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The Burmese Climbing Rhyme

The history of Burmese poetry is long and interesting. Classical Burmese poetry comes in many lengths and forms, but most of it is characterized by a repeated sequence of 3 internally-rhymed lines consisting of 4 syllables each'a pattern that has become known as Climbing Rhyme.

Though ending rhyme is more common in English poetry, most Asian poetry use a more intricate system of internal rhyming, which though tough and tricky to implement makes more interesting reading and poses more of a challenge to the writer.

The Burmese climbing rhyme applies an intricate pattern of internal rhyming. he same rhyme appears in the 4th syllable of line 1, the 3rd syllable of line 2 and the 2nd syllable of line 3. This is called the 4-3-2 scheme; its characteristic stair-step gave rise to its name, climbing rhyme. The last syllable of line 3 begins a new series of rhymes, continuing the 4-3-2 pattern.

Since Burmese is basically a monosyllabic language, each syllable has independent meaning and can be used as one word. A 4-syllable line, then, is generally also a 4-word line. This Burmese sample illustrates the climbing rhyme effect.

This scheme is repeated throughout a verse, no matter the length. In longer poems, a poet may occasionally throw in a different pattern (such as 4-3-1, or 4-2 or 3-1) to avoid monotony. A verse frequently ends with a longer line, often of 5, 7, 9 or even 11 syllables.

Such a pattern should transfer well to English verse: It offers an abundance of sound harmonies for the lovers of conventional verse but placates lovers of prose verse by hiding the rhyme internally; it provides both a tightly controlled structure and a certain look and feel of freedom; its short lines suit the modern inclination and it accepts variation; it adapts easily to both short and long verses. The result in English might well be a line that flows smoothly and quickly, with a minimum of distasteful inversions and other manglings in the name of end rhyme.

Since an English line might be unworkably short at 4 syllables, we might try a line of 4 words, using the prescribed 4-3-2 rhyme scheme and ending in a slightly longer final line
I am sure there are many forms of these climbing rhymes, but I predominantly found two:

Luc Bat
Than Bauk

Luc Bat

The Luc Bat is a Vietnamese verse form which is unusual, not hard to do and would earn some good English poetry. Lines of 6 syllables alternate with lines of 8 syllables - in fact the name Luc Bat means six-eight. The general rule is that each rhyme occurs three times - first at the end of an 8-syllable line, then at the end of the next 6-syllable line, and finally as the sixth syllable of the next 8-syllable line e.g. in the above example last/blast/past, and may/day/say. The end loops back to the beginning, here with squeak/speak/pique. You can make the poem as long or as short as you like. Some expert call it a compressed Oriental terza rima.

Luc Bat is another Vietnamese form. The name means double-seven six eight. The six-eight lines form a luc bat couplet, as above; this is preceded by a rhyming couplet of 7-syllable lines o chain stanzas together, the last syllable of each stanza should rhyme with the first two lines of the next.

Thank Bauk 

The Than-Bauk is Burmese. Three lines, four syllables each. And the fourth, third and second syllables respectively all rhyme. It's even shorter than a haiku, but a lot more structured. Traditionally, than-bauks are supposed to be witty and epigrammatic.
You could put several of them together to make a than-bauk poem, or chain them.
"A Than-Bauk, conventionally a witty saying or epigram, is a three line "climbing rhyme" poem of Burmese origin. Each line has four syllables. The rhyme is on the fourth syllable of the first line, the third syllable of the second line, and the second syllable of the third line."

It might seem easy, but it is not. You have just 12 syllables to work with, and in these 12 syllables you have to form a complete poem, with climbing rhyme.

A front the top of my head climbing rhyme would look like this. Admittedly not the best example in the world, but I do my best. I have underlined the internal rhymes and you can see the pattern it form, like climbing steps. As many of these 'climbs' can be chained together You can have a chain of many 6 sentenced verses.

Some evening it was
Made me pause and
See flaws within me
A hearts plea to
To be at peace with self

These verses work really well in a longer pattern too

Some evening it was
Made me pause and
See flaws within me
A hearts plea to
To be heed oneselves
Like tiny elves perched
Heart's shelves who urge

And on and on. Its fun try it and have a ball. There really isn't much in teaching about Burmese rhymes except diving right into the deep end. Good luck climbing and have loads of fun. 

Image (c) Gettyimages.com  

Smitha Chakravarthula


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