Rhyme in Ghazals

One of the major problems when writing in a form such as the ghazal-a form in which repetition plays such a major role-is keeping the rhyme fresh at all times. If the rhyme stagnates, the poem will fail, no matter how potent the images themselves may be. This essay will propose a few suggestions for rhymes in ghazals that, hopefully, will keep their lines fresh.

The first thing to consider is the use of half-rhyme or slant-rhyme in ghazals. I would advocate strongly against either of these tools, with one possible exception. The addition of “-s” or “-ed” to rhyme words, if used extremely sparingly-I would suggest one per ghazal, possibly two if the poem is long enough-can add a slight alteration to the mono-rhyme, and keep the whole poem fresh and buoyant. However, were a poet to constantly do this, or, even worse, depend totally on half-rhyme, the poem would cease to exist. Indeed, the fragile chain of rhyme-refrain that holds the beads of the ghazal together would be broken. Half-rhyme or slant-rhyme are simply not options at this time in a form such as the ghazal; The form is too new and too fresh to the English language for us to begin wrenching it around to fit our laziness. A strict rhyme scheme must be maintained for the poem to succeed.

How then can poets hope to keep their ghazals alive and energetic?

The first goal would be to vary the types of words used in rhyming. By this I mean avoid using all adjectives, all nouns, all verbs, etc. when choosing rhymes. In my failed ghazal below (hands), one of the major problems is the constant use of the rhyme as an adjective describing the hands. The only time the poem changes this scheme, S1L2, the grammar of the line is so twisted and unnatural that the rhyme becomes forced. However, in the ghazal with the refrain “or you”, the rhymes consist of five verbs, two prepositions, and one conjunction. By varying the types of speech, the lines cannot stagnate, i.e., the phrasings of the second line in each stanza cannot help but be invigorated, simply because the grammar demands it.

Another possible solution would be to vary the syllables in the rhyming words. There are many ways this can be accomplished. If one is lucky enough to come up with a long enough list of feminine rhymes, a successful ghazal can be written based on those. However, this is an extremely hard task to accomplish, and usually requires some playing with the language. One idea would be take two words that match the rhyme being attempted. (“give her/quiver” “I went/silent” etc.) Another idea is to match a masculine rhyme to the feminine rhyme, in other words, rhyme an accented syllable with the unaccented syllable, as in S5L2 of my poem. This is, of course, impossible in a strict metrical line, but in a looser accentual rhythm, this trick is an extremely fun way to shake up both the rhythm and tone of the poem. Much like the old Elizabethan trick of opening occasional lines of iambic pentameter with trochees, the masculine/feminine rhyme combo is a surprise and, hopefully, a delight for the reader.

Another take on this is to keep the rhymes masculine, but change the number of consonants in the rhyming word. In other words, rhyme one syllable words with two syllable words. This is a favorite technique of the late Agha Shahid Ali in his ghazals, and something I have endeavored to work towards in my ghazals, as is seen by “you” where two syllable words-“abhor”, “adore” and “before”-are rhymed with one syllable words “for”, “nor”, “pour” and “tore”. This may not shake up the rhythm as completely as a masculine/feminine combo, but it does create a visual imbalance, as well as a slight aural imbalance, that hopefully succeeds in amusing and fascinating the reader. This technique also expands the list of rhyme words available, and leads to more interesting images, if not variable lines due to grammatical variance in the rhyme words.

Rhyme, of course, is not the only component to the ghazal. Stanza disparateness, strong imagery, and good choice of refrain are all important, not to mention the mixed bag of guidelines handed down by those great poets who wrote before us. However, as a half of the rhyme-refrain combo that strings the beads of the stanzas together, rhyme should be one of the major focuses when attempting to write ghazals. Keeping the rhyme fresh and enlivened will help keep the stanzas, and indeed the ghazal itself, from growing stagnant. By varying the parts of speech used in rhyme, by varying the syllabic count of rhyme words, and, in cases of extreme playfulness, by rhyming masculine and feminine words together, a poet can avoid some of the common paths that lead towards unsuccessful ghazals.


Justice, slip a steaming mug of yourself into my cold hands.
At night, my love, around your belly, I dream that I fold hands.

I wander the iron veins of this city, a dog in heat for you.
Where were you when they forced a pink slip into these old hands?

Were I to consume you like a lemon, would you sour in my mouth
or would you stain my skin with your rind. Could I brag gold hands?

My helmet light rips through the mine like a canary feather.
Wake white, my sleeping love, to chiseled stink, black eyes, coaled hands.

The Prophet drowns alone in a numb curse of beer and whiskey.
Oh, my love, come soak his tongue and fill his steel souled hands.

–for CMAH

Your lover ghazals in order that the world may adore you.
Why is it, my dream, that you, alone, abhor you?

We are all chalices, filled with the mead of delight.
Here, taste my lips. This is the wine honeyed for you.

I have no silk to spread beneath your feet.
Please, tread soft on the dreams I lay before you.

The world is a rug, woven from foam on the waves.
Who can sleep here alone? Not I, nor you.

See with your heart. It will guide like a flickering candle.
For your eyes are blind, and will only serve to detour you.

If the wine does not consume you, it is but vinegar.
Why drink if this is all the jar can pour you?

Seeing the moon strip naked, the Prophet rejoices.
Come, let his love heal the wounds where heartache tore you.

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