Mahri Poetry Archive

Formal Structure


Mahri poetry may be divided into three types depending on the number of stichs per line and whether the lines have an invariable pattern or are strophic poems in which the refrain and interposed verses have different line lengths.  In other words, all Mahri poems are either composed of tristich lines, hemistich lines or are strophic songs.  Poems composed of hemistich lines are by far the most common in Mahri poetics and are formally similar to Arabic literate and vernacular ʿamūdī (“columnar”) poems (ie., the hemistich qaṣīda).  Poems composed of tristich lines are the most esteemed format for Mahri poetry and tend to be associated with traditional poetics.  Just about any Mahri poem can be turned into a strophic song; however, lyric poems consciously composed with a sense-bearing refrain and multiple verses are a relatively recent phenomenon in al-Mahra and are based on Arabic-language models.  Traditional work songs (ʾahāzīj) likewise fall under the category of strophic songs.

The number of syllables per stich varies from poem to poem and this variable determines the melodies to which a poem may be sung.  My consultants generally referred to the differences in the syllable count per line as “buḥūr” (the different meters based on syllable length and count) through analogy with literate Arabic prosody.  I have analyzed the prosody of Mahri poetry and the interplay between it and Arabic prosody in the following publications: “Rhythm and Beat” and “Mahri Prosody Revisited.”


Tristich             Hemistich           Strophic

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