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The Kyrie Reformed

The kyrielle is an old French form used originally by the Troubadors during the Renaissance era. It was named after the kyrie, an aspect of the Christian liturgy. Kyrie is a derivative of kyrios, a Greek word meaning “Oh, Lord.” The Kyrie Eleison was instituted by the Catholic church as a liturgical form of worship and involves a congregational chanting of the words, “Lord, have mercy.” Consequently, many early kyrielles used the phrase throughout the poetic form as an homage to the Christian liturgy.

While The kyrielle is a single form, it does have variants. Traditionally, kyrielles have been written in quatrains, but a variant of the form can have it in couplets. The usual rhyme scheme follows this pattern:

The B, of course, is a repeated line. You can see by the rhyme scheme that the first two lines of each quatrain rhyme and the last two lines of each quatrain rhyme with the last two lines of every other quatrain in the poem, the final line being the repeating line.

Another structure for the kyrielle appears with alternating rhyme, like thus:

Another variant includes a non-rhyming line appearing in the No. 2 position:

If written as couplets, the kyrielle’s rhyme scheme will appear like this:

Another variation of the kyrie is the kyrielle sonnet, a 14-line poem written with three quatrains followed by a couplet.

While there is quite a bit of variation in the rhyme scheme of the kyrielle, the meter is more set. Originally, kyrielles were octosyllabic – that is, written in eight metrical feet. In English, the meter is iambic tetrameter.

The following poem by Thomas Campion is an example of a kyrielle titled A Lenten Hymn.

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