- The ghazal is a very common verse form in medieval Arabic, Persian, and Turkish poetry. Scholars have traced the origin of the ghazal to 10th-century Persia, where it developed out of the older form called the QASÍDA that had come into Persia from Arabia. The qasída, often a panegyric in praise of a ruler or nobleman, might run to a length of 100 or more couplets in monorhyme. The ghazal developed out of the tashbib, or opening couplet of the qasÍda, in which the poet would talk more generally about some universal theme like love, life, death, beauty, or nature. The ghazal, which became the most popular form of poetry in Persia, usually did not exceed 12 couplets and, more often, contained about seven. The ghazal was given its definitive form about the 13th century by writers like the Persian SA’DI.In its classical form, each couplet (or bayt) of the ghazal is completely self-contained.The sense of one bayt should not run over into the next. In addition the bayt itself should have a turn, or volta, moving from one line to the next, so that the second line gives a new twist to what was introduced in the first line, and each couplet is like a separate poem in itself. The first bayt of a ghazal is called the matla, which sets the mood and tone of the poem. The matla is a rhymed couplet, and the rhyme subsequently appears as the second line of each succeeding couplet, so that the rhyme scheme of the ghazal is aa ba ca da ea etc. In addition the matla usually introduces a refrain, or radif, consisting of a word or short phrase that follows the rhyme in each bayt. Further, each bayt of the ghazal must follow the same meter, or beher. There are technically 19 different meters available for ghazals, but generally these can be categorized as short, medium, or long. Thus the only requirement of the first line of each couplet is that it follow the same beher as the rest of the poem.The concluding couplet of the ghazal is usually called the maqta. This is essentially a signature bayt, in which the poet includes his pen name (taknhallus). This bayt tends to be more personal than the rest of the poem, and the poet may consider his own state of mind, or talk about his personal faith or love, or even engage in self-praise. At first, ghazals were strictly love poems—hence the name, which is an Arabic word meaning “talking to women.” As the form developed, it came to include a number of themes, including philosophical, mystical, religious, and social topics, usually with a tone of longing. In post-medieval times, the ghazal was introduced in the West, particularly in Germany, largely through admiration for the poet HAFEZ, and continues to be a very popular form in modern Urdu poetry.
Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.