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In poetry (and as the lyrics in songs), the ghazal (Persian/Template:Lang-ar, Template:Lang-hi, Turkish gazel) is a poetic form consisting of couplets which share a rhyme and a refrain. (The word "ghazal" is of Arabic origins, and is pronounced roughly like the English word "guzzle", but with a different first consonant.) Ghazal (adapted into Urdu from Persian) is a reference to the cry of a gazelle.

The form is ancient, originating in 10th century Persian verse. It is derived from the Persian qasida, which in turn derived from a pre-Islamic Arabian form. The ghazal spread into India in the 12th century under the influence of the new Islamic Sultanate courts and Sufi mystics. Although the ghazal is most prominently a form of Urdu poetry, today, it has influenced the poetry of many languages.

A Ghazal, in short, is a collection of couplets (called sher) which follow the rules of Matla, Maqta, Beher, Qaafiyaa, Radif, Khayaal and Wazan. The traditional complete ghazal has a matla, a maqta, and three other shers in between. The first two shers of a ghazal have the form of a qatha (a specific variation of which is a ruba'ee; most familiar to modern readers from Khayyám's Rubayyat).

Ghazals were written by the Persian mystics and poets Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi (13th century) and Hafez (14th century), the Turkish poet Fuzuli (16th century), as well as Mirza Ghalib (17971869) and Muhammad Iqbal (18771938), who both wrote Ghazals in Persian and Urdu. Through the influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (17491832), the ghazal became very popular in Germany in the 19th century, and the form was used extensively by Friedrich Rückert (17881866) and August von Platen (17961835). The Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali was a proponent of the form, both in English and in other languages; he edited a volume of "real ghazals in English."

The ghazal is a common song form in India and Pakistan today. Strictly speaking, it is not a musical form, but a poetic recitation. Today, however, it is commonly conceived of as an Urdu song, with prime importance given to the lyrics.

In some modernized ghazals the poet's name is hidden somewhere in the last verse, usually between the front and end of a word.


Details of the Form

  • The second line of each couplet in a ghazal ends with the repetition of a refrain of one or a few words, known as a Radif, preceded by a rhyme (though in a less strict ghazal the rhyme does not need to precede the refrain immediately), known as a Kaafiyaa. In the first couplet, which introduces the theme, both lines end in the rhyme and refrain. I.e. AA BA CA etc
  • There can be no enjambement across the couplets in a strict ghazal; each couplet must be a complete sentence (or several sentences) in itself.
  • All the couplets, and each line of each couplet, must share the same meter.
  • Ghazal is simply the name of a form, and is not language-specific. Ghazals also exist, for example in the Pashto and Marathi languages.
  • Some Ghazals do not have any Radif. This is, however, rare. Such Ghazals are called "gair-muraddaf" Ghazal.
  • Although every Sher, should be an independent poem in itself, it is possible for all the Shers to be on the same theme. Or even have continuity of thought. This is called a musalsal ghazal, or "continuous ghazal". The Ghazal "Chupke chupke raat din aasun bahaanaa yaad hai" is a famous example of this.
  • In modern Urdu poetry, there are lots of Ghazals which do not follow the restriction of same Beher on both the lines of Sher. But even in these Ghazals, Kaafiyaa and Radif are present.
  • The restriction of Maqta has become rather loose in modern times. The Maqta was used historically as a way for the poet to secure credit for his or her work and poets often make elegant use of their takhallus in the maqta. However, many modern Ghazals do not have a Maqta or, many Ghazals have a Maqta just for the sake of conforming to the structure or tradition. The name of the Shayar is sometimes placed unnaturally in the last Sher of the Ghazal.

The Theme

Illicit Unattainable Love

The ghazal not only has a specific form, but traditionally deals with just one subject: Love. And not any kind of love, but specifically, an illicit, and unattainable love. The subcontinental ghazals have an influence of Islamic Mysticism and the subject of love can usually be interpreted for a higher being or for a mortal beloved. The love is always viewed as something that will complete the being, and if attained will ascend the ranks of wisdom, or will bring satisfaction to the soul of the poet. Traditional ghazals' love does not have an explicit element of sexual desires in it, and hence the love is spiritual. Consequently, ghazals are not to be confused with poetry of seduction.

Persian historian Ehsan Yar-Shater notes that "As a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a young man. In the early centuries of Islam, the raids into Central Asia produced many young slaves. Slaves were also bought or received as gifts. They were made to serve as pages at court or in the households of the affluent, or as soldiers and body-guards. Young men, slaves or not, also, served wine at banquets and receptions, and the more gifted among them could play music and maintain a cultivated conversation. It was love toward young pages, soldiers, or novices in trades and professions which was the subject of lyrical introductions to panegyrics from the beginning of Persian poetry, and of the ghazal." (Yar-Shater, Ehsan. 1986. Persian Poetry in the Timurid and Safavid Periods, Cambridge History of Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.973-974. 1986)

The ghazal is always written from the point of view of the lover who is unable to attain his beloved, because either the beloved is just playing with the poet's feelings, or because the societal circumstances do not allow it. The lover is aware and resigned to this fate, but continues loving nonetheless. It is not important to the lover that the beloved does not echo the same feelings towards him. The beloved is often portrayed in exaggerated terms, with extended metaphors about the "arrows of her eyes", or referring to the beloved as an assassin or a killer. Take for example the following couplets from Amir Khusro's Persian ghazal Nami danam chi manzil bood shab:

Nami danam chi manzil bood shab jaay ki man boodam;
Baharsu raqs-e bismil bood shab jaay ki man boodam.
Pari paikar nigaar-e sarw qadde laala rukhsare;
Sarapa aafat-e dil bood shab jaay ki man boodam.

I wonder what was the place where I was last night,
All around me were half-slaughtered victims of love, tossing about in agony.
There was a nymph-like beloved with cypress-like form and tulip-like face,
Ruthlessly playing havoc with the hearts of the lovers.

(translated by S.A.H. Abidi)

The lover for his part portrayed as a spineless individual resigned to his fate that has no choice but to continue hopelessly loving his beloved. He almost enjoys the pain and torment that the beloved puts him through, for that is better than nothing. This is illustrated in the following couplet from Ahmed Faraz's Urdu ghazal "Ranjish hi sahi":

ranjish hi sahi dil hi dukhane ke liye aa
aa phir se mujhe chod ke jaane ke liye aa

Misery at least; come, even if it is to break my heart
Come, even if it is so that you can leave me once again

Labon pe jo aya nahin woh dil ne suna hai nazar main jo sawal hai woh hum ko pata hai yeh sabza e begana ho ab kaise khush nazar ab ke jo aa rahe hai muqtal ki hawa hai

In the Context of Sufism

It is not possible to get a full understanding of ghazal poetry without at least being familiar with some concepts of Sufism. All ghazal poets were either avowed Sufis themselves (like Rumi or Hafiz), or were sympathizers of Sufi ideas. Most ghazals can be viewed in a spiritual context, with the Beloved being a metaphor for God, or the poet's spiritual master. It is the intense Divine Love of sufism that serves as a model for all the forms of love found in ghazal poetry. An example of this can be found in following ghazal by Amir Khusru:

Chhap tilak sab cheeni ray mosay naina milaikay
Chhap tilak sab cheeni ray mosay naina milaikay
Prem bhatee ka madhva pilaikay
Matvali kar leeni ray mosay naina milaikay
Gori gori bayyan, hari hari churiyan
Bayyan pakar dhar leeni ray mosay naina milaikay
Bal bal jaaon mein toray rang rajwa
Apni see kar leeni ray mosay naina milaikay
Khusrau Nijaam kay bal bal jayyiye
Mohay Suhaagan keeni ray mosay naina milaikay

You've taken away my looks, my identity, by just a glance. By making me drink the wine of love-potion, You've intoxicated me by just a glance; My fair, delicate wrists with green bangles in them, Have been held tightly by you with just a glance. I give my life to you, Oh my cloth-dyer, You've dyed me in yourself, by just a glance. I give my whole life to you Oh, Nijam, You've made me your bride, by just a glance.

Another example of an overtly mystic ghazal is an existentialist Urdu couplet produced by Ghalib: nah thā kuchh to khudā thā kuchh nah hotā to khudā hotā
duboyā mujh ko hone ne nah hotā maiñ to kyā hotā

1a) when there was nothing, then God was; if nothing existed, then God would exist
1b) when I was nothing, then God existed; if I were nothing, then God would exist
1c) when I was nothing, then I was God; if I were nothing, then I would be God

2a) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then what would I be?
2b) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then what would I be?
2c) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then what would exist?
2d) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then what would exist?
2e) 'being' drowned me; if I were not I, then so what?
2f) 'being' drowned me; if I did not exist, then so what?

(Translation by FW Pritchett)

Another version of this poem is:

When I was none I was in god,
If had been, none would have been Him.
It is 'being' that ditched me,
Would it have mattered if I would not have been?

Most ghazal scholars today recognize that some ghazal couplets are exclusively about Divine Love (ishq-e-haqiqi), others are about "metaphorical love" (ishq-e-majazi), but most of them can be interpreted in either context. In either case, the metaphor employed for this love is usually that of love for a beautiful boy, a love that has deep roots in the Sufi practice of Nazar ill'al-murd. Sadiq Muhammad, in his History of Urdu Literature, treats the topic in derogatory terms, calling the love theme of the ghazal "a torture, a disease" a "morbid and perverse passion" and denounces it as a "legacy from Persia ultimately traceable to homosexual love."

However, such criticism by native scholars is itself denounced as systematically distorted. In his monograph on same-sex relations in the pre-modern Middle East, Khaled El-Rouayheb demonstrates how Persian and Arabic love poetry and other literary material is routinely heterosexualized or devalued in critical studies authored by post-colonial Arab and Islamic scholars. In his view, the traditional tolerance, literary and religious, for chaste pederastic love affairs which was prevalent since the 800's began to be eroded in the mid-1800's by the adoption of European Victorian attitudes by the new westernized elite. (El-Rouayheb, 2005, p.156)

In A Western Context: The Rise of The English-language Ghazal

After nearly a century of "false starts" (that is, early exploratory instances by James Clarence Mangan, James Elroy Flecker, Adrienne Rich, Phyllis Webb., etc., many of which not adhering wholly or properly to the traditional principles of the style), the ghazal finally began to be recognized as a viable closed form in English-language poetry sometime in the early to mid 1990s. This came about largely as a result of serious, true-to-form examples being published by noted American poets John Hollander, W. S. Merwin and Elise Paschen, as well as by acclaimed Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali (d. 2001), who had been teaching and spreading word of the ghazal at various U.S. universities over the previous two decades. Ali, it is worth noting, had also published by this time a collection (The Rebel's Silhouette) of translations of legendary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (b. 1911, d. 1984), and although the selected poems were presented in English in a free verse style, their romantic and revolutionary-Marxist sociopolitical impact was not entirely lost upon Western readers.

Recognizing the growing interest, in 1996 Ali decided to compile and edit the world's first anthology of English-language ghazals. Finally published by Wesleyan University Press in 2000, Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English served as material proof that the ghazal had indeed finally arrived in the English-speaking Western world. Sadly, Ali did not live long enough to witness the book's full impact and further evolution of the Western ghazal, succumbing to brain cancer in December of 2001.

Much of the ghazal's English-language evolution in the years subsequent to Ali's death can be seen in or traced to the work of R. W. Watkins and Gene Doty (also known as Gino Peregrini). Watkins, a rather controversial enfant terrible on the fringes of avant-garde Canadian poetry, launched Contemporary Ghazals, the world's first English-language poetry journal dedicated exclusively to the ghazal, in the spring of 2003. Four years before that, Doty introduced The Ghazal Page, a website dedicated to the verse form in English. Both have done much to advance the Western ghazal, publishing many new and seasoned practitioners alike, critical essays and articles, and translations or adaptations of classic Arabic, Farsi and Urdu ghazals.

Other notable English-language poets currently working in the ghazal form include Marcyn Del Clements, R. L. Kennedy, Teresa M. Pfeifer, Taylor Graham and Denver Butson.

Some Notable Ghazals Composed in English by Western Poets

  • Agha Shahid Ali, "The Country Without A Post Office", "Ghazal ('...exiles')"
  • Denver Butson, "Drowning Ghazals (1, 2 & 3)", "Four Drowning Ghazals"
  • Marcyn del Clements, "Night"
  • William Dennis, "Lunar Ruin", "Brim-Full Again",
  • Gene Doty (also known as Gino Peregrini), "Ghazal Spirit", "...silence"
  • Taylor Graham, "A Ghazal of Gardens", "Almost Every Day Now"
  • John Hollander, "Ghazal On Ghazals"
  • R. L. Kennedy, "Memphis Jazz"
  • Maxine Kumin, "On the Table"
  • W. S. Merwin, "The Causeway"
  • William Matthews, "Guzzle", "Drizzle"
  • Elise Paschen, "Sam's Ghazal"
  • Teresa M. Pfeifer, "In Open Meadow"
  • Spencer Reece, "Florida Ghazals"
  • Adrienne Rich, "Ghazals: Homage to Ghalib"
  • R. W. Watkins, "That Nice, Clean, Filthy Lucre", "Ghazal For Shahid"
  • Bill West, "Daybreak"
  • Bruce Williams, "End Without World"
  • John Edgar Wideman, "Lost Letter"

Ghazal Singers

Some well-known ghazal singers are:

Many Indian and Pakistani film singers are also famous for singing ghazals. These include:

See also


  • Agha Shahid Ali (ed.). Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English. ISBN 0-8195-6437-0.
  • Agha Shahid Ali. Call Me Ishmael Tonight: A Book of Ghazals. ISBN 0-393-05195-1.
  • Doty, Gene (ed./sitemaster). The Ghazal Page; various postings, 1999--2006.
  • Faiz, Faiz Ahmed. The Rebel's Silhouette: Selected Poems. Translated by Agha Shahid Ali. University of Massachusetts Press, 1995.
  • Kanda, K.C., editor. Masterpieces of the Urdu Ghazal: From the 17th to the 20th Century. Sterling Pub Private Ltd., 1991.
  • Mufti, Aamir. "Towards a Lyric History of India." boundary 2, 31: 2, 2004
  • Reichhold, Jane (ed.). Lynx; various issues, 1996--2000.
  • Watkins, R. W. (ed.). Contemporary Ghazals; Nos. 1 and 2, 2003--2004.

External links

de:Ghasel eo:Gazalo fa:غزل fr:Ghazal ms:Ghazal no:Gasel pl:Gazel ru:Газель (строфа) sv:Ghasel ur:غزل

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