Agha Shahid Ali

Agha Shahid Ali Poems

First, grant me my sense of history:
I did it for posterity,
for kindergarten teachers
and a clear moral:

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?"

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”—to gem—“Me to adorn—How tell”—tonight?

This dream of water-what does it harbor?
I see Argentina and Paraguay
under a curfew of glass, their colors
breaking, like oil. The night in Uruguay

From a district near Jammu,
(Dogri stumbling through his Urdu)
he comes, the victim of a continent broken
in two in nineteen forty-seven.

I’ll do what I must if I’m bold in real time.
A refugee, I’ll be paroled in real time.

Cool evidence clawed off like shirts of hell-fire?
A former existence untold in real time ...

The moon did not become the sun.
It just fell on the desert
in great sheets, reams
of silver handmade by you.

In the mirror, the hand hacks at my skin
It belongs to the child who used his father's
blades for sharpening pencils, playing murder.

My ancestor, a man
of Himalayan snow,
came to Kashmir from Samarkand,
carrying a bag

At dawn you leave. The river wears its skin of light.
And I traced love’s loss to the origin of light.

“I swallow down the goodbyes I won’t get to use.”
At grief’s speed she waves from a palanquin of light.

Those intervals
between the day’s
five calls to prayer


Swear by the olive in the God-kissed land—
There is no sugar in the promised land.

Why must the bars turn neon now when, Love,
I’m already drunk in your capitalist land?


The rain dissolves its liquid bones
Humming the wind, the lightning grazes
the skin. A cloud descends :
My eye is vapour, this, the dream's downpour

Nostalgic for Baba's youth,
I make you return
his wasted generation:

You who will find the dark fossils of paisleys
one afternoon on the peaks of Zabarvan -
Trader from an ancient market of the future,

(In Lenox Hill Hospital, after surgery,
my mother said the sirens sounded like the
elephants of Mihiragula when his men drove
them off cliffs in the Pir Panjal Range.)

on the wall the dense ivy of executions
We shall meet again, in Srinagar,
by the gates of the Villa of Peace,

"Each ray of sunshine is seven minutes old,"
Serge told me in New York one December night.

"So when I look at the sky, I see the past?"
"Yes, Yes,' he said. "especially on a clear day."

Efficient as Fate,
each eye a storm trooper,

Agha Shahid Ali Biography

Agha Shahid Ali (Kashmiri: आग़ा शाहिद अली, آغا شاہِد علی;) was a Kashmiri American poet. He grew up in Kashmir, the son of a distinguished and highly educated family in Srinagar. He attended the University of Kashmir, the University of Delhi and, upon arriving in the United States in 1975, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Arizona. Though a Kashmiri Muslim, Ali is best known in the U.S. and identified himself as an American poet writing in English. The recipient of numerous fellowships and awards and a finalist for the National Book Award, he taught at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Princeton College and in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College. At the time of his death in 2001, Ali was noted as a poet uniquely able to blend multiple ethnic influences and ideas in both traditional forms and elegant free-verse. His poetry reflects his Hindu, Muslim, and Western heritages. 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.” Known particularly for his dexterous allusions to European, Urdu, Arabic and Persian literary traditions, Ali’s poetry collections revolve around both thematic and cultural poles. The scholar Amardeep Singh has described Ali’s style as “ghazalesque,” referring to Ali’s frequent use of the form as well as his blending of the “rhythms and forms of the Indo-Islamic tradition with a distinctly American approach to storytelling. Most of his poems are not abstract considerations of love and longing,” Singh noted, “but rather concrete accounts of events of personal importance (and sometimes political importance).” Though Ali began publishing in the early 1970s, it was not until A Walk Through the Yellow Pages (1987) that he received widespread recognition. King characterized that book as “a surreal world of nightmare, fantasy, incongruity, wild humor, and the grotesque. Although the existential anxieties have their source in problems of growing up, leaving home, being a migrant, and the meeting of cultures, the idiom is American and contemporary.” Ali’s next book, A Nostalgist’s Map of America (1991), relates a series of travels through landscapes often blurred between his current American home and memories of his boyhood in Kashmir. King contended that such “imagination links past and present, America and India, Islamic and American deserts, American cities and former American Indian tribes, modern deserts and prehistoric oceans,” adding “there is a highly profiled language of color, paradoxes, oxymora, and other means to lift the poems into the lyrical and fanciful.” Ali’s next books were widely praised. The poem originally called “Kashmir Without a Post Office” was published as the title poem in The Country Without a Post Office (1997). Taking its impetus from the 1990 Kashmiri uprising against India, which led to political violence and closed all the country’s post offices for seven months, Ali’s long poem is considered one of his masterpieces. Built on association and repetition rather than straightforward narrative logic, the poem is filled with recurring phrases and images. Ali dedicated it to his life-long friend James Merrill. Joseph Donahue, reviewing Ali’s posthumous collected volume The Veiled Suite (2009) for Bookforum described The Country Without a Post Office as “the first of the two volumes that form the peak of his achievement.” In the book, Donahue explained, “the poet envisions the devastation of his homeland, moving from the realm of the personal to an expansive poetry that maintains an integrity of feeling in the midst of political violence and tragedy. Kashmir is vividly evoked, all the more so for retaining an element of the fantastic.” Rooms Are Never Finished (2001) similarly yokes political and personal tragedy, again with a long poem as its focal point. Ali used a line from Emily Dickinson as the title for “Amherst to Kashmir,” a poem that explores his grief at his mother’s death and his own continued sense of exile from his home and culture. Noting how Ali continually stitches his work from cultural, political and personal events, Donahue described the poem as “a cultural inquiry as well as a personal lament. Ali threads the story of the martyrdom of the Shia hero Hussain throughout his elegy, keeping the history and hope of transcendental violence always before us, drawing strength from the strain of esoteric Islam that runs through his work.” Ali was a noted writer of ghazals, a Persian form that utilizes repetition, rhyme and couplets. As editor of Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English (2000), he described the long history of fascination of Western writers with ghazals, as well as offering a succinct theoretical reading of the form itself. In his introduction he wrote, “The ghazal is made up of couplets, each autonomous, thematically and emotionally complete in itself… once a poet establishes the scheme—with total freedom, I might add—she or he becomes its slave. What results in the rest of the poem is the alluring tension of a slave trying to master the master.” Ali’s own book of ghazals, Call Me Ishmael Tonight (2001), frequently references American poets and other poems, creating a further layer of allusive tension. The poet Michael Palmer alleged that Ali’s “ghazals offer a path toward a level of lyric expansiveness few poets would dare to aspire to.” The volume was published posthumously, following Ali’s untimely death. Ali translated the work of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz in The Rebel’s Silhouette (1992), and frequently alluded to the poet’s influence on his own poetry. Joseph Donahue, reviewing The Veiled Suite, commented that “through those translations, Ali first challenged the poetry of our moment, and they resonate profoundly with the personal and cultural devastations he documents in his own life. Some of the finest lines in The Veiled Suite can be read as a response to…Faiz’s.” Reviewing the book for Publisher’s Weekly, poet Mark Doty, however, saw Merrill’s influence on Ali’s poems “not only in terms of their formal elegance but in the way that a resonant, emotional ambiguity allows the poet to simultaneously celebrate love and lament a landscape of personal and public losses.” Noting that Ali’s “poems fill with letters, addresses, envelopes, lost messages and maps, and with images of home recalled and revisited in dreams,” Doty concluded that “Ali so thoroughly inhabits his exile, in this haunting life’s work, that he makes of it—both for his own spirit and for his readers—a dwelling place.”)

The Best Poem Of Agha Shahid Ali

The Wolf's Postcript To 'Little Red Riding Hood'

First, grant me my sense of history:
I did it for posterity,
for kindergarten teachers
and a clear moral:
Little girls shouldn't wander off
in search of strange flowers,
and they mustn't speak to strangers.

And then grant me my generous sense of plot:
Couldn't I have gobbled her up
right there in the jungle?
Why did I ask her where her grandma lived?
As if I, a forest-dweller,
didn't know of the cottage
under the three oak trees
and the old woman lived there
all alone?
As if I couldn't have swallowed her years before?

And you may call me the Big Bad Wolf,
now my only reputation.
But I was no child-molester
though you'll agree she was pretty.

And the huntsman:
Was I sleeping while he snipped
my thick black fur
and filled me with garbage and stones?
I ran with that weight and fell down,
simply so children could laugh
at the noise of the stones
cutting through my belly,
at the garbage spilling out
with a perfect sense of timing,
just when the tale
should have come to an end.

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