Dancing shaman with a kingfisher's head.
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2004 Ghazals, Set Four


It's a truism that English is a rhyme-poor language in contrast with other languages where rhyming is presumably easier. Vani Kannan's ghazals, along with others on The Ghazal Page, suggest that there are still plenty of opportunities to rhyme in English, especially if one counts off-rhyme, half-rhyme, slant-rhyme, whatever you want to call it.

The fluidity of the rhymes in these three ghazals is impressive. In the first, the first line of each couplet after the first rhymes with the radif. The vowel-rhymes, "move" and "mood," provide some variation in this scheme, but are strong enough in context to be effective. At the same time, Kannan uses some partial rhymes for the qafiya, which I believe is not only a good choice, but a necessity for ghazals in English. Check out the words that make up the qafiya in this poem:

 met her
 weather
 measure
 feather
 together
 remember

These words rhyme in the weak ending syllable and nearly rhyme in their stressed syllables. (Some are full rhymes, some aren't.)

The second ghazal uses internal and end rhyme in the first line of each couplet. These rhymes--some full, some partial--provide another "melody" running in counter-point to the qafiya and radif. The rhyme scheme also seems to reflect the theme of opposites expressed in the dark/light, high/deep imagery in the poem.

In "Your Past Lives," there is internal and end rhyming in the first line of each couplet and internal rhyming in the second line of each. These rhymes function as the qafiya, again providing variation and rich music.

In these and other ghazals, we see real opportunities to find English schemes to embody the rich interlacing of traditional ghazals.


Taylor Graham's ghazal is itself a "sleight of shadow," with the play of light/shadow, sun/moon, sin/love.

This ghazal depicts a moon that seems both contemporary and mythic. The moon has always a dream-like quality as it illuminates the night. This moon of childhood, dreams, and magic glows throughout the ghazal. At the same time, lines like "It marks your pillow, moon-faced, with the pits" present the very real moon, the moon on which humans have walked, the great rocky sphere that humans may someday inhabit.

The first line of the ghazal and the second line of the sixth sher use the same word as qafiya--". . . reflects light in shadow" and ". . . makes light of shadow." Normally, I'd object to a repetition like this, but in this case, the lights are homophones, not the "same" word. And the two words have different grammatical functions. This use of homophones illustrates another possibility for our efforts to achiece ghazal-form in English


Even though I comment a lot on the technical aspect of ghazals here, I do recognize the importance of theme, image, subject, mood . . . . But since a major purpose of The Ghazal Page is to work toward making the ghazal an English form, the technical aspects are significant toward that end.

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Three Ghazals

by Vani Kannan

1. When It Was All New

The day that you met her, when it was all new.
you warmed with the weather, when it was all new.

Awaiting the time and rethinking the move
with precision and measure, when it was all new.

A smile, a fingertip, subtle and true
like the touch of a feather, when it was all new.

In one fleeting moment, He granted a mood
you embraced it together, when it was all new.

You landed and smiled, then parted and flew
but I'll only remember when it was all new.

2. The Ocean

If you love the ocean, leave tears in the ocean
Let thought flow home, leave tears in the ocean

Sunsoaked but dark, and oh so shallow at the start
Our lives undone, unclear as the ocean

Humble but deep, so lofty but so steep
Minds sink and swim, disappear in the ocean

Souls will weep with times bittersweet
Be a lighthouse at dawn, calm fears on the ocean

Leave maya behind, leave your tired mind
Poetry in motion, clear as the ocean

If only you could see your image in me
A taste of liberty, free as the ocean.

3. Your Past Lives

The tears uncried in your past lives
Melt in her eyes from your past lives

She wished she knew the cold and blue
That follow you from your past lives

She'd hug you then; you'd walk as friends
The twists and bends of your past lives

Instead you sighed, hummed minor lines,
Evaded smiles, in your past lives

Found foreign lips, a summer kiss
And nomad nights, in your past lives

She'll feel in you a deeper hue
And mirror you, sketch your past lives

Moons wax and wan, only words remain
To light the way through your past lives

To melt the snow, plant seeds and grow
I'll never know your past lives

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Leonard's Moon

by Taylor Graham
All night the full moon reflects light in shadow,
playing at dreams and doubts with sleight of shadow.

It marks your pillow, moon-faced, with the pits
a blind soul digs into the height of shadow.

For hours of sleepless night you twist your sheets
as the minutes spin off in flights of shadow.

Omission and commission tip their sin-scales,
counting out the wages of each night of shadow.

Beside you lies a woman, in this room of your own
making, its hungry teeth, its bite of shadow.

Does it matter that always dawn comes again,
at last, with its sun to make light of shadow?

You've come to love this long night like a sister
blood-bound with a sister's fright of shadow.

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