I did not ask for uncommon beauty in afterlife.
Only one that restores the life I had in you.
Do not bury me in your yard after you slay me.
Mad after me, why should the world find you?
I will get around to love’s grand gestures too.
Past ordinary sorrows, I will be back for you.
Must we go with Khizer, that hoary travel guide?
I will grant he is a sage and he looks out for you.
I have called on lovers to look out for Ghalib.
He is a good man, better poet and hurting like you.
Ghalib (trans. M. Shahid Alam)
The first lines in the original Urdu: ﻥﺍﺭﻮﺣ ِ ﺪﻠﺧ ﮟﯿﻣ ﯼﺮﺗ ﺕﺭﻮﺻ ﺮﮕﻣ ﮯﻠﻣ ﮟﯿﮑﺴﺗ ﻮﮐ ﻢﮨ ﮧﻧ ﮟﯿﺋﻭﺭ ﻮﺟ ﻕﻭﺫ ِ ﺮﻈﻧ ﮯ
I came across this poem on 3quarksdaily, a site that posts interesting articles from around the web, and which also posts poetry. I’ve been reading the poems on 3quarksdaily for several months now. They have a good mix of the old and the new.
Ghalib is not someone I’ve heard of before. According to Wikipedia he was an Urdu and Persian poet who lived in the Mughal Empire from 1797-1869 under British colonial rule. ‘Ghalib’ is a pen name meaning ‘dominant.’ It sounds from the Wikipedia article like he is a very famous Urdu poet.
I was attracted to the poem because of its five powerful couplets, each one dripping with beautiful language and meaning, expressed in startling and mysterious ways:
“Do not bury me in your yard after you slay me.
Mad after me, why should the world find you?”
I found my eyes kept being drawn back to each line to ponder it and enjoy the turn of phrase: “I will get around to love’s grand gestures too” or “He is a good man, better poet and hurting like you.”
It is, quite simply, a love poem, full of self-pity and yearning. Every couplet ends with the word “you.” I could imagine it the work of a young man, penned for his latest flame. But the originality of the language raises it into something more unique. I felt an almost Shakespearian playfulness in the way he deals with the idea of eternal life in the opening lines:
“I did not ask for uncommon beauty in afterlife.
Only one that restores the life I had in you.”
The poem also raises a number of questions. There’s a sense of love lost (or at least a temporary parting), given the use of the past tense, and even of forbidden love and danger – The narrator speaks of a guide who “looks out for you.”
I don’t know enough about Ghalib to know if the subject of this poem appears in other poems or was important in his own life. A bit of extra context could possibly shed some light on this.
For now, however, I’m content just to enjoy this poem for what it is, a love note of the highest quality.