Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Ghazals of Obama

So, Obama reads Urdu poetry. Or at least he tells people that when he's talking to the Pakistani press. But hell, even if it's all talk (probably isn't), it's still impressive on a PR level (I doubt George W. even knows, or cares, that Urdu poetry exists).

In Pakistan it's not unusual for poetry readings to attract thousands of people. In the United States a poetry reading could easily attract thousands of people -- if the reading was also the Super Bowl.

A lot of Urdu poems are ghazals. I was introduced to the ghazal in Keith Taylor's prosody class at UofM. I even wrote a few of them. Granted, I took my own liberties with the form's rules. I also didn't write in Urdu.

Keith recommended the book The Ghazals of Ghalib, edited by Aijaz Ahmad (1971 Columbia University Press). In it Ahmad does literal translations of Ghalib's work and then American poets including Adrienne Rich, Mark Strand, and W.S. Merwin, do interpretation of those translations. It's a pretty cool project.

Here's one of Ahmad's literal translations of the third ghazal in the book:
Simplicity of our desires! Meaning that
Again we remember her who cast a spell on our eyes.

Life could have passed anyway!
Why did we remember the way on which you tread.

Again, my thoughts go to your street!
But, I remember the heart (my heart) that has been lost (there).

What utter wilderness it is!
Seeing the desert, I remember my house.

In my boyhood (boyishness), Asad, I had once lifted a stone (to throw) at Majnoon;
But, immediately, I remembered my own head.


(-Mirza Ghalib, translated by Aijaz Ahmad fromThe Ghazals of Ghalib, 1971 Columbia University Press).
The last couplet is my favorite and I think it is a fitting one for Obama. Certainly one he should keep in mind as Commander in Chief.

Re: Obama's Urdu poetry love, Jon Stewart is unimpressed.
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1 comment:

Steve said...

Jim Morrison would have been proud.