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Musical Forms/Themes of Poetry

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Musical Forms/Themes of Poetry

The Egyptians perceived language and music as two sides of the same coin. Both poetry and singing followed similar rules for musical composition. Poetry is written not only with a rhyme scheme, but also with a recurring pattern of accented and unaccented syllables. Each syllable alternates between accented and unaccented, making a double/quadruple meter and several other varieties. Patterns of set rhythms or lengths of phrases of Ancient Egyptian poems, praises, hymns, and songs of all kinds, which are known to have been chanted or performed with some musical accompaniment, were rhythmic, with uniform meters and a structured rhyme.

The themes and metrics of lyrical poetry are the same in both Ancient and present-day Egypt. The most common copla is an octosyllabic quartet with loose, alternate rhyme. Many are composed of three, five, and six lines of varying syllabic lengths. The singer often repeats and lengthens lines, depending on the traditional vocal ornaments of a given style. Likewise, the Ancient (and present-day Baladi) Egyptian poetry has had the same exact structural forms and artistic features.

Everything that the Egyptian writes (whatever the subject is) falls into short lines of approximately equal length. These lines have a verse; i.e. some sort of metrical structure. This is, in many cases, a fixed number of lines—generally there are three or four—that belong together. Four or double-fours are most common. There was/is also the stanza of a freer structure, the sections in which are of varying length, and display no regularity with regard to the number of lines.

Artistic rhythms, naturalness, brilliancy, and the charm of Egyptian poetry strives on wordplay, alliterations, tropes, and puns.

The following is a summary of the various forms/styles of poetry that are found in both Ancient and present-day Baladi Egypt:

1. The parallelism of the phrases, where two short sentences follow each other and correspond in arrangement and also as a rule in purport.

2. The parallel phrases may group themselves in strophes, as is shown in numerous poems. These parallel phrases are, moreover, frequently arranged in different order.

3. The antithetical style of poetry.

4. Alliterative style was used as a definite poetic form.

5. Poetry of a metrical nature—poetry divided into short lines, which were distinguished in the manuscripts by red dots. These little verses are punctuated not merely so as to denote their sense, but also for the divisions that are to be observed in recitation. Each verse contains a certain number of primary accents—usually two. The peculiar law of accentuation in the Egyptian language—that several words closely allied in syntax should be invested with one primary accent—lies at the root of this verse construction.

Strophic poetry were accentual and divided into stanzas, such as:

- The muwashshah is a group of rhyming phrases molded into a pattern that consists of strophes. The outstanding feature of the genre (the one to which it owes its name of muwashshah) is the regular alternation between two elements: lines with separate rhymes and others with common rhymes. Meter is not an essential feature.

The antecedents of the muwashshah were to be sought in the same strophic poetry known in Ancient Egypt as musammat, which is a poem of very simple metrical structure. It consisted of several lines—usually three or four—with a common rhyme followed by one with a separate rhyme. The scheme of a poem having strophes of four verses (murabba’) will thus be: aaaB cccB, and that of one with strophes of five verses (mukhammas): aaaaB ccccB.

The Ancient Egyptian texts provide an extensive number and variety of musammat/muwashshahat in the forms of litanies, rosaries, eulogies, psalms, hymns, etc. Likewise, present-day Egyptian mystics (Sufis) utilize the same ancient poetic and recitative compositions. Egyptian mystics have a countless number of these poetic and musical compositions that they know by heart. The mystical rosaries (awrad) are usually a long, well-composed series in the form of poetic stanzas of recitations. Each rosary consists of well-designed components/sections, each with their own particular climaxes. These rosaries are replete with wise proverbial sayings, pious reflections, and moral precepts. These hundreds of Egyptian compositions are too old to be accredited to specific authors.


[An excerpt from The Musical Aspects of The Ancient Egyptian Vocalic Language by Moustafa Gadalla]


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