Tag Archives: Urdu Poetry

Urdu Poetry: Mir Taqi Mir

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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

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

Sources:

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.
http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00garden/about/txt_srf_mir_ghalib.html

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)

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Urdu Poetry: Khwaja Mir Dard

jama_masjid_delhi_watercolour_1852

Written by Randeep Purewall

Khwaja Mir Dard was born in Delhi in 1720. The son of a well-known Sufi, Dard was schooled in theology, philosophy and Arabic and Persian. After serving briefly in the Mughal army, he joined his father’s Sufi order in Delhi around 1748.

It wasn’t the best of times for Delhi. The city was sacked by Nadir Shah in 1739 and marauded repeatedly by Ahmed Shah Abdali and the Marathas. Dard stayed on in the city however, even as his contemporaries Mir Taqi Mir and Sauda fled to Lucknow.

khwaja

At his home in Delhi, Dard held poetry recitals which attracted Mir, Sauda and Soz as well as the emperor, Shah Alam (r. 1759-1806). A gifted musician, Dard also composed khayals, thumris and dhrupads:

The high and low are equal in my eyes
As the high and low notes on the harp

In addition to his Urdu deewaan, Dard wrote eight Persian works on Sufism. He remained a Sufi in Delhi until his death in 1785.

Dard’s poems are sensual, erotic and, most famously, mystical. As a mystical poet, however, he seeks to live peacefully in the world, not to renounce it. He does not flee from life, but seeks its deeper meaning.

His poems concern the unity of existence, the greatness of man, the mystery of God and the nature of the self. His Urdu is simple and his verse spontaneous and intuitive, carrying both a personal depth and a touch of transcendence.

Dard is widely acknowledged today as one of the “three pillars” of Urdu poetry, along with Mir and Sauda.

If someone has not seen you here on earth
It makes no difference if he sees the world or not

Make the best of your time for life will not come back to you
If some of your life remains, youth will not come back to you

As long as I seek, it’s you I seek
As long as I speak, it’s of you I speak
The longing I feel is longing for you
And when I yearn, it’s for you I yearn

Time moves and soon
We shall be gone
So fill the cup
Let wine flow on

I crossed the garden of the world
And found the hue and scent of friendship’s rose

These flowering fields you love so much
And which receive
Such tender care from you, relate
A different tale to me
For when the flowers fade, the buds
Contemplate
And say: Like them we too one day
Shall wilt away

Give up talk with men and quiet be
Desire only the soul’s serenity
Seek joys of union in a state of wonder
Look for guidance in your heart’s own mirror

Though man was not given wings
He soared higher than the angels

Whom would the preacher
Frighten with his day of doom?
The scroll of deeds I washed clean with my tears

Don’t judge me, O Sheikh, by my drenched cloak
The angels would seek ablutions were I to wring it

Nor heaven nor earth can Thy expanse contain
Tis but my heart that enfolds Thy grace

Roses and greenery
Aren’t worth that inner joy
That place is grove and garden
Which gladdens the heart

Trans. Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition: An  Anthology of Urdu Poetry; K.C. Kanda, Urdu Ghazals: An Anthology from the 17th to the 20th Century; additional translation, Randeep Purewall

 

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Filed under Culture, Delhi, India, Poetry, Randeep Singh, Urdu

Urdu Poetry and Iqbal

sir-muhammad-iqbal-via-iqbal-academy-pakistan

Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) once said that he did not consider himself a poet. It is no use to compare him to Ghalib, Rumi or Tagore. There is little flight of imagination or profound silences in Iqbal’s poems. And yet, he influenced Urdu poetry.

First, Iqbal moved Urdu poetry from the classical poets’ inner world of anguish to the world of action. More than any other modern Urdu poet, Iqbal made Urdu poetry a tool for critique, a vehicle of social change, a quest for meaning and an affirmation of the human spirit. While many point to Faiz’ transformation of moth and flame into modern metaphors of revolution, it was Iqbal who first oriented Urdu poetical metaphors towards the moral and social revitalization of man and society.

Second, the musicality of Iqbal’s verse enriched the melody of Urdu. Faiz notes Iqbal’s use of unconventional metre (as in ‘Masjid-e-Qurtaba’), his use of unfamiliar (yet simple) words, his unprecedented use of proper names such as Delhi, Hejaz and Misr and his deliberate patterning of vowel and consonantal sounds, produced entire lines and quatrains that are a spectrum of sound and melody.

So, in “Ek Shaam” (‘One Evening’), Iqbal marries the picture of the hushed atmosphere over the valley to the sibilant consonants of verse (‘vaadee ke nava farosh khaamosh/kahsaar kee sabz posh khaamosh’), lulling the reader into silence. He rouses us from slumber through dramatic assonance (‘Ae Khuda Shikwah-e-Arbab-e-Wafa Bhi Sun Le/Khugar-e-Hamd Se Thora Sa Gila Bhi Sun Le’ in the poem ‘Shikwa’) and strings together sounds at the end of words (Rang ho ya Khisht-o-sang/Chang ho ya harf-o-saut) as if beating an Indian dafli drum.

Third, the range of themes and influence in Iqbal’s poetry is considerable, opening up horizons for Urdu. Through Iqbal, Urdu poetry pulses with the spirit of Keats, Nietzche, Bergson, Goethe to Rumi, Ghalib, Naziri and Bedil. His range of forms include ghazals, nazms, qita, rubiyat and mussadas verse forms; his range of subject matter, childrens’ poems, the nation, cinema, self-realization and imperialism; and his reader travels from the banks of the Ravi to the shores of Sicily to the Himalayas. Iqbal’s poetry is as much a epic history of twentieth century Asia as it is a philosophy of life.

He may not have considered himself a poet. Yet in making poetry the medium through which to express his message, Iqbal transformed the content, range and direction of Urdu poetry, suggesting an almost boundless range of place, theme and subject.

Written by Randeep Singh

Further Reading:

V.G. Kiernan (trans.), Poems from Iqbal: Renderings in English Verse with Comparative Urdu Text (Oxford University Press, Pakistan: 2013).

Sheema Majeed (ed.), Culture and Identity: Selected English Writings of Faiz (Oxford University Press, Karachi: 2005).

Barbara Metcalf, “Iqbal’s Imagined Geographies: The East, the West, the Nation, and Islam” in Kathryn Hansen and David Lelyveld, A Wilderness of Possibilities: Urdu Studies in Transnational Perspective (eds.) (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005).

Iqbal Singh, The Ardent Pilgrim: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Mohammad Iqbal . (Oxford University, New Delhi: 1997).

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Ten Years Later: Quatrains on War by Sahir Ludhianvi

UN Bombing - Baghdad

Marking the 10 year anniversary of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq

I.

To prove one’s greatness

Is it necessary to shed blood?

To banish the darkness of the house

Is it necessary to set it ablaze?

Bartari ke saboot ki khaatir

KhooN bahaana hi kya zaroori hai?

Ghar ki taareekiyaaN miTaane ko

Ghar jalaana hi kya zaroori hai?

Iraqi - man vs. horse

II.

War is the problem

Not the solution to any problem

All it will give is fire and blood today

Hunger and want tomorrow

Jang to khud hi ek masla hai

Jang kya mas’aloN ka hal degi?

Aag aur khoon aaj bakhshegi

Bhook aur ehtiyaaj kal degi

III.

And so noble human

Better to let war simmer out

Better for you and I to light candles

In one another’s courtyards

Isliye ae shareef insaano

Jang taltee rahe to behtar hai

Aap aur ham sabhi ke aangan mein

Shamah jalti rahe to behtar hai.

From “Ae Shareef InshaanoN” (‘O Noble Humans’) by Sahir Ludhianvi, translated by Ali Husain Mir & Raza Mir, cited in “A Celebration of Progressive Urdu Poetry: Anthems of Resistance” (Roli Books, New Delhi: 2006), at p. 161, edited by Randeep Purewall

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