Mahri Poetry Archive



Poems based on a tristich line (three isometric sense-units divided by a brief pause) are almost always occasional compositions addressed to a public audience.   The following example is from Gunfight in Niśṭawnwhich responds to a gunfight between of a group of Mahra and members of the Yemeni security forces in 1997:

ʾāśer šeh drīyet lɛ̄ // be-rḥōyeb ḏ-ġarbēt // we-ttəḥawdī ḏ-mesḳōt

I have a friend who doesn’t know // living in the western towns // at the edges of Masḳōt

Tristich poetry in al-Mahra rarely deals with expressions of pure sentiment such as ghazal (love declaration), ʿitāb (rebuke of a lover), and waṣf (description of a beloved).  These fall under the jurisdiction of the other two formal categories of Mahri poetry: hemistich and strophic verse.  This point was stressed to me in a conversation with the Mahri poet ʿAlī Nāṣir Belḥāf who emphasized that tristich poetry addresses a specific occurrence (“ḥadath muʿayyan”), while “new poetry” (strophic sung-poetry), lacks a central occurrence (“lā yūjad ḥadath”).  Instead, tristich poems reflect upon an actual event – typically a murder or another grave injustice – that requires a collective response.  In the form of ʾōdī we-krēm krēm tribal odes, tristich poems act as historical annals in Mahri society while at the same time fulfilling an immediate persuasive function.

The tristich line appears to be unique to Mahri poetics and is not found in Arabic poetics.  Mahri poetry utilizing tristichs should not be confused with Arabic trimeter rajaz.  For one, the individual stichs of a Mahri tristich poem are of a different order of quantity: four heavy syllables plus 3 intervening light syllables: | – ˇ  – ˇ  – ˇ  – | (x3).  Secondly, the individual stichs of a Mahri tristich poem possess a grammatical and conceptual independence not found in a foot of Arabic trimeter rajaz.  This distinction is clearly expressed in collective chants of tristich verse where a breathing pause is audible in between each stich.

Poems composed of tristich lines tend to be viewed as the most socially and aesthetically potent forms of poetry.  The most prestigious genre of Mahri poetics – the ʾōdī we-krēm krēm tribal/historical ode – is almost always composed in tristich lines.  Amateurish poets of middling caliber generally compose poetry in hemistichs, leaving tristich poems to the “professionals.”



Collective Reǧzīt: Wedding Party in Ṣaḳr

Collective Reǧzīt: Wedding in Mḥayfīf

Exchanged Reǧzīt: The Purloined Slaves

Exchanged Reǧzīt: The Waning Years of the ʿAfrārī Sulṭānate


ʾŌdī we-krēm krēm:

Tribal Ode: Atop the Peak of Ṭarbūt

Tribal Ode: The Battle of ʾĀḳəbbōt

Tribal Ode: Conventional Invocation

Tribal Ode: The Gunfight in Niśṭawn



Tribal Ode: Wahība Raiders


Unmarked Genre:

Humorous Couplets: Bir Laʿṭayṭ

Humorous CoupletSdōn the Fool

Legal Proceeding in Poetry: Divorce and Remarriage

A Message from Sinǧēr

The Rebellious Son


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