Sep 21, 2022

Virelai Poetry Form

This poem comes to us from medieval France, and was often set to music. It’s one of the three fixed French forms, the other two being the ballade and the rondeau. It’s a kind of complicated form, with alternating rhymes and syllable counts.

The Virelai can have any number of nonets (9-line stanzas), but usually has at least three. It is syllabic with the syllable count being 5-5-2-5-5-2-5-5-2. It also rhymes, with the five syllable lines rhyming with each other, and the two syllable lines rhyming with each other.

Here’s the schematic:


Now, in the second stanza, the first line picks up the rhyme from the last line of the first stanza and this continues as the rhyme for the five syllable lines of this verse. The two syllable lines get a new rhyme of their own. This pattern continues in the following verses. In other words, the end rhyme for the second verse would be bbcbbcbbc, the third verse would be ccdccdccd, and so forth.

I told you it was a little complicated. Honestly, after struggling with my example I want to go back to an unstructured form! The five syllable lines were bad enough, but the two syllable ones were a killer. Yikes!


vaguely, in my mind
stray thoughts left behind
some thoughts are unkind
some are less defined
like glass
all are unconfined
stories in my mind
en masse

deep in the morass
dreams may come to pass
such dreams oft surpass
the mind’s deep crevasse
of sight
and reason is bypassed
here at this impasse

flash, like a floodlight
pierce the brain, ignite
for the things I write
under the moonlight
thoughts, I cannot fight
this is my birthright
. . . forget

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