Week Twelve: The Triolet

Introduction

The Triolet (pronounced TREE-oh-LAY) is a 13th century French form notable for it’s emphasis on repetition and rhyme in a fashion similar to that found in the rondeau or “round” poem. The form remained popular among French poets for several centuries, eventually inspiring English and German attempts and variations through the 18th century and beyond.

Triolet in French means, clover, or clover leaf, more directly translating as three-leaf. In my research I was unable to discover an exact explanation for why this particular form is called the triolet. Perhaps it was because it was often written in French in a meter similar to iambic trimeter. Or perhaps it is a reference to how the first line is repeated three times.

The King of Triolets

This untitled triolet by 17th century French poet Jacques de Ranchin is perhaps the most famous ever written and is often referred to as “the king of triolets.” English translation by Hikaru Kitabayashi.

Le premier jour du mois de Mai
Fut le plus heureux de ma vie.
Le beau dessein que je formai!
Le premier jour du mois de Mai.
Je vous vis, & je vous aimai.
Et ce dessin vous plut, Sylvie.
Le premier jour du mois de Mai
Fut le plus heureux de ma vie. 

The day that came the first in May,
No happier day my life has seen since.
The plans I made were good that day,
The day that came the first in May.
My eyes with love about you lay,
And, Sylvie, you became my queen thence,
The day that came the first in May.
No happier day my life has seen since!

~For a refresher on the hazards of translating poetry, see my previous post “Week Four: The Ovillejo”.~

Requirements of the Form

Structure

– composed of a single eight-line stanza (octave)

Content

– no restrictions, though poets often aim for the repeated lines to take on additional significance as the poem progresses

Syllable Count

– see meter (below)

Meter

– in English, often written in iambic tetrameter. In French, some lines a variation of iambic trimeter tagged with an amphibrach.
(see Wikipedia for more on this).

Rhyme

ABaAabAB, with capital letters representing lines repeated exactly

Requirements Breakdown

Line 1: first line, A rhyme
Line 2: second line, B rhyme
Line 3: third line, a rhyme
Line 4: exact repeat of Line 1, A rhyme
Line 5: fifth line, a rhyme
Line 6: sixth line, b rhyme
Line 7: exact repeat of Line 1, A rhyme
Line 8: exact repeat of Line 2, B rhyme

An Original Triolet

Let’s move this town to higher ground

Let’s move this town to higher ground     
We know these plains will flood again       
We are not bound to stay and drown       
Let’s move this town to higher ground     
A home more sound may yet be found     
These window panes will fill with rain       
Let’s move this town to higher ground     
We know these plains will flood again       

*A Note on My Original Triolet

The internal rhyme located on the second stress of each line is not a formal requirement, but a creative choice by the author. I began the poem with the first line, where the internal rhyme felt natural enough, and decided to challenge myself to see if I could carry the pattern through to the end.

Links to Online Resources

Triolet – Merriam-Webster.com
The Triolet – Writer’s Digest
Triolet – Wikipedia
17th Century Triolets – hkitabayashi.blogspot.com

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