by Dusty Grein

Like many of the old French refrain forms, the kyrielle originated in the 15th century with the traveling troubadours. It is a rhymed form, written in either 2 line couplets, or 4 line stanzas (also known as quatrains). Each couplet or quatrain contains a repeating line or phrase as a refrain which usually appears at the end of the stanza.


The Structure

Each line within the traditional kyrielle consists of eight syllables—usually crafted in iambic tetrameter—but other meters have been used successfully by many poets, so you can feel free to work in whatever meter you enjoy most.. There is no limit to the number of stanzas a kyrielle may contain, but three is considered the accepted minimum.
Some popular rhyming schemes for the kyrielle are:

aabB, ccbB, ddbB, etc. (B refrain line/word)
abaB, cbcB, dbdB, etc. (B refrain)
axaZ, bxbZ, cxcZ, etc. (Z refrain)
abcD, abcD, abcD, etc. (D refrain)

The rhyme pattern to use is completely up to the poet.


An Example

Many wonderful kyrielles exist, and this is one I found very appealing.

My Bouquet

Some days I sing, some days I cry.
My soul’s the one determines why.
Sometimes it laughs, sometimes it mourns.
On my bouquet are many thorns.

Wake up each day, face a dark cloud.
My happiness wrapped in a shroud.
The day begins; to me it scorns.
On my bouquet are many thorns.

Lay down my head, dark nights begun.
With the sad setting of the sun.
From all my sorrows my heart mourns.
On my bouquet are many thorns.

© 2003 Floria Kelderhouse


Creating One of Your Own

The most important part of crafting a kyrielle is, like many of the old French forms, the creation of that refrained line. It has to finish each stanza, so it needs to encompass the message you want to convey in your poem.
The first step is, like always, to decide on what that message will be. For my example, I have decided to go with a humorous take on an old staple: the nightmare of being caught in public in your underwear.

That makes the creation of my refrain line easy – it just has to end in “underwear” and fortunately there are a lot of rhyming words to accompany it.

Next I have to decide what meter and pattern I will use. While the traditional kyrielle form is written in an eight syllable meter, I have decided to use a modified version, known as common meter. In this meter, the lines are written as alternating iambic tetrameter (8 syllables) and iambic trimeter (6 syllable) lines.

**Note: Sometimes these lines are combined to form a popular metric pattern known as a fourteener, and while I could have used this approach, I prefer the split into 8/6/8/6 quatrains.

So now I know my basic stanza will be built on a framework that looks like this in scansion:

Note: In this pattern, [-] will represent a soft syllable, and [=] will represent a hard one with [.] as a separator between feet, and (a, A) = rhymed line, (x) = unrhymed line.

(x) – = . – = . – = . – =
(a) – = . – = . – =
(x) – = . – = . – = . – =
(A) – = . – UN . der . WEAR

Kyrielles are written using a variable number of stanzas, so I need to decide how many I want to use to tell my story. I could just start writing stanzas and let it end when it ends, but I want to have an idea so I can hang my story on a framework before I begin weaving it together.

I will write this little comedy poem in 7 stanzas, so I need seven rhyming words to match underwear. Thankfully, my first rhyming word is what the poem is about – a nightmare. Here then, based on the feeling I want to create, is my list of seven rhyming words to build my poem framework around:

nightmare, there, stare, air, dare, derriere, care

This should allow me to tell my story with a smile. After I hang these words on my framework, I am left with this:

– = – = – = – =
– = – = nightmare
– = – = – = – =
– = – underwear

– = – = – = – =
– = – = – there
– = – = – = – =
– = – underwear

– = – = – = – =
– = – = – stare
– = – = – = – =
– = – underwear

– = – = – = – =
– = – = – air
– = – = – = – =
– = – underwear

– = – = – = – =
– = – = – dare
– = – = – = – =
– = – underwear

– = – = – = – =
– = – derriere
– = – = – = – =
– = – underwear

– = – = – = – =
– = – = – care
– = – = – = – =
– = – underwear

Now comes the part of the process that is personal and different for everyone. You must release you inner artist, and play with the syllable counts, the rhymes and the story. A work of art has a certain amount of work, right in the name, and this is where it lives.

After I finished my work on this piece, here is the result:


My Nightmare

I woke last night at half-past three
from such a strange nightmare,
of shopping at our local mall
in just my underwear!

Somehow, in this state of undress,
my wife I’d followed there.
She kept insisting it was time
To buy new underwear!

In panic, I searched wildly ‘round,
as people stopped and stared.
I looked down, and relieved, I found
I’d worn clean underwear!

Outside the lingerie store now,
a chill rose in the air;
the laughing crowds all pointed at
holes in my underwear!

The thing which brought anxiety,
felt almost like a dare,
I found there was no dressing room
to change my underwear!

Then worst of all, I felt a slap
upon my derriere;
My wife winked and she leered at me,
Now sans my underwear!

I wakened then, my snoring wife
asleep without a care,
she likely dreams of shopping…
but not in underwear!

© 2018 Dusty Grein

This little comedic poem tickles my funny-bone, and makes me smile. If it makes a reader or two smile as well, then it is a success. That smile is all I was after. Not all poetry makes that happen, but it can be memorable when it does.

Post your own kyrielle in the comments section below.

© 2018 – Dusty Grein

Kyrielles Published by the Society of Classical Poets

Closed Borders by James Ph. Kotsybar
Kyrielle #1 by Laura E. Fields

NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

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7 Responses

  1. James A. Tweedie

    Thank you, Dusty, for introducing me to the Kyrielle. I enjoyed your article and was pleasantly surprised to discover how excellent the two examples previously posted on the SCP site turned out to be.

    Having said this, however, I will now share my first reaction to the subject.

    Let me see if I have this correct. The Kyrielle is a poetic form that (within certain parameters) varies in metrical and rhythmic structure, rhyming pattern and number of stanzas, all of which are left to the discretion of the poet. The only thing required is to end each stanza with the same word which, in turn, should share a rhyming partner at the end of either the second line (if the stanzas are ordered as quatrains) or the previous line (if the stanzas are ordered as couplets). Given the French penchant for anarchy I suppose it is not surprising to find that this gelatinous form is associated with that otherwise culturally sophisticated country.

    The Kyrielle’s poetic norm:
    Each stanza ends with the same word,
    The rest is an amorphous form
    So free as to appear absurd.

    That final word must also share
    A word that rhymes when it is heard.
    That word can be most anywhere,
    To me it all seems quite absurd.

    Like Sartre, Beckett, or Camus
    The logic bends until it’s blurred.
    It’s C’est la vie! et Sacre Bleu!
    A theater of the absurd.


    • Dusty Grein


      I love the humorous take on the loose structure that has developed under the umbrella form of the kyrielle, especially since you wrote it using the classic 8-count abaB structure 🙂

      I think that most of the old French refrain forms, while having wonderful bones, con often become even better, when dressed in new clothes. The freedom to craft modified form versions, using meters that help create a mood for the piece is one of the freshest ways to revive a form that has become sluggish due to metric rigidity. An iambic waltz can be danced to, but when it is upgraded to a rhythm like anapestic tetrameter catalectic, you can snap your fingers and shake your booty while you dance. 🙂

      • James A. Tweedie

        I am humbled and amused by, but also in awe of the final sentence in your reply. I am heading to the nearest dictionary forthwith!

        I am also interested to note that, with such a rich literary vocabulary of words with feminine endings (a la Le Chanson de Roland, Les Marseilles, etc.), this poetic form requires a masculine ending throughout. It’s almost counter-intuitive! and perhaps more of a challenge to compose such a poem in French than in English.

    • C.B. Anderson

      It’s all clear now (not!). I think, James, that you have captured the genie in the bottle with your rendition of this form. So, what next?

  2. E. V.

    Thank you, Dusty. You put a lot of work into this tutorial, and I enjoyed your humorous kyrielle. Your efforts are appreciated. It’s exciting to learn new forms!

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Mr. Tweedie’s poem on the kyrielle’s form puts me in mind of William Ernest Henley’s brilliant poem that does pretty much the same for the villanelle. Here’s the first brief strophe; the entire poem can be found easily on-line at PoemHunter:

    A dainty thing’s the Villanelle,
    Sly, musical, a jewel in rhyme,
    It serves its purpose passing well.

    Be sure to check it out. Henley was one of the first English poets to experiment with these obscure medieval French forms — all of which, by the way, were originally intended to be sung aloud, and accompanied by lute or cittern music.

  4. Oliver Grossman

    The Kyrielle is AabB CcbB DdbB … etc.

    All the rest is varying levels of free-verse …

    Also, the Kyrielle is associated, historically, with the Lord’s Prayer, and most-oftentimes a reference to it arises somewhere in the poem …

    Because it matters.


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