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A.K. Warder’s Introduction to Pali
[pp.354-361 and 368-372, with extracts from pp. 130, 280, 323, & 342.
Used with permission from the Author.]
So far [in Introduction to Pali] we have restricted ourselves (except for a few incidental verses in the reading passages) to the ordinary prose language of the
Poetic licence is most noticeable in the freedom of word order in verse. Since the inflections generally show the relations between the words in a sentence almost any deviation from the prose order is possible without serious change of meaning (the emphasis will be different, and indeed the metrical form provides special possibilities for emphasis by placing words in rhythmically prominent positions), though for beginners it adds  greatly to the difficulty of disentangling the meaning. Secondly, the need to fit the sentence to the metre influences the choice of vocabulary, so that unusual synonyms and rare words may be used. Thirdly, superfluous or redundant words may be inserted to fill up lines of verse, especially indeclinables (
Examples of poetic licence:-
Junction between root and suffix lengthened:
Junction between prefix and root lengthened:
Archaic forms are kept alive to a limited extent by being preserved in poems and songs handed down from past centuries. Though not acceptable in ordinary speech, they may be felt appropriate for poetic expression just because of their purely  poetic associations. They may also be felt to have greater dignity and power than everyday forms. The obscurity which may result is not always avoided by poets, on the contrary a certain mystification and portentousness may be deliberately sought. We thus meet in Pāli verse with a residue of ancient grammatical forms, among which we may note here some characteristic or frequent ones:-
Nominative plural in
Imperative 1st plural in
Optative 3rd singular in
Optative 1st plural in
Use of root aorist, e.g. 3rd plural in
Another unusual aorist:
We have noted in Lessons 28 and 29 and earlier in this lesson that the denominative, intensive, desiderative, and “root” aorist are more frequent in verse.
Where two parallel forms exist, one with assimilation and consequent obscurity and one with a clear articulation through a linking vowel between stem and suffix, the form with assimilation will usually be more frequent in verse and sometimes extinct in prose:- 
Other archaic forms:-
Other poetic forms
As examples of vocabulary not used in prose we may list a few words here.
In scanning Pāli verse the following two rules apply:-
(1) A syllable having its vowel short and followed by not more than one consonant is short (
(2) A syllabic having its vowel long, or followed by
There are also certain complications arising from minor discrepancies between the standard orthography and the original pronunciation. These arose over variant pronunciations  of the semi-vowels
In the word
Though all Pāli metres are quantitative, a new style of poetry had come into fashion in the 5th or 4th century b.c. which may be called the “musical” style. In the metres of this style the opposition of long and short syllables, that one long equals two shorts, is exact and inflexible in the same way as a note and two notes of half its value in music. The new metres had in fact taken their rhythms from music. In the older metres, which remained in use, though not uninfluenced by the new, the opposition of quantities is approximate only, so that the number of syllables in a line is still felt to be of decisive importance.
A “verse” usually contains four lines (
Most important metres:-
“Old” metres (number of syllables per line constant, with only rare “resolution” of a long into two shorts, giving an extra syllable, under the influence of the “new” metres):-
vatta (epic narrative metre: only approximately quantitative) eight syllables per line, the contrasting cadences of alternate lines giving a verse of two dissimilar lines repeated in the epic style; there is a tendency to use this  as a line of sixteen syllables not organized in verses, which is very appropriate and flexible for continuous narrative
¦ ⏓⏓⏓⏓ ⏑−⏑⏓ × 2
⏑ ⏑ ⏑
anuṭṭhubha (the archaic form of
⏓⏓⏓⏓ ⏑−⏑⏓ × 4 (the cadences of the prior
tuṭṭhubha-jagatī, normally eleven (tuṭṭhubha) or twelve (jagatī) syllables per line; these two metres, which have different cadences, are freely mixed, though they may also be used separately; there is a caesura (slight pause) after either the fourth or the fifth syllable
−⏑−,⏓,⏑⏓−⏑−⏓ × 4 (tuṭṭhubha) (caesura in one of the marked positions)
−⏑−,⏓,⏑⏓−⏑−⏑⏓ × 4 (jagatī) (caesura in one of the marked positions)
by mixture of an opening with caesura at the fifth with a continuation as per caesura at the fourth we occasionally find a tuṭṭhubha of twelve syllables or a jagatī of thirteen:
“New” metres (total quantity of each line constant, the unit in counting being the
mattāchandas (“measure-metre”), (cadence fixed, being the last five or six syllables, rest widely variable provided  the total quantity is constant; there are always two dissimilar lines repeated):
vetālīya (lines one and three contain fourteen
⏔⏔⏔−⏑−⏑⏓ ¦ ⏔⏔⏔⏔−⏑−⏑⏓ × 2
opacchandasaka (as vetālīya, but with two extra
⏔⏔⏔−⏑−⏑−⏓ ¦ ⏔⏔⏔⏔−⏑−⏑−⏓ × 2
(very rarely, vetālīya and opacchandasaka are mixed) (another metre originally of this class is the svāgatā, which being less flexible is usually classified under
gaṇacchandas (“bar-metre”) (not found in the
gīti (two or three lines of thirty
ariyā (a line of thirty
Derived metres (these represent a third phase, which subsequently became the dominant style in the literature, along with a somewhat restricted form of the vatta for continuous narrative; the tendency is for both the quantity and the number of syllables to be fixed. In the Pāli Canon these metres still retain a good deal of flexibility, whilst in later Indian literature they are given forms absolutely fixed except for the last syllable of each line):- 
samavutta (four similar lines):-
upajāti (a form of tuṭṭhubha, fixed)
⏓−⏑−−⏑⏑−⏑−⏓ × 4
rathoddhatā (a form of vetāliya line, fixed)
−⏑−⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑⏓ × 4
vaṁsaṭṭhā (a form of jagatī, fixed)
⏓−⏑−−⏑⏑−⏑−⏑⏓ × 4
pamitakkharā (derived from gaṇacchandas)
⏔−⏑−⏑ ⏑⏑−⏑⏑⏓ × 4
rucirā (derived from jagatī by resolution of fifth syllable)
⏓−⏑−⏑⏑⏑⏑−⏑−⏑⏓ × 4
aḍḍhasamavutta (two dissimilar lines, repeated)
pupphitaggā (a particular form of opacchandasaka, fixed)
⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ −⏑−⏑−⏓ ¦ ⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ − ⏑⏑ −⏑−⏑−⏓ × 2
−⏑−⏑−−⏔⏓ ¦ −⏑−⏑−−⏑⏑−⏓ × 2
visamavutta (four dissimilar lines)
upaṭṭhitappacupita (probably derived from mattāchandas)
−− −⏑⏑ −⏑ −⏑ −⏑⏑ −− ¦ ⏔− ⏑⏑⏑⏑ − ⏑−⏑ −−¦
⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ − ¦ ⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ ⏑⏑ − ⏑⏑ ⏓ × 1
uggatā (derived from gaṇacchandas)
⏑⏑− ⏑−⏑ ⏑⏑− ⏑ ¦ ⏑⏑⏑ ⏑⏑− ⏑−⏑ −¦
⏔ ⏑⏔⏑ ⏑⏑− ⏑⏑− ¦ ⏑⏑− ⏑−⏑ ⏑⏑− ⏑−⏑ ⏓ × 1
[Examples from] Exercise 30
Passages for reading:-
(vatta, or anuṭṭhubha in transition to vatta) [from Āṭānāṭiyasuttaṁ, DN 32. Ed. note: In what follows I have identified the passages; left out notes not relevant to a study of the verses; and included the metrical markers].
yena Uttarakurū In the first line there is resolution of fourth syllable, or read
manussā tattha jāyanti amamā apariggahā.
na te bījaṁ pavapanti, na pi nīyanti naṅgalā,
akaṭṭhapākimaṁ sāliṁ paribhuñjanti mānusā.
akaṇaṁ athusaṁ suddhaṁ sugandhaṁ taṇḍulapphalaṁ,
tuṇḍikīre pacitvāna, tato bhuñjanti bhojanaṁ.
* * * * * * * *
tattha niccaphalā rukkhā, nānādijagaṇāyutā,
mayūrakoñcābhirudā kokilābhi hi An easier variant is -
jīvaṁjīvakasadd' ettha atho oṭṭhavacittakā,
kukkuṭakā kuḷīrakā vane pokkharasātakā.
sukasālikasadd' ettha daṇḍamānavakāni ca,
sobhati sabbakālaṁ sā Kuveranalinī sadā,
ito sā uttarā disā iti naṁ ācikkhatī jano.
yaṁ disaṁ abhipāleti, mahārājā yasassi so -
yakkhānaṁ ādhipati Kuvero iti nāma so
ramati naccagītehi yakkhehi purakkhato. Two lines of this verse are a syllable short, add emphatic particles? There are parallel verses with different gods, for the four directions, some of which fit the metre, so this may be a clumsy substitution of names.
(vatta) [from DN 21, Sakkapañhasuttaṁ.]
vande te pitaraṁ, bhadde, Timbaruṁ, Suriyavaccase,
yena jātā 'si kalyāṇī, ānandajananī mama.
vāto va sedakaṁ kanto pānīyaṁ va pipāsino
aṅgīrasī piyā me 'si dhammo arahatām This is a rare case of the lengthening of the vowel of a final
āturass’ eva bhesajjaṁ, bhojanaṁ va jighacchato,
parinibbāpaya bhadde jalantam iva vārinā.
sītodakiṁ pokkharaṇiṁ yuttaṁ kiñjakkhareṇunā,
nāgo ghammābhitatto va ogāhe te thanūdaraṁ.
accaṁkuso va nāgo ca jitaṁ me tuttatomaraṁ,
kāraṇaṁ na ppajānāmi sammatto lakkhaṇūruyā.
tayi gathitacitto 'smi cittaṁ vipariṇāmitaṁ,
paṭigantuṁ na sakkomi vaṅkaghasto va ambujo.
vāmūru saja maṁ bhadde saja maṁ mandalocane,
palissaja maṁ kalyāṇi etaṁ me abhipatthitaṁ.
appako vata me santo kāmo vellitakesiyā,
anekabhāgo sampādi arahante va dakkhiṇā.
yam me atthi kataṁ puññaṁ arahantesu tādisu,
tam me sabbaṅgakalyāṇi tayā saddhiṁ vipaccataṁ.
yam me atthi kataṁ puññaṁ asmiṁ paṭhavimaṇḍale,
tam me sabbaṅgakalyāṇi tayā saddhiṁ vipaccataṁ.
Sakyaputto va jhānena ekodi nipako sato
amataṁ muni jigiṁsāno tam ahaṁ Suriyavaccase.
yathā pi muni nandeyya patvā sambodhim uttamaṁ.
evaṁ nandeyyaṁ kalyāṇi missībhāvaṁ gato tayā.
sakko ca me varaṁ dajjā Tāvatiṁsānam issaro,
tāhaṁ Unusual junction of
sālaṁ va na ciraṁ phullaṁ pitaraṁ te sumedhase
vandamāno namassāmi yassa s' etādisī pajā.
(tuṭṭhubha) [from DN 19, Mahāgovindasuttaṁ.]
pucchāmi brahmānaṁ sanaṅkumāraṁ
kaṅkhī akaṅkhiṁ paravediyesu,
kattha ṭṭhito kimhi ca sikkhamāno
pappoti macco amataṁ brahmalokan ti. This
hitvā mamattaṁ manujesu brahme
ettha ṭṭhito ettha ca sikkhamāno
pappoti macco amataṁ brahmalokan ti.
(vetālīya) [These examples are drawn from p. 130, quoting DN 23, Pāyāsisuttaṁ; and p. 323, DN 16, Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ.]
littaṁ paramena tejasā
gilam akkhaṁ puriso na bujjhati
gila re gila pāpadhuttaka
pacchā te kaṭukaṁ bhavissatī ti.
sīlaṁ samādhi paññā ca vimutti ca anuttarā,
anubuddhā ime dhammā Gotamena yasassinā.
iti Buddho abhiññāya dhammam akkhāsi bhikkhŭnaṁ Metrical shortening.
Dukkhass’ antakaro satthā cakkhumā parinibbuto ti.
(mixed vetālīya and opacchandasaka) [This example is drawn from p. 280, quoting DN 16, Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ. The prior lines are Vetālīya, the posterior are Opaccandasaka.]
ye taranti aṇṇavaṁ saraṁ; setuṁ katva Poetic form of katvā. visajja pallalāni,
kullaṁ hi jano pabandhati, nittiṇṇā medhāvino janā ti.
(opacchandasaka) [from DN 14, Mahāpadānasuttaṁ.]
khantī paramaṁ tapo titikkhā, nibbānaṁ paramaṁ vadanti Buddhā;
na hi pabbajito parūpaghāti samaṇo hoti paraṁ viheṭhayanto.
(upajāti) [This example is drawn from p. 342, quoting DN 16, Mahāparinibbānasuttaṁ.]
ekūnatiṁso vayasā Subhadda,
yaṁ pabbajiṁ kiṁkusalānuesī,
yato ahaṁ pabbajito Subhadda
ñāyassa dhammassa padesavattī.
ito bahiddhā samaṇo pi n' atthi.
(rathoddhatā) [All the examples from here on are drawn from DN 30, Lakkhaṇasuttaṁ.]
geham āvasati ce tathāvidho
aggataṁ vajati kāmabhogĭnaṁ,
tena uttaritaro na vijjati,
Jambudīpam abhibhuyya iriyati.
sacce ca dhamme ca dame ca saṁyame
dāne ahiṁsāya asāhase rato
daḷhaṁ samādāya samattam ācari.
pure puratthā purimāsu jātisu,
manussabhūto bahŭnaṁ sukhāvaho,
guttīsu rakkhāvaraṇesu ussuko. Note the alliteration in this verse - an ornament prominent in early Indian poetic theory.
pubbaṅgamo sucaritesu ahu
anvāyiko bahujan' assa ahu,
saggesu vedayitha puññaphalaṁ.
na pāṇinā na ca pana daṇḍaleḍḍunā
satthena vā maraṇavadhena vā puna,
ubbādhanāya ca paritajjanāya vā
na heṭhayī janatam aheṭhako ahu.
caviya punar idhāgato samāno
karacaraṇāmudutañ ca jālino ca,
paṭilabhatī daharo susūkumāro.
chetvă khīlăṁ chetvā palighaṁ | indakhīlam ūhaccamanejā
te caranti suddhā vimalā | cakkhumatā dantā susunāgā ||
akkodhañ ca adhiṭṭhahī adāsi ca dānaṁ |
vatthāni ca sukhumāni succhavīnī |
abhivisaji mahim iva suro abhivassaṁ ||
taṁ katvāna ito cuto divaṁ upapajja |
sukataṁ ca phalavipākam ānubhotvā |
idha bhavati suravarataroriva The last
na ca vīsaṭaṁ na ca visāci |
na ca pana viceyyapekkhitā |
piyacakkhunā bahujanaṁ udikkhitā ||
abhiyogino ca nipuṇā ca |
bahu pana nimittakovidā |
sukhumanayanakusalā manujā |
piyadassano ti abhiniddisanti naṁ ||
piyadassano gihi pi santŏ |
bhavati bahŭnaṁ piyāyito |
yadi ca na bhavati gihī, samaṇo |
bhavatī piyo bahŭnăṁ[Ed. note: we need to read
last updated: November 2007