By Carol Smallwood

The triolet is a medieval French poetry form that has eight lines and was introduced to the English language by poets in the 17th century:

 

1. A
2. B
3. a  Rhymes with 1st line.
4. A  identical to 1st line.
5. a  Rhymes with 1st line.
6. b  Rhymes with 2nd line.
7. A  Identical to 1st line.
8. B  Identical to 2nd line.

 

Note that the lst, 4th, and 7th lines are identical. The 2nd and 8th lines are identical. Lines 3, 5, 6 are single, different.

The rhyme scheme, AbaAabAB, can be in iambic tetrameter such as this spiritual triolet:

 

Triolet III
By Patrick Carey (1624-1657)

Yes, my dear Lord, I’ve found it so;
No joys but thine are purely sweet;
Other delights come mixt with woe,
Yes, my dear Lord, I’ve found it so.
Pleasure at courts is but in show,
With true content in cells we meet;
Yes, my dear Lord, I’ve found it so;
No joys but thine are purely sweet.

 

Other types of meter may also work, as seen in this translated classic French triolet:

 

Rondel (Triolet)
By Jean Froissart (1337-1404)

Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?
Naught see I fixed or sure in thee!
I do not know thee,–nor what deeds are thine:
Love, love, what will though with this heart of mine?
Shall I be mute, or vows with prayers combine?
Ye who are blessed in loving, tell it me:
Love, love, what wilt thou with this heart of mine?
Naught see I permanent or sure in thee!

 

As you can hear, although a triolet is eight lines, it is essentially an amplified couplet (two lines of poetry). This is because the first two lines are repeated at the end of the eight-line poem, their two rhyme-sounds carry the entire poem, and there is an additional repetition of the first line in the middle of the poem (fourth line). Thus, an echoing, chant-like resonance flourishes a single couplet of poetry. If you have an excellent couplet but feel there is more to it, and yet nothing more to it, than just two lines, then consider this form.

Here’s a triolet I wrote:

 

Ephemera

Mayflies bear a Greek name meaning living a day,
An allusion to their dance before they die
After maturing in the month of May.
Mayflies bear a Greek name meaning living a day
And start as water nymphs that grow to fly
Only to die after mating—a last hooray.
Mayflies bear a Greek name meaning living a day,
An allusion to their dance before they die.

 

Here is another triolet I wrote that’s multiple::

 

Chance

Chance passed my window in June
of milkweed puff design:
it hovered, fell as in a swoon.
Chance passed my window in June
unexpected as a forgotten tune
to disappear in a straight line.
Chance passed my window in June
of milkweed puff design.

I did not wait to see it land
or if wind carried it away—
it could’ve gotten stuck in sand.
I did not wait to see it land
where it took its last stand
better it remain a slight of hand.
I did not wait to see it land
or if wind carried it away.

Later in the day I tried to see
to chase away a coward’s fear:
to stare and then to leer.
Later in the day I tried to see
fighting the desire to flee—
to look and leave a sneer.
Later in the day I tried to see
to chase away a coward’s fear.

 

Post your triolets in the comment section below!

 

Carol Smallwood’s over four dozen books include Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching, which is on Poets & Writers Magazine list of Best Books for Writers. Water, Earth, Air, Fire, and Picket Fences is a 2014 collection from Lamar University Press; Divining the Prime Meridian, is a 2015 collection from WordTech Editions.

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3 Responses

  1. Profile photo of Dusty Grein
    Dusty Grein

    Thank you for a great introduction to the triolet, Carol. This is one of my favorite octet forms, and I often write them linked into a corona, such as the following unicorn sighting in iambic pentameter:

    A Dream Within a Dream
    ————————————
    As clouds break over fallen temple walls,
    pale moonlight steps among the misty moors.
    Soft gentle breezes scream a silent call
    as clouds break over fallen temple walls;
    the magic realms of old open their halls,
    sweet mystery, like nectar slowly pours.
    As clouds break over fallen temple walls,
    pale moonlight steps among the misty moors.

    Pale moonlight steps among the misty moors.
    White hooves softly approach the silent lake,
    ephemeral, translucence on the shore.
    Pale moonlight steps among the misty moors;
    a dream within a dream from days of yore
    which human hearts would never dare to wake.
    Pale moonlight steps among the misty moors;
    white hooves softly approach the silent lake.

    White hooves softly approach the silent lake
    as clouds break over fallen temple walls.
    A flash of horn revealed by gentle shake,
    white hooves softly approach the silent lake.
    Dark Nox herself, this spell is loathe to break,
    for wondrousness, beside this vision palls;
    white hooves softly approach the silent lake
    as clouds break over fallen temple walls.

    –dustygrein

    Reply
  2. G. M. H. Thompson

    The Triolet

    This form of verse is elegant
    because it sounds Shakespearean;
    it’d make a rag intelligent
    because it is so elegant,
    and though these lines won’t sell a cent
    (they sound far too Assyrian),
    this form of verse is elegant
    because it sounds Shakespearean.

    Reply
  3. James Sale

    Great piece Carol – really enjoyable read – and you do have some great skill in creating this difficult form – very impressive!

    Reply

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