How To Write Ghazal Poetry
Ghazal poetry, originating from the ancient Persian tradition and influencing various cultures throughout history, captivates with its rich and unique expression. The ghazal is a lyrical form of poetry that explores themes of love, longing, and spirituality. It consists of rhyming couplets where each line within the couplet ends with the same refrain, known as the radif. This intricate pattern creates a rhythmic flow, allowing the ghazal to be both melodic and introspective.
Rules of the Ghazal
- It is a poem of 5 couplets
- The rhyme scheme is aA bA cA dA eA
- There is no syllable requirement
Benefits and Challenges of the Form
In ghazal poetry, the poet weaves a tapestry of emotions and experiences, evoking yearning and desire. Love, particularly unrequited or forbidden, serves as a central motif, with the beloved symbolizing a divine or transcendent presence. The ghazal enables the poet to explore their emotions deeply, navigating human relationships’ complexities and the eternal quest for spiritual fulfillment. The repetition of the radif throughout the poem reminds readers of the enduring nature of love and the cyclical nature of existence.
Ghazal poetry encompasses a wide range of themes and moods, reflecting the diversity of human experience. While some ghazals delve into themes of loss, separation, and longing, others celebrate the beauty of nature, the joy of union, and the intoxication of divine love. The ghazal’s concise structure and strict rhyme scheme challenge poets to express profound thoughts and emotions within a limited space, resulting in a condensed and often poignant style of verse. This timeless form of poetry continues to inspire poets and captivate readers, inviting them into a world of passion, introspection, and spiritual enlightenment.
Ghazal Writing Prompts
Prompt 1 – Changing Seasons
Write a ghazal poem mourning the loss of each season in the year.
after Christina Rosetti
Pour leaves into a gossamer bag, the kettle boils
in the bleak midwinter
the orange-brown water steams your mug and glasses
watching now fall in the bleak midwinter
the cinnamon scent of your mothers touch
fills your nose in the bleak midwinter
the teardrop shed at her absence joins your mug—
your mother passed this bleak midwinter
one rotation round the earth, the first and last snow falls
without her here, the end of a bleak midwinter
Prompt 2 – The Car is Just the Vessel
Getting your first car is a formative moment. You can do a lot of firsts, go on road trips with friends, finally go on a date by yourself, get a parking ticket. Nothing feels as good as the first time you do it. Write a ghazal celebrating your first taste of freedom, and mourning the memory.
Books stacked in the floorboards,
her breath on the polished glass
Together you would drive
skipping yet another class
Playing hooky in a hand-me-down,
if only it could last
The memory of her fades each day,
like long neglected brass
Thank the Lord for that car,
& pray you don’t forget her laugh
Prompt 3 – An Impossible Place
It’s so easy to attach amazing memories to places in time and space. Often, those places where those memories are made are inaccessible, destroyed or you’ve moved away. Write a ghazal mourning the loss of a certain place.
The memory of you, of us, exists inside my mind
It fades with age and I’m afraid it’s bound to crack
I still see our hair entangled, brown woven strands
laid together resting, watching, from the comfort of a backpack
the stars above still shine, just as they did back then
but that midnight field is never coming back
No more will sudden dew soak through our socks
no more time spent gazing at that never-ending black
I loved you once, and I will love you til I die
that place is gone, lost to time, but these words will never crack
Prompt 4 – But Times Were Different Then
Time changes many things. Your character changes with time, technology does, too. Write a ghazal mourning the ever-changing nature of life, about a time you wish you could go back to.
In times before the fall,
we used to catch the bees
on summer nights together,
scraping up our knees
but now you just eat honey,
& complain each time you sneeze
what happened then, to us
once alive in a summer breeze
now you sit inside behind a screen
complaining of ticks and fleas
Prompt 5 – Midnight in Paris
Write about a time and place in history you wish you could visit.
It may not seem like much to you,
a city with derivative streets, with a derivative name
But to visit once the very heart—Indianapolis
when and where Kurt Vonnegut rose to fame
with wit and humor I so deeply love
His confidence, humanity, and lack of shame
It was an earnest time for men, 1972
when he put pen to paper and immortalized his name
But that place in time has ceased to exist
for a brief moment in Indiana, he set the world aflame.
Prompt 6 – Past Selves
“One has to kill a few of one’s natural selves to let the rest grow — a very painful slaughter of innocents.” — Henry Sidwick
Write about a version of yourself that you had to let go of.
When I was still a child,
the best thing a man can be,
I’d go searching in the underbrush
laughing at my scraped up knee
Together, friends and I
would go bounding in the streams
Wasting away another day
careless, innocent, carefree
I miss that little man each day
but then remember that was me.
Prompt 7 – Fictional Worlds
Write a ghazal about a fictional world you read about, saw on TV, or imagined that you wish you could go to.
Douglas Adams penned, for us, a world
all encompassing, across the universe
Interplanetary travel, universal language
restaurants shacked on planets wild and diverse
To be stuck here then, on our blue planet
seems a cruel and wicked curse
Instead of Vogons I have to talk to men,
though I suppose things could be worse
So I have to sit and read, entranced
Hitchhiker’s Guide from a little planet called Earth