Written by Randeep Purewall
Mir (né Muhammad Taqi Mir) was born in Agra in 1722. His father died when Mir was eleven years old, leaving the boy to seek an education and patronage in Delhi. He was educated in Delhi by the poet and scholar Khan-e-Arzu and supported by a nobleman, but left the city upon Nadir Shah’s invasion in 1739
It was years later after returning to Delhi, that Mir became a prominent poet, winning high-ranking patrons and competing with the poets Dard and Sauda in musha’ara (poetic symposiums). Delhi was being repeatedly invaded during this period, however, by Afghans, Jat and Marathas. For Mir, the times marked not only the decline of the city, but the setting of a civilization.
This age is not like that which went before it
The times have changed, the earth and sky have changed
In 1782, Mir left Delhi for Lucknow as had other poets like Sauda before him. He found patronage in Lucknow at the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula where he received a pension and continued to write poetry. He died in 1810.
Mir’s verses express the impermanence of life and the grief at the loss of love, beauty and spring. At the same time, his poems underline the transcendent experience and journey of love through the colours of the garden, the movement of the stars and heart of man.
How long is the life of a rose?
The bud just smiles
Mir’s themes of love and beauty and pain and separation established the conventions of classical Urdu poetry and his style inspired later poets like Ghalib (1797-1869). He also helped establish Urdu as a literary language. Mir reviewed and refined the use of Urdu in the musha’ara of Delhi and naturalized its use of Persian expressions. He wrote, moreover, in the everyday language of the city, making the language of Delhi, the language of poetry.
(Trans. Russell, Islam; Sadiq; Ali)
Every leaf and every plant my state do know
The rose knows not what the garden knows
The world is full of illusions
We behold here what we imagine
The streets of Delhi were not mere streets
They were like the album of a painter
Every figure I saw there
Was a model of perfection
The spring has come, the flowers bloom cheek by cheek
Would you and I might stand thus in the garden!
The greatest sinner, Mir
Was he who adopted love as his religion
The moments of happiness
Within this world were few
Now weep for the smiling dawn
Of the garden like the dew
I never saw the stars so bright before
It was her eyes that taught them how to shine
To keep my eyes on you, and you alone
My one and only heart’s desire is this
To open them only if you are there
The height to which I can aspire is this
Mir, quit the company of Shaikh and Brahmin
And mosque and temple too – leave them behind.
Lay one stone on another in the desert
Worship your Love at your own humble shrine
I grant you sir, the preacher is an angel
To be a man, now – that’s more difficult
Go to the mosque; stand knocking at the door
Live all your days with drunkards in their den
Do anything you want to do, my friend,
But do not seek to harm your fellowmen
What days those were!
When I would drink and climb up to the tavern roof
And fall asleep, the white sheet of the moonlight over me
Man was first made of clay
And if the song you sing be good
This world of clay for years to come
Will listen to your voice
Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (Columbia University Press, New York, 1973).
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Mir and Ghalib: Comparisons (trans by F.W. Pritchett), 1997.
Khurshidul Islam and Ralph Russell, Three Mughal Poets (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1991)
Muhammad Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (Oxford University Press, London: 1964)