Aubade Poetry Form: Capture Daybreak Parting

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Here’s what the Aubade poetry form is:

Aubade poems are “daybreak” love songs that welcome the new morning but also lament the end of the night.

Thus, it is typically about lovers parting at dawn.

The earliest forms of aubade originated in France in the 12th century.

It is actually an adaptation of the Old Occitan lyric poetry alba, which means sunrise.

So if you want to learn all about the Aubade poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s jump right into it!

Aubade Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: The Aubade

A pair of lovers, the woman embracing her man at railway platform.

Aubades are an oddly specific class of poems, in terms of their content, even though their execution varies wildly from poet to poet.

Aubade poems are essentially poems or songs about lovers parting at daybreak, though there are both looser and stricter interpretations of the term.

The word finds its origins in the Old Occitan word alba, meaning sunrise.

This is appropriate since the theme of daybreak remains the most consistent feature of aubades across cultures.

Basic Properties of the Aubade

Medieval troubadour playing an antique guitar.
Rhyme StructureVaries
OriginMiddle Ages, most commonly traced to the French troubadours
PopularityRemains popular well into the modern era
ThemeLovers parting at the break of dawn, though elements may vary

Theming of Aubades

Silhouettes of young couple kissing goodbye in front of car headlights.

The strictest interpretation of aubades would be a song sung to a sleeping woman by her lover as he leaves at daybreak.

However, this specific definition does not necessarily fit every poem written to be an aubade in the modern era.

Another competing definition is that the aubade is a poem that laments the night’s end while greeting the morning, especially as regards lovers.

This is a more accurate definition in that it leaves enough room within it to describe the majority of aubades, but it should be noted that not all aubades will specifically ‘lament the night’ and may instead be focused more tightly on the theme of parting.

Regardless of the specific definition employed, a romanticized depiction of lovers parting ways at the break of dawn will always bring to mind the term “aubade” for those aware of it.

The odd thing about aubades is that nearly all of the rules have exceptions.

For example, the lover may be awake instead of asleep or it may be a woman singing to a man instead of the other way around.

There are even rare aubades in which there is no lover at all, complicating the definition to extremes that are normally not allowed when dealing with terminology.

This puts the aubade in a strange position, as it is a poem that both does and does not have concrete definitions, having been transmuted by so many different poets into something strangely malleable.

Woman resting alone at small house in the mountains.

As such, it may be best to simply accept that an aubade is a poem or song set at dawn that is likely to contain some combination of the features listed above to varying degrees, rather than trying to pigeonhole the term into one concrete corner.

Another common feature of aubades is the tendency to have a gradual transition in tone from beginning to end, from the pleasures of the night to the impact of the solitude felt when lovers part for the day, often beginning in the darkness and ending in the sunlight.

This, however, is less a convention and more an accidental side-effect of the theming, in most cases.

Aubades, as you would expect from such a distinctly undefined form, have no set structure to speak of.

An aubade could be written in any meter, rhyme scheme, or length and still be recognizably an aubade so long as the content is consistent with the expectations of its audience.

Example of an Aubade

Sunset of the sun and autumn forest in November

from The Sun Rising by John Donne

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

John Donne’s The Sun Rising is an interesting example in that it is both one of the most famous and one of the most experimental aubades out there.

Donne’s aubade takes an entirely different tone than what would normally be expected, eschewing the norms of painting some romantic sorrowful moment for a poem that is as much about hating mornings as it is about wanting to remain in bed.

Indeed, it’s hard to tell if the speaker is more bothered by the thought of leaving his lover for the day or simply by the thought of leaving a comfortable bed.

This is part of the genius of the poem though, in that it remains a relatable notion centuries later.

Additionally, Donne’s poem does not feature the traditional parting of lovers that you would expect to see at the end of an aubade.

His speaker instead defiantly insists towards the end of the poem that the sun is only half as happy as the lovers in bed and implies that he will be staying in bed regardless of the intrusions of daybreak.

History of Aubades

Renaissance guitar in dark background.

As with many French forms, the aubade traces its roots back to the troubadours, who wrote and performed lyric poems in the High Middle Ages (roughly 1100-1300 AD).

The poems of the troubadours, composed to be sung with musical accompaniment, nearly always dealt with romance, especially chivalry and courtly love.

They were usually composed to appeal to an educated high-class audience.

Troubadours are responsible for coming up with a significant number of French forms, such as the sestina, the triolet, the rondeau, and many more.

This is in addition to their interest in pre-existing forms such as the Italian sonnet.

Following the eventual fall of the troubadours around the time of the Black Death, aubades receded in popularity until a resurgence in the 17th century.

They have since enjoyed scattered popularity and have moved away from their origins as poems written for courtly or chivalrous love to the modern broader theme of parting at daybreak.

Tips for Writing an Aubade

A wooden fountain pen and leather-bound notebook.

Unlike with many forms of poetry, there is no concrete structural advice to give.

The best advice is probably to pay close attention to the images and word choices of your poem.

Because aubades have been written in so many different ways, despite being themed after a relatively specific topic, it is difficult to write something that will stand out comparatively. This is where imagery and word choice come into play.

Make sure your verbs are active, impactful verbs that move the poem forward with some sense of immediacy.

Avoid passive tense, if possible.

The passive tense is used to communicate to the reader that a passage or line is unimportant, but everything in an aubade should be treated as important.

As such a ray of sunbeam should not do something so generic and predictable as “shining.” Your sunbeams should “graze her supple curves” or “stumble quietly through the thin white drapes.”

A sleeping lover is not simply “beautiful.” She is “the center of the room, into which all light seems to gather, an angelic glimmer in the receding dimness.”

Attractive sad-looking girl hugging a bouquet of wild flowers at sunrise outdoors.

Every descriptor should be tactfully chosen to be just eccentric enough to hold the reader’s attention.

Above all else rests the imagery.

Whether you choose to portray daybreak as a vile intruder upon your right to privacy or as the unseen hand of a divine artist who paints beautiful hues upon your lover’s slumbering form, it’s important that every image stand out as punchy and powerful in some way.

Your reader needs to be able to nearly feel the warmth of the sunbeams gently penetrating their skin and to just barely smell the fresh dew out the open window.

An aubade can be sensual and sexy or refined and reserved.

It depends on which elements of the aubade you choose to focus on and how you wish to employ them.

Treat all the different elements of an aubade that were listed previously as actors in your play.

You may hire as many or as few as you like, but they must come together to produce something meaningful about daybreak.

Poet’s Note

Pen lays on paper.

Trying to define an aubade in exact terms is an exercise in patience.

For every rule of thumb about aubades, there’s at least one famous example that breaks it.

Poetry is an art, though, so we just have to accept these inconsistencies here and there.

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