The ghazal is an ancient poetic form, older than the sonnet. It consists of a series of 5-12 couplets of equal meter. Each couplet may have a different topic but the underlying unity of the poem comes from its emotional tone, that of longing for an ideal or divine love.
Originating in Arabia, by the 12th century it had spread to Persia and the Indian subcontinent through the work of important Sufi poets like Rumi and Hafiz. In Northern India, the 17th century ghazals of Mirza Ghalib among others established the Urdu tradition of the form, which is still written and sung by poets and performers throughout the subcontinent and central Asia. By the 19th century European poets and scholars had introduced the ghazal to the non-Islamic world.
Agha Shahid Ali devoted the last decade of his life to promoting the ghazal in English. He began by translating the ghazals of the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. He also criticized the earlier work of American poets who had written ghazals without paying attention to its form. In the introduction to Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English (Wesleyan, 2000), Shahid explains the importance of the ghazal’s formal characteristics, which include the repetition of a refrain in both lines of the first couplet and the second line of subsequent couplets, the rhyming of the word just before the refrain in each couplet, and a reference to the poet himself/herself in the final couplet of the ghazal.
This poetry generator is designed to help writers keep to the form of the poem. The number of syllables appears in the box to the left of the line as you type. Each line of poetry should have the same number of syllables. Whatever you type in the purple box is your refrain and will automatically appear at the end of each couplet. The word you type in the blue box will generate a list of rhyming words for you to select in the second line of each of the following couplets. Ghazals do not require narrative or thematic continuity. Each couplet is as Shahid wrote, “like a stone in a necklace,” able to shine on its own, but gaining luster in the context of the other stones. The idea of longing, while traditional to the ghazal, can only be imagined by the individual poet, whose own inspiration will allow the ghazal to evolve among new cultures and practitioners.