"The ghazal comes to us from
Arabic, and other Mideastern poetry. In the
originals, dating back to the eigth century, the form
consists of five to twelve couplets, rhymed on the
same sound throughout, using the subject of love
or wine to represent mystical experience. In the
final couplet, the poet "signs" his or her name.
Twentieth-century American poets have omitted
the rhyme while retaining the couplet form and the
approximate length. They also emphasize a
disconnectedness between couplets, juxtaposing
apparently unrelated observations, placing insights
or images side by side without explaining their
connection. These gaps can be a great source of
power and mystery.
The most successful American ghazals have
collected in sequences: Adrienne Rich's "Ghazals:
Homage to Ghalib," "The Blue Ghazals," and Jim
Harrison's "Ghazals." This expansiveness is probably
encouraged by the jumps from couplet to couplet.
The more ghazals we see grouped together, the more
we make connections.
Rich models her ghazals on those of Mirza
a nineteenth century Urdu Poet (and recommends
the translations by Aijaz Ahmad). She follows "his
use of minimum five couplets...each couplet being
autonomous and independent of the others. The
continuity and unity flow from the associations and
images playing back and forth among the couplets
in any single ghazal." Here is Adrienne Rich's fourth
ghazal (dated 7/14/68:ii) from "Ghazals: Homage to
Did you think I was talking about my life?
I was trying to drive a tradition up against the wall.
The field they burned over is greener than all the rest.
You have to watch it, he said, the sparks can travel the
Shot back into this earth's atmosphere
our children's children may photograph these stones.
In the red wash of the darkroom, I see myself clearly;
when the print is developed and handed about, the face is
nothing to me.
For us the work undoes itself over and over:
the grass grows back, the dust collects, the scar breaks
In writing a ghazal, you have to use impulse
and intuition more
than rationality. It helps to make each couplet interesting and
complete in itself. Fragments, glimpses, and exclamations
often need no more than a couplet. And it helps to make a
"jump" after each couplet, from the political to the personal,
from talk to thought, from idea to image, from near to far.
(Creating Poetry, John Drury, Writer's Digest Books,
"The second half of the 13th century and the first part of the
14th are often regarded as the golden age of Persian poetry.
During this period Sa'di, Rumi, and Hafiz excelled in the
ghazal, a short, passionate, sometimes mystical lyric form."
(Encarta® 98 Desk Encyclopedia © & 1996-97
Ask additional questions via