‘Gardens of Babur, Kabul’ by Aria Aber concerns the gardens constructed by the Mughal emperor Babur in Kabul, Afghanistan. The ramification of the natural beauty into the physical desire of the speaker is the essence of the poem.
Aria Aber, a modern poet based in California, talks about the longing of her heart while she roams inside the historic site mentioned in ‘Gardens of Babur, Kabul’. This poem concerns deep romanticism as well as the physical desires of the poetic persona. Nature becomes a medium to feel the absence of one’s loved one in this piece. Moreover, the imagery of Babur’s garden, people busy in their activities, and the speaker ruminating on her lover’s thoughts make this poem more interesting for readers. Though sexuality is an important component of the poem, it portrays the motivation as an organic hunger emanating from nature.
This poem presents a description of the walled garden of Babur, situated in Kabul, Afghanistan. The marble walls give a cold sensation to the speaker’s heart. Moreover, the natural setting lits warm desires of her heart. Therefore, she starts to miss her lover many “time zones away.” She remembers the tangy taste she felt after having sex. Thereafter, the speaker describes what others are doing in the garden. The image of a man wiping oil on bread, makes her feel hungry. But her hunger is rather the sexual one. Only her lover can quench her thirst.
You can read the full poem here.
The overall poem consists of seven couplets. Being a modern poem, it does not contain a specific rhyme scheme. The free-verse lyric moves flawlessly due to the presence of internal rhymings. The quickness of the poem and the slowness of the poet describing her inner world as well as the external one, grip a reader until the end. Apart from that, the poet writes this poem from a first-person point-of-view. Hence, it is an example of a love lyric. Moreover, this poem does not follow the conventional metrical scheme. Aber mostly uses the iambic meter with a mixture of spondees and trochees.
Aber’s poem ‘Gardens of Babur, Kabul’ is rich in the use of imagery. This device helps the poet to depict the workings of her mind and the external beauty of the garden as well. Thereafter, one comes across a personification in the line, “I grow/ defenseless against desire.” Here, the poet uses a metaphor, comparing her “desire” to an enemy. The phrase, “time zones away” is a metonym of distance. Aber uses another metaphor in the line, “My eye is a slow thief.” This line also sounds like an ironic statement. However, it is about the inability of the speaker to keep up her pace with the happenings outside her heart. She uses a simile in the line, “its green intelligence like calligraphy.” The last couplet of this poem contains repetition and asyndeton.
In the walled garden, surrounded by cold marble
myself remembering your scent, time zones away,
This beautiful modern lyric, ‘Gardens of Babur, Kabul’ begins with a description of the garden. The Garden of Babur or “Bagh-e Babur” is a historic place in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was the final resting place of the first Mughal emperor Babur. Whatsoever the speaker of the poem refers to the walled garden. The cold marble walls and the rows of lime trees make her nostalgic. Nature taps on her soft heart and lits the lamp of desire, compelling her mind to think about her lover. For this reason, she grows defenseless against her bodily desires. Here, the poet uses hyperbole for emphasizing how much she longs for the touch of her partner.
“Touch”, though sounds something superficial, for true lovers, the warmth of the skin, not only soothes the heart it also gives an inexpressible satisfaction. Those who have truly loved, not with their bodies, but with their souls, can understand this priceless phenomenon. However, the longing for the touch makes her almost touch herself remembering the way her lover touches her. Suddenly, she can smell the “scent” of her lover, like a butterfly senses even if it is far away from a flower. In her case, her lover is also “time zones away”, meaning residing in a different country.
clean first, then that sourness
lifts from her lover’s hair a praying mantis,
The poet makes use of enjambment extensively in this poem. Therefore one can find the use of this device at the very beginning of this section. Previously, the speaker has told how the scent maddens her soul, taping each to each rhythm of her lover’s heart. In this section, she remembers how they make love. It is clean at first. However, after having intercourse in a heightened state, it brings a tangy taste to her tongue. It seems that here the poet is using sexual innuendo.
Thereafter, the poetic persona suddenly zooms out from her inner sphere and zooms into the surroundings. As she is in a heightened level of sexual craving, her eyes become slow to capture the external scenes. Hence, she uses the metaphor of a “slow thief”. Thereafter, she goes on capturing what others are doing in the garden gradually and slowly coming out of her inner world.
its green intelligence like calligraphy
because it is you who hungers me.
In the last section of ‘Gardens of Babur, Kabul’, the poet again uses enjambment and connects the first line with the previous section. Here, she compares the physical beauty of the insect to “calligraphy”. It seems that the poet is referring to the creator as a calligrapher. Moreover, she says the insect on her hand appears to be calligraphy on a piece of paper. Thereafter, she presents an auditory and visual image of the children screaming about in the garden.
Thereafter, she records the activity of a man who is wiping oil on bread. In this couplet, the poet uses a rhetorical question or interrogation. It seems as if here the poet is alluding to the war-ridden state of Afghanistan. According to her people still, go on with their course of life even if the atmosphere is heated with war. Here, one can find an echo to the poem, ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’ by W. H. Auden. The poet asks this question to her lover.
In the last couplet, she expresses that inside the garden she feels free. She becomes perpetual in the natural setting as it is only the thoughts of her beloved that hungers her body and soul.
In this poem ‘Gardens of Babur, Kabul’, Aria Aber refers to the historic park, the Garden of Babur. The Mughal emperor Babur ordered the construction around 1528. He gave orders for constructing an “avenue garden” in Kabul. It was the tradition of Mughals to build sites for recreation and pleasure during their lifetime, and choose one such place as a resting-place. Apart from that, Aber was born to Afghan refugees and raised in Germany. So her tone in this poem is somewhat nostalgic for her native land. The garden seems to be a source of inspiration as well as a stimulant of her desires.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Aria Aber’s poem ‘Gardens of Babur, Kabul’.
- Dove, Interrupted by Lucie Brock-Broido – In this image-rich poem, the poet presents the themes of missing one’s lover, sadness, longing, and desires.
- A Poem of Changgan by Li Bai – This poem is about a girl’s longing for her beloved who has left for a journey.
- Nostalgia by Carol Ann Duffy – It’s one of best poems of Duffy. In this poem, the poet explores the theme of nostalgia and how one misses his family.
- Imaginary Conversation by Linda Pastan – This poem is about an imaginary conversation between the speaker and her husband. This poem can be read as a complementary piece to Aber’s poem for understanding the condition of the speakers in different situations.