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Lai Family of Forms - Lai / Lai Nouveau/Kyrielle/Bergerette/Virelai

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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
French Verse

The Lai Family of forms are French, 12th century variable forms that share a narrative nature and in all but the Kyrielle, long / short lines. The style of writing is attributed to a French noble woman simply known as Marie. She has since been named by historians as Marie de France.

  • The Lai is a short story in verse. In its strictest form it is a verse form with a rhymed syllabic pattern in three tercets. The elements of the Lai as verse form are:
    1. a narrative, tells a story.
    2. usually a nonet, 9 lines made up of 3 tercets. It can be a hexastich made up of 2 tercets.(When written in 9 lines is can also be called a Bergerette or a Viralai stanza.)
    3. rhymed, rhyme scheme aab aab aab.
    4. syllabic, syllables per line are 5-5-2 5-5-2 5-5-2
    5. Tradition states that the short line must not be indented; it must be left dressed to the poem.
      Starting Over by Mike Montreuil 27 March 2006                    

      Light comes quickly now.
      What you disavow,
      Yet, many allow
      the truth to somehow
      as I take the plow
      to empty the slough,

      Aliens by Judi Van Gorder

      Without fence or gate,
      a border debate,
      glossing . . .
      Thousands seek fate,
      new country, new state.
      caution, to tolerate
      hardship, even hate,

  • Lai Nouveau, a short narrative verse form, is a shortened version of the Lai.  The elements of the Lai Nouveau are:
    1. an octave, 8 lines made up of 2 tercets followed by a rhymed couplet.
    2. syllabic, syllables per line, 5-5-2-5-5-2-5-5.
    3. rhymed aabaabaa
      Journey by Mike Monteuil 26 March 2006                                

      Spring days are ahead;
      young ones to be fed.
      I am to be led,
      despite what is said.
      Let lapse
      hate, the journey's wed
      to our minds instead.

      Lai Nouveau by Mike Montreuil 8 April 2006

      Do not wander far,
      it's all too bizarre,
      my friend.
      A late morning star
      lights our motorcar;
      to a life afar
      paintings by Renoir.

  • Kyrielle, a member of the Lai Family of forms, is a narrative stanzaic form with a refrain attributed to the troubadours of the Middle Ages. The name kyrielle comes from Kyrie eleison (Lord Have Mercy) in the Kyrie, which is sung or chanted as part of the Catholic Mass as well as some other Christian liturgies during the season of Lent.

    Many Kyrielles used the phrase "Lord have mercy" or a variant as the refrain. In more contemporary versions other phrases, and sometimes single words, are used as the refrain. A kyrielle is primarily written in quatrains with a refrain in the 4th line. Occasionally it is written in rhymed couplets and the second line of the couplet is the refrain..  The elements of the Kyrielle are:

    1. a narrative, it tells a story.
    2. stanzaic, most commonly written in a minimum of 3 quatrains. Occasionally it is written in rhyming couplets.
    3. syllabic, each line is 8 syllables. In English it is often written in iambic tetrameter.
    4. written with a refrain in the 4th line of the quatrain or when written in rhyming couplets the refrain is 2nd line of the couplet.
    5. rhymed, rhyme scheme may vary. Quatrain options abaB, cbcB, dbdB, or abbA accA or aabB ccbB or axaB cxcB B being the refrain and x being unrhymed. Couplets aA bB cC dD etc.

      Laker's Quest by Judi Van Gorder

      This story starts with failed success,
      an oxymoron true. But failed
      they did when poised for nothing less,
      to steal the crown though Celts were hailed.

      The Laker upstarts in 08
      surprised the NBA. Assailed
      the league, sneaked up to elevate
      but not quite win, those Celts were hailed.

      No more the upstarts in 09
      they've slammed and jammed, their hearts prevailed,
      their turf, the glossy floor of pine,
      they play the game where champs are hailed.

      With Kobe, Fish and Pao, no saints,
      the team is not to be curtailed.
      Lamar and Drew will guard the paint
      and grasp the win where champs are hailed.

      The bench mob's speed and energy
      opponents can't deny. Unveiled
      this entourage can drain the three!
      They're here to win, as champs be hailed.

      My Lakers, I believe the best
      in basketball today. They've nailed
      the number one spot in the west,
      soon win it all, with Lakers hailed.

  • Double Refrain Kyrielle is an American invented variation of the Kyrielle found at Poetry Base attributed to the Dread Poet Roberts. As the name implies it adds a 2nd refrain. The elements of the Double Refrain Kyrielle are:
    1. stanzaic, any number of quatrains is written at the discretion of the poet.
    2. syllabic, each line is 8 syllables. In English it is often written in iambic tetrameter.
    3. written with 2 refrains.
    4. rhymed, aB1aB2 cB1cB2 dB1dB2 ect., B1 and B2 are rhymed refrains.
  • The Virelai, is a narrative, an expanded Lai and a member of the Lai family of forms. A poem of a single Virelai stanza is known as a Bergerette.  The elements of the Virelai are:
    1. stanzaic, any number of nonets (9 line stanzas) may be written at the discretion of the poet. One nonet is called a Bergerette or a Lai when made up of 3 tercets.
    2. syllabic, syllables per line 5-5-2-5-5-2-5-5-2.
    3. rhymed, it carries a running rhyme from stanza to stanza. aabaabaab bbcbbcbbc ddcddcddc etc until the end, in which the long line rhyme of the first stanza is repeated as the short line rhyme of the last stanza, ffaffaffa.

      Telling the Storm by Judi Van Gorder

      It happened at night
      it gave me a fright,
      the slash!
      I watched it ignite
      like a flame in flight
      its dash
      like a fighting kite
      waving fiery bright,
      so brash.

      The thunderous crash
      made the fish-tank splash.
      The room
      shook after the flash,
      I pulled back the sash.
      The womb
      of the storm, the clash
      was done with panache,

      When done, to resume
      and dispel the gloom,
      I write.
      To tell with a plume
      and bring forth the bloom,
      a light.
      In time to exhume,
      a poem to groom

  • Viralai Ancien is a Medieval descendant of the Lai. It is long with very restricted rhyme.  The elements of the Viralai Ancien are:
    1. stanzaic, usually written in any number of 12 line stanzas made up of 4 tercets. Six or nine line stanzas can be used but according to Bob Newman anything less than 12 lines is for wimps.
    2. syllabic, 8-8-4-8-8-4-8-8-4-8-8-4-8-8-4.
    3. rhymed aabaabaabaab bbcbbcbbcbbc etc. The short line rhymes of the previous stanza become the long line rhymes of the next stanza. At the end, the long line rhymes of the 1st stanza becomes the short line rhyme of the last stanza.

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