Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. World Poetry Day: Rhyming and Chiming and the Khmer Metres

 

Today is World Poetry Day and to celebrate the occasion, I am introducing you to Khmer versification. But first, a brief lesson on the Khmer language. The language is part of the Mon-Khmer family. Khmer is a non-tonal and analytic language. Since the language has no inflections, conjunctions or case endings, it is rich in particles and auxiliary words. It is a language that does not need to repeat the subject, object or indication of time, once they have been established. Though in most cases, especially in songs and lyrics, subjects are dropped altogether. Khmer is heavily influenced by Sanskrit, which reached Cambodia along with Hinduism via Indian traders around 5th century BC. The Sanskrit influence is found primarily in the religious, law, science, literature and royal registers. Having said that, the majority of Sanskrit borrowings are more of a style rather than a necessity. This also applies to Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism, which came into contact with the Khmer language in the late 14th century. After the mid-19th century, the French influence on the language emerged as well.

Khmers have always liked verse and there is a lot to like, at least to the Khmer ear. Native Khmer is very ornate and orotund. Its lexicon offers an abundant wealth of rhyming, chiming and alliterative words. The alliteration sometimes involves more than one syllable and in poetry, they are used to the full. For examples: can cap (capture), srapan srapon (wilted). Sometimes more than four alliterative syllables occur in succession.

Khmer versification is divided into four categories: pre-Angkor, Angkor period (802-1432), Middle period (1432-1863), and Chaktomuk/French Protectorate (1863-1953). There are about fifty metres in total. However, some of them are referred to as artificial metres, which are variations of various syllable metres. Excessive uses of alliteration and rhyme are two of the many characteristics of these metres. Repetition of words is a lively and essential part of Khmer language, both spoken and literary spheres, but these artificial metres took it to a whole new level. They also have very colorful names, such as the jumping frog choking on diamond and the Moon holding a parasol. I would have included a few of them here except that they are beyond my comprehension. These artificial metres are purely for fun.

The following eight metres are some of the oldest ones. They are also the most widely used ones. But first, the basic: each metre (pad) has a name. Next are the stanzas (lbah/vagg), and each stanza is broken into lines/sentences (klear). Each metre specifies a number of lines that can exist in a stanza. Next are the syllables (byang), and the rule of each metre dictates how many syllables are in a line. A short, unstressed open syllable in a word of Sanskrit origin may sometimes count with an adjacent syllable as one, not two syllables. Rhymes occur at predetermined places. Two syllables that have the same vowel sound and consonant sound are considered rhymed, as you would expect. But there are two more that are acceptable in Khmer verse. The first comprised of rhymes which are across register. These are rhymes where the writing supports but the pronunciation denies (due to the differences between first and second vowel series). The second one comprises of rhymes that are nearly perfect. These imperfect rhymes are the result of development in pronunciation. These near-rhymes, though considered sloppy, can be used as a last option when you can’t come up with any other rhyme. Also, an important rule which applies to all metres is that the last syllable of a stanza rhymes with the end syllable of a particular line of the next stanza. Metres are used according to moods, though not always strictly.

Pad Baky Buon (Four-syllable Metre)

This is the oldest of the Khmer metres. It predates the arrival of Sanskrit/Hinduism in Cambodia. It is the only metre in which the rhyme link between the last syllable of a stanza and the last syllable of a line of the next stanza is not mandatory (but only when used in songs). This metre is mostly found in songs.

Each stanza has 4 lines, each line is comprised of 4 syllables.

_ _ _ _

_ _ _ _A

_ _ _ _A

_ _ _ _B .

_ _ _ _

_ _ _ _B

_ _ _ _B

_ _ _ _C .

This metre is used for daily life.

Pad Pathyavat (Viaticum Metre)

This metre originated in the early Chenla period (550-802). There are 4 lines in a stanza and each line has 8 syllables.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _A

_ _ _ _A _ _ _ _B

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _B

_ _ _ _B _ _ _ _C .

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _C

_ _ _ _C _ _ _ _E

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _E

_ _ _ _E _ _ _ _F .

This metre is used for vengeance, wrath, and irascibility.

Pad Brahmagiti (Brahma’s Song Metre)

There are 4 lines in a stanza. The 1st line has 5 syllables. The 2nd line has 6 syllables. The 3rd line has 5 syllables. The 4th line has 6 syllables.

_ _ _ _ _A

_ _ _A _ _ _B

_ _ _ _ _B

_ _ _B _ _ _C .

_ _ _ _ _D

_ _ _D _ _ _C

_ _ _ _ _C

_ _ _C _ _ _E .

This metre is used for lamentation and grieving.

Pad Kakagati (Crow’s Gait Metre)

This metre finally received its current name in 1620, many centuries after it first appeared.

Each stanza has 7 lines. Each line has 4 syllables.

_ _ _ _A

_ _ _ _A

_ _ _ _B

_ _ _ _x

_ _x _ _B

_ _ _ _B

_ _ _ _C .

_ _ _ _D

_ _ _ _D

_ _ _ _C

_ _ _ _y

_ _y _ _C

_ _ _ _C

_ _ _ _E .

The 4th syllable of the 1st line rhymes with the 4th syllable of the 2nd line.

The 4th syllable of the 3rd line rhymes with the 4th syllable of the 5th line.

The 4th syllable of the 4th line rhymes the 2nd syllable of the 5th line.

The 4th syllable of the 7th line of the 1st stanza rhymes with the 4th syllable of the 3rd line rhymes with the 4th syllable of the 5th line rhymes with the 4th syllable of the 6th line of the 2nd stanza.

This metre is used for the beginning of a story, conversation, and reporting of events.

Pad Bhujunlila (Serpent’s Movement Metre)

Each stanza has 3 lines. The 1st line has 6 syllables. The 2nd line has 4 syllables. The 3rd line has 4 syllables.

_ _x _ _x _ _A

_ _ _ _A

_ _A _ _B .

_ _y _ _y _ _B

_ _ _ _B

_ _B _ _C.

This metre is for descriptions of pleasant scenes, boating, and activities in the countryside.

Pad Bamnol (Narration Metre)

This metre also received its current name in 1620, several centuries after it first appeared. Back in the Angkor era, this metre was used mostly in rioen lkhaon (versified plays).

There are 3 lines in a stanza. The 1st line consists of 6 syllables. The 2nd line has 4 syllables. The 3rd line has 6 syllables.

_ _ _ _ _ _A

_ _ _ _A

_ _ _ _ _ _B .

_ _ _ _ _ _B

_ _ _ _B

_ _ _ _ _ _C .

This metre is used for the description of threats, quarrels, and storms.

Pad Mandukgati (Frog’s Gait Metre)

There are 4 lines in a stanza. The 1st line consists of 4 syllables. The 2nd line has 6 syllables. The 3rd line comprises of 4 syllables. And the 4th line has 6 syllables. There are two ways of rhyming.

First

_ _ _ _x

_ _x _ _x_ _A

_ _ _ _A

_ _A _ _A _ _B .

_ _ _ _y

_ _y _ _y _ _B

_ _ _ _B

_ _B _ _B _ _C .

Second

_ _ _ _x

_ _x _ _x _ _A

_ _ _ _A

_ _A _ _ _ _B .

_ _ _ _y

_ _y _ _y _ _B

_ _ _ _B

_ _B _ _ _ _C .

This metre is used for amusing passages or for a repartee between animals.

Pad Baky Prammuoy (Six-syllable Metre)

This metre originated in the Middle period.

There are 4 lines in a stanza. Each line has 6 syllables.

_ _ _ _ _ _x

_ _ _ _x _ _A

_ _ _ _ _ _A

_ _ _ _ _ _B .

_ _ _ _ _ _y

_ _ _ _y _ _B

_ _ _ _ _ _B

_ _ _ _ _ _C .

The 6th syllable of the 1st line rhymes with 4th syllable of the 2nd line.

The 6th syllable of the 2nd line rhymes the 6th syllable of the 3rd line.

The 6th syllable of the 4th line of the 1st stanza rhymes with the 6th syllable of the 2nd line of the 2nd stanza.

This metre is used for all kinds of mood.

Near the end of the 19th century, the quality of Khmer writing deteriorated. Poets were still using the old metres, but they were sloppy. Most stuck to using the inferior modern syllable metres such as the 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14. The four-syllable enjoyed a great revival in the 1950s when folk-rock dominated Khmer music. Today, among the metres from the pre-Angkor period, just the four-syllable and pathyavat are still barely hanging on to life. From the Angkor period, only the five listed above remain popular.

Poems can simply be read, but each metre has an air or rhythm with which it can be recited or sung. Each one can be recited in many different styles. A feature of recitation is that when a syllable ends in an aspirate or plosive, it is to be sung on a long note or series of notes, and a humming sound following the syllable. The nasal consonant used for the humming is phonetically appropriate to the consonant. Poems are recited at funerals and religious services. Sometimes a recitation is accompanied by flute or a string instrument.

The following two stanzas come from “O Brahmin”, a very old and very important song written in four-syllable metre.

Transliteration:

Anak cau brāhm(ṇ) oey

Mịn ṭael ṭoe ṭī

Dhlāpʼ jiḥ ṭaṃrī

Kañcaeṅ rāy phkāy

Anak cau brāhm(ṇ) oey

Cau ṭoe tāṃṅ taṃṅ

Panlā krasāṃṅ

Mut joeṅ cau brāhm(ṇ)

Translation:

O Brahmin,

You never walk along the ground.

You usually ride an elephant

Its howdah decorated with flowers.

O Brahmin,

Your feet tap as you walk along.

The thorns of the feronia

Cut your feet.

Sources:

  • Khmer Poetry by Ly Somony
  • The Traditional Literature of Cambodia: A Preliminary Guide by Judith M. Jacob

There are 7 comments.

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  1. The Reticulator Member

    Very interesting. Some of those meters look complicated. Are they really an aid to memorization even without the music?

    • #1
    • March 21, 2019, at 7:24 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Your writings are one of my favorite things about Ricochet. I feel like I am on a tour of a culture I know nothing about but I am being guided by someone who both knows and loves the culture.

    Thank you very much.

    • #2
    • March 21, 2019, at 10:03 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    LC: However, some of them are referred to as artificial metres, which are variations of various syllable metres. Excessive uses of alliteration and rhyme are two of the many characteristics of these metres.

    Tongue twisters! 

    Khmer, c’mon, come out with camels! 

    (Yeah, “Khmer” is a hard rhyme… and I’m probably pronouncing it wrong anyway.)

    • #3
    • March 21, 2019, at 12:13 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. LC Member
    LC Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Very interesting. Some of those meters look complicated. Are they really an aid to memorization even without the music?

    Not really. Some metres have rhythms that are easy to memorize. Some are way too difficult to remember.

    • #4
    • March 21, 2019, at 12:16 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    You are a wonderful treasure to have here at Ricochet. What you write about are unique experiences that no one else here or anywhere else can offer.

    • #5
    • March 21, 2019, at 12:18 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    You mentioned ‘chiming’. What is that? 

    • #6
    • March 21, 2019, at 12:34 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. LC Member
    LC Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    TBA (View Comment):

    You mentioned ‘chiming’. What is that?

    I thought the title needed some tinkling sound. So I got chiming. Close enough hahaha

    • #7
    • March 21, 2019, at 1:07 PM PDT
    • 4 likes

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