{230,5} Commentary page

Francesca Chubb-Confer:

A kind of hidden commentary (or, ventriloquized commentary, since Iqbal puts it in the words of Ghalib himself) on the "bulbul qafas-e rang" verse we read earlier this semester. The scene takes place on the sphere of Jupiter, where our narrator Zinda-Rud and guide Rumi encounter Ghalib, Hallaj, and Qurratulain Tahera, who are described as having chosen to eternally wander the cosmos rather than dwell in paradise. Zinda-Rud seizes the opportunity to engage in an extended dialogue with each of them, and asks Ghalib to expound on his difficult verses. This is lines 2293-2330 by the numbering in Arberry's translation, which is available online at http://www.allamaiqbal.com/works/poetry/persian/javidnama/translation/index.htm. The following (rough, to be improved) translation is my own:

You, bestowed with the torment of seeking,
tell me the meaning of one of your verses:
"the dove a handful of ash, nightingale a cage of color
o lament, what is the sign of a burnt liver?"

The lament rising from the liver's burning:
Everywhere I've seen its varied effects.
It makes the dove renounce the beloved;
The nightingale collects colors from it.
Within it, death is in the arms of life -  
With a breath: here - life; there - death.
A color like this, that could paint an Arzhang;
A color like this, that makes all colorless.
You don't know. This is the station of color and scent.
The fate of each heart hangs on its crying out.
Come to color, or pass to colorlessness,
so you may seize a sign from the liver's burning.

In these blue skies a hundred worlds are born.
Are there saints and prophets in every world?

Consider deeply this being and unbeing:
Worlds come into existence at every step.
"Wherever rises the commotion of a world,
there also is a mercy to the worlds."

Speak more clearly, I don't understand.

It's wrong to speak of this more clearly.

Is the conversation of people of the heart fruitless?

It's difficult to put this subtlety into words.

You're head-to-toe afire with the burning of the search,
but you don't vanquish speech - how strange!

The beginning: creation, destiny, guidance.
The end: a mercy to the worlds.

I still don't see the face of meaning. If you have fire, then burn me!

Ah, one like me, a seer of the secrets of poetry:
these words are tuned higher than poetry's string.
Poets have adorned the banquet of speech,
but these would-be prophets lack the white hand.
What you're asking of me is an unbelief -
An unbelief transcending even poetry.

A couple of notes: 
"It makes the dove renounce the beloved" qamri az ta'thir-i u wa sukhta" - wa-sukhtan literally meaning renunciation, but as a literary style referring to "bitter repudiation of the beloved." And the "sukhta" connotation of being "burned up." So, is the dove ash because it's been, well, burned by the beloved? Or is it in the sense that, having repudiated her, the "fire" of longing has gone out and all that's left is ashes? The "u" is, though, presumably referring to the nala - so, it's the effect of the lament itself that causes the dove to repudiate. There's perhaps a circularity here: the dove is a handful of ash due to the lament that is due to the burning of the liver which results in the dove being reduced to ash. 

I'm still not sure what to make of the color/colorlessness parallel with the nightingale and the dove, and the suggestion that either end of the opposite pairs - color/colorlessness, life/death, nightingale/dove - could fulfill the "sign" of the burning liver. Perhaps it's an Iqbal move, as elsewhere, with the opposite conceptual pairs of Sufistic metaphor - that it's neither living nor dying in the beloved, but the productive tension of always existing between the two that's the key.

"Wherever rises the commotion of a world, there also is a mercy to the worlds." - the Persian edition of the text on ganjoor.net identifies this as a quotation; I couldn't find from where. It doesn't strike me as something Ghalibian, especially with his repeated insistence on it in this scene; a little too theologically on-the-nose with the Arabic rahmatan lil-alamayn and all, presumably referencing Muhammad as in Quran 21:107).

"But you don't vanquish speech" - "bar sukhan ghalib na-ayi" - a little play on Ghalib's takhallus - literally, you're not victorious over speech, or, you're not Ghalib - with the previous line, something like, you're Ghalib, but you're not being Ghalib! It's true, I think, that we wouldn't really imagine Ghalib ever being at a loss for words.

"An unbelief transcending even poetry" - lit. kufr, I find it interesting that explaining the meaning of a verse - what Zinda-Rud is asking Ghalib - would in the end be at least partially identified with unbelief. There's something there, maybe, about ma'ani afirini - to just explain everything kills the magic. Even if poets aren't divine communicators like Moses, they're still gesturing at something beyond; the "secrets" of poetry exist beyond poetry itself.

December 2018