Women’s Writings In Twentieth Century British Malaya

1274 words - 5 pages

As I began doing research on the pantoum I quickly noticed the uniqueness of this form when compared to others. Unlike many others, the pantoum is a form that is greatly influenced by the culture in which it originated from. In this essay, I will be discussing several qualities that make the pantoum such a unique poetic form. By examining both the history of the form and the way in which it has evolved over time, we can better understand the impact that this form has on art of poetry.

The pantoum, originally called a “pantun,” originated in Malaysia during the Fifteenth Century. Some of the earliest recorded pantuns were written in Jawi script, an Arabic script used predominantly in the Malay language. The short, folk poems were generally no more than three to four stanzas and were always written in couplets with a strong emphasis placed on the rhyme pattern (ABAB). Though it might seem difficult to find a specific connection between these couplets, in most cases it is assonance or the repetition of similar vowel sounds that connects the couplets. Another characteristic of early pantuns is rhythm. Traditionally these pantuns were recited with a certain rhythm or beat, it could even be thought of as rhythmic chanting. Therefore, each line usually contained between 8-12 syllables in order to maintain a rhythmic feel. Most notably the pantoum is very repetitive. The second and fourth line of each stanza becomes the first and third line of the following stanza. This kind of repetition only intensifies the “chanting” or rhythm of the piece. This repetition can also be used to emphasize a certain feeling, thought or experience the author trying to convey, we will touch on this again when discussing the impact of the pantoum. Though these early pantuns were often about love and contained allusions to cultural symbols, places or even ancient proverbs they make little sense when translated out of the original Malay Language. In 1812 William Marsden published a grammar dictionary that contained the first English translations of these early Malaysian pantuns.

By the nineteen century, the form made it’s way west towards Europe. French poet Victor Hugo is the one arguably credited with this migration and changing the form’s name to the French spelling of “Pantoum.” As the pantoum continued to migrate west throughout the nineteenth century it became extremely popular among British and French writers. One of Charles Baudelaire’s more famous poems “Harmonie du soir” is written the pantoum form, though it is considered an “improper pantoum.” In that particular poem, the stanzas have a different rhyme pattern (ABBA) rather than the traditional pattern (ABAB.) Also, the final line of his poem is traditionally supposed to be the exact same as the first line of the poem, but instead Baudelaire chooses to end with a new, original line that the reader had not yet seen. These irregular characteristics are now very common in modern pantoums. This is because as the...

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