Friday, January 27, 2006

"One image in pumice"       [ghazal]

To play   one session of tennis with you   is that enough?
to sail   one channel of Venice with you   is that enough?

we'd aimed   to fashion a mandir for you   or else a cave
to carve   one image in pumice of you   is that enough?

to you   each voice entertains with its own   distinctive plaint
to wail   in saxophone genius for you   is that enough?

your hushed sobriety's something we must   expand upon!
to drain   one bottle of Guinness with you   is that enough?

the world   sauteed in six days   on the next   you chilled big time
equate   the fear of hell's menace with you   is that enough?

you came from nowhere   or did you emerge   out of my dream?
to take   one vanishing promise of you   is that enough?

all songs extoll you   from vesper   to rock   to ambient
the strains   of old Thomas Tallis for you   were not enough?

if you're the ink of the king   I'm the page   O cloudy sky!
a reign   alike Caesar Gallus for you   is not enough

your Alexandria library was   reduced to ash
remake   a couple of poems for you?   that's not enough

the Kali Yuga   went spinning along   confusingly
with quakes   & chaos beginning to brew   were that enough?

the world   might come to an end you said   my words won't end
to break   a tissue of silence for you   is that enough?

the night   relinquished the aims of day   & dreamed a moon
to stake   one's hope on the chalice of you   is that enough?

distraught   Ardeo became from his first   embrace of you
to make   one weekend in Paris of you   is that enough?

mandir (Skt./Hindi) : temple
Guinness : a long-established, traditional beer brewery (in the UK).
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585 AD) : a British composer & musical innovator (a man of elevated sensibility).
Caesar Gallus (325-354 AD) : a Roman emperor, his reign lasted merely 3 years.
the world might come to an end : paraphrasing Matthew 24:35 / Mark 13:31 ("Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away")

This poem represents an experimental effort to establish & follow rigorously an unvarying rhythmic pattern. ALL lines in the poem are exactly 14 syllables. This is not a question of merely writing metrically. Each line must scan so as to follow the exact rhythmic pattern established by the first line (syllable by syllable).

At first, I couldn't seem to write this way in every line; so I settled for keeping the rhythm only in lines with a radif [repeating refrain]: i.e., lines 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, etc. But in subsequent revision, all lines were conformed. [or: a majority of lines; see p.s. in Comments]

The colors effect [in display of the poem] is simply toemphasize the rhythmic dance of the line. It's for illustrative purposes (since with this poem, I believe new ground is being broken for ghazal technique in English).

To follow a precise rhythmic pattern (called beher in Urdu) is the formal focus of this poem (as an exercise for me). The content of the poem is a separate matter. In these notes I'm focusing on this matter of technique, due to the evident novelty, in English ghazal prosody, of (properly) using a beher, a cadence. I don't yet know enough about traditional behers in Urdu (and Farsi) poetry, to be sure about how this compares. What I do know is how this poem now works in English! But I'll be interested to learn more of the Urdu behers in future.

29 Jan. note:
Indeed, I found (contrary to initial expectation) I could revise all the shers' first lines so they fall in with the rhythmic pattern (behar) of the second line. For example, the first line of sher no.6 had formerly read like this:
all musics adore you   from Bach   to rock   to ambient
This does not follow the exact rhythmic pattern correctly. But by revising it (by being willing, too, to alter specifics of reference, for sake of the strict rule of rhythm), this can likeably read:
all songs extoll you   from vesper   to rock   to ambient
Or a second example: sher no.8 had read:
your library   in Alexandria   burnt to the ground
Merely by rewriting this in another form, it can be brought into conformity with the requisite rythmic pattern (that had been set in sher no.1), thus:
your Alexandria library was   reduced to ash
Here's one more example -- revision of the final sher's first line. It had been:
Ardeo became extreme   from the moment he glimpsed you
To bring it into line rhythmically, it was revised to this:
extreme   Ardeo became from his first   stray glimpse of you
-- well no, that was an intermediate form! whereas the final form is:
distraught   Ardeo became from his first   embrace of you
(In process of refining form and rhythm, one meets an opportunity also to refine or transform aspects of thought, meaning and resonance.)
All three forms of the line are 14 syllables; all are acceptable in terms of basic English metrical poetry. But only the second two play out the beat of the given beher (and I'd say the last one does so less haltingly, more smoothly, than does the intermediate form; for "embrace of you" is the 4-syllable end phrase; wherease "stray -- glimpse" is broken across the cesura, so is [essentially] tantamount to a case of enjambment). Oftentimes, the need to refine the music, also occasions a refining of meanings.

It's interesting to note the way the ghazal sounds and feels once it has been transformed into a rhythmically exacting state. It exhibits a somewhat differing music, displays a different level of discipline. The challenge to write with meaningful imagination remains; the sound-channel through which that imagination flows (the poem's line) is now more exacting and sharp, perhaps.

Regarding rhythm -- or really, the best English word would be cadence -- in traditional Urdu poetry, Ityaadi has helpfully pointed me to this essay (which I look forward to studying in detail).

30 Jan.: My subsequent ghazal -- something lacking -- relates to this one in two ways. In terms of form, it fully accomplishes what this one had inconsistently demonstrated (i.e., all lines follow an exact cadence). In terms of content -- the new one arose responsive to a terse, useful, and biting critique that had been addressed to the present poem vis-a-vis matters of "soul." [Also and incidentally on level of technique, that new poem exhibits multiple rhyming in all the lines that have radifs (refrains).]


Blogger Krashed said...

I liked what you have written! Its good!!

Fri Jan 27, 10:16:00 PM PST  
Blogger david raphael israel said...

Ah, 1000 thanks Archana.
(Still just now experimenting with the visuals [font colors] when your note appeared...)
cheers, d.i.

Fri Jan 27, 10:22:00 PM PST  
Blogger Ishqa said...

hmmm... lovely - except Guiness in my book is not just a beer - it is an experience of Heaven that has sinned - with mossy woods walking towards you... :D
Be that as it may - the rigour which you have applied to the metre and syllabic pattern is truily impressive... it does take one on a bit of a whirlwind tour - I'm trying to make up my mind about whether I'm dizzy or exhilirated!

Sun Jan 29, 10:16:00 PM PST  
Blogger david raphael israel said...


your remarks are much appreciated (including about the Guinness).

It may be the poem is a bit too all-over-the-place in its references (& maybe in other ways too). This, however, is arguably symptomatic of our current historical/cultural moment, and not merely of the vagaries of the poet. ;-) -- an outlandish excuse perhaps.

Also to note, I've just now posted this poem to both the Aap ka Nazrana and the Caferati boards. I selected just 6 of the poem's 12 shers. This makes me mindful that one could make a practice of presenting both an "unabridged" as well as a "best of" version of a given ghazal.

I'll also copy below a "p.s." that I tacked onto the Caferati edition of my post -- as it does acknowledge my descriptive error vis-a-vis how far I'd managed (and how far not) to pull off ghazal-with-beher. I'm sure in the context of serious Urdu prosody, the "little variations" in rhythm that several of my lines in fact display, would amount to glaring & blaring blemishes. Here in the rough & ready world of English ghazaldom, we perhaps don't give these little bumps in the road so askance a glance. Or at least not at this stage in the game. (Maybe next decade...)

Meanwhile, here (anyway) is said note (below).


/ / / / /

ps: rereading this, I must admit the claim of displaying identical cadence in every line, is careless exaggeration. There is (I'd say) an identical cadence in all of the 2nd lines above, and in several of the 1st lines . . .

some of the latter display merely a "somewhat similar" cadence (at best -- rather than an identical one) when the lines are recited naturally (as the poem's phrases suggest).

My feeling (as of now) is that this strikes a reasonable balance between the challenges of such prosody in English (which are perhaps greater than in Urdu & Farsi -- or I'd assume so), and the demands of expressive poetry (which, if tied TOO tight in a straightjacket, may -- like a bonsai on which the gardener has gone overboard -- die of the effort).

Mon Jan 30, 05:04:00 AM PST  

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