On the Character of Georgian Verse


  • Tamar Lomidze School of Arts and Sciences, Ilia State University, Kakutsa Cholokashvili Ave 3/5, Tbilisi 0162, Georgia




versification, metric accentuation, syllabotonic verse, shairi


Research on the character of Georgian verse started in 1731. Since that time, some researchers have described Georgian verse as syllabic, while others have said that it is syllabotonic. The dispute about the character of Georgian verse became particularly acute in the 20th century. The main text the participants in the dispute analysed was a prominent piece of Georgian poetry of the 12th century – The Knight in the Panther’s Skin by Shota Rustaveli. It consists of 16-syllable monorhymical quatrains that have a special name in Georgian – shairi. There are two varieties of shairi – the so-called high shairi (4 4 4 4) and low shairi (5 3 5 3). The high shairi was the main issue of the dispute. The researchers who regarded Georgian verse as belonging to the syllabotonic system divided high shairi into trochaic feet, while the supporters of the syllabic theory denied the presence of metric trochaic stress in high shairi, believing that the penultimate syllables can be stressed only in two-syllable words but not in words with multiple syllables (due to the dactylic accentuation typical in the modern Georgian language).

Since natural dactylic stress (found in low shairi) reflects the accentuation norms of the language of the later period (including those of modern Georgian), we assume that metric stress in high shairi, which is no longer found in modern Georgian speech, could be a reflection of the natural accentuation of the comparatively earlier period in the development of the Georgian language. Checking this hypothesis by relying on relevant linguistic literature, we reconstructed the archaic movable and phonologically relevant stress in the rhymed words in The Knight in the Panther’s Skin. We found that metric stresses of both high and low shairi in this epic poem are actually archaic linguistic stresses. This conclusion differs from the views expressed in concepts developed earlier. It enables us to take a fresh look at the metrics and rhymes of The Knight in the Panther’s Skin as well as the main principles and specific features of Georgian verse in general.


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