Exploring Islam Through Art, Culture, and Literature

Week 9 Response – The Ghazal

May 4th, 2016 · No Comments

On the Mountain

 

The dawn has nearly broken, the light slowly bestowing its warmth on the mountain

In the gray morning, my head lamp still serving as my personal guide on the mountain

 

Lungs burning, heart bursting in the thin air, I struggle upwards

Towards the object of my desire, stride by stride up the mountain

 

“Because it’s there”, George Mallory said

He who has died on the mountain

 

The frostbite, altitude sickness, and exhaustion

All things from which one cannot hide on the mountain

 

Far below in the valley, mountain-folk head to the tavern, drunk and in love, or perhaps to find it

While those in the alpine are intoxicated too, fueled by endorphins as they glide up the mountain

 

I wish to see your beautiful face, to have you here with me now to partake in this adventure

But then I gaze out over the forest below and am reminded we are together, side-by-side on the mountain

 

Occasionally the fickle weather gets between us

Such are the rules by which one must abide on the mountain

 

Now it is just Rory, left to the elements, with an empty pack

But a full heart, never alone, on the side of the mountain

 

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Photo: Suffering (Heavy Pack) and Love (Mountains) 

            Here, I present a more personal, modern take on the Sufi love poem – the Ghazal. After reviewing some ghazals in section, I realized that the central themes of the poem – love and suffering as a result of that love – are clearly reflected in the experience of mountaineering, with the love of the mountains driving the climber through the adversity or suffering that it takes to reach the summit, referenced here as frostbite, burning lungs, bursting heart, etc in the second and seventh couplets of the poem.

Drawing inspiration from Hafiz, who, as Shayegan mentions in the Visionary Topography of Hafiz, always attempts to retain some “primeval focus” on the beloved throughout the poem, I attempted to tie in this idea of the light of creation as the rising sun, as well as a guiding, prophetic light as that from the climber’s headlamp, forming a “niche” in the darkness to guide the climber up the mountain towards his beloved, or the summit.

Of course, I also attempted to include the characteristic references to drunkenness and intoxication, comparing, in the fifth couplet, the more modern imagery of people in the valley perhaps heading to the pub in search of love, or to be with their love, whereas, by contrast, the climber is simply intoxicated with his love for the mountain and the endorphins that result from his pursuit of the summit.

In general, I attempted to maintain a sense of ambiguity within the poem, not only between the couplets themselves, with each one seemingly able to function on its own, but also with regard to the identity of the beloved, whether that be, another human, God, or the mountain itself. This is made clear in the sixth couplet, where the climber desires that his love be with him to share in this experience, but then, upon looking at the expanse of creation (ie the forest) below him, realizes that his love, in the divine sense, is all around him. Furthermore, the quote in the third couplet, regarding a famous alpinist’s reasoning for climbing, helps to critique modern notions of climbing as frivolous or “against the grain”, much like the tension between Sufism and the traditional ulama.

Overall, structurally speaking, I have tried to maintain the traditional conventions of the ghazal as outlined in Ali’s Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English, with the radif “ on/of the mountain”. In doing this, the reader is subtly reminded of the ultimate “beloved” in the poem – in this case the mountain. The qafiya is represented by the “-ide” syllable, serving to remind the reader of the “mountain side”, or that the journey – and suffering – to reach the beloved is ongoing. Finally, I attempt to bring myself, being the author, into the poem in the final couplet, as is customary with the Ghazal. I attempt to reference myself in the spiritual state that Sufi’s seek, having shed the self, and the material world, totally immersed in the mountain, or for Sufis, what might be considered God.

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