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Poetry: The Forms and the History
Lai, Virelai and Lai Nouveau

by Catherine Wilson (Age: 40)
copyright 01-21-2003


Age Rating: 10 +

The lai is a Medieval narrative or lyric poem, which flourished in 12th century France. The Lai looks to be a very simple form consisting of five syllable couplets separated by a two-syllable line. The number of lines in each stanza is fixed at nine. This gives us a rhyme pattern of a. a. b. In English poetry, this two-syllable line is probably the most difficult part of the poem. The number of stanzas is not fixed and each stanza has its own rhyme pattern. This is a very old French form and tradition states that the short line must not be indented; it must be left dressed to the poem.

Here is an example of a Lai:

Hidden Pain
By Catherine Wilson

For years, I have tried
to hide pain inside
of me.
Call it stubborn pride.
Really Iíve denied
the plea.
Strong on the outside
my heart truly cried
a sea.


The Virelai;
is an adaptation of the Lai and uses the short lines to set the rhyme pattern of the next stanza. The last stanza linking back to the first by setting the rhyme of its short ones to the 5 syllable line of the first. Thus we get a rhyme pattern a.a.b.a.a.b.a.a.b...b.b.c.b.b.c.b.b.c and if the next stanza were the last it would be c.c.a.c.c.a.c.c.a.

Here is an example of a Virelai:


The Walls of a Heart
By Catherine Wilson

Many men have tried
to break walls inside
of me.
When asked, I have lied
whenever I have cried
to be
eased the pain I hide
my heart was denied
itís plea.

Itís me, truthfully.
Their efforts, I see
so plain.
I canít disagree
that some tried to free
my pain.
Without guarantee,
pain I fearfully
retain.

Some men may complain
that itís hard to gain
a bride
that tries to retain
or push all their pain
aside.
Maybe itís insane
trying to maintain
your pride.


Lai Nouveau,

This is a little harder form that has an eight-line stanza and is similar in idea to the Villanelle. In this case, the first two lines are the refrain and are used as the last lines of the following verses. The last verse including both lines but in reverse order. The difficulty with this form is of course picking a rhyme pattern that is strong enough to last even two verses. The alternative rhyme can vary from stanza to stanza.

If I understand this correctly, as I could find no examples, the rhyme pattern is up to you but it has to be consistent throughout the eight-line stanza. Iím assuming that it is a five-syllable line because it does stem from the Lai and even the Virelai follows that rule. Iím not sure about the two-syllable line that usually follows because I canít seem to get it to fit. If nothing else, Iíve created my own variation.

The first two lines are the refrain and they repeat at the end of each stanza except the final stanza where they are reversed. Each stanza is a total of eight lines long. This is not a quality poem in the least but itís the only example that I have for you. I used
A.a.b.b.c.c.d.d. e.e.f.f.g.g.A.a. h.h.i.i.j.j.a.A.

Loving you, My desire
By Catherine Wilson

Loving you, my desire.
Burning like fire.
My mind sees your face.
My heart starts to race.
When you kiss my cheek,
love is what I seek.
Every single day
with you, love will stay.

When we lay at night,
bodies in moonlight.
This angel that I see
God has sent to me.
You, me, together
happy forever.
Loving you, my desire.
Burning like fire.

You shine like the sun.
Living has begun.
Youíre a special part
deep inside my heart.
Maybe on my hand,
you will place a band.
Burning like fire.
Loving you, my desire.

Ready to try them? I hope you like counting syllables. I felt the Lai is the easiest of the three.

The Lai is a nine-lined stanza. The rule is as follows the first line is the syllable count and the second is the rhyme pattern.

5 A
5 A
2 B
5 A
5 A
2 B
5 A
5 A
2 B

5 C
5 C
2 D
5 C
5 C
2 D
5 C
5 C
2 D

Etc. You get the idea.

The Virelai uses the short lines to set the rhyme pattern of the next stanza. The last stanza linking back to the first by setting the rhyme of its short lines to the 5 syllable line of the first. Thus we get a rhyme pattern:

5 a
5 a
2 b
5 a
5 a
2 b
5 a
5 a
2 b

5 b
5 b
2 c
5 b
5 b
2 c
5 b
5 b
2 c

The next stanza would be ccd and so on. If this were the final stanza it would be:

5 c
5 c
2 a
5 c
5 c
2 a
5 c
5 c
2 a

For the Lai Nouveau, if I understand it correctly, the rhyme pattern is up to you but it has to be consistent throughout the eight-line stanzas. Iím assuming that it is a five-syllable line because it does stem from the Lai and even the Virelai follows that rule. Iím not sure about the two-syllable line that usually follows because I canít seem to get it to fit. If nothing else, Iíve created my own variation.

The first two lines are the refrain and they repeat at the end of each stanza except the final stanza where they are reversed. Each stanza is a total of eight lines long.
I used:
A.a.b.b.c.c.d.d. e.e.f.f.g.g.A.a. h.h.i.i.j.j.a.A.

Have fun with this form, I did. Iím sorry I canít tell you more about these forms but there isnít anything more to find. If you know more about any of these, let me know. I like to be accurate.




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