It is now more than twenty years ago that I was first introduced to the Urdu ghazal —the classical Urdu lyric—and found with something like dismay that there was almost nothing about it which I understood and liked. This was not because I had not an adequate command of the language. I had begun speaking Urdu in 1942, and from about 1945 had acquired some competence in the language of prose literature. Nor was it because I was not moderately well read in the love poetry of various cultures and civilizations, from Sappho and Catullus to Shakespeare and Burns, not to speak of later poets. But this was a new, strange experience. From that day to this I have been convinced that to understand and appreciate the ghazal is the most difficult task that confronts the modern Western student of Urdu literature; and as my own understanding increased I have become equally convinced that this is a task which, once accomplished, brings the greatest reward. Such conclusions of my own about the ghazal as I have put into writing fall short of a comprehensive study of the form, and I have never entirely ceased to hope that others more knowledgeable than I would, either in Urdu or in English, write something in which one would find at least most of the answers to the major problems which the ghazal presents to us who study it with the values of the modern West. Hitherto this hope has not been realized, and for that reason I now attempt to set out my own views—spurred on, I should confess, by Muhammad Sadiq's judgement in his History of Urdu Literature (Oxford University Press, 1964)—the latest, longest, and (so far) best history in English—that the ghazal stands “very low in the hierarchy of literary forms” (p. 19). This judgment could hardly be more completely opposed to my own.

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