Medieval Verse: The Triolet

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March 27, 2015 by phicks2012

ctree2This is the next in my series of articles on Medieval Verse forms, and deals with The Triolet.

According to Wikipedia at
“A triolet is a stanza poem of eight lines. Its rhyme scheme is ABaAabAB and often all lines are in iambic tetrameter: the first, fourth and seventh lines are identical, as are the second and final lines, thereby making the initial and final couplets identical as well.
The form stems from medieval French poetry – the earliest written examples are from the late 13th century. The triolet is a close cousin of the rondeau, another French verse form emphasizing repetition and rhyme. Some of the earliest known triolets composed in English were written by Patrick Cary, briefly a Benedictine at Douai, who purportedly used them in his devotions. British poet Robert Bridges reintroduced the triolet to the English language, where it enjoyed a brief popularity among late-nineteenth-century British poets.
An effective conventional triolet achieves two things; firstly the naturalness of the refrain and secondly the alteration of the refrain’s meaning.”

An Example by Thomas Hardy:

“Birds At Winter”
Around the house the flakes fly faster,
And all the berries now are gone
From holly and cotoneaster
Around the house. The flakes fly! – faster
Shutting indoors the crumb-outcaster
We used to see upon the lawn
Around the house. The Flakes fly faster
And all the berries now are gone!

“Notice how in the last line the punctuation is altered; this is common although not strictly in keeping with the original form. Furthermore, the fact that the ‘berries now are gone’ has a new relevance; the birds are going unfed.

Triolets are a relatively rare form.”

According to Conrad Geller at
“Going back at least to the thirteenth century, triolets are short, usually witty poems, just perfect for tucking into a box of candy or some flowers. Its name comes from the repetition of the key line three times (French “tri”).”

This is a relatively easy form to use, simply because there are so few lines and so many if them repeat exactly, but it can be a challenge to get a message across in only a few lines, especially when repetitions limit how much can actually be said.


The following Triolet was written to accompany an article for publication in our SCA newsletter.

Triolet No.1: “The Trumpets Sound”

The trumpets sound the call to war,
And banners flow upon the wind.
The warriors all have come before
The Trumpets sound the call to war.
Inscribe their names on scrolls of lore,
For they with stalwart hearts defend.
The trumpets sound the call to war.
And banners flow upon the wind.

[28 December, 2012]

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