‘She’er’: The Arabic word for poetry also means to totally understand

The word refers to the umbrella term of poetry

She'er is the Arabic word for poetry, while qasida translates to poem
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Of all the artistic vocations in the Arab world, poetry is perhaps the most esteemed.

The art form holds great importance and value in Arab culture, throughout the region’s history. As a vehicle of expression, the various forms of Arabic poetry have been a means to record and retell history and have been a reflection of traditions, culture and identity in the Arab world.

This week’s word is she'er, which translates to the word poetry, referring to the specific subset within Arab literature as well as the global artform of poetry overall.

The origin of the word she’er is sha’ara, made of the three Arabic letters, sheen, ain and rah. It’s a verb that means to perform or recite poetry. Sha’ara also means to feel, know or understand and to perceive or sense while being conscious of this sense of knowing.

She’er comes from the word sha’ara, taking from its definition the idea of experiencing emotions and knowledge and being mindful of those experiences and then expressing them through words.

Officially, she’er is defined as a work that is written or performed that has been created from the imagination, with the intent to make one feel something. This feeling that the poet, or the shaa'er in Arabic, wants to convey to their reader or audience, ranges across the emotional spectrum, depending on the nature and genre of the poem.

A previous Arabic Word of the Week was qasida, which means a single poem. Its meaning is connected to the concept of intention, while she’er is connected more to feelings and awareness.

There are various genres or forms of poetry in Arabic, some with very strict rules in how they are formed and their specific word and sentence structure. This very formal manner of poetry has particular guidelines and rules pertaining to grammar, pronunciation, and rhythm. For example, a single, elaborate rhythmic structure or verse formation, usually runs from 15 to 80 lines and sometimes can be more than 100.

Many purists, particularly up to the early 20th century, considered this the only true form of poetry. However, other forms of poetry have always existed in Arabic outside the formal guidelines. These forms have become more popular, recognised and esteemed.

There is she’er al manthour which is free-flowing poetry outside the conventional rules. There is also she’er al hour, which literally translates to free poetry, which is another form of free-form poetry but one that can include colloquial words.

Within these various forms of poetry, there are several official traditional genres of Arabic poetry that are identifiable by the subject matter. There is she’er al hikma which is poetry that has a specific message, often a moral fable and one that contains plenty of proverbs.

She’er al madeeh is a genre of poetry where the poet is in a state of awe and praise of their subject matter. It is a highly complimentary poem that can be dedicated to any one person, friend, lover, family member, or any concept, such as the weather, the sea, the land, or a home.

She’er al mounaasabaat literally translates to poetry for events. This is a genre of poetry that is written or sometimes performed at events or celebrations – everything from weddings and birthdays to funerals and battle anniversaries.

Like many Arabic words, she’er is connected to other words whose meanings are all associated to the concept of poetry in subtle and surprising ways. to spiritual and romantic love poems that are often epic but vague in subject matter.

Like many Arabic words she’er is connected to other words whose meanings are all associated to the concept of poetry in subtle and surprising ways.

Sha’ara, which comes from the same root word of she’er refers to the time when someone who doesn’t have body hair begins to grow it. It’s linked more specifically to the idea of children entering puberty or when a foetus starts to grow hair. Sha’ara is connected to the concept of maturing or becoming more aware. This is in the same way that she’er is connected to the idea of the understanding and maturing of feelings with the intention to enlighten audiences through words.

Updated: January 12, 2024, 6:02 PM