About this text
‘Urfi Shirāzi (1555-1591) was the son of a prominent provincial administrator from Shiraz, whose work with customary law (ʿurf) led to his son’s choice of ʿUrfi as his penname (taḵalluṣ). The young poet soon became a leading figure in the literary life of Shiraz, but like many of his contemporaries, ʿUrfi was drawn to India due to the prospect of more lavish patronage in the Mughal courts. Arriving in the Deccan (c.1584), ʿUrfi joined the literary salons of Ahmadnagar, where his arrogance made him unpopular; so he moved on to the imperial capital of Fathepur Sikri. He befriended Faiżi, the leading poet at Akbar’s court, and accompanied him on the campaign to Punjab in 1585. Around 1589, ʿUrfi gained patronage from the Mughal statesman Mirzā ʿAbd-ul-Rahim Khān-e Khānān, who introduced him into the service of Akbar, and his son Salim (Jahāngir). ʿUrfi accompanied Akbar on his retreat to Kashmir in 1588. He died of dysentery in Lahore in 1591. The contemporary historian ʿAbd-ul-Qādir Badāʾuni reported that “there is no street or bazaar where booksellers do not stand with copies of the divāns of ʿUrfi... prominently on display”, and the poet’s contemporary popularity is also suggested by the existence of more than 100 extant manuscripts of his works.
Qasida az ‘Urfi Shirāzi:
The poet describes how in his times, no one has the wherewithal; if he has water, then there is no bread. Despair announces it to the entire world that poverty has no cure. Water (āb) is so scarce that even the arrow of the Mercury has no ‘āb (:sharpness). Only one bread is available and that is of the Moon. Do not seek pearls, the sea shells are empty of their treasure and have only pebbles to offer. ‘Urfi says he is so happy despite being penniless that you would think he has no faith in gold and silver.
How feeble and weak I am; my poor, thin body reflects the shadow of the phoenix (: an imaginary bird that cannot be seen).
On this path, to be intoxicated is to be alert; the best gift is to be empty-handed. Get rid of your wisdom, throw away your riches and live like a pauper. Hark, do not give way to greed and desire; do not stretch your hand towards petty jewels. Life’s treasure is to be empty-handed.
The king and the pauper both seek clothes and bread for restoring of the body and the stomach.
The hand of hunger abstains from food and the mean temper has enhanced its animosity towards the pallet and the stomach.