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Man trifling with
the Ouija board;
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
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
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.
From Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals by Agha Shahid
Ali, Agha Shahid Ali Literary Trust, published by W. W. Norton &
Company, Inc., New York, USA, 2003.
Even the Rain
Agha Shahid Ali
In Contemporary Poets, critic Bruce King remarked that Ali’s
poetry swirls around insecurity and “obsessions [with]
…memory, death, history, family ancestors, nostalgia for a
past he never knew, dreams, Hindu ceremonies, friendships,
and self-consciousness about being a poet.”
~ Bio of Agha Shahid Ali, Poetry Foundation.
[James] Merrill was [Agha Shahid Ali’s] real-life mentor, a
flesh-and-blood friend, and a powerful influence whose
example led Agha both toward the increasing formalism that
opened out onto his embrace of the ghazal, as well as his
guide into death.
~ Jason Schneiderman, "The Loved One Always Leaves: The Poetic
Friendship of Agha Shahid Ali and James Merrill", 2014.
Many of Ali's ghazals reflect the fears and questions of a man
confronting death, and the book can be read as a series of
poignant addresses to friends (including James Tate, Mark
Strand, Dara Weir and other U.S. poets) and elegies for the
self. [Ali died of brain cancer in 2001.]
~ Publishers Weekly Review of Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals,
posthumous publication 2003.
Readers accustomed to the colloquialism of contemporary
American poetry will find Ali’s work, at times, unnatural and
forced, his language overly formal. Moreover, Ali’s poetry is
densely symbolic, requiring second—even third—readings to
decipher. At the same time, Ali’s symbols are fairly ordinary—
water, sea, air, mirror, veil—so decoding feels within reach.
~ Sarah Wetzel-Fishman in her Review of The Veiled Suite: The Collected
Poems by Agha Shahid Ali, published posthumously 2009.
SINGER OF GHAZAL
Born in New Delhi,
India, Ali grew up in
Kashmir where he
attended the University
of Kashmir. Later, he
obtained a Masters in
English Literature at
the University of Delhi.
Arriving in the United
States in 1975, he
earned a Ph.D. in
English at the
University. Then in
1985, he earned an
MFA at the University
Settling in the USA,
he held teaching
positions at several
Ali received numerous
fellowships and awards
and was a finalist for
the National Book
His poetry in both
traditional forms and
free-verse reflects his
Hindu, Muslim, and
His poetry collections
A Walk Through the
Yellow Pages (1987);
A Nostalgist's Map
of America (1991);
The Country Without
a Post Office (1997);
Poems are Never
Call Me Ishmael Tonight:
A Book of Ghazals
and The Veiled Suite
Persian poetic form,
is five or more
unified by rhyme
and common meter.
Each couplet has
both an end-line
called a radif, which
occurs in both lines
of the first couplet
and on the second
line of all following
couplets, and mid-
line rhyme called
a qafiya, which
refrain. The last
couplet, called a
the poet directly in
the second or third
benchmark for the
the ghazal in
English may well
prove to be
contribution to the
canon of English