How the ghazal traveled from 6th-century Arabia to Persia, India and the English-speaking world

Anisur Rahman: The trajectory of the ghazal is unlike that of any other literary form that has had a history of traversing beyond its spatial confines. A brief tour through the passages of this poetic form and its diverse routes would reveal both its uniqueness and universal appeal. When the ghazal moved out of the Arabian Peninsula, it found a hospitable space in medieval Spain where it was written both in the Arabic and the Hebrew languages. In yet another instance, we have the ghazal reaching out to west African languages like Hausa and Fulfulde.

…It was only when the ghazal reached Persia in the middle of the 8th century that it started developing its own contours even while it did not entirely disengage from the formal patterns of the Arabic ghazals.

…Ali Shir Navai of Afghan descent, who was supposed to be the founder of Uzbek literature, brought it closer to new linguistic habits and exposed it to the extinct Chagatai language of Turkey in the mid-15th century.

…Even though the ghazal in India is sometimes traced back to the 13th century in the works of Amir Khusrau, its Urdu incarnation is rightly identified in Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah towards the latter half of the 16th century, and Vali Deccani in the succeeding century.

…The most remarkable feature of the ghazal in India which stands out quite prominently is that the poets of various linguistic, regional and religious affiliations joined hands to broaden its thematic and stylistic frontiers and impart to it a unique resilience that has stayed with it through all the phases of literary history.

…When the Orient lured Germany in the 19th century, the ghazal reached there with the translations of Persian works. Friedrich Schlegal, an Orientalist who studied Sanskrit, chose to make his bold experiments in this form. His contemporary, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, imitated Persian models, translated ghazals, and wrote under the Oriental influence and published his collection, West-ostliche Divan.

…In modern times, the Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca wrote his ghazals, called gecelos… Adrienne Rich, John Hollander and Robert Bly in America, Jim Harrison, John Thompson, Phyllis Webb and Douglas Barbour in Canada, and Judith Wright in Australia are just a few of the many poets who brought the ghazal to new literary spaces, as they experimented with this form and made way for many others to emulate. More here.

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