The Sky in an Ant’s Egg: Ġhālib’s Structural Poetics

In: Journal of Urdu Studies

Abstract

Some of the most important structural patterns and devices used in individual ghazal verses by the famous poet Mirza Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ are identified and analyzed; their literary effectiveness is illustrated with examples and discussion. In particular, the paper considers two such patterns. One set of verses have a ‘twist’ to them, such that the reader (or, ideally, hearer) is first misled or confused, then at the last possible moment is suddenly and almost explosively enlightened. Another set of verses create an inherently unresolvable ‘tangle’ of several possible meanings which cannot be either affirmed or rejected on any non-arbitrary grounds. The context-free independence of such small ghazal verses, together with their division into two formally distinct and performatively separated lines, makes for unusual poetic constraints and opportunities. The author has prepared an extensive commentarial website on the poetry of Ghalib and Mir.

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