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Haiku in Urdu and Ghazal Poetry -- The Acceptance of Different Forms of Poetry in Different Cultures

2010-12-3 (Fri) 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.

On Friday, December 3, the Research Institute for World Languages will hold a lecture about haiku in Urdu and ghazal poetry. The transplanting of literary forms from the East to West, and vise versa, is nothing new. Actually, currently a large number of haiku are written in English and other Indo-European languages. Recently many American poets have begun trying to write English ghazal, the most popular Urdu poetry form, with some success.

This lecture will be about English ghazal with the focus on the new fashion of writing haiku in Urdu and other Indo-Aryan Languages in Pakistan. In the beginning, such writers paid attention to the rule of 17 syllables in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 moras rather than Japanese haiku.

Regarding the theme, form, and flavor of haiku, Pakistani haiku poets use ghazal or an old Urdu form of poetry consisting of 4 lines called Rubai'ee. As a result, along with the increased interest in ghazal and senryu, Sher haiku, a poetry form combining rhyming in West Asia and ghazal and senryu has been produced.

Lecture: "Haiku in Urdu and Ghazal Poetry -- The Acceptance of Different Forms of Poetry in Different Cultures"

Venue: Presentation Room, 6th floor, General Research Building, Minoh Campus, Osaka University

Lecturer: Professor Peter Edwin HOOK, Professor emeritus , University of Michigan, Visiting Researcher, University of Virginia

Brief bio of Dr. Peter Edwin Hook

Dr. Hook is a linguist specializing in Indo-Aryan languages. He is also familiar with South Asian literature. He is interested in languages other than his specialty and involved in a wide range of activities regarding research and exchange. He is active as a visiting researcher at the University of Virginia after leaving the University of Michigan in 2006 where he had worked for a long time.

The Cypress for the Pine Tree, the Chrysanthemum for the Rose
Transplanting Traditional Literary Genres
Peter Edwin Hook
Universities of Michigan and Virginia


It is a commonplace that poetic and other literary genres are fundamentally mobile. In early stages of English rhyme was borrowed from outside and went on to replace alliteration as the chief segmental invariant informing English verse. Syllabic prosody was adopted from Continental sources and eventually replaced accent-based prosody. The sonnet, the villanelle, the sestina are all imports. In fact, transnational diffusion of formal pattern is found in the history of every mature literature. The introduction of regulated verse forms (lü-shi and jie-ju) during the High Tang was (according to Mair and Mei) stimulated by exposure (along with Buddhism) to Sanskrit quantitative prosody. The haiku has become an entrenched fixture in many of the world's literatures (including in Urdu). And there has been no shortage of traffic in literary forms from the West to the East. 

In this talk I examine two attempts to adopt and adapt genres of traditional poetry involving South Asia, in the first case as donor, and, in the second, as recipient.
1. The novelty of the freedom from thematic unity offered by the ghazal has attracted the attention of many Anglophone poets. While the absence of an established tradition of oral performance of poetry in the West may be a social impediment to the full development of the English ghazal, in this paper I wish to examine the ghazal's prospects both as a cultural phenomenon and a linguistic form.  Do the formal restrictions of the ghazal provide too little room for the poet "to turn around in"?  Are its formal characteristics too intrusive to allow the English ghazal the depth and range of its South Asian models?  In short, how well-suited is the ghazal to the typological characteristics of English (and other western European languages)?

2. Perhaps because of their brevity and few formal constraints the writing of haiku in languages of wider communication has become a common activity around the world in elementary schools as well as elite literary circles.  The medium through which knowledge of haiku has spread to South Asia is English. But while the tradition of writing haiku in America and Europe is old and mature enough to yield some satisfying results, the successful transplantation of the form to developing nations has still a long way to go.  This paper examines recent attempts at composing haiku in Urdu and other regional languages of Pakistan. In it I will show that 99% of Pakistani haiku are much closer to being senryu, not because Pakistani poets intend to cultivate the senryu, but because in composing a haiku they have immediate recourse to the native tradition of writing ghazals composed of couplets or shers and can't help thinking of the haiku as being a new (and briefer) kind of sher.  Thus, Pakistani haiku have rhyme and regular meters (like shers), treat the usual religious, erotic, philosophical, and political topics commonly addressed in shers, and verge on the epigrammatic.

In my paper I will give examples of successful (and not so successful) efforts to (re)create the ghazal in English and the haiku in Urdu.

2010-12-3 (Fri) 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Research Institute for World Languages
Not necessary.
NISHIOKA Miki, Research Institute for World Languages

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