by Agha Shahid Ali

A poem of five to fifteen couplets. The name rhymes with "guzzle."

No enjambment between couplets. Think of each couplet as a separate poem, in which the first line serves the function of the octave of a Petrarchan sonnet and the second line the sestet—that is, there must be a turn, or volta, between lines 1 and 2 of each couplet. Thus, certain kinds of enjambments would not work even WITHIN the couplets, the kind that would lead to a caesura in line 2. One must have a sense that line 2 is amplifying line 1, turning things around, surprising us.

Once again, ABSOLUTELY no enjambment between couplets—each couplet must be like a precious stone that can shine even when plucked from the necklace though it certainly has greater luster in its setting.

What links these couplets is a strict formal scheme. (I am speaking of the canonical form of the ghazal, shaped by the Persians in, I believe, the twelfth century.) This is how it works: The entire ghazal employs the same rhyme and refrain. The rhyme must always immediately precede the refrain. If the rhyme is merely buried somewhere in the line, that will have its charm, of course, but it would not lead to the wonderful pleasure of IMMEDIATE recognition which is central to the ghazal. The refrain may be a word or phrase.

Each line must be of the same length (inclusive of the rhyme and refrain). In Urdu and Persian, all the lines are usually in the same meter and have the same metrical length. So establish some system—metrical or syllabic—for maintaining consistency in line lengths.

The last couplet may be (and usually is) a signature couplet in which the poet may invoke his/her name in the first, second, or third person.

The scheme of rhyme and refrain occurs in BOTH lines of the first couplet (that is how one learns what the scheme is), and then in only the second line of every succeeding couplet (that is, the first line of every succeeding couplet has no restrictions other than to maintain the syllabic or metrical length.

There is an epigrammatic terseness in the ghazal, but with immense lyricism, evocation, sorrow, heartbreak, wit. What defines the ghazal is a constant longing.

This is what a ghazal looks like:

Couplet one:

---------------------------------------------rhyme A + refrain
---------------------------------------------rhyme A + refrain

Couplet Two, Three, & so on:

---------------------------------------------rhyme A + refrain

Here are some opening and concluding couplets of mine:

Example A:

I say That, after all, is the trick of it all
When suddenly you say "Arabic of it all."


For Shahid too the night went quickly as it came.
After that, O Friend, came the music of it all.

Example B:

What will suffice for a true love knot? Even the rain?
But he has bought grief’s lottery, bought even the rain.


They’ve found the knife that killed you, but whose prints are these?
No one has such small hands, Shahid, not even the rain.

Example C:

Suspended in the garden, Time, bit by bit, shines—
As you lean over this page, late and alone, it shines.


Mark how Shahid returns your very words to you.
It’s when the heart, still unbriefed, but briefly literature, shines.

Example D:

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight
Before you agonize him in farewell tonight?


And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee—
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.