Selections from the Persian Ghazals of Ghalib

(Translated into English by Ralph Russell and into Urdu by Iftikhar Ahmad Adni)

Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) is undoubtedly the most important poet of Urdu. But most of his poetic works, like Allamah Iqbal’s, are written in Farsi. Ghalib didn’t consider his Urdu poetry of much value. He concentrated on his Farsi verse and prided himself on it but as fate would have it, his Urdu verse is not only more popular but elevated him to the status of godfather of Urdu verse. His Farsi verse, however, is relatively unknown among the Farsi speakers. (Iqbal, in comparison, is equally popular among Urdu and Farsi readers for his poetry).

This book is a selection from the Farsi verse of Ghalib and its side by side translation into English and Urdu. For the admirers of Ghalib who know him from Urdu (like myself), this book offers good insight into his Farsi mind.

Here are my thoughts on the quality and methods of translations:

There is a difference between the approaches of both translators. English translations are pretty much done in prose style. This is probably the best way to translate couplets of Ghazal because if you try to rhyme it in English, you run the risk of changing the content, meaning and style of the original couplet. Urdu translation of the same, in comparison, follow the usual rhymed and metered approach. The Urdu translator looks for rhyms and sets them on relevant meter to make it sound ‘poetic’. Because if you do a prose Urdu translation of a metered and rhyming Farsi verse, it ceases to be poetry. So the difference between the approaches of the two translators makes it easy for English translator but difficult for the Urdu one.

The English translator, late Ralph Russell, was a scholar of Farsi and Urdu and has done a good job at translating Ghalib. He has also taken pains to add explanatory notes where a seemingly simple Farsi verse means much more than its corresponding English translation. I liked it as it gives insight into how the translators themselves understand Ghalib.

I am, however, not particularly impressed by the quality of Urdu translation. I can’t compare it with original Farsi as I don’t know the language but I notice the lack of Ghalibness, so to speak, in Urdu translation.

Here, I found an online link for the book. Click HERE


One thought on “Selections from the Persian Ghazals of Ghalib

  1. There is a couplet by Ghalib, probably in Persian, which roughly means, ” For the good we do, you are responsible, Oh Lord. So, we don’t ask for reward. For the bad too, aren’t you responsible? Then why punish us?” Can any one enlighten me with the original couplet?

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