What is Pathya Vat?

An examination of the history, form and use of Pathya Vat; a form of Cambodian poetry originally intended to be written for performance.

Image Credit: 
Public Domain

Pathya Vat is a simple form of poetry that originates from Cambodia.


Until the 19th Century, most Cambodian records were written on Tra leaves and wrapped in cloth to protect them from the jungle climate. In the 1970s, during the Kymer Rouge-led Cambodian genocide, many of the country’s temples and libraries were destroyed in order to suppress perceived Western influence. As a result, much of the country’s cultural heritage has been lost. It is a difficult challenge to find poetry written before the 19th Century in Cambodia.

Of what poetry does remain, about 70% fits into the form of Pathya Vat. This could be attributable to its simplicity and the many Buddhist monks who have been taught the form as a type of meditation.

Cambodian poetry is usually intended to be read aloud or sung. The performance of Pathya Vat is held in as high regard as the content. There are names for the many different emotions used to perform a Pathya Vat poem, such as Kamhoeung (angry) and Tumnuonh (grief).


Pathya Vat has a very simple form. Each four-line stanza is made of tetra-syllabic (four syllables) lines, with a basic rhyme scheme:


Just like Haikus, Pathya Vat can be linked together to form longer poems, though Pathya Vat will use the C rhyme in place of the B rhyme for the next verse. In each successive stanza, the fourth rhyme becomes the couplet in the next verse. This chain rhyme may have originated with French settlers in Cambodia.


Pathya Vat is a good form to use is you’re just starting to experiment. There are restrictions with line length and rhyme scheme, but they’re not overly challenging and there isn’t a prescribed metre.

As with many forms of Asian poetry, Pathya Vat works best when describing nature. There’s something to be said for the use of simple rhymes on simple subjects; they clear the head.

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

Join the Discussion

Please ensure all comments abide by the Thanet Writers Comments Policy

Add a Comment