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The Spell of Repetition: Shaking down the Pantoum

Free State Review

malay1Essay, by Meg Eden

Poetry’s closest link with its oral tradition is revealed through forms which are elastic as breath. The pantoum is composed of quatrains where the second and fourth lines of a stanza are repeated as the first and third lines in the stanza to follow. This pattern continues with no minimum or maximum number of stanzas. For the final stanza, the first and third lines of the beginning stanza are taken on as the second and fourth. This rounding creates a sense of balance in the pantoum, since every line is then used twice.

The pantoum started out as the pantun, a form of rhyming Malay folk song couplets, typically recited or sung. The Hikayat Hang Tuah and the Malay Annals document the pantun in early Malay literature. The connection between spoken Malay language which is “proverbial and sententious” and the pantun is something to behold…

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