ʿArūḍ (Arabic: اَلْعَرُوض al-ʿarūḍ) is the study of poetic meters, which identifies the meter of a poem and determines whether the meter is sound or broken in lines of the poem. It is often called the Science of Poetry (Arabic: عِلْم اَلشِّعْر ʿilm aš-šiʿr). Its laws were laid down by Al-Khalīl ibn Aḥmad al-Farāhīdī (d. 786), an early Arab lexicographer and philologist. In his book Al-ʿArḍ (Arabic: العرض), which is no longer extant, he described 15 types of meter. Later Al-Akhfash al-Akbar described a 16th meter, the mutadārik.
Following al-Khalil, the Arab prosodists scan poetry not in terms of syllables but in terms of vowelled and unvowelled letters, which were combined into larger units known as watid or watad ("peg") and sabab ("cord"). These larger units make up feet (rukn, pl. arkān).
Western prosodists, on the other hand, usually analyse the meters in terms of syllables, which can be long (–), short (u), and anceps (x), that is, a syllable which can be optionally long or short. Certain meters also have biceps positions where a pair of short syllables can optionally be replaced by a long one.
The great majority (85-90%) of early classical Arabic poetry is composed in just four meters: the ṭawīl (which is the most common), the kāmil, the wāfir, and the basīṭ.
Rhyme is an important part of classical Arabic poetry. Almost all Arabic poetry is composed in couplets, and the same rhyme is used in the second half of each couplet throughout the poem.
Al-Kʰalīl b. ˀAḫmad al-Farāhīdī ( 711 – 786 A. D.) was the first scholar to subject the prosody of Classical Arabic poetry to a detailed phonological analysis. Unfortunately, he failed to produce a coherent, integrated theory which satisfies the requirements of generality, adequacy, and simplicity; instead, he merely listed and categorized the primary data, thus producing a meticulously detailed but incredibly complex formulation which very few indeed are able to master and utilize.
Dr. Zaki N. Abdel-Malek (زكي عبد الملك), a contemporary scholar of Arabic literature and Arabic Linguistics, has developed a new theory which analyzes the prosodic system of ancient Arabic poetry in the light of modern Linguistics theory.
Titled Towards a New Theory of Arabic Prosody (نَـحْـوَ نَظريَّةٍ جَديدةٍ في العَــرُوضِ العَربيِّ), Abdel-Malek’s study reduces the metrics of ancient Arabic poetry to a few simple rules and principles which not only account fully for the primary data but also operate within the framework of a general prosodic theory. The study in question is addressed to scholars, students, instructors, and the general reader.
Al-Khalil was primarily a grammarian, and using the grammatical terminology of his day he made use of the terms ḥarf mutaḥarrik "mobile letter" (i.e. one followed by a vowel) and ḥarf sākin "quiescent letter" (i.e. one not followed by a vowel) to build up larger prosodic units, which he called "peg" (watid or watad, pl. awtād) and "cord" or "guy-rope" (sabab, pl. asbāb). (In European descriptions, these are conventionally abbreviated "P" and "K" respectively.) A "peg" is a sequence of two syllables, usually short + long (u –) (a watid majmūʿ); but occasionally in the rarely used metres of circle 4, long + short (– u) (a watid mafrūk). A "cord" is a long or short syllable (–), (u) or two shorts (u u). Surprisingly, al-Khalil's system makes no use of the concept of the syllable as such.
The watid is repeated at fixed points along the line, and is generally unchanging, while the asbāb or cords are the syllables in between which could be modified. A peg and either one or two cords makes a rukn (pl. arkān) "corner (of a tent)", or what in European terms is called a foot. Thus a half-line of the ṭawīl metre (faʿūlun mafāʿīlun faʿūlun mafāʿilun, u – x | u – u x | u – x | u – u –) is analysed as PK PKK PK PKK. A complete line of poetry usually consists of either six or eight feet, but sometimes shorter lines are found.
When analysing a verse, an Arab prosodist begins by rewriting the line phonetically, that is, as it is actually pronounced. Doubled letters are written twice, and silent letters, such as the alif of the article when it follows a vowel, are omitted. Thus the word اَلْكَرِيم al-karīm inʿarūḍ writing is written phonetically as "لكريم". In a word like al-shams اَلْشَّمْس, pronounced (a)š-šams (meaning "the sun"), where the "l" of the article is assimilated to the first consonant of the noun, the actual sound is written instead; so in ʿarūḍ writing, this is written ششمس (ššms). Then each mobile letter is represented by a vertical line (ا), known as mutaḥarrik, and each quiescent letter by a small circle (ه), known as sukūn. Thus a watid will be represented in the scansion by two mutaḥarriks and one sukūn.
A line of poetry, known as a bayt ("tent"), is composed of two half-verses, one of which is called the sadr (صَدْر) (literally "forepart") and the other which is called the ʿajuz (عَجُز) (literally "rear"). The ṣadr and the ʿajuz have two parts each:
- The last word of the sadr is called the ʿarūḍ, and the rest of it is called ḥashū ṣ-ṣadr (حَشُو ٱلصَّدْر) (meaning "the filling of the forepart")
- The last word of the ʿajuz is called the ḍarb (literally "the hit"), and the rest of it is called ḥashū 'ajuz (حَشُو ٱلْعَجُز) (meaning "the filling of the rear").
The last consonant of the ḍarb and the vowel that comes after it are called the rawiyy (رويّ) and its last two sākins, all the mutaḥarrik that are in between, and the last mutaḥarrik before them, is called the qāfīyah (قَافِيَّة) or 'rhyme'.
The feet of an Arabic poem are traditionally represented by mnemonic words called tafāʿīl (تفاعيل). In most poems there will be eight of these: four in the first half of the verse and four in the second; in other cases, there will be six of them, meaning three in the first half of the verse and three in the second.
The buḥūr (بحور) (meters) (sg. baḥr بحر), identified according to the traditional method, are the following. Underneath each meter is its scansion by the European method (read from left to right), where – = a long syllable, u = a short syllable, x = either long or short, uu = 1 long or two shorts.
- Ṭawīl (طَوِيل) "long": Faʿūlun Mafāʿīlun Faʿūlun Mafāʿilun (فَعُولُنْ مَفَاعِيلُنْ فَعُولُنْ مَفَاعِلُنْ)
- | u – x | u – x – | u – x | u – u – |
- Madīd (مَدِيد) "protracted": Fāʿilātun Fāʿilun Fāʿilātun (فَاعِلَاتُنْ فَاعِلُنْ فَاعِلَاتُنْ)
- | x u – – | x u – | x u – – |
- Basīṭ (بَسِيط) "spread out": Mustafʿilun Fāʿilun Mustafʿilun Faʿilun (مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ فَاعِلُنْ مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ فَعِلُنْ)
- | x – u – | x u – | – – u – | uu – |
- Kāmil (كَامِل) "complete": Mutafāʿilun Mutafāʿilun Mutafāʿilun (مُتَفَاعِلُنْ مُتَفاعِلُنْ مُتَفَاعِلُنْ)
- | uu – u – | uu – u – | uu – u – |
- Wāfir (وَافِر) "abundant": Mufāʿalatun Mufāʿalatun Faʿūlun (مُفَاعَلَتُنْ مُفاعَلَتُنْ فَعولُنْ)
- | u – uu – | u – uu – | u – – |
- Hazaj (هَزَج) "trilling": Mafāʿīlun Mafāʿīlun (مَفَاعِيلُنْ مَفَاعِيلُنْ)
- | u – – x | u – – x |
- Rajaz (رَجَز) "trembling": Mustafʿilun Mustafʿilun Mustafʿilun (مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ)
- | x – u – | x – u – | x – u – |
- Ramal (رَمَل) "trotting": Fāʿilātun Fāʿilātun Fāʿilun (فَاعِلَاتُنْ فَاعِلَاتُنْ فَاعِلُنْ)
- | x u – – | x u – – | x u – |
- Munsariħ (مُنْسَرِح) "quick-paced": Mustafʿilun Fāʿilātu Muftaʿilun (مُسْتَفْعِلُن فَاعِلَاتْ مُفْتَعِلُنْ)
- | x – u – | – x – u | – u u – |
- Khafīf (خَفِيف) "light": Fāʿilātun Mustafʿilun Fāʿilātun (فَاعِلَاتُنْ مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ فَاعِلَاتُنْ)
- | x u – x | – – u – | x u – x |
- Muqtaḍab (مُقْتَضَبّ) "untrained": Fāʿilātu Muftaʿilun (فَاعِلَاتُ مُفْتَعِلُنْ)
- | x u – u | – u u – |
- Mujtathth (مُجْتَثّ) "cut-off": Mustafʿilun Fāʿilātun (مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ فَاعِلَاتُنْ)
- | x – u – | x u – – |
- Muḍāriʿ (مُضَارِع) "similar": Mafāʿīlu Fāʿilātun (مَفَاعِيلُ فَاعِلَاتُنْ)
- | u – x x | – u – – |
- Sarīʿ (سَرِيع) "swift": Mustafʿilun Mustafʿilun Fāʿilun (مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ مُسْتَفْعِلُنْ فَاعِلُنْ)
- | x x u – | x x u – | – u – |
- Mutaqārib (مُتَقَارِب) "nearing": Faʿūlun Faʿūlun Faʿūlun Faʿūlun (فَعُولُنْ فَعُولُنْ فَعُولُنْ فَعُولُنْ)
- | u – x | u – x | u – x | u – |
- Mutadārik (مُتَدَارِك) "overtaking": Faʿilun Faʿilun Faʿilun Faʿilun (فَعِلُنْ فَعِلُنْ فَعِلُنْ فَعِلُنْ)
- | x u – | x u – | x u – | (x u –) | ( – can be substituted for u u)
Analysis of anthologies of classical Arabic poetry shows that some of these meters are much more common than others. The most common meter by far in early poetry is the ṭawīl; the kāmil, wāfir, and basīṭ are also fairly common; the rajaz/sarīʿ (which are sometimes considered to be variants of the same meter) and the mutaqārib occur occasionally; and the others are rarely found.
Variations of these meters can be found. Some exist in shorter or longer forms (for example with either six or eight feet in a line). Some meters have a catalectic variation, in which the last element is omitted; for example, the ramal and ṭawīl.
Sequences of three short syllables are not found in any Arabic meter, except occasionally in a variation of the rajaz meter, in which | x – u – | may sometimes be replaced by | x u u – |.
Al-Khalil noticed that certain of the meters resemble others in that the same or similar rhythmic patterns are repeated in the same order. For example, the hazaj, rajaz, and ramal can be arranged as follows:
- u – – x u – – x u – – x (PKKPKKPKK)
- x – u – x – u – x – u – (KKPKKPKKP)
- x u – – x u – – x u – (KPKKPKKPK)
If the peg (P) and two cords (K, K) were written in a circle, it would be possible to derive all three meters by starting at a different point in the circle and moving round it. Altogether there are five circles:
- 1. ṭawīl, madīd, basīṭ
- 2. kāmil, wāfir
- 3. hazaj, rajaz, ramal
- 4. munsariḥ, khafīf, muqtadab, mujtathth, mudāriʿ, sarīʿ
- 5. mutaqārib, mutadārik
Meters in the same circle have similar features. For example, the meters in circle 1 all make use of the sequence PKP; both meters in circle 2 make use of biceps elements, in which a pair of short syllables can be replaced by a long one; meters of circle 4 all have one place in the hemistich (half-line) where the watid is a trochee (– u) instead of an iamb (u –); the meters of circle 5 have short feet of PK PK or KP KP.
Minor rules of prosody
There are a number of prosodic conventions which are observed in writing and scanning Arabic poetry, of which the following are the most important:
- The case endings -u (Nominative), -a (Accusative), -i (Genitive), known as ʾiʿrāb, which in prose are always omitted in pronunciation at the end of a clause or sentence, are usually pronounced in poetry, even at the end of a sentence.
- At the end of a line (and sometimes at the end of the first hemistich), any vowel is considered long. in this position a short -i can rhyme with a long one. The vowel fatḥa (a) at the end of a line is written with an alif, as if it were a long vowel.
- The -n on the indefinite case endings -un, -an, -in is dropped at the end of a line, making -ū, -ā, -ī. (This does not apply at the end of the half-line, however.)
- The ending -hu "his" is frequently pronounced with a long vowel: -hū. The pronoun anā "I" can also be scanned as ana.
Although the two halves of a bayt are usually separate, it is not uncommon to find lines where there is no break between them, and a word continues across the division in the middle of the line.
- Elwell-Sutton (1976), p. 42.
- Elwell-Sutton (1976), p. 3; Scott (2009), p. 8.
- Golston & Riad, pp. 120-121.
- Scott (2009), p. 7
- Scott (2009), pp. 8-9.
- Maling (1973), pp. 26-7.
- Elwell-Sutton, (1976), p. 3.
- Lane, Arabic Dictionary".
- Maling (1973), p. 29; Scott (2009), p. 10.
- See for example Alnagdawi (2013).
- The translations are from Elwell-Sutton (1976), p. 40.
- Also known as Khabab (الخبب) "ambling" or Muḥdath (المحدث) "innovated" (Arabic Wikipedia)
- McCarus (1983), p. 78.
- Elwell-Sutton (1976), p. 73; Scott (2009), p. 10.
- Scott (2009), pp. 10-12.
- McCarus (1983), p. 81-82.
- Abdel-Malek, Zaki N. Towards a New Theory of Arabic Prosody
- Alnagdawi, M., et al. (2013). "Finding Arabic Poem Meter using Context Free Grammar". J. of Commun. and Comput. Eng. 3.1.52-59
- Elwell-Sutton, L.P. (1976).The Persian Metres. Cambridge University Press.
- Golston, Chris & Riad, Tomas (1997). "The Phonology of classical Arabic meter". Linguistics 35 (1997), 111-132.
- Maling, J.M. (1973). The Theory of Classical Arabic Metrics. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. PhD Thesis.
- McCarus, Ernest N. (1983). "Identifying the Meters of Arabic Poetry", Al-'Arabiyya vol 16. no. 1/2, pp. 57–83. (Georgetown University Press).
- Scott, Hazel (2009). "Pegs, Cords, and Ghuls: Meter of Classical Arabic Poetry". Swarthmore College.
- Stoetzer, W.F.G.J. (1989), Theory and Practice in Arabic Metrics, Het Oosters Instituut, Leiden.
- Wright, W. (1951). A Grammar of the Arabic Language, vol. II, Cambridge University Press, pp. 350–390.
- Chanted version of seven of the metres giving examples of each one.