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Thailand Poetry

Thai Literature can be divided into 2 categories; essay and poetry. There are several forms of Thai poetry such as Khloong, Chan, Kaap, Klon and Raay. Each type has different way of distinctive rhythm.

  • Khloong: The khloong is the oldest form of poetry and a highly intellectual form poetry used only by the sophisticated and educated classes because of its elaborate tonal and rhyming constrains. It has been developed from the nature of the Thai language which contains various intonation. In the early day, Thai had only 3 contrasting tones appeared on syllables ending in a vowel, a semivowel, and a nasal. Nowadays, it splits into 5 tones. Kloong consists of 3 tones which were designated by many western scholars as A, B, and C. Tone A is neutral tone, while tone B and C are low and high tone. The 3 tones of syllables must be placed to create a special rhythm which is the uniqueness of this form of poetry.
  • Chan : The chan is a form of poetry which distinctively consists of syllables defined as light (lahu) and heavy (kharu) and arranged in invariable number and sequences.
  • Kaap : It is a set of poetry which contains fixed number of syllables (depends on forms of kaap) and rhythm. Its way to create rhythm is similar to Chaan but does not consist of light and heavy syllables to make tone like Chaan. The most common types of Kaap are; yaanii with eleven syllables per line, cha-bang with sixteen syllables, and suraangkhanaang with twenty-eight syllables.
  • Kloon : Kloon was claimed by many scholars that it is a true Thai form but it has a certain similarities to Chinese verse. Kloon usually has four to eight syllables per line. Kloon form consists of a series of three phrases of two or three syllables each. These phrases can be phonological or syntactic.
  • Raay : Raay usually consists of five-syllable group of sentence, linked together by rhyme between the last syllable of a sentence and one of the first three in the next. A series of any number of sentence completes a single stanza. One of the oldest Thai verse forms, raay is often used for laws and chronicles. When raay alternates with khloong the form is known as lilit. In lilit compositions, the raay passages frequently describe action while the khloong passages consist of dialogues or provide commentary. Judging from the similarities in syllable number and tone placement in raay and khloong, it appears that raay may have been the forerunner of the khloong verse forms.

You can read more of the forms of Thai Poetry from this website which I found very useful. You can also listen to the poem reading which might be useful and help you to hear the rhythm of each form of Thai poetry.

Now I would like to mention a bit more about some of my favourite Thai poets and writers whose works are not only beautiful in term of literature....

Sunthorn Phu : The People's Poet

There are many great Thai authors who has written a lot of good pieces of work, but unfortunately, their books are rarely translated into foreign languages. The knowledge of Thai literature among foreign people is very limited.

It is my intention to give you a bit of touch on Thai literature; therefore, it is impossible not to mention about the father of the Thai Literature. His name is “Sunthorn Phu”. Born on 26 June 1786 in Rayong province from a common family and died at the age of 70 in 1855, he has always been the greatest poet of Thailand. With his excellent talent and outstanding genius in poetry, he earned respect from many people as well as the Thai royal family. Finally, after many vicissitudes in the course of a colorful career, he attained the distinction of Poet Laureate and was created Phra Sunthorn Voharn. Today, 150 years after his death, Sunthorn Phu's master pieces are still the among the top class literature of Thailand.

The greatness of Sunthorn Phu lies not so much in correct and ornate style, which is the aim of most Thai poets, as in the very simplicity and sincerity of his expression. Unlike so many other poets, he wrote from his heart and not from his head. Without much higher education, he was capable of writing simple forms of verse and simple language which captured the heart of the readers much more than the correct forms and fantastic version. That is why he is so deservedly called the People's Poet.

In 1986, for his Bicentennial, UNESCO officially recognised his eminence as the People's Poet of Thailand. Critics have compared his quality and importance of work to Shakespeare and Chaucer. The Year also witnessed a nationwide celebration. A new edition of his works, translations, and biographical studies were published. Besides, the cultural fairs and entertainment attested to the esteem in which the poet was held. He is the only common poet whom ever been honoured like this.

He has published several master pieces including the story of Phra Abhai Mani, the greatest imaginative work ever written. Even though, he is widely known in Thailand, he is virtually unknown to the westerners. Little of his mater pieces are translated. I personally think that it is difficult to translate them while keeping the distinctiveness of his genius ability to play with Thai words which created tone and rhythm in the poems.


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