Ghazal 59, Verse 6


maq.sad hai naaz-o-;Gamzah vale guft-guu me;N kaam
chaltaa nahii;N hai dashnah-o-;xanjar kahe ba;Gair

1) the intention/goal is coquetry and sidelong glances, but in conversation the work/desire
2) doesn't move along without saying 'knife' and 'dagger'


maq.sad : 'Intended sense (of), meaning, purport; —thing aimed at, or intended, or purposed; object of aim or pursuit; intention, design, purpose; desire, wish; object, aim, scope'. (Platts p.1056)


guft-guu ; 'Conversation, discourse, dialogue, common talk, chitchat; altercation, dispute, debate, expostulation, controversy, contention'. (Platts p.910)


dashnah : 'A dagger, poniard'. (Platts p.518)


;xanjar : 'A large knife, a dagger (generally curved and double-edged), a poniard, a hanger'. (Platts p.494)


Knife and dagger is a simile for coquetry and sidelong glances; physical things are a simile for mental things. And not everybody has a head for mental things, so by imagining them as physical he accomplishes his task-- that is, he he explains their effects. (55)

== Nazm page 55

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, by knife and dagger I mean airs and graces. That is, without giving similes from the realm of the senses not everybody can understand the meaning. (102)


Our real intention is airs and graces, but what can be done? In poetic conversation [guft-guu-e shaa((iraanah], the task can't be done without calling airs and graces, 'knife' and 'dagger'. The meaning is that in poetry, without using similes and metaphors the pleasure of poetry does not arise, as if we are compelled by the necessities of poetry. (168)


SPEAKING: {14,4}
SWORD: {1,3}

This verse and the next one, {59,7}, are famously cited in discussions of ghazal poetics. The two verses form a kind of twinned set: this one says that knife and dagger are necessary metaphors for conveying the effect of airs and graces; the next one says that wine and flagon are necessary metaphors for conveying the effect of God's presence. They feel almost like a trim little verse-set.

But in both verses, the mediating term is not poetry but guft-guu , 'conversation'. This word choice is all the more conspicuous because in exactly the same metrical space Ghalib could easily have inserted shaa((irii , 'poetry'. Apparently the claim about metaphorical speech is a wider one, and is not confined to poetry at all, much less to the ghazal.

Does the speaker mean that he has to refer to daggers to make his point more graphic, so that skeptical or naive listeners will be persuaded of how cruel and deadly the beloved's airs and graces really are? Nazm suggests that by using physical objects metaphorically the poet 'accomplishes his task-- that is, he explains their effects'. Nazm is talking here about the poet's judicious choice of rhetorical devices: he chooses to use certain tools for certain purposes. But it's important to note that all the necessary tools are fully available to the ghazal. Like these two microcosmic verses, the ghazal world itself is full of talk of airs and graces, and knives and daggers, and the seeing of God, and wine and flagons. (Both 'tenor' and 'vehicle' are, in short, fully present within the ghazal tradition.)

So these two verses can't in fact be used (as some have tried to use them) to demonstrate the alleged limitations of the ghazal world, or to claim that Ghalib was expressing dissatisfaction with its formal constraints. If there's any dissatisfaction, it's with 'conversation'-- which has a wide range of meanings (see the definition above) but none that apply particularly to poetry. (On the contrary in fact: the meanings run to 'common talk, chitchat' and even 'altercation, dispute'.) Moreover, why should we think that the verse is expressing dissatisfaction? It seems to be simply formulating a connection between certain metaphorical means and certain human expressive purposes. Why shouldn't the tone be neutral, or amused, or thoughtful, or even didactic (an Ustad teaching a novice)?

In the world of the ghazal, in fact, as this verse itself demonstrates, the metaphorical equation between airs and graces, and knives and daggers, can easily be made in the space of two elegant lines, with room left over to ruminate about the process. And Ghalib in his letters invariably expresses pride and satisfaction with his achievements in the ghazal, rather than any sense of grievance about its limitations. As he well knew, only the technical limitations of the genre made the ghazal poet's achievements both so possible, and so striking. (Masters of chess never complain about the rules of the game.)

For another verse that juxtaposes dashnah and ;xanjar , see {186,5}. On swords and daggers generally, see {1,3}.

On the structure of kahe ba;Gair , see {59,1}.

See also Mir's verse-set on the use of metaphorical language to achieve poetic (and even real-world) purposes: M{1050,19}.

A North Indian ;xanjar and its scabbard, 13" long, probably from the 1700's: