May 4th, 2012
I am but a mortal and you, my Aphrodite
I fear to forget my lowly place lest you smite me
I am a book of scribbled pages and empty lists
But with the strength of your spirit you could rewrite me
The match dies in the fire but only then does it live
The heat burns hot, my love, but your presence ignites me
None since white Lancelot has suffered such love as this
My beloved! I kneel and beg you to knight me
I own no sword but a pen and no lance but my voice—
No champion I, but to heroism you incite me
I ride forward to a trial I’ve lost already
Hang me on your gaze, for by your lips you indict me!
When on the docket I stand charged with crimes of passion:
Confess, Anna: even your cruelty delights me!
I chose to attempt my own ghazal as a creative response to week 9, and I must say, after this experience I am even MORE glad that I chose memorization instead of composition for our graded project—writing a poem that doesn’t sound trite, still rhymes, and has somewhat coherent thoughts is quite a challenge. Other poetry I’ve written was limited to freeform poetry, so this was a completely new experience for me, and really served to broaden my poetry horizons.
I drew inspiration from the Agha Shahid Ali article about ghazals in English, both from the poetic devices he discusses and from his challenging assertion that most writers of ghazals in English “get it wrong.” The repetition at ends of lines that I use is similar to the format he uses in one of the ghazals in his article (“The only language of loss…”). I particularly enjoyed the use of repetition since the ghazal I memorized (‘Guftam ghama to daram,’ by Hafez) made use of the same kind of repetition, and I found the lyricism of it quite beautiful. If a non-English speaker had to memorize my poem, I hope that they would have the same experience with it! In addition, I’ve never seen poems that use a repetitive phrase to construct a rhyming scheme, so I found it fascinating and a bit foreign-sounding. I also took care to make every line the same amount of syllables. I certainly couldn’t write in meter, but this was the next best thing, and Ali seemed to agree.
Like most ghazals, mine focuses on unrequited love. I tried to follow the tradition of evoking familiar symbols—but since I grew up in a Western tradition, the figures I chose were Aphrodite, Lancelot and Guinevere rather than Majnoon and Layla. I also tried to make use of wordplay. For example, pleading with the beloved to make me their champion transitions into a contradictory analogy of the lover as criminal, prosecuted by the beloved. The link between the two is “trial,” which can mean both the formal requirements that knights had to go through to receive their shield, or a modern-day court trial.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with a good enough nom de plume, so I simply left my name as is in the last line.