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In Córdoba, the caliph knew
disturbing dreams a lighthouse threw
him beams to fix his mind anew

no one can know your full extent
or how your daylight hours are spent
in fantasy or merriment
you are the source of all that’s new

your single eye of constant praise
looks out upon the stormy ways
of man in quietude allays
you are the vast and steady view

who cannot fathom or adore
expansion of his life’s full store
will never reach your lighthouse door
your frame deflects the morbid hue

what shadow dooms the lighthouse saves
invisible among the graves
to stand where brightening future paves
the ease and magnitude of you

The poem you’ve just read is my first attempt at a form called the zejél (zajal in Arabic), developed in the 12th century Moorish courts of Al-Andalus. Imagine city states vying for supremacy in the poetic arts where both genders and all religions flourished; where sciences grew hand in hand with arts, one the seat of knowing, the other of creating.

Imagine poets as the highest paid of all the artists for their ability to “soothe” the king, not through false flattery—although, of course, this happened—but by aligning as closely as possible through language, rhyme, and rhythm with universal truths.

The zejél opens with a cabeza (head) of three lines to introduce the theme and foundational rhyme (a). The quatrains that follow develop the theme with a rhythmic progression, usually octosyllabic, of bbba, ccca, ddda, etc. Stanzas continue for as long as the poet desires, until, perhaps, she sees the king assuaged and the course of government flowing smoothly again.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
Image of the lighthouse can be found at http://www.hbombkaraoke.com.