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Arabic poetry

   

No people in the world manifest such enthusiastic admiration for literary expression and are so moved by the word, spoken or written, as the Arabs. Modern audiences in Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo can be stirred to the highest degree by the recital of poems, only vaguely comprehended, and by the delivery of orations in the classical tongue, though it be only partially understood. The rhythm, the rhyme, the music, produce on them the effect of what they call "lawful magic" (sihr halal).

Philip K Hitti, History of the Arabs


Metre

THE METRES normally used in Arabic poetry were first codified in the 8th century by al-Khalil bin Ahmad and have changed little since.

Metre (wazn) is based on the length of syllables rather than stress. A short syllable is a consonant followed by a short vowel. A long syllable is a vowelled letter followed by either an unvowelled consonant or a long vowel. A nunation sign at the end of a word also makes the final syllable long.

In Arabic poetry each line (bayt; abyat) is divided into two halves (shatr; shatrayn).

Below are metres commonly found in Arabic poetry, showing long (—) and short (^) syllables. They represent pairs of half-lines and should be read from left to right. The patterns are not rigidly followed: two short syllables may be substituted for a long one, etc.

Tawil:

^ — — | ^ — — | ^ — — | ^ — — |

^ — — | ^ — — | ^ — — | ^ — — |

Kamil:

^ ^ — ^ — | ^ ^ — ^ — | ^ ^ — ^ — |

^ ^ — ^ — | ^ ^ — ^ — | ^ ^ — ^ — |

Wafir:

^ — ^ ^ — | ^ — ^ ^ — | ^ — — |

^ — ^ ^ — | ^ — ^ ^ — | ^ — — |

Rajaz (common in didactic poems):

— — ^ — | — — ^ — | — — ^ — |

— — ^ — | — — ^ — | — — ^ — |

Hazaj (used in Rubayyat of Omar Khayyam):

^ — — — | ^ — — — |

^ — — — | ^ — — — |

Basit:

— — ^ — | — ^ — | — — ^ — | — ^ — |

— — ^ — | — ^ — | — — ^ — | — ^ — |

Khafif:

— ^ — — | — — ^ — | — ^ — — |

— ^ — — | — — ^ — | — ^ — — |

Sari':

— — ^ — | — — ^ — | — ^ — |

— — ^ — | — — ^ — | — ^ —|


Rhyme

RHYME (qafiya) is basically determined by the last consonant of a word. In rhyme-words nunation is dropped, as (sometimes) is the final vowel. Where the final vowel is fatha (short "a"), it must be used consistently each time the rhyme occurs - though kasra (short "i") and damma (short "u") and interchangeable.

If a long vowel precedes the last syllable of a rhyme-word, it also becomes part of the rhyme. Similarly, ya (long "i") and waw (long "u") are interchangeable but alif (used as a long "a") is not.

Because short vowels are generally considered long when they occur at the end of a line, the vowels which appear short in their written form also rhyme with their corresponding long vowels - it's the pronunciation, not the writing, that counts.

In older poetry - especially the ode (qasidah) - a single rhyme was used, often continuing for 100 lines or more. Later, varied rhyme schemes were introduced, for example, where the two halves of a line rhyme with each other. Highly complex patterns have developed, such as: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1, 3, 3, 3, 3, 1, 4, 4, 4, 4, 1…


Poetry websites

Palestinian poetry in translation
mainly on patriotic themes
(Palestine Information Centre)

Almubarak.net
Poems in Arabic

Arabic poetry
Hassan Zeino's site

Moroccan poetry  
Articles and English translations of poems (poetryinternational.org)

Palestinian Poets
from Salma Jayyusi's "Anthology of Modern Palestinian literature" (Columbia U. Press, NY, 1992). Only living poets are listed.

Palestinian poets 
Biographical notes, focusing on the period from about 1964-1987. (Glen Rangwala)

Arabian Gulf poetry

Amin F Rihani (1876-1940)
Website dedicated to the Arab-American poet

Wadada.net
Features Naguib Surur and Ibrahim Dawoud

Arabic Poetry page
(Abed Khooli, Univ. of Oregon)

Arabian poetry
Classical and Najdi (in Arabic)

Hiyam
Poetry magazine, entirely in Arabic

Arabic poetry is best recited aloud. Listen to some samples from Hamo's Site and also some recitations of Palestinian poetry


Articles

The literary legacy of classical Arabic poetry
by Susan Moke (with examples of qasidas in translation)

Iraqi poetry today
A review by Adrienne Rich, July 2003 (poetryinternational.org)

Adonis indicts Arabic poetry - al-Jadid
by Elie Chalala, editor of al-Mashriq magazine (January 1996)

Kahlil Gibran
a short biography

Badia Kashghari
A Saudi poetess caught between modernity and tradition
by Dina Ibrahim (Arab News, 3 January, 1997)

Rebel with a cause
a critique of Naguib Surur's work by Mahmoud al-Lozy, lecturer in Performing and Visual Arts, American University, Cairo [wadada.net, courtesy of Al-Ahram Weekly]


Modern Arabic poetry

(In Arabic except where indicated. Mainly from Cornell University library)

Ilya Abu Madi

Kahlil Gibran

Fadwa Tuqan

Ahmad Matar

Poetry of the Gulf region

Hasan Abdallah

Ahmad Shawqi


See special pages for these poets:

     

In the poetry section

 
 

In the literature section

 

In the arts and culture section

 

Examples of classical poetry

Farazdaq, ca. 641-ca. 728

Farazdaq fi Madh al-Imam Zayn al-din (Arabic)

Tarafah ibn al-'Abd

The Ode of Tarafah (English)

Abu al-Hassan al-Husri (d. 1095)

Mourning in Andalusia (English)

Ibn Jakh (11th century)

Leavetaking (English)

Yusuf ibn Harun al-Ramadi (d. 1022)

Slave Boy (English)

Abu al-Alaa' al-Ma'arri

Selected poems


Books

Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World
Jean Gibran, Kahlil Gibran (contributor). 1991
Hardback from Amazon [US]. Paperback from Amazon [US]
Introduction to Arab Poetics
Adonis. 1991
Hardback from Amazon [US] or [UK]
Ten Modern Arab Poets
D. O'Grady. 1991
Paperback from Amazon [UK] (alternative) [UK]
Classical Poems by Arab Women
Abdullah al-Udhari. 1999
Paperback from Amazon [UK]. Hardback from Amazon [UK]
The Seven Arab Odes
Desmond O'Grady. 1990
Hardback from Amazon [UK]. Paperback from Aamazon [UK]
Poems of Arab Andalusia
Cola Franzen (translator). 1990. 
Paperback from Amazon [US] or [UK]

Bread, Hashish, and Moon: Four Modern Arab Poets
Ben Bennani (ed).
Hardback from Amazon [US]. Paperback from Amazon [US]

 
 
 
 


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Last revised on 18 June, 2009