After nearly a century of "false starts" — that is, early experiments by James Clarence Mangan, James Elroy Flecker, Adrienne Rich, Phyllis Webb, etc., many of which did not adhere wholly or in part to the traditional principles of the form, experiments dubbed as "the bastard ghazal" — the ghazal finally began to be recognized as a viable closed form in English-language poetry sometime in the early to mid-1990s. This came about largely as a result of serious, true-to-form examples being published by noted American poets John Hollander, W. S. Merwin and Elise Paschen, as well as by Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali, who had been teaching and spreading word of the ghazal at American universities over the previous two decades.
In 1996, Ali compiled and edited the world's first anthology of English-language ghazals, published by Wesleyan University Press in 2000 as Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English. (Fewer than one in ten of the ghazals collected in Real Ghazals in English observe the constraints of the form.)
A ghazal is composed of couplets, five or more. The couplets may have nothing to do with one another, except for the formal unity derived from a strict rhyme and rhythm pattern.
A ghazal in English that observes the traditional restrictions of the form:
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?
Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”— to gem– “Me to adorn– How– tell”— tonight?
I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates–
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.
God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar–
All the archangels– their wings frozen– fell tonight.
Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.
Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.
He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open– for God– the doors of Hell tonight.
In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight
God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day–
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.
Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.
The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.
My rivals for your love– you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.
And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee–
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.
—Agha Shahid Ali
Read more about this topic: Ghazal
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