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Poetry Guide: Kyrielle

The kyrielle is a poetic form that originated in troubadour poetry.

Name and form

The name kyrielle derives from the Kyrie, which is part of many Christian liturgies. A kyrielle is written in rhyming couplets or quatrains and uses the phrase Lord have mercy, or a variant on it, as a refrain as the second line of the couplet or last line of the quatrain. In less strict usage, other phrases, and sometimes single words, are used as the refrain.

If the kyrielle is written in couplets, the rhyme scheme will be: a-A, a-A. There are a number of possible rhyme schemes for kyrielle constructed in quatrains, including a-a-b-B, c-c-b-B and a-b-a-B, c-b-c-B (uppercase letters signify the refrain). In the original French kyrielle, lines were generally octosyllabic. In English, the lines are generally iambic tetrameters.

An example

This kyrielle is by Thomas Campion.

A Lenten Hymn

With broken hart and contrite sigh,
A trembling sinner, Lord, I cry:
Thy pard'ning grace is rich and free:
O God, be merciful to me.
I smite upon my troubled breast,
With deep and conscious guilt oppress,
Christ and His cross my only plea:
O God, be merciful to me.
Far off I stand with tearful eyes,
Nor dare uplift them to the skies;
But Thou dost all my anguish see:
O God, be merciful to me.
Nor alms, nor deeds that I have done,
Can for a single sin atone;
To Calvary alone I flee:
O God, be merciful to me.
And when, redeemed from sin and hell,
With all the ransomed throng I dwell,
My raptured song shall ever be,
God has been merciful to me.

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