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Yasmin -- James Elroy Flecker

       
(Poem #1218) Yasmin
(A Ghazel)

 How splendid in the morning grows the lily: with what grace he throws
 His supplication to the rose: do roses nod the head, Yasmin?

 But when the silver dove descends I find the little flower of friends
 Whose very name that sweetly ends I say when I have said, Yasmin.

 The morning light is clear and cold: I dare not in that light behold
 A whiter light, a deeper gold, a glory too far shed, Yasmin.

 But when the deep red light of day is level with the lone highway,
 And some to Meccah turn to pray, and I toward thy bed, Yasmin;

 Or when the wind beneath the moon in drifting like a soul aswoon,
 And harping planets talk love's tune with milky wings outspread, Yasmin,

 Shower down thy love, O burning bright! For one night or the other night,
 Will come the Gardener in white, and gathered flowers are dead, Yasmin.
-- James Elroy Flecker
Today's wonderfully musical poem is all the more impressive for the ease with
which Flecker handles the difficult form. The ghazal does not fit naturally
into English verse, and attempts to make it do so often end up sounding
strained and artificial - notable, perhaps, for their adherence to the rules of
the game, but at the expense of any real poetic merit.

In 'Yasmin', in delightful contrast, Flecker achieves such an illusion of
effortlessness that the form seems almost native - and a closer look reveals
that this *is* indeed the case. Underlying the lazily meandering couplets and
ubiquitous internal rhymes of the ghazal is the standard 4x4 "ballad metre"
that characterises a good majority of English verse.

The seamless blending of the two forms is amazing - my first reaction to the
poem was "Whoa! So *that's* how it's done". So simple, so obvious - but only
after seeing Flecker in action. I'm by no means saying that this is the One
True Way to write a good, native English ghazal; merely that if I were called
upon to write one, this is how I'd do it. Contrast, for example, Drury's
"Ghazal of the Lagoon" (Poem #1161), a beautiful, atmospheric poem, but one
that seems ever so slightly held back by the form. Flecker takes the form and
makes it sing; the imagery is, perhaps, somewhat lacking when compared to
masterpieces like "The Gates of Damascus", but more, I think, because Flecker
didn't take the poem seriously enough than from any stylistic corner he painted
himself into.

The pedantic will have doubtless already noted that Flecker breaks an important
rule - the first couplet is supposed to have both rhymes ending with the rhyme
and refrain. This is, indeed, a genuine tradeoff caused by Flecker's wish to
have his quatrains-disguised-as-couplets not have a real break between the two
long lines, and one which points strongly to the fact that 'Yasmin' is first
and foremost a poem conforming to the aesthetics of English verse. But so,
note, are Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat, and the latter have vastly overshadowed more
faithful translations that neglected those aesthetics. 'Yasmin' is not quite in
that league, but it is definitely the most unobtrusively natural attempt to
capture the form in English that I've seen.

martin

Links:
  Mark Ryan has listed the main rules of the ghazal form in his commentary on
Poem #1161

151 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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