In this essay, I am taking phenomenological and anthological approaches, more of a Heideggerian engagement to articulate on how Bedil Dehlavi defines meaning and how meaning in his poetry functions as the placeholder of Being. As we will discuss, meaning is not easily accessed in Bidel’s works. To understand his works, we must take the pain of discovering linguistic relations between different parts of his poems. When we discover the meaning, it pleases us, it makes us happy and it appears as heighten moment of our life, as a moment when we experience life.
Introduction, who is Bidel Dehlavi
Mirza Abdul Qader Bidel Dehlavi is one of the most respected poets in the Farsi speaking world. Several sources indicate that in the early 17th century, his family moved from the Balkh region of Afghanistan to India. Bedil was born and raised in India and under Moghul dynasty. Farsi was his mother tongue and perhaps all his works were written in Farsi. To name some of his works, we may say “Kulliyat”, the complete works) consists of more than 50,000 couplets of ghazal style of poems. Rubaeiats (Quatrains: kovatirains), qitas, masnavies and more. He wrote four books of Masnavies, containing his Irfan, or mysterious Sufi philosophy. Bedil in total wrote 16 books of poetry, containing more than 147,000 couplets. Most of his extensive and large number of poetic works are complicated, multi-faceted, and contradictory.
Iranian poet and literary historian Mohammad Taqi Bahār, categorizes Farsi poetry into four distinct styles which historically corresponds to the four different periods of poetic works:
Khorasani (ninth to thirteenth centuries), Iraqi (thirteenth to fifteenth centuries), Sabk-e Hendi (“Indian Style”) (fifteenth to eighteenth centuries), and Bāzgasht-e adabi (“Literary Return”) (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). This categorization begins with Khorasani, a simpler and easier access of poetry and gradually reaches its peak at Sabke-e-Hendi, the most compressed and difficult kind of poetry in Farsi literary history. Bidel Dehlavi is the climax of Sabk-e-Hendi and his poetry is the finest examples of this style.
Bidel and Persian literature
Sabk-e-Hendi style of poetry was known with its inaccessibility, complex and complicated poetic images and radical novelty in poetic imagination. Bidel as the highest point in this style, can be seen as an obscure inventor who cannot be easily accessed and the same time, his poetry presents itself as a pleasant challenge, a hidden beauty that calls upon us to be discovered. In reading Bidel’s poetry, not only locating meaning is a challenging task but the reading itself becomes a challenge. Bedil himself admits the difficulty of his poetry and says,”
معنی بلند من فهم تند می خواهد
سیر فکرم آسان نیست، کوهم و کوتل دارم
My high meanings require acute perception,
Following the track of my thought is arduous (آرجو- ویس), as
I am a mountain with lots of hills
It is popular among Farsi speakers that reading Bidel’s poetry is an experience of meaning, a journey of discovering the hidden meanings, the meanings that intermingled with joy and pleasure. The discovery of innovative and fresh meanings in his poetry provides the double pleasure of gaining access to his obscured linguistic world and locating meanings. For this reason, Bidel was named as “Abu al-Maʿāni” (“Father of Meanings”) and he himself also sees the purpose of writing poetry to seek meaning, he says,
“You are the shining sun; let us find out your meaning
Because this meaning will get you to the truth”
Bedil as the philosopher of poets
Philosophy is not something unknown to poetry in general and to Farsi poetry in particular. In Farsi poetry,we have names such as Omar Khayam whose poetry functions as his prophecy, as his philosophical contemplations, bringing philosophy into poetry. In Bidel’s works, we mostly experience the other way around. In his works, philosophy appears to function as poetry, he poetizes philosophy and bring thinking one step closer to poetry. The nature of his poetry perhaps is poetic and not philosophical per se, but the poeticness of his works is strangely philosophical.
نقش بند چمن وحشت ما بی رنگی است
شد هوا آینه تا ناله نمایان کردند
The painter of our solitude is colorlessness
If the air turns into a mirror, wails become visible
In this couplet, he not only relates solitude with colorlessness but also relate mirror with wail. He says that as soon as wail was made visible, the air started functioning as mirror. To understand this poem, we need to understand the philosophy of mirror in Bidel’s philosophy and in general in In Arabi’s school of thoughts. Bidel was highly influenced by the philosophy of In Arabi.
حیرتم بیدل سفارش نامه ی آیینه است
می روم جایی که خود را او تماشا می کنم
Bilde! My wonderment is made of mirror
I go to a place where I can see myself as the other.
As we can see here, mirror helps us to see ourselves outside of ourselves, to see ourselves as the other. It is a very Lacanian perception, seeing mirror and perhaps language as a placeholder of the other, as where the other resides.
Bidel’s key concepts
In order to have a clearer picture of his philosophy and poetry, we need to know some of his key concepts, the concepts that shaped his thoughts and flourished his poetry.
Mirror is one the most frequently used terms in Bidel’s poetry. Mirror for Bidel is the outside inside of us. it, as in Lacanian perspective, functions as the eye of the other, or as the other.
For Bidel, mirror provides a unique possibility to talk about subjectivity and how we appear through our actions, he says:
In one hundred gatherings of “I” and “we” our source is one
We are all waves of the same ocean
Take me out of the “I”, no more worries
(Bedil) Human life is a struggle
Bidel defines existence as non-existence. Existence in order to exist must appear and function as non-existence. Existence for him doesn’t exist, it is an imminence of existence, existence is going to come but never arrives. Martin Heidegger sees poetry where the imminence of presence takes place. In his view, in poetry we are not dealing with the presence of something but with its presencing of presence, its imminence of presence.
Nonexistence is the key to Your secret
The beginning defines the end
That side of existence and space, a flight is waiting
Embrace openness and seek freedom
Bidel sees power in powerlessness. The term that he uses in his poems is AJZ, it means a complete and full powerlessness, something near the state of destruction. In his poetry we see that possibility rests on the side of the impossible.
به اوج کبریا کز پهلوی عجز است راه آنجا
سر مویی گر اینجا خم شوی بشکن کلاه آنجا
The path to Divine glory is reached through ʿajz (powerlessness)
By showing a little self-effacement here, you can be prideful there
Wonderment for Bidel is a statement of joyful and in a sense, unconscious seeking for the truth. It is a moment where knowing comes from unknowing, from the releasement of knowledge. Knowing causes not by the knower but when the knower is erased. Wonderment causes a pleasure that comes from the power to erase the knower.
طلسم حیرت ما منظر تجلی اوست
غرور حسن ز آیینه بیخبر نبود
Our enchanting bewilderment is the scene of his manifestation
the pride of beauty is aware of the mirror
- Everything is related to everything else:
For Bidel, nothing is by itself and nothing is for its, everything is related to everything else. The world made of relations. Heidegger sees language as something made of relation, as the relation of all relations.
How can one discover self-control?
With each breath, one must pass from the world
What is poetry and how Bidel’s poetry corresponds to our poetic expectation:
To better understand Bidel Dehlavi’s poetry, I am going to reflect on some of the theoretical definition of poetry in current western philosophy. This will help us to grasp Bidel’s poems as well as to locate his poetry among other poetries.
Poetry in general is not what it says but how it says and how the saying takes place in a linguistic form. For Gerald Bruns, Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame the essence of poetry lies in its earthliness, its resistance to penetration by analysis, its uncontainability within grammar, rhetoric, or poetics- its essential darkness, that is, its hermetic character: its otherness. Bruns emphasizes the essentiality of poetry’s darkness, as he quotes Hopkins, saying that “the darkness of poetry is not a defect of its language but the essence of it.” It seems that when we speak of poetry’s darkness, we speak of the impossibly of clarity in both semantics and semiotics senses. The metaphor of light, as the possibility of seeing, presents also the boundaries and limits of lights. The metaphor of darkness functions as unperceivable, something that remains outside of our knowing zone.
The poetic is something that in its nature is not intelligible; it’s, in Lacanian terms, made of “Jouissance,” a super-enjoyment that denies access to our perceptive attention.
Poetry appears as a beautiful thing, but as soon as we want to look at it, to enjoy and to perceive it, it turns to the way of looking at itself. In order to deny our perception, it becomes the ‘looking’ at itself. William S Allen, Philosopher and professor of literature at Southampton, nicely uses the analogy of a bridge to define poetry. He says, “poetry will always appear for the thinker as a name that indicates an impossibility, just as “nature” does for the poet and “nothing” is for being, a bridge that obscures and defers that which it attempts to reach”.
According to Allen, poetry is essentially impossible. “Impossibility” is its name, and the way it appears as a poem. Poetry’s impossibility presents itself in different ways; its unintelligibility, its unspeakability and its “uncontainability within grammar and rhetoric”. Poetry’s eagerness to speak is the structural force behind its creation; poetry comes into existence as the fulfillment of its desire to speak. Poetry’s ability to speak though is its finitude. It is able to speak but as soon as it begin speaking, it reaches its limit: speaking jeopardizes its essential darkness. For this, poetry can never fully speak. Poetry remains as an unspeakable entity, or in Freudian terms as an “unfulfilled wish” and perhaps this unfulfilled wish is the main engine in all its poetic creation: each and every poetic creation is poetry’s attempt to speak but its wish can never be fulfilled. Poetry, as Maurice Blanchot
indicates, “speaks to say nothing.”
If I had to give you an example of poetry living by the standards of all these theoretical contemplations, I will read a poem by Bidel. His poetry speaks the unspeakablity of poetry, projects the essential darkness and bring into forth the uncontainable of poetry. Biedel’s poetry functions as a mirror, it shows the otherness of ourselves as ourselves.
Martin Heidegger and the poetic Being
Heidegger has famously called language, “the house of Being”, seeing language as a place where the Being of beings resides. Language for Heidegger functions poetically and in its essence, it is poetic. In this sense, poetry is the house of being, it is where actually the Being of beings resides.
Poetry and Being meet in our engagement with poetry. In our reading and writing of poems, we become the means that poetry can practice and produce Being, and poetry in return becomes the platform where we can poetize our thinking. In our involvement with poetry, every word of the poem becomes the extended part of our existence, and therefore every word of the poem conserves our Being, and makes our Being extend in the poem. Heidegger calls poetry the extension of our being and that is exactly what we are looking to say here. In our poetic engagement with a poem, in reading a poem, every word appears to us as a living phenomenon. We meet and experience each and every word of the poem and in return each and every word of the poem meet us and experience our existence. In reading a poem, we give the poem the opportunity of thinking, and the poem gives us its essence, its wondering. Poetry, with the letting go of its materiality, makes us function as its material and for us, poetry becomes the pure spirit of life, our life.
Meaning and its relation to Being
Bidel’s poetry comes with estrangement, it creates a strange relationship between you as the reader and the poetry’s world. It creates the same strange relationship with the language, in a Heideggerian sense, it even let the language go. Bidel’s poetry appears as the disappearance of language, the letting go of everything, including the language. Every reading can establish a new strange relationship between the reader and the world that the poem is offering.
از حیرت دل بند نقاب توگشودیم
آیینهگری کارکمی نیست در اینجا
From heart’s amazement we opened the thread of your mask
Making mirror is not an easy task here.
شب که آیینه ی آن آیینه رو گردیم
جلوه ای کرد که من هم همه او گردیدم
The night that I emerged as the mirror of his face-like-mirror,
upon his manifestation, I entirely became him
The relationship between meaning and Being in Bidel’s poetry can be seen as the relation between meaning and form, the relation of content and form. It is the form in Bidel’s poetry that forms the content. The content of his poetry could have the same poetic effect in shaping the form of his poetry, it is the content of his saying that forms the form of his poetry.
Meaning in Bidel’s poetry is the experience of formed content, the interrelation between what he says with the way his saying takes place.
To show how form and content is related in his poetry, I would like to bring to your attention the ways in which form is related and revealed in relation to content:
- Form is the content.
برون لفظ محال است جلوهٔ معنی
همان زکسوت اسما طلب مسما را
The glitter of meaning is impossible outside the word
Seek the owner of the name from the vestment of names
شوخی معنی برون از پرده های لفظ نیست
من خراب محملم گو لیلی از محمل برآ
There is no vitality for the meaning outside the word
I’m thinking about the palanquin (pal-lan-keen), O Laili come out of it
معنی به غیرلفظ مصورنمی شود
افتاده است کار دل و دیده با نقاب
The meaning is not illustrated without the word
Our hearts and eyes are made of veils
- Meaning is dissolved in form, becomes one with the form:
مرآت معنی ما چون سایه داشت زنگی
خورشید التفاتش از ما زدود ما را
Our mirror of meaning had a shadowy rust
The sun of its attention swept us off from us
- Meaning is greater than the form
عالمی درحسرت وضع عبارت مرده است
معنی ماکیست تا فهمد ز دیوان شما
The whole world is dying in the desire of meaning making
Who’s our meaning? My meaning can be read from your book.
The uniqueness of meaning in Bidel’s poetry comes from the way in which the form is formed through the function of reading. In reading his poetry, we shape the form of his poetry by seeking all possible relations between the poetic parts and arrange them to the poetic whole. Since every reader is unique, every reading brings us to a unique conclusion of the poem, to a unique experience of the poem. Our experience of each poem is the meaning poem for us. for each and every poem, the meaning is unique and it is made and brought into existence by the reader. The meaning simultaneously is poem’s existence for the reader as well as the existence for the reader.