BAḤR-E ṬAWĪL, a type of Persian verse generally consisting of the repetition of a whole foot (rokn) of the meter hazaj (ᴗ - - -) or of a whole foot of the meter ramal (- ᴗ - -) or of permissible variations of the two. The difference between baḥr-e ṭawīl and other metrical poetry, such as the robāʿī (quatrain), qaṣīda (ode), ḡazal (lyric), mosammaṭ (stanzaic verse), maṯnawī (rhymed couplets), etc., is that in the latter types, the poet is permitted to use four or six or at most eight feet per line, while a line of baḥr-e ṭawīl can contain up to twenty or even more feet. Another basic difference is that the number of feet in baḥr-e ṭawīl varies from line to line of a particular poem, whereas in other forms of rhythmic verse the number of feet in the first line has to be maintained throughout the entire poem. There is some disagreement among prosodists as to whether both defining characteristics, namely, hypermetricality and variation in the number of feet per line, have to be met before a poem is classified baḥr-e ṭawīl. Some would exclude a poem by ʿAbd-al-Wāseʿ Jabalī on grounds that it fails to meet the second condition, i.e., a foot of hazaj-e makfūf (ᴗ - - ᴗ) and one of ramal-e maqṣūr (- ᴗ - ᴗ) recur twice in each line. The poem begins:
ayā sāqī al-modām marā bāda deh tamām
zanam yak nafas be kām ke kas-rā ze ḵāṣ o ʿām
dar īn manzel ay ḡolām omīd-e qarār nīst
(Dīvān-e ʿAbd al-Wāseʿ Jabalī, 2 vols., ed. Ḏ. Ṣafā, Tehran, 1339-41 Š./1960-62, II, pp. 639-40).
Another characteristic that distinguishes baḥr-e ṭawīl from other metrical verse is that each line ordinarily culminates in a word ending in a syllable containing the long vowel ā, a qāfīa (rhyme), and a radīf (refrain) of rā. Of course, baḥr-e ṭawīls exist that rhyme in a different manner and that lack a radīf. Internal rhyme also sets baḥr-e ṭawīl apart; often within a line one finds mono- and polysyllabic rhyme schemes as well as secondary qāfīa or qāfīa and radīf.
The diction used in baḥr-e ṭawīl poems is simple and direct as a rule. Because it does not force the poet to complete his thought within the confines of a hemistich or a line and allows as much metrical space as necessary to express a point, baḥr-e ṭawīl became popular on all levels of society. Moreover, with its successive internal rhymes, baḥr-e ṭawīl, when recited, produces the kind of inviting and prolonged melody in the reciter that listeners find engaging.
Baḥr-e ṭawīl is not as old as other verse forms; the earliest extant specimens date back to the Timurid period (9th/15th century) (P. N. Ḵānlarī, “Qadīmtarīn baḥr-e ṭawīl,” Soḵan 22/11-12, 1352 Š./1973, pp. 1140-41). It is likely that baḥr-e ṭawīl was introduced for recreation and novelty of form, and as a forum for the poet’s virtuosity, the same factors which had motivated such master poets as Manūčehrī Dāmḡānī (d. 432/1040) to create the mosammaṭ and Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān (438-515/1046-1121) the mostazād. Baḥr-e ṭawīl’s special features, which were elaborated by Safavid poets, made it a popular medium among professional story tellers (naqqālān, maʿrakagīrān) who used it to stir the emotions of their audiences. An example of baḥr-e ṭawīl is found in the Safavid period romance Amīr Ḥamza-ye Ṣāḥebqerān (Tehran University, Central Library ms. no. 2612) in which a foot of ramal-e maḵbūn (ᴗ ᴗ - -/ᴗ ᴗ - -) recurs (ṣanam-ī lāla-ʿeḏār-ī, be raveš bād-e bahārī, be negah āhū-ye čīnī o be qad sarv-e ḵarāmān o be-roḵ čūn mah-e tābān o dahan ḡoṇča-ye ḵandān o lab-aš laʿl-e Badaḵšān o zanaḵdān čo namakdān o . . .). During the Qajar period, the form served the purposes of reciters of Shiʿite martyrologies and passion plays (taʿzīa), thereby bringing new life to their calling (e.g., M. Honarī, Taʿzīa dar ḵūr, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 148-54). Since the Constitutional era, baḥr-e ṭawīl has become a popular vehicle for experimentation with political and social themes; taking advantage of the form’s capacity to arouse interest, satirists would cloak their warnings about the state of Persian society in wit and occasional mild ribaldry (see, e.g., various issues of the weekly paper Tawfīq and A. Ḥālat, Baḥr-e ṭawīlhā-ye Hodhod Mīrzā, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975).
Specimens of Arabic baḥr-e ṭawīl (adapted from Persian) date back to the 11th/17th century when Iraqi poets produced what they called band.
Baḥr-e ṭawīl is also the designation of a meter in Arabic prosody (ᴗ - - ᴗ - - -) hardly ever used by Persian poets. Šams-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Qays Rāzī, who quotes three Persian lines in this meter, observes that they are mere imitations of Arabic poetry since the meter does not suit “sound poetic taste” (ṭabʿ-e salīm) in Persian (al-Moʿjam fī maʿāyīr ašʿār al-ʿajam, ed. M. Qazvīnī, rev. M.-T. Modarres Rażawī, Tehran, 1336 Š./1957, pp. 71-72).
Given in the text. See also M. Aḵawān Ṯāleṯ, “Taḥqīq-ī dar bāra-ye baḥr-e ṭawīl-e pārsī,” Māh-nāma-ye farhang 3, 1340 Š./1961, pp. 33-42.
M.-E. Bāstānī Pārīzī, “Sayyed Bonederaḵtī,” Gowhar 1/11-12, 1352 Š./1973, pp. 1028-34.
Dīvān-e ʿEṣmat Boḵārāʾī, British Museum ms. Or 864/1.
M. Daraḵšān, “Kohantarīn baḥr-e ṭawīl,” Āyanda 11/45, 1364 Š./1985, pp. 280-86.
L. P. Elwell-Sutton, The Persian Metres, London, New York, and Melbourne, 1976, pp. 192-93.
P. N. Ḵᵛānlarī, “Past o boland-e šeʿr-e now,” Soḵan 13/2, 1341 Š./1962, pp. 141-51.
Ẓahīr al-Dīn Maṛʿašī, Tārīḵ-eṬabarestān o Royān o Māzandarān, ed. M. Tasbīḥī, Tehran, 1345 Š./1976, pp. 330-33.
M. Moḥīṭ Ṭabāṭabāʾī, “Baḥr-e ṭawīl-e Mīr ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓīm Maṛʿašī,” Gowhar 2/1, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 21-27.
M.-Ḥ. Tasbīḥī, “Taẓmīn-e ḡazal-e Ḥāfeẓ dar baḥr-e ṭawīl,” Waḥīd 11, 1353 Š./1974.
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: August 24, 2011
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Vol. III, Fasc. 5, pp. 503-504