Posts Tagged ‘ghazal’


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.


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: