AQA Poetry 'Ghazal' by Mimi Khalvati
by Mimi Khalvati
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Poet performing reading and examples of ghazal mucial form
Ghazal by Mimi Khalvati (2006)
If I am the grass and you the breeze, blow through me.
If I am the rose and you the bird, then woo me.
If you are the rhyme and I the refrain, don't hang
on my lips, come and I'll come too when you cue me.
If yours is the iron fist in the velvet glove
when the arrow flies, the heart is pierced, tattoo me.
If mine is the venomous tongue, the serpent's tail,
charmer, use your charm, weave a spell and subdue me.
I am the laurel leaf in your crown, you are
the arms around my bark, arms that never knew me.
Oh would that I were bark! So old and still in leaf.
And you, dropping in my shade, dew to bedew me!
What shape should I take to marry your own, have you
- hawk to my shadow, moth my flame - pursue me?
If I rise in the east as you die in the west,
die for my sake, my love, every night renew me.
If, when it ends, we are just good friends, be my Friend,
muse, lover and guide, Shamsuddin to my Rumi.
Be heaven and earth to me and I'll be twice the me
I am, if only half the world you are to me.
Ghazal by Mimi Khalvati is a sexually charged love poem that touches on powerful images, metaphors and ancient mythology in an attempt to capture the all-consuming passion of love. The title Ghazal is actually the name of the poetic form being used bin this poem, namely an ancient Persian poetic form similar in character and stuctural formality to the Elizabethan sonnet. The Arabic word ghazal literally means 'lovers' exchanges' and is a form with a long and complex history. Some believe that the ghazal evolved from the nasib which is short and typically erotic prologue to the Arabic qasidai, a longer ode sequence with a rhyme scheme very similar to the ghazal dealing with pangyric, didactic, elegiac and/or religious subjects. However, some people believe that the origins of the ghazal can be found in early Iranian folk poetry, whereas others see it as a hybridic form born of the blending of different indigenous poetic traditions.
In his Introduction to Persian Literature (1969), Reuben Levy explains that 'so far as rhyme is converned the ghazal follows the qasida in structure, but it is normally much shorter, consisting of about eight to fourteen lines, the last of which at a later stage of development contained the poet's pen name.' In terms of the themes and ideas conveyed in the ghazal 'the most normal theme was love, mystical or human [...] the mystery of life in the world, the upsurging happiness of springtime, or the joys and sorrows of friendship or other earthly attachments.' In this regard the ghazal offers a poet a rich literary tradition from which to draw inspiration and which is why 'Persians have always preferred[the ghazal] to prose for their literary efforts'. Levy argues that in the early modern period Persian ghazal poetry was perceived as high art, superior to prose and the prefered medium of the wealthy and cultured Arab literary elite. Levy cites the 16th century poet Shamsi Qais,who observes that:
However good your prose may be, it is improved when a poet turns it into stanzas felicitously worded. In poetry the fortunate man expressed his joy on his day of happiness, in poetry the warrior boasts of his victory on the day of battle. And let him who attracts the poet's displeasure beware, for he will never wipe away the stain.
Comparisons to the ode form are common since both the ghazal and the ode operate as a praise song designed to highlight joys, achievements and successes in many different aspects of life, be it love, war or it matters relating to faith and religious devotion. Each stanza of the ghazal is usually a complete, stand-alone unit, with one meter and a single rhyme running through the whole poem. In each stanza the second half of each line is supposed to balance the first half in theme and echo it in rhythm. If we look at Khalvati's poem we can see that she too has followed a traditional struture with ten two line stanzas all of which can stand alone as single poetic units while combining to create a beautiful whole. You will also see that there is a lot of repetition running through the poem and that many of the stanzas are composed of a perfectly rhymed couplet, often producing a subtle play on words and contrasts.
Reuben Levy, An Introduction to Persian Literature, (new York, Columbia University Press, 1969), pp. 33-35.
Analysis of the poem
You could summarise this poem very generally with the sentence: ten stanzas of couplets on the subject of love and passion. As we have already seen above, the ghazal poetic form has a long and complex history, but all we really need to know is that it is quite similar to ode form in that the ghazal is traditionally used as a kind of praise song to celebrate something important like victory in war, political success or love. Structurally speaking this is a ten stanza poem with each two line (couplet) also operating as stand alone mini-poems within a poem. The overall effect of this is to echo the themes and images of the poem throughout the poem. Think about how pop songs often have a chorus or a refrain that repeats a key idea or statement again and again, with repetition building emphasis and simple rhymes. The ghazal uses a more complex form of repetition, but the pop song chorus analogy works well enough for an initial reading of the poem. It is always worth reminding yourself that the bedrock or starting point for rhyme is simple repetition and with repetition comes emphasis, making a poem more memorable with a catchy rhyme to help it work its way into your subconscious mind.
Naming a poem for the poetic form that is being used is quite cunning and unlike many titles this title purposefully draws your attention to the form being used, which means we have to pay special attention to it. What we know already is that the ghazal is traditionally used for love poetry so it we should also be sensitive to how the poet presents love within this traditional framework. Another way of thinking about this is how poets often look to the old masters and traditional forms for inspiration but then do something different with it to make a point or to simply have some fun with convention. Rules are meant to be broken, right? The opening stanza then is quite typical of the ghazal tradition - brids, trees, love etc, but if you look closely you will see that despite the absence of question marks each like seems to loosely follow a kind of question and answer format, while creating a powerful sense of contrast between the dominant images in each line. The speaker says, 'if I am the grass and you the breeze, blow through me' which is not only sentimental and rather reminiscent of the English Romantic poets with their heavy emphasis on the power and beauty of nature contrasted and compared with the changeable and equally powerful force of human emotion, but also establishes the pace and overall structure of the poem.
Interestingly, if we look at the underlying sybolism of the images being conveyed we could also say something about the nature of power in this relationship. If you are the breeze, how powerful are you? If you are grass, are you weak and easy to control / bend?