river in the drop:  ghazals of mirza ghalib (1797-1869)
poems from the urdu, based on literal translations by aijaz ahmad

occasionally, in a rose

occasionally, in a rose or a tulip, one of the faces—
what faces the dust must keep to itself!

the stars hid all night behind the sky’s veils:
at dusk, what did they feel when they emerged, naked?

sleep, and peace of mind are his, and night,
he on whose arms you spread your hair.

for us, god is one:  our way of life is breaking our own patterns.
the continuous death of habits builds our faith.

if ghalib continues to weep for this world,
your cities will be grown over by wilderness.



the garden of paradise about which the recluse is beside himself
is a mere bouquet in an obscure corner for we who live now in ecstasy.

in the hall of mirrors, the sight of you is the map,
and sunbeams reflect in the world of dewdrops.

hidden in my creations are ways of ruin:
the warm blood of the farmer promises revolt as the corn promises the sparks of threshing.

my silence hides thousands of eternal desires.
i am a gutted lamp on a pauper’s speechless grave.

ghalib!  the path of death always leads out from where we are:
it stitches the book of the world’s scattered pieces.


it was not our luck

it was not our luck to meet our love.
however long we lived, we would wait for the encounter.

if we lived on your promise, obviously we didn’t believe it.
believing it we would have died of happiness.

the vein of the stone would have poured blood
if your grief cut open even a spark of fire.

she is incomparable:  who can see her?
if there were a hint of comparison we would have met her somewhere.

the mystic speculations, ghalib!  And this speech of yours!
we would have thought you a seer if you didn’t drink so much.

with every step

with every step the goal recedes:
the desert runs from me at my very own speed.

a night of loneliness and grief blazing in my heart:
the shadow of night eluded me like a waft of smoke.

through this mad desert, my footsteps, blistering,
leave a red track of pearls.

because of you the goblet turns and blinks a hundred ways:
because of me the mirror is a single, astonished eye.

from my buring eye, asad, a fire licks out.
when i turn my gaze, dry leaves spark and the soil smoulders.

here i am

here i am, without shame:
i kept sitting even though they pointed and stared.

for my wine i’m pawning my shawl and prayer rug:
it’s so long since we drank in an open banquet!

if i were so ordained, i would question this earth.
you miser, what did you do with our treasures?

she must have picked up this habit from someone:
now she gives kisses without being asked.

intransigence is another thing.  she’s not ill-willed.
in her forgetfulness she keeps her promises.

these wings, like dust

these wings, like dust—weightless, decomposed—and the strong wind:
in any other case, feathers and wings would break apart.

a heaven-faced heaven is arriving:  not a dust speck,
nothing on its entire path, save the illusion of flowers.

the sight of the rose is merely an idea, intoxicating,
not like the walls, the door, the expanse of the wine cellar.

my own love has torn me down, brick by brick.
this house--nothing now but the will to have built.

now, asad, my verses are mere display:
the skill gathers nothing to the hours.