Miraji is one of the most important poets of the Indian subcontinent, and his work has had an indelible effect in modernist Urdu poetry. Between the years of 1928 and 1947, Miraji’s poetry was widely received in the subcontinent: his cosmopolitan poetry spoke across, and challenged, communal, linguistic. and religious borders. Though cherished by poets and open-minded readers, Miraji’s poetry has been excised from the literary canons of South Asia, primarily because of Miraji’s reputation as a sexual poet. While sexual desire and sexuality do indeed play a role in Miraji’s poetry, his poems fall across a dizzyingly wide range: some talk about sex, joy, and sadism, while others ruminate on the weather, solitude, loneliness, and abstract metaphysical introspections, and yet others are humorous poems, love songs, folk poetry and light-hearted pieces. We present here a small sample of his range; from the metaphysical contemplation of Shadows of the Night to a reflection on sexual intimacy and desire in The Rapture of Existence and many others.
Our selection also introduces English-speaking readers to a significant global modernist writer whose experimentations with form, symbol and register from a wide variety of poetic traditions have been largely overlooked by translators and scholars. Miraji experimented with the metrical structures, images and symbols of other Indic poetic traditions (Sanskrit, Braj and Awadhi) and adapted folk forms such as the gīt (song) to Urdu, but he has unfortunately only been translated as a poet of the nazm (lyric poem). In order to dispel this misconception, we have chosen poems that represent a diversity of poetic forms and voices; a woman’s desire for her beloved in “Song 10,” the wanderer’s contemplation of the moods of life in the ghazal form of “The Wanderer.” These poems have not been widely translated before and act as windows into the breadth of Miraji’s rich imagination.
As translators, we are well aware of the difficulty of navigating accuracy of meaning and fidelity to the original text with accessibility, readability, and pleasure. A translation should not simply be a literal rendering of words from one language to another but must capture the essence of the poem — it must read as a poem in English. To this end, we translate the elusive poetic core of Miraji’s poems, while keeping an eye on the constraints of form, refrain and meter. We aim to create a meaningful encounter with Miraji in English: one that delights and provokes the reader, just as the original Urdu does.
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