Urdu Poetry: Mir Taqi Mir


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. Mir 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’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.

Selected Verse
(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


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.

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)

Urdu Poetry and Iqbal


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).

Faiz Centenary Celebrations in UK 1911–2011

Progressive activists, writers, poets, artists of Brittan and of South Asian origin form a broadbased National Organising Committee to celebrate Faiz Centenary in the UK. National committee members of each region and town will involve local organisations and activists form local committees. Due to the size of the committee, NOC will meet on the regional basis.

Calendar of Events
Date: 12 March 2011
Co-ordinators: Anis Zaidi, Riaz Khokhar
Date: 2, 3, 4 June 2011
Co-ordinators: Abbas Malik, Parkash Singh Azad
Date: 7, 8 June 2011
Co-ordinators: Mohsin Zulifqar, Lala Mohammad Younas
Date: 11 June 2011 (Full day event)
Co-ordinators: Ayub Aulia, Munib Anwar, Tanweer Zaman Khan
Date: 18 June 2011
Co-ordinators: Sabir Raza, Basir Kazmi
Date: TBA
Co-ordinators: Sarwan Singh Zafar, Harsev Bans
Date: TBA
Co-ordinators: Dr Alina Mirza, Dr Surjinder Singh, Parmjait Bassi
Date: TBA
Co-ordinators: Dyal Singh Bagri, Avtar Sadiq
Date: TBA
Co-ordinators: Gurnam Singh Dhillon, Jatinder Singh Pattar
Date: TBA
Co-ordinators: Darshan Dhillon, Dr Iftikhar Mahmood

We are also planning events in Nottingham, Derby, Wolverhampton, Oxford, Edenborough, Luton and a last event in November/ December in Central London.

Issued by National Organising Committee UK on January 01, 2011

Pervez Fateh
Coordinator – South Asian Peoples Forum UK
Cell: +44 (0)795 854 1672
E-mail: pervezf@yahoo.com
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Life and Work of Great Poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz celebrated in California

Faiz at SOAS, London 1983
Faiz Ahmad Faiz at the School of Oriental and African Studies
London 1983. Photo by Amarjit Chandan.

A literary evening celebrating the life and work of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the great poet from South Asia, was held in the elegant Banquet Hall of newly constructed India Community Center at Milpitas in California, a city between San Jose and San Francisco.

Hamida Chopra read an informative paper on life and poetry of Faiz Sahib. Faiz was born in 1911 in Sialkot Punjab and after the partition decided to live in Pakistan. He married a British woman Alys in 1930s; Faiz also worked in the British Army and was promoted to Lt. Colonel; was imprisoned in Pakistani Jails; and, was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.

Several participants including Dr. Anil Chopra, Dr. Jyoti Dhamdhere, Dr. Khalida, Tashi Zaheer, Hiten Verma, Anupama Dalal, Arvind Kansal and Anshuman Chandra paid tribute to Faiz and spoke about the new dimensions he gave to the Urdu poetry.

The guest of honor Dr.Liu Schuxiong, Chairman Department Of Urdu at the University of Beijing, addressed the gathering in his beautiful Urdu in an eloquent manner. His speech was well received by the audience.

After the proceedings every one was invited for ‘High Tea’ in the Banquet Hall.

The event was organized by Hamida Bano Chopra, who was a teacher at the department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Berkeley. Now, Mrs. Chopra offers regular classes in Urdu.

Mirza Ahmed Baig
Fremont, CA.

More on Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Poet Zeeshan Sahil is no more!

This was the title yesterday of the editor of ‘Aaj’, Ajmal Kamal’s message from Karachi; and, it said this:

“Zeeshan Sahil suddenly died today, 12 April 2008, around 6 pm. His funeral will be held on Sunday, 13 April 2008 at 12:30 pm at Masjid Khair-ul-Amal, Ancholi Society, Federal B Area, Karachi.

“For condolences: (00-92) 4011150” (ajmalkamal@gmail.com)

Today, Publisher Hoori Noorani (Maktabai Danyal, Karachi) sent this poem:

by Zeeshan Sahil

Wishing to become a tree
I became one
But could not afford shelter
To anyone

No bird perched on my branches
To sing
No squirrel made its home
In my trunk

The dew did not glimmer
On my green leaves
And for thousands of years
Even the termites kept away

Wishing to become a path
I became instead a bridge
Those who crossed over me
I never saw again

I was not set aflame in the war
Or hacked to pieces
That floated along in the distance
Keeping each other company

Wishing to become the sea
I became a solitary teardrop
Making its home
In a handkerchief
That was not clasped
To anyone’s breast
Not wrapped around
Anyone’s wrist
No one burnt it to ashes
To salve a wound

Wishing to become a story
I became a word
Falling from ashen lips
To spin forever
In the vortex
Echo in the wind
Remain buried
In someone’s breast

Urdu Poem by Zeeshan Sahil
Translated into English by Tehmina Ahmed