Dog days, a wearisome unfallen rain
hangs in the air, a glum unfallen rain.

The slow buzz of fat bees is caught
in flower throats, can’t thrum unfallen rain.

Clouds hoard spoils they’ve taken from the seas,
refuse all pleas to overcome unfallen rain.

Oppression snuffs out every breath—no argument
remains against this deaf and dumb unfallen rain.

Don’t move, this too shall pass, we say,
for all the fallen have known some unfallen rain.

A heavy, angry god of thunder booms,
collecting in his kettledrum unfallen rain.

And you, Cynthia, would break this hold of grief?
As if mere words could summon falling rain!

Lately I have been attempting poems in the Arabic form known as the ghazal (pronounced “ghuzzle”). I have avoided it in the past because, like haiku, it has been widely misunderstood by a popular rush to adapt it to English, and fallen far from the mark in both letter and spirit. But I’ve been reading the poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001) who clearly explains the requirements and promulgates good examples of the ghazal in English. He’s convinced me of the possible power of the form, classically rendered, in the English language, and I am enjoying working with it as much as—though quite differently from— the sonnet.

77 responses »

  1. Wow Cynthia, you are very brave! It looks/sounds complicated. But if anyone can do it you can! However I think I will keep with my sonnet addiction. 😊 It’s a very cosy warm place whereas this feels like Wutheting Heights! πŸ˜„ x

    • You make me smile, Chris. The feeling of this one is quite different from the sonnet. It is almost forced to start from a language phrase that will bear the refrain rather than starting from an image or an idea, or a feeling. The refrain and the rhyme that precedes it are the only formal requirements, though; the mind can wander wherever that language takes you. Each couplet is supposed to stand on its own and not necessarily be obviously connected to the others. So any unity in the whole poem is serendipitous. Since I often start poems from language—a phrase, or a word, rather than a picture or a feeling, this appeals to me. It probably appeals to those who like to write surrealistic poems, too, because one couplet to another doesn’t have to make obvious sense….. though many I’ve seen have trouble dealing with the regular line length, the refrain and the rhyme. I know….I know….withering heights πŸ™‚ x

        • Actually, I never meant to present this as a challenge to anyone else…just something new for me, to keep the juices flowing. Like you, I love the sonnet and will always return to it when the mood hits. These forms all have their moods and possibilities, and provide limits that can turn out to be creative. I do hope autumn will be a good season for you, Chris, without new challenges, but only restful, bountiful harvests after what surely has been a difficult summer.

          • Thank you Cynthia for your good wishes. Yes, you are right, the summer has been fraught with difficulties and lots of pain. But I am on the mend and am determined to make the most of every day.

            I think I have set my own challenge with this new form which you introduced here, but I’m almost certain it will remain dormant! πŸ˜„πŸ˜„ ❀️

  2. Goosebumps… that’s a clichΓ© I know… I got goosebumps from your audio, and now I’m off to investigate ghazal and Agha Shahid Ali. The apparent ease by which your poems seem to get “trotted out” weekly disguises years of honed skill and of thrumming unfallen rain…

    • Goosebumps….how lovely…in truth, years of dealing with forms non-poetic and still retaining a modicum of stubborn love for the actual, and the otherwise-imagined, are probably responsible for apparent “ease”…. just another way of saying adversity and limits can sometimes be liberating….or, as you so aptly observe, years of thrumming unfallen rain. You are most kind, Bruce. (In spite of all the people you kill on” Weave A Web”). Thank you.

      • I know I’ve quoted it often, but it’s a paraphrase of something Stravinsky said that’s always stayed with me… something like: Look at the piano keyboard. There are an infinite number of possible combinations. Creativity lies in knowing how to limit yourself. (And P.S. – I like killing people off!)

        • Isn’t it wonderful to be a literary man, kill- off all the people you want to, and place the blame on one of your fictional/factional characters? Long may you continue your perfidy, kiddo!

          • Ha ha ha! Thank you Cynthia. In my “novel” the narrator often talks about how she “enjoys playing God” – but often too in the context of creating a new character! (And sometimes she kills them off before the chapter is complete.) “I don’t know why I bother creating them if that’s all they can do.”

  3. We had a doozy of a thunderstorm here two nights ago and I was trying to come up with words for the hollow sound of thunder – yes! – kettle drums, of course. I have to look up this form, too. Is one of the elements is to move from the natural image to the personal? Regardless, I like how you did that in this poem. The repetition creates a feeling that something is about to happen but it never does. It’s oppressive, like the air before a big thunderstorm. Love this poem so much, Cynthia!

    • Thank you, Susanne. For all it’s strict refrain and rhyme, this form allows great leeway in terms of development, because each couplet, except the first and last, is supposed to be able to stand alone or be moved to another place…..like a necklace of linked but distinct beads. ( Agha Shahid Ali’s phrase for it—and the title of one of his books— is “Ravishing DisUnities”) I am growing to like it….and I’m glad you like this poem too!

  4. ….this not only has full-weight of charm (much unfallen rain here, too!), it gathers strength to the finish line where we’re left pondering far more than mere weather. We weather storms–within or without–rain or no rain. But rain helps on both counts. Tears refresh, too. sometimes.

    • I know you have not been having your favorite kind of weather lately in Kamloops…we could probably both use a great wonderful weeping of the skies and otherwise….but we’re in for a seasonal change now…bring on the sweater weather! As always, I appreciate your great kindness and insight. Thanks, Lance.

    • It is indeed an interesting form, Lisa, at least I find it so, though I am always reluctant to jump in when a whole culture and language that is not my own is concerned. What I have been able to learn from Agha Shahid Ali—who was originally from Kashmir, and knew Farsi and Urdu, but studied and taught in several US universities and published his own ghazals as well as other forms in English—convinces me to try it. I’m glad you found it interesting too!

  5. Inspiring, both the poem and your endeavors with the Arabic form, ghazal. Are you also studying the language? the script? I am exhausted this evening. Yesterday, I waited and yearned for the rain to fall from the clouds, but only a small portion of all the weeping fell. This poem is a reminder of that moment and it inspires me to write my own. Thanks, Cynthia. mmmm

    • No, I’m not studying the language or the script, at this point. I’m relying on one who is fluent in those things but has also spent considerable time writing poetry and teaching here in the US, who is an advocate of traditional forms in poetry and has made it his mission to educate English speaking poets about the ghazal. Thanks for your comment, Anna. Good luck with your yearning-for-rain poem!

  6. There is a certain comfort in creating within the limits of familiarity. But it is only in experimenting with new and previously unventured forms that true creativity blossoms. Bravo and kudos to you for stepping outside your comfort zone and bringing this new form to our attention.

        • I am glad you specified that is a compliment, Oscar, and that’s surely how I take it.

          There were those in the 19th century who used it as a derogatory term as does the famous quotation by William Hazlitt, who said, “The bluestocking is the most odious character in society…she sinks wherever she is placed, like the yolk of an egg, to the bottom, and carries the filth with her.”

          Perhaps the poor fellow was upset because so many of those women were smarter than he. πŸ™‚

    • Hi Barbara—I guess you’re referring to the William Hazlitt quote. It’s really funny how the expression “bluestocking” went from being a compliment to being a derogatory term, but that’s the wonder of living language for you! Thanks for your visit and your comment.

  7. Good to read that you jumped into something new Cynthia. There are many positive comments written. Surrealistic that the couplets need not obviously relate. That appeals to the artist in me 😊

    • That appeals to me too, Karen. I am often put off by the surrealistic barrage of unlikely images and obscure syntax in a lot of today’s poetry, which destroys any hope of coherence or possibility of meaning for the reader. The ghazal allows that kind of wildness but within a discipline that fosters some kind of coherence underneath it all. It appeals to my sense that however crazy the music, I do like it to touch base, and to finally come home.

  8. So, so good Cynthia! I am not familiar with the form yet from your description and from the poem itself – simply wonderful! So enjoyed it (and will be scurrying off to research once the double vision has become singular again!). Thank you Cynthia! πŸ™‚

  9. Superb. Groundbreaking prosody. New rhythms and new mantras for the age. But I couldn’t help notice the post-modern self-reflexivity as you break, charmingly, sonorously, the fourth wall.

    • I was wondering if anyone would notice that breaking of the fourth wall…leave it to you, Prospero! It seems that most—though not all—ghazals have what is called a signature in the final couplet where the poet addresses, or refers to, himself/herself by name. I am not very comfortable with that, but did try it in this poem. It feels weird to my so-called western modern mind. But what else is new…..Thanks for your good words, my friend.

  10. Your unfallen rain so reminds me of were we are with no rain in over 50 days except, last evening after our chores sitting quietly outside we heard something and I said, “what is that noise?” Well wouldn’t you know several very large rain drops finally came down – in less than one minute it was done and not a thirst was quenched.

    Wonderful imagery as I felt the oppressiveness of the air, the tightness of not being able to breath, of not getting refreshed and then to read as you brilliantly worked your own sorrow into the fiber of the poem. Incredible work Cynthia, hearing you speak the words only adds weight to the scene painted in my mind. Leave it to you to work out a new way to write your creations through ghazal.

    • It’s come to a desperate pass when you hear raindrops and ask “what is that noise?” I laughed, but I know it’s not funny. You folks with your drought, California, Washington, with their wild fires, Arizona with the dust storms….we can only hope the equinox will bring with it a greater clemency in the climate.
      I like what you say about the poem, Mary. It seems as if we are both venturing out a little into something new these days, in painting and in poetry. The young and the older—all of us going back to school!

  11. I really like this poem, it’s certainly very different, and poems or any writing about rain (literal or metaphorical) is a favourite subject of mine, and I believe many people are attracted to the subject of rain in writing and images/art.

    I was just reading what you were saying to Christine about the style of poem “Each couplet is supposed to stand on its own and not necessarily be obviously connected to the others.” I did think that as I was making my way through the poem, but sometimes I can miss the obvious and not realise the connection. So I guess I wasn’t wrong this time. I shall have to look into ghazal, it’s quite appealing to have stand alone sentences and yet connected in some small way. Reminds me a little of biblical Proverbs – thought provoking quotes.

    There’s a man I know on a writers website who loves to get his writers pen mind round these different kinds of poems styles. Thanks for the information Cynthia, I shall ask him if he has tried one of those yet. I think he’d enjoy this! πŸ™‚

    • Hi Suzy! May I say I love your new gravatar? This venture into the ghazal is, as you say, appealing to me too. There’s something about what language can evoke, even when it’s not apparently unified by our reasoning powers….it can become a mess we don’t understand, or a kind of mysterious coherence that makes sense to us. Thank you so much for reading and for your comment!

      • Thank you Cynthia! It is actually my own face this time. Finally managed to afford an android phone, so learning how to take the dreaded sefie. πŸ˜‰ Created an arty version of myself. More appealing for me to look at because it doesn’t feel like me! πŸ™‚

        • Yes, I recognized it from other photos of you. I really like it….if one takes the time to think of it artfully, a selfie may be even better than a photo taken by someone else, because you know how to “address the camera”…..if that makes any sense. My gravatar is a selfie. πŸ™‚

          • I was sure your lovely picture was taken by someone for you, wow, it doesn’t look like a selfie – well done for that!! πŸ™‚ Selfies are interesting, and definitely better than a lot of pictures taken by others. I was very into taking portraits in my early 20’s and my models (mainly family and friends) were always thrilled with the results, because they said it was such a relief to see who they really were, and not one of those awful smiling face pictures that makes the face twice as wide (not flattering at all) and takes away most of the personality – especially from the eyes. But I never succeeded in taking my own portrait. I tried, but it wasn’t good. It’s been amusing to see the real me. Haven’t invested in a selfie stick yet though. If you see an image of me that looks like it’s taken by a flying drone, you’ll know I bought a selfie stick!! πŸ˜€

    • I received the email from your daughter saying my book(s) had arrived. She is a sweetheart to go through the process (which is kinda primitive, given my naÏvetΓ© about marketing). I hope you enjoy your sojourn in the US. (Chicago remains, so far, an unknown to me, except for movies and a few well-placed jabs by opponents of our current president.) It’s all “interesting”. And, of course, I hope you enjoy my book!

  12. Wonderful images this conjures up Cynthia, like that of the kettledrum. Don’t know if there is a format known as “realism”, but your poems seem to convey something real that I have experienced at some point of time.

    • I guess the literature professors have categories like “realism,” “romanticism,” modern, and post-modern, for the convenience of what they do, but I’m very happy to leave it at whatever is the response of a reader, and am very pleased by what you say here. Thank you very much, Ankur!

  13. I absolutely love this one. There are so many rich images such as;’collecting in his kettledrum unfallen rain’ and ‘fat bees is caught in flower throats”. I could go on but then I’d be pasting most of the poem into this comment. Thank you Cynthia for continuing my education about different poetic forms – you do this form proud.

  14. All I can say is “wow” because I don’t understand any of the rest of it. Well, “wow” and “so wonderful that you’re still stretching yourself to try new things” because I can understand that much. I apologise for my ignorance. My literature teacher in Year 9 was the author John Marsden. Things we studied were…. untraditional….

    Wish I could send you rain. I’m a bit over ours.

    • John Marsden….I would imagine he would be a very good teacher for a certain age, certain type of student, given that he has published so many Young Adult books that are bestsellers. And it’s probably just as well to skip much “irrelevant” literature when people are at an age where they can’t really appreciate it. You’ve got me recalling a time long ago when I was teaching a group of 9th graders and their favorite books were of the type Marsden wrote. I tended to go for the fun of language play, (they absolutely loved making up their own words out of pre-fixes and suffixes, for example) and let them read what they wanted, as long as they did read.

      Don’t apologize for ignorance…we all have our set of things we know about, and another whole world of things about which we are ignorant.

      Thanks for your visit, and reading. Blow some of that rain this way, will ya…..

  15. Reading this quite a few times was glorious. The more I did, the more the rhythm spoke. Thank you. Please may I mention that I put you down to be ‘followed’, but apparently I need to do something else to make sure I get an email when you post. Chris is going to show me how when I get back from holiday.

    • Hello Glenda! It’s nice of you to visit and read, and thank you for that “glorious.” Getting started in the blogging world is fraught with uncertainties and questions, but you’ll get the hang of it….especially with Chris to help you. I look forward to reading more of your poetry!

  16. As an admirer of the ghazal and sometimes writer of them, I must say this is among the most sensitive and poignant examples I have read, and your reading is exquisite. There are certainly many liberties that have been taken with English renderings of the form – some, like those of Aussie poet Andy Jackson, to excellent effect – and necessarily I suppose, but I do have a soft spot for close observance.

    • I’m pleased to know that this form is familiar to you, Brad, and that you’ve enjoyed writing it yourself. Funny you should mention the Aussie poet Andy Jackson, whom I have only recently come to know more about, and whose work I enjoy reading. Like you, I have a soft spot for close observance, but am always a bit hesitant to call what I write—in these borrowed forms—the real thing. When we can make it work, though, it’s very gratifying. Thank you so much for your visit and very kind comment.

  17. In my part of the world it has been raining for the last two and a half month (even as I type this, now it is raining outside) frequently and infrequently.

    Your poems are always beautiful. Have you read ghazals by Ghalib? He was one of my most famous poets in India and his ghazals remain popular to this day, and would continue to do so, I believe. He wrote in the Urdu and Persian language. I don’t understand either of the languages, and so I read his ghazals rendered into English. One of the ghazals I like the most is “Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi {A Thousand Desires Such}.”

    • Hello Ramu! Yes, several American poets have made translations of Ghalib. I think he is the most famous writer of ghazals around here. Agha Shahid Ali (born in New Delhi, 1949) who grew up in Kashmir is really my favorite source for ghazals in English. He spent his years as a student, professor and poet here in the USA, and wrote poems as easily in Urdu as in English.
      He died, here in New England, in 2001. Following his ideas about ghazals in English, I am having a good time trying to write them. Thank you for your visit. I’m always happy to see your comments here!

      • I sometimes listen to Urdu Ghazals. They are very melodious and full of meaning. Most Ghazals are devotional, part of Sufi Islamic traditions. The way they sing it is also unique. Heart touching. If you get time listen to it on YouTube. Perhaps it will motivate you.

        • Yes! I have listened to ghazals on You Tube….they do sound very heart touching, as you say, but I don’t understand the language. I have to receive them as the music, not the words and thought.

          Shahid Ali was fluent in both Urdu and English, and published many books of his own poetry— in the years when he lived and was a professor in the USA— as well as the book “Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English”.

          Of course we know it’s impossible to lift a deeply cultural artistic practice out of its element without its undergoing a change as it adapts to a different language and culture. (The ubiquitous “haiku” in English is testimony to that! πŸ™‚ )

          The ghazal as a literary form–admitedly a theoretical object—offers interesting possibilities for experimentation with poetry in English. The form is a challenge to thought and language and not meant of be equated with the beautiful music of the ghazal in Urdu.

          • I fully agree with you. Well, as long as you enjoy the music and get carried away language mustn’t be a barrier. Well said about haikus. πŸ™‚ ..good luck with your expedition. It’s truly a mighty mountain that you are set to conquer. Wishing you all the very best.

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