October 5, 2024

Obsession and Unquenched Desire - A Blog About "The Sphinx of the Raj"

"Perhaps I rowed with galley slaves,
Whose labour never ceased,
To bring across Phoenician waves
Your treasures from the East."           - Golden Eyes, Laurence Hope

If You Are New To The Subject Of Laurence Hope Or This Blog, Start Here

Hello to you who have happened upon this blog - it is probably no accident.  Little known as our dear Violet is, you are most likely searching for something, anything, you can find about her enigmatic and mostly unknown life, her interesting relatives, husband and compatriots, and above all, her tempestuous and highly compelling works.

The bare outlines of Adela Florence Cory's 39 years are actually fairly well known by now, and with a bit of elbow grease it is possible to work out a few extra details here and there.  There are a couple of articles written from India in English, there is Blanch's essay in Under a Lilac Bleeding Star and the Somerset Maugham story "The Colonel's Lady" which Violet inspired.

There is an online yahoo group dedicated to the dear poet, and someone from Majorca popped up there explaining that they had come into possession of  a trove of artifacts from the estate of a Malcolm Nicolson, the poet's great-grandson.  The articles include paintings possibly done by Hope, as well as papers involved with the publication of her later works, mixed in with photos and other items of interest.  With the passage of time, I am inclined to believe these items are a legitimate and a valuable archive which may yield some further precious information.   

May 6, 2018

Verses: Faiz Ulla - Working Man's Blues

Indian street musician, 19th c
    Verses:  Faiz Ulla    

    Just in the hush before dawn    
    A little wistful wind is born.
    A little chilly errant breeze,
    That thrills the grasses, stirs the trees.
    And, as it wanders on its way,
    While yet the night is cool and dark,
    The first carol of the lark, -
    Its plaintive murmurs seem to say
    "I wait the sorrows of the day."

Hope must have been struck by the graceful way the Indian native accepted their fate, bound by the twin chains of faith and duty.  In a cluster of works the poet wished to give a voice to voiceless women.  In these small verses it seems she also put some thought towards the masses of voiceless men that were essential to the fabric of a comfortable, frankly exploitive colonial life in British India. 

In a previous post on Faiz Ulla, I speculated that he must represent a common man - a native servant or laborer.  Here once again he is singing the blues.  It stands to reason that night and rest would be the fondest part of the day for those who labored unceasingly, in a state of near slavery.  For them, rosy fingered dawn would simply mean a resumption of toil at repetitive and unrewarding tasks.  Even in sleep the servant's lot was a poor one, as they often slept in front of their Master's door, piled into a room with others, or between the tent and liner if their Sahib was a soldier.  Seeing both humanity and suffering in the faces of these men, it is no wonder that Hope railed against the "the Inherent Cruelty of Things".

This in depth study is very interesting regarding how British women in particular related to their servants in the Raj.  Memsahibs and their Servants in 19th century India.  Flora Annie Steel's chapters on maintaing household servants in "The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook" is also a fantastic read, famous for its more tempered outlook on the complicated relationship between Memsahibs and their servants.   

No doubt the Nicolson's had their own normal complement of servants, probably approaching 15 including the gardener, cook and scullery, punkah wallas (carpet fan pullers, during the hot season), bheesti (water carrier), and other household staff.  Hope may have not had an official ayah (nursery governess/ladies maid) until she eventually became pregnant, but she must have had at least a couple of female servants to help look after her clothes, the bath, and clean the house, especially by the time she and Malcolm lived at Mhow in the Senior Officer's quarters.  Her own outlook towards her servants would have been at least as liberal as Steel's and probably even a great deal more so.  That disposition, along with a natural inclination towards solitude that writers possess, make it likely that she preferred keeping servants to a minimum when and where possible.  It is interesting to note that we find no overt references to personal servants in her poetry, but it is plausible that some of the named narrators of her poems refer to servants she knew well and sympathized with - Mohamed Akram and Faiz Ulla are two possibilities. 

The blues aspect raised by this poem allows me to share some favorite music, an unusual blend of East and West from Ali Farka Toure and Terakraft.  The blues never sounded so exotic.

May 3, 2018

Fate Knows No Tears - Fitzgerald and Hope's Lost Paradise

Fate is often paired with the word "inexorable" - unable to be resisted.   This sense of inevitability seems cruel when a happy ending eludes us.   If prayers to Dame Fortune, pleas to the Almighty or just plain curses hurled at Life are ineffective, we must bleed through the pain and, perhaps wiser, prepare to face the next knot of bedeviling circumstance.   And so we move from one idealization to the next, always seeking that golden moment we believe is "our Paradise." 
Edward Burne-Jones, 1893
In Fate Knows No Tears, the sense of lost possibilities is palpable and the poet's voice is personal, confidential, even confessional.  Reading it, it is hard not to believe that prior to her relatively swift courtship with her future husband, young and romantic Adela formed some intense early attachment that never came to fruition.  

      Unopened scarce, yet overblown,
The hopes that rose-like round me grew,
      The lights are low, and more than lonely
This life I lead apart from you.
      Come back, come back! I want you only,
And you who loved me never knew.

     You loved me, pleaded for compassion
On all the pain I would not share;
     And I in weary, halting fashion
Was loth to listen, long to care;
    But now, dear God! I faint with passion
For your far eyes and distant hair.
What circumstances did the poet live through, that etched such lines on her spirit?   Fate was in a kind mood when she matched our poet with Malcolm Nicolson, a seasoned veteran and a man of 44 who knew what he was looking for and found it in Adela.  Their courtship unfolded relatively smoothly in a few months.  "Fate Knows No Tears" tells the story of a
William Quiller Orchardson, late 19th c
different, stormy love that ended badly.  First professed on one side, this romance was at first tepidly received.  Later, those "ardent eyes" appear again, all the poet's withheld passion tumbles forth - too late.  This love was no longer available, and even worse, "never knew" her genuine feelings.  The verses seem to be written like a farewell letter meant to provide closure to both parties caught up in Fate's implacable decree - the music has stopped, this waltz is over.

Sometime between her arrival in India at 16 and her marriage at 23, Hope must have had an early crush or perhaps a first proposal of marriage that she rejected for reasons she was not entirely certain about.  Young people discovering love often play games, play hard to get, anger easily or become confused by their emotions.   For a long year or two afterwards, a missed connection may take on overwhelming overtones and loom heavily as the mind turns over the events, pondering What Might Have Been.   Had she misspent any chance at happiness - their Paradise?

    Cold was I, weary, slow to waken
        Till, startled by your ardent eyes,
    I felt the soul within me shaken
        And long-forgotten senses rise;
    But in that moment you were taken,
        And thus we lost our Paradise!

Drawing attention to the last line of this stanza in particular, I wonder if it could have provided some inspiration for the title of "This Side of Paradise,"  F. Scott Fitzgerald's first novel, written over 1918-1920.  I doubt Fitzgerald knew much about Laurence Hope as a person, but he did know she was a woman, and he did read and admire her poetry, as demonstrated by the fact that he dropped Hope's stirring lines from The Teak Forest into the mouth of Rosalind in this first novel, precisely at the pivotal moment when she rejects the proposal of the Amory character, based loosely on himself.  Rosalind was Fitzgerald's ideal girl and modeled on his future wife Zelda whose painful rejection of his first proposal of marriage crushed him, but fired his ambition to succeed as an author to win her back - and achieve their Paradise.
The Youthful Fitzgeralds
The following is a direct excerpt from This Side of Paradise, written experimentally in play form in the middle of the novel -
ROSALIND: (With a burst of insight) Amory, you’re young. I’m young. People excuse us now for our poses and vanities, for treating people like Sancho and yet getting away with it. They excuse us now. But you’ve got a lot of knocks coming to you—
AMORY: And you’re afraid to take them with me.
ROSALIND: No, not that. There was a poem I read somewhere—you’ll say Ella Wheeler Wilcox and laugh—but listen: 
       “For this is wisdom—to love and live,
        To take what fate or the gods may give,
        To ask no question, to make no prayer,
        To kiss the lips and caress the hair,
        Speed passion’s ebb as we greet its flow,
        To have and to hold, and, in time—let go.”

AMORY: But we haven’t had.
ROSALIND: Amory, I’m yours—you know it. There have been times in the last month I’d have been completely yours if you’d said so. But I can’t marry you and ruin both our lives.
Joseph Severn, late 19th c

Astonishingly, Fitzgerald's novel accomplished its purpose.  The poignant theme of youthful love lost captured the public's attention, made the author into a wild success, created the voice of the Lost Generation, and even made the unobtainable flapper Zelda Sayre into his wife.   

I'll further explore Hope's influence on youthful writers Fitzgerald and Flecker in an upcoming offering.   Just as Hope's work was unfortunately overlooked by the literary establishment of her day, the impact of her work on the writers that followed her has also remained largely left unexamined.  

Alongside her brighter paeans to youth, Early Love Lost is at least a minor theme found in India's Love Lyrics in pieces such as Yasmini, Unforgotten, Verses by Taj Mohamed, "Lost Delight", and Zira In Captivity.

April 19, 2018

The Garden by the Bridge - Moral Crises and Love's Elixir

The Garden by The Bridge  (excerpts below - please click to read entire)

All night the hungry jackals howl together
Over the carrion in the river bed,
Or seize some small soft thing of fur or feather
The Scream, Edvard Munsch 1893
Whose dying shrieks on the night air are shed.

I hear from yonder Temple in the distance
Whose roof with obscene carven Gods is piled,
Reiterated with a sad insistence
 Sobs of, perhaps, some immolated child.

Strange rites here, where the archway's shade is deeper,
Are consummated in the river bed;
Parias steal the rotten railway sleeper
To burn the bodies of their cholera dead.

But yet, their lust, their hunger, cannot shame them
Goaded by fierce desire, that flays and stings;
Poor beasts, and poorer men. Nay, who shall blame them?
Blame the Inherent Cruelty of Things.

The world is horrible and I am lonely,
Let me rest here where yellow roses bloom
And find forgetfulness, remembering only
Your face beside me in the scented gloom.
Nay, do not shrink! I am not here for passion,
I crave no love, only a little rest,
Although I would my face lay, lover's fashion,
Against the tender coolness of your breast.

I am so weary of the Curse of Living
The endless, aimless torture, tumult, fears.
Surely, if life were any God's free giving,
He, seeing His gift, long since went blind with tears.

There comes some point in most people's lives in which illusions are shed or stripped away.  It can be a great shock when an individual perceives "The World As It Is" as Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges summarizes it, instead of The World As They Were Taught, or The World They Wish Were True.  Ultimately, when the naked and violent aggressions behind our social constructs are revealed in all their ugliness and amorality, it may become a moral crises. Tennyson's  "Nature, red in tooth and claw" was an accepted truth of the 19th century - but that was nature, not humanity.   We are taught that Humanity is supposed to do a great deal better than Nature when it comes to ethical questions, and all of our civilizing institutions are constructed with this veneer. 

Because Western religion, government, education and culture are imbued with aims of social progress - the belief that Mankind is ultimately good or at least trying to evolve in that direction - the very thought of decay creeping into these sacred institutions is abhorrent to society's gatekeepers.  Thus in Hope's day most critics were quite comfortable shunning the Decadent movement in the arts.  But any movements towards "Decadence" must be seen for what they are - basically critiques of the current social and political climate, usually by the young, and thus intolerable to The Establishment on any long term basis. 

In the same way, society generally rejects literary depictions of horror, decay, death and "the dark side" as essentially juvenile - something to be grown out of, like comic books.  Edgar Allan Poe's work was derided as sophomoric upon his death, and considered distasteful for many decades in America.  The punk and Gothic movements of the 70s through the 90s were co-opted by teen pop culture and relabeled "Grunge" and "Emo" as fashion magazine fodder, easily digested, laughed at, dismissed.  Kipling certainly grew out of his calf-love of decadent themes and opium dreams to become the most highly influential Voice of Empire of his generation, almost wholly aligned with the interests of the ruling class. 

April 18, 2018

The Story of Lilivanti - Doomed As A Female

The Story of Lilivanti  (click to see the poem)

 Lilivanti forms a quartet with Hope's other socially conscious documentary style poems Afridi Love, Yasmini and especially Lost Delight which also discusses the loss of a young girl (or is it a youth?) to sex slavers.  Hope's activist verse forms an interesting facet of her character and work that seems thus far to have escaped the notice of her commenters.

In a relatively few stanzas, Hope sketches the entire miserable life of this delicately named little girl, who is:
Indian Girl, ca 1890

- A Child Bride sold to a leper
- A Runaway, trafficked for sex
- Kidnapped by her husband and tied to a bed by her hair
- An Escapee who finds a brief moment of Self-Empowerment
- Loved, Married and then Widowed by cholera
- Homeless, again Trafficked 
- A Rebel against the system, thus impoverished
- Isolated, Hungry and Despairing
- A Suicide by drowning

All of this befalls a girl between the ages of 10 and 15.

The poem stands as testimony, even a monument, to the memory shared between the women of the town about the girl Lilivanti.  It is a life story and ending that was all too real and common for poor females of the time and place.   These verses are no flight of fancy on the poet's part - more like a reporter's attempt to document the reality of the street.  A reality that most men and women of the era, both in the Raj and abroad, were likely to ignore.

April 9, 2018

10 Fresh Perspectives On Laurence Hope's Life - HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO "THE SPHINX OF THE RAJ"!

courtesy of cakesdecor.com
"Some feast the Tom-toms celebrate,
Where, close together, side by side,
Gay in their gauze and tinsel state
With sparkling speech and smiling eyes,
Sit Laurence Hope and Baudelaire,
While round them songs and laughter rise..."

                                       - (Rephrased from Protest: Zahir-u-Din)

Yes, Tom-tom drummers - begin that throbbing beat! Put out the carpets and the wicker, fetch the cake and fan the jasmine scented air beneath a riotously colored setting sun.

I've put together a grilled and spiced feast of all the newest tidbits to share with you out on the veranda, complimented by rose-water spiked champagne for everyone, or a fizzy lemon if you prefer. Lovers of verse, of literature, of India and especially devotees of Laurence Hope are all invited to light a candle and celebrate the birthday of our uniquely tempestuous and passionate Aries poet!

April 9 is Poet's Day

Violet Nicolson (1865), shares her birthday with Charles Baudelaire (1821) - a literary superstar and genius of exquisitely worked verse who fathered the Decadent movement and  moved Western literature towards Modernism. (Refer to The Shock of the New by art critic Robert Hughes)  Like Hope, Baudelaire was known for unbridled honesty, a rebellious temperament, a palpable disdain for societal norms and a brash independent streak.
Les Fleurs du Mal
 Is it a Cosmic accident that these two fascinating poets - both of whom I greatly admire and both of whom have influenced my own growth as a poet - happen to share this birth date?   I prefer to believe that the Cosmos is conscious, and has its own way of revealing divine and hidden patterns through such coincidences.  This in itself is a kind of poetic language in which deeper meanings can be found for those who care to distinguish them.  Thus, I mark April 9 on my own calendar as "Poet's Day" and celebrate Hope and Baudelaire together, as well as all poets on this day.  Not every poem has to exhibit courage, radical zeal, a devotion to Beauty and a sumptuous feel for the sensual, but I believe every poet should have at least a flavor of all these qualities in their character, as both Hope and Baudelaire do in abundance.

The Sphinx of the Raj 

I have begun to formulate a theory on how Hope's persona in particular becomes a kind of reflection of the observer.  Because she left behind almost no correspondence and a body of work that is chimeric in terms of identity, I find that many who comment on her or really set out to grapple with the enigma of her life and work end up mirroring their own persona, and project it onto hers.

March 26, 2018

Song of Faiz Ulla - A Misfire of Kama's Arrow

    Song of Faiz Ulla  

Just at the time when Jasmins bloom, most sweetly in the summer weather,
Lost in the scented Jungle gloom, one sultry night we spent together
We, Love and Night, together blent, a Trinity of tranced content.

 Yet, while your lips were wholly mine, to kiss, to drink from, to caress,
We heard some far-off faint distress; harsh drop of poison in sweet wine
Lessening the fulness of delight, -    Some quivering note of human pain,
Which rose and fell and rose again, in plaintive sobs throughout the night,

Spoiling the perfumed, moonless hours
We spent among the Jasmin flowers.

In Arabic, Faiz means "Victorious" and Ulla(h) means "Of God."  As such it seems that Faiz Ulla is a common male Arabic name.  A search on YouTube for example reveals many men with Faiz Ullah or Faizullah as their name or incorporated into their name.  Either way, in this poem Faiz Ulla is definitely "singing the blues."

It is reasonable to conclude that for Hope, either:
۝  Faiz Ulla was an actual singer she overheard and transcribed or was inspired by
۝  Hope assigned the Faiz Ulla name to the poem wishing to evoke a "everyman" of mid to lower class status.

March 20, 2018

Unforgotten - Pre-Raphaelite Echoes and Christina Rossetti


  Do you ever think of me? you who died
        Ere our Youth's first fervour chilled,
    With your soft eyes and your pulses stilled
        Lying alone, aside,

    Do you ever think of me, left in the light,
    From the endless calm of your dawnless night?
Dante Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, ca 1870

    I am faithful always: I do not say
        That the lips which thrilled to your lips of old
    To lesser kisses are always cold;
        Had you wished for this in its narrow sense
        Our love perhaps had been less intense;
    But as we held faithfulness, you and I,
        I am faithful always, as you who lie,
        Asleep for ever, beneath the grass,
        While the days and nights and the seasons pass, -
        Pass away.

    I keep your memory near my heart,
        My brilliant, beautiful guiding Star,
    Till long live over, I too depart
        To the infinite night where perhaps you are.

    Oh, are you anywhere?    Loved so well!
    I would rather know you alive in Hell
    Than think your beauty is nothing now,
    With its deep dark eyes and tranquil brow
    Where the hair fell softly.    Can this be true
    That nothing, nowhere, exists of you?
    Nothing, nowhere, oh, loved so well
        I have never forgotten.
        Do you still keep
    Thoughts of me through your dreamless sleep?

March 14, 2018

"Lost Delight" - Flip Side of the Male Gaze at White Slavery

"Lost Delight"- After the Hazara War 

Domenico Rosso, Italian late 19th century - "The White Slave Market"

The Hazara are an ethnic group of Muslims belielved to have a partial strain of Mongolian ancestry. 

Hazara combatants, Kabul 1879
From Wikipedia:  "The 1888–1893 Uprisings of Hazaras occurred when the Treaty of Gandomak was signed and the Second Anglo-Afghan War ended in 1880, causing Abdur Rahman Khan to set out on a goal to bring Hazarajat and Kafiristan under his control. He launched several campaigns in Hazarajat due to resistance from the Hazara in which his forces committed atrocities. The southern part of Hazarajat was spared as they accepted his rule, while the other parts of Hazarajat rejected Abdur Rahman and instead supported his uncle, Sher Ali Khan. In response to this Abdur Rahman waged a war against tribal leaders who rejected his policies and rule."

The poet not only invokes this history in the title of her poem, but includes the place name of
Branding female slaves
Khorassan , not only the birthplace of Omar Khayyam, but a historical region lying in the northeast of Greater Persia, including part of Central Asia and Afghanistan.  It was literally a melting pot of ancient Persian, Arab, Mongolian and other asian peoples, and was swapped between every Empire that fought in the region, as illustrated by the fact that, "The main cities of Khorasan were Balkh and Herat (now in Afghanistan), Mashhad and Nishapur (now in northeastern Iran), Merv and Nisa (now in southern Turkmenistan), and Bukhara and Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan). The loosely defined region also included Transoxiana, Soghdiana, and Sistan and extended to the boundaries of the Indian subcontinent. Sources from the 14th to the 16th century report that areas in the south of the Hindu Kush mountain range (Zamindawar, Balochistan, and Kabulistan) formed a frontier between Khorasan and Hindustan.

February 18, 2018

The Plains - The Landscape of the Restless Eye

The Plains

How one loves them 

These wide horizons; whether Desert or Sea,— 
Vague and vast and infinite; faintly clear— 
Surely, hid in the far away, unknown "There," 
Lie the things so longed for and found not, found not, Here.

Only where some passionate, level land 

Stretches itself in reaches of golden sand, 
Only where the sea line is joined to the sky-line, clear, 
Beyond the curve of ripple or white foamed crest,— 
Shall the weary eyes Distressed by the broken skies,— 
Broken by Minaret, mountain, or towering tree,— 
Shall the weary eyes be assuaged,—be assuaged,—and rest.

I enjoyed recording this poem like a miniature work of art that mirrors it's subject - I drew it out languorously, like the elongated lines of the poet.  I recorded it to be listened to with eyes closed or perhaps on a horizon, rather than following words on a page.  In a soft form of "poetry concrete", these verses are punctuated with long, level, drawn out endline dashes - flat spaces like the plains Violet speaks of.   To read this is to transport oneself into those expanded lines of the plains, impassive lines never in a hurry to get "there".   It is a piece that feels and sounds like what it conveys, and surely was written on a long train ride, or even upon camel or horseback during some interminable march. 

Considering this poem's proximity to the The First Lover - about a girl's romance while traveling by ocean liner-  it is possible that both of these poems were early works written when Hope first traveled to meet her family as a young woman of 16.  The Plains would pick up the journey as she continues overland from Bombay to Lahore by train, a trip of about 1500 miles by rail at the time.  There is a sense that the yawning vastness of a new land's unfilled spaces has really begun to impose itself on the mind of the author for the first time. 

"...searching with restless eyes over the plains to the hills..." is also how Zira, In Captivity scans her landscape of plains in front of hills through the stone lattice of her prison.  It represents everything Zira longs for - the appearance of her true love so that she may assume her rightful place in the life she has been dealt. 

February 17, 2018

Deserted Gipsy's Song: Hillside Camp - Fateful Possession

Deserted Gipsy's Song: Hillside Camp

by Jules Lefebvre 
    She is glad to receive your turquoise ring,
         Dear and dark-eyed Lover of mine!
    I, to have given you everything:
         Beauty maddens the soul like Wine.

    "She is proud to have held aloof her charms,
         Slender, dark-eyed Lover of mine!
    But I, of the night you lay in my arms:
         Beauty maddens the sense like Wine!

    "She triumphs to think that your heart is won,
         Stately, dark-eyed Lover of mine!
    I had not a thought of myself, not one:
         Beauty maddens the brain like Wine!

    "She will speak you softly, while skies are blue,
         Dear, deluded Lover of mine!
    I would lose both body and soul for you:
         Beauty maddens the brain like Wine!

"While the ways are fair she will love you well,
         Dear, disdainful Lover of mine!
    But I would have followed you down to Hell:
         Beauty maddens the soul like Wine!

    "Though you lay at her feet the days to be,
         Now no longer Lover of mine!
    You can give her naught that you gave not me:
         Beauty maddened my soul like Wine!

    "When the years have shown what is false or true:
         Beauty maddens the sight like Wine!
    You will understand how I cared for you,

         First and only Lover of mine!"

I have searched yonder and near to find any verse or song form in English or Urdu that matched the very simple, very strong repeating structure of this poem. Baudelaire and Swinburne each wrote a dark poem that employed a repeating end line to imitate the power of religious rituals, but these poems can not be said to have inspired this one.  The repetition of the nursery rhyme "The House That Jack Built" is thought to be modeled partially at least on an old Arabic form, but it's style of formation holds no connection to this "Gipsy" song. 

These metered quatrains with the second and forth lines repeated with slight variations and flipped in the last stanza are not a form found, as far as I can tell, in any particular tradition, and it must be concluded for now that the poet was either simply enjoying experimenting with repetitive songlike forms, or recording some type of song form overheard on the street, in her travels, among the soldier's camp followers or otherwise encountered "in the wild".

February 16, 2018

Khan Zada's Song on the Hillside - The Romance of Picnics and Camp

Khan Zada's Song on the Hillside
The fires that burn on all the hills
Royal Mhugal Lady
eating a sweetmeat

        Light up the landscape grey,
    The arid desert land distills
        The fervours of the day.

    The clear white moon sails through the skies
        And silvers all the night,
    I see the brilliance of your eyes
        And need no other light.

    The death sighs of a thousand flowers
        The fervent day has slain
    Are wafted through the twilight hours,
        And perfume all the plain.

    My senses strain, and try to clasp
        Their sweetness in the air,
    In vain, in vain; they only grasp
        The fragrance of your hair.

    The plain is endless space expressed;
        Vast is the sky above,
    I only feel, against your breast,
        Infinities of love.

"Tiger" also enjoyed the outdoors
The third of a triad of  Khan Zada signature poems in India's Love Lyrics, this hillside song is not to be confused with the earlier "Song of Khan Zada" which at first glance appears to be more of a nod to Anglo-British writer D.L.R than something that a celebrated and dignified royal Mhugal lady would espouse.  The second Khan Zada signature poem  "When Love Is Over" speaks on the bewilderment experienced with passing attachment, which could apply to this much admired princess of the Timurid dynasty, as she married three times, and was not only a widower and divorcee, but was given away by her first husband to another man when she displeased him.   

Khan Zada Begum (pg.201) (or variously Khan Zara, Khanzada, etc) was the beloved sister of the Born Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, Babur founded the first Mughal dynasty on the Indian subcontinent. He is likely the Zahir ud-Din of the first poem in the Love Lyrics, with the assumption that this may be a poem narrated by a servant, a lover, or perhaps Khan Zada as well - though not "credited" with a signatory name in the title. 
Mughal Emporer Babur (or Babar) who was a legendary son of Tamerlane and personally magnetic enough to be called "Tiger" by his friends. 

February 15, 2018

The First Lover - Dabbling Toes In Exotic Waters

The First Lover

As o'er the vessel's side she leant, 
She saw the swimmer in the sea 
With eager eyes on her intent, 
"Come down, come down and swim with me."

So weary was she of her lot, 
Tired of the ship's monotony, 
She straightway all the world forgot 
Save the young swimmer in the sea.

So when the dusky, dying light 
Left all the water dark and dim, 
She softly, in the friendly night, 
Slipped down the vessel's side to him.

Intent and brilliant, brightly dark, 
She saw his burning, eager eyes, 
1890's ads for swimming gear
And many a phosphorescent spark 
About his shoulders fall and rise.

As through the hushed and Eastern night 
They swam together, hand in hand, 
Or lay and laughed in sheer delight 
Full length upon the level sand.

"Ah, soft, delusive, purple night 
Whose darkness knew no vexing moon! 
Ah, cruel, needless, dawning light 
That trembled in the sky too soon!"

These fresh little verses are a clear departure from the devotional and Urdu inspired works of the last cluster of poems. But the poem seems too strangely specific to just be a flight of fancy - after all, young Adela Florence Cory was just such a teenager of 16 when she crossed the ocean for many weeks on just such a steamship transporting "fishing fleet" girls to India. 

According to author Anne De Courcey, the young ladies were kept distracted with all kinds of entertainments during the long days and evenings onboard - cards and deck games, sack and potato races, dinners and dances and ship-board romances with soldiers and civil servants on leave.   Slipping in some flirtatious swimming with a comely boat-hand while in port at Marseilles or Aden might have been just the thing to set up the pattern we find oft repeated in our poet's later tales of boat songs and trysts on water.   

February 14, 2018

Memory - "As we held faithfulness, you and I"

Edmund Dulac, Rubaiyat
How I loved you in your sleep,
   With the starlight on your hair!

    The touch of your lips was sweet,
        Aziza whom I adore,
    I lay at your slender feet,
        And against their soft palms pressed,
    I fitted my face to rest.
    As winds blow over the sea
        From Citron gardens ashore,
    Came, through your scented hair,

        The breeze of the night to me.    
 My lips grew arid and dry,
        My nerves were tense,
    Though your beauty soothe the eye
        It maddens the sense.
    Every curve of that beauty is known to me,
    Every tint of that delicate roseleaf skin,
        And these are printed on every atom of me,
    Burnt in on every fibre until I die.
        And for this, my sin,
    I doubt if ever, though dust I be,
    The dust will lose the desire,
    The torment and hidden fire,
    Of my passionate love for you.
        Aziza whom I adore,

February 13, 2018

The Aloe - Small Jest, Big Ideas

The Aloe

My life was like an Aloe flower, beneath an orient sky,
Your sunshine touched it for an hour; it blossomed but to die.

Torn up, cast out, on rubbish heaps where red flames work their will
Each atom of the Aloe keeps the flower-time fragrance still.

The Aloe plant holds an important place in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and has long been considered a mystical plant with uses in mummification recorded in Egypt as far back as 1550 BC.  Revered and cultivated for its almost magical seeming healing properties all over the world in warm weather climates, it does not tolerate frost well and it is unlikely that Hope ever encountered the plant prior to living "beneath an orient sky."

In this charming little piece Hope refers to herself as an Aloe flower, which is rather vibrant and quite spiky - a humorous and self-effacing jest at her own expense nested within a cluster of some of her favoured themes:

۝  The Beloved as a sun or the source of light
۝  The quick passing of youth and pleasure
۝  The tormented nature of love and desire, to the point of self-abnegation
۝  Above all - Hope's mystical leanings towards spiritual ideas from Eastern and Eastern-influenced wisdom schools which speak of each atom's everlasting connectedness to consciousness and the whole:

February 12, 2018

Prayer - A Genuine Translation?

"The mainspring of Laurence Hope's verses still elude us." 
                                                                                       - Leslie Blanch, Under a Lilac Bleeding Star, 1964

Violet Nicolson's poetic soul must have thrilled to the vividly soaring syllables pouring forth from open-throated native artists and devotees in her adopted land, and Indian influences seem to have moved the poet towards experiments with structural abstraction.  Within the text of India's Love Lyrics, eruptions of unloosed and rambling forms among Hope's more conventionally structured poems lends certain pieces like Prayer a modernist free verse air.  Yet the poem does exhibit regular internal and end rhymes, indicating a crossover between Eastern and Western forms.

A Western reader immersed in the passing currents of this poem - read aloud and evenly, allowing the meaning to carry the emotion - may feel as though they've touched upon a shore that is strangely familiar, yet unknown.

February 7, 2018

Thoughts: Mahomed Akram - The Trouble with Philosophy

Photo of the Day, Nat'l Geo
Thoughts: Mahomed Akram is perhaps the least carnal of the Akram signature poems, and is marked by Akram's ephemeral, melancholic philosophy of adoration suffused with loss and longing beyond any thought of self - to the point of self-abnegation.   Here Akram names "Golden Eyes" as the Beloved, who is also a "Golden Sun" - an abstraction of pure magnetic attraction that has left carnal love in the dust, so to speak.

The poem muses over the idea that strong passion lingers on after death and the demise of the physical body.  There is a firm belief in the survival of the soul here, but it brings no comfort to the speaker - if the soul is tormented in life and lives on, what relief can death bring?  The speaker imagines their very essence parsed out into the universe and at one with the stars, but still sad and fading without the attention and love of the Beloved.   All is meaningless except the state of consciousness itself, reaching ever towards the Beloved throughout life and beyond body, gender, time period, or even events of coupling - all Consciousness inevitably leads to isolated longing.  

I can only image the slight figure of the poet, practically crushed by the large and magnificently twinkling stars of the desert, sitting alone while the camp or barracks quiet down for the night's sleep.  There she sits, pondering such confusing and even frighteningly profound questions, in a similarly profound landscape.

Coming to embrace the idea of life after death as a Westerner not born to it could have raised terrifying possibilities for Vioet Nicolson.  One may accept "life" beyond the body, but what kind of life does disembodied consciousness experience?  How can one still be conscious and also be like dust dispersed and joined elementally with all the cosmos?  Or would one have a form in the lower order on the chain of life, or perhaps a new body of the opposite sex to experience the highs and lows of physical love once more, or something else altogether?  How does individual Love persist in these forms, when one has given their eternal promise to another?

Pondering such ideas, feeling the heaviness of one's soul, may become the essence of an inner loneliness that no human companionship can address.

"Pity the poet's eye, jaundiced with the Truth of Things."

“The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet's pen turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name; such tricks hath strong imagination.” ― William Shakespeare.

NOTE:  "Thoughts: Mahomed Akram" is recorded in the fourth section of India's Love Lyrics and
may be listened to here.  This is a sneak preview, and will not be available  on Librivox until the entire book has been recorded.

January 31, 2018

Ojira, to Her Lover - The Landscape of Passion

Short of something out of sci-fi, has there ever been a more strangely saturated and nervously intense Valentine composed than "Ojira, to Her Lover"?

Andrea Dopaso, Concept Artist
Without explanation, the poem thrusts the reader into the kind of setting found on the cover of  a pulp paperback - strange red sandhill marshes meet a distant gurgling river of red under a florid sunset.  A silver halo flashes under purple skies, birds call weirdly, planets reel, eyes are burning, famished jackals crying - is this really a passionate tryst, or a final rendezvous at the gateway of Hell?  Or both!

Recording this strange poem helped open it up to me, and in the course of three takes, I gave
myself over to its unbreakable sing-song rhythm, wild animal calls and streaky painted colors speckled with stars.  Feeling like I had tripped into the fevered mindset of an unnamed hero or heroine stalking fierce romance in a fiercer land, I inhabited a mood of goofball abandon rarely
encountered in polite 19th century British verse.

January 30, 2018

Yasmini - The Radical Art of Listening to Voiceless Women

Devadasi by Jasor

As in Zira, In Captivity, the poet encapsulates within a relatively few stanzas the loves, the losses and the few highlights in the life of an unknown and unimportant woman - Yasmini.   We enter the room and hang there like smoke from an incense coil, winding our way through chapters of Yasmini's recounted memories.

This is another of Hope's documentary style pieces, the poet acting like a camera lens to convey a faithful depiction of the scene without editorial or moralizing.  Just as a journalist will take on an overwhelming subject by choosing one human interest story, the poet has amplified a lone female voice who relates a life entirely decided by others.  Yasmini believes she had early prospects of a modest home and the love of a husband, but instead ended up serving the needs of a battalion of men - literally.  
The story is told languorously, unfolding in the warm bed of Yasmini, in that moment after sex when "Passion's ebbing tide left bare the Sands of Truth" and there is space and time to speak in the dark.  It may be a time when many people have memories crowd in, and Yasmini is no different, except that she speaks her thoughts softly aloud to her lover, who is spending the night with her "resting by my side."  This narrator is most likely a paying male customer, but possibly something else - a love match or even possibly a female.  That is the ever intriguing element in Laurence Hope's choices and style - the mystery of exactly who is speaking in any poem may be almost as interesting as the poem itself, and open the floor up to debate.