Lục bát is a traditional Vietnamese verse form - historically first recorded in chữ nôm script - that is deeply tied to the soul of Vietnamese culture and people. "Lục bát" is Sino-Vietnamese for "six eight", referring to the alternating lines of six and eight syllables. It will always begin with a six-syllable line and end with an eight-syllable one. A related measure is the Song thất lục bát.
Unlike other verse forms which are traditionally enjoyed only by high-class Vietnamese, lục bát is traditionally composed and enjoyed by people of all classes, from the lowly peasants to the noble princes. It can be regarded as a living style of Vietnamese people. The rich treasure of Vietnamese folk poems (ca dao), which consists of hundred thousands of verses that reflect on life, morality, human relationship, and nature beauty, are almost entirely composed in lục bát form. The 3774 verses in "Quốc Sử Diễn Ca" (Epic Song of National History) composed by Vietnamese poet Lê Ngô Cát under the reign of King Tự Đức are also entirely in the form of lục bát. Poet Nguyễn Du of the Lê dynasty also composed 3254 lục bát verses, telling the story of an unfortunate beauty in his renowned epic Truyện Kiều (The Tale of Kiều).
Tones are among the most important elements in Lục Bát as well as the other Vietnamese verse forms.
In poetry, the six tones of Vietnamese language are divided based on their falling and rising nature into two categories: bằng (flat) and trắc (sharp or non-flat).
- Bằng category comprises two tones: ngang and huyền.
- Trắc category comprises four tones: sắc, hỏi, ngã, nặng.
There is more than one way to categorize Vietnamese tones and this categorization is only used in poetry. Also, though tone huyền is classified in the bằng category, it is actually a low falling tone.
The tones of the syllables in lục bát verses should follow the following model:
- Bằng bằng trắc trắc bằng bằng
- Bằng bằng trắc trắc bằng bằng trắc bằng.
However, the odd syllables in lục bát verses don't have to follow the rule, but the even syllables must follow the rule.
There are two exceptions to the above tone rule in lục bát poems:
- The first exception is when there is a pause after the 3rd syllable in the lục line (six-syllable line). When this happens, the second syllable of the lục line can have a trắc tone.
- The second exception involves the rhyme rule and will be discussed in the following section.
There are two kinds of rhymes in Vietnamese poetry. The first one is called vần giàu (rich rhymes) and the second one is called vần nghèo (poor rhymes).
- Vần giàu (rich rhymes): when two words have the same final sound and their tones come from the same category. Examples:
- xanh and cành are rich bằng rhymes (vần bằng giàu).
- quyển and chuyến are rich trắc rhymes (vần trắc giàu).
- Vần nghèo (poor rhymes): when two words have nearly similar final sound and their tones come from the same category. Examples:
- thêu and trèo are poor bằng rhymes (vần bằng nghèo).
- kính and cảnh are poor trắc rhymes (vần trắc nghèo).
There are two types of rhyme schemes for lục bát poems.
- The first type is the more common and popular one. In this rhyme scheme, the 6th syllable of the six-syllable line rhymes with the 6th syllable of the eight-syllable line, then the 8th syllable of the eight-syllable line rhymes with the 6th syllable of next six-syllable line, and the pattern goes on. This rhyme scheme can be summarized in the following model:
• ♭ • ♯ • ♭A • ♭ • ♯ • ♭A • ♭B • ♭ • ♯ • ♭B • ♭ • ♯ • ♭B • ♭C • ♭ • ♯ • ♭C • ♭ • ♯ • ♭C • ♭D
- • = any syllable; ♯ = trắc (sharp) syllable; ♭ = bằng (flat) syllable; ♭A = bằng (flat) syllable with "A" rhyme.
- ♯ and ♭ are used only as handy mnemonic symbols; no connection with music should be inferred.
- The second type is the less common one which involves a break of the tone rule. In this type, the 6th syllable of the six-syllable line rhymes with the 4th syllable of the eight-syllable line instead. With this rhyme scheme, the 4th syllable of the eight-syllable line will be switched to bằng tone, while the 2nd and 6th syllables of the eight-syllable line will be switched to trắc tone.
• ♭ • ♯ • ♭A • ♯ • ♭A • ♯ • ♭B • ♭ • ♯ • ♭B • ♯ • ♭B • ♯ • ♭C • ♭ • ♯ • ♭C • ♯ • ♭C • ♯ • ♭D
In quốc ngữ script:
- Trăm năm, trong cõi người ta,
- Chữ tài, chữ mệnh, khéo là ghét nhau.
- Trải qua một cuộc bể dâu,
- Những điều trông thấy mà đau đớn lòng;
- Lạ gì bỉ sắc, tư phong,
- Trời xanh quen thói má hồng đánh ghen.
An English poem, rhymed in (an adaption of) Lục bát:
- The grand untarnished sea -
- How glorious for me and you
- To wander as we do
- Along its beach and through the tide!
- How can I harbor pride
- Now walking here beside the shore?
- Can you, my love, ignore
- The sigh, forevermore to dwell
- Within our glassy shell?
- The gleaming stars, which fell to earth -
- What was their glory worth
- Beside the gentle birth of life?
- What need have we for strife?
- The two of us, dear wife, are free!