Friday poem: Not All, Only A Few Return

15 01 2010

Yes, another ghazal.

I had great difficulty finding a poem for this Friday. I pulled out Kay Ryan, WS Merwin, Robert Pinsky, John Ashbery—but, again, returned to Ali.

Haiti on my mind, I guess, although wrongly so: I was thinking of water, not earth; flood, not quake.

Still, the notion that these sorrows will repeat pulled me to the ghazal and its repetitions. Again, however, it is not strictly the same: each moment demands its own attention.

And so it is this time, with this people.

*Note:  Mirza Ghalib was a 19th-century Sufi, and ghazal poet; his poems remain popular among Urdu readers today.

Not All, Only A Few Return
(after Ghalib)

Just a few return from dust, disguised as roses.
What hopes the earth forever covers, what faces?

I too could recall moonlit roofs, those nights of wine—
But Time has shelved them now in Memory’s dimmed places.

She has left forever, let blood flow from my eyes
til my eyes are lamps lit for love’s darkest places.

All of his—Sleep, Peace, Night—when on his arm your hair
shines to make him the god whom nothing effaces.

With wine, the palm’s lines, believe me, rush to Life’s stream—
Look, here’s my hand, and here the red glass it raises.

See me! Beaten by sorrow, man is numbed to pain.
Grief has become the pain only pain erases.

World, should Ghalib keep weeping you will see a flood
drown your terraced cities, your marble palaces.




5 responses

15 01 2010

that is a brilliant poem

15 01 2010

I am stunned by ghazals and besotted with Ali.

Read everything by him you can.

17 01 2010


That first line makes me think of that photo from Haiti, early on – a woman, covered in dust, with blotches of blood on her face.

Who’s the translator. btw?

17 01 2010

The poems are written in English, by Ali. He grew up in India, so I wouldn’t be surprised if English wasn’t among his first languages. He also lived in the US for a couple of decades.

I say that the poems were ‘written in English’, tho’ I don’t know for sure that they weren’t written in another language and then translated by Ali himself. Given the rigors of the ghazal rhyme scheme, however, I’d guess that they were, in fact, written first in English.

As for that photo of the woman, yeah, that flashed across my mind as I read this poem. That was a big part of why I picked it.

8 12 2013

FYI, this poem is a loose translation of a classic ghazal by Mirza Ghalib

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