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Poetry Guide: Aubade

An aubade is a poem or song of or about lovers separating at dawn.

The form has some dramatic elements, since the poem is often a dialogue between the lovers, one saying that dawn is near and they must part, and the other answering no. There is often a refrain, in which the watchman, or occasionally the jealous husband, warns the lovers of the approaching dawn.

Aubades were in the repertory of troubadors in Europe in the Middle Ages. An early English example is in Book III of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. The love poetry of the 16th century dealt mostly with unsatisfied love, so the aubade was not a major genre in Elizabethan lyric. However, there is an aubade embedded in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, starting with the famous lines:

Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear

The aubade gained in popularity again with the advent of the metaphysical fashion; Donne's poem "The Sunne Rising" is one of the finest examples of the aubade in English. Aubades were written from time to time in the 18th and 19th century, although none of them quite up to metaphysical standards.

There have been several notable aubades in the 20th century, as well as a major poem titled "Aubade" by Philip Larkin in which the lover is life.