Hi everyone! Grace here supporting our Poetry Form Ghazal which was hosted by Gay Cannon two weeks ago. You can refer to the article for tips in writing either the classical or contemporary ghazal. This post will provide additional examples of the ghazals. Mr. Linky is still open for 2 weeks and we would like to remind poets to visit the comment on the more recent entries.
There are no instant classics, but Agha Shahid Ali’s ghazal “Tonight” comes close: appearing in three versions between 1997 and 2003, this version, which is the poem’s last and longest incarnation, gave its title to Ali’s posthumously published Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals. By that time ghazals were frequent and easy to recognize in American poetry, thanks in large part to Ali’s poems, essays, and lectures, which sometimes used “Tonight” as a test case. It is a poem about lost love and loneliness, about Islamic and Western religious inheritance, and—in characteristically evasive ghazal style—about Ali’s life between cultures, languages, and continents, first within and then away from his native Kashmir. It is an exemplary ghazal meant to show Americans how, and why, we should think about the form. And it is a poem given to blasphemous rebellion against religious dogma—a rebellion that itself belongs to the international, multilingual, thousand-year-old tradition of the ghazal.
Tonight by Agha Shahid Ali
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?
Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?
I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates—
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.
God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar—
All the archangels—their wings frozen—fell tonight.
Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.
Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.
He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open—for God—the doors of Hell tonight.
In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight.
God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day—
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.
Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.
The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.
My rivals for your love—you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.
And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.
I’ve noticed after a few sips of tea, the tip of her tongue, thin and red
with heat, quickens when she describes her cuts and bruises—deep violets and red.
The little girl I baby-sit, hair orange and wild, sits splayed and upside down
on a couch, insists her giant book of dinosaurs is the only one she’ll ever read.
The night before I left him, I could not sleep, my eyes fixed on the freckles
of his shoulder, the glow of the clock, my chest heavy with dread.
Scientists say they’ll force a rabbit to a bird, a jellyfish with a snake, even
though the pairs clearly do not mix. Some things are not meant to be bred.
I almost forgot the weight of a man sitting beside me in bed sheets crumpled
around our waists, both of us with magazines, laughing at the thing he just read.
He was so charming—pointed out planets, ghost galaxies, an ellipsis
of ants on the wall. And when he kissed me goodnight, my neck reddened.
I’m terrible at cards. Friends huddle in for Euchre, Hearts—beg me to play
with them. When it’s obvious I can clearly win with a black card, I select a red.
I throw away my half-finished letters to him in my tiny pink wastebasket, but
my aim is no good. The floor is scattered with fire hazards, declarations unread.
One of the most successful American ghazals have been the collections by Adrienne Rich’s “Ghazals: Homage to Ghalib,” “The Blue Ghazals,”. Source
Rich models her ghazals on those of Mirza Ghalib, a nineteenth century Urdu Poet (and recommends the translations by Aijaz Ahmad). She follows “his use of minimum five couplets…each couplet being autonomous and independent of the others. The continuity and unity flow from the associations and images playing back and forth among the couplets in any single ghazal.” Here is Adrienne Rich’s fourth ghazal (dated 7/14/68:ii) from “Ghazals: Homage to Ghalib”:
Did you think I was talking about my life?
I was trying to drive a tradition up against the wall.
The field they burned over is greener than all the rest.
You have to watch it, he said, the sparks can travel the roots.
Shot back into this earth’s atmosphere
our children’s children may photograph these stones.
In the red wash of the darkroom, I see myself clearly;
when the print is developed and handed about, the face is nothing to me.
For us the work undoes itself over and over:
the grass grows back, the dust collects, the scar breaks open.
Here is another example of Adrienne Rich writing a contemporary ghazal. She uses the image of water and identifies herself with it:
The dew is beaded like mercury on the coarsened grass,
the web of the spider is heavy as if with sweat.
An Ashanti woman tilts the flattened basin on her head
to let the water slide downward: I am that woman and that water.
In these ghazals, like those in her “Homage to Ghalib”, Rich creates disunited and autonomous couplets whose unity is formed by the association of images. For example, she brings unity to the above mentioned couplets by creating an association between water related words:
The dew is beaded like mercury on the coarsened grass, (dew)
the web of the spider is heavy as if with sweat. (sweat)
An Ashanti woman tilts the flattened basin on her head (basin)
to let the water slide downward: I am that woman and that water. (water)
Source: Adrienne Rich’s Ghazals and the Persian Poetic Tradition: A Study of Ambiguity and the Quest for a Common Language
Source: “In That Thicket of Bitter Roots”: The Ghazal in America by David Caplan
Here is our challenge:
- Write a Ghazal of at least five couplets, either traditional or contemporary ghazal.
- Post it on your blog.
- Click the Mr. Linky button below, and in the new window that opens up, input your name and direct URL of the poem.
- Comment as usual and if you would like to receive constructive feedback on your poem please indicate that in your comments. Please note that if you asked for constructive feedback be prepared to give constructive feedback as well
- If you would like to edit and improve your poem please update a new link in Mr Linky so it shows.
- Please come back and read, comment on later entries.
- And just have fun!