Monday, March 2, 2009

Your Wednesday Poetry

I found this poem by accident -- the original was lying on top of the copy machine, forgotten by the professor making copies for his or her class. (Have I mentioned how I love working in the English Department? Where else would I find poems to read, by accident, on the copy machine?) I find it fascinating for several reasons, and the more so because of the footnotes, which include things like:

* The "ghazal" is an ancient Persian, Urdu, and Arabian poetic form of "thematically discontinuous couplets ... [which] have a rhyme scheme ... and refrain ... and the last couplet includes the poet's name."

* The epigraph and first two stanzas are taken from the poem "Kashmiri Song" by Laurence Hope (actually Violet Nicholson).

* "The third stanza is borrowed from Emily Dickinson's 'I am ashamed--I hide.'"

* (This is not in the footnotes, but my own observation:) The last stanza has echoes of both Job ("and I only am escaped to tell thee") and Moby Dick's sort of inimitable beginning ("Call me Ishmael"). I think part of the fun of poetry is finding the allusions, the hidden influences.

Anyway, love it. Here it is:


Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar -- Laurence Hope

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight
before you agonize him in farewell tonight?

Pale hands that once loved me beside the Shalimar:
Whom else from rapture's road will you expel tonight?

Those "Fabrics of Cashmere--" "to make Me beautiful--"
"Trinket"--to gem--"Me to adorn--How--tell"--tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates--
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I'll bless Jezebel tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don't let us be broken;
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Has God's vintage loveliness turned to vinegar?
He's poured rust into the Sacred Well tonight.

In the heart's veined temple all statues have been smashed.
No priest in saffron's left to toll its knell tonight.

He's freed some fire from ice, in pity for Heaven;
he's left open--for God--the doors of Hell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee--
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

--Agha Shahid Ali

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