On poetry--Meter and Rhyme

This article is part 3 of 3 in the series On Poetry

Art experience is essentially personal. It never demands external attestation. It differs from person to person, taking shape based on their attitude and saṃskāra. Poetic criticism, therefore, can never find consensus. There is a popular saying, “loko bhinnaruciḥ,” “tastes differ.” I’m afraid it is only half a statement. Here is the other half: to a certain extent there does exist a natural consensus among us. This is perhaps due to the common background and experience of humans. Let us consider a few common examples: all of us agree that sugarcane is sweet, and neem is bitter. But what about the unbridgeable gap between sugar and jaggery, broccoli and bitter gourd? With these, yes, tastes differ. Milk, curds, buttermilk, coffee, tea—each of these appeals to each individual differently. Similar is the case with the themes and situations of poetry.

            Apart from the fact that the poet is endowed with pratibhā, he is very much like all of us. He shares his mindset and approach with a few—if not most—of his readers. There is consensus between the poet and the rasika, proportionate to the extent of this shared attitude. All of us invariably like Vyāsa, and Vālmīki. But as far as other poets are concerned, opinions differ. A real poet is unabashed by this difference of opinion, because he is answerable only to his creative imagination and the truth-beauty duo it produces. If his contemporaries do not like his art, he would probably say the same words as Bhavabhūti: “kālo hyayaṃ niravadhirvipulā ca pṛthvī,” “the world is vast, and time endless.” Entire texts could be irretrievably lost during Bhavabhūti’s time, but in the present age of print technology, one need not harbour such a fear.    

            So far, we have expounded on the inner features of poetry. It is now time to consider its outer frame—words and the various ways they are arranged. Keśirāja has succinctly captured everything to be said about this in the following words:

ಶ್ರೀವಾಗ್ದೇವಿಗೆ ಶಬ್ದದಿ-

ನಾವಾವಿಂದ್ರಿಯದ ವಿಷಯಮಂ ಶ್ರೋತ್ರದೊಳು-

ದ್ಭಾವಿಪ ನಿರ್ಮಲಮೂರ್ತಿಗೆ...

       The power of words lies in their ability to secure all experiences for us through the ear alone, which we would otherwise gain through other sense organs. The experiences that the poet brings to us are lokottara, not everyday affairs. This requires words that are full of uncommon strength, which must fulfill two purposes: one, to satiate the ear, the doorkeeper of the heart; and two, to convey the poet’s creation to the heart. There are a host of words that can simultaneously accomplish both these goals. Lalita (graceful), gambhīra (profound), adbhuta (wonderful)—as soon as words like these strike the ear, the mind grasps their meaning thanks to a certain syllabic power. This is termed suggestion, and it pleases the ear by virtue of pronunciation. [Translator's Note: Technically, such syllables are called vyañjakavarṇas, instruments of suggestion]. Every syllable has a distinct tonal impact on us. Letters belonging to the following three groups—(i) ta, ṭa, ḍa (ii) la, ḻa, ḍa (iii) sa, śa, ṣa—appear to be very proximate during pronunciation. However, when they come together in a poetic stanza, the combined effect is something different. Let us consider a few examples:



muḻideccāgaḻ mahogra-praḻaya-śikhi-śikhānīkamaṃ visphuliṅgaṃ

aḍḍamoreya gaṇṭumūgina jaḍḍudehada gujjugoralina   

            There are a few other words that do not sound impressive but possess great meaning. Examples include ṛṣi, tīrtha, and āśrama, which readily evoke an exalted feeling of reverence. This suggested sense is obviously not the same as dictionaries would have it. It is largely established due to cultural conditioning—because great poets and common people alike have refined it over centuries.

            Among the methods to please the ear, priority must be given to akṣaraguṇa (syllabic strength). Meter and music take the second and third positions. Along with music and meter, rhyme (which comes under syllabic strength) applies largely to verses. There is however, dhāṭī—sequence of short and long syllables—that is present in good prose, too. Sentences that are carefully crafted do indeed possess padamaitrī (consonance between words), taraṅgagati (wave-like drift), and layabhaṅgi (distinct rhythm). One can witness this in the prose sections of campūkāvyas.

            There must be an element of novelty in poetry for it to be attractive. This should never be at the cost of sacrificing metrical rhythm and emotional content. Meter should necessarily be in line with the aesthetic ambiance of the poem. If one uses a long meter to express a subtle emotion, the mood will take a hit by the inevitable usage of superfluous words. This marks the death of poetry. Similar is the case of rhyme, which is primarily meant to please the ear. It should serve its purpose and retire. Poetry intends to produce rasa, aesthetic enjoyment—this is an uncontestable fact. To achieve this, rhyme is in turns conducive and inconducive. So, it is impossible to lay down strict rules about the usage of rhyme, alliteration, assonance and the like. Contextual appropriateness sets right everything. Without the fear of making an extreme argument, we can say the following: meter and rhyme bring with them terseness and compactness, which in turn help in driving home the import of the poem with greater efficacy. They also make up for the paucity of poetic content to an extent.

            If I may express a personal taste, I am an ardent advocate of ojasvitā (brilliance)[1]. I am afraid that freedom of the extreme sort makes the poetic process unstable and leads to rasābhāsa. [Translator’s Note: This word is wrongly used in the sense of rasabhaṅga, disruption of art experience].  A signal illustration of this is the genre of Free Verse (Verse Libre) that is emerging in English. Let us consider a few examples[2]:     

1. Within an office whose exterior

Resembles an ultra-conservative mind

You battle with the avaricious words

Of a meagre, petrified man.


2. Messengers,

Of varied fate,

Of pitch and toss and gain,

Of life and driven time,

And the inane

Of jesters.


3. Out into a garden backyard came a woman in a blue apron

Carrying yellow meal in a bright tin pail


4. Among two hundred acres of pasture and root-crops

The only moving thing

Was the tail of a donkey

A man and a woman

Are two

A man and a woman and a donkey

Are three.

At the sight of a donkey

Ambling down a green field

Even a slave of traditional rhythm

Must be abashed.

The dinner-gong is sounding,

The donkey will be moving,

A man moves also.

            This is not poetry, but its feeble, distorted reflection. Unless the emotional content is couched in a set of powerful words, it can never achieve stability. It is hence essential to follow the rules of grammar and prosody. This is the fundamental tenet of the poetic tradition. Kāvya need not necessarily take the form of verse. But contrasted with prose, verse often has greater potency to impart beauty and force to emotions. In case the requirements of meter seem too hard to handle, it is better to compose elegant prose than dish out oddities in the name of verse.

            I am aware that I have pronounced an immoderate proposition. I humbly submit that it does not stem from any ill intention. Poetry to me is worthy of worship, and this attitude made me write these lines.

            Word and meaning are mutually dependent entities. A harmonious blend of sound and sense makes a sentence beautiful. To capture the entire essence of a thought, we may find a single appropriate word. At most, two. At one level, the mere search for such words is difficult. To aesthetically combine them with other words in a poem is another challenge. Greater still is the task of correctly understanding the import of these words, which the poet has used with utmost skill and caution. Poets and readers of this sort are extremely rare. Knowing this, our ancients proclaimed,

ekaḥ śabdaḥ suprayuktaḥ samyajjñātaḥ svarge loke kāmadhug bhavati   

If correctly understood and used well, a single word grants all our wishes in heaven.       

[1] I have used the word ojas in the sense of a poetic tool that can cause a powerful impact on the mind. It is not intended in the sense propounded by aestheticians such as Bharata and Daṇḍi. Mammaṭa says, “cittasya vistārarūpadīptatvajanakam ojaḥ,” “Ojas is that which causes the mind to expand and brings about a flash.” I completely agree with this.

[2] Ref: Modern English Usage.

[This is a translation of select portions of the Kannada essay Kelavu Sāhitya Samsyegaḻu, taken from the work Jīvanasaundarya mattu Sāhitya. This was a part of the author’s Presidential Address at the eighteenth Karnataka Sahitya Sammelana.]





Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.



Shashi Kiran B N holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master's degree in Sanskrit. His interests include Indian aesthetics, Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and Kannada literature and philosophy.

Prekshaa Publications

Indian Perspective of Truth and Beauty in Homer’s Epics is a unique work on the comparative study of the Greek Epics Iliad and Odyssey with the Indian Epics – Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. Homer, who laid the foundations for the classical tradition of the West, occupies a stature similar to that occupied by the seer-poets Vālmīki and Vyāsa, who are synonymous with the Indian culture. The author...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the sixth volume of reminiscences character sketches of prominent public figures, liberals, and social workers. These remarkable personages hailing from different corners of South India are from a period that spans from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Written in Kannada in the 1970s, these memoirs go...

An Introduction to Hinduism based on Primary Sources

Authors: Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh, Hari Ravikumar

What is the philosophical basis for Sanātana-dharma, the ancient Indian way of life? What makes it the most inclusive and natural of all religio-philosophical systems in the world?

The Essential Sanātana-dharma serves as a handbook for anyone who wishes to grasp the...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fifth volume, episodes from the lives of traditional savants responsible for upholding the Vedic culture. These memorable characters lived a life of opulence amidst poverty— theirs  was the wealth of the soul, far beyond money and gold. These vidvāns hailed from different corners of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom and lived in...

Padma Bhushan Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam represents the quintessence of Sage Bharata’s art and Bhārata, the country that gave birth to the peerless seer of the Nāṭya-veda. Padma’s erudition in various streams of Indic knowledge, mastery over many classical arts, deep understanding of the nuances of Indian culture, creative genius, and sublime vision bolstered by the vedāntic and nationalistic...

Bhārata has been a land of plenty in many ways. We have had a timeless tradition of the twofold principle of Brāhma (spirit of wisdom) and Kṣāttra (spirit of valour) nourishing and protecting this sacred land. The Hindu civilisation, rooted in Sanātana-dharma, has constantly been enriched by brāhma and safeguarded by kṣāttra.
The renowned Sanskrit poet and scholar, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R...

ಛಂದೋವಿವೇಕವು ವರ್ಣವೃತ್ತ, ಮಾತ್ರಾಜಾತಿ ಮತ್ತು ಕರ್ಷಣಜಾತಿ ಎಂದು ವಿಭಕ್ತವಾದ ಎಲ್ಲ ಬಗೆಯ ಛಂದಸ್ಸುಗಳನ್ನೂ ವಿವೇಚಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಬಂಧಗಳ ಸಂಕಲನ. ಲೇಖಕರ ದೀರ್ಘಕಾಲಿಕ ಆಲೋಚನೆಯ ಸಾರವನ್ನು ಒಳಗೊಂಡ ಈ ಹೊತ್ತಗೆ ಪ್ರಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಛಂದಸ್ಸಿನ ಸೌಂದರ್ಯವನ್ನು ಲಕ್ಷಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ತೌಲನಿಕ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಅಧ್ಯಯನಗಳ ತೆಕ್ಕೆಗೆ ಬರುವ ಬರೆಹಗಳೂ ಇಲ್ಲಿವೆ. ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಕಾರನಿಗಲ್ಲದೆ ಸಿದ್ಧಹಸ್ತನಾದ ಕವಿಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸ್ಫುರಿಸಬಲ್ಲ ಎಷ್ಟೋ ಹೊಳಹುಗಳು ಕೃತಿಯ ಮೌಲಿಕತೆಯನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಿವೆ. ಈ...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...