La Section de la langue Jèrriaise

Reading Jèrriais poetry


Much of the literary production in Jèrriais over the last two hundred years has been of poetry. Since the primary literary outlets were the numerous C19th newspapers - and their almanacs - short topical works were those most likely to be published.

Given the pattern of literacy among the population, much literature was intended to be read aloud. In fact, this is often still the case as many Jèrriais speakers have limited reading and writing skills in Jèrriais.

How do you read Jèrriais poetry aloud? Here are some notes.

Modern Jèrriais poetry - and most Jèrriais poetry from the mid C19th - is metrical, like most English poetry. In other words, "dee-dum - dee-dum - dee-dum..."

An example:

Au voleux!

Some of the early C19th Jèrriais poetry is based on French models and is therefore syllabic. In other words, count the number of syllables in each line, not the number of stresses. As literary French is lacking in accent tonique, metrical poetry is not possible. The classic alexandrine line contains 12 syllables.

Examples of syllabic poetry in Jèrriais:

Jean Dorey In Memoriam

Dialogue entre Pierre de L'Etat, Gent., Seigneur du Manoir de Bonnenuit, et Manon de la Cour, Gardienne d'un Troupeau de Moutons.

However, since words in Jèrriais tend to have a stress like English, the development of poetry through the C19th reinforced the tendency towards metre rather than syllable-counting.

For people who are not familiar with the conventions of French poetry, here is a short explanation of how to count syllables. Each pronounced syllable counts as one syllable for the purposes of the count. Silent 'e's at the end of a word count as one syllable if followed by a consonant, but silent 'e's at the end of a line do not count as a syllable.

Let us take a line as an example. This is from the Dialogue cited above:

Apporter à m's'éfans une belle boîtée
(bring to my children a fine boxful)

If read aloud, this has 10 syllables:

Ap - port - er - à - m's'é - fans - une - belle - boî - tée

But in fact as a line of poetry it is an alexandrine and should be counted as having 12 syllables according to the French rules:

Ap - port - er - à - m's'é - fans - un - e - bell - e - boî - tée

This explains why Sir Robert Pipon Marett's poetry, and that of some other writers, sometimes looks unnecessarily complicated by superfluous apostrophes. As a writer well-versed in the French literary tradition, Laelius signals to the reader not to add syllables by suppressing silent 'e's at the ends of words in his writing system. Here is an example from La Fille Malade:

Ach't'eu ch' n'est pus qu'un' pouôr' pâl' fache
(now it's no more than a poor pale face)

In tetrameters:
Ach't'eu ch' n'est pus qu'un' pouôr' pâl' fache

In 8-syllable line
Ach' - t'eu - ch'n'est - pus - qu'un' - pouôr' - pâl' - fache

If it had been written thus:

Ach't'eu ch' n'est pus qu'une pouôre pâle fache

the temptation for readers accustomed to French convention - and remember that Jèrriais poetry was regularly published alongside French poetry in the newspapers - would have been to count syllables thus:

Ach' - t'eu - ch'n'est - pus - qu'un - e - pouôr - e - pâl - e - fache
(11 syllables)

Since many poems were written to be recited, a typical feature is the 'chorus line' - a repeated phrase which caps every verse. This rhetorical feature works better for poetry heard than poetry read - on the stage a good performer varies the style of each repetition of the 'chorus line' to create a build-up.

A well known example in English is Longfellow's 'Excelsior' - and here is a Jèrriais parody:


More examples:

Ma Motor-Bike
Tchi Temps!
Passèz la Canne!
La Gazette!
Ma Court-é Pipe
Le Principa' d'Paraisse

One form of poetry that depends for its effect on the written form rather than recitation is the acrostic poem. Here are a few examples:

Acrostiche Sans-parè
Le Feuvre Fréthes
Un Acrostiche
Un Acrostiche


Naturally, there are also some modern poems written in free verse form, and examples of sonnets, haikus, limericks and other forms.

As a starting point for Jèrriais poetry reading, the Section's anthology list provides a selection of 'classics' from the major authors. Otherwise, .


See also:



La Section de la langue Jèrriaise
  R'tou à la page d'siez-mé | Back to home page