Types Of Poem Forms - French Chant Royal Poems

The Chant Royal fixed poem (aka the Grand Ballade), is as its less common name of "Grand Ballade" hints at -- a spin-off of the French Ballade fixed poem form. This poem form is still another of the Medieval poem forms that became so popular both then and in later revivals of the form. Make no mistake writing a Chant Royal is no small undertaking. While not as complex as the Sestina poem form, it is somewhat of a thorny undertaking, especially the first time you write one. Part of the explanation for its difficulty is that no rhyming word can ever be used more than once.

Christine de Pisan lecturing a group of men, Author/Artist Unknown, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Christine de Pisan lecturing a group of men, Author/Artist Unknown, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons. | Source

It is believed that Christine de Pizan, who in any time period was an amazing female author and poet – is credited by some scholars for introducing this form of poetry into French society sometime during the 14th century. The Chant Royal was “the favored” form of poetry at the time in Northern France, while at the same time the Sestina poem form was more popular in the South of France. Any student of feminine history will most likely name her as the “first” feminist and it is easy to see how the Chant Royal poem was ideal for some of the imposing or epic subject matter that she tackled.

Christine de Pisan

No doubt due to its complexity the French Chant Royal fixed poem form eventually fell out of favor, but it did have several revivals in popularity. The most notable of which was in the 19th century when Charles d’Orleans brought it and other French poem forms to England. Still later you can see Chant Royal influences in the works of such poets as Longfellow and Walt Whitman.

Rules for Writing A Chant Royal

  • Five stanzas
  • Eleven lines in each stanza
  • Five or seven line Envoi
  • Envoi often begins with addressing itself to royalty audience, such as "Prince"
  • Standard total length sixty to sixty-two lines (depending upon Envoi line choice)
  • Only five rhymes in entire Chant Royal
  • Subject matter is almost always historical or important
  • No rhyming word is used twice

Rhyme Scheme For Writing A Chant Royal

All stanzas follow the same format:

1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5R

The Envoi varies in terms of length, either being a five line or seven line Envoi in the format of:

4, 4, 5, 4, 5R (for the five line Envoi)

or

3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 4, 5R (for the seven line Envoi)

Note: One hint I would give anyone aspiring to write a Chant Royal is to be real clear on not only your subject matter, but also the five terminal (ending words) you choose for your rhyme scheme. This is particularly true of line four in that you must have at least thirty-six to thirty-eight rhyming words that work with your story line.

Below is an example of my own failed attempt to write a Chant Royal. I knew what I wanted to say but I will have to attempt to rewrite this poem a number of times until I hit upon the best rhyming words to convey my message.

Deportation of Acadians order, Reading the Order of expulsion to the Acadians in the parish Church at Grand-Pré, in 1755, painting by Charles William Jefferies (1923), Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Deportation of Acadians order, Reading the Order of expulsion to the Acadians in the parish Church at Grand-Pré, in 1755, painting by Charles William Jefferies (1923), Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. | Source

The Meaning Of Survival (Half Finished)

This is La prairie tremblante with its elusive moods and violent bent

Its people know the meaning of survival

Despite many of a Le Ouragan their enduring spirit never spent

In 1785 birds streaked, circled, and plunged, shouting their arrival

Cries mingled with the sound of the Gulf, muffling out the fears of them all

Earlier Acadien deportees frantically searched among faces too changed for recall

L'ouisiane underwater forests plagued with mosquitoes and yellow fever

Spanish moss upon cypress trees spun by a mysterious weaver

Into this new land which they were to empeople

Where alligators, snakes, and spiders all made them quaver

This place would have buried a lesser people.




Plucked from their original Acadian homes, over ten thousand went

Suffering grievously years of imprisonment at the hands of their arch-rival


Old and young dying on voyage to unknown destinations sent

No friends, money, food, only the clothing they wore allowed by their rival

Husbands and wives, parents and children separated become one wailing wall

Unaware most were never to meet again on earth was about to befall

Sold as indenture servants, epidemics, thousands drown, smallpox griever

With a bounty on the scalps of the men and boys, the situation could not be graver

Not even the prayers and protection could be found beneath their Catholic steeple

Over half would soon be dead, still others prisoners of war seemingly forever

This place would have buried a lesser people.


1

2

1

2

3

3

4

4

5

4

This place would have buried a lesser people.

1

2

1

2

3

3

4

4

5

4

This place would have buried a lesser people.


1

2

1

2

3

3

4

4

5

4

This place would have buried a lesser people.


Envoi

Your Majesty, King Charles III, you freed generations from the enslaver

Twenty-nine years of wandering however

Would prove not to be so simple

We broke the Spanish crown who only wanted to be our savior

This place would have buried a lesser people.

Jerilee Wei © 2011

Examples of Chant Royals

Chant royal chrétien by Clément Marot

Chant Royal Of High Virtue by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

The Dance of Death "Contra vim Mortis Non est medicamen in hortis" by Austin Dobson

More by this Author


Comments 11 comments

Anne Harrison profile image

Anne Harrison 2 years ago from Australia

A fascinating article - thankyou - not to mention your poem. The complexity of the poem hints at the complexity of rules surrounding court life at the time. I look forward to reading more


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks mathira! Well, I did want to show the complexity of writing a Chant Royal poem.


mathira profile image

mathira 5 years ago from chennai

Good article about how to write A Chant royal and informative as well.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks lilyfly! I will eventually come back to it and hopefully finish what I started too.


lilyfly profile image

lilyfly 5 years ago from Wasilla, Alaska

Jerri, just imagining the complexity of this makes me feel like a moron, but having been to France i can envision all of this, and, with time, will come back, and attempt .Love this, incredible lily


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Ginn Navarre! I learned all I know about not following rules (the good stuff) from my mamma. That's probably why it will take me forever to finish this poem form. Love you!


Ginn Navarre profile image

Ginn Navarre 5 years ago

Excellent, I agree with Tom above. This form has too many rules for this Cajun lady but your history and background made it soar!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Tom Rubenoff! Not being able to finish the poem brought the complexity to life for me. :D


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

I love the history and background you include here that brings this form to life for us. Excellent.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States Author

Thanks Hyphenbird! There's a lot more to it once you start writing one that's for sure.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

My hat is off to you. I like what I read but never could understand the rules. Complex is a great word to describe this French Chant Royal.

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