Poetry Form - The Triolet

The Triolet Verse Form
by J. Zimmerman.

* History. * Form. * Your Composition. * Examples. * Books.

The Triolet ("triplet"), a French verse form, is a poem or a stanza of eight lines that include two rhymes and two refrains.

One refrain is the repetition of the first line at the fourth line and the seventh line; this triple appearance of one line gives the Triolet its name.

The entire form is shown below.


The Triolet developed in France.

The French web page http://www.lettres.net/files/triolet.html contains this definition of Triolet:

  "Triolet - Poème d'origine médiévale fondé sur la reprise en  
  refrain d'un ou de deux vers."

The Google-provided computer translation of this to English reads as follows, and we suggest that our guidelines will be a little more comprehensible to you:

 "Triplet - Poem of medieval origin founded on the resumption in  
 refrain of one or two worms."

While the Triolet is often used to express humor, some of the first English triolets (the first may have been composed the Benedictine Patrick Carey in the seventeenth century) were essentially spiritual.


The features of the Triolet are:

Your Composition.

The brevity and the repetition of lines in a Triolet make this an attractive poem to write. A writer of the Triolet is often also interested in longer forms with refrains, such as the Villanelle and the Pantoum.

Try the traditional form first. After you have success, you are ready to vary the form if you wish. Take these steps:

  1. Ponder on what you want to accomplish. Do some free writing for a few pages, perhaps at more than one time, to collect a pool of words and ideas. This is a very helpful exercise, when you want to generate a short poem with repeated lines.

    Look back over your pages to find candidates for your repeated lines. You will notice that some ideas and phrases occur often, making them into good candidates for those lines.

  2. Many poets begin writing a Triolet by finding a preliminary but memorable couplet. These two lines are strong enough and interesting enough to open the stanza, close the stanza, and provide more than half of the 8 lines of the poem. Remember that these two lines do not rhyme.

  3. Lay out your Triolet with the 5 repeating lines, following the form and leaving blank lines for the 3 remaining lines that you will compose.

  4. Write the rest of the stanza, following the form of the rhyming pattern to match the existing lines.

  5. The repetition should feel natural and should adds depth to the poem. Revision of a Triolet should include increasing the smoothness and appropriateness of the repetition.

  6. Variations in your form can include altering the punctuation used in your refrains, or using homonyms. While a refrain line should sound identical to the line it echoes, its meaning does not have to be fixed. Puns and other wordplay may enrich a Triolet.


Examples include:

A Last Word.

Just because you start with the intention of writing a Triolet, you do not have to keep your poem in that form. Your attempt to write a formal poem may help you find words that you would not have found otherwise. And you may decide to end up with a poem in a different form, perhaps even a prose poem.


Buy Turco The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics, Lewis Turco (2000).
Buy Lehman Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms: 85 Leading Contemporary Poets Select and Comment on Their Poems , by David Lehman (Editor).

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