, he's lit one lamp from another lamp, and on a number of occasions his lamp has turned out to be brighter than Mir's. The honor of priority undoubtedly belongs to Mir, and the kind of breadth of imagination that can often be seen in Mir is not present in Ghalib, but in terms of theme and style and meaning, what Ghalib borrows from Mir he often suitably enhances. How well Coleridge put it in an aphorism-- that it's not becoming to a poet to pick the pocket of Nature. Indeed, he ought to borrow from Nature, and in such a way that the loan would be repaid in the very act of borrowing. The relationship of Ghalib to Mir is something of this kind. There's no doubt that Ghalib learned from Mir a number of ways of composing a verse. This is a proof of Mir's greatness-- and of Ghalib's greatness as well. In many of Ghalib's verses there's a glimpse of Mir, but Ghalib didn't lower the level of Mir, because he did justice to Mir's themes. Of others (such as Atish and Firaq [firaaq gorakhpuurii]) this is not true.

The third point is that Ghalib didn't lay a hand on many of Mir's special themes and subjects. And many of Ghalib's own special subjects and themes are not borrowed from Mir-- or from anyone else. They are his alone. Two examples will clarify this point. The theme of weeping, and the theme of the beloved's face being like a sun, [40] are shared by Ghalib, Mir, and the whole world. But when we compare the two, Mir's earthy imagination has invented a new aspect. In the Third Divan [M{1296,7}] is:

mizhgaan-e tar ko yaar ke chahre pah khol miir
is aab-;xastah sabze ko ;Tuk aaftaab de

[open your wet eyelashes on the beloved's face, Mir
to this sodden greenery give a little sun]

In Ghalib, there's no trace of this image, and of this unbridled imagination. In the same way, the theme of outward composure despite inward madness is common to Ghalib and Mir. But to enclose the whole universe within it, and to bring together in one place light, sharpness [;haddat], tumult, and pain and grief, is an achievement only of Ghalib:


In short, to consider that Ghalib's best poetry, or much of his best poetry, is borrowed from Mir, is incorrect. Whatever Ghalib borrowed from Mir, even without it he would have remained Ghalib. Similarly, the way Mir took things here and there-- if he hadn't taken them, he would still have remained Mir. The fundamental point is that Ghalib and Mir illumine each other; without enjoying one of them, the other's secrets can never be revealed to you.

About Mir and Ghalib the assumption is also baseless that in Mir's poetry the good verses are few and far between, and if he had made an intikhab from his poetry as Ghalib did, it would have done him justice. In Mir there must be not seventy-two but two or three hundred 'lancets' [nashtar , a term for a superlative verse; scroll down to #198#]. This opinion is widespread because people have not scrutinized Mir with attention and care. Firaq [Gorakhpuri] Sahib, showing great generosity, has declared the number of 'first-class' verses to be 'probably 250 or 300, more or less'. (This estimate should be taken from whence it comes.) A venerable critic, now deceased, told me that 'in Mir, after turning a number of pages, one [good] verse is found'. More than Mir's extensiveness, it's our lack of endeavor that has made such opinions common.

And [41] those opinions have been given authority by the assumption that Ghalib's divan is small because he had made a very strict intikhab from his poetry-- if Mir had done likewise, it would have been a good thing. The truth is that Ghalib certainly made an intikhab from the poetry of his earliest years, but his divan is small because after 1826 he composed very little in Urdu. And from 1826 to 1850 he composed almost nothing at all in Urdu. Be that as it may, after making his first intikhab, Ghalib never made another. On the contrary-- whatever he composed, he included in his divan. Even if he hadn't combed through his earliest work, his divan would be no larger than Mir's First Divan. Thus the reason Ghalib's kulliyat in Urdu is small is not because he made a strict intikhab and removed the weak verses. But the assumption is so widespread that the moment we see Mir's thick kulliyat, we assume that Mir didn't make an intikhab such as Ghalib made, so that in his kulliyat are things good and bad, high and low-- everything must be included. If the whole kulliyat is read attentively, then the truth is revealed-- that although not every verse of Mir's has reached the highest level, nevertheless the normal standard of his poetry is so high that the kulliyat itself has the authority of an intikhab. The verses of a high level are certainly not fewer than four thousand. And at least eighty percent of the verses in the kulliyat are worthy to be called good verses. The cruel labors I had to perform to keep the length of this present intikhab you are reading within bounds-- only I know what a task it was.

As I've said above, in variety of language, extent of experience of life, and universality of temperament, Mir's rank is higher than Ghalib's. Only in intelligence and abstraction [tajriid] and 'delicacy of thought' is Ghalib's level higher than Mir's. There's a difference in their imaginations, but the power of imagination is equal in both. That is, both are unlimited in theme-creation. Ghalib's imagination is soaring, and Mir's imagination is earthy-- that is, one is more abstract and one more concrete. In meaning-creation both are equal. Indeed, Mir has one quality, mood, in a way that is very rare in Ghalib. Another excellence of Mir's is that along with meaning-creation [42] he creates mood as well. Both have many tumult-arousing verses. Both have a limitless interest in wordplay.

In the light of all these considerations, and keeping in mind the fact that Mir composed in more poetic genres than Ghalib did, we can say that the title 'lord of poetry' [;xudaa-e su;xan] is a fit adornment only for Mir.


PART TWO: Ghalib's 'Mir-ness' [miirii]

[43] Time after time, Ghalib has derived advantage from Mir. This is a proof that Ghalib and Mir were the same kind of poet. That is, to express in poetry many aspects of the universe, and many experiences of life, both chose to use the same kind of means. This doesn't mean that Ghalib tried to adopt Mir's style on some occasion or at some stage. It means only that the mental frameworks and styles of thought of both poets corresponded....

[Mir borrowed directly from the Persian poets.] That is, if some theme or aspect pleased him, he adopted it. By contrast, Ghalib treated Mir the way a great poet treats his great predecessor. That is, [44] he made Mir's experiences and means of expression into a torch for the road.... [Other poets, like Nasikh, Atish's shagird Rind [rind], Atish himself, and Zauq, have considered themselves to be in the tradition of Mir, but they appear as imitators, invoking Mir to enhance their prestige.] If they were really followers of Mir, some glimmer of Mir would have been visible in their poetry. The amusing thing is that Ghalib too, who really did derive advantage from Mir, has been considered a mere conventional, outward imitator of Mir.

But about Ghalib it's also been said that in his final years, [45] he tried to adopt Mir's style. As I've already said, Ghalib's verse in which he called Mir's divan 'not less than a garden of Kashmir' was written in his youth. And the verse that's more famous than the 'garden of Kashmir' verse is from his middle years, because the ghazal dates from between 1847 and 1850. At the time of composing it, Ghalib was about fifty years old. I refer to this closing-verse:


Along with these things, if we also keep in mind that Ghalib freely derived advantage from Mir; and that among the verses that made Ghalib 'Ghalib', many were written before he reached the age of thirty; and that the advantage Ghalib derived from Mir was not imitative but rather creative-- then it's proved that in Ghalib's creative fountains, the streams that mingled include, in addition to Bedil [bedil] and some other 'disreputable' poets of the Indian Style [sabk-e hindii], Mir's great river as well. We ought not to forget the anecdote narrated by Hali, in which Ghalib ranked Mir above Sauda, and Zauq ranked Sauda above Mir.

External testimony for this point of view can be found in the opinions expressed in their writings about poetry and poetics-- but when these are juxtaposed, the poetic view of both poets can be compiled. From what Mir has written about different poets in Fine Points About the Poets [nikaat ush-shu((araa], his view of poetry can to some extent be deduced. But it's necessary to proceed cautiously, because in Fine Points About the Poets it's difficult to find straightforward discussion of poetry and poetics. By contrast, in Mir's poetry itself there are a number of straightforward points about poetry and poetics. From these verses it's not necessary to draw the conclusion (though it wouldn't be incorrect) that in Mir's own verses all the excellences that he'd mentioned as qualities and beauties of poetry would necessarily be present. But these verses certaily tell us what qualities and beauties ought, in Mir's opinion, to be present in poetry. That is, from Mir's poetry [46] his theory of poetry can emerge, but it can't be proved that his poetry actually embodies this theory.

In the same way, if the opinions about poetry and poetics that are expressed in Ghalib's letters are brought together, it can be seen what views Ghalib held about poetry and poetics. But Ghalib's poetry doesn't necessary embody this view. However, at the moment our discussion is not about to what extent Ghalib and Mir's poetry straightforwardly embodies their poetics. Right now the discussion is about what their views were, and whether we can reliably determine what those views were.... Ghalib praised in conventional and hyperbolic terms the poetry of some friends and acquaintances; if we ignore all that, and examine his straightforward expressions of opinion, it seems that he gave fundamental importance to meaning-creation, tumult-arousingness, verbal affinity [munaasibat-e alfaa:z], and wordplay [ri((aayat]. Mir too has given importance to these same things.

In a letter to Taftah [taftah], Ghalib famously said, 'My friend, poetry is meaning-creation, it's not the measuring-out of rhymes' [bhaa))ii shaa((irii ma((nii-aafiriinii hai qaafiyah-pemaa))ii nahii;N hai]. To Sayyid Mu;hammad Zakariyaa Zaki [mu;hammad zakariyaa zakii], Ghalib authoritatively writes, 'the temperament has a strong inclination toward [new] meanings' [ma((nii se :tabii((at ko ((ilaaqah achchhaa hai]. Praising Hatim 'Ali Mihr [;haatim ((alii mihr], Ghalib mentions 'delicate meanings' [ma((aanii-e naazuk] and '[previously] untouched themes' [achhuute ma.zaamiin]. It's a pity that if we've abandoned the faults of the elders, we've abandoned their virtues too. Thus the term 'meaning-creation' has now become so alien that there are hardly words to describe it....

In truth, 'meaning-creation' refers to a style of expression in which in a single utterance a number of kinds of meanings are manifest or hidden. (See the discussion of this term in Ghazal "45." [[1:366; this is SRF's number, not the real one-- FIX IT!!]] Meaning-creation and theme-creation are the foundation of our poetics. The poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries [47] constantly mention 'meaning' and 'theme'. [Examples from Abru [aabruu], Hatim [;haatim], and Momin are provided.]

I want to make it clear that meaning-creation and 'delicacy of thought' are two different things.... Ghalib said about Momin that his temperament was 'meaning-creating' [ma((nii aafirii;N], but in fact Momin has more 'delicacy of thought' than meaning-creation. Ghalib himself said of one of his own verses [G{28,1}], that the thought was very subtle [daqiiq] but the pleasure not so great-- that is, 'to dig up a mountain and bring forth a straw'. Here Ghalib gestured toward the difference between 'meaning-creation' and 'delicacy of thought'. This verse is a limit case of 'delicacy of thought', but it's devoid of meaning-creation....

Giving correction [i.s:tilaa;h] to an opening-verse of Qadar Bilgrami's [qadar bilgraamii], Ghalib gave a reason that will also help us understand meaning-creation. Qadar's verse was:

laa ke dunyaa me;N hame;N zahr-e fanaa dete ho
haa))e is bhuul-bhulaiyaa;N me;N da;Gaa dete ho

[having brought us into the world, you give us the poison of oblivion
alas-- in this maze, you deceive us]

Ghalib changed the refrain of dete ho [the present habitual in the familiar] to dete hai;N [the present habitual in the plural] and wrote, 'Now the address includes a human beloved, and fate and destiny, as well'. That is, the meaning [48] has been increased. Thus the utterance in which there are more possibilities of meaning is considered a bearer of 'meaning-creation'.

Like Ghalib, Mir didn't mention 'delicacy of thought', but he mentioned meaning-creation and complexity [pechiidagii]. In the First Divan [M{84,4}]:

nah ho kyuu;N re;xtah be-shorish-o-kaifiyat-o-ma((nii
gayaa ho miir diivaanah rahaa saudaa so mastaanaa

[why wouldn't Rekhtah be devoid of tumult and mood and meaning--
if Mir has become mad, and Sauda is intoxicated?]

From the Fourth Divan [M{1316,7}]:

zulf-saa pechdaar hai har shi((r
hai su;xan miir kaa ((ajab ;Dhab kaa

[it's twisted like a curl, every verse
Mir's poetry is of an extraordinary style]

From the Third Divan [M{1166,9}]:

:tarfe;N rakhe hai ek su;xan chaar chaar miir
kyaa kyaa kahaa kare;N hai;N zabaan-e qalam se ham

[every utterance has a number of facets, Mir,
what things we always say with the tongue of the pen!]

From the Fifth Divan [M{1543,6}]:

har varaq har .saf;he me;N ek shi((r-e shor-angez hai
((ar.sah-e ma;hshar hai ((ar.sah mere bhii diivaan kaa

[on every leaf, every page, is a single tumult-arousing verse
the extent of Doomsday is the extent of my divan as well]

In these verses is mention of a verse's having abundance of meaning, complexity, and multiple meanings-- that is, its possessing depth. It's clear that all these qualities are those of meaning-creation. It's also clear that the concept of meaning-creation is shared by Ghalib and Mir.

In the first and last verses above, 'tumult' [shorish] and 'tumult-arousingness' [shor-angezii] are mentioned. The meaning of this term too we have forgotten today. But Ghalib used the term as well. In a letter to Alai'i [((alaa))ii] he writes [of poets whose poetry is] 'brimming with the 'subtleties and truths [daqaa))iq-o-;haqaa))iq] of Sufism'... and of others whose poetry is 'tumult-arousing'. The manner in which Ghalib used this term makes it clear [49] that by 'tumult-arousingness' he means especially the predominance of powerful emotions. In 'tumult-arousing' poetry Sufistic subtleties and obscurities are not expressed. Thus it doesn't have that refinement of mystical absorption or intoxication or gnostic themes that is the essence of mystical poetry. On the contrary-- in a 'tumult-arousing' verse thoughts about humans, the universe, and the mutual relationship of humans and the universe are expressed with intense emotion. In this expression of thought there's no sentimentality; rather, there's an intensity of emotion, or visualization, or thought and feeling. Such a verse is founded on a theme, but in it meaning too is operative, although there is no layeredness [tahdaarii]. This term [shor-angezii] too is discussed in M{84,4}.

Praising a verse of Taftah's, Ghalib wrote that there are four words, and all four have an affinity with the content. In the same way, he cites from the introduction to Story of Wonders [fasaanah-e ((ajaa))ib] a verse by Muntazir [munta:zir], pupil of Mus'hafi:

yaadgaar-e zamaanah hai;N ham log
yaad rakhnaa fasaanah hai;N ham log

[we people are memorials of an age
remember-- we people are a story]

and writes by way of praise, what an affinity there is between 'to remember' and 'story'. Words ought to have an affinity with each other. This affinity can be verbal or meaning-based. (See the discussion of the difference between wordplay and affinity in M{867}. By 'skilful wordplay' [fan kii ri((aayat] is meant those things demanded by skill, which can be called 'wordplay'. It's obvious that by this 'wordplay' are meant all those artistic devices and contrivances through which affinity of words and meaning is expressed. Mir identifies those points with the word 'style' [usluub]. In his opinion, only 'style' is the identifying mark of art. From the First Divan [M{179,6}]:

miir shaa((ir bhii zor ko)ii thaa
dekhte ho nah baat kaa usluub

[Mir too was one powerful poet!
you see, don't you, the arrangement of his words?]

[50] In the closing-verses of two formally identical [ham-:tar;h] ghazals from the First Divan and the Second Divan, Mir has conveyed with sophistication a picture of 'affinity'. In both verses he has adopted the requisites of 'water' [aab , paanii] and 'flowingness' [ravaanii] with which to praise the 'wate/brilliance of poetry' [aab-e su;xan]. From the First Divan [M{177,7}]:

daryaa me;N qa:trah qa:trah hai aab-e guhar kahii;N
hai miir mauj-zan tire har yak su;xan me;N aab

[in the ocean is drop upon drop is somehow the luster/water of a pearl
Mir, in your every utterance is luster/water]

From the Second Divan [M{771,9}]:

dekho to kis ravaanii se kahte hai;N shi((r miir
dur se hazaar chand hai un ke su;xan me;N aab

[look-- with what flowingness Mir composes/'says' verses
in his poetry/speech is visible luster/water a thousand times more than a pearl]

The question can be raised that if in the poetics of Mir and Ghalib there's so much resemblance, then why isn't there a resemblance in their verses? To this several replies are possible. One is the one I've already presented: that there's a resemblance between many verses of Mir and Ghalib; this resemblance is the proof of Ghalib's deriving creative advantage [from Mir].... The second reply is that along with resemblance in poetics, if there were resemblance in style too, then what would have been the achievement of Ghalib? The third reply is that Mir has mentioned one more special feature of poetics, which he calls 'mood' [M{84,4}]

nah ho kyuu;N re;xtah be-shorish-o-kaifiyat-o-ma((nii

[why wouldn't Rekhtah be devoid of tumult and mood and meaning]

Ghalib didn't mention 'mood'. The meaning of this term too we have now lost. But in truth 'mood' is the name of that thing that Bedil had in mind when he made his famous pronouncement, 'a good verse has no meaning' [shi((r-e ;xuub ma((nii nah daarad]. That is, in the situation in which there's no special meaning in the verse, or its meaning is not at once entirely apparent, but its emotional effect, or its analogical [mu;haakaatii] influence , would be immediate. On some occasions, the meaning of such a verse [51] can't even be explicated, but if it doesn't have an emotional effect, or an analogical influence, or if it requires special analysis, then that verse contains not mood, but superficiality. Mir has expressed this view in this way too (from the Second Divan):


In the phrase kahyo phir is not just a request for the verse to be repeated, but also the idea, say more such verses! In Ghalib's divan, verses of 'mood' appear only here and there, but in Mir's divan such verses are numerous. In Firaq [Gorakhpuri] Sahib's poetry a few verses, and in Nasir Kazmi's [naa.sir kaa:zmii] poetry numerous verses, display 'mood'; for this reason people opine that Firaq and Nasir Kazmi are poets in the style of Mir. The truth is that apart from 'mood', all the special features of Mir's poetry appear in Ghalib's poetry, with Ghalib's own creative glory. The resemblance between a number of aspects of their poetics shows the shared qualities of their minds.

Another point is that Ghalib's subjects, compared to Mir, are limited. Ghalib has more intellectual depth than Mir; for this reason his poetry seems more colorful. But the grasp that Mir has on daily life and its events, Ghalib does not have. On some occasions Ghalib mentions uncommon events, with attention to style. In contrast, Mir treats all events on the level of events, and introduces into them emotional or experiential meaningfulness and importance. Based on the number and emotional meaningfulness of events, Mir's world looks much more varied than Ghalib's....

Mir's world, because of its breadth, eventfulness, special ability to present the ghazal's traditional [52] characters on the level of action, and recording of the affairs of common life, seems to be the world of some great novelist. Mir's kulliyat reminds me of Charles Dickens. The same confusion, the same novel and commonplace and everyday and amazing mixture, the same abundance, the same profusion, the same artless but amazing temperament, the same turmoil, seems to appear. All of life is surging in that kulliyat. No experience of life is omitted-- from mystical insight and intoxicated absorption, to rakish nakedness. From the experience of humiliation, failure, hatred, deceitfulness, deceivedness, abuse, poisonousness, wretchedness; to bursts of laughter, sexual pleasure, the self-surrender and abandonment of passion-- there's no emotion or deed from which Mir held himself aloof. In such circumstances, his poetry being obviously different from Ghalib's is not surprising.

According to Al-e Ahmad Surur [aal-e a;hmad suruur], Ghalib arranges for us a gathering in which everything from earth to sky appears-- but it remains a gathering. Ghalib's divan is an elaborate and magical assembly [diivaan-;xaanah]. In its enchantment everything can be seen, and often in such a way that one thing appears as many. In contrast, Mir's poetry is a city in which everything that was shut up in the enchantment of that assembly can be seen-- so much so that the city in which that enchantment itself is located, is Mir's poetry alone. In such a case, despite mental accord and resemblance in thought, the effect of the divans of these two cannot help but differ.

It's possible that you might think that if Ghalib and Mir share more or less a common poetics, this is nothing special, and to establish on this basis the opinion that both had a common mental framework is premature. You may say that the Indo-Iranian poetics were shared by all the classical poets of Urdu; there's no reason why the poetics of, for example, Nasikh or Atish too wouldn't be exactly the same as those of Ghalib and Mir. There's no doubt that many common things are shared by all the classical poets of Urdu, and ought to be. But usually, despite shared particulars, in the basic matters [53] difference is possible; or rather, necessary.

This difference can be based on various reasons. One of them may be ignorance or lack of understanding.... But the difference can also be based on mental framework. And despite fundamental agreement, it can also be based on traveling along different stylistic paths.... [Two illustrative verses by Atish are cited and discussed, along with one verse by Mir.]

Atish mentioned the principle of affinity. No matter how pleasing and variegated and valuable the color/style may be, if it's not applied in a manner, and on a place, that shows affinity, and if the various parts don't harmonize with each other in color and style, then the jewelry will be declared to be useless and unattractive. The same is true of the verse. Words are like valuable crest-jewels, they are costly and beautiful in themselves; but if they aren't used with affinity and harmony, then [54] the level of the verse is lowered....

In order to express the difference between the worlds of Ghalib and Mir, I wrote above that Mir's world is full of everyday events, and he bestows on those events an emotional meaningfulness. He brings in a number of characters. In Ghalib's world, although it is as brimful as Mir's, there are not such a number of events and characters. Thus the effects of both seem different. In order to explain this point, it will be interesting and effective to examine one verse each from Mir and Ghalib. In both verses the death of the central character-- that is, the poet and lover-- is mentioned. Mir, from the third divan:




In Mir's verse, the ambiguity [ib'haam] and implication are both very fine. It is an ambiguity because kaahe ko hote hai;N paidaa can have the meaning that people like Mir are born very rarely; and also the meaning that people like Mir (that is, such unfortunate and lifelong sufferers)-- after all, why are they born at all? There's also an ambiguity in miir se -- it can mean rare people like Mir, or unfortunate people like Mir, or lovers like Mir, etc. The beauty of the implication is that he has not made any direct mention of death, but rather only demonstrated it by saying 'this event'. And he has also created an ambiguity as to whether Mir's death, or murder, was an event worth mentioning. Taking an everyday event, Mir fills it with emotional meaningfulness and intensity.

Now look at the number of characters: one is Mir himself, one is the person who is the speaker of the verse, and a third large group [55] consists of the people who heard of this event and felt regret. And then, the speaker is not one, but two. One is the person who is speaking in the verse; that is, from whose lips the whole verse is presented. The second aspect is that some other person has spoken the first line; hearing it, another person makes a pious response. Fundamentally, this is a verse of 'mood', but this mood itself has been created by layer upon layer of subtleties.

Ghalib's verse [{71,10}] too is one of his best ones. This verse too is fundamentally a verse of 'mood'. But in its world the characters are only three. One is Ghalib himself, and a second the person who is the speaker of the verse. Ghalib's personality is established through rind-e shaahid-baaz , and very well established too. But in this there are no more possibilities. In tamaam hu))aa a heavy sigh, and a mood of melancholy finality, assume an uncommon power. Ghalib's whole life comes before us; we feel that that in his rakishness and pursuit of beautiful beloveds there was, in addition to a childish playfulness, an attempt to hide some deep inner lack. The melancholy mood and the complexity of character have lifted the verse far above the level of commonplace events. But its world, its tone of voice, its language-- all these are associated with a comparatively limited locale. Like Mir, Ghalib too has allowed for two speakers. Because it's possible that one single person may have spoken the whole verse, or that the first line has been spoken by one person and the second line by another. But since the tone of the second line is far from colloquial speech, the appearance of dialogue is not as effective as it is in Mir's verse.

Speaking of the distance from daily life in Ghalib brings me to a special feature of Mir's that I count among his most magnificent achievements. That is, Mir made the language of daily life into the language of poetry. This task was performed by him alone, and to enumerate its methods is not easy. To identify the 'colloquial' [rozmarrah] is obviously difficult, because the 'colloquial' keeps changing more or less with speaker, social class, and place. History too has an effect on it. Although within Mir's poetry history [56] is not of much importance, because we are speaking of that daily life that was common in Mir's time. It can be said that many of Mir's contemporaries also use colloquial language, so what is Mir's excellence? The answer is that in Mir's contemporaries colloquial language doesn't attain the level of poetry; rather, it's been used on the level of expression of opinion....

But it's necessary to establish the nature of colloquial speech; otherwise, why shouldn't Ghalib's language too be given the rank of colloquial speech? Auden has written that ordinary language can only be used to ask and answer the ordinary questions of life, like 'what time is it?' or 'which street goes to the station?'. Auden says that the problem of poetry is how to use that language that loses its meaning in everyday transactions, for the meaning-creative purposes of poetry. In Urdu, this problem is not so serious, because in Urdu literary language and colloquial language to a large extent have a separate existence. Simply the use of i.zaafat constructions is sufficient to separate the two languages. But in the light of Auden's words, an attempt can be made to identify colloquial language. Auden's ideas were to a large extent borrowed from Valery. Valery says that the language that is used for ordinary necessities is finished when it accomplishes its purpose.... [57] Valery says that this language can't be used for poetry. Poetry is a state of 'language within language'. Because poetry is forced to borrow from common language and then make it its own. Common language, which Valery calls 'the language of the public', is a collection of conventional and unanalyzed forms and rules [which the poet must transform].... [58] A little reflection will make clear that the kind of poet Valery is speaking about is a poet like Ghalib. That is, a poet who avoids the kind of language that is used for common necessities.... Valery's poet uses a purely literary-- or rather, intellectual and literary-- language, a language that is full of analytical thought.

This results in the conclusion that a language not full of analytical thought-- what Valery calls a language that fulfills the purposes of common necessities-- will be 'colloquial language'. Such a language will be devoid of concepts; nor will it have the power to express subtle or refined emotions, or subtle or refined aspects of emotions. In such a language you can order food or tea; it's possible that you can say 'I love you', but while using that language you can't explain the difference between God's uniqueness [vaa;hidiyat] and his oneness [a;hadiyat]. While using that language, you can't even explain the similarities and differences between your love and Majnun's. Thus the definition of 'colloquial language' [rozmarrah] is this: the language that is more or less devoid of the power to convey concepts, and subtle or refined emotions. It's clear that in such language there can be no great poetry; or rather, perhaps there can be no poetry at all....

[59] Since in colloquial language, or more or less in colloquial language, a great deal of poetry has been written in Urdu, it's especially important for us [to understand the term correctly]. Especially since many people have considered the weakness of colloquial language to be its excellence, and have labelled it 'the poetry of speech' [zabaan kii shaa((irii]. Although because poetry is one thing, the division into 'poetry of speech' and 'poetry of concepts' is futile. Of the versified speech in Urdu that is based on colloquial language, the greater part falls into the category of 'non-poetry'. If Mir had contented himself with the language that the 'poetry of speech' people use, he too, like Mus'hafi, Jur'at, Qa'im [qaa))im chaandpuurii], etc., would have been a poet of the second rank. Mir is not a poet of colloquial language, or of the 'poetry of speech'. His greatness lies in the fact that he changed colloquial language into the language of poetry. That is, he brought into it the powers that could enable it to convey conceptual and emotional distinctions; but the roots of his language nevertheless remained planted in the colloquial. He showed that the impossible was possible, and in such a way that up to this day no one has been able to equal him....

[60] In Mir's time, there was no literary and intellectual prose in Urdu at all, so his language can be compared only to the language of poets.... By the time Ghalib appeared, literary Urdu prose had come into existence.... Ghalib's problem was that he wanted to make a language that would be a language of poetry-- that is, in which all the powers of both intellectual and literary language would exist, and there would be no weaknesses, or at least very few. To a great extent Ghalib succeeded in his task, and his language became such an ideal for later poets that the attempt to attain it became a lifelong project for them. Hasrat Mohani and Arzu Lakhnavi [aarzuu lakhnavii] and Dagh and Azad Ansari [aazaad an.saarii] and Azmatullah Khan [((a:zmatullaah ;xaa;N] and other greater and lesser folk exerted their strength a thousandfold, Yaganah [yagaanah changezii] offered a thousand grimaces and insults, but the language that Ghalib created remained the language of Urdu poetry, and remains so to this day....

[61] The task that Mir accomplished, of turning away from the poetic language of that time and making the colloquial language into poetry, was not less than the task that Ghalib accomplished. In Ghalib's time there were at least many examples of language available. Accordingly, Ghalib could reject or accept, observe or ignore. Before Mir there was only one example-- that is, the language of the poetry of that time, examples of which can be found in Sauda and Hatim, etc. Sauda's language was largely literary, and Hatim and the others' language was more inclined toward the colloquial; thus that language in its traditional form was not to Mir's purpose. Sauda's poetic temperament had already been fixed before Mir's, because he was some ten years older than Mir. Although Dard was roughly Mir's contemporary, he perhaps started late in composing poetry, and the style that Dard adopted was ultimately useful to Ghalib. Mir didn't care for Sauda's style, because his temperament and mental framework differed greatly from Sauda's. Thus Mir was forced to make his own road. There were no examples before him. For this reason Mir's linguistic accomplishment is not less than that of Ghalib-- rather, it seems to be somewhat greater.