SEVEN == SCANNING AS CODE-BREAKING

 

Using the material in this book, you can determine the meter of almost any Urdu poem with complete accuracy. The only condition is that you must have enough lines to work with. Eight lines are usually more than sufficient. Two lines are sometimes not enough.

When you are new to the process, it's important to work calmly and carefully and pay full attention. The normal process of scanning is so reassuringly mechanical that mistakes and anomalies can seem quite disconcerting. And as we will see, some uncertainties are inevitable on the first reading. But the encouraging truth is that after all, all traditional and most modern poetry CAN most definitely be scanned. Urdu meter is a far more powerful and reliable tool for the student than English meter.

Start with the first word in the first line, and divide it into syllables according to the three basic criteria (Sections 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4). Work from orthography first; very often it is sufficient in itself. If it is not, pronounce the word mentally for guidance. Consider whether there are any flexible syllables in the word (Section 2.2), or any special features that might make its scanning unusual (Sections 4.2, 4.3, and 4.4). Mark down its syllables in sequence as long, short, or flexible--you can use any sort of notation you like, as long as it can reflect these three possibilities. If the word is a monosyllable, consider whether it may be flexible (Section 2.1).

Then deal with the second word. You can write down the syllables either from left to right, as we have done for typographical convenience in this book, or from right to left, as flows more naturally from working with Urdu script; a consistent method of your own is the main necessity. If some syllable puzzles you, leave its space blank, or mark it in lightly (pencil is more convenient than pen for this kind of work). Scan three or four lines in this way, trying to keep the syllables properly aligned in vertical columns as you go.

After three or four lines you will almost always notice a pattern emerging, though you'll very often find one or two lines skewed or disarranged somehow, coming out too long or too short. Remember to allow for the extra, unscanned short syllable which may occur at the end of the line in almost all meters, and which does not count in determining the line length. All lines of poetry officially end with a long syllable, since all the meters do. If some lines still seem irregular in length, scan a few more lines, until the weight of evidence is sufficient to tell you the normal line length. Then go over the idiosyncratic lines carefully for one or more of the following tricky features:

*the word aur [aur], which is scanned either (= -), or merely (=). It is so common that it is in a class by itself as a source of error.

*possible cases of word-grafting (Section 3.1). Word-grafting often reduces the number of syllables by one, so an extra syllable in a line can often be removed by detecting the presence of word-grafting.

*metrical peculiarities. You might be dealing with one of those pairs of meters which permit the substitution of two shorts for one long, usually in the next-to-last syllable. Uniquely, the pair consisting of meters #1 and #9 permits such substitution in the third syllable. (These pairs of freely combinable meters are enumerated at the end of Section 6.1.) Some of these meters also permit the first syllable, normally long, to be replaced at will with a short (meters #14-#19). Also, be alert for the extra, unscanned short syllable permitted before the caesura in meters which have a caesura; see Section 6.1 for details.

These features, which can be detected only AFTER the initial scanning process, account for almost all irregularities in the number of syllables per line. If any irregularity remains, set aside the line in which it occurs for later study. When in doubt, scan more lines and consider them all together; the pattern will emerge more and more clearly.

Very rarely, but once in a while, you'll encounter a situation in which a pattern simply fails to emerge, in which each line seems to be quite different in length and pattern from other lines. If this happens, the most probable diagnosis is Mir's "Hindi" meter (Section 6.2); check the patterns and the length to see if this is the case. Remember that a half-length form of this meter, though quite uncommon, does sometimes occur. Then there is meter #6 (Section 6.1), which like "Hindi" meter permits frequent substitution of two shorts for one long, and thus can vary greatly from line to line. Another possibility is that you are dealing with a rubaa((ii [rubaa((ii]. Usually you will know beforehand if this is the case, since the [rubaa((ii] meters are such a distinctive group (Section 6.3), and since [rubaa((ii] poetry normally comes in four-line units which rhyme AABA or AAAA.

If you're dealing with "Hindi" meter or one of its cousins, you will know it. Otherwise, you'll be able to normalize the length of enough lines to make the pattern clear. You will then have orderly vertical columns of syllables. If the nth vertical column contains all long or (most improbably) all short syllables, you will have no doubt about the length of the nth syllable of the line. If the column contains a mixture of longs and flexibles, or a mixture of shorts and flexibles, the true length of the syllable will still be clear. Write the proper mark below each column, separated from it by a line or a bit of space.

What if the column contains all flexibles? If you want to be perfectly sure of your ground, scan more lines. But a column of five or six flexibles usually indicates a short syllable. The reason for this is that the normal processes of syllable division produce more long syllables than short ones. All flexible syllables are two-letter ones: they are thus properly "long" syllables, which may also be pressed into service as short ones. In particular, all the common monosyllabic words which the poet can most conveniently shuffle around to fit the meter are either long or long-turned-flexible (Section 2.1). Thus when the poet wants a long syllable, he has a large stock to choose from and the odds are against his using a whole column of flexible longs and no inflexible longs. But when he wants a convenient short syllable, he has much less scope for choice, so the odds are much greater that he would come to select a whole column of flexibles. The longer the column of flexibles, the greater the probability that the syllable in question is short.

Except in the case of the peculiar meters described above, it is impossible for a single column to contain both long and short syllables. It may often happen that all the syllables in your column appear to be of the same kind, or else flexible, with only a single glaring aberration. If there is any doubt, scan more lines until the weight of evidence makes the proper scansion clear. Then focus on the aberration. Consider the following possibilities:

*possible word-grafting (Section 3.1). If word-grafting is permissible in the situation and would correct the scansion, it should be assumed to have taken place.

*the possible presence of a [tashdiid], even if it is not written; or the erroneous insertion of a tashdiid by the calligrapher where there should not be one.

*the possible presence of an [i.zaafat], even if it is not written; or the erroneous insertion of an i.zaafat where there should not be one.

*the possibility of an Arabic, Persian, or Indic word that falls under some special irregular scansion rule; see Chapter 4 and the Glossary.

*the possibility of a misspelled word-- it's possible that a word with a flexible spelling to indicate scansion (Section 2.4) has in fact been misspelled by the calligrapher.

*the possibility of confusion between n and ;N . There could be confusion between [nuun] and [nuun-e ;Gunnah], with one being erroneously present while the other is metrically correct.

*the amphibious role of o ii e as vowels or consonants, depending on syllable division.

If none of these possibilities can account for the discrepancy, remember that editors and calligraphers do often make mistakes. Compare your edition of the text with some other if possible, to check its accuracy. It is all too easy for the calligrapher to write kar [kar] for ke [ke], shaah [shaah] for shah [shah], or the reverse. Such mistakes, all but undetectable in prose, can have a great effect on scanning, and it is necessary to be alert for them. It is much more likely that there's some such mistake in transmission, than that the poet wrote a line flagrantly out of meter. However, pronunciation and poetic practice have varied somewhat with time and place; the oldest poets may have archaic usages, and the newest may be experimentally taking liberties.

If the poet has done something idiosyncratic, or if there is a textual problem, you will be well able to isolate and investigate it. If you have enough lines to work with, no small anomaly can possibly confuse you: you can always break the code. But sometimes you may want to scan a very short poem, or a single two-line shi((r [shi((r]. No method, and certainly not ours, can guarantee you perfect success. There are enough kinds of flexibility and uncertainty built into Urdu meter so that mechanical accuracy requires a good deal of redundancy. However, if you are willing to venture, it is usually possible to make excellent educated guesses. Scan the lines in the normal way as best you can. Usually you arrive at a result which leaves at least one flexible syllable even in the final resolution. A column consisting of only two flexibles has no more than about a 60-40 chance of representing a short syllable. Sometimes you can make use of the rule that three short syllables never occur in a row. But usually you need more help than this. If the meter is a common one, you may be able to recognize it; then you will know for sure what the flexible syllables really are.

Even if you don't recognize the meter, you may be able to figure it out by recognizing the feet. The great majority of Urdu meters contain four feet. And the great majority of four-foot meters contain two or more identical feet among the four. Remember that the middle feet are more likely to be longer, often four-syllable ones; the last foot is often very short (two or three syllables), and the first foot is also often short (three syllables). A good working knowledge of the afaa((iil [afaa((iil] (Chapter 5) is obviously very helpful in this process. Remember that none of the [afaa((iil] end with two short syllables, and only one-third of the [afaa((iil] end with one short syllable. Two short syllables together usually occur at the beginning of a foot. Try to envision the breakdown of your scansion into feet. If you can discover two or more identical feet, you can often resolve any remaining flexible syllables by seeing the correspondences. If your scansion reveals a caesura pattern (foot A, foot B, foot A, foot B), you can easily determine the true length of any flexible syllables. If your meter appears shorter than average, it is probably a three-foot one. Three-foot meters are very likely not to have any identical feet.

If none of these shortcuts works, you can always take the meter list (Section 6.1), and plow through it until you recognize your meter; though the list is not exhaustive, it contains meters for something like 95% of the meters you will normally encounter. For rare and exotic meters, you can check in Barker or Grahame Bailey. Don't let a difficult-looking meter intimidate you. Even educated native speakers have trouble when given small samples of exotic meters. If you are careful and persistent, you can eventually figure out almost anything.

A NOTE ON na:zm [na:zm]: Modern na:zm are actually much closer to traditional metrical conventions than might be expected. The paaband na:zm [paaband na:zm], "regular verse," always uses one of the traditional meters, and traditional rhyming elements as well. The na:zm-e mu((arraa [na:zm-e mu((arraa], "blank verse," also uses a traditional meter, though it is unrhymed.

Undoubtedly aazaad na:zm [aazaad na:zm], "free verse," takes liberties with traditional meters. Yet the particular meter any aazaad na:zm is taking liberties with can almost always be recognized. Suppose that the traditional meter consists of the sequence: foot A, foot B, foot C, foot D. Then the aazaad na:zm might have lines in foot-sequences like the following: ABC / ABCD / A / AB / CDA / B / CDAB / CD, and so on. Sometimes a foot itself may begin at the end of one line and end at the beginning of the next. Lines may also be stretched by the duplication of medial feet: ABBBCD, ABBCCD, etc. But the omission of a foot (ACD, BD) does not usually occur. Common Hindi meters are sometimes adapted and used in [aazaad na:zm], but in general the traditional meters, though modified, remain quite recognizable.

There is also of course na:srii na:zm [na;srii na:zm], the "prose poem." Works of this genre deliberately avoid meter. As a rule they can't be scanned in any systematic way.

 


 
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