Lightning Should Have Fallen On Ghalib

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HarperCollins, Aug 11, 1999 - Poetry - 66 pages
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Ghalib is an astonishing poet from India, perhaps the most important poet since Kabir. In The Lightning Should Have Fallen on Ghalib: Selected Poems of Ghalib, poet Robert Bly and Urdu scholar Sunil Dutta collaborate to bring the delicacy and intensity of Ghalib's poetry to readers of English. This collection of thirty ghazals by Ghalib also serves as an introduction to the ghazal, the elegant and amazing poetic form revered for centuries in the Muslim world.

Ghalib was unorthodox in many ways: he was a Muslim, but he drank and was fond of gambling. He had a difficult life, full of rejections and excesses; much of his life was spent in Delhi during the British conquest of India. Ghalib's poems often mingle humor and anguish. In "The Clay Cup," he says:

I know that Heaven doesn't exist, but the idea
Is one of Ghalib's favorite fantasies.

His form and detail are exquisite. Many emotions flood into one poem--he complains, he pokes fun at intellectuals, he grieves over desires--and it is up to the reader to find the thread that holds the couplets together. Ghalib ends "The Road with Thorns" with a charming boast:

The lightning that fell on Moses should have
fallen on Ghalib.
You know we always adjust the amount of the wine
to the quality of the drinker

His work lies in the tradition of Hafiz and Rumi; and yet he manages to join that fervor with a contemporary style. More than one hundred years after Ghalib's death, his ghazals remain indisputably modern, intense, and as fresh as ever.

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About the author (1999)

He was born in 1796 in Akbarabad (present Agra). His father Abdullah Beg Khan and Uncle Nasrullah Beg Khan were in the Army. Mirza Ghalib become orphaned when he was just 5 years old. He lived with his uncle for 4 years, then his uncle also died. He started saying sher in Agra itself. He married the daughter of Nawab Ilahi Baksh 'Maaroof' and therefore moved to Delhi. In Delhi he devoted his full concentration to poetry. Soon he mastered the Persian language. So that no one should call him be-ustad (without a teacher), he fabricated a story that he had an Iranian teacher Abdul-samad live in house for two years to teach him Farsi. Ghalib was always proud of his Farsi poetry but he is known more by his Urdu prose and poetry. He always lived his life lacking money. After 1857 the support from the Royal durbar stopped. The pension from the British Government was stopped because he was suspected of supporting the rebels. He even traveled to Calcutta to restart the pension but to no avail. He went to the Nawab of Rampur, who promised him Rupees 200 if he lived in Rampur and Rupees 100 if he lived anywhere else. His pension was resumed 3 years after that, but all that money was used up for paying old debts. Ghalib died in 1869.

Robert Bly lives on a farm in his native state of Minnesota. He edited The Seventies magazine, which he founded as The Fifties and in the next decade called The Sixties. In 1966, with David Ray, he organized American Writers Against the Vietnam War. The Light Around the Body, which won the National Book Award in 1968, was strongly critical of the war in Vietnam and of American foreign policy. Since publication of Iron John: A Book About Men (1990), a response to the women's movement, Bly has been immensely popular, appearing on talk shows and advising men to retrieve their primitive masculinity through wildness. Bly is also a translator of Scandinavian literature, such as Twenty Poems of Tomas Transtromer. Through the Sixties Press and the Seventies Press, he introduced little-known European and South American poets to American readers. His magazines have been the center of a poetic movement involving the poets Donald Hall, Louis Simpson, and James Wright.

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