God reflects His Self through the Universe.
To reach Him we must reflect upon the Universe.
Or we may use the writings of those who have reflected before we did.
Windows of Reflection in the Verses of a Poet:
Her shai pukarti he pas-e-parda-e-sukuut
lekin kise sunaun koi ham-nawa bhi ho
Fursat mein sun shaguftgi-e-ghuncha ki sada
ye wo sukhan nahi jo kisi ne keha bhi ho
Everything speaks behind these cloaks of silence.
Alas, there is no audience. Ears here are struck.
When free, listen to the sound of the roses’ glee.
This is not speech that has been uttered.
–Nasir Kazmi (Deewan, Ghazal no. 1, p.11)↓1
What is Nasir saying in the first line?
Every object around is a being in its own right with a place in the universe. At the highest and spiritual level of meaning, every object as a creation of God signifies some property of that Creator: beauty, completeness, power, or profoundness. Here, Nasir laments of the indifference of general society to this “World in a Grain of Sand” [from William Blake]. ↓2
The second of the two quoted verses serves as a specific and illustrative example of the general idea in the first. Its first line is very pleasing and fresh (read slowly in Urdu to appreciate). It creates a beautiful image in our mind that is not just a static visual (a pleasant half-open flower bud), but is additionally decked with sound! – a striking combination. One instantly indulges imagining how, say, a rose-bud must sound if we could hear it…
Of course, this is not a literal reference to a synesthetic experience, ↓3 as the word ‘shaguftagi’ helps us realize. Word ‘shaguftagi’ is masdar in Urdu grammar, equivalent to an abstract noun in English. The poet thus is attempting to call our attention to the delightful quality of the rose. It bespeaks some meaning that is part of the mystery of the universe. (The mysterious atmosphere of the Urdu verse reinforces this conclusion).
Moreover, the Persian word ‘sukhan‘ in the fourth line is used not just for ‘speaking’, but also for the best form speech can take: literature. Thus the glee of roses not only speaks, it does so at the highest possible level, aesthetically and meaningfully.
The Highest Level of Meaning…?
All communication is made up of small signals or alphabets which combine in a way to form something bigger and meaningful (a symbol).↓4 Symbols (such as words, equations, or lines of html) in turn combine to produce something even larger and fuller. Fuller because the meaning of the combined product goes beyond a mere sum of its parts (such as a rousing poem, a theorem that helps explain some mystery of the universe, or an interactive computer program that seems a far cry from the lines upon lines of dry code it springs from.).
Thus ‘meaning’ is the overall pattern created by hierarchical combinations of symbols and signals. As such meaning is also latent (hidden); it doesn’t reveal itself as long as you stay focused on the underlying symbols or signals. One can’t even see the whole painting on a wall, let alone interpret it, if one is standing too close looking at a portion of the whole. ↓5
The Essence of a Reflection:
In combination, the four lines lend to four major realizations, in deciphering of which, the last line is of paramount significance:
First: The ‘speech’ Nasir refers to is the ‘meaning’ contained in the layers of inscription this world is made up of: the sands, rains, leaves, seasons…. No creator of things ever makes anything without some meaning (or purpose).
وَما خَلَقنَا السَّماءَ وَالأَرضَ وَما بَينَهُما لٰعِبينَ
AND [know that] We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in mere idle play. [Al-Anbya, 16]
Nasir, in his beautifully conversational way invites us to try sense these messages in nature. her shei pukarti hei..econd: These messages are as real as our speech but seem far beyond the bubble of our existence, since we have never really looked beyond that bubble; or if we did, we just focused on the symbol, appreciating at most, say, the beauty of a flower. fursat mein sun..
وَإِن مِن شَيءٍ إِلّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمدِهِ وَلٰكِن لا تَفقَهونَ تَسبيحَهُم
and there is not a thing but celebrates His praise; And yet you understand not how they declare His glory [Al-Asra (also Sura Bani Israil), 44]
Third: Moreover, these messages correspond with the finest possible form this mode of communication can take. The whole of Al-Qur’an proves that the form in which the timeless realities of the Universe are revealed must have been the epitome of all literature.↓6
We do not even need a reference ayah for this point. Attend closely to any good and authentic recitation of the Qur’an or learn it by translation.↓7 ye wo sukhan nahin..
Fourth: Nasir’s comparison of these hidden communications to human literature is solely for the purpose of explication. It is no comparison in fact. Since even though many magnificent examples of literature exist, no person has ever said anything approximating the timeless meaning of all the signs in God’s universe. Qur’an’s own challenge (unanswered to date!) to humans to produce anything like a single surah (Al-baqarah ayah 23) of it is sufficient for reference. jo kisi ne keha bhi ho..
Note that there is an incomplete loop in the flow from human perception to metaphysical inferences. I mean, even though we may begin to glimpse and apprehend to a very meagre extent the mysteries contained in these symbols, they will certainly remain beyond our full encompassment. None of us can ever claim that we have comprehended the universal significance of all objects truly and completely because of their latent quality.
Interestingly, The above conclusion is a highly logical deduction from Nasir’s own words: as soon as the meaning of the universe becomes totally comprehensible by humans, it will be translated into the human form of communication. It will mean that someone has spoken those meanings in words. But that is not possible. That has never happened in this world, and by implication will never happen in the future either.
وَلا يُحيطونَ بِشَيءٍ مِن عِلمِهِ إِلّا بِما شاءَ
and they cannot comprehend anything of His knowledge except what He pleases [Ayat-ul-Kursi, Al-Baqarah, 255]
Certainly, that is why Nasir refrains from hinting at any particular meaning he might be discerning through his mysterious teachers. Since the bounds between the human and the divine sounds are essentially unsurpassable, any subjectively derived meaning could be just that: subjective. The humility and the unbiasness of the highly real Nasir must prevent him from sharing his intuitions. Poetically, his reticence helps retain the mysterious and obscure quality of the world of meaning and of the corresponding ‘air’ of this verse.
I am amazed what depths of phenomena may be explored in the span of a ghazal’s verse by an honest and artful poet.
God’s own Word can be the only link enclosing the gap between the limitations of human perception and the real meaning and significance of all the elements of the universe out there.
1. Translated by the humble author of the blog.
2. Nasir had a particularly incisive eye for the sights of this world. In the second line of this verse, he laments of his difference in this respect with typical ‘others’ in society.
3. Ever heard of synesthesia? On first reading, ‘the glee of a rose-bud’ reminds of that welding of two or more senses when sights are experienced as sounds (or some such other combination of sensations). For a first hand description of a synesthestic experience, read my older post on ‘outrageous sensations‘.
4. The concept that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is old (generally known as holism) and has been popularized in psychology by the gestalt school who explain it very well.
5. Read Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid for more on the nature of meaning. My absurd attempt to organize and summarize the concepts developed in the book reads here.
6. On the human level, being able to sense the glee of roses also corresponds with the highest possible form psychological experience can take. Abraham Maslow devoted his life to studying just such ‘peak experiences‘ which have an indescribably transcendental quality, when a person’s senses and emotions seem to go beyond the limits of daily life and to perceive something ‘pure’ and otherwordly.
7. For an interesting article on the literary aspects of Al-Quran, click here.