Ghazal Poetry: Definition, Examples, and How to Write One

Ghazal poetry, with its captivating melodies of words and intricate rhyme schemes, holds a revered place in literature. Originating in the Arabic-speaking regions during the 7th century, Ghazal poetry has since transcended geographical boundaries, influencing poets and enchanting audiences across cultures.

In this blog post, we explore the essence of Ghazal poetry, its origins, characteristics, and how to write a ghazal.

What is Ghazal Poetry?

Ghazal poetry is a form of lyrical verse characterized by its profound expressions of love, longing, and spiritual themes. Each Ghazal typically consists of a series of couplets, or “sher,” which are complete in themselves yet connected thematically. The hallmark of Ghazal poetry lies in its intricate rhyme scheme and refrain, known as the “radif” and “qafia” respectively. These elements lend a musical quality to the verses, enhancing their emotional impact.

Related: Lyric Poetry and Sound Devices in Poetry

A ghazal poem consists of a minimum of five couplets, but but no more than fifteen. Each couplet functions as a standalone unit, both structurally and thematically, creating a sense of emotional autonomy. Each line of the poem must be of equal length.

In the initial couplet, a pattern is established, consisting of a rhyme followed by a refrain. As the poem progresses, subsequent couplets maintain this pattern only in their second lines, echoing the refrain and maintaining rhyme with both lines of the first stanza. This repetition and variation serve to weave a delicate tapestry of sound and meaning throughout the poem.

The final couplet of the ghazal often introduces the author in either the first or third person. It is common for this concluding couplet to include the poet’s name or a reference to its meaning, adding a personal touch and sense of closure to the poem.

Historically, Ghazal poetry flourished during the medieval period in the Persian-speaking regions, particularly with the support of nobility. Renowned poets like Rumi, Hafiz, and Mirza Ghalib elevated the art form, crafting verses that resonate with audiences centuries later.

Ghazal Poetry Examples

To appreciate the depth and beauty of Ghazal poetry, let us delve into a wonderful ghazal poem by Rumi:

Ghazal 119 Poem by Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi

I don’t need
a companion who is
nasty sad and sour

the one who is
like a grave
dark depressing and bitter

a sweetheart is a mirror
a friend a delicious cake
it isn’t worth spending

an hour with anyone else

a companion who is
in love only with the self
has five distinct characters

stone hearted
unsure of every step
lazy and disinterested

keeping a poisonous face
the more this companion waits around
the more bitter everything will get

just like a vinegar
getting more sour with time

enough is said about
sour and bitter faces

a heart filled with desire for

sweetness and tender souls
must not waste itself with unsavory matters

Rumi, the celebrated Persian mystic and poet, weaves a tale of two kinds of love. The Ghazal 119 discusses about the two faces of love, one being sweet and one being bitter. At the end, the poet calls readers to focus and spend more time on loving sweet love versus chasing bitter love. 

Our Editor’s Take

Going to be honest with you all – it is REALLY hard to find ghazal poems in the public domain and few modern writers are writing in this form. If you want to stand out, I highly recommend writing and trying to publish a few modern ghazal poems! – R. R. Noall

How to Write a Ghazal Poem

Crafting a Ghazal poem requires a delicate balance of structure and creativity. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you embark on your Ghazal-writing journey:

1. Choose a Theme or Subject

Begin by selecting a theme or subject that resonates with you. Ghazal poetry often explores themes of love, longing, nature, and spirituality, but feel free to infuse your unique perspective.

2. Establish the Rhyme Scheme

The traditional Ghazal rhyme scheme consists of a repeated pattern of rhymes, known as the “qafia,” which appears at the end of the second line in each couplet. Additionally, the “radif,” or refrain, is a recurring word or phrase that concludes the second line of each couplet.

3. Write the Couplets

Craft each couplet as a standalone unit, focusing on vivid poetic imagery and emotive language. Each couplet should convey a complete thought or emotion while maintaining thematic coherence with the rest of the poem.

4. Create the Refrain

Integrate the chosen refrain seamlessly into each couplet, ensuring its rhythmic continuity throughout the poem. The refrain is a unifying element, anchoring the poem’s emotional core.

5. Craft the Final Stanza (Matla)

The final stanza, known as the “matla,” often introduces the poet’s name or pseudonym, serving as a signature sign-off to the Ghazal.

Tips for Writing Ghazal Poetry

  • Experiment with different rhyme schemes and refrains to find a harmonious balance.
  • Embrace ambiguity and symbolism, allowing for multiple interpretations of your verses.
  • Pay homage to the Ghazal poetry tradition while infusing your voice and experiences.
  • Revise and refine your poem to ensure every word contributes to its emotional resonance.

Ghazal Poetry FAQs

What languages is Ghazal poetry written in?

Ghazal poetry is written in many languages, including Urdu, Persian, Arabic, and Turkish, and others. Each language brings its cultural nuances and poetic traditions to the art form.

Are there any famous Ghazal poets?

Yes, many renowned Ghazal poets throughout history, including Mirza Ghalib, Rumi, Hafiz, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and many others, continue to inspire and captivate audiences worldwide.

How does Ghazal poetry differ from other forms of poetry?

Ghazal poetry is characterized by its strict rhyme scheme and refrain, distinguishing it from other poetic forms. Additionally, Ghazal poetry often explores themes of love, longing, and spirituality in a concise and dynamic manner.

Can modern themes be explored in Ghazal poetry?

Absolutely! While Ghazal poetry has its roots in classical themes, modern poets often infuse contemporary subject matter and perspectives into their verses, keeping the tradition alive and relevant.

Are there any cultural etiquettes associated with Ghazal poetry?

In some cultures, Ghazal poetry is associated with formal gatherings known as “mushairas,” where poets recite their verses before an audience. Respect for tradition, poetic mastery, and emotional authenticity are valued attributes in such settings.

Conclusion

Ghazal poetry is a testament to the enduring power of language and emotion. Across centuries and continents, poets have woven tales of love, longing, and spiritual transcendence through the intricate verses of the Ghazal. As we continue to explore this timeless art form, may we find inspiration in its beauty and depth, connecting us to the universal human experience.

Have you written a ghazal? Submit it to our magazine!

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