Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Gifts from Samarkand By Ed Meek : Review of Twenty-One Ghazals translated by Dennis Daly


Gifts from Samarkand
By Ed Meek

Twenty-One Ghazals by Alisher Navoiy
Translated from Uzbek by Dennis Daly
Cervena Barva Press. $18.00

Poet and translator Dennis Daly combines beautiful middle-eastern illustrations with twenty-one ghazals from a well-known Afghani poet of the 15th century, Alisher Navoiy. Navoiy wrote when the Timurid Empire, begun by Tamerlane, was in control of central Asia including Iran, Afghanistan, India, Southern Russia, and Mesopotamia. Like Chaucer, he is known for combining formal and informal language, in this case, Persian and local dialect. Ghazals are written in metered couplets with refrains; they focus on romance and unrequited love.

For a couple of thousand years, people turned to poetry to express their love. Today, love and romance are areas that still seem to fascinate us. Despite the lamentations of the young that romance has died, we seem to long for it more than ever. Today popular music, movies and television, and Hallmark cards are where people usually find their romance fix, yet poetry remains the best vehicle for the expression of ineffable emotions.

Combining the poems with the images of 15th Century illustrations adds to the reading of Navoiy’s poetry. Navoiy included illustrations in his original books, perhaps because poetry has a close affinity with painting. Take this line: “Sunsets sear across the sky, touch the earth with fire.”

In many ways, poetry is closer to painting and photography than to other written forms with its emphasis on imagery and metaphor. At the same time, ghazals have a post-modern element to them. At the end of each poem, the writer brings himself in. “Navoiy, Navoiy, pour out a glass of wine./The sadness of lovers fill up the night.” As for unrequited love: “Isolation robs me of all true happiness.” Therefore, Navoiy advises us: “Take this lesson, avoid the cruelty of love.” Yet he won’t take his own advice. “But in the feast of life, we intone love’s joys.”

Put Twenty-One Ghazals on your list of books to buy this year, or order a copy as a romantic gift for the love, or unrequited love, in your life.

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