Chain Verse is a poetic technique rather than a stanzaic form, although a distinct frame did emerge during the Middle Ages. This technique was especially popular with the troubadours of Provence because of its pleasing rhythm. Its relative obscurity suggests the technique was more effective sung than as the written word. The French Chain Verse of the Middle Ages was used by the troubadours to pass along political news disguised as entertainment. In particular the “Grands Rhetoriquers”, late 17th century thru early 18th century, courtly poets of Burgundy and later Paris, favored the verse.
It is a loose descendant of ancient Greece’s Echo Verse. Its influence can be seen in several French verse forms, the Triolet, Rondeau and Villanelle etc. Repetition is central to the technique. Linking words or syllables, often same sound different meaning (rich rhyme) is repeated from the end of one verse or stanza to the beginning of the next.
Note: In the 1940s an American poet created what he called a “chain poem” which has nothing to do with the linking technique explained above. It simply is a line of verse written by one poet then sent off to another poet to add another line and so on. Sort of like a chain letter but the poem keeps growing line by line written by different poets.
Chain Verse is composed in one of three ways:
- Chain verse can be line by line. Like its ancient Greek ancestor, Chain Verse is composed with the last word or syllable of one line repeated in the beginning of the next line. Here are two examples, one a translated French Chained Verse from the Middle Ages, the other a modern use of the technique demonstrating a creative use of rich rhyme. Both I found at Poetry Through Ages.
Untitled by French Anonymous
Nerve thy soul with doctrines noble,
Noble in the walks of time,
Time that leads to an eternal,
An eternal life sublime.
Life sublime in moral beauty,
Beauty that shall never be;
Ever be to lure thee onward,
Onward to the fountain free.
Free to every earnest seeker,
Seeker for the fount of youth;
Youth exultant in its beauty,
Beauty of the living truth.
Mothering by Robert Yehling (1959–)
Wisp of fog descends upon the meadow.
Doe guides new fawns through sweeping grasses,
sisters on shaky legs capturing scents,
scents their bodies recall with fright, delight,
light of morning sun not ten minutes old.
Bold, the new dawn touches tender bodies
descending into the thicket of tendrils,
Drill down, little fawn mouths,
mouths seeking shoots and dandelions,
lions of green kingdoms, meadows, just-born
morn, a new dawn. The doe walks on.
- Chain Verse can be stanzaic, linked by repeating the last word of a stanza as the first word of the next stanza. The repetition of a word from one verse or stanza to the next creates a chain-like link.
Stanzaic chains are:
- most often written in any number of quatrains but any stanza form will do,
- usually rhymed, linking rhyme (often rich rhyme) as well as alternate rhyme.
- often syllabic, alternating longer-shorter lines. One example is alternating 8-7-8-7 syllables the other is alternating 6-5-6-5 syllables per line.
- Chain Verse can be written in what today is more readily recognized as a Crown, with the last line of the stanza repeated as the first line of the next stanza.
- Untitled by John Byrom (English poet 1692-1763)My spirit longeth for thee
Within my troubled breast,
Although I be unworthy
Of so divine a guest.Of so divine a guest,
Unworthy though I be
Yet has my heart no rest,
Unless it comes from thee.Unless it comes from thee
In vain I look around,
In all that I can see,
No rest is to be found.No rest is to be found
But in thy blessed love,
Oh let my wish be crowned,
And send it from above.
My thanks to Judi Van Gorder for years of work on this fine PMO resource.
This is all her work and I can’t improve upon it.