Barzelletta

The barzelletta was a popular verse form used by frottola composers in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; the name comes from the Italian word for "nonsense" or "jest." (The frottola was a popular satiric verse form, written in very irregular meters and stanzas.) The barzelletta was originally written for musical settings and often composed as a joke with moral instruction. Generally the poem is written in trochaic tetrameter.

The poem starts with the reprisa: four lines that rhyme abba or abab. Two of those lines repeat at the end of each stanza, the number of which ranges between two and five. The stanzas may be six or eight lines long and rhyme either cdcdda or cdcddeea, accordingly. Typically there is a volta at the end, a turn of thought or argument.

The Barzelletta

Make a joke to hide a moral;
Take a stab at barzelletta.
Self-defining verse, or meta,
Cannot rest on just one laurel.

Though these lines aren't strict trochaic,
--Cadence is at least consistent--
They're poetic, not prosaic.
Metric measure's not insistent,
But the length of line's persistent,
And the final judgments's aural.

Make a joke and hide a moral;
Take a stab at barzelletta.

Opt for formats formulaic
If your Muse should prove resistant.
While this form may seem archaic
And its predecessor distant,
Structure makes a fine assistant.
Volta at the end is oral:

Make a joke and hide a "morel."
Take a stab at barzelletta.


[ back to poetry page ]