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Posts Tagged ‘arabic’

ljs44

Photo: University of Pennsylvania
An illustrated headpiece from a mid-18th century collection of ghazals and rubāʻīyāt.

Today’s article is about an ancient type of poetry still in use. Before yesterday I might have thought it a bit too esoteric for a chatty blog post, but yesterday Suzanne’s kids showed me an educational iPad program they love, and the 8-year-old started discussing metaphors and onomatopoeia.

I decided we could handle ghazals.

Claire Chambers writes at 3QuarksDaily, “Ghazal poetry is an intimate and relatively short lyric form of verse from the Middle East and South Asia. The form thrives in such languages as Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and now English. Like the Western ode, these poems are often addressed to a love object. …

“A mixture of sacred, profane, romantic, and melancholic elements are frequently stitched into the ghazal’s poetic fabric. Many ghazals revolve around the theme of lovers’ separation. This topic also functions as an image for the Muslim worshipper’s longing for Allah. In doing so, the ghazal draws comparisons with seventeenth-century metaphysical poetry. Like ghazalists, John Donne would ostensibly write about love for a woman but also shadow forth devotion to God. …

“In the Muslim world, the arts are less likely to be locked away in compartments or considered elitist as they are in the West, and more likely to be part of everyday life. In the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora, mushairas (meaning ‘gathering of poets’) are interactive poetic meetings. These recitals, with their call and response tradition, have made the ghazals an instantly recognizable form in the popular consciousness.

Because of this accessible performative and musical tradition, working-class South Asians have nearly as much access to poetry as the elite. …

“Rich images can be found in Urdu ghazals: tropes include the moth and the flame, stars and diamonds, and the rose and the nightingale. Such leitmotifs from ghazal poetry have various connotations (relating to such issues as politics, love, and religion) to different people in particular contexts. …

“By noticing the opulence associated with Urdu poetry, one realizes that Islam is a diverse religion and culture. … In modern-day Britain and the United States, ghazals have become a popular form. Here, they sometimes touch on a migrant’s yearning for home and belonging. The year before he died, the Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949–2001) published Ravishing DisUnities, a collection of ghazals mostly by fellow Americans. …

“Chafing against the free-verse liberties new world poets had previously taken with the ghazal, he exhorted contributors to return to structural ‘form for form’s sake’, while reinvigorating the form in the fresh language of English. As a Pakistani-American poet from the next generation Shadab Zeest Hashmi puts it in her beautiful nonfiction book Ghazal Cosmopolitan, ‘the ghazal fuses the old with the new, the friend with the stranger – reflecting, refracting, and constantly reminding us that America to is a convergence of sorts, a cultivation of diversity – at least the promise of it’. …

“The ghazal is made up of semi-autonomous couplets, each of which helps to set up the logic of the whole poem. The form is notable for its rhyme, the symmetry of its couplets, and a [refrain] at the end of the second line of each couplet. …

“In the first ghazal Ali ever wrote, he ends with an explanation of his middle name’s significance in Arabic, that language which has been extolled in the [refrain] of each of the foregoing couplets:

‘Listen, listen: They ask me to tell them what Shahid means:
‘It means “The Beloved” in Persian, “witness” in Arabic.’ ”

The article also features an amusing explanation from the American poet John Hollander — known partly for inventing the humorous double dactyl with Anthony Hecht — which uses the ghazal form to show how a ghazal is constructed. The poets among you might find it useful.

More.

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Image: Tom McShane
The author of those lines is an unusual 10th century figure — Shmuel HaNagid, prime minister of the kingdom of Granada in Spain, head of both Granada’s Muslim army
and Andalusia’s Jewish community.

The force of history works in mysterious ways. Here is a story about how an ancient Arabic poetic tradition was preserved because Jewish poets valued it.

Benjamin Ramm reports at the BBC, “On 9 December 1499, the citizens of Granada awoke to a scene of devastation: the smouldering remains of over a million Arabic manuscripts, burnt on the orders of the Spanish Inquisition. …

“[Years before], as much of Europe languished in the Dark Ages, the Iberian peninsula was a cultural oasis, the brightest beacon of civilisation. Under the Umayyad dynasty, the caliphate of Al-Andalus stretched from Lisbon to Zaragoza, and centred on the Andalusian cities of Córdoba, Granada and Seville. From the 8th Century, the caliphate oversaw a period of extraordinary cross-cultural creativity known as La Convivencia (the Coexistence). …

“Among the Muslim poets of Al-Andalus, there was a concerted attempt to rediscover and reinvent the literary forms of Arabic, sophisticated and lyrical, rooted in the concept of fasaaha (clarity, elegance). The fire in Granada destroyed part of this heritage, but it survives in an unexpected form – in an imaginative body of Hebrew poetry, which illustrates the extent of cross-cultural exchange.

“Peter Cole, the foremost translator of Hebrew poetry from Al-Andalus, argues in his book The Dream of the Poem that a major legacy of the Moorish writers was to inspire Jewish poets to emulate their work. … The innovations were initiated in the 10th Century by Dunash Ben Labrat. …

“Controversially, Ben Labrat adopted Arabic poetic metre, and was accused of ‘destroying the holy tongue’ and ‘bringing calamity upon his people’. But the Hebrew renaissance that followed produced some of the most beautiful poetry in the language, and the period became known as the ‘Golden Age’ of Iberian Jewish culture. …

“At a time of intercommunal tension, it is tempting to idealise this Muslim-Jewish period of mutual flourishing. There are critics who argue against the notion of La Convivencia – some have called it a ‘myth.’ … Documentation about communal relations during this period is scant, [and] the extent of ‘coexistence’ continues to be a subject of passionate disputation. …

“The kingdom of Granada was the last territory to fall to the Christian Reconquest in 1492, after which Jews were forcibly converted or expelled. Saadia Ibn Danaan, a rabbi who wrote prose in Arabic and poetry in Hebrew, transmitted the tradition to North Africa.” Read more.

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I was talking to my neighbor on the train this week, and she told me that one of her daughters — the one who goes to Brandeis and was in a production of Eddie Coyle that I saw at Oberon — is spending a chunk of this school year in Morocco.

I was curious about how her daughter got interested in joining a program there.

Apparently she likes languages. First she learned Yiddish. Last year she decided to learn Arabic. Her mother says Arabic is much harder.

The daughter will live with a host family, take five classes, and … well, she has her own blog. There she writes that she will be in Morocco for four months as part of a program “called AMIDEAST, which, like most study abroad programs in Morocco, is stationed in Rabat. … I’ll get to intern/volunteer six hours a week for a local business/organization!”

I like her enthusiasm.

A word to the wise for readers from other countries. There’s a lot of joking in her blog, not to be taken seriously the way a Chinese news outlet once took seriously a story at The Onion that was of course a complete fiction.

Map from http://jojomorocco.blogspot.com

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The happy faces say it all. The circus is good for Baghdad.

An article by Michael S. Schmidt and Zaid Thaker in today’s NY Times describes the scene. “There were not any tigers because the animals were stuck in Egypt. There were dogs, however, but they were not [the promised] poodles. And the big snake, well, the snake had become sick and had to be evacuated …

“A circus coming to town may be a routine event in most cities. But in battered Baghdad, even if it was not the Greatest Show on Earth, the arrival of the circus was yet another small step in this city’s efforts at building a more normal life. …

“There is not a commanding ringmaster. What it does have, though, are dancers jumping rope, a woman swinging from a trapeze (without a net, but with a harness), and a grand finale of a man clad in an Iraqi flag plunging swords down his throat.  …

“Faisil Falleh, 56, who took his family to the circus on a recent night, said, ‘I haven’t seen anything in my life like this.’  …

“Promoter Jasim Mohammed Saeed said,  ‘Nobody is working in this business in Iraq. It is just us.’ ” Read more here.

If you want to go, it’s $12 for adults, $6 for teens, and free for children. The cotton candy — “lady’s hair” in Arabic — is $1.

 

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