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The Sher and its meters.... Beher with options

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Explore the Craft of Writing
Arabic Verse

The sher is a "complete couplet". In Urdu the sher is a poem in itself and when the two lines are a lone composition not surrounded by other shers, it is called a Fard. When surrounded by other couplets it is a unit of the qasida or more importantly the ghazal, it is called a sher. Each sher should be able to stand alone including a volta or turn between the L1 and L2. L2 should bring a twist or surprise as a response or expansion of L1. The sher should require no other lines around it to be complete. The lines should be of equal length.

A Qataa is a composition limited to 2 shers sharing 1 subject, a poem in 4 lines.

The Beher is the rhythm or cadence of the sher. The beher has 19 optional patterns of quantitative metric measure which is language specific. Generally in English we simplify and abandon the metric feet and patterns altogether and consider only 3 options, short, medium and long lines depending on the length of the first line of the sher.

But for those who want to stay as authentic as one can while writing Arabic verse in English, I have included a few of the metric measures of the beher. Most Arabic metric lines are approximately 16 to 24 syllables long, (Arabic poetry is not measured by syllables but approximate syllable count is helpful in English when trying to grasp the meters.) broken into 2 hemistiches with the exception of the rajaz which is a short or trimetric line (12 syllables).

Arabic prosody measures the line in quantitative verse, measuring the long and short vowel sounds. This is very subtle to the English ear and we usually convert to stressed and unstressed syllables which somewhat warps the measure but is the closest equivalent. In addition, Arabic meter does not just measure long and short vowel sounds. It also measures whether or not a consonant is followed by a vowel. (Not that it makes any difference in English but I include the information to be as complete as possible.)

  • Basit is 1 of the 19 behers, it is a compound measure, basit means ordinary or simple. It is measured in long and short vowel sounds. It is often written along side of another meter, the tawil. The Basit is 6 metric feet of 3rd epitrites/ amphimacer/ 3rd epitrites/amphimacer /3rd epitrites/ amphimacer. It is broken into hemistiches.
    L L s L / L s L / L L s L / * L s L / L L s L / L s L
  • A Beit(Arabic -tent) a line of verse in 2 hemistiches or 2 half lines. It is thought to have originated with the Bedouins of the dessert. The line is a simile for a tent, the 2 halves are the double door of the tent, each written in 2, 3 or 4 metric feet, the lines measure 16 to 32 syllables. The feet are made up of long and short syllables.
  • The Hazaj is a line of 6 metric feet of first epitrite paused midway by caesura
    sLLL /sLLL/ sLLL / * sLLL /sLLL/ sLLL /
  • The Ramal is a line of 6 metric feet of second epitrites broken midway by caesura.
    LsLL / LsLL / LsLL * LsLL / LsLL/ LsLL
  • The Mutagarib is a line of 8 metric feet of baccius paused midway by caesura .(24 syllables)
    sLL /sLL/ sLL /sLL / * sLL /sLL/ sLL /sLL /
  • The Tawil is a line of 8 metric feet broken into 2 hemistiches and the pattern of the metric foot is baccius' alternating with 1st epitrites. (28 syllables)
    s L L / s L L L / s L L / s L L L / * s L L / s L L L / s L L / s L L L /
  • The Rajaz is a line of 3 metric feet of 3rd epitrites. Described at Vol Central as the "the simple meter of an animal's footsteps, the rhythm of the camel". Vol also describes the meter as a line of 24 syllables divided into two hemistiches (which is a standard of most Arabic meters) however the NPEOPP indicates the rajaz is the exception to the standard and is not divided into hemistiches but is a short, trimetric line.
    LLsL / LLsL / LLsL ------- or DUM DUM di DUM / DUM DUM di DUM / DUM DUM di DUM
  • The Wafir is a line of 6 metric feet of 3rd epitrites, paused midway by caesura.
    LLsL/ LLsL/ LLsL * LLsL/ LLsL/ LLsL /

Arabic Poetic Genres and Forms

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