Envoi

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An envoi or envoy is a short stanza at the end of a poem used either to address an imagined or actual person or to comment on the preceding body of the poem.

Form[edit]

The envoi is relatively fluid in form, depending on the overall form of the poem and the needs and wishes of the poet. In general, envois have fewer lines than the main stanzas of the poem. They may also repeat the rhyme words or sounds used in the main body of the poem. For example, the chant royal consists of five eleven-line stanzas with a rhyme scheme a-b-a-b-c-c-d-d-e-d-E and a five-line envoi rhyming d-d-e-d-E.

History and development[edit]

The envoi first appears in the songs of the medieval trouvères and troubadours; it developed as an address to the poet's beloved or to a friend or patron. As such, the envoi can be viewed as standing apart from the poem itself and expresses the poet's hope that the poem may bring them some benefit (the beloved's favours, increased patronage, and so on).

In the 14th century French poetry was tending to move away from song and towards written text. The two main forms used in this new literary poetry were the ballade, which employed a refrain at first but evolved to include an envoi, and the chant royal, which used an envoi from the beginning.

The main exponents of these forms were Christine de Pizan and Charles d'Orléans. In the work of these poets, the nature of the envoi changed significantly. They occasionally retained the invocation of the Prince or abstract entities such as Hope or Love as a cryptonym for an authority figure the protagonists(s) of the poem could appeal to, or, in the some poems by d'Orléans, to address actual royalty. However, more frequently in the works of these poets the envoi served as a commentary on the preceding stanzas, either reinforcing or ironically undercutting the message of the poem.

Jean Froissart, in his adaptation of the troubadour pastourelle genre to the chant royal form, also employed the envoi. His use, however, is less innovative than that of de Pizan or d'Orléans. Froissart's envois are invariably addressed to the Prince and are used to summarise the content of the preceding stanzas.

Since the 14th century, the envoi has been seen as an integral part of a number of traditional poetic forms, including, in addition to the ballade and chant royal, the virelai nouveau and the sestina. In English, poems with envoi have been written by poets as diverse as Austin Dobson, Algernon Charles Swinburne and Ezra Pound. G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc went through a period of adding envois to their humorous and satirical poems.

Examples[edit]

On a Fan
That Belonged to the Marquise De Pompadour
Austin Dobson (1840-1921)
CHICKEN-SKIN, delicate, white,
Painted by Carlo Vanloo,
Loves in a riot of light,
Roses and vaporous blue;
Hark to the dainty frou-frou!
Picture above, if you can,
Eyes that could melt as the dew,–
This was the Pompadour's fan!
See how they rise at the sight,
Thronging the œil de Bœuf through,
Courtiers as butterflies bright,
Beauties that Fragonard drew,
Talon-rouge, falbala, queue,
Cardinal, Duke, –to a man,
Eager to sigh or to sue,–
This was the Pompadour's fan!
Ah, but things more than polite
Hung on this toy, voyez-vous!
Matters of state and of might,
Things that great ministers do;
Things that, may be, overthrew
Those in whose brains they began;
Here was the sign and the cue,–
This was the Pompadour's fan!
ENVOI
Where are the secrets it knew?
Weavings of plot and of plan?
–But where is the Pompadour, too?
This was the Pompadour's Fan!

A Ballade of Suicide G. K. Chesterton

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours--on the wall--
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.
To-morrow is the time I get my pay--
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall--
I see a little cloud all pink and grey--
Perhaps the rector's mother will not call--
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way--
I never read the works of Juvenal--
I think I will not hang myself to-day.
The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational--
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small--
I think I will not hang myself to-day.
ENVOI
Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

- G. K. Chesterton

See also[edit]

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