Urjuzah (Rajaz metre)

The urjuzah is an Arabic verse form, consisting simply of rhyming couplets in the rajaz metre. This example has three such couplets. 

Snow goose flies home scarred from Dunkirk over the marsh,
   Airborne she soars beneath the moon, wing and a prayer. 
Sheet rain cascades on starlight ride, like other nights.
   At rainbow’s end in lunar seas, waves fill the air.

Breathless with love, coming of age down on the farm,
   Dream girls will smile, capture your heart, then pass you by.
She was the one - straight to the heart through dust and dreams. 
   Nude, drafted, beached, harbouring tears, say long goodbye. 

White desert sand gleams in the bleak scorched wilderness;
   Cool camels file, slow caravan, through shifting dunes.
Keys lost and found, smooth metrognome’s songs within songs, 
   Echoes resound, lush red guitar weeps gentle tunes.

The rajaz metre calls for lines of 24 syllables, divided into two hemistichs (or half-lines) of 12 syllables, with a caesura (or break) between them. Each hemistich contains three similar feet, of 4 syllables each. The third syllable is unstressed, and all the others are stressed – “dum-dum-di-dum”. In Western prosody, such a foot (which doesn’t arise all that often) would be called a third epitrite.

I wanted to find out about this metre because one of my favourite bands, Camel, made an album called Rajaz a few years ago. In the sleeve notes they described rajaz as “a simple metre of the animal’s footsteps… the rhythm of the camel”. The poem above is made up mainly from the titles of Camel’s albums and tracks from them, and a few words from the lyrics. The first stanza owes most to The Snow Goose and Moonmadness; the second focuses on the incomparable Lady Fantasy from Mirage, with allusions also to Breathless, Rain Dances, Nude, Stationary Traveller… well, most of the other albums, really. The final stanza, appropriately, is mostly Rajaz.

"Metrognome" is not a misprint, by the way!

Related metres - Hazaj and Ramal

There's an article on Arabic prosody in the Princeton Encyclopedia. This makes it seem very complicated, and perhaps it is. But the description there of rajaz seems to me to agree with that given above, and by Skelton. Rajaz is a member of "Circle 3" of the Arabic metres (which is listed second, for reasons that may be obvious in Princeton). The other two members of that circle are hazaj and ramal. These differ from rajaz only as follows:

All three metres of Circle 3 require lines of 24 syllables, divided into two hemistichs of three feet each.

I don't know a special name for a poem of rhyming couplets in hazaj metre, or for a poem of rhyming couplets in ramal metre. Sorry. It's hard to find information in this area unless you speak Arabic - and I don't.


Persian prosody has metres with (at least some of) the same names, but different definitions. (Hell, this is as bad as Western poetry!)

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© Bob Newman 2007. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 15/03/2007