You’ve done it! You’ve found yourself some quiet time and you’re wondering what you should be writing about. You’ve dipped your toes in form writing before, but you want to try something new, or old rather, something a bit more ambitious than the well-treaded sonnet. Well, if you’re feeling brave enough to try out one of the many received forms from years passed, you might implore one of these three French and Italian forms with rich history. 


The rondeau was traditionally a lyric and song writing form originating in the 14th and 15th century in medieval France. The musical form consisted of four stanzas, the first and last stanzas being identical, and the second half of the second stanza being a short refrain which had as its text the first half of the first stanza. As the rondeau became older, the number of lines within each stanza grew longer. 

The lines were later abbreviated to fifteen lines when nineteenth century English poets adopted the form. The stanzaic structure also evolved to begin with a rhyming quintet, followed by a quatrain, and a sestet. The refrains were shortened at the end of the second and third stanzas leaving in its place a “rentrement”, or re-entry, of the opening words, creating a desirable change of meaning in this line from where it had been seen earlier in the piece. 

Rhyme Scheme (R being the rentrement): aabba aabR aabbaR


We Wear the Mask

Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906)

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties

Why should the world be over-wise

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see up, while

We wear the mask

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

We wear the mask!



Another French form from the thirteenth century, the triolet is an eight lined rhyming poem. The first triolets from their inception were devotional poems authored by notable names like Patrick Carey, a Benedictine monk. It was also reintroduced and became popular among late nineteenth century British poets. It is another great poem to play on shifted meaning using the nature of the repeated lines encouraged by this form.

Rhyme Scheme (the capital letters mark repeated lines): ABaAabAB


Mourning Twilight

Mary Ellen Clark, published in 2003

In response triolet to James Joyce “She Weeps Over Rahoon”

Embrace twilight and bid farewell

to passion’s warmth and sweet caress.

A grave’s prepared where she will dwell

embrace twilight and bid farewell.

O hear the mourning of her bell

that tolls for sorrows you supress  

embrace twilight and bid farewell

to passion’s warmth and sweet caress.


Terza Rima 

Invented by the poet Dante Alighieri from Italy, and used in his epic poem “The Divine Comedy” (further reading), the terza rima is a rhyming form consisting of tercets, there are no limits to the number of lines this form can have. Terza Rima is typically written in iambic line. An interesting dilemma English poets have run into while trying to write their own terza rimas is that there are fewer rhyme possibilities found in English than there are in the Italian language and so, many writers have used near and slant rhymes in their work under this form. 

Rhyme Scheme: aba, bcb, cdc, ded

To sum up the form’s rules – a passage from poetry resource“The end-word of the second line in one tercet supplies the rhyme for the first and third lines in the following tercet. Thus, the rhyme scheme (aba, bcb, cdc, ded) continues through to the final stanza or line”


Terzanelle: Manzanar Riot

Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan, published in 2008

This is a poem with missing details, 

of ground gouging each barrack’s windowpane,

sand crystals falling with powder and shale,

where silence and shame make adults insane.

This about a midnight of searchlights,

of ground gouging each barrack’s windowpane,

of syrup on rice and a cook’s big fight.

This is the night of Manzanar’s riot.

This is about a midnight of searchlights,

a swift moon and a voice shouting, Quiet!

where the revolving searchlight is the moon,

and children line still to use the latrines.

This is a poem with missing details,

children wiping their eyes clean of debris—

sand crystals falling with powder and shale.


Now that you know a bit more, what do you think of these forms? Let us know in the comments!

Meet the blogger:

KYRIN STURDIVANT is a Creative Writing major and English minor in his final year of undergrad at Hamline University. Kyrin is a writer of poetry, fiction, and screenplays and enjoys practicing dance in his free time.

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