The Triolet is a lesser-known French medieval poetic form that is a close cousin to the more popular and prolific rondeau. The name Triolet comes from the three repetitions of the first line in the eight lines of the poem. The structure of a Triolet is deceptively simple, as some lines repeat, but with the meaning of the repeated line often changed by punctuation, capitalization, or context in the next repetition. The rhyme scheme is ABaAabAB , with the capital letters representing the repeating lines. One significant example of the triolet in English is that of the devotional triolets written by the Benedictine monk Patrick Cary in 1651. Having fallen out of favor, the triolet experienced an English revival in the 18th Century, when Robert Bridges reintroduced the form.
In the poem The Sword in the Stone, the author combines themes from Sir Thomas Malory’s telling of the Sword in the Stone episode from King Arthur lore with Christological, metaphorical imagery. While not allegorical, this poetic link connects through the idea that the sword was pulled by Arthur (the adopted or ‘nourished brother’ in the tale) for Sir Kay, his brother, but Christ raised out of stone (the grave) for us, the adopted, or ‘nourished’ brother. Christmas morning marks the day of Christ’s birth and the day that the stone is presented to the nobles, with sword intact. Like Arthur, who was mocked for his presumed low birth, so was Jesus disregarded because of his Nazarene roots. Both men called a father, ‘Sir’, (Arthur to Sir Ector and Jesus to Joseph) who was not his own father. The poem flips on its head the idea of who is that ‘nourished brother’ in the repeated lines, and the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ out of the stone of the grave, as the ultimate, victorious King.
The Sword in the Stone
In doing deed, one for his nourished brother,
How then was this sword raised out of stone?
Too ignoble, it must be for another
In doing deed, one for His nourished brother
Christmas morning, blade set to discover,
Who called a Father ,’Sir’, who was not His own
In doing deed, One for His nourished brother,
How, then, was this Sword raised out of Stone!
Karise Gililland, “The Sword in the Stone – A Triolet,” An Unexpected Journal: King Arthur Legendarium 6, no. 2. (Summer 2023), 190-191.