What is a Daina?

An examination of the history, form and use of Daina; a form of Latvian poetry derived from European folks songs.

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Daina is a short form of poetry that shares much in common with Haiku.


The roots of the Daina lie in 10th Century Latvia. Originally folk songs, the form of Daina is still full of traditional European mythology and pre-Christian symbolism. Despite centuries of occupation, the Daina has endured and become a key medium for passing along the cultural heritage of Latvia.

The first written Daina are found between 1584 and 1632. The first collection of these songs was written by a German clergyman in 1807. Shortly after this, Latvia began to distance itself from the Russian Empire and urban populations began to increase. In turn, this led to the Young Latvian nationalistic movement, that sought to champion Latvian culture, which included the Daina. Krišjānis Barons began to collect and categorise various Daina, publishing six volumes and eight books, containing almost 218,000 poems.

This became known as the First National Awakening. A Second Awakening took place in the early 1900s and led to the independence of Latvia, with a Third Awakening following in late the 80s to the early 90s.

With each of these cultural booms, the Daina resumes popularity and Barons’ collection now features over 1.2 million examples of the form.

Latvia considers itself a nation of singers, and the folk-song roots of the Daina have ensured its legacy. Former President of Latvia and noted folklore scholar Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga has said, “To the Latvian the Dainas are more than a literary tradition. They are the very embodiment of his cultural heritage.”


A Daina is a quatrain with a trochaic metre. This means rather than use iambs, the Daina uses trochees. While both are metrical feet, they are the inverse of each other. An iamb leads with an unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed counterpart, whereas a trochee leads with the stressed syllable.

This gives the illusion of the trochaic verse being faster, lending itself to more enthusiastic reading.

Dainas are tetrametric verses, meaning these trochees come in four pairs, for a total of eight syllables per line.

It is worth noting that the Daina is never intentionally rhymed, however within natural speech, rhymes may appear throughout.


Historically, the Daina have been used to celebrate the history of a place. This has often been through a focus on folklore and mythology, though more pastoral affairs are often featured.

Because of its short length, the Daina is a perfect contrast to the Epic. Rather than deal with a full story, the Daina can be used to highlight a single moment.

With its lively rhythm, the Daina should be celebratory. I have found that when writing Haiku, many poets default to bittersweet melancholy. With its similar short length, perhaps the Daina is the perfect antidote to this.

Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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