Born in 1944, Tehran and grew up as a child on the Isle of Wight, Mimi Khalvati is a poet of Iranian heritage. Though she has passed most of her life in England and obtained education in Switzerland at the University of Neuchâtel, she has never forgotten her cultural heritage, and in most of her works she is always seen to combine her years old heritage with the deep-rooted English literary ideas. She in fact classifies her work as modern British poetry. Around eight collections of poetry, she has published with Carcanet Press, such as The Weather Wheel, The Meanest Flower, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, a Financial Times Book of the Year, and more. Plus, a large number of her works have been translated into nine languages.
Khalvati started writing poetry when she was busy looking after her children. Her first poetry was published in 1991. Khalvati’s Ghazal is an ancient Persian form of poetry that makes use of couplets, which are quite similar to sonnets that have been in use by the European poets. The couplets or sonnets are often part of a larger collection or sequence of poems. Traditionally, couplets or sonnets are used in a poem to express love and longing. They help in expressing an unrequited love, which could either be toward God or the loved one. This type of love is unconditional. A similar type of love has been revealed by Khalvati in her poem, Ghazal. A ghazal is in fact divine by nature. And Khalvati’s poem, Ghazal also brings into light the ardent feeling of lover towards her lover. Written in the first person, this poem reveals the ardent desire of a lover who tries to communicate with her lover as the latter doesn’t respond to her intense emotions. The poet expresses her feelings in metaphor and makes the poem universal.
Structure-wise, the poem Ghazal consists of a sequence of two-line stanzas, which, in the literary term, are known as couplets. While the two lines of the couplets don’t have any rhyming scheme, aside from first and last, the end of each couplet in the poem does, especially through the repetition of the word “me” at the end of each second line. Thus, the poem Ghazal becomes cohesive in structure. Focus made on the word “me” shows that the described love in the poetry is unrequited. Moreover, each line of the poem consists of the same meter—pace.
From the language point of view, the poet has used a lot of natural imagery and metaphors to explore her love and relationship with her lover. The poem is a blend of things that naturally go together. It is unequal. All through the poem, she has described her lover as greater than her, exploiting hyperbolic and exaggerated ideas. Moreover, there are several stages that the poet describes to reach the conclusion, such as the use of turn to volta toward the end as is normally found in a sonnet. While there are many positive ideas in the poem, the feeling of love and longing suggested by the poet in Ghazal are negative. The distinct images reveal more of the pain than the pleasure of love. Thus, some believe the poem is written beautifully and expressively, while others say that the poem shows the desperation and submissiveness of the poet toward her lover, and it doesn’t have assertiveness. But I believe love is what cannot be defined. It is both; sweeter and bitter. It is sometimes submissive and at times overpowering. In all, love is fair in every condition.
If I am the grass and you the breeze, blow through me.
If I am the rose and you the bird, then woo me.
One of the most important things the readers notice in the poem, which can be read in full here, from first to the last line is that the poet does not create any kind of history and introduction. She is very open about love, and simply makes demands from her lover by commanding that if I am the grass and you are the breeze, just blow through me. The use of words like “breeze” and “blow” by the poet though creates an effect of the power of love, yet love is destructive and harsh. And the imperative (command) expressed through “blow through me” reveals that the female persona in the poem is the controller as she is commanding her lover here. But the use of “woo me” indicates the passiveness of the female persona and the activeness of the male persona. In order to express her love towards her lover, the poet has taken the help of natural imagery, such as “grass” “breeze”, which tells that love is perfect like nature, love is natural, love is tranquil like nature, and love is simple and sweet.
Through these two lines, the poet becomes a little open and expresses her sexual desire when she says that do not hesitate, do not shy, just go one step ahead than me. I don’t want you to hang on my lips, just do whatever you want to do with me sexually. I am madly in love with you. I am all yours, just go ahead as you get a hint from me. Ghazal is shaped in couplets and produces images in pairs. There is pairing of images, such as “rhyme and I the refrain”, while through the lines like “come and I’ll come too when you cue me” and “blow through me” the poet expresses her sexual innuendo. This is a pure romance filled with courtly love.
If yours is the iron fist in the velvet glove
when the arrow flies, the heart is pierced, tattoo me.
These are the lines where the poet describes love as destructive, violent, dangerous, dark, dominant, strong, passionate, painful, and private. In order to show this aspect of love, the poet has used very powerful imagery, such as “iron fist” “arrow flies” “tattoo me” but the use of “heart is pierced” indicates the romantic form of love. This way, love is both; bitter and sweeter.
Through these lines, we come to know that the lover (poet) wants to be subdued by any means. She says to use every possible magic and charm to win me, satisfy me, and get me. If I spit venom through my tongue, become a charmer, and use your charm to spellbind me so that I can be subdued and satisfied.
If I am the laurel leaf in your crown, you are
the arms around my bark, arms that never knew me.
Through these lines, we come to know the craving of the poet to reach her beloved. Here the poet says that though our relationship and love is intense, but it is hard to reach. The poet, ‘laurel leaf in your crown’ presents herself victorious for her beloved. In order to show her victory over her beloved, she uses the imagery of laurel leaves, which once used to be an indication of victory for the Roman emperors who were awarded these leaves after a very long struggle with their enemy. The poet says no matter how difficult our relationship and love is, it will be rewarded when he ‘places his arms around her bark’. Besides, the poet has used the metaphorical language of the ‘tree’, which implies that love never dies, it is everlasting and solid. However, when we notice the words like ‘arms never new’ it seems as if the lover is just dreaming about a physical relationship and all her words are just a spur of her ardent feeling of love rather than being based on facts.
Through these lines of Ghazal, the poet expresses her wishes, saying if I were an old bark, but still a fresh leaf, you should have been a dew to wet me and made me fresh as a leaf. She says that she feels young in her presence, but the kind of unrequited love he shows towards her is not acceptable to her. She wishes for attention from him and wants to be watered regularly so that she can be fresh and wet in her love.
What shape should I take to marry your own, have you
– hawk to my shadow, moth to my flame – pursue me?
These couplets suggest that the poet can change herself to suit his desires; she can be as he wants to get him. Though these lines show strong love between the poet and her beloved, it is not a strong sense of self. However, through the lines like ‘hawk to my shadow, moth my flame – pursue me?’ the poet seems to be deviating from her passion. Here, she is found to be a little broken and dejected when she says that if I can change myself for you, can you also change yourself for me. Will you be hawk to my shadow, moth my flame, and pursue me to get united. From a language point of view, the poet has used pun through word like “marry”, which means getting united of two people fitting or suiting each other.
Through these lines, the poet suggests that love is sacrifice; love means living and dying for each other. She says we may be separated by dying in different directions, but that separation must not affect our love. She says no matter where and when you die, just leave your ghost for my shake, my love, and renew me every night. Through the words like “every night renew me”, the poet expresses her sexual innuendo. Besides, the lines also suggest that if her beloved dies for her, they may be able to live and love again and get renewed every time through their physical intimacy.
If, when it ends, we are just good friends, be my Friend,
muse, lover and guide, Shamsuddin to my Rumi.
These are the lines, where the poet imagines that if their love comes to an end, and if their love is not eternal, he should just be her good friend, muse lover, and guide, but they must not be separated at any cost and during any condition. Here, the poet imagines her relationship; she goes so far ahead in her fantasy that she can even think of being parted and separated. Here, she also remembers those great Persian poets who invented ghazals. She actually gives a tribute to their contribution to the world of poetry, and expects her beloved, when they are separated, to guide her like Shamsuddin to my Rumi.
Be heaven and earth to me and I’ll be twice the me
I am, if only half the world you are to me.
These two last lines of Ghazal are very contradictory. This is because, from the very start of the poem, the poet says that her beloved is everything for her, she is all for him, and he is all for her, she can do anything to fit her desire and suit her needs, he is all heaven and earth for her. But as she comes to an end, she says “if only half the world you are to me.”
On the other hand, the male character in the poem tries to bring out the best in her and make her more than she is. Perhaps she is not as infatuated as he is. No matter whether he gives all himself to her or not she will still give herself to him twice.
Ghazal, by Mimi Khalvati, is one such poem that does not teach me anything about love. But still, this is one of those poems, which brings to light many different aspects of love. Though a lot of poems have already best-defined love, the use of couplets by a poet like Khalvati is really appreciable, and I believe this is only what makes this poem stand apart from the rest others. The poem is also full of literary terms and tools, but it really does not impress me as the poetry of John Donne, Shakespeare, Keats, Yeats, and William Wordsworth have already done with their beautiful and fantastic use of imagery and metaphors.