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Sumerian Couplets

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
Semitic Verse

Sumerian Couplets This is probably not a recognized verse form in Western poetic annals, however from what we know about the ancient Sumerian civilization there is evidence of poetry that exhibits patterns. Because the Sumerian civilization is an ancient culture with a dead language, determining the quantitative quality, (long-short vowels, pitch and stress) of the language is difficult. However clay tablet fragments from 200 BC do make it possible to discern syllabic patterns and the use of assonance and alliteration in the writings.

From the fragments it has been determined that verse was often written in couplets of alternating length lines. Poems in praise of deities dominate the inventory but longer narratives and hymns are also evident. Interestingly there are themes and forms that "echo those in the bible." according to the New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Gilgamesh written in Sumerian around 2000 B.C. includes a similar story to the Story of Noah found in Genesis and written much later.

The elements of the Sumerian couplet are:

  1. stanzaic, any number of couplets.
  2. in English, syllabic.
  3. written in alternating 8 and 5 syllable lines.
  4. employs alliteration and assonance in some measure.
  5. exhibits parallelism and or apposition.
    from Gilgamesh, the earliest written heroic narrative known. The epic is Summerian about 2000 B.C. In Gilgamesh the great flood (found later in the Hebrew book of Genesis) is not quite as exaggerated as the Hebrew tale. The storm lasted only 6 days and 6 nights in Gilgamesh but one of the gods told a man of Shurrupak, son of Ubara-Tutu to tear down his house and build a boat. He was given specific measurement for construction and was commanded to take his family and the seed of all living creatures of the earth aboard to survive a great flood. He did as bid and also took aboard craftsmen to help him rebuild after the flood ended. The flood came and killed all on the earth. Only the man and those he brought aboard the boat were saved. Here after the flood, Ea, one of the gods, argues how mankind should be dealt with in the future.

    Lay upon the sinner his sin,
    Lay upon the transgressor his transgression,
    Punish him a little when he breaks loose,
    Do not drive him too hard or he perishes;
    Would that a lion had ravaged mankind
    Rather than the flood,
    Would that a wolf had ravaged mankind
    Rather than the flood,
    Would that famine had wasted the world
    Rather than the flood
    Would that pestilence had wasted mankind
    Rather than the flood.

    40 Days and 40 Nights by Judi Van Gorder                                        

    The sky grew dark despite the day
    crowded rift of clouds.
    Down, down it came, the ragged rain,
    down it came and came.

    It fell in endless flow to fill
    rivers, lakes and seas,
    their sodden borders disappeared,
    swallowed were the hills.
    Down, down it came, the ragged rain,
    down it came and came.

    The water rose in angry swells
    wiping out the blight.
    Down, down it came, the ragged rain,
    down it came and came.










    Dreaming Babylon by dcMartinson

    Before the Flood, Great Alulim,
    Reigned, reigned as first king.

    Thirty thousand years, Alulim,
    Reigned, reigned as first king.

    In Eridu did Alulim
    Reign, reign as first king.

    A full eight sars did Alulim
    Reign, reign as first king.

    Sandwashed and windswept Alulim
    Lives, lives as first king:

    On clay tablets does Alulim
    Dream, dream as first king;

    No proof exists that Alulim
    Reigned, reigned as first king.

    A war torn land needs Alulim
    To reign, reign as king.







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