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Poetry Guide: Virelai nouveau

The virelai nouveau is a poetic form that is both rare and difficult to use. Its chief characteristic is the use of a double refrain and the fact that is uses two rhymes only. The poem opens with a couplet and these two lines are used as the refrain in alternating stanzas. The poem ends with an envoi, the last two lines being a repeat of the opening couplet, often in reverse order. There is no set number of lines per stanza or of the patterning of the rhymes, but an example rhyme scheme could be A1-A2-b-a-b-a-A1, a-a-b-a-b-a-A2, a-b-A2-A1.

The form is more common in French poetry, but has been used by English poets including Austin Dobson.

An Example

The first two stanzas from July by Dobson

Good-bye to the Town! good-bye!
Hurrah! for the sea and the sky!
In the street the flower-girls cry;
In the street the water-carts ply:
And a fluter, with features awry,
Plays fitfully, "Scots, who hae" --
And the throat of the fluter is dry;
Good-bye to the Town! good-bye!
And over the rooftops nigh
Comes a waft like a dream of May;
And a ladybird lit on my tie;
And a cockchafer came with the tray;
And a butterfly (no one knows why)
Mistook my aunt's cap for a spray;
And "next door" and "over the way"
The neighbours take wing and fly:
Hurrah! for the sea and the sky!