Poetic forms: Ghazal

What is a Ghazal?

A ghazal is poem with at least five and no more than fifteen (rhyming) couples with a repeated rhyme, typically on the theme of love. In Arabic, there is a set meter; In English, meter is not imposed, though the lines are meant to be the same length. The stanzas are meant to be autonomous, and typically there is a refrain. In the following poem, by Agha Shahid Ali, the refrain is “in real time.”

 

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A well-known Ghazal

Ghazal
BY AGHA SHAHID ALI

Feel the patient’s heart

Pounding—oh please, this once—
—JAMES MERRILL

I’ll do what I must if I’m bold in real time.
A refugee, I’ll be paroled in real time.

Cool evidence clawed off like shirts of hell-fire?
A former existence untold in real time …

The one you would choose: Were you led then by him?
What longing, O Yaar, is controlled in real time?

Each syllable sucked under waves of our earth—
The funeral love comes to hold in real time!

They left him alive so that he could be lonely—
The god of small things is not consoled in real time.

Please afterwards empty my pockets of keys—
It’s hell in the city of gold in real time.

God’s angels again are—for Satan!—forlorn.
Salvation was bought but sin sold in real time.

And who is the terrorist, who the victim?
We’ll know if the country is polled in real time.

“Behind a door marked DANGER” are being unwound
the prayers my friend had enscrolled in real time.

The throat of the rearview and sliding down it
the Street of Farewell’s now unrolled in real time.

I heard the incessant dissolving of silk—
I felt my heart growing so old in real time.

Her heart must be ash where her body lies burned.
What hope lets your hands rake the cold in real time?

Now Friend, the Belovèd has stolen your words—
Read slowly: The plot will unfold in real time.

(for Daniel Hall)

My Ghazal

Here is one of mine:

 

The two of us

When we were first together
sun shone on the two of us.

We strolled down New York’s broad avenues,
noticed nobody but the two of us.

We scoured the local paper’s rental listings.
The apartment belonged to the two of us.

I smiled and the day was brighter
whenever I thought of the two of us.

We picked out new bookcases,
packed them with books for the two of us.

After a few years, we would sit and stare.
Nothing but silence between the two of us.

We would go to the movies,
our hands in our own laps, the two of us.

I would wake up at night
with the cat between the two of us.

Why did it go wrong,
when did it stop being the two of us?

 

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