William Dennis

Verses, hemistiches or links, there is a tincture of disjunctive linking, which extends through poetry from the Middle East to that east, which re-approaches western culture from the far side. Disjunctive technique is not quite freedom of association, though it probably shares its origin. Rather, in ghazal usage, it is an attempt to continue a theme through use of different metaphors. From a fresh perspective, the same point is to be made again. Renowned writers, such as Hafiz and Ghalib, have attempted more of a consistent, narrative sequence over the course of a single ghazal, but most typically the theme may be represented as a tree-trunk, with each couplet departing in a different direction and from a different point along it. And the theme is love; as Ghalib demonstrates, love's insufficiency.

There are a thousand such desires that each would require an entire lifetime;
Many of my wishes have been gratified but even those many were too few.

We have always heard of Adam leaving the primal paradise, but
I was more disgraced when I left your abode.

Drinking has been associated with my name in this period;
Once more, an era has arrived in which Jamshed's cup should appear.

In the more familiar Japanese tradition, each renga-link attempts to select out a single aspect of the statement made in the one previous. The thread selected may be elaboration of the situation in the preceding link, but it is often something less concrete, such as the use of a pair of opposites, association, contrast, juxtaposition, a pun or -- ineffably -- "fragrance." Honoring the principle of change, a different theme is sought for each link as in this renga by L. A. Davidson, Minna Lerman and myself:

rocked to sleep by the sound
at an old seaside resort lad

long afternoon--
marmalade cat among
the red poppies ml

she helps with her grandpop's friends
at the VFW wd

Reflecting its origins as a game, however courtly, renga strives for diversity or wit over the emotional impact which might be obtained through consistent application to a single theme. To be sure, passion has its place in renga -- love verses stand witness; equally, the ghazal is a renowned host to wit. Cultural origins, Japan as compared to Arabia, Persia and India, show through. Passion and wit are given reversed primacy in the two cultural spheres practicing linked verse.

Creativity, rather than passion, is the most highly prized aspect of renga, where a sense of forward motion is always to be maintained.

The name of the form explains much that is different in the character of the ghazal. Aijaz Ahmad, introducing his book, Ghazals of Ghalib: Versions from the Urdu, recounts a winning tale of the word's origin. When a gazelle is finally taken in the hunt, all hope gone, it is said to cry out in its final extremity. The word for this cry is, "ghazal," pronounced, "guzzle." It may have named the beast.

Variously, K. C. Kanda, gives a derivative definition for the word: "speaking to women," or the manner thereof, although it obviously may embrace a manner for women to speak to men. Clearly, in the development and naming of this poetic form, the intention to present utterance in extremity was prominent. Amorous passion is the classical theme of the ghazal. The form has been used to address God.

Here lies an essential difference in linking style between renga and ghazal. Within the Japanese linked-verse sensibility, anything may change from link to link, and this Protean changeability constitutes a virtue. From the Middle Eastern perspective, it seems, any overt feature of the previous couplet may be sacrificed and the wittiness of the diversity will be fully appreciated; the narrator may change or disappear, the scene may shift from active to descriptive; the mood is free to move from anguished to ecstatic to cynical. Yet no change will occur in the abstract theme from which links of a ghazal derive -- among the host of others, the hopelessness of love, foolish affection, absence of the beloved, cruelty of the one who spurns or overt admiration, leading to the formal panegyric. Each couplet will be an example of its theme. And this is the source of linkage between couplets. Mythical figures may give way to philosophical musings, but the instances recounted will all tend to illustrate the thematic axis from which they take departure.

These two manners of disjunctive linking bespeak historical connections, which lace the Eurasian land mass, if they do not unite it.

Currents of language and culture, of which we are just becoming conscious, elsewhere have created richness from diversity.

Article Copyright © William Dennis 1999.

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