Tag Archives: virelai

Death of the Middle English Virelai

Just a quick post to say that my article on a group of fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century lyrics which in the past were misidentified as Middle English virelais has been published in Medium Ævum 85.1 (2016).  The poems in question are in fact English versions of various French complainte forms.  The article explains how they came to be misidentified, and discusses the imitation of French forms in English.  It argues that this form was recognisable and had distinctive connotations, meaning that it could be used parodically or ironically in some instances.  You can download a copy of the article here:

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virelai (noun), also virelay

(NB this post has been improved and corrected thanks to some very helpful advice from Professor Elizabeth Eva Leach, who kindly but firmly educated me in the core structure of the French virelai)

The word virelai appears in Middle English in lists of examples of lyric forms for love poetry, often lists translating or imitating similar lists in French poetry.  Aurelius, in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale, laments his unrequited love for Dorigen in ‘manye layes, / Songes, compleintes, roundels, virelayes’.  Alceste, in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women, tells the God of Love that Chaucer himself has written hymns for the God of Love’s feast days in various forms: ‘balades, roundels, virelayes’. Continue reading virelai

Sumwhat musyng

For the last few weeks I’ve been exploring whether a particular French lyric form, the virelai, is used by English poets in the fifteenth century.  Several Middle English poems are labelled as virelais in DIMEV and in various anthologies, but in fact they are all versions in English of another French lyric genre, the complainte.  This week’s poem (scroll down for text and translation) is one of the most poignant of this small group of English complaints.  According to the fifteenth-century historian John Rous (writing in a work completed in 1486, so probably a reliable witness), Anthony Woodville, 2nd Lord Rivers composed this poem on the eve of his execution at Pontefract in 1483.

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