Ghazal 217, Verse 2

{217,2}

jauhar-e te;G bah sar-chashmah-e diigar ma((luum
huu;N mai;N vuh sabzah kih zahr-aab ugaataa hai mujhe

1) the temper/water of the sword, from another fountain-head?-- 'known' [to be impossible]!
2) I am that [kind of] greenery, such that 'poison-water' causes me to grow

Notes:

jauhar : 'A gem, jewel; a pearl; essence, matter, substance, constituent, material part (opp. to accident), absolute or essential property; skill, knowledge, accomplishment, art; excellence, worth, merit, virtue; secret nature; defects, vices; --the diversified wavy marks, streaks, or grain of a well-tempered sword'. (Platts p.399)

 

zahr-aab : 'Dirty, stagnant, or envenomed water; rennet for curdling cheese; water in which fruits have been macerated, their bitterness being left behind; an aquatic herb'. (Steingass, p.630)

Nazm:

By zahr-aab is meant grief and anger; that is, my composition is from grief and anger. Then in addition he boasts that the temper of a sword is in the sword alone; at any other fountain-head, where is this greenery? The late author was heedless here-- in Iran, language-knowers also use zahr-aab for urine; he ought to have avoided this word. (245)

== Nazm page 245

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, the way the temper of a sword is brought out by the pouring of bitter-water, in the same way I am that greenery whose nourishment has been on grief and anger. The meaning is that in my composition are grief and anger. (306)

Bekhud Mohani:

[Disagreeing with Nazm:] Yes, yes, language-knowers call urine too zahr-aab . But not urine alone. From the innovation of Hazrat the Commentator it's necessary that a word that has a number of meanings, one of which is bad, ought to be avoided in speaking in its other meanings as well. But in truth this recommendation is in no way worthy of acceptance. [He goes on to give examples of the use of this word from Momin, Zafar, and Nasikh.] (445)

Faruqi:

[See also his comments on {48,10}.]

There's no subtlety in the meaning of the verse. The verse is good, but considering Ghalib's standard, it's not of very high rank. By the 'temper' [jauhar] of a sword is meant those round marks that are present in high-quality steel. By way of affinity to the brightness/'water' [aab] of a sword they give for it the similes of 'ocean', 'fountain', or 'rivulet'. Thus Mir has a line {947,2}:

us kii shamshiir kii jadval bhii bahaa kyaa kyaa kii

[the rivulet of his sword too-- what things it caused to flow away!]

Thus if the sword is a fountain, then its temper/water has become greenery. That is, the temper is that greenery that can grow up only by the edge of the sword. The greenery, with regard to its form and color, has similarity to a 'quenched' sword [that has been immersed in water as part of the tempering process], as in Ghalib's verse {109,7x}.

In the verse under discussion the meaning of zahr-aab is grief and sorrow. Thus the meaning of the verse becomes that the way the greenery of 'temper' can grow up only on the edge of a sword, in the same way I am that greenery that grows up on poison-mixed water (that is, grief and sorrow). That is, my existence itself is indebted to grief and anger and sorrow. Ghalib has also created in this another aspect of thought: that the way the temper of a sword exists because the sword exists, in the same way my existence is due to grief and anger. (1989: 340-43) [2006: 369-72]

FWP:

SETS == WORDPLAY

This is a verse chiefly of wordplay; and the commentators, together with Faruqi, bring out its various aspects; I don't have anything special to add. Let me just pull together the wordplay a bit.

A sword has 'water' for two reasons. For one thing, it has jauhar or 'temper', one meaning of which is 'gem', and jewels have 'water' as a criterion of quality; in English too we speak of 'a diamond of the first water'. A sword also has water because it has aab , defined by Platts as 'Water; water or lustre (in gems); temper (of steel, &c.); edge or sharpness (of a sword, &c.); sparkle, lustre; splendour' (p.1); for more on this term, see {193,2}. Faruqi adds the association of zahr-aab with the water in which a sword has been immersed to 'quench' it as part of the tempering process.

The idiomatic negative use of ma((luum , literally 'known', to mean 'known not to exist' or 'known not to be possible', is quite common; for more on this, see {4,3}.

The controversy over zahr-aab as being used in Persian to mean 'urine', and whether this association affects the verse, looms large to the commentators; Faruqi too discusses it at length (pp. 341-43). It points up perhaps one of the few ways in which we latecomers have an advantage: many of us don't think distractingly of that meaning because we aren't familiar with it.

As Faruqi points out, {109,7x} shares the same imagery.