Qəne & Poetry

Part 1 The character of Qəne

In this section we will look into the characteristics of Qəne that make it distinct from other poetry traditions. Some of the subjects we will examine are: Whether Qəne is dependent on one particular language; the spontaneous character of Qəne (Impromptu poetry); the classification and sources of Qəne and Qəne traditions of Nät’äqa, Gəlbät’a, and Tämäst’o.   

1.     Qəne and Poetry

Traditionally any metrical verse with a rhyming scheme is defined as a poem, and since Qəne fulfills these requirements it can be considered to be a poem. However, while most poems have literal meaning, Qəne has to have a literal as well as a symbolic meaning by using the mode of Säm əna Wärq. One can say that all Qəne are poems, but not all poems can be Qəne.

As one Qəne student put it,

        “An example of a poem is


                   ከዚህ አንስቶ እስከ ፎገራ፣

                   መኪና ቁሞ በቀኝ በግራ፣

                   ገሎ ፎካሪ ህዝብ ሲያወራ!!


                                From Here to Fogera

                                cars lined up left and right

                                I kill and boast while others chat


        This is just a poem with a literal meaning which doesn’t use the mode of Säm əna Wärq.      If Qəne didn’t employ the Säm əna Wärq mode, it would be similar to the above poem   and would lose its lucidity.”


According to one Qəne teacher, any layman with an inkling for rhyming can compose poems. However,  Qəne is different in that a profound idea can be veiled underneath an every-day idea through the mode of Säm əna Wärq (i.e. metaphorical representation). Trying to unearth the profound idea (Wärq) lying underneath the layer of the literal concept (Säm)  makes listening to Qəne more pleasurable than any epicurean delight. 


When I asked Märigeta …… just as a poet can prepare and rewrite his poem if the preparation of Qəne was similar? His reply was as follows,


“One can not be rehearsing just like a beginner Qəne student. Usually a beginner goes to a quiet place and uses his teacher’s Qəne as an archetype to compose his own Qəne. In the process he has to choose the right words, adjust the metrics of the verse and choose the rhyming scheme. The student has to repeat this process again and again until he is satisfied with his Qəne. After mastering this technique, through time he will reach the  stage of Zärafi, whereby, at any moment he must compose Qəne impromptu similar to making a speech.”


Since Qəne is sung as a hymn at a church service, one has to adhere to a standard metrical pattern.  The different types of Qəne have their own metrical pattern. As we will see later, the measure for the types of Qəne is not only numbers of verse but the syllabic metrical pattern as well. Thus, even though a poem uses a mode of Säm əna Wärq, unless it follows a certain metrical pattern it can’t be classified as a Qəne. Once Mälʿakä Həywät Fəre Səbhat recounted to me that the he presented the following Säm əna Wärq poem to raise awareness about AIDS after presenting his traditional Qənes.


        እናንተ ወጣቶች ቀን አለ መስሏችሁ፣

        ከገጠሩ ኑሮ ከተማ ገብታችሁ፣

        መሠረት የሌላት ጎጆ መሥርታችሁ፣

        ዘማለች አደራ እንዳትወድቅባችሁ፡፡


                Oh! Youth thinking it is your time

                You left the countryside to settle in the city

                But your house is without foundation

                So be alert before the leaning house / harlot falls and/destroys you.


The poem has two Wärq phrases, the former is about the harlot and the latter warns about being destroyed by promiscuity. Even with such complex mode of Säm əna Wärq, the author called it a poem and not a Qəne. Thus we can see that Qəne has a much complex character than a poem.