While the ghazal has appeared in many linguistic traditions, its diversity is undermined by the imposition of a singular definition of this genre, which is further compounded by the overly simplistic identification of ghazal as lyric; these lyricized readings of the ghazal as both transhistorical and transnational rely on a discourse of “worlding” as an imperial project of cultural recovery and homogenization. In contrast, this article employs the methodology of historical poetics to argue via a reading of meta-ghazals in Persian, Urdu, and English that reading practices around the ghazal—including definitions of the genre that variously emphasize form versus theme—change according to the historical and geographical context of its circulation. However, by celebrating the ghazal’s travel as seemingly apolitical and/or ahistorical, the discourse of world poetry, particularly in the reception of the ghazals of Agha Shahid Ali, participates in an ongoing imperialism in world literary study. In contrast, we can read the ghazals of Adrienne Rich as exemplifying the tradition of vernacularization that has enabled the ghazal’s movement between languages, such that her work, like the work of historical poetics as a methodology, honors the history of the form’s travel through its appearance in contemporary American English.

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