Glossary G

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Universal Elements of Poetry


Georgians: A group of British poets during the early 20th century devoted to everyday life and language. The name was taken from the newly crowned George V (1910). When the Poetry Bookshop published a collection titled Georgian Poetry, the preface read: “This volume is issued in the belief that English poetry is now once again putting on a new strength and beauty which may take rank in due time with the several great poetic ages of the past.” Unfortunately many critics did not agree and labeled Georgian poetry as “prosaic, lifeless, and lackluster...an Indian Summer of Romanticism”. But not quite true, Walter de la Mare came as near the fancies and hearts of childhood memories as did R. L. Stevenson. Masefield tended the ear of the masses through romantic ballads. Others divulged the realism of war. They revived the rhythms and form of past poets Tennyson and Wordsworth and thus could be fairly described as “looking back” in style and form. The animal quatrains of Saki: dog, goldfish, and cat survive today in collections of children’s poetry. Yes, there was banality, there was trivial sentimentality and coarseness, but there was also beauty. Today’s critics would hardly call Rupert Brooke’s The Old Vicarage or Grantchester “lifeless”,

...you may lie Day long and watch the Cambridge sky,
and flower-hulled in sleepy grass
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass...
...yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

And his Living the Best Unsaids, where critics were more upset by ending a poem with a subordinate clause than with the use of understatement and the tercet.

Apparent on an earlier page,
With fallen obelisk for colophon,
Must this be here repeated?

Death has been ruefully announced
And to die once is death enough,
Be sure, for any lifetime.

Must the book end, as you would end it,
With testamentary appendices
And graveyard indices?

But no, I will not lay me down
To let your tearful music mar
The decent mystery of my progress.

So now, my solemn ones, leaving the rest unsaid,
Rising in air as on a gander’s wings
At a careless comma,

Members of this group are Edward Marsh 1872-1953 (editor of Rupert Booke’s Collected Poems in 1918), Lascelles Abercrombie, 1881-1938; Hilaire Belloc, 1870-1953; Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915; W. H. Davies, 1871-1940; John Drinkwater, 1882-1937; James Elroy Flecker, 1884-1915; Harold Monro (Saki), 1879-1932; Wilfred Gibson, 1878-1962; Robert Graves, 1895-1985; Walter de a Mare, 1873-1956; Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967); Edward Thomas (1878-1917); John Masefield (1878-1867) and Seumas O’Sullivan (1879-1958, editor of The Dublin).

ghazal - The name of a poetic form with strict rhyme and rhythm of Middle East origin. The ghazal has a specific form, it is composed of a minimum of five shers (couplets). The second line of each sher or couplet usually ends with the repetition of a refrain of one or more words known as a radif, preceded by a rhyme known as the qaafiyaa. In Arabic, Persian, Turkish and their dialects it us called a bayt or misra. In the first couplet, both lines end in the rhymed and refrain. To make is simple think of aa,ba,ca,da and so forth. Each couplet must be a complete sentence, no enjambment, and must share the same meter.

The second fixed characteristic is that it deals with just one subject: love, actually illicit or unattainable love. It contains mysticism as love is viewed as something that will complete a human being, lift the person into ranks of the wise thus satisfy the soul. We should point out that a characteristic of the ghazal poem is to include the poets name somewhere in the text. Here is an example with translation from Amir Khusro's Nami danam chi manzil buud shab:

nemidanam che manzel bood shab jayi ke man boodam;
be har soo raghse besmel bood shab jayi ke man boodam.

pari peykar negari sarv ghadi laleh rokhsari;
sarapa afat-e del bood shab jayi ke man boodam.

I wonder what was the place where I was last night,
All around me were half-slaughtered victims of love, tossing about in agony.

The form has roots in seventh-century Arabia, and rose to popularity as a sung form in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century led by Persian poets, Rumi and Hafiz. In the eighteenth-century, Ghalib wrote from Northern India in Persian. It spread throughout the world and in other languages Hindi, Pashto, Turkish, and Hebrew. In the western world the philosopher Goethe in Germany and Federico Garcia Lorca of Spain experimented with the form.

Those of us on campus in the 1960's were introduced to the ghazal by the Indian musician, Ravi Shankar. He popularized the ghazal in the English-speaking world during that era. However, it was the poet Agha Shahid Ali who introduced it, in its classical form, to Americans. Ali compared each ghazal couplet to "a stone from a necklace," which should continue to "shine in that vivid isolation."

Here is Ali's ghazal Even the Rain. Note the author's name in the last couplet:

What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief's lottery, bought even the rain.

"our glosses wanting in this world" "Can you remember?"
Anyone! "when we thought the poets taught" even the rain?

After we died--That was it!--God left us in the dark.
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.

Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.
For mixers, my love, you'd poured--what?--even the rain.

Of this pear-shaped orange's perfumed twist, I will say:
Extract Vermouth from the bergamot, even the rain.

How did the Enemy love you--with earth? air? and fire?
He held just one thing back till he got even: the rain.

This is God's site for a new house of executions?
You swear by the Bible, Despot, even the rain?

After the bones--those flowers--this was found in the urn:
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain.

What was I to prophesy if not the end of the world?
A salt pillar for the lonely lot, even the rain.

How the air raged, desperate, streaming the earth with flames--
to help burn down my house, Fire sought even the rain.

He would raze the mountains, he would level the waves,
he would, to smooth his epic plot, even the rain.

New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me--
to make this claim Memory's brought even the rain.

They've found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.

The ghazal needs to be understood in the context of Sufi spiritual beliefs. All the major historical post-Islamic poets were either Sufis or supporters of Sufi ideas. That is, the Beloved is a metaphor for God who is the poet's spiritual master.

Here is a ghazal in English which observes the traditional restrictions of the form:

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from raptures road will you expel tonight?

Those Fabrics of Cashmere-- to make Me beautiful--
Trinket-- to gem Me to adorn How tell-- tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

Gods vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar
All the archangels their wings frozen fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Dont let us be broken
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

Hes freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
Hes left open for God the doors of Hell tonight.

In the hearts veined temple, all statues have been smashed
No priest in saffrons left to toll its knell tonight

God, limit these punishments, theres still Judgment Day
Im a mere sinner, Im no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, Ill bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love youve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight. (Agha Shahid Ali)

In the year 2000, Wesleyan University Press published the world's first anthology of English-language ghazals compiled and edited by Agha Shahid Ali. Here is one of the entries:

The Wolf's Postcript to 'Little Red Riding Hood' 2003

First, grant me my sense of history:
I did it for posterity, for kindergarten teachers and a clear moral:

Little girls shouldn't wander off in search of strange flowers,
and they mustn't speak to strangers.

And then grant me my generous sense of plot:
Couldn't I have gobbled her up right there in the jungle?

Why did I ask her where her grandma lived? As if I, a forest-dweller, didn't know of the cottage under the three oak trees

and the old woman lived there all alone?
As if I couldn't have swallowed her years before?

And you may call me the Big Bad Wolf, now my only reputation.
But I was no child-molester though you'll agree she was pretty.

And the huntsman: Was I sleeping while he snipped my thick black fur
and filled me with garbage and stones?

I ran with that weight and fell down, simply so children could laugh
at the noise of the stones cutting through my belly,

at the garbage spilling out with a perfect sense of timing,
just when the tale should have come to an end.

gnomic poetry - Also aphoristic: also maxims; didactic in style; couplets in form. From the Greek “opinion”. Thus a Gnome is a brief opinion pertaining to the manners, and customary practices of the culture i.e. what should or should not be done. It may express a physical truth, announce a moral law, or uphold an ethical ideal. The language may be literal or figurative. Chinese classics are noteworthy for their pedantic character. The Shih or book of poetry which includes pieces from 1766 BC to 586 BC is filled with selections of a gnomic lyric quality. In it occur warnings present in other literature, "Be apprehensive," "Be cautious." From the The Shih we find an ode entitled the Songs of the Five Sons that contains such lines as "The people are the root of a country," and "The ruler of men should be reverent of his duties."

We find this type of verse as early as the 6th century from the Greek poets Solon (630-560 BC), Simonides (556-468 BC), Alcaeus (595-611?BC), Theognis (570-490 BC), and the Latin Petronius (27-66 AD). In early Germanic and Anglo-Saxon writing, some examples are “In fleeing the ashes, he’s fallen into the coals.” Alcaeus in Apostolius the modern version would be “from the frying pan into the fire.” In The Elegies of Theognis (number 220 Sententiae) “keep to the middle of the path without swerving to either side” in modern translation “moderation in all things.”

Graveyard school - The name given to 18th century British pre-romantic poetry about death, sorrow, and bereavement. Mostly didactic and written in blank verse. Best examples were written by Edward Young (1683-1765) , Thomas Gray (1716-1771), and Robert Blair (1699-1746).

Young’s Night Thoughts is a nocturnal meditation on the mysteries of death and immortality, perfect timing for the morbid, spiritual eighteenth century. It is filled with masonic symbolism, and moral, religious aspects of death. Each night of verse is dedicated to some cause or personage. For example Night the first is dedicated to the Speaker of the House of Commons:

Tired Natures sweet restorer, balmy Sleep!
He, like the world, his ready visit pays
Where Fortune smiles; the wretched he forsakes;
Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,
And lights on lids unsullied with a tear.
From short (as usual) and disturb’d repose,
I wake: how happy they, who wake no more!
Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the grave.
I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams
Tumultuous; where my wreck’d desponding thought
From wave to wave of fancied misery
At random drove, her helm of reason lost.
Though now restored, tis only change of pain,
(A bitter change!) severer for severe:
The day too short for my distress; and night,
Even in the zenith of her dark domain,
Is sunshine to the colour of my fate.
Night, sable goddess! from her ebon throne,
In rayless majesty, now stretches forth
Her leaden sceptre o’er a slumbering world.
Silence, how dead! and darkness, how profound!
Nor eye, nor listening ear, an object finds;
Creation sleeps. Tis as the general pulse
Of life stood still, and nature made a pause;
An awful pause! prophetic of her end.
And let her prophecy be soon fulfill’d;
Fate! drop the curtain; I can lose no more.
Silence and darkness: solemn sisters! twins
From ancient Night, who nurse the tender thought
To reason, and on reason build resolve
(That column of true majesty in man),
Assist me: I will thank you in the grave.

Blair’s The Grave (1743) is a long, scary unrhymed verse. Good classroom read for Halloween:

While some affect the sun, and some the shade.
Some flee the city, some the hermitage;
Their aims as various, as the roads they take
In journeying thro' life; the task be mine,
To paint the gloomy horrors of the tomb;
Th' appointed place of rendezvous, where all
These travellers meet.Thy succours I implore,
Eternal King! whose potent arm sustains
The keys of Hell and Death. The Grave, dread thing!
Men shiver when thou'rt named: Nature appall'd
Shakes off her wonted firmness. Ah ! how dark
The long-extended realms, and rueful wastes!
Where nought but silence reigns, and night, dark night,
Dark as was chaos, ere the infant Sun
Was roll'd together, or had tried his beams
Athwart the gloom profound. The sickly taper,
By glimm'ring thro' thy low-brow'd misty vaults,
(Furr'd round with mouldy damps, and ropy slime)
Lets fall a supernumerary horror,
And only serves to make thy night more irksome.
Well do I know thee by thy trusty yew,
Cheerless, unsocial plant! that loves to dwell
'Midst skulls and coffins, epitaphs and worms:
Where light-heel'd ghosts, and visionary shades,
Beneath the wan, cold moon (as fame reports)
Embodied thick, perform their mystic rounds,
No other merriment, dull tree! is thine.

See yonder hallow'd fane; the pious work
Of names once fam'd, now dubious or forgot,
And buried midst the wreck of things which were;
There lie interr'd the more illustrious dead.
The wind is up: hark! how it howls! Methinks,
'Till now, I never heard a sound so dreary:
Doors creak, and windows clap, and night's foul bird,
Rook'd in the spire, screams loud; the gloomy aisles
Black plaster'd, and hung round with shreds f 'scutcheons,
And tatter'd coats of arms, send back the sund,
Laden with heavier airs, from the low vaults,
The mansions of the dead. Rous'd from their slumbers,
In grim array the grisly spectres rise,
Grin horrible, and, obstinately sullen,
Pass and repass, hush'd as the foot of night.
Again the screech-owl shrieks ungracious sound!
I'll hear no more; it makes one's blood run chill.

Quite round the pile, a row of reverend elms,
(Coeval near with that) all ragged show,
Long lash'd by the rude winds. Some rift half down
Their branchless trunks; others so thin at top,
That scarce two crows can lodge in the same tree.
Strange things, the neighbours say, have happen'd here;
Wild shrieks have issued from the hollow tombs;
Dead men have come again, and walk'd about;
And the great bell has toll'd, unrung, untouch'd.
(Such tales their cheer at wake or gossipping,
When it draws near to witching time of night.)

Oft in the lone church yard at night I've seen,
By glimpse of moonshine chequering thro' the trees,
The school boy, with his satchel in his hand,
Whistling aloud to bear his courage up,
And lightly tripping o'er the long flat stones,
(With nettles skirted, and with moss o'ergrown,)
That tell in homely phrase who lie below.
Sudden he starts, and hears, or thinks he hears,
The sound of something purring at his heels;
Full fast he flies, and dare not look behind him,
'Till, out of breath, he overtakes his fellows,
Who gather round and wonder at the tale
Of horrid apparition tall and ghastly,
That walks at dead of night, or takes his stand
O'er some new-open'd grave; and (strange to tell!)
Evanishes at crowing of the cock.
The new-made widow, too, I've sometimes 'spy'd,
Sad sight! slow moving o'er the prostrate dead:
Listless, she crawls along in doleful black,
While bursts of sorrow gush from either eye,
Fast falling down her now untasted cheek,
Prone on the lowly grave of the dear man
She drops; while busy meddling memory,
In barbarous succession, musters up
The past endearments of their softer hours,
Tenacious of its theme. Still, still she thinks
She sees him, and indulging the fond thought,
Clings yet more closely to the senseless turf,
Nor heeds the passenger who looks that way.

Invidious Grave! how dost thou rend in sunder
Whom love has knit, and sympathy made one?
A tie more stubborn far than Nature's band.
Friendship! mysterious cement of the soul,
Sweet'ner of life, and solder of society,
I owe thee much. Thou hast deserv'd from me,
Far, far beyond what I can ever pay.
Oft have I prov'd the labours of thy love,
And the warm efforts of the gentle heart,
Anxious to please. Oh! when my friend and I
In some thick wood have wander'd heedless on,
Hid from the vulgar eye, and sat us down
Upon the sloping cowslip-cover'd bank,
Where the pure limpid stream has slid along
In grateful errors thro' the underwood,
Sweet murmuring; methought the shrill-tongued thrush
Mended his song of love; the sooty blackbird
Mellow'd his pipe, and soften'd every note:
The eglantine smell'd sweeter, and the rose
Assum'd a dye more deep; whilst ev'ry flower
Vied with its fellow-plant in luxury
Of dress--Oh! then the longest summer's day
Seem'd too too much in haste; still the full heart
Had not imparted half: 'twas happiness
Too exquisite to last. Of joys departed,
Not to return, how painful the remembrance!

Thomas Gray’s An Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is considered by some critics to be the greatest elegaic poem written in the 18th century.


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Appendix