ghazal as a genre  


==> The word ‘ghazal’ means...
an *overview of the genre* (designed especially for teachers and students). <==


Can we know Ghalib?


Our access to the classical ghazal as Mir and Ghalib knew it is inevitably limited and one-dimensional. Just think of all the forms of access to the poetry we don’t have, which poets and connoisseurs did have in that world— cultural submersion, orality, lifelong exposure mushairah, ustad-shagird contacts

What do we have instead?
one *photo*, taken near the end of his life (and here’s an Urdu *article about pictures of Ghalib*)
good written texts; serious study over time
comparative multilingual backgrounds
tazkirahs—my article on tazkirahs as sources of info on classical literary culture
commentaries, such as they are
the issue of the oral tradition and the apocryphal verse: {219,1}

And of course, Ghalib’s own self-presentation
on his own appearance (c. late 1840's): {178,1}
interestingly misquoted by Bekhud Dihlavi: {1,4}
Ghalib’s demand for attention— metal mirror, not glass {34,2}
the unusual lyrical coherence of {49}
his scorn for all dependence and borrowing: {9,1}
his fury at having other poets' gzls attrib. to him: {219,1}
Ghalib’s own handwritten versions, with their deep sense of artistry
Ghalib quotes his own ghazals out of order in his letters: *evocations*
‘letter-play’ too {56,5}
as opposed to print technology? {60,7}
Ghalib teaches Hali how to interpret a verse {57,7}
he is proud of his rab:t {62,9}
in his twenties, he writes as if old {85,8}
never having lived abroad, he writes as though he has done so {14,9}
Ghalib's letter on independence and ma'ni-afirini {119,7}
a very rare personal ghazal, grieving for Arif {66}; also Mirza Yusuf one {202,9}
but what about {139}— personal, or not?
interpreting his thoughts on {155,2}
the third-person ‘poet’ {159,4}
the use of first person and second person in a single verse: {77,8}
the ‘ay’ for ‘juz’ anecdote {230,5}
his ‘complaint’ about the narrowness of the ghazal {234,8}
publishing his ghazals in newspapers: {161,1}, Ashraf ul-akhabar; {178,1} with a VERY INTERESTING letter on the subject of his ghazals
ghazals in Dihli Urdu Akhbar: {111,1}*; {120,1}; {125,1}; {163,1}; {201,1}*
his pro-British response to Sir Sayyid on A'in: *SRF translation*
his long letter on poetics: Khaliq Anjum vol. 2 p. 612ff.
his Persian Ustad?: {139,1 commentary page}
recovery (?) after 1857: {216,1}
his account of 1857: dastanbu
Ghalib boasts about ghazals: {111,1}; {163,1}

his ba;Rii sitam-peshah ;Domnii ? {139,1}
his Persian tutor 'Abdus Samad? {139,1}
his supposed dissatisfaction with the ghazal form: {234,8}
his supposed ‘rejection’ of his early gzls: {155,3}




Translating Ghalib is a no-win situation. The things you can’t achieve are numerous and frustrating; the things you can achieve are more like happy accidents that can rarely be repeated. In all of world literature there can be few genres less translator-friendly than the classical Urdu ghazal, and in all classical Urdu ghazal there can hardly be a poet more resistant and opaque to translation than Ghalib.

What is translation? On a platter
A poet's pale and glaring head,
A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,
And profanation of the dead.
The parasites you were so hard on
Are pardoned if I have your pardon,
O Pushkin, for my stratagem.
I travelled down your secret stem,
And reached the root, and fed upon it;
Then, in a language newly learned,
I grew another stalk and turned
Your stanza, patterned on a sonnet,
Into my honest roadside prose—
All thorn, but cousin to your rose.
— Vladimir Nabokov

*The Art of Translation* by Vladimir Nabokov, The New Republic, 1941

My article on translations of a nazm of Faiz’s based on {78,3}

Other translation problems (don’t worry, there are still plenty— matters of word choice, background info, etc. etc.)

Davis, Dick, ‘On Not Translating Hafez,’ The New England Review 35,1-2 (2004): [site]; [on this site]; very relevant for Urdu ghazal too!

how to provide background info? —e.g., paper robe info in {1,1}
problem of ‘we’ for I but also for ‘we’: lovers, ‘we’ humans
Nazm on poet’s assumed voices, {59,2}
‘liver’ {30,2} and other untranslatables
problems of grotesquerie {39,3}

Of course, this doesn’t stop the translators, nor should it. 
comment on: Aijaz Ahmad ones, Bly, Russell, others? 
some examples based on {20}
some even better examples based on {111}, the famous sab kahaa;N
it’s not as if I have succeeded very well myself—
= some of my attempts (1984): {75} and {80}
= more of my attempts (1991): {5}, {49}, {126}
= my one attempt to preserve qaafiyah: {58,1}
= an attempt that I never published: {174,1}
Peter Hook’s neat experiments in English ghazal; compare Agha Shahid Ali’s

the translator’s only REAL obligation: TRUTH IN LABELING— take whatever liberties you like, then just tell the reader clearly what you’ve done

a few translatable things— a sense of humor {40,2}
some more or less capturable lyrical moods— {35}
some especially promising ‘translatables’ are included in the SETS list
discussion of dar-o-diivaar one and similar special cases {58}; also {59}
but: radical untranslatability of ‘meaning generators’ {32,1}
four i.zaafats in a row {56,2}
the futility of critics’ declarations, SRF on Mir: M{126,5}

Nabokov faced a similar problem, and described it very well: ‘I have at last discovered the right way to translate Onegin.... I am now breaking it up, banishing everything that honesty might deem verbal velvet’. He sought to make a translation that would be ‘ideally interlinear and unreadable’. He recognized that many translations appear to be readable only for unsatisfactory reasons: ‘only because the drudge or the rhymester has substituted easy platitudes for the breathtaking intricacies of the text’ (Brian Boyd, Vladimir Nabokov: the American Years (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, pp. 320, 322, 335).




Choosing a gender for the beloved is one of the worst ordeals, when you set out to translate ghazals into English. No matter what choice you make, it can’t really satisfy you. For the purposes of this commentary I have chosen to make the beloved female, whenever a choice must be made. One of the main reasons for this decision is practical convenience: since the lover and almost all other ghazal characters are male, making the beloved female means that she stands out. Pronouns become less ambiguous: you have ‘she’ and ‘her’ as well as ‘he’ and ‘his’ to help clarify the antecedents of pronouns, without the need for cumbersome explanatory brackets.

explicated in Nets of Awareness Chapter 12, ‘Poetry and Morality’
(in Nets, I made the beloved masculine-in-quotes)
beloved as clearly a male youth— {9,2} has a list
classic case making strict heterosexuality impossible: {65,1}
parallel verse by Mir {75,3}
Bekhud Mohani {111,7}

on the lover’s attractiveness(?): {189,10}




Ghalib is the supreme ‘meaning creator’ma((nii aafiriin — of Urdu ghazal. His poetry has attracted over the past century a very large— and not always very helpful— body of commentary.
A DRAFT of my recent article on the commentarial tradition in PDF form.
Nazm as the archetypal commentator
Nazm explains how to compose a verse— i.e., technically {60,4}; second line is to be composed first: {183,1}
Nazm's tirade on excessive wordplay {69,2}
Nazm presents Mir and Ghalib as non-Delhi-language poets {92,7}
Nazm: poets should write about the ‘very famous’ {98,1}
Nazm praises metaphorical subtlety of a certain kind {98,7}
Nazm on exaggeration {195,2}
Nazm hates many pahlus, loves much meaning {215,8}

difficulties of access to commentaries: Shadan {78,1}
patterns of imagery: Schimmel on fire imagery
some systematically-grouped SETS of verses for further study
deal with {1,1} issues
argument in {9,3} about refusal to recognize multiple meanings
total ignoring of sound effects, {26,7}
problems of ‘natural sha'iri’ bias {70,3}, {76,2}
SRF, Nayyar Masud, Naim
SRF: old commentators didn’t use dictionaries {119,2}
SRF: always remember orality and suspense— M{122,9}
link to SRF’s inti;xaab
copy of naim conf. paper in pdf form?

AND YET... despite all difficulties, the poetry still comes through, we still love it somehow. (Vali— door to new mazmuns open till doomsday)


 — Ghalib index page — sitemap — FWP’s main page —