Here are the basic rules of classical versification . These rules will help you write your own poem based on classical poetry, unlike free verse poems.
The silent “e”
In classical poetry, the “e” is not pronounced:
- At the end of a line, whether it is spelled “e”, “es” or “ent”. This is called an apocope.
- When followed by a vowel.
- When followed by a silent “h”.
In poetry, the “silent e”, which can be declined in “es” and “ent”, is pronounced in certain cases . This is the case when:
- The “e” is followed by a consonant.
- When it is spelled “es” or “ent”
“Femmes, moine, vieillards, tout était descendu.” (La Fontaine) >> Are pronounced because preceded by a consonant.
“La rim[e] est une esclav[e] et ne doit qu’obéir.” (Boileau) >> Not pronounced because followed by a vowel.
“L’ami du genr[e] humain n’est pas du tout mon fait.”(Molière) >> Do not pronounce because followed by a silent h.
“Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.” (Baudelaire) >> Are pronounced because spelled es and ent.
“Vous mourûtes aux bords où vous fûtes laissé[e].”(Racine) >> The 1st is pronounced because“ es ”, the second not because the end of verse.
Obviously, the “e” inside a word is sometimes mute when it is between a vowel and a consonant. Example: “je ne t’envierai pas”
Finally, the verbal forms have the imperfect indicative and the present conditional, as well as the forms are and have, are elided (erased) even if the “e” is spelled “ent”.
“Ils ne mourai[ent] pas tous, mais tous étai[ent] frappés.” (La Fontaine)
“Je consens que mes yeux soi[ent] toujours abusés.”(Racine)
Diérèse and syérèse
The diaeresis is the result of artificially add a syllable in a word via two vowels . Example: not / if / on .
The syneresis is the reverse. “Hier” then becomes one syllable instead of two.
To know if a word counts in syneresis or diérèse, it is necessary to refer to their Latin origin, or to refer to the table of diphthongs , published in numerous treatises on prosody. Or, to decide freely to make a syneresis or a diérèse, according to the number of verses which one must respect, even if it means taking a little distance from the classical rules.
Hiatuses are two vowels glued other than via the silent E.
- “J’ai été ; qui a ; tu es” is to be avoided
- In the same word, like “ oasis”, it is tolerated.
Types of verses and number of syllables
If the most famous verse is the alexandrine (12 syllables), there is a plethora of types of verse in classical poetry:
- Tetrasyllable: 4 syllables;
- pentasyllable: 5 syllables;
- hexasyllable: 6 syllables;
- heptasyllable: 7 syllables;
- octosyllable: 8 syllables;
- ennealyllable: 9 syllables;
- decasyllable: 10 syllables;
- Hendecasyllable: 11 syllables;
- Alexandrian: 12 syllables.
In a 12-syllable Alexandrian, half of the six-syllable verse is a hemistich . Moreover, these verses are cut in half in classical versification, by a caesura .
The meaning can be followed from one line to another, this is called the crossing over .
Cuts and hyphenation
Definition of the cut in poetry
A cut in poetry is a pause of the sentence, that is to say a silence, more or less long, marked in the voice, and which goes without saying. There can of course be several cuts in a line .
Definition of hyphenation in poetry
A poetry hyphen is the main cut in the verse . The other cuts are secondary .
In the traditional Alexandrian, the caesura (therefore the main cut!) Is located in the middle of the line , which it divides into two “hemistiches” of equal length.
“Rien n’est beau que le vrai, le vrai seul est aimabl[e].” [Boileau]).
“À vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloir[e].” (Corneille)
Not all classical forms impose hyphens, but this is the case for the alexandrine (12 feet), the decasyllable (10 feet) and possibly the octosyllable (8 feet). Barring exceptions or innovative ideas, the hyphenation is at the hemistich (the middle of the line).
However, in some romantic forms one can find two hyphens. This is called a trimeter, that is to say a line with three equal measures:
“Toujours aimer, toujours souffrir, toujours mourir.” (Corneille)
There are also Alexandrines with four equal measures:
“J’ai langui, j’ai séché, dans les feux, dans les larm[es].” (Racine)
A rhyme is characterized by its sound or its gender (feminine or masculine), its quality and its disposition.
Kind of rhymes
In classical poetry, it is advisable to alternate feminine and masculine rhymes, according to the FFMM (or MMFF) scheme.
- A female rhyme ends with a “silent e” (spelled “e”, “es” or “ent”) which, therefore, is not pronounced. In all other cases, the rhyme is said to be masculine.
- A masculine rhyme rhymes with a masculine rhyme, a feminine with a feminine one. Thus, “floral” and “floréal” do not rhyme.
“Que tu brilles enfin, terme pur de ma cours[e].” (Valéry) >> feminine rhyme.
“On a souvent besoin d’un plus petit que soi.” (La Fontaine) >> masculine rhyme.
In classical poetry, we avoid poor rhyme as much as possible.
- Poor rhyme: only the last tonic vowel rhymes (also i / l i t);
- rhyme sufficient: two sounds in common. The last tonic vowel and the same consonant, before or after the vowel (chev al / ban al or pe la / fê la );
- rich rhyme: three sounds in common: ba nal / che nal ;
- very rich rhyme: more than three sounds in common.
Arrangement of rhymes
There are different ways to arrange the rhymes. The main ones are as follows:
- AAAA: continuous rhymes;
- AABB: flat rhymes;
- ABAB: cross rhymes;
- ABBA: embraced rhymes;
In classical poetry, we can use these four forms. Flat rhymes are mainly used in theatrical genres – serious comedy, tragicomedy, tragedy -, in epics or didactic poems, in epistles.
We can also try this:
- ABCABC: alternate rhymes;
- AABCCBDDB: tripartite rhymes;
- AAABCCCBDDDB: quadripartite rhymes.
In all cases, it is advisable to alternate feminine and masculine rhymes, whatever the chosen arrangement.
Singular and plural rhymes
We speak of rhyme in the plural when a line ends with “s”, “x” or “z” . Thus, a line that ends with “you can” is considered plural.
In all other cases, they are singular rhymes. A rhyme in the plural must rhyme with a rhyme in the plural, in the singular with a rhyme in the singular.
Examples of rhymes that respect both the singular / plural and feminine / masculine dichotomy:
- “Lettres” and “kilomètres”;
- “Outrage” and “courage”;
- “Exploits” and “lois”;
A stanza is characterized by its number of lines (therefore lines):
- The monostic: a single line;
- the couplet (or couplet or deuzain): two lines;
- the tercet: three lines;
- the quatrain: four lines;
- the quintil: five lines;
- the sizain: six lines;
- and so on, up to 17 verses (the “seventeen”).
The poem is made up of stanzas and imposes a pre-established stylistic framework, more or less complex depending on the number of stanzas, the alternation of rhymes and the number of meters in each line. Here are the most common classic shapes:
- Ballad: three and a half stanzas of which the last line constitutes the refrain; there are as many stanzas as there are syllables in the line (10 or 12);
- rondeau: 15 short lines over two rhymes;
- ode: two equal stanzas plus a shorter one;
- Sonnet: two quatrains, two tercets with alternation ABBA ABBA CCD EED or ABBA ABBA CCD EDE…
- Do not abuse banal verbs: to be, to go, to do …
- Avoid repeating words.
- Do not abuse the ankles: too much, very, oh, etc …
- Avoid echoes, ie identical or neighboring sounds that are too close together. Space them at least 4 worms apart.
And there you are, you are ready to write your poem ! If other rules come to mind, or you want to add some clarification, feel free to bounce back in the comments.🙂