Ghazal 234, Verse 6

{234,6}*

mi;saal yih mirii koshish kii hai kih mur;G-e asiir
kare qafas me;N faraaham ;xas aashiyaa;N ke liye

1) the likeness/example of my effort is this: that a captive bird
2) would gather, in the cage, straw for a nest

Notes:

Hali:

No greater extremity of effort can be described in any manner.
==Urdu text: p. 166 in Hali, Yadgar-e Ghalib

Nazm:

That is, my effort is both fruitless and worthy of pity. (266)

Bekhud Mohani:

When the gaze of 'people of the heart' falls on this verse, then they press their hands to their hearts. In it a picture of two opposed states and conditions has been captured: (1) the picture of fruitless effort; and (2) an image of the ardor for freedom and the pleasure of freedom. (505)

Arshi:

Compare {118,4}, {120,7}. (248, 250, 311)

FWP:

SETS == TRANSLATABLES

This isn't one of those verses in which the lover actually speaks as a bird (for examples see {126,5}, but he certainly depicts himself in the 'likeness' of a bird. Not just any bird, of course, but a bird in a special situation: a captive bird who gathers, in his cage, straw for a nest.

The commentators are virtually unanimous that this verse is a picture of pathos and helplessness and vain longing for freedom. And certainly that's the first possibility that occurs to the reader; and there's {145,2} to convey exactly that sense of mourning and loss.

But consider the subtleties of {232,3}. In that verse, the bird claims very specifically to be at ease in a corner of the cage, to find it restful or even comfortable. We may read such a claim as ironic or self-deluding, but we can't dismiss the possibility that it might be meant straightforwardly. Who are we to say what a captive bird would or would not feel, ought or ought not to feel?

Similarly in the present verse, what does it mean that the caged bird is gathering straw for a nest? Here are some possibilities:

=the bird wistfully pretends that it will be able to raise chicks in the cage
=the bird naively believes that it will be able to raise chicks in the cage
=the bird is settling down and making itself at home in the cage
=the cage is well enough equipped that the bird finds what it needs to make itself at home
=the bird is only at the straw-gathering stage, and is not yet ready to make a nest
=the bird, a longtime captive, doesn't know how to make a nest, and can only gather straw in vain

And then, when we try to apply these 'likenesses' or 'examples' to the life of the speaker, how are they to be interpreted? The cage could represent this world, or this society, or this state of poverty, or the poetic demands of patrons, or the bonds of marriage and family. Held captive in one or more of these 'cages', the speaker nevertheless makes an 'effort'. His effort is like that of a caged bird gathering straw for a nest.

Is such an effort totally doomed from the beginning? Is it an effort that might yield some qualified, limited, bittersweet kind of success? Or is it an effort that might even, through heroic acts of accommodation and adjustment, yield something that the speaker would find-- or at least claim to find-- satisfactory? As usual, the tone of the verse, which alone can help the hearer to choose among these possible implications, is left for us to decide-- and to decide afresh every time we say the verse aloud.