Four Ghazals by Mirza Ghalib

01 February 2014

ABOUT THE POEMS For Urdu and Persian speakers, the language of Ghalib’s verse is a miracle of music and meaning. The out-and-in structure of the shers of Ghalib’s preferred ghazal form seems to pierce the mysteries of existence, each new excursion of thought returning by a new path to the root rhyme established in the opening verse by the qafiya (a continuously rhyming syllable) and the radif (a word or phrase repeated at the end of each couplet without any change whatsoever).

But how can such a sophisticated linguistic, prosodic and rhythmical structure be brought over into a language as distant from Urdu as English? The easy (and established) answer has always been to say that it can’t; a more pragmatic one might hold that any English translator of Ghalib should be a poet in his or her own right, and pass Ghalib through self and self through Ghalib with a sense of both fidelity and freedom. In these new English versions of four ghazals, the American poet Andrew McCord gives us a Ghalib by turns expansive and melancholy, teasing and ruminative, passionate and paradoxical. Is it the speaker of the ghazals, or the ghazal itself as it reaches the end of its course, that exclaims “There are other masters of eloquence in this world,/ But it is said that Ghalib’s style is some other thing.” These are meant to be living English poems first, but they do let us through into the world and sound of that “some other thing”.

hai baske har ik un ke ishaare men nishaan aur

Andrew McCord has a long association with India and has been working on translations of Ghalib since the late 1970s. He lives in New York, USA, with his wife and two daughters.

Keywords: poetry translation ghalib Ghazal Urdu literature