Here’s what the snam suad poem form is:
The snam suad is an eight-line Irish poem form with an aabcdddc rhyme scheme.
It has exactly 24 syllables (three per line) and generally attempts to follow Irish traditions such as cywddydd (harmony of sound) and the inclusion of dunadh (a type of refrain).
So if you want to learn all about the snam suad poem type, then you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s get right into it!
Forms of Poetry: Snam Suad
The snam suad is a short Irish verse form with an emphasis on rhyme.
Irish poem forms routinely focus on the sound of the poem and have musical qualities to them.
The 24-syllable snam suad, incredibly short when compared to other Irish forms, maintains these qualities.
The emphasis on sound is so important, in fact, that there is a specific word for it: cywddydd.
This word essentially means “harmony of sound” and is an expected quality of various Irish forms.
It refers, roughly, to the unique blend of alliteration, rhyme, and phonetic patterns that lend Irish forms their semi-musical properties.
English sources do not all agree on what qualities a snam suad should and should not have, so it should be understood that this article only represents a general definition that will be mostly accurate by comparison.
In order to get a perfectly accurate description, we would need to find where the form was first codified, but even then it would raise questions about whether that definition matches the modern definition.
Older poem forms can be irritating in that sense.
Basic Properties of the Snam Suad
How Is a Snam Suad Structured?
The snam suad is an eight-line poem (an octostich) that has three syllables per line.
This makes it incredibly short by the typical standards of Irish poetry, at a mere 24 total syllables.
As a result, the poem often only has room for a single thought or moment.
Lines four and eight are expected to be three-syllable words.
The remaining lines usually end in monosyllabic words, but there are examples online that buck this tradition.
There is one complication in the form, and that is the traditional dunadh, a type of refrain.
Usually the dunadh refers to a repetition of the beginning of the poem at the end.
The form expects the first line to have a monosyllabic ending but to achieve dunadh with the final line, which is a three-syllable word.
In English, this should be impossible, but there are some clever workarounds.
“Cats can play” and “cattiness” both revolve around the word “cat” so even though it’s a bit of a cheat, examples like this one can work to at least get off the intended effect of the dunadh, even if it’s not exactly a true repetition.
The defined form has a rhyme scheme of aabcdddc.
Since the form enforces rhyme on each of its short lines, it can be rather demanding.
Most English snam suads will not try to fit anything particularly deep or meaningful in the poem, focusing on just the images and sound of the poem.
In Irish examples you would also expect plenty of alliteration across the lines, but this poem form doesn’t translate especially well to English to begin with so we do need to acknowledge that some concessions are usually made in its structure.
English variants of the snam suad are, by their very nature, more of an imitation than they are true examples of the form.
Example of a Snam Suad
not too bright,
lost but lit,
Light of day
lost its way,
naught to say,
The above example should give you some idea of the intended effect of the snam suad.
The poem structurally cuts itself into two halves with its rhyme scheme.
The practice of dunadh, if followed, will encourage the poem to stay within a single thought, which works well for this form anyway since it’s already too short to stray very far.
The focus of the snam suad is on clear imagery and a harmonic sound, so it’s best not to get dragged down into the “everything has to mean something” school of thought that has seeped into modern academia.
This form exists to be heard and felt and ONLY to be heard and felt.
It defies the grand, overarching purpose that your average schoolteacher might wrongly argue every piece of literature needs to have to be meaningful, but that’s kind of what I like about it, personally.
Tips for Writing a Snam Suad
Engage the snam suad as you would a game.
Don’t get overly ambitious with what you want to fit into the poem because the form will actively try to throw off any such shackles.
Its only purpose is to be fun and interesting.
That’s all it needs to be.
Hesitate before writing the first line.
Can you think of a way to tie the first line in your head to a three-syllable word so that it achieves some semblance of the expected dunadh?
Try out several phrases.
Make sure the last syllable/word is easy to rhyme with while you’re at it.
Rhymes with toy, soy, coy, etc.
Corresponds to the three-syllable word playfulness.
Rhymes with knees, pleas, breeze, etc.
Corresponds to the three-syllable word destruction.
If the phrase you have in mind doesn’t work well under these conditions, keep trying new ones in your head, one after the other.
You’ll eventually hit on something that does work and only then should you start writing.
It’s okay to use fragmented images.
Let’s go back to “destroyed trees” for a second.
“Destroyed trees, on my knees, kneeling down, construction.”
Each individual line barely makes sense by itself and only represents a fragment, but all together there’s a sense of what’s happening.
Construction also contrasts well with destruction as a bonus, though we would suspect from the context that the word is in reference to some sort of construction project that started with deforesting an area.
The third line, the only unrhymed line in the poem, could be a place to add more context to the surrounding lines if desired.
Realistically, though, there isn’t much room in three syllables to do much for narrative.
You’re better off just looking for a line that fits thematically or using that line to include more alliteration.
The second half is a bit easier, since the dunadh is already established.
All you need is a rhyme.
Stay close enough to the original thought for the final line to still make sense in the poem.
So a finished version of that poem might read:
on my knees,
Do not chop.
It’s a flop.
The fifth line manages to clarify further the purpose of “construction” in the poem by extending it into a phrase (construction workers).
This is an example of how enjambment, the continuation of a thought across lines, can be used to sneak a little more logic into short poem forms.
Do not try to fit every detail of a branching narrative in the poem.
It won’t work.
Settle for squeezing just enough in so that the theme is felt by the reader.
Part of the magic of the snam suad is in the parts that come from the reader’s imagination.
We don’t know who’s speaking up in the above poem or why they’re against the construction project, specifically.
We have to come to our own conclusions, but that keeps things interesting.
The snam suad, or the English adaptation at least, is an engaging form to play around with.
It stands as an excellent reminder that poems don’t have to have several levels of hidden meaning to be noteworthy.
Sometimes a poem is just about expressing a feeling or an image in an aesthetically pleasing way.
There’s intrinsic value in doing that, and that’s why forms like this one exist.
Comprehensive Collection of Poem Forms: Craft Words into Art
What if you went down the poem types rabbit hole all the way?
From the mundane Sonnet to the rare mistress bradstreet stanza to Grammarly’s worst nightmare cro cumaisc etir casbairdni ocus lethrannaighecht.
So if you want to discover poem types of all sorts, then this is for you.
Start exploring the vast universe of poetic ingenuity with our comprehensive array of poem forms right now!