How to Write Alexandrines ...




Introduction: How to Write Alexandrines ...

Alexandrine is the most traditional way to write poetry in French. I think it could be considered as the French counterpart of the Japanese Haiku.
In this Instructable, I would like to teach you how to write them in English.

Step 1: What's an Alexandrine ?

Technically, an alexandrine is a single verse (line) of poetry, which counts a total of twelve feet (syllables).
In general, they are formed of two hemistiches (half of a verse) of six feet each.
Both hemistiches are separated by a caesura (natural pause).

So, to summarize, a traditional Alexandrine has :
- 12 feet (no more, no less)
- 2 hemistiches of 6 feet each
- a caesura in the middle


Step 2: Here Is an Example, a Very Simple One ...

First example :

When in English I speak, dictionary I keep.

Whe (1) 'n in (2) En (3) glish (4) I (5) speak (6)
dic (1) tio (2) na (3) ry (4) I (5) keep.(6).

In this example, both hemistiches (packs of 6 syllables) rhyme together. But that's not mandatory !

Inter-hemistiches rhymes make a single Alexandrine sound more beautiful, but that's not required. If every Alexandrine were like that, it would be like a poetry of two verses of six feet each ! And that would make, thus, Alexandrines pointless ...

Second example :

What makes a single Alexandrine beautiful is its wording, its rhythm and its poetical meaning.

For instance (not sure if it actually makes sense in English, neither if it's beautiful) :

The sky of your eyes, is a dream of freedom.

Twice 6 feet, a caesura in the middle, and no internal rhyme.
(Just in case this Alexandrine make no sense in English, its meaning is : I find your blue eyes so beautiful, that when I'm watching them, I think about the sky and about the birds that freely fly in it ... etc, given that flying like a bird is a dream, and that the person saying this sentence is probably in love, etc ...)

Third example :

Never I've seen on Earth so beautiful angel.

As you can see in this last example, the caesura is not marked by a comma. The caesura (pause) comes naturally between Earth and so. A comma between the two hemistiches is not compulsory. But there absolutely must be a caesura !

Single Alexandrines are like Haiku.
They must contains a very beautiful and poetical image. They must be pleasant to ear and to pronounce. They could also be a witty joke, etc ... But the more a single Alexandrine contains images and evocations, and the more this Alexandrine is good.
A single Alexandrine alone can be a large poem.

Step 3: Two Alexandrines, for a Single Sentence ...

It is also possible to say a longer phrase in two Alexandrines.

This means that our sentence must contains 4 hemistiches of 6 feet each, for a total of 24 feet.

For instance :

For a dream of freedom, maybe an illusion,
I've left my family and pray they'll pardon me.

I think that double-Alexandrines are the most difficult to write ...
You need to know what you want to say (when improvising, it's difficult), and you must respect all the Alexandrines rules without damaging the meaning and the grammar.

It could be a real challenge sometimes !

Just to write this one, it took me about ten minutes, all of that because I chose a theme (someone who leave his home to travel around the world), and refused to change it ...


Step 4: A Beautiful Poem, All in Alexandrine ...

It is, of course, absolutely possible to combine several of them to make poems.

In French, we do have several rules, different forms of poetry that I'm not going to describe. I'm just going to show you how to write poems in Alexandrines ... And you'll see that's it's quite easy ........

Free forms poems :

In free form poems, there is no special rules about rhymes.
It can be a simple sequence of Alexandrines all on a same theme.

For instance :

The sky of your eyes, is a dream of freedom.
Never I've seen on Earth so beautiful angel.
Of an other woman, how could I fall in love ?

Three Alexandrines, no internal rhymes, no external rhymes.
You can put as much Alexandrines as you want, as long as they make sense together.

Rhyming poems :

Again, there are several rules for rhymes.
I bet it's the same set of rules in every languages.
They can be "flat", "crossed", "embraced", "redoubled" etc ...

There are also several rules about how Alexandrine are grouped and sequenced (strophes).

Most commonly, they go together by quatrains (strophes of four Alexandrines).

For instance, here is a quatrain, whose rhymes are flats :

An improvisation : who knows where it will lead ? (A)
With my so French accent, I'm counting in my head. (A)
Twice six at a time, twelve syllables per line, (B)
That's how I'm used to write, all in Alexandrine. (B)

If you paid attention, you've probably noticed that the hemistiches of the third verse are not symmetric.

Twice (1) six (2) at (3) a (4) time (5)
twelve (1) syl (2) la (3) bles (4) per (5) line (6)

This gives us 11 feet in total, 5 feet on the first hemistiche, and 6 on the second.

Actually, time (despite it's usually a 1 syllable word), is pronounced here like a 2 syllables word. We're doing so by stressing this word like if it was two syllables long : tiiiiii (1) m' (2)
It's called a diaeresis.

I don't know if it's common in English poetry, but that's commonly tolerated in French poetry, because it's also a question of accents ...

There is also the possibility to counter-balance our hemistiches so that our Alexandrine is actually 12 feet long :

Twice six at a time and twelve syllables per line

Twice (1) six (2) at (3) a (4) time (5)
and (1) twelve (2) syl (3) la (4) bles (5) per (6) line (7)

Our hemistiches are not standards, but it's tolerable, more even since there is no comma before and : it's absolutely possible to put the caesura (the tiny pause when you say it) just after and :

Twice (1) six (2) at (3) a (4) time (5) and (6)
twelve (1) syl (2) la (3) bles (4) per (5) line (6)

... and we get our twice six feet Alexandrine.

Step 5: That's All ...

I think that's all you need to know about Alexandrines ...

I hope you liked this Instructable and that you'll write and show me some of your Alexandrines ! =o)

Bonus :

For a dream of freedom, maybe an illusion,
I've left my family, my home and my nation.
Behind the horizon, where the sky touch' the sea,
Rose a golden sun and a call of duty.

My body trapped here, my heart in motherland,
I'm feeling so alone, without hope or comfort.
It's laying on my side, and soon will take flight,
This letter never sent, escaped from my hand.

Soon the wind of desert will cover me with sand ...

For a dream of freedom, maybe an illusion,
I've lost my family, my home and my nation.
Behind the horizon, where the sky touch' the sea,
Contemplating the stars, I pray you'll pardon me.


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    Question 3 years ago on Introduction

    Here's my alexandrines I wrote all day today, most of the day:
    You've been gone so long the way back's begun to fade
    Like the foot steps in the snow on the path you made.
    You left at winter solstice and the others followed soon
    After as the sun showed mildness and the wind slowed

    Kink Jarfold
    Kink Jarfold

    4 years ago on Step 5

    I'm new to Instructables and came across this as I was browsing the different posts. I'd never heard of Alexandrines, but thanks for sharing. There is nothing more exciting than learning something new each day, no matter how long ago it was posted.



    5 years ago

    Only now discovered, your interesting ible...

    Thank you for sharing it, seven years of long ago..


    5 years ago

    That was an amazing lecture on the french poems I enjoyed it a lot keep doing stuff like that please


    12 years ago on Step 2

    I thought of an alternative for the third one:

    Never seen on Earth, such a beautiful angel

    Ok alittle lopsided. but it's my first, really great idea the French had with this. Ils sont belle. (More french for ya)


    Reply 12 years ago on Step 2

     Ok worked a better one:

    Never such seen on Earth, What a beautiful angel.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent. Says the exact same thing, but with the more traditional format.


    14 years ago on Introduction

    .Thanks for your instructable How to Write Alexandrines. Very nice and so thorough in a short space. I just joined this forum and yours was one of the first I read. I need to read it again since I am a slow study. I write Haiku and also open verse and "stream of consciousness" pieces. My training was in visual art though. I really like so called postmodern art and writing like that of David Barthelme. Actually, your choice of a user name reflects a "post-modern" outlook. ha ha. My favorite French poet is Arthur Rimbaud. I love the Illuminations though I can't actually read the original French. I recently taught a young friend to write Haiku by doing what I call "jump writing" or mutual writing. That is where you start by composing the first 5 syllables then they do the next 7 then you finish it with the last five. That's for the first 10 haiku then we switch for the next 10 and my friend does the first and last lines and I do the middle seven. We use nature and season words too, that actually helps rather than restricts ones writing. .


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you for your comment, I'm glad you liked it.

    I'm currently planing to write a more detailed version of this same instructable. So if you find something that needs some more details, please tell me =o)

    About poetry, it's not my main hobby or a passion. I don't read or write poem quite often ...
    Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I generally feel the need to read and lay some strophes by the end of Winter ... Then, Spring is for writing music, and Summer for writing novels ...
    Seems my cycle of creativity is synchronized with the cycle of seasons ......... =oP

    About Rimbaud, I've read some of his Illuminations and definitively did not like them. Most of his poems that I've read don't make me dream.
    However, I definitively like the french version of "Sensation". The translated version sounds less beautiful to my ear, probably because it's not my mother-tongue



    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    . I see what you mean about the translations. Not so good. But your English seems so very good here. Do you speak/read many languages?. When I read something that is translated I like to have a bi-lingual edition so I can sort of see how it was taken out of the original. This works somewhat but I would much prefer to understand the original. I am currently reading some Haiku doing the same bilingual edition since my knowledge of Japanese is limited to greetings and simple phrases. I also read the work of Pablo Naruda in the same way. May I ask how many novels have you written in the summer? That seems like a daunting task. Do you get inspired about a story and then compose or do you make it all up as you move along? Thanks for the links, I don't care for the translation kind of squeezes the original too hards or rather "beats it up" to get the meaning. The trans of Rimbaud's works that I like are the ones by Louise Varese, she usually doesn't leave out the heart, the fragrance of the original. At least that is how I see it with my limited understanding of your language. I have been reading these poems for over 40 years, plenty of time to have learned French. I am so curious that my energy goes everywhere and only easy things get done. I worked on Japanese for 20 years and still can't speak it well. French would seem even harder because of the pronunciation. I would need a very patient personal tutor. I like your little blue cat. There is a really cool little cartoon on youtube called Simon's Cat that is very short and very funny. Go there and watch if you get a minute and a is worth it. .


    Reply 14 years ago on Introduction

    > Do you speak/read many languages?

    I also have some notions of Spanish. I can understand up to 60% of what I read, but I can't chat with someone, because my vocabulary is too much limited ...

    I can also read hiragana and say few very useless Japanese sentences.
    I tried to learn katakana few month ago, but it was boring and generator of great migraines ...

    > May I ask how many novels have you written in the summer? That seems like a daunting task. Do you get inspired about a story and then compose or do you make it all up as you move along?

    I actually achieved only 2 novels, and wrote 3 others at more than 50% each (within about 8 years). I've wrote many short stories and started some philosophical essay too ...
    Currently, only 1 of the 3 unachieved novels and a philosophical essay are still "work in progress".

    I tried my chances with a publisher last year, but failed to seduce one with a novel I really believed in.
    Despite the frustration of "seeing my illusions going up in smoke", I've found that, published or not, writing stories is like a need for me : creating a universe, and giving birth and life to some characters is so great !

    The inspiration comes quite easily to me. I can quickly build a complete story around a simple idea.
    For instance : "it's a man who's bored, and who decide to follow and spy a woman for one week"

    From there, I can build various stories :
    - entertaining : I could just tell the "everyday" life of this woman witnessed and commented by this man
    - thriller : the man could discover the woman murdered someone (what will he do ? will the woman discover she's spied ? will she try to kill him too ?)
    - tragedy : he could discover she's very depressed and planning to commit suicide, and he could do his best to save her life ...
    etc ...

    Once I've selected the most original base, I develop it a little bit more and write it in the form of a very short summary. Then, I develop the the short summary a little bit more (long summary), and finally, I begin to write the first chapter ...
    I use the summary as a guide, but I'm free to change things if a better idea comes ...

    I have about 20 short summaries stored in my PDA waiting for being developed.
    However, having a fertile imagination and writing a lot is not enough ... you need a good style and some readers that will dare to honestly criticize you ...

    I wish I could write some novels in English so I could publish them for free on the internet and increase my chances to be read and criticized.

    > I am so curious that my energy goes everywhere and only easy things get done.

    I understand you ! I'm like that too ... trying to go everywhere at the same time ... and I end up with a long list of "work in progress" ...

    You seems to have a real passion for poetry and literature. May I ask you if it's related to your work (teacher, professor, writer) ?

    About Simon's Cat, I've watched the two episodes here and here. They are hilarious ! My cat does exactly the same thing to catch my attention !