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Poetry Guide: Triolet

A triolet (IPA: [ˈtɹiːəˌlɨt], or [ˌtɹiːəˈleɪ]) is a poetic form. Its rhyme scheme is ABaAabAB and all lines are in iambic tetrameter; the first, fourth and seventh lines are identical, as are the second and final lines, thereby making the initial and final couplets identical as well.


I feel with wonder and surprise
The hard, hard softness of your touch;
Then your bright, swift, and careful eyes
I feel with wonder and surprise.
Enough, for rage is sure to rise
If once again, and then not much,
I feel with wonder and surprise
The hard, hard softness of your touch.

The form stems from medieval French poets - the earliest written examples are from the late 13th century. Traditionally, the triolet has been a very formal style - and most usually were about love. An effective conventional triolet achieves two things; firstly the naturalness of the refrain and secondly the alteration of the refrain's meaning. Take, for example, the following by Thomas Hardy;

"Birds At Winter"
Around the house the flakes fly faster,
And all the berries now are gone'
From holly and cotoneaster
Around the house. The flakes fly! – faster
Shutting indoors the crumb-outcaster
We used to see upon the lawn
Around the house. The Flakes fly faster
And all the berries now are gone!
Thomas Hardy

Notice how in the last line the punctuation is altered; this is common although not strictly in keeping with the original form. Furthermore, the fact that the 'berries now are gone' has a new relevance; the birds are going unfed. Triolets are a reasonably rare form; but their concise nature is a good start for new poets. They are used more than anything in cards and love letters - their short beauty makes them a perfect gift.