Types of Poem Forms - The French Pastourelle Poem
While Americans tend to think in terms of shepherds tending sheep, completely ignoring the fact that there were also shepherdesses – it may seem strange to most of us in this country where sheep aren't common place, that the Pastourelle fixed poem form evolved from Old World 12th through the 15th century poems whose story line always was about the shepherdess meeting her poet knight. These encounters weren’t innocent liaisons, but generally sexual in nature. Moreover, as they evolved they often involved the shepherdess besting the knight by cleverness, coyness, and brainpower and fleeing or somehow leaving the relationship in the end.
Both troubadour poets and Trouvère poets composed and sang these lyrical poems. The most famous of which was written by the poet Marcabru. This poet was an interesting study in terms of his obvious disdain for women and contempt for the subject of love. For that reason alone, despite being a well-known Pastourelle poem, his efforts should be tempered with the reading of other pastourelle poems.
Later, Pastourelle poems were more pastoral in nature and less and less about the original shepherdess story line. The knight became musicans, other farm workers, and even the sons of noblemen. Still others depicted romances between male shepherds and females of various stations in life.
As with many fixed poem forms, the Pastourelle eventually transformed with the influence of another fixed poem form – the Goliard into something more of a satirical verse in nature and moving from the whole shepherdess narrative to jabs at the Catholic religion and religious beliefs.
Old Rules For Writing A French Pastourelle Poem
Fixed poem forms fall in and out of favor or fashion and the French Pastourelle is one that maybe rightfully should have passed away a natural death of sorts. As you read the basic rules and study the poem form it becomes increasingly clear that women (and hopefully many men) would not think the general theme of the Pastourelle in a good light in a more evolved world where sexual harassment is frowned up. However, there is one bright light on this poem form of sexual harassment -- Studies of Middle Ages Pastourelles have held a surprise in that about half of them end with the poem allowing the shepherdess to rebuff and make a fool out of the male and banish him from her life.
For the curious, the Old World French Pastourelle poem loosely followed these fixed poem rules:
- A set of at least three stanzas (often more)
- Seven to twelve lines in each
- The Pastourelle is part narrative and part dialogue
- The scene was always rural
- The Pastourelle is always told from the male perspective
- The setting always takes place in the spring and involves flowery references
- The plot is always a statement about class structure in Medieval Society
- The heroine was usually a shepherdess or lesser class woman
- The young woman meets a handsome young man who is of nobler birth (usually a knight)
- The Pastourelle supports a theme revolving around knights being able to find forbidden love among lower class women with the ecstasy of the illicit in class structure at that time in history
- Attempted or forced seduction of the shepherdess is part of the plot
- Despite her resistance in the end, since it is told from the male perspective, the Pastourelle supports the antiquated attitudes of the times and alludes to her being delighted afterwards that he disregarded her pleas to stop
- The shepherdess tries but half the time fails to succeed in escaping the male unwanted advances
(Note: I haven't found any references or specifics are to meter, rhyme scheme (if any), or other such details on this French poem form).
New Rules For Pastourelle Poems
Given the political incorrectness and insult to all womanhood of this Middle Ages poem form was as it existed in the past -- it tickled my imagination as I studied Pastourelle Poems in terms of the "what ifs." What if some of us rewrote the formula for writing a pastourelle poem to fit today's times? What would be the new rules? Here's my proposal:
- The Pastourelle is still part narrative and part dialogue
- The background scene now is now suburban, rural, or urban as long as it is outside
- The Pastourelle can now be told from the perspective of either sex
- The setting still takes place in the spring and involves flowery references
- The plot is always a statement about how little class should matter in terms of love in a modern society
- The heroine is a strong female
- The young woman meets a young man and he doesn't have to be handsome, just a nice guy
- The new Pastourelle form supports a theme revolving around lasting and evolving relationships
- Attempted or forced seduction of the shepherdess or young woman is not part of the plot
- The heroine is delighted that the male respects her
- The heroine always triumphs against unwanted advances (if any)
Thus, based on these new rules (that may still need a little bit of tweeking) here's my version of a modern (but historical) pastourelle poem:
Madeline Regaud Laffitte's Pastourelle Nouvelle
I stood by the mouth of the Bayou LaFourche
Alone I contemplated my ancestral home
In the spring of bright wild flowers growing like badges of bravura
Remembering that’s where I first saw him
The younger brother of Pierre some whispered
A scoundrel, a hero, a pirate, a privateer
The most noble and sweetest man I’d ever known
His pirogue pushed aside the solid layer of hyacinths
Stretching from bank to bank of the surface of LaFourche
An extravagant sight, very much like a river of orchids
Pale lavender blossoms dotted with yellow among bright green
Shimmering from lavender to dark purple and back again
Bringing this man with a snowy egret feather in his hat back to my side
I fantasized of when I once was his naïve bride
Amused at my foolishness I extended my hand
And asked him in my best Cadien French:
"Are you still the savior of New Orleans and the hero of 1812?"
Ignoring my question, he implored: “Come back to Campeche.”
Withdrawing my hand I turned and walked away with a tear
“Our treasure and son await your return on board ‘The Pride’
Time travel no more my ethereal and lovely bride,” he cried.
Jerilee Wei © 2011
Examples of Pastourelle Fixed Form Poems
- Robene and Makyne by Robert Henryson
- Jeu de Robin et Marion by Adam de la Halle (Robin and Maid Marion)
- The Baffled Knight by Unknown Author (found in a collection of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads by Francis James Child
- Faeroe Queene by Edmund Spenser
- Pastourelle by Thibaut de Champagne