tagHow ToHow to Write a Triolet

How to Write a Triolet


With the resurgence of form poetry in the past decade we find it is appearing more and more in modern publications like Poetry, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review and many other print magazines, as well as in numerous online journals. One of the forms that is appearing in these journals and magazines is the triolet. Much like the villanelle, the triolet is a relatively easy form to learn, however since the poem is so short and tightly restrictive, it can be difficult to write well.

First written in France in the late thirteen hundreds, it remained a French form well into the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. The older forms were written using meter, with medieval triolets using five iambic feet per line, while later it became a favorite form for political satire using shorter lines of four iambic feet.

Patrick Carey, an English monk, wrote the first English language triolets, but the form remained unpopular in English for over two centuries. It only became popular for English language readers when Robert Bridges made the form seem more approachable for the readers and English language poets.

As mentioned above, the triolet is a short form, comprised of only eight lines and utilizing only two different rhymes for those lines. While Lewis Turco (1) only indicates that the lines can be of any single length, many triolets are still written with meter. Adding to the difficulty are the two refrains as the first line is repeated again in line four and seven, with the second line repeated again in line eight.

With five of eight lines in the triolet made up of repeating lines, it is very important that these lines have impact, especially considering the refrains also make up the beginning and end of the poem. The three remaining lines must also be crafted with care considering they must tie the refraining lines together while still needing to add significant substance to the poem. Combine these restrictive line requirements with the fact everything is turning on only two rhymes it is clear that word choice is important.

The restrictive rhyme scheme based on only two rhymes can often make the rhyme in a triolet sound forced, so again word choice is important. Try to avoid trite rhyme using overused rhyming words (ie. sky, cry, die, blue, true). The use of enjambment can help in reducing the forced feel to some of the rhyme, so the poet might work to avoid a reliance on end stopped lines.

Many poets have endearingly titled their poems "Triolet." While this may help bring attention to the fact that they have successfully completed a triolet, it does prevent them from using the title to add more information to the short, eight lines of poetry. Here at Literotica I have noticed some poets will title the poem and in the title add a parenthetic note informing the reader that the poem is a triolet, or whatever other specific form they have written. While the notation may cause some distraction from the poetry, it does allow a reader unfamiliar with a specific form a chance to see and learn the form.

For the diagram of the poem, since there is no single metric requirement outlined for the triolet, I will not diagram the meter, instead simply show the rhyme and refrain scheme:

Lines rhyme, refrain
1         A -- refrain
2         B -- refrain
3         a
4         A -- refrain
5         a
6         b
7         A -- refrain
8         B -- refrain

Again, most likely due to the difficulty of mastering the form, most well published poets have written a few triolets, but typically not a lot. Sylvia Plath's book Collected Poems showed her great diligence in practicing formal verse with numerous form poems however it included only one triolet, "Bluebeard." Some examples of triolets:


Midnight wanes on piano keys
The fading notes drift into night
And our eyes meet in silent pleas.
Midnight wanes on piano keys
As fingers part your soft chemise
When in the stillness we unite.
Midnight wanes on piano keys
The fading notes drift into night.

            James M. Thompson


When first we met we did not guess
That Love would prove so hard a master
Of more than common friendliness
When first we met we did not guess
Who cold foretell this sore distress
This irretrievable disaster
When first we met we did not guess
That Love would prove so hard a master.

            Robert Bridges

Another example of a triolet titled Vertical Blinds actually won the 2006 Literotica's yearly award for audio poetry.




1. Turco, Lewis The New Book of Forms, A Handbook of Poetics University Press of New England 1986.

2. Finch, Annie ed. & Varnes, Katherine ed. An Exaltation of Forms, Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2002.

3. Strand, Mark & Boland, Eavan The Making of a Poem, A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms W.W. Norton & Company, New York 2000.

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