An Afghan form has only a few formal properties. Each has twenty-two syllables: nine in the first line, thirteen in the second.
The poem ends with the sound “ma” or “na.”
(One meaning of the word landay is short, poisonous snake.)
These are the specifications I found at
Along with almost all of the examples below.
Sometimes they rhyme, but more often not.
In Pashto, they lilt internally from word to word in a kind of two-line lullaby
that belies the sharpness of their content, which is distinctive not only for
its beauty, bawdiness, and wit, but also for the piercing ability to articulate
a common truth about war, separation, homeland, grief, or love.
Within these five main tropes, the couplets express a collective fury, a
lament, an earthy joke, a love of home, a longing for the end of separation, a
call to arms, all of which frustrate any facile image of a Pashtun woman as
nothing but a mute ghost beneath a blue burqa.
The landays* are a way to subvert the social code in which women are prohibited
from speaking freely. Since the poems are collective and anonymous “women can
claim they just overhead the poems in the marketplace,” says Griswold, “not
that they authored them.”
*Authors note: Even in this extensive site, we note Landays used as the plural, but
formally I read somewhere the plural is Landai. That seems consistent with English usage.
“These poems are part of an oral tradition that goes back thousands of years, sung by nomads and farmers at wedding ceremonies or around campfires. Today, the landay form has in some ways gone underground, becoming a means of expression and defiance for oppressed Pashtun women.”
Poetry to Die For.
Jim Fleming: In Afghan culture poetry is revered incompetent fact, you can find lines of famous poems graffiti-ed on sides of buildings. There are though some poems that are secret, like this one: I call your stone, one day you’ll look and find I’m gone. There is a story behind that poem and Strainchamps is here in the studio with me, and you have the story.
Anne Strainchamps: Well Jim the story begins with a teenage girl named, Rahila, and she lived Helmound, which you know is one of the Taliban strongholds [xx]. Like a lot of real Afghan girls, she wasn’t allowed to leave her home or go to school, her father pulled her out of school after the fifth grade and she found refuge in poetry. The poem you just read is a landay, that’s a folk poem part of a Pastian tradition of woman’s poetry. Rahila began to write and quote poems like this. Then one day her brothers discovered that she was writing love poetry, and that is something that is considered very dishonorable and they beat her badly. In protest, Rahila doused herself with cooking oil and she set herself on fire and she died.
Jim: Oh my Lord. In our culture to imagine a culture where a woman dies for writing poetry.
Anne: Yeah, and the reason we know about [?] Rahila [?] Muska- her real name turned out be [?] Zirina – is thanks to American Journalist and Poet, Eliza Grizwald. Eliza heard about Rahila, and she traveled to Afghanistan to try to find out more and she uncovered this hidden poetry tradition. Poems called landay.
What I can tell you after personally visiting several educational and revealing sites is that the specified requirements are WIDELY ignored in the poetic examples I was able to find, and to no detriment to the form, and that there is on other poetry form that is used so exclusively by women. Further,
I think it is the most vital and socially functional poetry in the world today.
Here are some examples. I rarely found a poem that met the line by line syllabic requirements.
I never found one with the “ma” or “na” ending.
See for yourself if the have “bite”.
You sold me to an old man, father.
May God destroy your home, I was your daughter.
Making love to an old man
is like fucking a shriveled cornstalk blackened by mold.
The old goat seized a kiss from my pout
like tearing a piece of fat from a starving dog’s snout.
May God destroy the White House and kill the man
who sent U.S. cruise missiles to burn my homeland.
When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers.
When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.
Your eyes aren’t eyes. They’re bees.
I can find no cure for their sting.
Come, let’s lie thigh against thigh.
If you climb on top, I won’t cry.
My lover is fair as an American soldier can be.
To him I looked dark as a Talib, so he martyred me.
Be black with gunpowder or blood-red
but don’t come home whole and disgrace my bed.
Here are some from the Tenth Muse
What can a woman know of war?
Only how to weep angry tears and bury her dead.
I sing even under my blue hood.
My mother says I am a most determined songbird.
He says at home I am a flower
but to the world I should be as plain as a weed.
And finally, I am required to write one myself:
So poets, give structured writes a try,
but let your words cry for those who wrote then had to die.