A ghazal is a type of poetic form. This form originated in Iran in the sixth century CE, and spread across the Middle East and as far as Southeast Asia. Ghazals can be recited, spoken, or sung, with many popular Persian and Middle Eastern singers performing ghazals as part of their repertoire. Some Sufi poets have also explored this form, and while classical ghazals are usually in Arabic or Persian, this form can be used in any language.
The rules of the ghazal form are fairly simple. A ghazal includes a set of no more than 15 and no less than five rhyming couplets known as sher. Traditionally, each sher is like a miniature poem in itself, and the second line of each sher in a ghazal includes a refrain, which may consist of a single word or several. The refrain is known as the “radif.” As a general rule, the meter of a ghazal remains consistent throughout the whole poem.
Depending on how poets use the radif, the rhyming scene of a ghazal can vary. It may be, for example, in the form of AA BA CA DA EA and so forth, in AA AA AA AA AA form, or poets may play with other rhymes, such as AA BA AA CA AA. The rhyming scheme is generally adjusted to meet the needs of the poet and the radif, and the composer of a ghazal may also think about how the poem will sound if sung or spoken when considering the rhyme scheme.
Traditionally, ghazals are used for themes of love and loss. Often a ghazal describes an unattainable, absent, or separated love. While people may use this form for other themes, such works are not, strictly speaking, true ghazals, because they lack the traditional thematic framework of the ghazal. Thanks to the clear, yet flexible rules of the ghazal, poets can express themselves in a variety of ways with this poetic form.
Many classical writers from the Middle East wrote ghazal, and the form continues to be widely used today. The language of ghazals tends to be simple and clear, yet haunting, reminding the reader of themes like suffering and loss as well as love. Works of Arabic poetry often include some very excellent examples of this poetic form, and ghazals are also regularly performed across the Middle East, in both private homes and public venues.