How to write poetry in Lojban
Poetry is a form of art common to all language communities. There are a
number of different conventions and rules for the metric and rhyming
patterns of well-formed poetry, of which one of the newest is having no
rules at all. To write poetry in the latter way demands a feel for the
language, and by definition it cannot be taught. This essay
concentrates on the formal rules of metric and rhyme, and how to apply
them to Lojban. Finally I will present some kinds of poetry that are
especially fit for the Lojban language.
Metric in Lojban is formed by the words' primary stress,
which is thoroughly explained in the third chapter of the grammar, section 9. All Lojban brivla
have stress on the second-to-last syllable. This means that Lojban
is a largely trochaic language.
Cmavo sequences, on the other hand, can be pronounced with stress on any syllable,
even none at all. But there may be confusion if the last syllable before a brivla is stressed, as described in the third
chapter of the grammar, example 9.14.
This can be avoided by inserting a pause, or a glottal stop, between the
last syllable of the cmavo sequence and the brivla. For instance, below
is a verse from my own poem bradi je
bandu. It follows the dactylic pattern "-uu -uu -uu -u",
and must therefore be read like this:
Written as: i za'a se jalge le nu mrocoldandu
Read as: i ZA'a se JALge le NU.mrocolDANdu
An honest way to cheat
One of the greatest challenges faced by anyone who writes poems, is to find words which both
have the intended meaning, a metre which fits into the poem, and are
grammatically correct. In many languages, people take out parts of the
word to make it fit better. A couple of examples from English are
"ev'ry" and "ain't".
Lojban is much more sensitive to grammatic or morphological errors than
most natural languages, so this practice is highly discouraged. It's
easier to drop in a few extra one-syllable words. The words "bo" and
"ke" can be used between any brivla, and if there are only two brivla in
a row, their meaning is not changed (more information on "bo" and "ke"
are to be found in chapter 5 of the grammar, sections 3 and following.
Attitudinals, of selma'o UI, are often only one syllable, and can be used almost
everywhere. Read the grammar's chapter 13 for more information about
the various kinds of attitudinals.
The word "co"
works as a "tanru invertor". For instance, "barda gerku" is translated
"big dog", but "barda co gerku" and "gerku barda" both means the same,
namely "doggish big-thing" (which, in Lojban, is basically the same
thing as a big dog).
When we speak of rhyme, we normally talk about words that end with the
same sounds (such as heart-apart, long-strong). But word endings is
only one of the many things that can rhyme.
Allitteration (consonant rhyme)
When the consonants in several words (or word parts) are the same, and
their following vowels are different, we call it allitteration. For
instance, the English phrase "Bill's bellybutton" contains
allitteration, but not "wicked witch". A Lojban example may be "va
You may occasionally see allitteration in modern poetry, but most often
it is not used conseuqntly throughout a poem. The Old Norse poem, on
the other hand, used it all the time, and never used final rhyme, which
we take for granted in today's poems.
A much loved and videly used form of allitteration, is the vlivla, which is a two-part lujvo of the form
CCVCCV. Many vlivla are nonsense coinings, but some are so useful that
they have even been used in non-poetic prose:
snusna ("discuss-sound", the sound of
jbijbu ("near-table", nearby table).
When the vowels in the last syllables of two verses correspond with each
other, we call it assonance. I'll give you a little example:
le solri cu dirce co glare
As you can see, the last two syllables contain "a-e" in both lines, and
hence there is assonance.
.i terpa co tadni le flaske
This rhyming conventions was ordinary in medieval Scandinavian folk
songs, but is almost not used at all nowadays.
This is the kind of rhyme that most people associate with the word
"rhyme", namely that the verses end with the exact same sounds. The
rhyme start at a stressed vowel, which is called the "rhyming vowel".
All sounds, from and including the rhyming vowels, to the end of the
verses, must be the same, for it to be a final rhyme. For example:
mi tirna le valsi
Here, the rhyming vowel is the a in valsi and
malsi. The last four letters are the same, so the two verses
.ia ne'i le malsi
But on the other hand, in this example:
mi tikpa co snepre
there is no final rhyme. The rhyming vowels in the two lines are not the same.
le zumri se balpre
Popular metric/rhyming patterns
The world has lots of fixed patterns for poems, and many, but not all,
are fit for the Lojban language (iambi are difficult, for reasons
mentioned in the metric paragraph, above). Just
for the sake of completeness, I'll mention two of the most popular ones,
but please feel free to experiment with any pattern you want.
A limerick is a poem with five verses, and the rhyming scheme "aabba".
The rhyming scheme consists of anapests and trochees, as shown in the
u -uu -uu -u
u -uu -uu -u
u -uu -(u)
u -uu -(u)
u -uu -uu -u
where the u's and dashes mean "unstressed syllable" and "stressed
syllable", respectively. Parantheses means that the syllable in
question is optional(may be omitted).
In English, limericks always have a non-serious theme and a humorous
punch-line. The question is open as to whether limericks in Lojban
should be humorous too.
Some write short, compressed poems with few words, and call them
"haiku". But strictly speaking, a proper haiku must conform to some
There are no requirements for rhyme. Still, due to its compressed form,
the haiku is a very demanding form of poetry.
- It must have 3 verses and 17 syllables.
- 5 syllables in the first and third verse, and 7 syllables in the second.
- It must convey the mood of one of the four seasons.
(Without referring to them directly.)
Arnt Richard Johansen,