The Pendragon Papers (3): Extraction of the Feminine Kharja for Future Refrains

Posted on Updated on

Poetry is like music. Think of each form as an instrument, or for the larger forms an orchestra, through which poesis is directed form the poet & into the anterior experience. Certain free-form beat poets often reminded me of a jazz pianist consum’d by the shamanic trance. In the depths of the musical continent, there is to be found the leitmotif, a species of short & recurring musical phrase found in much classical music & opera. In the spheres poetry, the leitmotif appears as the refrain, a device which is not uncommon. In his 1846 essay, ‘The Philosophy of Composition,’ Edgar Allen Poe gives us an excellent description of the poetical refrain in the context of his poem, the Raven.

In carefully thinking over all the usual artistic effects — or more properly points, in the theatrical sense — I did not fail to perceive immediately that no one had been so universally employed as that of the refrain. The universality of its employment sufficed to assure me of its intrinsic value, and spared me the necessity of submitting it to analysis. I considered it, however, with regard to its susceptibility of improvement, and soon saw it to be in a primitive condition. As commonly used, the refrain, or burden, not only is limited to lyric verse, but depends for its impression upon the force of monotone — both in sound and thought. The pleasure is deduced solely from the sense of identity — of repetition.

I resolved to diversify, and so vastly heighten, the effect, by adhering, in general, to the monotone of sound, while I continually varied that of thought: that is to say, I determined to produce continuously novel effects, by the variation of the application of the refrain — the refrain itself remaining, for the most part, unvaried. These points being settled, I next bethought me of the nature of my refrain. Since its application was to be repeatedly varied, it was clear that the refrain itself must be brief, for there would have been an insurmountable difficulty in frequent variations of application in any sentence of length. In proportion to the brevity of the sentence, would, of course, be the facility of the variation. This led me at once to a single word as the best refrain. The question now arose as to the character of the word. Having made up my mind to a refrain, the division of the poem into stanzas was, of course, a corollary: the refrain forming the close to each stanza.

One hundred & eighty years later, in 2023, this brief essay of mine is set to examine a certain sub-species of refrain call’d the Kharja. They are, in essence, short & overtly sexualised statements by women about their male lovers, brief exhalations of yearning which were often clever, coquettish, provocative & witty. These kharja originated in Romantic Spanish dialects, & later embedded as signatory refrains by their chanteuse in more courtly poems for the Moslem conquerors of the Iberian peninsular.

Dated to the period 1000-1150, they were scholastically resurrected in 1948 by orientalist, Samuel Stern, who, working on the Arabic & Hebrew poems compos’d in Moslem Spain, identified over 50 Kharka embedded in poems taking the five stanza Muwashshah form. Peter Dronke, in his The Medieval Lyirc (1968), offers a number of excellent translations, including;

I’ll give you such love! – but only
If you’ll bend
My anklets over to my

I don’t want to wear a necklace, mother –
the dress is enough for me.
My lord will see a pure white
throat display’d
He won’t want jewellery

But, of course, the spirit of their Kharja is much, much older, & has also continued into the modern age. Egyptian love songs of second millennium B.C. employ’d a rich array of imagery and allusion in order to create highly sensual atmospheres in which perfectly kharjaesque sentiments can be found, such as one of the poems in the Chester Beatty I Papyrus, which reads:

Now, you shall bring it to the house of the female beloved,
So that you may storm against her cave.
Her gate will be raised. Her lady of the house shall prepare it.
You shall provide her with songs and dancing, wine and strong ale, in her pavilion.
So that you may intoxicate her senses,
And so that you may complete her in her night.

A thousand years later we have the wonderful effusions of the Greek poetess, Sappho.

He is more than a hero
He is more than a hero
he is a god in my eyes—
the man who is allowed
to sit beside you — he
who listens intimately
to the sweet murmur of
your voice, the enticing
laughter that makes my own
heart beat fast.

If I meet
you suddenly, I can’t
speak — my tongue is broken;
a thin flame runs under
my skin; seeing nothing,
hearing only my own ears
drumming, I drip with sweat;
trembling shakes my body
and I turn paler than
dry grass.

Later, in the ruins of a lava-preserv’d Pompeii, some anonymous versifier left the following as graffiti on a wall;

If you felt any stirrings of love in you, mule-driver,
You would drive more swiftly to see love’s goal!
I’m in love with a beautiful boy – use the spurs, please go faster!
You’re drunk! Go faster ! Use the reins & whip !
Bring me to Pompeii, where my sweey love lies !
You are mine…

Moving into the modern era, Elizabeth Barret Browning’s ‘The Lady’s Yes’ begins with a possible kharja, for sure;

” Yes !” I answered you last night ;
” No !” this morning, Sir, I say !
Colours, seen by candle-light,
Will not look the same by day.

Moving to the modern age & its vast plethora of superb female poetic voices, possible kharja are everywhere. Evolv’d, somewhat, with more dimensions as accord our modern society, of course, but they are kharja all the same. So, over at Lehman University, which serves the Bronx, Professor Vani Kannan wrote;

In one fleeting moment, He granted a mood
you embraced it together, when it was all new.
You landed and smiled, then parted and flew
but I’ll only remember when it was all new.

Elsewhere, in ‘The World’s Wife’, former Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, gave us;

After the split I would glimpse him
out & about
entering glitzy restaurants
with powerul men

There is also the stunning collection of the Scottish Punk poet, Megan Mccorqudale, ‘What I Told Frank,’ in which I have extracted the following kharja.

I left my underwear
on your floor last night
a woman at work
called me a slut

With morning light
You become bubble gum blue
I hadn’t even had the chance to get sick of the tatse of you
Before I had to spit you out

In fact the best sex we ever had
Was after we argued about the existence of god

Poets, & bards, of times not yet occurring, artisans of taste or tradition, who are concern’d with industriousness & mastering technique, may now allow the kharja into their set of tools. In the tradition of first study poetry, with modern female poetry being possibly pregnant with kharja, & then embed your chosen highlight into verses of your own. To conclude my essay, then, I have even compos’d a kharja of my own;

Counting the hours until he comes again,
The man she knew as Bobby now names Babes
Thro’ orgasms the o becomes ‘A star’
& at the end an ‘s’ for sexy guy



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s