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What is a Pantun?

By Wanda Albano
Updated May 23, 2024
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A pantun is a traditional form of oral Malay verse. It is believed to have evolved to its most current form in the 15th century, as evidenced by Malay manuscripts. It has been adapted by both French and British writers since the late 19th century. Victor Hugo is sometimes credited with its introduction to the Western world, where it is called the "pantoum."

Naturally, it takes some period of study to truly understand the intricacies of this unique poetic form. For our purposes, therefore, we shall merely attempt to define it in its most basic state. Simplistically, a pantun is characterized by a series of quatrains following an abab rhyming scheme. Its most unique trait has something to do with its somewhat repetitive nature. This is part of the rules of pantun — the lines of each stanza must be brought to life in the next stanza.

In a traditional pantun, for instance, the second and fourth lines of each stanza are made into the the first and third lines of the the succeeding stanza. The first and third lines of the first stanza, meanwhile, are put in reverse order before becoming the first and fourth lines of the last stanza. The first and last lines of the poem are usually the same.

As the pantun is really a result of oral tradition, many composers of Malaysia's best known pantun are unknown. For most aficionados, the name of a pantun's creator is much less important than the pantun itself. Interestingly, since the pantun is an expression of both young and old, and rich and poor alike, it has a tendency to cut across the socio-economic strata, and can truly boast itself as being an art form for the masses.

A few western examples of a pantun are Parent's Pantoum by Carolyn Kizer and Baby's Pantoum by Ann Waldman.

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Discussion Comments
By anon131583 — On Dec 02, 2010

The real Pantun is from indonesia.

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