BASIC TERMS FOR DISCUSSING PERSIAN, URDU, & ARABIC POETRY
- Sher/ a couplet (plural, ashaar)
- Malta/ first couplet of the ghazal– both lines end in the rhyme and refrain
- Radif/Radeef/ the refrain
- Qafia/ Qâfiyah/ Qaafiya/ Kaafiya/ the rhyme
- Makta/ Makhta/ the signature– the poet invokes herself (or an alter ego/pen name–takhallus ) in the last couplet, directly or through wordplay
Beher (or bahar)
(pron: be-hair) Poetic metre. Both lines of a sher (couplet) have to be of the same ‘beher’ or ‘metre’. Also, all the couplets (ashaar) of a ghazal must use the same metre. There are 19 different metres that are used in Urdu poetry. In simple terms, they are divided into three categories – short, medium and long. In addition, despite his good efforts in widening awareness of the strict ghazal form in English, Agha Shahid Ali stopped short of introducing metre as an integral part of traditional ghazal pratice which weakened his case for writing the ‘pure ghazal’ compared with free verse off-shoots.
One who writes ghazals.
A poem that praises God.
A comic use of the ghazal form, also known as mazaahiyaa or mazaakiyaa shaayari. It is a highly popular form of light verse in Urdu and Hindi.
The rhyming of the first two lines of a ghazal (the malta).
A word meaning ‘love’ or often ‘the object of love’; a personified form equivalent to ‘eros’; ishq is a term originating from Sufi mysticism. From my understanding, one’s ishq may be equated with the higher self’, pir (pron: peer), guru, icon or idealized form used for devotional meditation. It is said that those experiencing a high inner state may visualize their ishq like a shadow mirroring their every action. They can converse with it, can be instructed by it and eventually the ishq merges with the lower self, and thus lover and beloved become One, a consciousness in divine union. ishq in literary usage has different levels of meaning depending on context. In my poem bearing the term as a radif, Ishq is referred to as a place somewhere on the Silk Road. Of course, there is no actual hamlet or village (to my knowledge). It is simply a way of creating a metaphorical way of discussing the tradition of ishq referred to in traditional ghazals and Indo-Persian literary culture.
(pron. mai-hafil) using a very light ‘a’) An informal soiree, an ‘art-party’ most commonly held in a home. The word mehfil has a deep metaphorical resonance in Urdu literary culture and is often referred to as a place where the poet sees from across the room the ‘love-object’ who may have been (traditionally) a veiled woman. Most likely, she would have been a member of the host’s family. Talking casually with a woman in this situation would have been socially unacceptable, thus there is always an air of mystery and romantic excitement about a mehfil. Another common kind of mehfil would have been held in a courtesan’s house. Mehfil is a broader term than mushaira: a symposium or gathering of poets where they are invited to recite their poems.
(pron: mishra) A line of a couplet or a longer verse is called a misra. In a couplet, the first line is called misra-e-oolaa and the second line is called misra-e-saanii.
A poem with a single, fully realized theme, narrative, or voice.
Sanskrit term for a small or personal Hindu altar; the act of devotional worship, ie doing puja.
A lengthy ballad in (Urdu, Persian, or Arabic).
(pronounced saaqi): A male character, usually a young boy; the beloved, the bar-tender, the cup-bearer, a page of the court who comes and pours the wine during a mehfil. The presence of Saqi listed in the dramatis personae associated with Urdu and Persian literary culture implies a homosexual tendency in the once male-dominated traditional literary scene. Ghazal couplets often invoke Saqi who has taken on metaphoric or mythological status starting from ancient Persian times.
(pron: shey-r): A couplet. Each couplet represents a single idea and is complete in itself. The plural of sher is ashaar.
(pron: w or v+ah!) ‘Wow, wonderful, great, excellent!’ Those listening ghazals at a ‘mehfil’ or more formally a mushaira don’t clap in appreciation, but answer with a chorus of wah-wah! wah-wah! This can happen after the rendition of any particularly appreciated couplet (sher). Clapping is regarded at a rather crude mood-breaker. They can also respond with kya baad hai! Hindi or Urdu for ‘What about that!’ meaning ‘There’s no words to describe it!’ another term of praise or appreciation. It should be noted that the audience interact more during a ghazal gathering than is common during the contemporary English-language poetry reading (except for a poetry slam perhaps). The audience can also request for the couplet to be repeated at that moment, so all can savour it again. This is one of the most charming qualities I have observed at gatherings.