Faces Hidden in the Dust by Ghalib—Two Ghazals

16 October, 2022,
Faces Hidden in the Dust, The Selected Ghazals of Ghalib is published by White Pine Press.


Faces Hidden in the Dust by Ghalib

Translated from the Urdu by Tony Barnstone and Bilal Shaw

Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan (1797-1869), known by his pen names Asad (“lion”) and Ghalib (“superior”), is the famous romantic and mystical poet of the Mughal Empire (1526-1858) in India. He is the most-beloved and most widely read poet of the Urdu language, the dominant language of northern India and Pakistan that emerged through the blending of Hindustani with Arabic and Persian. Order here.



The Hidden Flame


The hidden flame is cruel.
   My heart’s burning.
A whispering ember,
   the hurt’s burning.

No hunger for her memory
   eats at my heart.
There is a firestorm in my house;
   every part’s burning.

I am beyond nonbeing
   and my sighs are hot enough
to make a Phoenix’s wings
   start burning.

How do I show the flaming gem
 of my thoughts?
A wild thought kindled in me
 and set the desert burning.

I have no heart
   or I’d show you my flower wounds.
How can I put on a fireworks show
   when my shirt’s burning?

Ghalib, it’s come down to me
   and a thirst for ice, for my heart
took people’s false warmth to heart
   and started burning.

(Ghazal 5)


Before being there was God.
   If nothing were, God still would be.
Being drowns me.
   What matter if I have no being?

Brain-numbed from grief,
   I’m decapitated, yet I feel nothing.
I will rest my head on my knees,
   if it is still attached to me.

It has been eons since Ghalib died.
   But it is remembered
how he asked,
   “What would have been if it had been?”

(Ghazal 32)


Tony Barnstone teaches at Whittier College and is the author of 21 books and a music CD. His books of poetry include Pulp Sonnets; Beast in the Apartment; Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki; The Golem of Los Angeles; Sad Jazz: Sonnets; and Impure. He is also a translator or co-translator of world literature, primarily Chinese but also Spanish and Urdu.  His awards include: The Poets Prize, the Strokestown International Prize, the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, The John Ciardi Prize, The Benjamin Saltman Award, and fellowships from the NEA, NEH, and California Arts Council. He has also co-edited the anthologies Republic of Apples, Democracy of Oranges: New Eco-Poetry from China and the United States; Dead and Undead Poems; and Monster Verse. His new publications are a co-translation from the Urdu, Faces Hidden in the Dust: Selected Ghazals of Ghalib and a creativity tool, The Radiant Tarot: Pathway to Creativity. He is currently working on a libretto for an opera. 

Bilal Shaw is an American scientist who completed his PhD from the University of Southern California in quantum information science. In the past he has worked on DNA-based computation, software architecture, and theoretical self-assembly. Currently he works as a senior director of data-science in identity and risk analytics for Transunion’s Global Fraud Solutions vertical.  With Tony Barnstone he has completed an English translation manuscript of some of the best Urdu ghazals of Ghalib.  Some of these ghazals have been published in Literary Matters, Able Muse, and Arroyo Literary Review. With Tony Lee he has completed a translation of Mir Taqi Mir’s Urdu ghazals as well.  He currently lives and works in Santa Monica, California.


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