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I was reading about Arabic poetry on Wikipedia, and specifically the description of scansion:

The rhymed poetry falls within fifteen different meters collected and explained by al-Farahidi in The Science of ‘Arud. Al-Akhfash, a student of al-Farahidi, later added one more meter to make them sixteen. The meters of the rhythmical poetry are known in Arabic as "seas" (buḥūr). The measuring unit of seas is known as "taf‘īlah", and every sea contains a certain number of taf'ilas which the poet has to observe in every verse (bayt) of the poem. The measuring procedure of a poem is very rigorous. Sometimes adding or removing a consonant or a vowel can shift the bayt from one meter to another. Also, in rhymed poetry, every bayt has to end with the same rhyme (qāfiyah) throughout the poem.

This confused me for a number of reasons.

  • What does it mean to have fifteen different meters? Meter in poetry is the overall rhythmic structure; are the fifteen different things actually feet?
  • Is "seas" really just another word for meter, or is there some significant difference between the "seas" of Arabic poetry and the meter of western poetry?
  • Since seas are made up of taf'ilahs, does that mean it's a taf'ilah which is basically a foot?

I've looked for a better description of this, but searching for "seas arabic poetry" just gave me a list of results which were essentially identical to the above-quoted Wikipedia page. Is there a better resource for learning about the scansion structure of Arabic poetry?

What are the basics of how scansion works in Arabic poetry?

  • 1
    The Romans had a whole bunch of meters for Latin poetry. See Wikipedia. And in fact English does, too: iambic pentameter, iambic tetrameter, trochaic tetrameter, common meter , ... – Peter Shor Aug 23 '17 at 4:05
  • @PeterShor But surely English has (at least in theory) infinitely many, since feet and lines can both be arbitrarily long? I wonder what the fifteen are in Arabic ... – Rand al'Thor Aug 23 '17 at 9:50
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Prosody is the science that describes poetry forms called meters or seas (bohor) in Arabic.
The comparison between two prosodies requires some basic knowledge of both prosodies.
In western prosodies there is one form with two analogous but different contents.
Sound and prosodic syllables are represented by U for both unstressed (English) and short (Latin) syllables, which may be represented by no 1. and _ for stressed (English) and long (Latin), may be represented by 2.

Analogy is best described by Reuven Tsur:

English Renaissance poets thought they succeeded in the adaptation of the quantitative metre. But they were doing something that was very different from what they thought they were doing: working in a stress timed language, they based their metre on the more or less regular alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, and not as they thought, on the regular alternation of longer and shorter syllables. They used the same names and graphic notation for the various metres, but the system was utterly different, and well- suited to the nature of a stress-timed language

These two symbols 1 and 2 are adequate for linguistic and prosodic rules description of both languages.
When it comes to Arabic these two symbols are adequate only for linguistic description. It falls short from prosodic rules description because Arabic prosodic units are 2 and 3.

3 being a monolithic unit composed of 1+2 (short + long) syllables. Considering this 3 as one entity is a must to enable a consistent full rule description of Arabic prosody.
Latin is quantitative Arabic is both quantitative and qualitative. Syllable time duration is not the controlling factor.

This long introduction is necessary to answer the other two questions. The answer is descriptive. More explanation is needed for detailed information.

Basic "taf‘īlahs" are two types:

  1. Two units : 2 3 and 3 2

  2. Three units : 2 2 3 – 2 3 2 – 3 2 2

The permutations of these units and (other derived from them) unite in a meter clock which proves that Arabic meters is a manifestation of an arithmetic program felt by Arabs – maybe like other peoples - just like that program felt by bees and controls the design of their cells.

https://sites.google.com/site/alarood/two-clocks/two%20clocks%20Ara%20+%20Eng.gif

12 is the unit of iambic meters it is a foot . But In Arabic 12 is combined in the monolithic prosodic symbol 3 called watid. 22 is the unit of spondaic meter it is a foot . In Arabic it is considered as two sabab units. less than taf‘īlah So generally we can say a Latin foot ranges between the Arabic watid 3 and the taf‘īlah Relevant subjects: Is there a poetry in architecture?

I hope you find the answer useful.


a busy cat

This youtube video provides a clear example. It can be understood in English, Arabic and its original Sanskrit.

Please listen to the first half line (00:19 - 00:23) in this song. Its pronunciation is "Fee layaalin katamat sirral hawaa". Word meanings are:

  • Fee = in = في
  • Layaalin = nights = ليالٍ
  • Katamat = concealed = كتمت
  • Sir = secret = سرّ
  • Alhawa = love = الهوى

Cv = da = 1 & CV = Cvv = CvC = DUM = 2

Scansion: Fee layaalin katamat sirral hawaa

  • Fee =CV=2
  • Layaa=CvCV=12=3
  • Lin=CvC=2
  • Ka=Cv=1
  • Tamat=CvCvC=112=13
  • Sir=CvC=2
  • Ral=CvC=2
  • Hawaa=CvCV=12=3

Bid=2 Dojaa=3 Law=2 Laa=2 Shomoo=3 Sol=2 Go=1 Raree=3. Pattern is: 2 3 2 1 3 2 2 3.

Further details and many lines are explained on: http://www.everypoet.org/pffa/showthread.php?16003-Does-it-work-in-English&s=. threads #11 and #12 unfortunately most of the links there are no more active

  • Welcome to the site. This is a really good start to an answer. A few things. Could you possibly link to a recording or two of arabic poetry that has meter, and give a description of what people should look for when listening to the poetry? I think this would help me a lot in understanding your points. Failing that, perhaps you could give a longer description of what the different "taf‘īlahs" sound like? But this is a great start to an answer; I hope you stick around. – user111 Sep 11 '17 at 0:14
  • 1
    Please listen to the first half line ( 00:19- 00:23) in this song: youtube.com/watch?v=kFUpZfKL5c4 Its proniubciation Hs " Fee layaalin katamat sirral hawaa" Word meanings are : Fee= in = في Layaalin= nights = ليالٍ Katamat= concealed = كتمت Sir= secret = سرّ Alhawa= love = الهوى Cv = da=1 CV =Cvv = CvC= DUM=2 scansion: Fee layaalin katamat sirral hawa Fee =CV=2 Layaa=CvCV=12=3 Lin=CvC=2 Ka=Cv=1 Tamat=CvCvC=112=13 Sir=CvC=2 Ral=CvC=2 Hawaa=CvCV=12=3 Bid=2 Dojaa=3 Law=2 Laa=2 Shomoo=3 Sol=2 Go=1 Raree=3 Pattern is : 2 3 2 1 3 2 2 3 – خشان خشان Sep 17 '17 at 2:52
  • 1
    Please listen to the first half line ( 00:19- 00:23) in this song: youtube.com/watch?v=kFUpZfKL5c4 Its pronunciation is " Fee layaalin katamat sirral hawaa" Word meanings are : Fee= in = في * Layaalin= nights = ليالٍ * Katamat= concealed = كتمت * Sir= secret = سرّ * Alhawa= love = الهوى * Cv = da=1 * CV =Cvv = CvC= DUM=2 * scansion: Fee layaalin katamat sirral hawa * Fee =CV=2 * Layaa=CvCV=12=3 * Lin=CvC=2 * Ka=Cv=1 * Tamat=CvCvC=112=13 * Sir=CvC=2 * Ral=CvC=2 * Hawaa=CvCV=12=3 Pattern is : 2 3 2 1 3 2 2 3 – خشان خشان Sep 17 '17 at 3:01
  • 1
    Further details and many lines are explained on: everypoet.org/pffa/… .....threads #11 and #12 unfortunately most of the links there are no more active You know , I was banned in that forum for trying to explain the answer of this topic. That is why I appreciate your attitude. – خشان خشان Sep 17 '17 at 3:02
  • 1
    At last i could publish this youtube. i hope it is a clear answer. youtube.com/watch?v=AXDSRkfETyI&feature=youtu.be – خشان خشان Oct 9 '17 at 21:18

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