Comparative Analysis of Metrics in Thai and Burmese poetry

Author: Ivan Sarkisov (Higher School of Economics, Russia)
Speaker: Ivan Sarkisov
Topic: Poetics
CALA 2020 General Session


Thai and Burmese poetic traditions have a long history and rich literary heritage. However, both of these have limited work. Existing scholarship on Thai metrics does not effectively offer analysis in terms of modern theories, and more so, does not attempt to offer comparison with other poetic traditions. With regards to Burmese poetry, to the knowledge of the researchers, some scholarship on rhyme exists, but not meter.

This presentation summarizes the key findings of the comparative analysis of the poetic meters of Thai and Burmese traditional poetry. This comparative analysis is based on existing descriptions of Thai poetry, as well as on analysis of the Thai and Burmese verse. The study presents that Thai poetry distinguishes three main types of meter: syllabic (klon, in which each line consists of a certain number of syllables); syllabo-metrical (chan, where each line is a strict sequence of “heavy” (long or closed) and “light” (short and open) syllables), and klong, which the research has labeled syllabo-graphic. In the last case, each line contains, along with a fixed number of syllables, the syllables marked by a certain diacritical marker of different tones depending on the context .In Burmese poetry, each line in a poem usually contains a fixed number of syllables (normally, 4, but sometimes 3, 5 or more). Concurrently, no order emerges in the sequence of the tones. The quantitative meter is not possible, as Burmese does not contrast long and short vowels. The study thus seeks to classify Burmese poetry as syllabic. In both poetic traditions, internal rhyme appears very frequently, but only in Thai poetry can it be combined with external rhyme.

The study finds that both Thai and Burmese poetry do not present mutual influence in terms of metric structures, but internal rhyme may represent a typical feature of South-East Asian poetic traditions as a whole.

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Keywords: Thai and Burmese poetic traditions