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The Best Kyrielles of All Time
Kyrielle Definition, Examples and Chronology/Timeline/History


Which poets wrote the best Kyrielles in the English language? But first, what the hell is a Kyrielle? The simple answer is that a Kyrielle is a poem with a refrain—a repeating word or line. That makes a Kyrielle similar to a villanelle, one of the more popular English poetic forms. Here are some more advanced definitions ...

Encyclopedia Britannica: "A French verse form in short, usually octosyllabic, rhyming couplets. The couplets are often paired in quatrains and are characterized by a refrain that is sometimes a single word and sometimes the full second line of the couplet or the full fourth line of the quatrain." 

The Oxford English Dictionary is not kind to the Kyrielle: "1. A long rigamarole ex. 1653. Urquhart. Rabelais I. XXII. With him he mumbled all his kirielle and dunsical breborons. 2. A kind of Fr. verse divided into little equal couplets and ending with the same word which serves for the refrain. ex. 1887 Sat. Rev. 3 Dec. 770/1. Among the verse forms the kyrielle of which we have three specimens, is not a form at all, and ought to have been discarded." But might this be British discrimination against French poetic forms?

While the kyrielle is not as common as the sonnet or villanelle, it has been used to create some very moving, power-packed poems ...

A very brief history of the kyrielle: The kyrielle is an ancient French poetic form originally used by Troubadours in the early Renaissance. It it is related to the Kyrie Eleison ("Lord, have mercy"), a Christian prayer with a repeated refrain. The prayer dates back at least to the sixth century, as it was mentioned by Pope Gregory the Great (540-608). In the Roman Rite liturgy, the variant Christe eleison ("Christ, have mercy") is used. The earliest Anglo Saxon or Old English poem with a refrain may be "Wulf and Eadwacer," circa 990. The Kyrie Eleison prayer was being recited in English by 1549, and it appeared in the Book of Common Prayer published in 1552, but oral versions could be considerably older. William Dunbar's poem "Lament for the Makaris (Makers)," written circa 1505, bears a strong resemblance to the Kyrielle, as does the "Corpus Christi Carol," which dates to 1504 or earlier. Thomas Nashe wrote a powerful English Kyrielle, "A Litany in Time of Plague" no later than 1592 because it appeared in his play Summer's Last Will and Testament, which was published that year. The haunting "Lyke-Wake Dirge" with its terrifying refrain "and Christe receive thy saule (soul)" was published in 1606, but is believed to be much older. More recently, the phrase can be found in the titles of the John Berryman poem "Kyrie Eleison" and the Mr. Mister song "Kyrie."

Examples of the Kyrielle and Kyrielle-like poems and songs: "Kyrielle" by John Payne, "A Litany in Time of Plague" by Thomas Nashe, "A Lenten Hymn" by Thomas Campion, "Lament for the Makaris" by William Dunbar, "Corpus Christi Carol" by Anonymous, "Lyke-Wake Dirge" by Anonymous, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci: A Ballad" by John Keats, "Oh Don't You Wish (Your Dreams Were True)" by Anonymous

compiled by Michael R. Burch

KYRIELLE
by John Payne (1842-1916)

A lark in the mesh of the tangled vine,
A bee that drowns in the flower-cup's wine,
A fly in sunshine,--such is the man.
All things must end, as all began.

A little pain, a little pleasure,
A little heaping up of treasure;
Then no more gazing upon the sun.
All things must end that have begun.

Where is the time for hope or doubt?
A puff of the wind, and life is out;
A turn of the wheel, and rest is won.
All things must end that have begun.

Golden morning and purple night,
Life that fails with the failing light;
Death is the only deathless one.
All things must end that have begun.

Ending waits on the brief beginning;
Is the prize worth the stress of winning?
E'en in the dawning day is done.
All things must end that have begun.

Weary waiting and weary striving,
Glad outsetting and sad arriving;
What is it worth when the goal is won?
All things must end that have begun.

Speedily fades the morning glitter;
Love grows irksome and wine grows bitter.
Two are parted from what was one.
All things must end that have begun.

Toil and pain and the evening rest;
Joy is weary and sleep is best;
Fair and softly the day is done.
All things must end that have begun.

A Litany in Time of Plague
by Thomas Nashe

Adieu, farewell, earth’s bliss;
This world uncertain is;
Fond are life’s lustful joys;
Death proves them all but toys;
None from his darts can fly;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Rich men, trust not in wealth,
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade.
All things to end are made,
The plague full swift goes by;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Beauty is but a flower
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air;
Queens have died young and fair;
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave;
Swords may not fight with fate,
Earth still holds open her gate.
“Come, come!” the bells do cry.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Wit with his wantonness
Tasteth death’s bitterness;
Hell’s executioner
Hath no ears for to hear
What vain art can reply.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Haste, therefore, each degree,
To welcome destiny;
Heaven is our heritage,
Earth but a player’s stage;
Mount we unto the sky.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

A Lenten Hymn
by Thomas Campion

With broken heart and contrite sigh,
A trembling sinner, Lord, I cry:
Thy pard’ning grace is rich and free:
O God, be merciful to me.

I smite upon my troubled breast,
With deep and conscious guilt oppress,
Christ and His cross my only plea:
O God, be merciful to me.

Far off I stand with tearful eyes,
Nor dare uplift them to the skies;
But Thou dost all my anguish see:
O God, be merciful to me.

Nor alms, nor deeds that I have done,
Can for a single sin atone;
To Calvary alone I flee:
O God, be merciful to me.

And when, redeemed from sin and hell,
With all the ransomed throng I dwell,
My raptured song shall ever be,
God has been merciful to me.

Lament for the Makaris
"Lament for the Makers"

by William Dunbar [c. 1460-1530]
loose translation by Michael R. Burch

i who enjoyed good health and gladness
am overwhelmed now by life’s terrible sickness
and enfeebled with infirmity ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

our presence here is mere vainglory;
the false world is but transitory;
the flesh is frail; the Fiend runs free ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

the state of man is changeable:
now sound, now sick, now blithe, now dull,
now manic, now devoid of glee ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

no state on earth stands here securely;
as the wild wind shakes the willow tree,
so wavers this world’s vanity ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

Death leads the knights into the field
(unarmored under helm and shield)
sole Victor of each red mle ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

that strange, despotic Beast
tears from its mother’s breast
the babe, full of benignity ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

He takes the champion of the hour,
the captain of the highest tower,
the beautiful damsel in her tower ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

He spares no lord for his elegance,
nor clerk for his intelligence;
His dreadful stroke no man can flee ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

artist, magician, scientist,
orator, debater, theologist,
must all conclude, so too, as we:
“how the fear of Death dismays me!”

in medicine the most astute
sawbones and surgeons all fall mute;
they cannot save themselves, or flee ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

i see the Makers among the unsaved;
the greatest of Poets all go to the grave;
He does not spare them their faculty ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

i have seen the Monster pitilessly devour
our noble Chaucer, poetry’s flower,
and Lydgate and Gower (great Trinity!) ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

since He has taken my brothers all,
i know He will not let me live past the fall;
His next prey will be—poor unfortunate me! ...
how the fear of Death dismays me!

there is no remedy for Death;
we all must prepare to relinquish breath
so that after we die, we may be set free
from “the fear of Death dismays me!”

Corpus Christi Carol
Anonymous Medieval Lyric

He bare her up, he bare her down
He bare her into an orchard ground
Lu li lu lay lu li lu lay
The falcon hath borne my mate away

And in this orchard there was a hall
That was hanged with purple and gold
And in that hall there was a bed
And it was hanged with gold so red
Lu li lu lay lu li lu lay
The falcon hath borne my mate away

And on this bed there lieth a knight
His wound is bleeding day and night
By his bedside kneeleth a maid
And she weepeth both night and day
Lu li lu lay lu li lu lay
The falcon hath borne my mate away

Lyke-Wake Dirge
Anonymous Medieval Lyric

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.

When thou from hence away art past,
Every nighte and alle,
To Whinny-muir thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
Every nighte and alle,
Sit thee down and put them on;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If hosen and shoon thou ne'er gav'st nane
Every nighte and alle,
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.

From Whinny-muir when thou may'st pass,
Every nighte and alle,
To Brig o' Dread thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

From Brig o' Dread when thou may'st pass,
Every nighte and alle,
To Purgatory fire thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If ever thou gavest meat or drink,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire sall never make thee shrink;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If meat or drink thou ne'er gav'st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.

So there you have them: the best kyrielles ever, according to me. I'm sure every reader's choices will be different, but if you added a poem or three to yours, having read mine, hopefully you will consider your time here well spent.

Related pages: The Best Sonnets, The Best Villanelles, The Best Ballads, The Best Sestinas, The Best Rondels and Roundels, The Best Kyrielles, The Best Couplets, The Best Quatrains, The Best Haiku, The Best Limericks, The Best Nonsense Verse, The Best Poems for Kids, The Best Light Verse, The Best Poem of All Time, The Best Poems Ever Written, The Best Poets, The Best of the Masters, The Most Popular Poems of All Time, The Best American Poetry, The Best Poetry Translations, The Best Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs, The Best Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings, The Best Old English Poetry, The Best Lyric Poetry, The Best Free Verse, The Best Story Poems, The Best Narrative Poems, The Best Epic Poems, The Best Epigrams, The Most Beautiful Poems in the English Language, The Most Beautiful Lines in the English Language, The Most Beautiful Sonnets in the English Language, The Best Elegies, Dirges & Laments, The Best Poems about Death and Loss, The Best Holocaust Poetry, The Best Hiroshima Poetry, The Best Anti-War Poetry, The Best Religious Poetry, The Best Spiritual Poetry, The Best Heretical Poetry, The Best Thanksgiving Poems, The Best Autumnal Poems, The Best Fall/Autumn Poetry, The Best Dark Poetry, The Best Halloween Poetry, The Best Supernatural Poetry, The Best Dark Christmas Poems, The Best Vampire Poetry, The Best Love Poems, The Best Urdu Love Poetry, The Best Erotic Poems, The Best Romantic Poetry, The Best Love Songs, The Ten Greatest Poems Ever Written, The Greatest Movies of All Time, England's Greatest Artists, Visions of Beauty, What is Poetry?, The Best Abstract Poetry, The Best Antinatalist Poems and Prose, Early Poems: The Best Juvenilia

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