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Types of Poem Forms - The French Pastourelle Poem

Updated on January 19, 2012

Joined: 8 years agoFollowers: 2,449Articles: 161

While Americans tend to think in terms of shepherds tending sheep, completely ignoring the fact that there were also shepherdesses – it may seem strange to most of us in this country where sheep aren't common place, that the Pastourelle fixed poem form evolved from Old World 12th through the 15th century poems whose story line always was about the shepherdess meeting her poet knight. These encounters weren’t innocent liaisons, but generally sexual in nature. Moreover, as they evolved they often involved the shepherdess besting the knight by cleverness, coyness, and brainpower and fleeing or somehow leaving the relationship in the end.

Both troubadour poets and Trouvère poets composed and sang these lyrical poems. The most famous of which was written by the poet Marcabru. This poet was an interesting study in terms of his obvious disdain for women and contempt for the subject of love. For that reason alone, despite being a well-known Pastourelle poem, his efforts should be tempered with the reading of other pastourelle poems.

Later, Pastourelle poems were more pastoral in nature and less and less about the original shepherdess story line. The knight became musicans, other farm workers, and even the sons of noblemen. Still others depicted romances between male shepherds and females of various stations in life.

As with many fixed poem forms, the Pastourelle eventually transformed with the influence of another fixed poem form – the Goliard into something more of a satirical verse in nature and moving from the whole shepherdess narrative to jabs at the Catholic religion and religious beliefs.

Dreaming Shepherdess, Oil on canvas by François Boucher, 1763, Public Domain, Source: Web Gallery of Art #2944 via Wikimedia Commons.
Dreaming Shepherdess, Oil on canvas by François Boucher, 1763, Public Domain, Source: Web Gallery of Art #2944 via Wikimedia Commons. | Source

Old Rules For Writing A French Pastourelle Poem

Fixed poem forms fall in and out of favor or fashion and the French Pastourelle is one that maybe rightfully should have passed away a natural death of sorts. As you read the basic rules and study the poem form it becomes increasingly clear that women (and hopefully many men) would not think the general theme of the Pastourelle in a good light in a more evolved world where sexual harassment is frowned up. However, there is one bright light on this poem form of sexual harassment -- Studies of Middle Ages Pastourelles have held a surprise in that about half of them end with the poem allowing the shepherdess to rebuff and make a fool out of the male and banish him from her life.

For the curious, the Old World French Pastourelle poem loosely followed these fixed poem rules:

  • A set of at least three stanzas (often more)
  • Seven to twelve lines in each
  • The Pastourelle is part narrative and part dialogue
  • The scene was always rural
  • The Pastourelle is always told from the male perspective
  • The setting always takes place in the spring and involves flowery references
  • The plot is always a statement about class structure in Medieval Society
  • The heroine was usually a shepherdess or lesser class woman
  • The young woman meets a handsome young man who is of nobler birth (usually a knight)
  • The Pastourelle supports a theme revolving around knights being able to find forbidden love among lower class women with the ecstasy of the illicit in class structure at that time in history
  • Attempted or forced seduction of the shepherdess is part of the plot
  • Despite her resistance in the end, since it is told from the male perspective, the Pastourelle supports the antiquated attitudes of the times and alludes to her being delighted afterwards that he disregarded her pleas to stop
  • The shepherdess tries but half the time fails to succeed in escaping the male unwanted advances

(Note: I haven't found any references or specifics are to meter, rhyme scheme (if any), or other such details on this French poem form).

New Rules For Pastourelle Poems

Given the political incorrectness and insult to all womanhood of this Middle Ages poem form was as it existed in the past -- it tickled my imagination as I studied Pastourelle Poems in terms of the "what ifs." What if some of us rewrote the formula for writing a pastourelle poem to fit today's times? What would be the new rules? Here's my proposal:

  • The Pastourelle is still part narrative and part dialogue
  • The background scene now is now suburban, rural, or urban as long as it is outside
  • The Pastourelle can now be told from the perspective of either sex
  • The setting still takes place in the spring and involves flowery references
  • The plot is always a statement about how little class should matter in terms of love in a modern society
  • The heroine is a strong female
  • The young woman meets a young man and he doesn't have to be handsome, just a nice guy
  • The new Pastourelle form supports a theme revolving around lasting and evolving relationships
  • Attempted or forced seduction of the shepherdess or young woman is not part of the plot
  • The heroine is delighted that the male respects her
  • The heroine always triumphs against unwanted advances (if any)

Thus, based on these new rules (that may still need a little bit of tweeking) here's my version of a modern (but historical) pastourelle poem:

Anonymous portrait of Jean Lafitte, early 19th century, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas - Source: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Anonymous portrait of Jean Lafitte, early 19th century, Rosenberg Library, Galveston, Texas - Source: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Madeline Regaud Laffitte's Pastourelle Nouvelle

I stood by the mouth of the Bayou LaFourche

Alone I contemplated my ancestral home

In the spring of bright wild flowers growing like badges of bravura

Remembering that’s where I first saw him

The younger brother of Pierre some whispered

A scoundrel, a hero, a pirate, a privateer

The most noble and sweetest man I’d ever known


His pirogue pushed aside the solid layer of hyacinths

Stretching from bank to bank of the surface of LaFourche

An extravagant sight, very much like a river of orchids

Pale lavender blossoms dotted with yellow among bright green

Shimmering from lavender to dark purple and back again

Bringing this man with a snowy egret feather in his hat back to my side

I fantasized of when I once was his naïve bride


Amused at my foolishness I extended my hand

And asked him in my best Cadien French:

"Are you still the savior of New Orleans and the hero of 1812?"

Ignoring my question, he implored: “Come back to Campeche.”

Withdrawing my hand I turned and walked away with a tear

“Our treasure and son await your return on board ‘The Pride’

Time travel no more my ethereal and lovely bride,” he cried.

Jerilee Wei © 2011


Examples of Pastourelle Fixed Form Poems

  • Robene and Makyne by Robert Henryson
  • Jeu de Robin et Marion by Adam de la Halle (Robin and Maid Marion)
  • The Baffled Knight by Unknown Author (found in a collection of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child
  • Faeroe Queene by Edmund Spenser
  • Pastourelle by Thibaut de Champagne

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    • brittanytodd profile image

      Brittany Kennedy 5 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Great description and introduction to an interesting and challenging form of poetry. Voted up, etc.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks brittanytodd! Definitely challenging.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 5 years ago from United States

      Loved the history, particularly, on this one. My mother tried to introduce me to a nice shepherdess, once, but it was just not to be.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Imagine a poetic form dedicated to the secudtion/rape of a shepherdess-- who knew. I kept thinking as I read of Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess at her moulin at Versailles. This was just an amazing hub--and its crowing glory is the cajun poem at the end written in accord with the NEW rules of the pastorelle form-- kudos once again Jerilee

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Tom Rubenoff! What was not meant to be usually had a good reason. :)

      Thanks robie2! There are a number of odd poem forms that just have you thinking ???? but in context of history aren't really so surprising. I had fun with this one.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, Pastourelles! What an interesting format!

      I was unfamiliar with them before reading this Hub but love the background, subject matter, and format! I honestly like them being the somewhat flippant, gender-skewed things they are... if I were to adapt them to a modern era, I would only change them to allow any sort of shepherd - e.g. a shepherd of files or coffee or children- to stand in.

      Actually, it might be more fun to create a spinoff format... Like cafeourelles, where the similar sort of subject and format is addressed within the format of an urban cafe or something. It would be fun!

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 5 years ago

      Congratulations on winning the daily draw. I've never tried writing this poetry form. I think I'd want to try writing one in the original form first just to test myself. Could I do it? Then I would try a modern concept.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Simone Smith! That would be fun. The whole idea of creating a new form appeals to me.

      Thanks FloraBreenRobison! I was thrilled to win the daily draw. This was my first attempt and I will go back and try some more both old or any modern versions that come to mind.

    • mathira 5 years ago

      Good one about a new form of poem.

    • Purple Perl profile image

      Purple Perl 5 years ago from Bangalore,India

      Thanks for sharing. I was not aware of this form of poetry.Congrats too on your win!

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks mathira!

      Thanks Purple Perl!

    • cgreen7090 profile image

      cgreen7090 5 years ago from Tennessee

      I love it when I learn something from a hub. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks cgreen77090! Me too!

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 5 years ago from Germany

      Congratulation for the hub of the day. Thanks for I have learned another form of a poem. Voted up.

    • BethieV profile image

      BethieV 5 years ago from Washington

      That's great! I love poetry and learning to write it better is always a plus for me.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      This is brilliant,my aim for this year is to learn about different genre of poetry .

      This one is great and as well as voting up I am also bookmarking.

      Thank you so much for this hub and for sharing.

      Take care and enjoy your day;

      Eddy.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Thelma Alberts! It is good to learn something new every day. At sixty-two I'm still learning.

      Thanks BethieV! Learning to write it better is a plus for me too.

      Thanks Eddy! I'm working on exploring French forms in depth and rediscovering what I studied so very long ago.

    • Zac828 profile image

      Zac828 5 years ago from England

      Very informative and an interesting lesson. Thank you very much for your hard work.

    • Ardie profile image

      Sondra 5 years ago from Neverland

      Fascinating! I can see why this was chosen as HOTD. You put a lot of hard work into this: it's interesting, well researched, and has a lovely layout :)

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Ardie! It was part of a series that I did during the poetry contest on French fixed poem forms. A labor of love.

    • Danareva profile image

      Dana De Greff 5 years ago from Miami

      This is a form I had little knowledge about--I am in the midst of attempting to explain what a poem is to a group of 4th graders, and while I don't know if they'll be writing pastourelle's anytime soon, you never know!

      Thanks for your hard work and a great hub!

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Danareva! True, you never know. Somewhere in the types of poems series I did others that might work better for explaining to that age group.

    • jami l. pereira 5 years ago

      I often wonder why people try to write poetry in "form" , I guess i just don't get it. This was a good Hub , very informative. Congrats !on your daily win! I voted this Hub up and useful !

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks jami l. pereira! I used to feel the same way myself especially in school when forced to write poems in a specific form. I'm old enough now to recognize that learning the various fixed poem forms that evolved over the centuries is a tremendous advantage when later writing poem in your own "unique" form that you've made all your own. :D

    • jabez3 5 years ago

      Jerilee, this is just what I needed to read. AMAZING! Thank you for publishing. I look forward to reading more.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks jabez3! Glad to be of help.

    • StellaSee profile image

      StellaSee 5 years ago from California

      Hi Jerliee! Were these Pastourelle poems a widespread across Europe? Because I remember learning about pastoral poems in my English lit class. Congratulations on being Hub of the Day!

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 5 years ago

      Dear Jerilee ~ Have you just uploaded a brand new avatar photo? This is wishing you a glorious sunny day and congratulations on Hub of Day Award. Marvelous! Blessings, Debby

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks StellaSee! More Europeans are aware of them than Americans, due to certain lacks in our educational system.

      Thanks Debby Bruck! Yes I did add a new avatar, although I plan to change it to still another. Had an accident back in December that I'm still recovering from, especially the broken nose and fourteen broken teeth. Hopefully my next avatar will be less swollen. :D

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 5 years ago

      Oh dear Jerilee ~ So sorry to hear of the accident and swollen results. I pray in quick time you will be back to your usual self. I reread the intro to French form and your poem so fair. The feminists would have a hay-day with this one. Blessings, Debby

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
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      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Debby Bruck! Yes the feminists would.

    • workwithnature profile image

      workwithnature 5 years ago from Ireland

      Hi am new to the hub experience. I love them though :)

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks workwithnature! We all started out new here so jump on in the water's warm and welcoming.

    • jami l. pereira 5 years ago

      Hi Jerilee , being almost 50 , i guess i think of poetry in time of Poe and Frost . Meaningful and written of themselves and their true form and meaning ,A lot of people like 'freeform" It doesn't make them less intelligent ,by far. Like me and so many others , we write to express our individuality away from the typical "ball and chain" of rules ,Thats what i meant by "not getting it" . Writing poetry or anything else , should be because you want too , not because you have too .Poetry has "left the building" in so many forms and fashions other than "telling it like it is" Again ,i think this Hub was very informative and written very well ,and i voted it up , I hope you have a very lovely evening , Take Care ,

      Regards ,

      Jami

    • jami l. pereira 5 years ago

      Oh ! i wrote something similar on types of poetry , its called "Titles are for Sissies" , it also focuses on genres of writing and poetry form , Thanks ! have a great evening!:)

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanksjami l. pereira! I feel very similar and usually only write what feels good to me ignoring all rules but am in hindsight grateful for the University of California at Berkeley teachers that came to our schools in the 1960s to teach us these French fixed forms, it gave me a greater appreciation for rules even if I've always been a rule breaker. I'll check your Titles for are Sissies, that sounds like a fun read.

    • Zubyre profile image

      Zubyre Parvez 5 years ago from East London

      I write more intuitively so I guess it's freeverse or something, but sometimes it's something like quatrains. Your hubs have been useful because now I can repackage some of the poems under these forms, so on the surface it will just be my poems but interlaced with these technicalities but simple on the surface. :)

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks Zubyre! Sounds like a wonderful plan.

    • swayaminfotech 4 years ago

      Shimmering from lavender to dark purple and back again

      Bringing this man with a snowy egret feather in his hat back to my side

      I fantasized of when I once was his naïve bride

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States

      Thanksswayaminfotech! That's a nice ending too.

    • StellaSee profile image

      StellaSee 4 years ago from California

      I see~ funny how you say that because in my class we read 'The Passionate Shepard to his Love' poem by Christopher Marlowe ( have you heard of it?) and I took that British literature class at a community college :D

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States

      Thanks StellaSee! I'm very familiar with Christopher Marlowe, unless young people are in AP classes (high school) here in Florida public schools they get a dismal exposure when it comes to any type of poetry other than the haiku. Beyond high school is a different story as we all know. The California school system was among the best in terms of public schools during my formative years and we were part of a grand experiment in educational methods with university student teachers augmenting our classes in a team teaching plan so we had an extraordinary exposure to all sorts of literature, poetry, and other arts. I didn't realize until I was a student at The George Washington University how blessed we were in our early exposure to poetry, compared to my peers at the time.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 4 years ago from United States

      Nice poem..Thanks for the post

    • rose 4 years ago

      I was browsing through Hubpages and find this really interesting and helpful

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 4 years ago from United States

      Thanks htodd!

      Thanks rose!

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