Medieval Verse: The Kyrielle

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April 6, 2015 by phicks2012

ctree2This is the next in my series of short articles on verse forms used during the historic Middle Ages, and deals with The Kyrielle.

According to Wikipedia at
The name kyrielle derives from the Kýrie, which is part of many Christian liturgies. A kyrielle is written in rhyming couplets or quatrains. It may use the phrase “Lord, have mercy”, or a variant on it, as a refrain as the second line of the couplet or last line of the quatrain. In less strict usage, other phrases, and sometimes single words, are used as the refrain. Each line within the poem consists of only eight syllables. There is no limit to the number of stanzas a Kyrielle may have, but three is considered the accepted minimum.

If the kyrielle is written in couplets, the rhyme scheme will be: a-A, a-A. There are a number of possible rhyme schemes for kyrielle constructed in quatrains, including a-a-b-B, c-c-b-B and a-b-a-B, c-b-c-B (uppercase letters signify the refrain). In the original French kyrielle, lines were generally octosyllabic. In English, the lines are generally iambic tetrameters.

While this is a simple form to write, depending as it does upon eight syllables and rhyming couplets, it is nevertheless limited in its use because of the characteristic refrain, which also tends to set the tone of the resulting poem, and to result in a darker tenor and subject matter.

For these reasons, I am unlikely to make much use of it in the future, since I much prefer more versatile forms that lend themselves to a variety of subjects and allow the expression of a wider emotional scope. However, the verse below is my own attempt at a Kyrielle.


Kyrielle No.1

With heart once young and open wide
I set all sentience aside
To love, and loved not sensibly.
Oh Lord, be merciful to me.

With heart less youthful and less sure
Succumbing then to love’s allure
I chose not well nor cogently.
Oh Lord, be merciful to me.

With heart more wounded and awry
I gave to love another try
And was misled most terribly.
Oh Lord, be merciful to me.

The damaged heart may love ignore,
And will not open anymore,
Or faith have in fidelity,
Oh Lord, be merciful to me.

With heart all numbed from knowing pain,
I will not love in life again.
Bastioned in solidarity,
Oh Lord, be merciful to me.

[8 January, 2013]

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April 2015


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