Ghalib Translated
By Dr. Zafar  M.  Iqbal
Chicago, IL


Ghalib occupies a highly privileged place in Urdu poetry.  With rare linguistic felicity and ease, his lines just drip with enchanting music, music that still resonates.

Bringing that lyrical quality to any translation, and that too across a wide cultural gulf, is not just difficult but impossible. Robert Frost reminded us that poetry is what gets lost in translation. I go a step farther: poetry is not lost but killed in the process. 

With these reservations, and avoiding line-by-line restrictions, I offer here my translation of one of his memorable sonnets from Divan-e-Ghalib:


To me, the world is

just a playground, [1]

with unending spectacle,

day and night.


Solomon’s throne,

just a toy to me,

Messianic miracles,

just rumors.


To me, the world is

just a name, has no appeal;

to me things are things,

just an illusion.


Dust that rises from my

wanderings, hides the desert;

a river humbly touches

the ground I am on.


Don’t ask how I manage

when you aren’t here;

just see how you look

when by my side.


Call me elite, ego-centric,  

but why mustn’t I be?

In my own mirror, I see

my idol all the time.


See how glowingly I talk when

someone puts wine before me.

Just envy, not hatred,  when I ask

them not to mention your name.


Faith holds me back,

temptation pulls me on;

I am past Ka’aba,

Church lies before me.


I am in love, teasing

my beloved is what I do ;

with me, Laila  doesn’t talk

well of Majnoon  [2].


When together, a bliss

– wish we died this way;

away from you, I remember

how much I ache for this bliss.


A rising sea of blood --

maybe this is what I need;

Let’s see what else is

to come my way ?


Though I can’t lift my arm

I can still see --

keep the glass of wine

in front of me.


My colleague, drinking buddy,

and my confidante,

why must you malign ‘Ghalib’

in front of me? 


[1]  cf. "All the world's a stage…”  from Shakespeare's "As You Like It," Act 2, scene 7.

[2]  Laila and Majnoon, based on a story (1192)  by Nizami Ganjavi, the 12th century Persian epic poet.   These two names have since seeped deep and wide into various languages and cultures, including of the Asian Subcontinent, and represent two ill-starred persons in love.




Ghalib’s Sonnet in Romanized Urdu


Baazi-cha-e-athfaal hai duniya, mayray aagay
hotha hai shub-o-roze thamasha mayray aagay

Ek khail hai aurung-e-Sulemaan, mayray nuzdeek
Ek baath hai aijaaz-e-Maseeha, mayray aagay

Juz naam nahin  sooruth-a-aalam mujhay munzoor
Juz waham nahin husthi-e-ashiya mayray aagay

Hotha hai nihan gurd main sehra, mayray hothay
Ghistha  hai jabeen khakh pay duriya mayray aagay

Muth pooch kay kya haal hai mayra thayray peechhay
Thoo daykh kay kya rung hai thayra mayray aagay

Such  kehthay ho khudbeen-o-khud aara hoon, kyun na hoon?
Baitha hai buth-e-aaeena-seema, mayray aagay

Phir daykhi-yey, undaaz-e-gul-ufshani-e-gufthaar
Rukh  day koyee paimana-e-sahba mayray aagay

Nufruth ka guman guzray hai, mein rushkh  say guzra
Kyunker kahoon lo naam na oonka mayray aagay

Imaan mujhay rokay hai, tho kheenchay hai mujhay kufr
Ka’aba mayray  peechay hai. Kaleesa mayray aagay  

Aashiq  hoon, pur maashookh-faraybi hai mayra kaam
Majnoon ko boora kehthi hai Laila mayray aagay

Khush hothay hain per wasl main yoon,  mur nahin jaathay
Aayee shub-e-hijraan ki Thamunna mayray aagay 

Hai mauj-zaan ek kulzum-e-khoon, kaash, yayhi ho
Aatha hai, abhi daykhiyey kya kya mayaray aagay

Go haath main jumbish nahin, aankhawn main tho dum hai
Rahnay do abhi saaghar-o-meena mayray aagay

Hum-paysha o hum-musrub o humraaz hai mayra
‘Ghalib’ ko bura kyun kaho, uchcha mayray aagay  



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.