The Politics of Sound in Modern Hindi/Urdu Poetry

A. Sean Pue
Michigan State University

The Politics of Sound In Modern Hindi Urdu Poetry

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016
3:00pm – 4:30pm
Room 604, Asian Centre, 1871 West Mall

Sonic elements, including meter, rhythm, and rhyme, are central to the affective response elicited by poetry.  This is particularly true when it is consumed through recitation or musical performance, as is most common for Hindi/Urdu. This paper examines the choices made by Hindi/Urdu poets committed to the modernization of poetic form in an era in which national, linguistic, and communal identities were solidified and politicized in literary debates. Relying on their audiences’ skills at aural recognition, sound marked poetry’s kinship with what came to be viewed as the independent traditions of Hindi and Urdu that drew upon the legacies of Braj Bhasha and Sanskrit or Persian and Arabic, respectively. Unlike most treatments of the Hindi/Urdu distinction, which focus on differences of script and questions of word choice, this paper considers the question of sound.  It finds that poets engaged in creative experimentation with sonic form across linguistic divides in order to create meanings within a highly politicized literary public.  This work employs computational methodology as a means to reinvigorate formal analysis by both isolating the sonic effects of poetry and also examining them at scale across multiple oeuvres.

A. Sean Pue is Associate Professor of Hindi Language and South Asian Literature and Culture at Michigan State University, where he is also the Director of Digital Humanities. He received a Ph.D. in Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature and Society from Columbia University. He is the author of I Too Have Some Dreams: N. M. Rashed and Modernism in Urdu Poetry(University of California Press, 2014). He blogs at and tweets as @seanpue.