Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ghuzal, qasida, and musaddas oh my!

Today we’re looking at the ghazal form. It’s pronounced “ghuzzle” and originated in Persia, the Iran, formerly India, area. It’s a form of poetry over a thousand years old and that’s just cool. The ghazal has rules, as does form poetry, as opposed to free verse. It’s written in couplets, and couplets mean rhyme so break out the rhyming dictionary. There are five to fifteen couplets per poem. The lines must have the same rhythm (don’t confuse that with rhyme) and the couplet end-rhyme is very specific. The first couplet has the same end-rhyme. So:

Axie had a Little Sheep.
Little Sheep took a leap.

That’s the first couplet. In the second couplet, the second line rhymes with the first couplet. So:

Little Sheep looked and hopped and jumped all day
Axie seized a crook and on the sheep began to creep.

Shoot me, this is straight off the top of my head.)

The refrain is repeated in the second line throughout the poem. The last couplet can contain a poet’s signature, or a line connecting them to the poem somehow. Not all have these, but kinda cool when they do. Check out for more on the ghazal and look for an example there also. There’s also the Ghazal Page, a webzine devoted to the ghazal form in English.

Related to the ghazal, are three additional forms, the qasida, the musaddas, and zejele. They all belong to the family of Urdu poetry, something vaguely Arabic, Persian, and Pakistani in origin. I’m just learning about it myself so this is by no means an extensive list. It’s a crash course for me in non-Western poetic forms. So here we go.

The qasida is Arabic and consists of couplets, up to a hundred couplets, with the same rhyme. So the rhyme scheme is aa aa aa etc. Pretty boring, but to each their own. Wikipedia has links to prolific 12th century poets who mastered this form. Go there for a list and links to their work.

The musaddas has some disagreement surrounding the form. Arabic in origin, some say the the musaddas has three feet in a line, a light syllable an optional addition. Others call for a six-line stanzaic form with an aaaabb rhyme scheme. Another version uses a ghazal rhyme scheme through the final couplet making an aa ba ca da ea fa ga ha ii rhyme scheme. Use whichever one you want, combine them, make the form your own. I couldn’t find any examples of a masadda in my quick search, but I’m sure they’re out there.

The last related form to the ghazal is the zéjele. According to PoetryBase, it showed up in Moorish Spain sometime in the tenth century. This was a zenith in terms of Spanish-Moorish history. Culture was at an all time high there while China faced serious political upheaval and Europe, always a backwater culturally speaking, entered the early days of the dark ages. The zéjel holds the equivalent of a limerick. The content is meant to be light. Eight syllable lines are typical, but longer or shorter is perfectly acceptable. Verses, likewise, can be any length. The rhyme follows an aa bbba ccca ddda etc pattern with an eight syllable meter, though, again, guideline for this form more than a rule.

For more on Urdu poetry, try Wikipedia Or Urdu

Happy ghuzzeling! :p Or qasida-ing or zejele-ing…


Kamal S. said...

"The qasida is Arabic and consists of couplets, up to a hundred couplets, with the same rhyme. So the rhyme scheme is aa aa aa etc. Pretty boring, but to each their own"

There's nothing boring to it actually to someone who is a) open to the form and b) has an attention span.

All that a qasida is is simply a very long ghazal, the art of the form is in using the mono-rhyme, which you flippantly call pretty boring, to build up an arousing and moving emotional response in the reader.

With well chosen meter it becomes quite rhythmic and has an emotional effect not only independent of the actual content, just by the sound alone, but that serves as a vehicle that the poems themes can ride.

It is wise to be less flippant and actually be open to things that may seem strange and out of the ordinary, but may have real and interesting value if examined closely.

I know you weren't trying to be snarky purposefully, and I benefited from reading your article, but sometimes the reality of things we dismiss are more nuanced and interesting then we are habituated to expecting.

Ax said...

Hi Kamal, I didn’t mean to sound snarky and apologize if that’s how I came across. I’m a pretty sarcastic person and tend to forget that it doesn’t always translate well. In the right hands, any kind of poetic form can be beautiful. I didn’t make it clear that the boring I referred to reflected my experience of less-skilled poets being a slave to the form and the content of the poem suffering for it, if that makes sense. :) In the few examples I’ve read of these kinds of poetry, the lovely strangeness of a different culture has been illuminating and I don’t mean to be disrespectful. Thank you for your comments and glad you learned something from my post. I did too.

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