Sunday, June 29, 2014

“The moon waxes big so that it might become your forehead”: Ghalib’s metaphor-inverting verses

[Note: I am returning to blogging on this site after  nearly four years. I hope to continue with a series of posts on Urdu poetry.]
The human mind works through metaphors and analogies. And no one understands this better than a poet. In the sub-continental Urdu-Persian poetic tradition, the metaphor was carried to great heights of sophistication during the classical period. The “Indian style” of Persian poetry (sabk-e-hindi) and its allied Urdu tradition became famous (some would say notorious) for their “metaphorical excesses.”[1] Mirza Asadullah Khan “Ghalib” (1797-1869) one of the foremost exponents of this style, is known for his intricate and abstract metaphorical constructions, so much so that he is sometimes called a “mushkil pasand shaayar” or “difficulty loving poet.” But Ghalib also wrote many accessible verses and has always been a very popular poet in India and Pakistan. Choosing some verses from his Urdu and Persian ghazals, in this essay I discuss a particular device that Ghalib used to impart freshness to established metaphors.