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How to Write a Triolet Poem

Updated on May 19, 2012
Sparrowlet profile image

Katharine writes both modern and traditional poetry. She was named poet laureate for AllPoetry 2015 and has two books of poetry in print.

Photo by Litrefs/Wikimedia
Photo by Litrefs/Wikimedia

What is a triolet?

A triolet is an eight line verse with a specific structure that gives it a lilting rhythm and pleasant meter. It is not hard to write, once you get the idea, in part because three of the eight lines in the verse are repeated lines! The trick is to get your repeated lines to flow in with the lines that follow them, so that the poem makes sense. The rhyme scheme of the triolet is A,B,a,A,a,b,A,B (the a's rhyme with one another and the b's rhyme with one another, and the capitol letters represent repeating lines). Two or more triolets together are a triolet chain, or a triolet poem.

Example of a Triolet

Here is an example, using the first verse of a triolet poem:
(written by me)

Aphrodite (verse one)

Emerged from foamy waves of greenish sea-
this tide of sweet desire, consuming men...
no greater form of beauty's child could be
emerged from foamy waves of greenish sea.
The source of desperate longing's need is she,
most able to procure a lover when
emerged from foamy waves of greenish sea-
this tide of sweet desire, consuming men.

© Katharine L. Sparrow


As you can see, lines 1 and 2 are repeated as the final two lines of the verse. But you may not have noticed that line 4 is also a repeat of line 1. With this pattern in mind, and the rhyme scheme of the verse, you can write the firsts two lines of your poem. I usually use 8 or 10 syllables per line (iambic tetrameter or iambic pentameter), but there is no specific rule as to syllable count. However, your lines should be in iambic rhythm! To learn to write in iambic rhythm, you can read the article How to Write in Iambic Pentameter.

When writing a triolet poem, I'd recommend doing so on a word processor, rather than with pen and paper. This way, it's easy to move words and phrases around, delete and add, etc.

Aphrodite
Aphrodite

When writing your first line, be sure to choose an end word that has lots of rhyming possibilities. You will need to find two more words that rhyme with your line 1 ending word. For line 2, you only have to come up with one more word that rhymes with your end word.

Once you have your first two lines, you'll need the 3rd line to rhyme with line 1. However, it's not quite that simple. Line 3 must also make sense when combined with line 4, which is going to be a repeat of line 1. This is why using a word processor is easiest.

Try typing lines 1 and 2, leaving a blank line, and typing in line 4 (that's line 1 repeated). Then leave lines 5 and 6 blank, and fill in lines 7 and 8 with a repeat of your first two lines. (Note that the repeated lines should be the exact same, don't alter the words in any way.) Here you have your skeleton of the poem. You then work your way through the empty lines, making sure that you follow the rhyming pattern (A,B,a,A,a,b,A,B) and that each line makes sense as the poem goes along.

For example, line 3 makes perfect sense with line 4 (the repeated line) in the sample triolet:

(3) no greater form of beauty's child could be
(4) emerged from foamy waves of greenish sea.

Your line 5 can introduce a new thought or image, such as in the sample poem:

(5) The source of desperate longing's need is she,
(6) most able to procure a lover when

But then the 6th line must flow well with the next line, which is a repeat of line 1:

(5) The source of desperate longing's need is she,
(6) most able to procure a lover when
(7) emerged from foamy waves of greenish sea-

(If line 6 is the end of a thought or phrase, then the final two lines can stand alone, as long as they make sense following the previous lines.)

and finally, line 2 is repeated, which goes with line 1, as you first wrote them:

(5) The source of desperate longing's need is she,
(6) most able to procure a lover when
(7) emerged from foamy waves of greenish sea-
(8) this tide of sweet desire, consuming men.

Using trial and error, you will soon get the knack of writing the triolet. Then, you can begin to write triolet chains or poems, which are fun to write, and very melodic to read aloud. Below is an example of a triolet poem that I wrote a few years ago.

The Willow

While gazing out, my eyes can see
beyond the window where I stand-
there grows a tall and graceful tree,
while gazing out, my eyes can see
a willow, weeping just for me,
the shape of sadness on the land-
while gazing out, my eyes can see
beyond the window where I stand.

While willow branches sweep the ground,
and sway in melancholy dance
to music played without a sound,
while willow branches sweep the ground-
it weeps for love that can't be found...
I wait and watch, as in a trance,
while willow branches sweep the ground,
and sway in melancholy dance.

While through her branches, breezes sigh,
as though they sing her soft lament,
and winds swish 'round in hushed reply,
while through her branches, breezes sigh.
They mourn the day we said goodbye,
the day you kissed my lips and went-
while through her branches, breezes sigh
as though they sing her soft lament.


*Excerpt from To Rend and to Mend: The Making of a Poet by Katharine L. Sparrow

Try your hand at a triolet! With some practice, it is a form that you can become adept at writing. It can be used with almost any mood or subject matter, and it has a pleasing sound to the ear. Once you have written a good triolet, try writing a longer poem with two or three triolets in a chain! Triolets make for a nice poem that is both musical and memorable.

Source

Here is the whole of the first example triolet poem.

Aphrodite

Emerged from foamy waves of greenish sea;
this tide of sweet desire, consuming men-
No greater form of beauty's child could be
emerged from foamy waves of greenish sea.
The source of desperate longing's need is she,
most able to procure a lover when
emerged from foamy waves of greenish sea-
this tide of sweet desire, consuming men.

With comely face and shapely body fair,
the child of Zeus and Dione - none can match.
her dazzling eyes and deep hypnotic stare-
with comely face and shapely body fair.
Temptation calls, entwined in flowing hair-
a spell of stunning grace ensnares her catch
with comely face and shapely body fair-
the child of Zeus and Dione, none can match

This Goddess charmed, possessed of love's allure
who holds the gift to lead man's will astray
with hearts of hapless fools who must endure
this Goddess charmed, possessed of love's allure,
and find in her for lust's disease a cure,
indulging passion, scented with sea spray...
this Goddess charmed, possessed of love's allure
who holds the gift to lead man's will astray.

© Katharine L. Sparrow

*Now try writing a Swap Quatrain poem or a Sparrowlet poem!
....then try an English sonnet !
..........or how about a haiku?


© Katharine L. Sparrow

Comments Appreciated

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    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      How fun, to take a phrase and use it so it makes sense as the start of a sentence, the end of a sentence, and a repetition in-between. Your examples are very clever in disguising the repetition.

      I had heard of a triolet before ("Oh, dainty triolet/ Oh fragrant violet/ Oh gentle heigh-ho-let/ Or little sigh." from Gilbert & Sullivan's "Princess Ida"). Thank you for teaching me how dainty they can be!

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 5 years ago from New Jersey

      This is an interesting and fun poetic form. I have never heard of a triolet before. But maybe I will try my hand at it. Thanks for the information and examples.

    • Sparrowlet profile image
      Author

      Katharine L Sparrow 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thank-you for the tip, I think you are right there.

    • Sparrowlet profile image
      Author

      Katharine L Sparrow 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Yes, a triolet should be written in iambic tetrameter or iambic pentameter. Hmm, maybe I should include that, but it's complex enough to warrant another article!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Marvelous poems and great instructions and guidelines for those who wish to try their hands at a Triolet. :) Very impressive. I primarily write prose, but there are many good poets on HP who will find your Hubs very interesting.

      The willow tree picture is just wonderful. May I make what I hope is a helpful suggestion. I would place the poems and the instructions/examples in a "full screen width" capsule just like you did the picture of the willow tree in. Doing that, would make it much easier to follow the pattern and to see how it plays out in the example poem you gave. Much easier for your readers to understand and follow.

      Occasionally, when I have learned new techniques or approaches from other Hubbers, have gone back in through Edit mode and reworked some of my hubs and then republished them. I would encourage you to consider that; you are a very good writer and your work deserves a wider readership. Good luck. SHARING with my readers. :)

    • profile image

      Anonymous 5 years ago

      The beauty of your willow poem was beyond belief. Keep on writing!

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 5 years ago

      Katherine ~ I'm stunned in awe that you can write these flowing lines, that repeat with content that make sense. Very romantic and beautiful lines. I'm not quite ready to try my hand at these. Thanks for providing the form and method. Blessings, Debby

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 5 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      excellent hub. Thanks for writing this poem. I am unfamiliar with this type of poetry. I may have missed it, but, is there an y specific rhythmic pattern associated with the triolet?

    • snakeslane profile image

      snakeslane 5 years ago from Canada

      Thank you Sparrowlet, your poems and examples are really nice and you've laid out the instructions clearly so that I too am inspired to try. Regards, snakeslane

    • Fennelseed profile image

      Annie Fenn 5 years ago from Australia

      I love this style of poetry and will definitely give it a try. Your Willow Tree poem is not only beautifully sad, but captures the mood evoked by the willow itself. You have inspired me with this hub. Thank you for this information and your detailed instructions - I look forward to experimenting with this style.