Goliardic Verse

Goliardic Verse


Goliardic Verse originated in the Middle Ages, becoming very popular in the 12th century. Although there is a lot of uncertainty as to its origins, there are a few theories and posits. For one, it has been associated with the Ordo Vagorum, a religious “order” of students who shared both a love of verse and “anticlerical views” who, according to tale, were academic nomads of sorts, migrating from one intellectual center to the next in the 12th and 13th centuries in search of comrade and inspiration. At least that’s what the Goliard tradition and story goes. Historians think that it is more likely that intellectuals of this time, both student and teacher alike, in France, England and Germany, were inspired by the new secularism of the time and produced this form of poetic satire that “loosely took as an organizing emblem the figure of Goliath” thanks to a complex transformation of his traditionally negative image due to his counterpart in the mythology being David, a crucially religious figure, which combined with the strain of secularism of the time resulted in his being associated with learning associated with schools attended by that “order” even while his image still remained fundamentally negative. This, however, is ultimately informed conjecture, as it is still not completely clear what the origin of the name, or the full true story of these “scholar-poets”. Another theory is that this Ordo Vagorum did not actually exist, and that this term was used derogatorily to poets who attacked the Papacy and associated people. This theory claims that while the wandering scholar-poets existed, they were not organized, nor were they actually that scholarly. This form then, in this line of thinking, is limited only to the known famous poets of the time that we know wrote the poems and collections we know-Hugh Primas, the Archpoet, and Walter of Chatillon. Carmina Burana, published by Joseph Andrews Schmeller in Germany in 1847 and translated in part by John Addington Symonds in Wine, Women and Song in 1884, is the most notable collection of Goliardic Verse and the 4th edition published by Schmeller in 1907 is still the only complete test of the Carmina Burana. 


Goliardic Verse, in its most concise description, is “a 13 syllable trochaic verse with a dactylic caesura after the seventh syllable and with a feminine ending.” 

  • Goliardic Measure”-stanza lyric form favored by the Goliards of the 12th and 13th century
  • Stanza of 4 mono rhymed lines of 13 syllables each
  • Sometimes ending in hexameter called an actoritas
  • Characterized, traditionally, by satiric tone directed at the church and the pope
  • Also characterized by a profane tone, “devoted to the pleasures of the bed and the tavern in a spirit of reckless hedonism.”
  • However, it was not unknown for some poets to take this form and explore the wonders of nature as well 
  • Traditionally, Goliardic Verse has a theme of carpe diem
  • In terms of rhyme, so far all I have found is that it needs to be and end rhyme consistent within each strophe
  • Although some poetry sites claim that there is a rhyme scheme associated with it, that is not backed up by scholarship and should not be taken as a rule.

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