Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia - E.L. Doctorow

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Ghazal

Obviously I'm not much of a blogger, as soon as my writing skills are taken up somewhere else I just forget their is bloggin to be done! But, here I am to let you know about 'The Ghazal.'

What Is It?

The ghazal is a lyric poem consisting of thematically autonomous couplets, unified by rhyme and metre. Although it is a 1300 year-old pre-Islamic Persian form, its non-linear format anticipates contemporary post-modern poetic sensibilities. Traditionally invoking melancholy, love, longing, and metaphysical questions, ghazals are often sung by Iranian, Indian, and Pakistani musicians. Ghazal (adapted into Urdu from Persian) is a reference to the cry of a gazelle. Agha Shahid Ali, who introduced it in its classical form to Americans, compared each ghazal couplet to ‘a stone from a necklace,’ which should continue to ‘shine in that vivid isolation.’

English writers tend to interpret the conventions of the ghazal in very personal ways. However, to say that most ghazals observe most or all of these features:

  • between five and fifteen couplets
  • each couplet is structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous
  • in the opening couplet, both the first and second lines close with the refrain (the refrain is a word or brief phrase)
  • subsequent couplets repeat the refrain in the second line (which rhymes with both lines of the first couplet)
  • the final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning
Note on ghazals in translation: numerous scholars and poets have attempted to translate ghazals from their original language to English. The task is daunting, as keeping the literal meaning of each poem while respecting the rhyme, refrain, and length of lines is difficult, if not impossible.

An Example

‘Even the Rain’ by Agha Shahid Ali

What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?

But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain.

‘our glosses / wanting in this world’ ‘Can you remember?’

Anyone! ‘when we thought / the poets taught’ even the rain?

After we died—That was it!—God left us in the dark.

And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.

Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.

For mixers, my love, you’d poured—what?—even the rain.

Of this pear-shaped orange’s perfumed twist, I will say:

Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain.

How did the Enemy love you—with earth? air? and fire?

He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain.

This is God’s site for a new house of executions?

You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain?

After the bones—those flowers—this was found in the urn:

The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain.

What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world?

A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain.

How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with


to help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain.

He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves,

he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain.

New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me—

to make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain.

They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?

No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.

All credit goes to my poetics course at the University of Queensland for this great information.