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The Ghazal is a centuries-old, popular form of poem and song in Persia (Iran), Pakistan and India. It can be an interesting challenge, but fun too.
- Decide what your radif is going to be. Every verse ends with the same word or group of words (radif). It makes sense to choose one that can be flexible in use and meaning, so you can use it in different ways in each verse.
- Consider what your qaafiya is going to be. The qaafiya is a rhyme that precedes the radif. Again, pick something with lots of possibility.
- Get writing! A ghazal consists of a series of couplets (two-line verses), with each line containing the same number of syllables. Each couplet is a separate, complete mini-poem, so there's no need for any narrative progression, or any real connection between the couplets. Both lines of the first verse end with the qaafiya and radif. See down the page for an example ghazal.
- You're bound to make a few false starts, and you'll soon realise that your choice of radif is the single most important factor in determining how successful your ghazal is likely to be.
- Traditional topics include love (where it's often deliberately ambiguous whether the poet is referring to divine or heterosexual - or even homosexual - love)
- Another traditional topic is wine and drunkenness. When taken literally, this is quite something when you consider the time and place of origin of this poetic form! When taken metaphorically, wine represents the divine, or a connection or conduit to the divine. Drunkenness represents a meal of this food for the spirit.
- Traditionally, the poet's pen-name was included in the last verse; this final couplet usually contains a 'turn', or change of tone, to something more personal or quirky.
- Remember, each couplet constitutes a separate little poem, so don't have one verse rely on a previous one to make sense.
In this example, the radif is "I do not know", while the qaafiya (the rhyme preceding it) is -ate, as in slate, fate, depreciate, etc. In the example, each line contains 14 syllables, but any length is fine - it's up to you.
Stranger at the Gate
Who cares about the stranger at the gate? I do not know
The poor orphan, abandoned to his fate? I do not know
Where once I had the answers, now my mind is full of doubt
How do these certainties depreciate? I do not know
From noon till night our ardent looks would scandalise the town
Why is it that your eyes are filled with hate? I do not know
It used to be that man respected man for what he did
These days are we just numbers on the slate? I do not know
The wisdom of the years is something valued now by none
The butt of standing jokes, this balding pate? I do not know
The saqi1 turns his back; how many skins will be required,
oh my love, this unholy thirst to sate? I do not know
Once upon a time Amir was counted a believer
To every question now I simply state, I do not know
1 Saqi: a wine-server in a medieval Persian tavern
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