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Writing a Ghazal

Traditional Urdu Ghazal Structure and Criteria


-------------------------- A (x)
-------------------------- B (x)

-------------------------- C (x)

-------------------------- D (x)

-------------------------- E (x)

-------------------------- F (x)



Season slights of hand forsake the day
Winter’s hands stealthily take the day

Filling the light with witch hazel wine
Spring’s hands slowly part, to make the day

Kneading at time the clay oven cracks
Summer’s hands lovingly bake the day

Clutching corners of pressed cotton sheets
Autumn’s hands violently shake the day

Quartering time, love seasons in turn
Move gently Winston to wake the day

© Winston Plowes 2009


1) The title of the poem is ‘Ghazal’.
2) There are five or more couplets (Shers).
3) The second line of each couplet ends with the same word (or string of words). This is the Refrain (Radif) ‘(x)’. ‘the day’ in the example.
4) Each Radif is directly preceded by the Rhyme (Qafia) ‘A-F’. Forsake, take, make, bake etc in the example.
5) The first sher (Matla) is special and has radif and Qafia in both of its lines.
6) The last sher (Maqta) is also special and contains the poet’s signature (Takkhalus) (y). ‘Winston’ in the example. This can be an actual name, part of a name or a pen name and can appear anywhere in the Maqta.
7) The meter (Behr) of the poem is consistent. Every line should have the same amount of syllables. Nine in the example.
8) Each sher should be a poem in itself. There is no enjambment between the lines of each sher or direct connection between shers.
9) Traditionally the subject of the whole poem is love and loss.

This is a basic description of the criteria. There are many ghazals that do not exhibit all nine criteria and there are also different types of ghazal and variations within them. Personally I feel that these criteria are only important if they are important to you and you are trying to create a traditional Urdu ghazal in English. Which incidentally is no easy matter and perhaps a contradiction in itself.
Mon, 6 Dec 2010 11:04 am
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All the recent poems that have been posted in the blogs section have been tagged with 'Ghazal' so that you can see them all in one place and compare them. If you add one could you also please tag it.

Used in this way the Tag feature is quite a powerful tool.

Note that if you edit a poem the tag dissapears and you need to re-tag before you repost.

You can leave general questions about ghazals on here or on my profile and I will try to answer.
Mon, 6 Dec 2010 11:10 am
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Thank you Winston. Very succinct. I am not sure I can be so clever, but I might have a go.
Mon, 6 Dec 2010 01:57 pm
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This is definitely on my 'To do' list...
Merci beaucoup Winston !
Mon, 6 Dec 2010 03:42 pm
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I hadn't heard of rule 6. Could it include merely the word 'I' or perhaps the possessive pronoun 'my' to demonstrate the connection to the author?

Yours is a fabulous example of a ghazal, Winston, but might have been better if you had a slightly more euphonius name?

:-)Only joking, but I sure as hell am not sticking my signature in the last line of every ghazal I might write, even though I do think it's a fab form.

Can you give us some advice on Triolets now...and no jokes!


Mon, 6 Dec 2010 05:26 pm
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Am gagging to have a go at this but have a few jobs to do first. It looks hard - did start one once but just found it too hard. Will have another bash - it's much like a jigsaw puzzle/crossword I suppose - a great challenge to throw down to us Winston!
Mon, 6 Dec 2010 05:41 pm
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For me the ghazal is a wonderful form of poetry - I love it! But yes, to squeeze your own name into the last line of every ghazal might be tricky - or just plain boring? And I have yet to manage the rhyming thing!! Just going to post one now!!!
Mon, 6 Dec 2010 06:29 pm
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Also, if you had a rather unpoetic name like . . . now how do I do this without offending anyone? Well, my mum was called Gladys, I don't think she'd have liked putting that in the last verse of every ghazal, if she'd ever written one! Luckily, everyone called her Cherry! Which suited her much better.
Tue, 7 Dec 2010 08:16 am
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Hi John,

An answer re Criteria 6)

The ghazal is suposed to be spoken (or sung)personaly and from the heart, hence the inclusion of the signature or takkhalus.

Traditionally most poets have used either their real name or equally common a pen name as in the cleaver maqta of Ann -

In burning brackengold the fox lies sleeping
My man is dead, all men are as snow for me.

So you can choose what you like and remain anonymous if you wish and as euphonious as you wish.

Other ideas - Poets, more recently have used the meaning of their name. Or as you say made a reference using 'I' or 'me' however since ghazals are often writen in the first person this is somewhat weak. I have used other alternatives, e.g.

Barefoot steps linger
in the wet sand, soft.

where the footsteps suggest a signature. Overall however the name or pen name is prefered.

As to Troilets, I think this reply is sanitorial enough.

Win x
Tue, 7 Dec 2010 10:10 am
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Hi Ann

As for criteria 4) Rhyme.

The Qafia DIRECTLY preceeds the Radif on the second line of each Sher and not at the end of the first line as in your ghazal, ghazal - Fibonacci swirl.

If you look at Agha Shahid Ali's book I think all but one of his ghazals show this.

Also Re Criteria 1)Title.

This presents us with a problem. How do we talk about and refer to each others work when they are all just called 'Ghazal'. Well, the standard method is to refer to Ghazal (Radif), so my example above would be my Ghazal (the day). And your last offering could be Ghazal (Fibonacci swirl)

Win X

Tue, 7 Dec 2010 10:18 am
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Thank you for explaining the criteria for a ghazal, Winston. And also for suggesting I tag "Invisible" as a ghazal, as it doesn't fit all the rules. Just hoping my next one does now! ;)

Lynn x
Tue, 7 Dec 2010 07:22 pm
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This has been a really interesting section of WOL (so far) for me and hopefully for you.

Up to now there are 18 ghazals in the blog section posted by 8 different authors.

You can click on 'Ghazals' in the Tags section to see them all in the same place. Wonderful.

Keep postingWin X
Fri, 10 Dec 2010 08:49 am
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Finally! A description that makes sense and that I could follow! Thanks, Winston.

I wrote the following for this year's NaPoWriMo/ GloPoWriMo in response to a request for a poem about "the company of women":

I walk differently with women,
Sing a different key with women.

My vigilance leans, eyes shutter;
Something else to see with women.

Voices like the sea, throats awash -
Laugh, or disagree, with women.

Arms wide as a tree, wind-dancing,
Sway safe in the lea, with women.

Not just them, but we, a bonding;
Have faith, and be free, with women.
Tue, 18 Apr 2017 09:45 pm
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