Died on this day – 15 February 1869

Ghalib, born Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan on 27 December 1797, was the pre-eminent Urdu and Persian-language poet during the last years of the Mughal Empire. He used the penname Ghalib which means dominant or most excellent. During his lifetime the Mughals were eclipsed and displaced by the British and finally deposed following the defeat of Indian Rebellion of 1857, events that he described.

Most notably, he wrote several ghazals during his life, which have since been interpreted and sung in many different ways by different people. Ghalib, the last great poet of the Mughal Era, is considered to be one of the most popular and influential poets of the Urdu language. Today Ghalib remains popular not only in India and Pakistan but also among the Hindustani diaspora around the world.

The ghazal is a poetic form with rhyming couplets and a refrain, each line sharing the same meter. A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain. The form is ancient, originating in Arabic poetry in Arabia long before the birth of Islam. The structural requirements of the ghazal are similar in stringency to those of the Petrarchan sonnet. In style and content, it is a genre that has proved capable of an extraordinary variety of expression around its central themes of love and separation.

Whilst on a brief trip to Europe in 1869 Ghalib visited the Cité de l’Ecrit in Montmorillon, a cultural centre whose importance was rapidly increasing. Whilst perusing the remarkably broad range of poetry titles on display in The Glass Key bookshop Ghalib died happy in the knowledge that his poetic fame had spread as far as Montmorillon.

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