Monday, October 17, 2005

"so brief the hours" (ghazal)

Too swift the days & years       so brief the hours
too soon the dawn appears       so brief the hours

We started out on foot       our pride was leisure
O train! the station nears       so brief the hours

I used to view a decade as a mountain!
the molehill disappears       so brief the hours

A proper raag requires more than an hour
three-minute-raag pioneers?       so brief the hours

One phrase could take a life       why speak of paragraphs?
the bookshelf raises fears       so brief the hours

Paul Bowles desired to live far from New York
eternity in Tangiers?       or brief the hours?

The Peloponnesian war consumed three decades
but when hits home one spear       how brief the hours

The morning mushroom lasts a single morn
O heaven with its spheres!       how brief the hours

We'd entered school       aspiring for a doctorate
the doc   his voice why clears?       so brief the hours

The sun had barely set in the western sky
already chanticleers?       how brief the hours

I accept a thousand chores       & manage three
to do a fourth one cheers       so brief the hours

When Raphael resolved to build a house
he bought one door of tears       so brief the hours

Unfortunately, this poem employs a good deal less hyperbole than I would wish. I post it here both as an example of what I understand (and aspire to) with regard to "the English ghazal," -- and furthermore as an implicit apology to the many good people awaiting things from me! (Hopefully I'll even manage a 5th or 6th task, as time's carpet unfolds a little further.)

Regarding the American expatriate writer Paul Bowles, see e.g. here.


Blogger ~River~ said...

I feel that this works without the use of "hyperbole". The ghazal, in its original context, employs certain conventions, which in english seem somehow strained to my ear. Indeed, not only strained, but sadly cliché-ridden. You manage to avoid that here.

Doors and tears, eh?

Mon Oct 17, 03:47:00 AM PDT  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

Thanks Riv; your estimation of this ghazal as working -- that's a thing estimably prized by me.

"Doors" here without any literalism: "I set out to build a house, so far at least I've manage to buy one door!" (albeit, a door of tears). I should say I feel most pleased with this one couplet: as if the poem, in this couplet, taught me how an "X of Y" phrase can be used with a special type of irony in ghazal language. A novel little discovery for me.

I feel I've seen hints of this peculiar type of "X of Y" somewhere (in translation); finding it "natively" in English rendered me a a happy (even if sleepless; & leaving off here the question of lachrymose) camper.

In my "hyperbole/no-hyperbole" remark -- really I was specifically referring to the "1000 chores" calculation! (& so far being on perhaps item #3 or 4 thereof).

Of course in general, a (seemingly) hyperbolic (or rather extreme) language does seem favored in that tradition. I think it's a bit like the reckoning of the (apparently) essential concept of "vastness" that we might infer in Mahayana Buddhist literature: ubiquitously, there's some outlandish calculation (how many grains of sand in the Ganges, and then if every grain was a . . . etc. atc.) -- I feel the subject of scale per se is a significant theme (or concept or principle) in much spritual literature generally [and more broadly still: in much art generally], and certainly too in the colorful, piquant language of the ghazal most especially (this peculiar / particular thing). But let's see anyway, as this poetry may unfuld, to what degree I can learn more how (like blindfulded archer) tp hit something-or-other aright now & then. (& thanks again)

Mon Oct 17, 05:22:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Nilanjan said...

Hi! David:
Since I have been almost totally focused on Urdu poetry for the past 20 years, thought of sharing a few thoughts.

The problem, or should I say challenge, with composing ghazals is that it escapes modernism, let alone the kind of post-modernism you have rather brilliantly tried.

This problem arises out of the strictest adherence to form -- which is of supreme importance in Ghazals. Please remember unlike most poetry (which, at least I believe, is a strictly one-isto-one affair between the poet and the reader), Ghazals are essentially shared ecstacy (that is of course only when it is successful). Therefore, Ghazals must invite participation of the listeners. Ghazals are dead unless read out aloud to an audience. After centuries of experimentation on how to incite this participation (in Persia/Iran) poets chiseled the form to perfection. No other form of poetry, including sonnets, (but probably barring Haikus - of which I don't know much) is so dependent on its form. The form itself makes sure that the audience participates, because the poet must return to the end rhyme without a hitch. This pre-knowledge encourages the good listener to guess out the exact word(s)/expression. That is why it is convention at all ghazal recitals to repeat the first line again and again. In effect the listener is being given time, is being challanged to guess what's coming. And deep down his heart the poet is hoping he will beat them all, and each listener is actually wanting to be beaten. This strange chemistry goes on for sometime before finally second line comes. Either the good listener is sadly dissapointed at having guessed the obvious, or experiences an ultimate high at the poet's ability to dribble past him and hit the target of his heart.
But participation also means that the poet and the listener/reader must share a known/familiar terrain -linguistically and thematically. In ghazals you "discover", there's no scope for "inventions". It has to be new wine in an old bottle, but it has to be wine, and not whisky. And predominantly the theme is "love", or to be more precise "the experience of love". At this moment I can't remember any other theme.
And to make things even more complicated, a good ghazal really depends on the "unsaid". Since each couplet of a ghazal must be a complete poem in itself, much of what is intended has to be left unsaid, with enough hints for the reader/listener to decipher. One of the finest example is Mirza Ghalib's acclaimed couplet: KFAS MEN MUKJHE RUDAD-E-CHAMAN KEHNEKO NA DAR HUMDUM/ GIRI THI BIJLI JISPE KAL WO MERE HI ASHIYAN KIYUN HO (Dear Friend, now that I'm locked in the cage, don't be afraid to tell me everything that's happening in the garden/ The nest strck by lightning yesterday may not be necessarily mine). You really have to know the story to get the pathos of this truly great couplet.
So, a new ghazal writer begins with all these challenges, even if he/she is writing in Urdu or Persian. If the poet is of another language...well you can imagine.
Just a few thoughts.

Tue Oct 18, 11:53:00 PM PDT  

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