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Madrigal: Poetic Form

The madrigal is a poetic form that originated in Italy but has a very strict English structure developed by Geoffrey Chaucer. Learn the rules, see an example, and maybe write your own.

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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The Complete Guide of Poetic Forms

Play with poetic forms!

Poetic forms are fun poetic games, and this digital guide collects more than 100 poetic forms, including more established poetic forms (like sestinas and sonnets) and newer invented forms (like golden shovels and fibs).

Click to continue.

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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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