Traditional Poetry Forms – The Triolet

As I get older, I frequently find that my failing memory is determined to make a liar out of me. This is definitely the case in a recent post entitled “Grand Little Things…” where I stated that of all the poems I have had published in my lifetime (besides those on this blog), just seven of them were my form poems (three steetbeatinas, a haiku chain, a ziggurat, and in the last two weeks, a pantoum and a quartina). Well, that statement isn’t actually true. I don’t know how it slipped my mind, but the very first form poem I ever got published (which was almost two decades ago) was indeed none of those forms, but a traditional triolet. And since it’s been a while since I wrote a post on poetry forms, I figure that it would be a good one to discus today, even though many of you are probably already familiar with it.

The triolet, thought to have been invented by minstrels in 13th century France, is a brief poem of eight lines, with the first line being repeated as the fourth and seventh lines and rhyming with third and fifth, while the second line serves as a refrain in the eighth and final line and rhymes with the sixth. In other words, the rhyme scheme of the triolet can be expressed as ABaAabAB (with the capital letters depicting the repeated lines). The length of the lines themselves can vary, but are usually metered, most commonly written in iambic tetrameter (four feet or eight syllables) but almost as often in iambic pentameter (five feet or ten syllables).

My very first published triolet appeared in the very first issue of Concrete Wolf: a Journal of Poetry in the Spring of 2001, being the inscription on the title page (an honor more likely due to its wolf theme than the actual quality of the poem). Since I was (and still am) quite terrible at meter, you can see my awkward attempt at iambic tetrameter (with the exception of the third line which contains nine syllables instead of eight):

Yellow Wolf Triolet*

Amidst brick and spackle, steel and stone,
a yellow wolf howled through the night.
In this urban land, he lived alone
amidst brick and spackle, steel and stone.
In his lament, darkness shone
brighter than incandescent light
amidst brick and spackle, steel and stone.
A yellow wolf howled through the night.

*(Originally published in Concrete Wolf, Spring 2001)

And although the above poem was my first published triolet, it definitely wasn’t my first attempt at writing one. My favorite and probably the best of these early tries is the following written in iambic pentameter (which for some reason I am more comfortable with). You may also begin to notice a pattern that most triolets follow, though not all – the word “triolet” is usually contained within the title:

The Thinking Man’s Triolet

Oh, sometimes I think I think much too much,
though others might claim I don’t think enough.
Pondering imponderables and such,
oh, sometimes I think I think much too much.
Perhaps my pensiveness is just a crutch
to do nothing else but sit on my duff?
Oh, sometimes I think I think much too much,
though others might claim I don’t think enough.

Because of the repetition and the fact it turns only on a pair of rhymes,
the triolet is relatively simple to compose. If you can come up with the first two
lines, the rest of the poem practically writes itself. So the most difficult part is deciding what the first and second lines will be. A trick I have often used is to think up a single sentence that can be easily split into two self-contained phrases or lines. Since the subject matter of a triolet can be almost anything (usually it is humorous but Thomas Hardy proved you could also write them about serious matters as well), inspiration can be found everywhere. For instance, I was recently reminiscing about episodes of the classic Star Trek TV series I saw as a kid, and soon the next poem was born:

Doomsday Triolet

First time I heard of a doomsday device
was on an old episode of Star Trek.
I didn’t think the concept was so nice
first time I heard of a doomsday device –
it’s like setting fire to a block of ice
or slipping a noose around the world’s neck.
First time I heard of a doomsday device
was on an old episode of Star Trek.

I myself find movies and television as a great source for ideas for poetry.
The title of my favorite film of 2020, “The Vast of Night”, spurred the succeeding triolet (if you haven’t seen this fantastic movie yet, you can still catch it on Amazon Prime Video):

Nocturnal Wanderings

Let’s wander through the vast of night,
never knowing where we shall go.
Guided toward a distant light,
let’s wander through the vast of night,
and if we’re lucky, we just might
end up in a place we don’t know.
Let’s wander through the vast of night,
never knowing where we shall go.

This final triolet happened when the phrase “higher you climb, better the view” inexplicably popped in my mind, and I was able to work backwards to create the preceding line:

Ascension

There are some folks who may say that
higher you climb, better the view,
yet it’s always poor where they’re at.
There are some folks who may say that
you can’t climb if the landscape’s flat,
and don’t believe it’s really true
there are some folks who may say that
higher you climb, better the view.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my humble triolets, and will listen to my pleas to please trying writing one for yourself. I am sure you will be pleasantly pleased if you do, and will soon find it developing into the most wonderful habit…

31 thoughts on “Traditional Poetry Forms – The Triolet

  1. Paul, this was a fabulous definition and presentation of the form. Like you, I love this form for its simplicity and delightful use of refrain. Your poems are beautiful representations of this classic form and lovely poetry. I will leave my own, humbly:

    Reality’s Triolet

    Is reality found in the world I see
    Or a figment of the creative mind
    No one shares the same one as me
    Is reality found in the world I see
    Or a billion different realities
    And real impossible to find
    Is reality found in the world I see
    Or a figment of the creative mind

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are so welcome, Liz! The triolet was the first repeating form I discovered. It’s rather simple and really fun to play with before attempting more complex repeating poetic forms such as the villanelle and pantoum.😁

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “…Setting fire to a block of ice”. Calcium Carbide. Also a fun concept for thinking… Doing is dangerous… One can set snowballs aflame… While friends learned I should have known!… She complained six weeks how YOU set her on fire and here I am minus eyebrows… After a brilliant mushroom cloud of calcium Carbide going up in the lake.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.