1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pantun

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PANTUN (Pantoum), a form of verse of Malay origin. An imitation of the form has been adopted in French and also in English verse, where it is known as “pantoum.” The Malay pantun is a quatrain, the first and third and the second and fourth lines of which rhyme. The peculiarity of the verse-form resides in the fact that the first two lines have as a rule no actual connexion, in so far as meaning is concerned, with the two last, or with one another, and have for their raison d’être a means of supplying rhymes for the concluding lines. For instance:—

Sēnūdoh kāyu di-rimba
Bēnang kāirap bēr-simpul pūleh:
Sūnggoh dūdok her-tindek riba,
Jāngan di-hārap kata-kan būleh.

The rhododendron is a wood of the jungle.
The strings within the frame-work of the loom are in a tangled knot.
It is true that I sit on thy lap.
But do not therefore cherish the hope that thou canst take any other liberty.

Here, it will be seen, the first two lines have no meaning, though according to the Malayan mind, on occasion, these “rhyme-making” lines are held to contain some obscure, symbolical reference to those which follow them. The Malay is not exacting with regard to the correctness of his rhymes, and to his ear rimba and riba rhyme as exactly as pūlch and būdeh. It should also be noted that in the above example, as is not infrequently the case with the Malay pantun, there is a similar attempt at rhyme between the initial words of the lines as well as between the word with which they conclude, senūdoh and sūnggoh, benang and jāngan, and kārap and hārap all rhyming to the Malayan ear. There are large numbers of well-known pantun with which practically all Malays are acquainted, much as the commoner proverbs are familiar to us all, and it is not an infrequent practice in conversation for the first line of a pantun—viz.: one of the two lines to which no real meaning attaches—to be quoted alone, the audience being supposed to possess the necessary knowledge to fit on the remaining lines for himself and thus to discover the significance of the allusion. Among cultured Malays, more especially those living in the neighbourhood of the. raja’s court, new pantun are constantly being composed, many of them being of a highly topical character, and these improvisations are quoted from man to man until they become current like the old, well-known verses, though within a far more restricted area. Often too, the pantun is used in love-making, but they are then usually composed for the exclusive use of the author and for the delectation of his lady-loves, and do not find their way into the public stock of verses. “Capping” pantun is also a not uncommon pastime, and many Malays will continue such contests for hours without once repeating the same verse, and often improvising quatrains when their stock threatens to become exhausted. When this game is played by skilled versifiers, the pantun last quoted, and very frequently the second line thereof, is used as the tag on to which to hang the succeeding verse.

The “pantoum” as a form of verse was introduced into French by Victor Hugo in Les Orientales (1820). It was also practised by Théodore de Banville and Leconte de Lisle. Austin Dobson’s In Town is an example of its use, in a lighter manner, in English. In the French and English imitation the verse form is in four-line stanzas, the second and fourth line of each verse forming the first and third of the next, and so on to the last stanza, where the first and third line of the first stanza form the second and fourth line.  (H. Cl.)