“Even the Rain” by Agha Shahid Ali, Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals by Agha Shahid Ali, Ghazal poetic form, Kashmiri-American Poet Agha Shahid Ali, Purple Rain by American Photographer Adam Rose, Symbolism of Rain
Purple Rain – California Collection – 11 x 14 matted
Adam Rose Photography
My Poetry Corner June 2015 features the poem “Even the Rain” by Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001). This poem is part of his final poetry collection, Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals, published posthumously in 2003, following his death from brain cancer in December 2001.
The ghazal, a Persian poetic form, is five or more thematically unrelated couplets connected through rhyme and repetition. The opening couplet sets up the scheme of rhyme and refrain by having it occur in both lines. The rhyme immediately precedes the refrain. In the following couplets, this scheme of rhyme and refrain only occurs in the second line. The last couplet names the poet directly in the second or third person.
Ali’s opening couplet in “Even the Rain” sets up the refrain, even the rain, and the rhyme (preceding the refrain) knot and bought for the following twelve couplets.
What will suffice for a true-love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain.
Ali’s first thought is the grief of a lost love. As he shared in an interview: “At a personal level the rain brings so much memory back to me, especially of some very important love relationships I have had.”
Not surprisingly, his third couplet is about death. In April 2001, after some fourteen months of treatment for a malignant brain tumor, he was aware of his approaching death, after which even the importance of rain in our lives becomes meaningless.
After we died – That was it! – God left us in the dark.
And as we forgot the dark, we forgot even the rain.
In his fourth couplet, after the dry season or drought, rain quenches our thirst. Rain is the life-giving force.
Drought was over. Where was I? Drinks were on the house.
For mixers, my love, you’d poured – what? – even the rain.
Shahid Ali loved cooking for his friends. He spent his last days entertaining his friends – poets, students, writers, and relatives – at his Brooklyn apartment.
To me, his eight couplet expresses his longing for his mother who died from a brain tumor in 1997. The thought of reuniting with her after death gave him solace.
After the bones – those flowers – this was found in the urn:
The lost river, ashes from the ghat, even the rain?
Ali’s penultimate couplet takes us to New York, his beloved city during the last years of his life, where the rain links the beginning of life in India with his final resting place in his adopted homeland.
New York belongs at daybreak to only me, just me –
to make this claim Memory’s brought even the rain.
“Even the Rain” evoked the myriad ways, both good and bad, that the rain has touched my life, connecting me to people, places, and events.
You can read the complete poem and learn more about Agha Shahid Ali and his work at my Poetry Corner June 2015.