Mar 25, 2010


The Glosa was used by poets of the Spanish court and dates back to the late 14th and early 15th century. The traditional structure has two parts. The first part is called the texte or cabeza. It consists of the first few lines (usually four) or the first stanza (usually a quatrain) from a well-known poem or poet. It can also be done using lines from a less well-known poet or even from a poem of your own, though I think that would defeat the purpose.

The second part is the glose or glosa proper. This is a “gloss on,” an expansion, interpretation or explanation of the texte. The formal rule describes the Glosa as consisting of four ten-line stanzas, with the consecutive lines of the texte being used as the tenth line (called the glossing) of each stanza. Furthermore, lines six and nine must rhyme with the borrowed tenth. Internal features such as length of lines, meter and rhyme are at the discretion of the poet.

There seems to be something about the Glosa that frightens poets, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for the number of variations on the form I’ve seen:

A variety of stanza length – 4, 5, and 8 line stanzas.
Free verse, some with meter, some with rhyme.
The first line of each stanza is repeated as a refrain.
The borrowed line as the first line, the last line, or somewhere in the middle.
Even Glosas where the first four lines of a prose piece instead of a poem are used.

Of course I decided to go with the traditional version. :-)

When I first started researching this form I thought I’d be able to get away with a non-rhyming poem. But then I saw the three lines that have to rhyme and I couldn’t bring myself to rhyme three lines and not the whole thing. Honestly? The thing I found hardest about this form was choosing the four lines to start it.

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams.

We Are the Music Makers, Arthur O'Shaughnessy

The Bard
My weapon of choice is the pen,
Mightier than the sword I ken.
What battles I’ve fought using rhyme;
Winning, time after time.
I’ve never been a risk taker,
Nor thought to be a world shaker,
Yet my friends and I forge on
Until all the words are gone.
Don’t be fooled by the fakers,
We are the music-makers.

A word cannot stand all alone
When inspiration has flown,
It needs others by its side
For even a word has its pride.
Not everything is what it seems
And words can have many themes.
A word can both wound and then heal,
Or alter the way that you feel.
We’re the ones with poetical schemes
And we are the dreamers of dreams

We travel the world with our songs,
Trying to right the world’s wrongs.
The poet, respected and feared,
Holds a power the old ones revered.
For just as we were the king makers
Our power could stop the oath breakers.
We seek others to join on our quest,
For poets truly are blest;
Perhaps we’ll find a few takers
Wandering by lone sea-breakers.

Today, the bard’s a lost soul,
No longer the one in control;
So few left to take up the call,
So few that the words still enthrall.
Though I write on poetical themes
Not everything is what it seems;
So while others eschew the fine pen
I gladly accept it and then
I write in the clearing that gleams
And sitting by desolate streams.

Anyone who’d like to read the full version of O’Shaughnessy’s poem, here’s a LINK


The romantic query letter and the happy-ever-after said...

Oh I liked this a lot for it seemed to me both tribute to O’Shaughnessy and craft.
You take care my dear friend.
Warm regards,

Jamie D. said...

Fascinating, once again. And wonderful poem too. It's got a really interesting rhythm - had to read it aloud before it started clicking along, but I enjoyed it.

It seems closer to a "song" rhyming scheme, if that makes any sense...

Thanks! :-)

C R Ward said...

Simone: thank you! O’Shaughnessy is one of my all-time favourites.

Jamie: I actually did read this aloud as I was composing it. :-)