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The ghazal is a form of Persian poetry, traditionally in the form of love poetry.  It has become especially popular in the Persian, Arabic, and Urdu languages.  Structurally, it is composed of couplets or verses, called baits.  These are meant to both blend into the overall theme of the poem, and stand alone as a virtual poem in themselves.  These poems are ment to have a very distinct rhyme structure. The bothlines of the poem’s first bait, and the second line of all preceding baits are to have a refrain, or radif.  Before each radif, one usually finds a qafiyah or a word which rhymes with the others preceding the refrain.  Finally, it is often customary for the poet to refer to themselves in the final verse of the poem, though through some pen-name, or takhalus, which reveals something of the character of the poet.

 

I found my inspiration in the 6th Ghazal by Hafiz in the book, Green Sea of Heaven, recreated, translated in English below:

 

O dawn wind, where is my love’s resting place?

Where is the moon’s house, that rogue, killer of lovers?

 

The night is dark, the road to the valley of safety lies ahead.

Where is the fire of Sinai? Where is the moment of meeting?

 

All who come into this world bear the mark of ruin.

In the tavern ask, “Where is the sober one?”

 

He who understands signs lives with glad tidings.

There are many subtleties.  Where is an intimate of the secrets?

 

Every tip of our hair has a thousand ties to you.

Where are we? And where is the accuser idle?

 

Reason went mad.  Where are those musk-scented chains?

Our heart withdrew from us from us. Where is the arch of her brow?

 

Wine, minstrel, and rose are all ready

but there is no pleasure in celebrating with her.  Where is she?

 

Hafiz, don’t take offence at autumn’s wind over the field of the world.

Think rationally: where is the thornless rose?

 

I attempted to create an English version of a Ghazal, with the same structural elements.  My refrain is also an indicator of the subject of the poem, “to return,” and before each refrain a word is rhymed with the first qafiyah, “deign.”  My pen name is a reference to the Yoruba deity of Iron and warfare, who is quite fond of solitude.  This is both a reference to my heritage and personality.  The message of this last verse is meant as an exhortation to those with such a disposition.  Finally, each couplet is designed to be a story unto itself, with a particular symbolism.

 

Ogun’s Return

 

Where is my love this day? When will he deign to return?

Where is the path to the Magi’s house?  There I go, in pain, to return.

 

Bewildered, I am content to wait in the woods alone

Finally, I am convinced by the goddess of rain, to return.

 

If you should ever be driven away, and the sweet scent of your hair disappear,

The fires of my passion would burn till your palm wine lead me, insane, to return.

 

Last night, hanging from chain of Orisanla I lay sleeping,

Till your servant awoke his brother, to strive, to strain, to return.

 

Oh, Ogun, forget your exile, abandon your nature. Remember,

To examine the rosy cup of truth to see all else is vain, to return.

 

 

 

 

The traditional Persian ghazal is quite remarkable for the Sufi symbols that give it such depth and meaning.  There are a few symbols that are typically employed, which have multiple layers of meaning but all center about love. They frequently appear in varied form to produce nuanced effects in the reader.  However, different sufi traditions appreciate artistic expression in different ways.  From the Mourides of Senegal with their images of Cheick Amadou Bamba, to the Dervishes from Konya, to the Qawwali musicof South Asia, practices arise within particular cultural contexts.  Thus, to present this intertwining of culture and religion, I attempted to tie in symbols from a traditional Yoruba Mythology (Ifá), and match it with the symbols of a traditional Ghazal.  A brief explanation of the various symbols and references may be found below:

 

  • “Magi” – Jewish authority who is seen selling wine to the distraught subject of the poem.

 

  • “wait in the woods alone…goddess of rain, to return” – this is a reference to a story where the deity Ogun (see above) hid himself in the solitude of the woods and would not return until the goddess of the seas and water, Osun, used her feminine charms to convince him to return to the other gods.

 

  • “scent of hair” – a symbol for the beguiling beauty and charms of the beloved (which is often God)

 

  • “palm wine” – wine is a frequent symbol in ghazals for the intoxication of love.  Palm wine is  the subject of many stories in Yoruba mythology.  In this context, it refers to a time when Ogun was deprived of his palm wine and threw a devastating fit.

 

  • “Last night” – this can often refer to the time of pre-creation, or “pre-eternity”

 

  • “chain of Orisanla…his brother” – this refers to one of the creation myths of the Yoruba in which the older of two brothers was tasked with the spreading of sand (land) on the earth.  But when he climbed down from heaven on a chain, he was tricked by one oth the gods into drinking too much palm wine, and promptly fell asleep.  When his younger brother saw this, he came down, accomplished his brothers task for him, and founded the human race, then Orisanla awoke and followed his younger brother back to heaven.

 

  • “your servant” –an implicit reference to the prophet Muhammad, who is ment to take the place of the younger brother in the above story as the founder of the human race (in an esoteric sense).

 

  • “rosy cup of truth”—this is a reference to the cup of Jamshid, a mystical cup wich allowed one to see events far away.  It also references roses, which is yet another symbol of love, and often the beloved to another familiar symbol, the nightingale.

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