After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems

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By: Hasan Sijzi

Translated By: Rebecca Gould

Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. 144pp. $17.95, ISBN: 9780810132306

Volume: 5 Issue: 9

September 2017

Review by:

Maryam El-Shall, PhD

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

IL-USA

After Tomorrow the Days Disappear:  Ghazals and Other Poems explores themes of romantic love, spiritual possession, self and other, being and non-being, the contingencies of mortal life, and the social chaos that ensues when all of these elements are entangled.  Ghazal 40, paradigmatic of this thematic versatility, captures this enmeshment and explores its repercussions:

Lacking the ruby of your lips, my eyes filled with secret pearls.
Pupil of the eye, cast your glance again.
Your brow is etched well, as carefully as the mole above.
Your brows form the letter nun, the mole above is its dot.
The doctors legislate that the sick ones suffer from pain.
I will surrender my soul in front of you if you reject this law.
Oh, Layli, you drive your follower’s camels toward the Ka’aba.
You see how the guardians of the shrine are crazier than Majnun.
All the while, Hassan, I bring my eyes and heart in front of you.
My tears are redder than agate.  My heart’s disposition is a hidden door. 

The cry for Layli above draws on the Arabic legend of Layla and Al-Majnun, a love story depicting both the intense desire of young love as well as the mystic’s yearning for union with God as the Beloved..  This thematic doubling is further complicated by the double-entendre attending the word “haram,” (translated as “shrines”) a space designated for worship in one sense and the space where women live in another.  And as the translator of the collection, Rebecca Gould, notes, this intermingling of the spiritual with the romantic is not without consequence for both the seeker and the social order in which he lives:  “When the poet claims in the fourth distich that the guardians of the shrine are crazier than Majnun, he is therefore claiming that such attraction can overturn the social order, so that even the pious find themselves beholden to worldly desire” (xix).

This enmeshment of the romantic, the spiritual, the material, the social betokens the genre:  the ghazal is a form best suited to explorations of the metaphysical.  In this regard, we see the poet’s “Sufi convictions, his love of language, and his desire for life itself” (xxiv) reflected throughout the collection, an ethos which we see again in Ghazal 2.

If the lover does not hold the beloved’s hand
when the beloved is in pain, there’s no use for a doctor.
My pain has crossed the limits of endurance.
Oh, slave!  Arise, and seek the doctor’s note.
Oh, soul, what are the alms of beauty to me?
Or is my misfortune never to receive alms?
Send to me a charm inscribed with sorcery
so that I can bind my rivals’ eyes in the city.
If you go to the temple of faiths in the Friday mosque,
you’ll find a hundred errors in the preacher’s speech.
For the heart that lingers by your door, paradise is only there.
Strangers don’t reside in that person’s city.
Without you, Hasan will find no homeland for his heart.
Without a flower the world is desolate for the nightingale.

Once again we see an ambiguity in longing:  the lover yearns for the beloved; he is sick in both body and soul.  Here too, however, we also see the spiritual longing of one in search of spiritual fulfillment and wholeness.  This longing cannot be fulfilled by the preaching to be found at the Friday mosque, but only through love and beauty—the love and beauty found in the arms of the beloved but also in the signs of Godly benevolence in the world we call home: “Without a flower the world is desolate for the nightingale.”

In the world of Hasan of Delhi, it is also important to note that lyrical poetry (and the emphasis on the ghazal in particular) was central to the revitalization of the mystical tradition in the subcontinent. The spiritual component we find in the set is noteworthy in this regard since, historically, we also begin to see a shift in thematic emphasis from the entanglements of political power to “the verse of mystic union” (xi) during Hasan’s lifetime.

Material reality and spiritual reality are also brought together in the generic variety offered in this set.  The qasida or panegyric ode, also of Arabic origin, as well as the Persian rubiyat are used to remark upon the power shifts taking place at this time:  the Mongol invasion, the collapse of the Baghdad caliphate and the proliferation of dynastic orders across the continent, all of which would have implications for the artist.

We cannot leave this set without also remarking upon the collection’s Quranic inspiration. The mode of address—the invocation of the slave as one in humble submission to the b/Beloved— recalls God’s invocation of Muhammad in Quranic verse, and the interpenetration of the spiritual with the physical we see throughout the collection resonates with the invocation of worldly signs of the divine we find in the Quran, as in verse 37 of Surat Fusilat:

Now among His SIGNS are the night and the day, as well as the sun and the moon: [hence,] adore not the sun or the moon, but prostrate yourselves in adoration before God, who has created them – if it is Him whom you [really] worship.

As in Hasan’s poetry, we see themes of adoration expressed through the body in this verse:  The devout will prostrate in worship of God.   Invocations of night and day, the sun and the moon call the presence/absence of the Beloved who created the night and day, the sun and the moon, as signs of His power. These kinds of celestial images are echoed throughout this collection, as in the first two distiches of Ghazal 34: “I saw a figure the color of the night inscribed on the moon/ I saw the goal of the heart, and the favor of God.”  We also find that the lover invoked in the takhallus of various ghazals is also variously remarked upon as a “slave,” one who is hopeless, bereft, lost and “heartsick” without the b/Beloved.  This, of course, is the pervasive rendering of the human condition without divine guidance we find in Quranic verse.

The collection itself is comprised of 50 ghazals as well as 17 ruba’is or quatrains, 2 qitas or fragments and 1 ode honoring the Shah ‘Ala al-Din.   The innovation of this collection is the marriage of the ghazal form, written here in the Persian of the Indian subcontinent, with Indian narrative content.  While the translator explains her approach to the text, the reader will not be able to assess her linguistic choices since all of the poems in the collection are offered in English.  The translator does, however, provide a detailed appendix denoting variations in the translations to the refrains in prior editions.  The collection also ends with a glossary of key terms and names as well as a thematically organized list for further reading.

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