Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Introduction to the Ghazal

A few years ago, I discovered a wonderful adaptation of an ancient form into English.

The ghazal is a form of Persian poetry originating in Iran in the 10th century A.D. It is originally written in Persian or Urdu.

I have included a lengthy explanation of the form below, but if that doesn't interest you, you can skip to the poem at the bottom. Of course, you're welcome to skip this whole entry altogether...

To summarize, I will draw from a book I have and condense from a lesson by Agha Shahid Ali.
Here are the basic points for writing a ghazal in English:

A poem of five to fifteen couplets. The name rhymes with "guzzle." No enjambment between couplets. Think of each couplet as a separate poem, thematically and emotionally complete in itself.

Once again, ABSOLUTELY no enjambment between couplets -- each couplet must be like a precious stone that can shine even when plucked from the necklace though it certainly has greater luster in its setting.

What links these couplets is a strict formal scheme. This is how it works: The entire ghazal employs the same rhyme and refrain. The rhyme must always immediately precede the refrain. If the rhyme is merely buried somewhere in the line, that will have its charm, of course, but it would not lead to the wonderful pleasure of IMMEDIATE recognition which is central to the ghazal. The refrain may be a word or phrase.

Each line must be of the same length (inclusive of the rhyme and refrain). In Urdu and Persian, all the lines are usually in the same meter and have the same metrical length. So establish some system -- metrical or syllabic -- for maintaining consistency in line lengths.

The last couplet may be (and usually is) a signature couplet in which the poet may invoke his/her name in the first, second, or third person.

The scheme of rhyme and refrain occurs in BOTH lines of the first couple (that is how one learns what the scheme is), and then in only the second line of every succeeding couplet. The first line of every succeeding couplet has no restrictions other than to maintain the syllabic or metrical length.

There is an epigrammatic terseness in the ghazal, but with immense lyricism, evocation, sorrow, heartbreak, wit. What defines the ghazal is a constant longing.

This is what a ghazal looks like:
Couplet one:
---------------------------------------------rhyme A + refrain
---------------------------------------------rhyme A + refrain
Couplet Two, Three, & so on:
---------------------------------------------rhyme A + refrain

Here are some opening and concluding couplets of Shahid’s:

Example A:
I say That, after all, is the trick of it all
When suddenly you say "Arabic of it all."
For Shahid too the night went quickly as it came.
After that, O Friend, came the music of it all.

Example B:
What will suffice for a true love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought 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.

Example C:
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight
Before you agonize him in farewell tonight?
And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.
Did you get the gist of it? I know this is full of a lot of pretentious-sounding vocabulary and poetic jabber, but it is a delightful form to play with.

I discovered that I stretched my creativity a lot when writing with this form.

Here's my first try at it. (Tomorrow I'll post some later tries...)

Ghazal in ¾ Time

Rendering my words into songs may, from the dance
Kiss damp orange music pulled away from the dance.

We touch as though we knew the absence of roses.
Touching again, we move in disarray from the dance.

I wipe a tear from the page where you are drawing,
Stringing lines to remove the bouquet from the dance.

Though you spoke to me of afters, not of nevers,
We move through green laughter as if we’d pray from the dance.

Overwhelmed by the frost on your kiln-fired brow,
I discern the porcelain sobriquet from the dance.

Reaching into the marigolds between us, think:
How the weather takes a holiday from the dance.

Loosen your frown, unbutton your anxieties;
Let this lover remove all dismay from the dance.

Jan 2003

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