Rhyme Royal

Rhyme Royal - sometimes known as the Troilus stanza - has 7 lines of 10 syllables each (normally iambic pentameters) and a rhyming scheme of ababbcc

The archaic spelling rime royal is still sometimes used. This is an old variety of stanza which goes right back to Chaucer, who used it for his Troilus and Criseyde - hence the form's alternative name. So when looking for a subject for my example, it occurred to me that the word "rime" also means "frost". (In fact, its precise meaning to a meteorologist is "ice deposited  by freezing of supercooled fog".) I therefore re-wrote a well-known carol in rime royal:

Good King Wenceslas
On Boxing Day King Wenceslas looked out
And saw his realm was blanketed with snow.
Indoors was where to be, without a doubt!
Still snow flakes floated to the ground below 
Where deep drifts sparkled in the moon’s soft glow.
Then, scarcely visible by lunar light,
A peasant gathering firewood came in sight.

By this the monarch’s heart was moved to pity.
His instincts told him something was amiss.
While he was king, no man in Prague’s fair city
Should have to spend a holiday like this.
He must effect a metamorphosis!
He called his trusty page and bade him give
The peasant’s name, and say where he might live.

“His home’s three miles from here, your majesty –
St Agnes fountain, way out in the sticks.”
“Right, bring me food and wine for his high tea,
And for his hearth some pine logs – five or six.
If this man’s broke, that’s something we can fix!
So when we reach his humble dwelling, we’ll
Make sure he has both warm fire and square meal.”

Well-laden with their gifts, the pair went forth
Through wind and snow and rain and hail and sleet,
A blizzard raging from the arctic north.
The page soon wilted, since he was effete.
Quoth Wenceslas, “Watch where I put my feet
Then put yours in my footprints, and behold,
You’ll find your blood will not run half so cold.”

He was determined both males should get through
Despite the weather being so unpleasant.
A man must do what he feels called to do.
Onward they trudged, to take their Christmas present,
And make the day for one half-frozen peasant.
So let us all, like this obscure Czech king,
Go extra miles to do the decent thing.

A few of the lines have an extra unstressed syllable, but that's OK. If Chaucer got away with it, so can I.

Now all we need is a new tune.

Related forms

The ballade royal is made up of rhyme royal stanzas. But rhyme royal is nothing to do with chant royal (which is another variant of the ballade).

Rhyme royal is a close relative of ottava rima.

Notable Rhymes Royal and Royal Rhymers

As well as Chaucer (see above), the form was used by Spenser, Shakespeare (A Lover's Complaint) and also by King James I of Scotland. It used to be thought this is why it was called "royal". The academics have now decided otherwise, consigning this belief to the category of "things that aren't true but ought to be".

In more recent centuries, rhyme royal has become less popular, but has nevertheless been used by such as Wordsworth (Resolution and Independence), Auden (Letter to Lord Byron) and Masefield.

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© Bob Newman 2004. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 03/05/2006