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Supriya Bhatnagar

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    Qaafiya and Radiif… Pleasures of the Ghazal

    I enjoyed reading Tyler Mills’s essay on the ghazal (the Writer’s Chronicle, vol. 45, # 6), but I have one kvetchy issue with it. Although my Arabic and Urdu aren’t strong, more like a hunted down and trapped gazelle, I think she’s getting her radiif and qaafiya mixed up—it could happen to anyone.

    According to my understanding, which comes almost entirely from Shahid Ali’s Ravishing Disunities, the radiif is a refrain that can be a word or a phrase. And the qaafiya is a rhyming moment that precedes that refrain.

    So, for example, in the couplets that Tyler Mills quotes from Shahid Ali, I think she confuses the matter when she says the radiif is “exiles” and the qaafiya is “by” (page 100):

    Your open the heart to list unborn galaxies.
    Don’t shut that folder when Earth is filed by

    Before Night passes over the wheat of Egypt,
    let stones be leavened, the bread torn wild by

    In this case, the rhyming qaafiya would be wild and filed (and in the rest of the poem, mild, Wilde, reconciled, styled, etc.) and the radiif, repeated twelve times, would be “by exiles.” (The fact that the qaafiya and radiif actually rhyme is just a pleasurable accident, and not a necessary part of the form.) I think Tyler mixes things up when she calls the qaafiya “an extra internal rhyme in this ghazal”; it’s actually, according to the doctrine of Shahid Ali, an almost indispensable part of the form.

    Thanks for the interesting article.

                    Kevin Boyle
                    Elon, NC


    Tyler Mills Responds:

    Thank you for your letter. I see why you are a bit confused. What I am referring to is exactly what you say in your letter (by way of Shahid Ali), that “the fact that the qaafiya and radiif actually rhyme is just a pleasurable accident.” I do not exactly “call the qaafiya ‘an extra internal rhyme in this ghazal’” itself: instead, I am noting that these words rhyme with one another but also, in “preparing us for what we are truly expecting” (100), rhyme with that final radiif word. Could this moment within the larger article have been more clear? Certainly. I blame my ears, which were ringing with all of those delicious “i” sounds—“wild by exiles”—or causing me to assume that what was was so obvious to me needed to be more fully articulated. Thank you for your sharp eyes, Kevin. Shahid Ali’s ghazals are so delightful, and the form is so powerful, because of the very musical complexity that you are noting.