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Masnavi (or Mathnawi): Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the masnavi (or mathnawi), an old poetic form with Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu variants.

For many of the poetic forms I cover on here, I'm able to find examples in addition to the descriptions of the forms. However, I admit this week's form, the masnavi or mathnawi, is a little more elusive, because most of the examples I can find are translations that don't appear to stay true to the explained poetic rules, especially for internal rhyming. So I'm going share the rules and use those to guide my example attempt below.

Here are the guidelines:

  • Couplet (or two-line) form...
  • ...but with the qualifier that each "line" is actually a "half-line" and that they rhyme horizontally
  • Each line is 10 or 11 syllables long (I believe it's supposed to be consistent within the poem, so pick a number and stick with it)
  • Rhyme scheme is aa/bb/cc/dd and so on
  • No line length restrictions

In fact, many examples of masnavi are very long poems. One of the more popular examples is Rumi's Masnavi-ye-Ma'navi, which is a long spiritual or mystical poem. But other variants, whether Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Urdu, cover other topics with varying degrees of didacticism in the poems.

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Play with poetic forms!

Poetic forms are fun poetic games, and this digital guide collects more than 100 poetic forms, including more established poetic forms (like sestinas and sonnets) and newer invented forms (like golden shovels and fibs).

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Here’s my attempt at a masnavi:

Food for Thought, by Robert Lee Brewer

In a boat on the lake, we said what's at stake
is more than simple truth for an eye or tooth.
Rather, we, of a mind, cautioned to be kind
was the best gift of all to avoid a fall
into certain madness and echoed sadness.
So we side-stepped debate, tucked aside our hate
like hats hold a feather, and talked of whether
we should get off the lake and eat a fresh cake,
finding to our surprise our teeth and our eyes
had a similar goal to eat pastries whole.

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