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Muwashsha or Girdle Poem


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Arabic Poetry

Muwashsha – plural mushashshat (Arabic for girdled- The Arabic noun washah is a jeweled sash worn diagonally from shoulder to waist. ) is a Spanish-Arabic verse form created by Muqaddam Ibn Mu afa al Qabri (9th century) in Moorish Spain, the Jewel of the World. The name also refers to a secular musical genre from the same time and place, which uses the poems of the corresponding verse form as lyrics. The muwashsha or girdle poem is written in classical Arabic or Hebrew but strays from the mono-rhymed tradition of most ancient Arabic poetry. It was often performed by a chorus or a soloist and a chorus.

The verse was most popular in the 11th and 12th centuries and is still evident throughout the Muslim world; in North Africa the poets are a bit loose with the metric rules of the form. The ghazal is thought be influenced by this form. It also spread through Europe thanks to the troubadors and is thought to be the basis for the German Minnesinger, the Spanish Villancicio and possibly even the Italian Canzone. The themes range from odes in praise of something or someone, religion, nature, courageous deeds, erotic love, and most often, lamented love. Some attribute the beginnings of Romance Verse to muwashsha.

The strophe of the muwashsha is in 2 parts, the first part is the ghusn (plural aghsan) which has variable numbers of lines and the 2nd part of the strophe is the simt (plural asmat) which serves as a refrain of sorts and is a couplet.

The aghsan all have the same metric and rhyme patterns although the rhyme sound changes from ghusn to ghusn. The asmat all carry the same metric pattern and rhyme sound through out the poem which is established by the final simt or couplet. There is different opinions on whether the meter is quantitative (like most Arabic verse) or syllabic. The poem also opens with a simt.

The final simt is a kharja, a "clinching couplet", around which the theme of the poem is composed and the meter and rhyme of the asmat is derived. It is believed the "clinching couplet" was originally a quotation from what are now lost verse from an earlier period. The kharja is considered the earliest written verse of any vernacular in Europe. (There is a theory that this is evidence of the existence of Iberian popular poetry in Spain before the Arab conquest, long ago lost. ) The same kharja can be found in several muwashshat. Since the poem is composed around the kharja, the poet must begin the creative process with the final couplet.

Since the verse form is language specific and is built around a quotation from "lost verse", it is safe to say writing a muwashsha in English is impossible. However, we could use the same pattern to emulate the original.

The elements of the muwashsha or girdle poem written in English:

  1. Select a couplet from a previously written poem, either your own or one written by another poet. (or simply select a 2 line quote. Obviously we can't use a "lost verse" written by the Iberians). Use this quote to
    • establish the theme of the poem,
    • pattern the meter and rhyme for the opening couplet as well as the last 2 lines of each strophe and as the final couplet of the last strophe to end the poem.
  2. Write an opening couplet structurally patterned after the selected quote.
  3. Write 5 to 7 strophes.
    • The first part, ghusn, of each strophe can range from 4 to 6 lines long in a syllabic pattern and rhyme scheme at the poet's discretion which should be repeated from strophe to strophe. The rhyme sound should change from strophe to strophe. ( Syllabic patterns fit English better than quantitative patterns.)
    • The 2nd part, simt, of each strophe should be a couplet structurally patterned after the selected quote.
    • The final couplet of the last strophe should be the initial selected quote, kharja.
  4. Each part of the poem should be able to stand alone. Therefore there should be no enjambment between parts.
  5. rhymed, assuming the selected couplet is rhymed AA and depending on the number of lines in the first part of each strophe, a possible rhyme scheme could be mono-rhymed AA aa bbbbbaa ccccaa ddddddaa eeeeeaa ffffAA. or alternate rhyme aa bcbcbaa dededeaa fgfgfaa hihiAA or envelope rhyme AA aa bcccbaa ddeeddaa fgggfaa hiihAA or even intermittent rhyme AA aa xbxbxbaa cxcxcxaa xdxdxaa xexeAA x being unrhymed.

Arabic Poetic Genres and Forms

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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