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Madrigal: Poetic Form

Categories: Poetic Forms, Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides Blog, What's New.

The madrigal originated as an Italian form, actually as a pastoral song. The Italian madrigal is written in lines of either seven or 11 syllables and is comprised of two or three tercets, followed by one or two rhyming couplets. Just as variable as the lines and line lengths is the rhyme scheme. In fact, there’s so much variability that I’m going to focus more on the “English” madrigal.

For the English-version of the madrigal (developed by Geoffrey Chaucer), the rules are much more defined. Here they are:

  • Usually written in iambic pentameter.
  • Comprised of three stanzas: a tercet, quatrain, and sestet.
  • All three of the lines in the opening tercet are refrains.

The poem follows this rhyme pattern:

Line 1: A
Line 2: B1
Line 3: B2

Line 4: a
Line 5: b
Line 6: A
Line 7: B1

Line 8: a
Line 9: b
Line 10: b
Line 11: A
Line 12: B1
Line 13: B2

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I’m no master of meter–by a long shot–but…

Here’s my attempt at an English madrigal:

“dead heat feet”

another gun fired & children are dead
the official claims he’ll turn up the heat
he says the earth will burn beneath their feet

but the gunman shot himself in the head
& those kids still alive avoid the street
another gun fired & children are dead
the official claims he’ll turn up the heat

blame all the guns & the games & the meds
blame the police who are working the beat
try to place blame so they’ll make it all neat
another gun fired & children are dead
the official claims he’ll turn up the heat
he says the earth will burn beneath their feet

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roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He loves reading poetry, writing poetry, and studying poetry–but he especially loves sharing poetry and is happy that Poetic Asides is a place that accommodates just that.

For those new to the blog, Robert tends to share a new poetic form just before he announces a new WD Poetic Form Challenge, which is a free challenge in which the winning poem and poet are featured in a future issue of Writer’s Digest magazine. The next challenge will probably be announced within the next week.

Robert is married to the poet Tammy Foster Brewer, who helps him keep track of their five little poets (four boys and one princess). Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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About Robert Lee Brewer

Senior Content Editor, Writer's Digest Community.

39 Responses to Madrigal: Poetic Form

  1. Nancy Posey says:

    Avian Secrets

    The birds have secrets no one knows:
    Why the heron always flies alone.
    Where indeed has the summer gone?

    On my lawn I surprise a murder of crows
    without a clue to where it goes.
    The birds have secrets no one knows.
    Why does the heron fly alone?

    Its hermit nature, I suppose.
    The geese fly off to a warmer zone,
    a winter harvest nature has sown.
    the birds have secrets no one knows:
    While the heron always flies alone.
    Where, love, has the summer gone?

  2. gmagrady says:

    YOU

    They patter, these rain drops, on leaves still green
    with summer’s breath, recalling dreams of you.
    But then, again, the sun and snow do, too.

    The nightingale is friend and sets me free
    to weather days of clouds and changing hues.
    They patter, these rain drops, on leaves still green
    with summer’s breath, recalling dreams of you.

    When morning comes, your image fades. I wean
    my thoughts and wash away your voice, renewed.
    And then I am reminded by the dew.
    They patter, these rain drops, on leaves still green
    with summer’s breath, recalling dreams of you.
    But then, again, the sun and snow do, too.

  3. Since originally madrigals used a pastoral theme, I’ve tried my hand at an updated pastoral this one based on an unexpected pastoral experience I had when I lived in Ireland for six months in the country outside the little fishing town of Rossport. I’ve tried to maintain the iambic pentameter:

    A Country Lane in Co. Mayo: a Pastoral

    A cloudless sky of palest blue, the sun,
    unfurling flower petals in the field,
    suggests I wander down the lane – I yield.

    Atlantic winds are soft today, have spun
    a magic spell. The winter world has healed.
    Unfurling flower petals in the field
    suggest I wander down the lane – I yield.

    Around a bend, a sheep – a sight to stun
    me – bars my way. No shepherd’s crook to wield,
    I stare. It leaps the fence into a field.
    A cloudless sky of palest blue, the sun,
    unfurling flower petals in the field,
    suggests I wander down the lane – I yield.

    • Oops. A correction in stanza 2 — the pattern of lines 6 and 7 need to be A, B1

      A Country Lane in Co. Mayo: a Pastoral

      A cloudless sky of palest blue, the sun,
      unfurling flower petals in the field,
      suggests I wander down the lane – I yield.

      Atlantic winds are soft today, have spun
      a magic spell. The winter world has healed.
      A cloudless sky of palest blue, the sun,
      unfurling flower petals in the field …

      Around a bend, a sheep – a sight to stun
      me – bars my way. No shepherd’s crook to wield,
      I stare. It leaps the fence into a field.
      A cloudless sky of palest blue, the sun,
      unfurling flower petals in the field,
      suggests I wander down the lane – I yield.

  4. icandootoo says:

    Vanilla Ice Cream
    naomi poe

    Went to the window to buy me a snack
    (large tub of ice cream would banish the heat)
    Man in the window, he told me to beat.

    “Ain’t sellin’ ice cream to nappy-ass black —
    This be the South, Son: you better retreat.”
    “Went to the window to buy me a snack —
    large tub of ice cream would banish the heat.”

    “You want that Klan-man come burn down my shack?
    May be them laws be all sewed up real neat,
    but this still the South, and whites be elite.”
    Went to the window to buy me a snack
    (large tub of ice cream would banish the heat)
    Man in the window, he told me to beat.

  5. Sara McNulty says:

    When Speech Blurs

    My mother’s green eyes are filled with fear,
    Her speech has become disconnected.
    Words still live there, but they are deflected.

    Does she understand me? What does she hear?
    There are times she replies as expected.
    My mother’s green eyes are filled with fear,
    Her speech has become disconnected.

    She seems to be sliding downhill more each year.
    When I visit, she’s always dejected,
    ‘though I know that she is well protected.
    My mother’s green eyes are filled with fear,
    Her speech has become disconnected.
    Words still live there, but they are deflected.

  6. “I love a song held captive”

    I love a song held captive by the rain,
    softly bubbling on tempestuous breeze,
    blushing shy in mists of thirsting peace.

    I love a whispering lyric of ordain,
    a lilt of voices tumbling to the seas.
    I love a song held captive by the rain,
    softly bubbling on tempestuous breeze.

    I love beau’d rhymes of poesy-chime refrain
    christened Solace in sheltered memories.
    I love a song held captive by the rain,
    softly bubbling on tempestuous breeze,
    blushing shy in mists of thirsting peace.

  7. candy says:

    Weeping For John Muir

    Moving in sympathy with the wind
    Slowly drowning in the light
    and now I only weep at night

    A promise to the earth rescind
    Her nature overcome by blight
    Moving in sympathy with the wind
    Slowly drowning in the light

    Only money things and ind-
    dustry prioritized convinced it’s right
    In spite of mankind’s sorry plight
    Moving in sympathy with the wind
    Slowly drowning in the light
    and now I only weep at night

  8. RJ Clarken says:

    My Garden of Earthly Blights

    Flowers really do intoxicate me. ~Vita Sackville-West

    Flowers intoxicate, but give me weeds.
    Nothin’ like a thistle, crabgrass, pearlmort!
    Purslane? It’s something that I cannot thwart.

    Nor would I want to. Nature scatters seeds
    which then grow, entangle, mangle, cavort.
    Flowers intoxicate, but give me weeds.
    Nothin’ like a thistle, crabgrass, pearlmort

    or dandelion! Castleburr exceeds
    all prospects: makes my home one grand resort:
    Strolling through my garden’s a contact sport.
    Flowers intoxicate, but give me weeds.
    Nothin’ like a thistle, crabgrass, pearlmort!
    Purslane? It’s something that I cannot thwart.

    ###

  9. Cynthia Page says:

    (Sequel to my poem, “Jörmungandr & Thor – Enemies Meet.” Since I mentioned a Midgard madrigal in that poem, I decided to follow through. This was written to conform to both the Madrigal form and the Norse poetic form, which calls for alliteration, kennings, and a mid-line break. Norse form has four stresses per line. I used the madrigal iambic pentameter, but I tried to make one beat a lower stress to follow the Norse form.)

    The Midgard Serpent’s Madrigal

    For Loki’s revenge, Asgard falls to fire.
    Ragnarok rights wrong by cunning command.
    The serpent strike serves death to hammer-hand.

    His fate – be blinded, One-eye whispered dire.
    He vows with silent sewn lips; battle planned.
    For Loki’s revenge, Asgard falls to fire.
    Ragnarok rights wrong by cunning command.

    In terminus time, a Godly grotto pyre.
    Your Thunder God’s end decreed, by hate’s demand,
    to venom veil’s Hell, like Loki’s eyes banned.
    For Loki’s revenge, Asgard falls to fire.
    Ragnarok rights wrong by cunning command.
    The serpent strike serves death to hammer-hand.

    • icandootoo says:

      I have a soft spot for all things Loki, but even beyond that I ate this up – deliciously lyrical. Thank you for this: wonderful, wonderful read.

  10. MADRIGAL FOR RAIN

    The heavens’ blues must be a song for rain
    and something in the air that wouldn’t lie.
    With every living sense I search the sky.

    The standing grass has given up its grain
    long since; our garden doesn’t even try.
    The heavens’ blues must be a song for rain,
    for something in the air that wouldn’t lie.

    The ruts have gone to dust along the lane.
    How many clouds it takes to damp the dry,
    a lightning flash to make the ions fly.
    The heavens’ blues must be a song for rain
    and something in the air that wouldn’t lie
    with every living sense. I search the sky.

  11. Marie Therese Knepper says:

    Ignobllity

    While Jesters rule the elitists languish
    sitting courtside sipping aperitifs
    as trodden peasants humbly slog their fiefs

    Good teachers teach their disciples to fish,
    but not all share the good teacher’s reliefs
    while Jesters rule the elitists languish
    sitting courtside sipping aperitifis

    Tyrants seize power hoping to vanquish
    all good teacher’s teachings from past motifs
    so evil can trump good teachers beliefs
    while Jesters rule the elitists languish
    sitting courtside sipping aperitifs
    as trodden peasants humbly slog their fiefs

    Marie-Therese Knepper

    • TomNeal says:

      This is an interesting poem- a Jester counterblazon.

      The Jester in English literature is most often a commoner who challenges the wisdom of the aristocratic elite or elitist social conventions ( e.g. Touchstone, Bottom, Feste, Dogberry, Forest Gump). Often the real clowns are not the Jesters, but the rulers. However, your Jesters have no aristocrats to confront, and have morphed into Tyrants in their own right.

      Is this an example of “power corrupts”? Is Homer Simpson a proto Montgomery Burns? What would life be like if “Chance the Gardener” (aka Chauncey Gardener) was in the White House (Being There)?

  12. shethra77 says:

    I love it!
    (If you make it
    “From all indelicate sights in these lands”
    you get your ten beats back.)

  13. barbara_y says:

    Hot Summer Madrigal

    Summer hums. Its long song of short hot nights
    is deep, lascivious southern and slow
    as tomorrow, steamy as hell with a soul.

    Like a love song wearing jeans so sweat-tight
    it hurts, it rocks, singing baby shh… shhh…no.
    A long summer song paces down the nights
    dark-voiced, stone-oblivious, sleepless, slow.

    A blues of saxophones, moaning, cat fights;
    hymn of gunshots, and long guitar solos;
    the parties, the crying, the god yes lulls.
    The song, summer, a round of short hot nights
    rumbles on, lascivious, southern, and slow
    as tomorrow, steamy as hell with a soul.

  14. RJ Clarken says:

    Christina’s World

    At an impossible angle, she sits
    in sere fields. Horizon is her purview
    and the road before her beats a tattoo.

    Wyeth observes this scene. Then he commits
    to canvas, a woman alone, askew.
    At an impossible angle, she sits
    in sere fields. Horizon is her purview.

    He finds hint of color; she never quits.
    This is what he tries to project with hue
    and brush strokes, so that more than hope comes through.
    At an impossible angle, she sits
    in sere fields. Horizon is her purview
    and the road before her beats a tattoo.

    ###

    • shethra77 says:

      I think you’ve crafted a poem as haunting as the painting. I like the tattoo of the road, and her “impossible angle”.

    • PressOn says:

      This reminds me of Wliiams’s The Dance, though your picture is relatively static compared to the Kermess that he wrote about. However, the phrase, “more than hope comes through”, gives it motion, or so it seems to me. I think this is a marvellous poem.

  15. RJ Clarken says:

    At Roosevelt Cemetery

    The clouds cast uncertain shadows; they moved
    as clouds often do. The play of light danced
    on smooth granite stones, their etched names enhanced.

    I wondered if the changing light had proved
    that age-old customs and prayers advanced
    the clouds’ cast. Uncertain shadows: they moved
    as clouds often do. The play of light danced

    as a soft breeze ruffled the grass. Removed
    and yet, caught in the moment. As I glanced
    at the other mourners, some seemed entranced.
    The clouds cast uncertain shadows; they moved
    as clouds often do. The play of light danced
    on smooth granite stones, their etched names enhanced.

    ###

  16. PressOn says:

    Robert, thank you for example, not only as a guide to the form but for its thoughtful power. I especially am struck by “try to place blame so they’ll make it all neat.”

  17. PressOn says:

    This has the feel of Merrie England.

  18. TomNeal says:

    To Florence

    When a golden dust falls upon your eyes
    Bearing dreams of distant enchanted lands
    Where fairies dance in circles holding hands

    And pink elves hide in trees hoping to spy
    On brave knights wooing ladies with garlands
    To place upon their head and shade their eyes
    From any indelicate sight in these lands

    Of pixies, castles, and fierce dragon flies
    (Against which only you can bravely stand)
    Remember us though we be far less grand,
    And it’s been years since we had magic eyes
    Bearing dreams of distant enchanted lands
    Where fairies dance in circles holding hands.

    • PressOn says:

      As I meant to say, this poem captures not only the form but the mood of old England, or so it seems to me.

    • BDP says:

      A love poem! Or so it seems to me. The form does the subject matter justice–there’s repetition involving the likes of pixies and fairies and the sweetness of such (though the dragon flies are fierce, in real life they’re sweet), and that repetition heightens a loss of friend, land, dream. (“Remember us…/And it’s been years since we had magic eyes….”)

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