Descort Poetry Form: Unearth Fresh Perspectives

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Here’s what the Descort poetry form is:

The descort is an unusual poem form in which every line is expected to be different from every other line.

This is commonly achieved through length and meter but can be taken to the extreme by having no two lines share the same end sound, syntax, or potentially even language.

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

Keep reading!

Descort Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: The Descort

Woman in a white dress sitting under a tree lilacs.

The descort was a type of Old Occitan lyric poetry that was used by the troubadours, poets of the High Middle Ages.

One of the most unusual features of the poem is its unique theming.

Rather than being about a typical theme like courtly romance or heroism, descorts were specifically popular as a means to express disagreement.

Garin d’Apcheir was credited with inventing the form by a vida (short biographical pieces about the troubadours) but there isn’t enough evidence to say conclusively whether he was truly the progenitor of the form.

Take note that while this article will attempt to provide a cohesive understanding of what a descort is and how it is intended to be written, this is one form that seems to be interpreted differently depending on the writer.

To say that definitions across sources are inconsistent would be putting it mildly.

Basic Properties of a Descort

Open notebook with lilacs.
Rhyme StructureVaries; sometimes none
MeterOften different on every line
OriginsFirst written by the Troubadours
PopularityRarely seen in modern languages
ThemeDisagreement is a popular but not mandatory theme

History of the Descort

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Descorts originated with the troubadours who wrote and performed lyrical verse in the High Middle Ages (1100-1350).

While the troubadours primarily wrote Old Occitan poetry, many of their forms survived and made the jump to other European languages as time went on.

The troubadours were from regions that constitute modern-day southern France, northern Spain, and northern Italy.

As such, the survival of their verse forms has largely accompanied the Romance languages.

While it’s difficult to pin down any one creator of the form, aside from possibly Garin d’Apcheir, we do know that the form’s debut in Old French came courtesy of the works of Gautier de Dargies, who composed three descorts.

How Are Descorts Structured?

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Here we get to the true oddity of the descort.

This is a poem form that is discordant and chaotic by design.

Every line of the descort is expected to be different.

This typically means that every line will have a different meter, and that lines will not share lengths.

Additionally, the stanzas are of variable lengths as well.

Unlike many other forms written by the troubadours, descorts tend to discard any rhymes used between stanzas, if it is used at all.

Part of the challenge of the descort comes in its erratic nature since it, like other lyrical verse, was still intended to be musical.

While it can be hard to wrap your head around it, the bottom line is that a descort should specifically avoid uniformity.

Composition from a book, flowers and a women's hat in the park on the grass.

What this means is ultimately up to the poet.

This meant that the composer would have to write a new melody for every descort.

Descorts written in English range from rhyming poems wherein every line is a different length to poems in which the tone and use of punctuation vary wildly from line to line.

One of the most extreme examples of non-uniformity in descorts would be the work of Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, who went so far as to change the actual language itself from line to line.

It should be noted that this is an atypical interpretation of the form, but it does do a good job of showing the lengths poets can go to in order to honor the spirit of the descort.

Technically speaking a descort could be about any topic so long as it seeks disharmony in its structure, but the form lends itself especially well to themes that can take advantage of the chaos.

Argumentative tones, in particular, work well.

Example of Descort

portrait of red haired woman in garden eden surrounded by flowers, generative ai

In My Dreams

In my dreams
where chaotic nightmares roam
bleeding; bruised; broken
I challenge fear alone,
but then when I once again awaken
I find myself
no longer so far taken.
For there are allies here, amidst the waking
who can keep me
from my lonely shaking.

This is a very simple descort that mostly plays with lengths.

No line has the same length as the line directly before or after it.

The clause structures and grammatical patterns of the lines also tend to vary, but it’s not as immediately obvious to the eyes as the line lengths.

While this descort does utilize rhyme, sources are split on whether a descort is better with no rhyme at all or not.

Personally, I find that adding a little bit of rhyme enforces the feeling of this being an ancestor of lyrical poetry, so I chose to include it.

This descort’s emphasis on nightmares and loneliness is an interesting fit for the form, using the non-uniformity to drive home keywords like “chaotic” and “shaking.”

This is just one of many applications of the form.

Tips for Writing a Descort

Young beautiful woman reading a book outdoors. Woman relaxing on a garden while reading a book. Summer and spring weather.

Think seriously about how discordant you want your descort to be.

Do you want every single line to have a different number of syllables with different stress patterns and different end sounds, or will you just endeavor to make sure that no two consecutive lines are similar?

The descort is not an especially popular form in English, so there’s some freedom as to how you’ll personally interpret the form.

That being said, make sure that the difference between lines is visually distinct.

A descort should not look like it has a cohesive structure or patterns, even if there are some patterns hidden in the woodworks.

The reader should feel as though the poem is a one-time experience unlike any other poem or even any other descort.

Girl sitting and writing outdoors.

Where the descort shines in its individuality.

It is a form of fierce independence, largely isolated from other forms of poetry by the absurdity of the concept.

Use it to express a voice that belongs to you and only you, split up in new and interesting ways.

As a general rule of thumb, the “every line must be different rule” becomes more lenient as the poem gets longer.

A descort with only four lines should absolutely not have any lines of the same length, but a descort with forty lines can afford to reuse syllable counts, meters, etc, as long as the matching lines are far apart.

Poet’s Note

Pen lays on paper.

It’s frustrating trying to pin down one cohesive definition for this form, since every poet’s interpretation of the form and its principles seems to be slightly different.

Of course, given the atypical nature of the descort and its prevailing themes of originality and non-uniformity, it might actually be perfect that no two people define it exactly the same way.

Comprehensive Collection of Poetry Forms: Craft Words Into Art

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