Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer ghazal

'Ghazal' means 'dalliance'. I am having a dalliance with the ghazal. Specifically with the Persian ghazal in English.

I don't know nearly enough about it, but I'm learning more all the time, and even with the little I do know, I could go on at too great length about the wonder of it. Better to go to the Ghazal Page, and read what I've been reading.

The ghazal is a very old verse form, or is it a genre? It has its origins somewhere back in pre-Islamic Arabia. They come in many languages, and people did and do sing them. They need to express, or at least have an atmosphere of, intense longing, but this isn't always so. It's all about being bound to a very restrictive form and taking bounds of imaginative freedom. I think. If you're lucky.

The Persian version, the kind I'm trying to write, comes in couplets (shers), there is a refrain word or phrase (radif) at the very end of every couplet, and a monorhyme (qâfiya) that comes just before the refrain in each couplet. In the first couplet both rhyme and refrain occur in both lines, thereafter just in the second. The couplets should stand on their own like beads in a necklace, they don't make a linking whole exactly, you should be able to shuffle them around (except the first),without losing anything, and there shouldn't be any enjambement between the lines either. The meter and line length is optional but you should try to be consistent. Oh yes, and you work your name into the last line as a kind of signature to round it all off.

This is also a response to Totally Optional Prompts' 'Summer' prompt. I'm only moderately pleased with it; it doesn't have enough longing in it. I'm happy to brag that the Ghazal Page has accepted to publish next month two which I wrote in response to their challenge to write a ghazal with the radif of 'moon', and these I liked much better, partly also because I kept the meter very tight and consistent. I tried a freer style here, and feel a little uncomfortable with it within the very strict verse form.

Summer Ghazal - radif, midsummer.

Cold bare feet tucked under, dew still on the terrace tabletop from the shortest night, the night of midsummer,
The sun umbrella closed, the air is chilly, morning grey, reluctant, clouded light, in spite of midsummer.
Greenfinches rise and fall, the dunnock's song wavers, and larks still, out in the fields, climb into oblivion,
Yet the symphony of birdsong is quieter, nests empty, fledglings disowned and put to flight, now that its midsummer.
Stripes and lines of bladed maize, chocolate and lime in parallels and isobars, mapping how the land lies,
Drooping barley heads, yellowing and yearning, pastures bleaching near to white, although it's just midsummer.
Tired from mowing, weeding, the dust, heat and dryness, we walk at an amble now, taking it slow,
Lie down among grasses, between gangling oak trees, squint up at the sun, who's as high as a kite in the sky of midsummer.
Forget-me-nots forgotten, a fistful of goldfinches fly from purple, rollicking thistles, singing like a music box,
Faces of crimson, harlequin patterned and striped wings whirring, always filling with delight the days of midsummer.

A swallowtail gliding, ivory etched-black and jewelled, seeking out a caterpillar's cradle of carrot top or fennel,
Bees in the phacelia, no heatwave yet for hawkmoth nights, only the midges dancing like sprites at sunset this midsummer.

Lone crow goes 'kew kew kew' across a mottled evening sky, sweet williams coloured like cassis and strawberries and cream,
Sparrows scutter, gulls go home, Lucy sits on cushioned concrete, sips wine, cross-legged and cool and quiet, wondering at midsummer.


Bee said...

I wish that I had a Persian handy, just to speak the word "ghazal" to me.

Does the dalliance bit refer to the poet's relationship with the language . . . or the intense longing aspect of it all?

I got a very intense sense of midsummer from your ghazal . . . more melancholy, I think, than the feeling of longing. (Although there is something about longing that has a whiff of the melancholy.) The impression that I received, so strongly, is of the moment when we feel summer start to "turn" . . . even at its height, it is starting to wane. Always a bit sad for those in northern climes . . .

Lucy said...

Bless you,Bee dear, for responding so thoughtfully to this!

Unfortunately, I feel, the word is pronounced similarly to 'guzzle', I think I prefer to say it how it looks! The dalliance was because it was a love poem, originally a section of a longer poem about travelling far from home, missing your girlfirend and lamenting the emaciation of your camel!

Interestingly (well I think so, but I'm in danger of becoming boring about this), in modern Arabic poetry, free verse has overtaken formal verse, and a ghazal is simply a love poem. The Persian forms and influence in other languages has led to the form being more what defines it, while for some poets in English, notably Adrienne Rich, it is the autonomy of the couplets, and the free imaginative association that enables, which make the ghazal interesting.

It seems to me perhaps there is a resurgence of interest in formal poetry in the west, while apparently cultures whose tradition was formerly more rigid are now tending towards free verse, but I don't really know enough to substantiate this!

Rosie said...

I hear a quiet wistfulness and the sadness of transience. Summer so lush and so brief. It sounded good when I sang it with my breakfast coffee. Shall we do a disc together? It made a nice change from the blues.

Lucy said...

Rosie, that's quite amazing that you sang my poem! I often think I would probably write better poems if I were musical. As you sing ragah, I'm sure the sung ghazal would be possible for you. There is apparently a site about it, specifically in Urdu, which I've not got round to exploring yet. The wistfulness is quite appealing. I'm not sure I would be much good at writing for music, but it would certainly be breaking new ground to do a disc of original sung ghazals in English, it could be the making of us...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I feel this poem, you put so much into it -
And I love the 'Kew, kew, kew.'

Unknown said...

I must come back to this. Thank you for your introduction to the form, and to the delicious modern example of it which you have given us. I think of gazelle, when wondering how to pronouce it even though it could not be right, but the words do tend to run and leap like one.

jzr said...

Whatever it might be called, Lucy, it's mighty fine writing!! Thanks!!

Lucy said...

Sweet talkin' - thank you. The crow flew over as I was sitting ouside in the evening writing and made just tht noise, not a raucous, cawing sound at all, quite gentle!

Plutarch - it seems there often is some word play on gazelle within the poems, both words being of Arabic origin and very similar, and there are references to the sad cry of the hunted animal at bay. Have a look at the Page if you've the time, it really is quite intriguing, though there's a danger sometimes of it seeming over-contrived in order to work out the form.

JZR - thank you!

Tumblewords: said...

I'll follow the links and learn more about this form - your work is lovely. And, surely, summer is the only season that wanes suddenly and obviously - imho.

Bee said...

Oh dear, let's forget about the "guzzle" bit . . . and think "gauze" and "gazelle," instead.

I like the description of the "dalliance" bit, though. Emaciated camel, indeed.

Your rumination on poetry forms is very interesting, too.

Anonymous said...

was recently introduced to the form as well... but got lost in the idea somehow... reading yours it is so very rich and beautiful... a soothing caress of words if there is such a thing... you followed the form in such a way got lost in the story and forgot the form... glad i stopped by...

HLiza said...

Ooo..that's how we get our 'ghazal' in Malay language. Ghazal here means a type of music played with string instruments; they came from Arab land together with Islam thousands years ago..(originally the natives here were Hindus). It consists of very poetic songs but deemed too slow for younger generations now. A lot of effort is being done to conserve it at the moment, before it slowly dies. I'm not one of them who enjoy it either..being not poetic myself..

Lucas said...

Lucy - thanks for this. Your Ghazal is full of atmosphere and tunes into the mood of Summer so well. Your final stanza is a fine maqta - the world and the poet placed in a balance of mood and nature.

herhimnbryn said...

L. I can feel the heat and hear the birdsong. Thankyou for explaining the poetry form, new to me. I do like the idea too, of putting your name in the last few words.

Stan Ski said...

Summer has so much to offer, and you've highlighted many of these things with style.

Pam said...

How interesting - I've never heard of this before. It sounds a bit complicated. What's a monorhyme, I wonder? (must look it up). Anyway, lovely words, very evocative.

Crafty Green Poet said...

this is lovely, very summery, I especially like the fistful of goldfinches - one of my favourite birds, very summery! I'm really enjoying writing ghazals too - I'll look out for your two in the ghazal page - I'll have one there too!