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Types of Poem Forms – French Kyrielle Poems

Updated on August 14, 2014

French Kyrielle Poems

Like the fixed French form of chain poetry, the Kyreille began as a spoken word type of poetry during the Renaissance, spanning from the 14th to the 17th century. As with the French Chain poems, it was usually performed by Trouvère poets (troubadors), with different twist in that it was inspired by a Christian religious liturgy expression known as the Kýrie(eléison).

Simply put, the Kýrie (a transliteration of the Greek κύριε, meaning to cry out “Oh Lord” or “Lord have mercy”) can be either a praise at times, or a petition to God at other times. So as it evolved in prayer and religious ceremonies, the practice of such phrases became in the more stricter forms of French Kyrielle poetry to be found often in the refrain found in either the second line of a couplet, or in the last line of each quatrain.

Later, this practice in the poetry scheme of Kyrielle poems evolved into being less rigid on the fixed rules and other phrases and even single words came into favor for the refrain. Some rules have not changed with this French poetry form, especially the one about using only eight syllables (octosyllabic) in each line, nor need the Kyrielle be religious in content. English language poetry in the Kyrielle form was strictly iambic tetrameter in meter.

Still later, came a variation on the fixed poetry form in that it became acceptable to use an alternating rhyme. This practice was followed by the second line becoming a non-rhyming line. Another variant to the Kyrielle progressed to a more sophisticated Kyrielle sonnet type of French poetry. Among the Kyrielle sonnets you’ll always find fourteen line poems using three quatrains, concluded by a couplet. Additionally, this fixed poetry form eventually gave way to the rhyme scheme becoming optional and at the whim of the poet. Today, there is no sacred rigid rule in any Kyrielle poem, but poets working in this form should be mindful of their climactic development as the stanzas progress for the poem to be successful.

Oil painting, "Praying Hands" by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Oil painting, "Praying Hands" by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

How To Write A Kyrielle Poem

At first glance, the French kyrielle form seems simple, but it can be a moderately difficult type of poem to write. Usually it helps to write the refrain first allowing the poem to help write itself. While no rigid rule exists anymore on the quatrains, remember to keep them at eight syllables each. Also remember to make the last line of the beginning quatrain the last line of all following quatrains.

Rhyme scheme of such kyrielle poems are often:

1, 1, 2, 2

3, 3, 2, 2

4, 4, 2, 2

This following poem is my first attempt to work in the kyrielle poem format:

My oldest granddaughter at fourteen - Source - Photographer: Janet E. Welch by permission
My oldest granddaughter at fourteen - Source - Photographer: Janet E. Welch by permission

Only Fourteen!

Pretty as any model, she is blessed

This won't help her pass her math test

Such is the life a normal teen

Lord have mercy, she's only fourteen!

Boys never stop cell phone calling

Much to the other girls galling

Often making other girls mean

Lord have mercy, she's only fourteen!

Thinking of moving to Tibet

Fortunately for her not yet

Such is life with the beauty queen

Lord have mercy, she's only fourteen!

Jerilee Wei © 2011

Examples Of Well Known Kyrielle Poems

The following are examples of well-known Kyrielle poems that you might want to study before embarking on writing your own Kyrielle poem:

  • Thomas Campion - A Lenten Hymn
  • John Payne (1842-1916) - Kyrielle

Modified from original at Image:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Prayer (1865) via Wikimedia Commons
Modified from original at Image:William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Prayer (1865) via Wikimedia Commons

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