EIGHT == FROM EYE TO EAR
Once the code has been broken, and
the proper meter of a poem is known, we abandon our invaluable analytical
notion of the flexible syllable. A flexible syllable may be long in
one instance and short in another: we call it flexible to show that
we do not yet know which it is in the instance we are considering.
But once we DO know the meter, there's no longer any such thing as
a flexible syllable. Every syllable is either long or short. (Some
meters--#14-#19--may begin with either a long or a short syllable.
If the first word in the line is a flexible monosyllable, it might
seem that it would retain its flexibility. But in fact in such cases
the word is always read as long.)
Scanning a poem accurately on paper
is, given enough lines, a purely mechanical process. Reciting it properly
is not. Yet we find that most students can learn to recite with some
competence, and benefit by doing so. Recitation helps the student
memorize, pronounce, analyze, and enjoy the poetry much more easily.
And since Urdu poetry is so much part of an oral tradition which includes
simple ta;ht ul-laf:z [ta;ht ul-laf:z] recitation,
unaccompanied tarannum [tarannum] performance,
and full-scale singing in a classical raag [raag],
the student who hears and recites, as well as reads, has much better
access to the poetry as native speakers experience it.
Before trying to recite a poem,
you should thoroughly learn its meter. It is easiest to do this in
terms of feet: traditionally educated native speakers learn meters
as a series of afaa((iil [afaa((iil]. You may
find it easier to substitute your own nonsense words. To express the
sequence (- = = =), it may be easier to say da-dum-dum-dum than mafa((aiilun
[mafaa((iilun]; similarly, dum-da-dum-dum may replace faa((ilaatun
[faa((ilaatun], etc. Any combination of syllables that works for you
will do, especially when you are just starting, but try to choose
your set and stick to it.
When you practice reciting, choose
a meter with three or four identical feet for your first attempt.
Meter #10 or #26 would be a good one to begin with; both are easy
and popular. Start with the fundamental idea that a long syllable
takes roughly twice as much time to say as a short one. You can even
use a metronome to get the feel of it. Or tap on the table at a steady
rate, holding a long syllable for two taps and a short syllable for
one. Go as slowly as necessary at first, and get the rhythm RIGHT.
Practice the first foot until you get it, then add the rest one by
one, until you can say the whole line in slow, clumsy but ACCURATE
rhythm. Be especially careful to make long syllables twice as long
quantitatively, in duration, rather than giving them extra stress
or a heavy accent as in English. It is insidiously easy to slide over
from quantitative into qualitative emphasis, especially at first.
That is why slow careful mechanical practice is of the greatest importance.
Only when the rhythm has been thoroughly mastered should the words
of the poem be gradually substituted for whatever set of foot-naming
words you have been using.
The first meter learned in this
way may be slow going. But later ones become easier surprisingly quickly,
since the basic feet keep recurring, and your ear becomes accustomed
to quantitative distinctions. The most helpful thing is the constant
recurrence of a handful of really common meters. You will quickly
learn to be comfortable with them and will be able to recite new poetry
in them with great ease, even on the first try.
Eventually, you will learn to recognize
them almost on sight and you'll no longer need to use pencil and paper,
except for rare meters. You'll be able to recite a line of poetry
in your head in one or two possible meters, and see which one works.
Only rarely will very unusual meters perplex you--as they perplex
native speakers. You can then scan systematically with pencil and
paper, and teach yourself the meter once you have worked it out. But
as a rule you will be able to identify the most common meters even
from their first few syllables.
For reference, here is a list of
the most common meters, in order of decreasing popularity. Naturally
in different genres and different periods, preferences have varied.
This list is an over-all one, prepared for us by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi.
The number assigned to each meter is its number in Section 6.1.
#19 =* -
= = / - - = = / - - = = / - - =
#18 =* - = = / - - = = / - - = = / = = Frequently
used together. *This long syllable may be replaced by a short.
#5 = = - / = -
= - / - = = - / = - =
#10 = - = = /
= - = = / = - = = / = - =
#26 - = = = /
- = = = / - = = = / - = = =
#34 - = - = /
- - = = / - = - = / - - =
#33 - = - = / - - = = / - = - = / = =
Frequently used together.
#8 = = - / - =
= - / - = = - / - = =
#7 = = - / - =
= = // = = - / - = = =
#15 =* - = = /
- = - = / - - =
#14 =* - = = / - = - = / = = Frequently
used together. *This long syllable may be replaced by a short.
In A Textbook of Urdu Prosody
and Rhetoric, Pybus gives
his own version of such a list (pp. 44-46): #26, #8, #10, #18-19,
#5, #33-34, #28, #30 (in its half-length form), #14-15. Note that
the first six meters are the same in each list, though differently
Once your recitation is mechanically
correct, you should take note of the subtleties. Notice that some
short syllables are extra short, especially word-final one-letter
ones (e.g., in dard [dar-d]; kaam
[kaa-m]; dilchasp [dil-chas-p]). Practice your
favorite lines until you can keep the meter perfect without thinking
about it: the more you internalize the meter, the more you can afford
to try embellishments and experiments in recitation. Listen to records
or tapes. Classical Urdu Poetry, by Barker
and Salam, is accompanied by a set of six cassette tapes that
contain recitations and metrical patterns for a number of poems from
the book; many students find them helpful. If possible, have native
speakers recite for you. Don't be dismayed if you have trouble hearing
the meter at first. It will come with practice.
At some point you may feel like
trying your hand at composing a poem of your own. More non-native-speakers
than you might think have written Urdu poetry, and some have even
done it reasonably well. If you've assimilated the material in this
book you will be able to write metrically perfect poetry with only
rare mistakes on small esoteric points. Start with simple words, and
ideas that are not too complicated. Check the Glossary
for some of the forms of flexibility available to you as a poet in
particular words, and remember the beauties of word-grafting (Section
3.1) as well. You will come to have a lively appreciation of the
flexible monosyllables (Section
2.1). Nothing will make you admire the achievement of the great
poets more than wrestling with the same artistic constraints and choices
If you are serious, the traditional
thing to do is to show your poetry to an ustaad
[ustaad], a senior poet whom you respect, for criticism and revision.
A poem must be more than metrically correct to be appreciated: its
rhythm should be flowing, ravaa;N [ravaa;N]
and its language well-chosen, fa.sii;h [fa.sii;h].
These criteria are subtle and intuitively determined. There's more
to it than this, of course; even Ghalib had his troubles with the
connoisseurs of his day. You could do worse than make a study of Ghalib
and Mir; this website provides a great deal of material for doing
If you are lucky enough to find
a good ustaad , pay close attention to him or
her (the feminine form of ustaad is ustaanii
[ustaanii]). Such an ustad may suggest many changes. Don't be discouraged.
Ask questions, and think carefully about the criteria your ustad is
using. Read more poetry. Memorize verses that you like, and recite
them to yourself. If you persevere, you'll be rewarded. The best reward
will be a far more sensitive and sophisticated understanding of how
Urdu poetry works--how it is created, evaluated, and enjoyed. The
true ahl-e zabaan [ahl-e zabaan], who knows
and loves the poetry fully, is made and not born.