How to: Ghazal

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According to wikipedia, “a ghazal is a poetic form consisting of rhyming couplets and a refrain, with each line sharing the same meter. A ghazal may be understood as a poetic expression of both the pain of loss or separation and the beauty of love in spite of that pain.”

It is composed of 5 or more couplets. The second line contains a few words or a phrase, known as a radif, that is repeated in the second line of each couplet. The first line of the ghazal sets both rhyme and refrain so that the ghazal most commonly looks like this:

AA  BA  CA  DA (etc)

There is no emjambment in the couplets. Each line is a complete sentence, or even several. Each couplet and each line in the couplets, must be written in the same meter. In traditional poems of this type, the poet wrote their pen name into the last couplet as an attempt to get credit for their work.  

Ghazals also have a theme. Traditionally, they are all about love. Not just any love, but secret, illicit, and unattainable love. 

For example, this ghazal by: Agha Shahid Ali

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere–“ ”to make Me beautiful–“
“Trinket”– to gem– “Me to adorn– How– tell”– tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates–
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar–
All the archangels– their wings frozen– fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open– for God– the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day–
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love– you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee–
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.


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