The lai is a form of French origin, even more ancien than the virelai ancien (which evolved from it). It is not to be confused with the Breton lay, a quite different form of which 's Franklin's Tale is an example; or the lay, a term sometimes used for a short historical ballad, such 's Lay of the Last Minstrel; or with the word lay used simply to mean a song.
Having ensured your total lack of confusion, let me tell you what the lai actually is. It's like a slimmed-down virelai ancien, with the stanzas not linked by rhyme. Here's one:
The praises I sing Of that wondrous thing The cow. Let the rafters ring! My Muse shall take wing, I vow. Foods our cattle bring Are fit for a king, And how! As white as can be, The smooth quality Of silk, The epitome Of maternity, Its milk. You have to agree You never will see Its ilk. For an honoured guest Save the very best: The cream. While those not so blest Make do with the rest, And dream. So nice to digest, That when itís suppressed, Folk scream! You can churn milk, so It becomes yellow Butter. What could beat that? Oh, Donít scoff in that low Mutter! I will not forgo Such pleasure; Iím no Nutter. Or you cheddar it. Thus you make a bit Of cheese, A prerequisite For one exquisite Good wheeze: Letís get the grill lit And make Welsh rarebit. Yes please! Our bovine-sourced feast, Has it still not ceased? Good grief! No, last but not least, Its flesh when deceased: The beef. The worth of this beast Could not be increased, In brief.
The syllable count in each triplet of lines is 5, 5, 2, and each triplet rhymes aab. The number of such triplets must be the same in each stanza, and at least two. To assert my virility, I chose to use three. According to the definition I have used, all the triplets within a stanza must use the same rhymes - so in this example the rhyming scheme for each stanza is aabaabaab.
However, I have in front of me a poem by Chanson d'Automne - which has lines the right length for a lai, but stanzas that rhyme aabccb. So is it a lai? I don't know, but it's a far better poem than mine, which is the important thing.- it's called
As with many of these old forms, the effort involved in writing one is usually out of all proportion to the worth of the finished poem. But don't let me talk you out of it!
The lai is very closely related to the virelai. In fact the virelai is just the same as the lai with a couple of extra rules:
So every virelai is also a lai.
The lai and virelai were ancestors of both the virelai ancien and the virelai nouveau.
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This page last updated 03/01/2007