Creative Project 5 – Recitation and Analysis of an English Ghazal (Week 9)

Referred to as the “Love lyric,” the ghazal is undoubtedly one of the most aesthetically pleasing and spiritually enriching forms of poetic practice in the Islamic world. This style of poetry is distinguished by its several independent couplets and is known to be quite ambiguous, which encourages people to have unique interpretations that ultimately help them connect with the Divine. Throughout our discussions in lecture and examination of ghazals by renowned poets, Rumi and Faruqi, we learned that ghazals often incorporate symbols that “violate social norms and religious conventions” (Qawwali and Ghazal Lecture Powerpoint). For example, a popular motif in ghazal poetry is wine, which symbolizes the intoxicating love of the poet for the intended reader, otherwise known as the Beloved. When the Beloved directly represents the Divine, the love portrayed in the ghazal is called “ishq haqiqi” (true love for the Divine). When the Beloved represents a worldly figure, the love is called “ishq majazi” (metaphorical love); given that God is the Creator of all worldly matters, this type of love ultimately leads to ishq haqiqi.

Although ghazal poetry is most commonly prevalent in Sufi regions of Persia and South Asia, it has been introduced to Western culture by several poets, including Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri-American Muslim poet who excelled in English ghazals. For this project, I chose to recite one of Agha Shahid Ali’s famous ghazals titled, “Tonight.” This piece is particularly fascinating for its use of both traditional and reformational characteristics of the ghazal. The traditional aspects of this ghazal include its notoriously ambiguous couplets and use of a qafia (in this case, the  repetition of “tonight”). The erotic longing for love and sense of hopelessness shown in Ali’s “Tonight” can be interpreted in a worldly or spiritual context; in the former sense, Ali depicts a lost worldly connection (such as with a lover) while in the latter sense, Ali depicts a lost spiritual connection (such as with the Divine). In either case, “Tonight” is deeply symbolic and provides readers with a lens into both Islamic and Western religious conceptions.

I chose to recite this ghazal for its unconventional use of English. While some believe that English ghazal poetry reduces its authenticity as a result of “westernization,” English ghazals like “Tonight” bridge the Islamic world with the Western world and offer it an invaluable lens into the culture of Islamic poetry. In this way,“Tonight” enhances the value of ghazal poetry, as it makes it accessible to a Western audience who can subsequently develop a greater connection with the Islamic world on the basis of aestheticism.

Leave a Comment

Log in