Wednesday, 23 April 2014

a medieval and modern Three

is for Terza Rima

The Terza Rima is an Italian format devised first by Dante for his Divine Comedy in the late 13th century.  It is made up of tercets, or three-line stanzas where the end-word from the second line provides the rhyme for the subsequent stanza. 

It’s another example of interlocking, similar to the interlocked rubaiyat, but the unpaired lines in the stanzas make it even more lilting somehow than the rubai.  The purpose of all interlocking is to act as an aide-memoire, important in an age where poems were recited/performed rather than read quietly from books.  The clue to the next stanza was embedded in the second line of the first. 

My poem in Terza Rima:


No-one hears boatmen sing the bhatiyali
sitting by the riverside, its lilting, plaintive
cadence steeped in an ancient melancholy.

There are different boatmen where I now live
and anyways the boats are all motorised
no one has the time any more for pensive

and all the music is suitably tightened, revised
to fit into a flashier, frenzied, techno-edgy beat
to fit into players progressively resized

and it’s good, the tiny gadgets are neat
the music’s modern - less of nag and lilt
yearning’s no help to struggles and stumbles of feet

no use for lyrics that have ebbed and stilled
that trail like leaves on waves and beckon
travellers on journeys to dreams left unfulfilled

far safer to listen to the deep drum percussion
forget the folk tunes that yanked hearts awry
awash with desires for an unknown sun

a stranger moon, a different shade of sky
painted by boatmen who came sailing by.

Terza Rima can end with a couplet like above, or with a tercet, and the second line then links up to the very first stanza.  Dante chose to end each canto with a single line rhyming with the end word of the second line of the last tercet.  But Terza Rima was not just used in medieval times, poets like Robert Frost and Shelley have also used it.

Do I need to explain what Bhatiyali is? Perhaps I should.  It is a traditional folk song of Bengal sung by helmsmen/boatmen sailing out with the ebb-tide to the sea.  Bhati means ebb-tide in Bengali.

Posted for the A-Z Challenge.


  1. I know very little about complex poetry, but I love the words and the meaning in this piece. No time for the old, but on to the new. That is the way of most of us when we are young, before we acquire our wisdom along the way.

    1. Sometimes even the old behave the same way.