1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Triolet
TRIOLET, one of the fixed forms of verse invented in medieval
France, and preserved in the practice of many modern literatures.
It consists of eight short lines on two rhymes, arranged
a b a a a b a b, and in French usually begins on the masculine
rhyme. The first line reappears as the fourth line, and the
seventh and eighth lines repeat the opening couplet; the first
line, therefore, is repeated three times, and hence the name.
No more typical specimen of the triolet could be found than
the following, by Jacques Ranchin (c. 1690):—
“Le premier jour du mois de, mai
Fut le plus heureux de ma vie:
Le beau dessein que je formais,
Le premier jour du mois de mai !
le vous vis et je vous aimais.
Si ce dessein vous plut, Sylvie,
Le premier jour du mois de mai
Fut le plus heureux de ma vie."
This poem was styled by Ménage “ the king of triolets.” The great art of the triolet consists in using the refrain-line with such naturalness and ease that it should seem inevitable, and yet in each repetition slightly altering its meaning, or at least its relation to the rest of the poem. The triolet seems to have been invented in the 13th century. The earliest example known occurs in the Cléomadés of Adenéz-le-Roi (1258–1297). The medieval triolet was usually written in lines of ten syllables, and the lightness of touch in the modern specimens was unknown to these perfectly serious examples. One of the best-known is that of Froissart, “Mon cœur s'ebât en odorant la rose.” The rules are laid down in the Art et Science de Rhéthorique (1493) of Henry de Croi, who quotes a triolet written in words of one syllable. According to Sarrasin, who introduces the triolet as a mourner in his Pompe funèbre de Voiture, it was that writer who “ remis en vogue ” the ancient precise forms of verse, “ par ses balades, ses triolets et ses rondeaux, qui par sa mort (1648) retournaient dans leur ancien décri." Boileau threw scorn upon the delicate art of these pieces, and mocked the memory of Clément Marot because he “ tourna des triolets,” but Marmontel recognized the neatness and charm of the form. They continued to be written in France, but not by poets of much pretension, until the middle of the 19th century, when there was a great revival of their use.
The earliest triolets in English are those of a devotional
nature composed in 1651 by Patrick Carey, a Benedictine
monk at Douai, where he probably had become acquainted
with what Voiture had made a fashionable French pastime.
In modern times, the triolet was re-introduced into English
by Robert Bridges, in 1873, with his—
“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 could foretell the sore distress,
This irretrievable disaster,
When first we met?—we did not guess
That Love would prove so hard a master."
Since then the triolet has been cultivated very widely in English, most successfully by Austin Dobson, whose " Rose kissed me to-day,” “ I intended an Ode ” and " In the School of Coquettes ” are masterpieces of ingenuity and easy grace. In later French literature, triolets are innumerable; perhaps the most graceful cycle of them is “ Les Prunes," attached by Alphonse Daudet to his Les Armoureuses in 1858; and there are delightful examples by Théodore de Banville. In Germany the triolet has attracted much attention. Those which had been written before his day were collected by Friedrich Rassmann, in 1815 and 1817. But as early as 1795 an anthology of triolets had been published at Halberstadt, and another at Brunswick in 1796. Rassmann distinguished three species of triolet, the legitimate form (which has been described above), the loose triolet, which only approximately abides by the rules as to number of rhymes and lines, and single strophe poems which more or less accidentally approach the true triolet in character. The true triolet was employed by W. Schlegel, Hagedorn, Rückert, Platen and other romantic poets of the early 19th century. In many languages the triolet has come into very frequent use to give point and brightness to a brief stroke of satire; the French newspapers are full of examples of this. The triolet always, or at least since medieval times, has laboured under a suspicion of frivolity, and Rivarol, in 1788, found no more cutting thing to say of Conjon de Bayeux than that he was “ si recherche pour le triolet.” But in the hands of a genuine poetwho desires to record and to repeat a mood of graceful reverie or pathetic humour, the triolet possesses a very delicate charm.
See Friedrich Rassmann, Sammlung triolettischer Spiele (Leipzig, 1817). (E. G.)