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Explore the Craft of Writing

Arabic Poetry

Qasida, (purpose poem) sometimes spelled kasida, is an ode that dates back to pre-Islamic Arabia and the Bedouins of the desert. It was originally sung in praise of a tribe or to denigrate an enemy. The poem is made up of a long string of complete couplets called shers and can be as long as 100 couplets. It is a multi-sectional, poly-thematic poem. Over centuries it developed into a courtly poem of praise of a patron and expanded into elegies, satire and more philosophical subjects. The form has endured to the present, although it has taken a back seat to its descendant the shorter, ghazal. It was brought to English literature by Lord Tennyson in Locksley Hall.

The Qasida is:

  1. narrative poetry.
  2. stanzaic, written in a string of shers (complete couplets), the poem is usually long and may be as long as 100 shers, length is optional.
  3. metered optional, the lines should be equal length.
  4. rhymed. There are various opinions on rhyme scheme. Some sources say it should be mono-rhymed, all couplets carrying the same rhyme aa aa aa. . . another source shows rhyme scheme aa bb cc dd. . . , it carries a "running incremental refrain" reappearing in each even line, but the most common suggestion is that, the couplets have a running rhyme aa xa xa xa xa xa. . .
  5. originally written as a desert poem in 4 units each can be one or several couplets long.
  6. opening setting describes recalls ancient times.
  7. tale of lost love or things left behind.
  8. the struggles of the journey and its endurance.
  9. plea for honor or praise.

    Inspired by the desert origins of the qasida I wrote a short adaptation:

    Grit Between My Toes by Judi Van Gorder

    The gritty grains of sand that seep
    through cracks of time fall deep.
    I'm forever severed from the rock
    of certainty where I've gone to weep.
    I recall running barefoot on the dunes
    in days gone, now I can barely creep.
    Sand shifts beneath my sandaled feet
    the ascent is weighted, hot and steep.
    Each ridge conquered leads to descent
    and another hill, more sand piled in a heap.
    How many have I climbed this life
    and how many more are mine to reap?

Arabic Poetic Genres and Forms

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