Monday, 30 September 2013

Incorporating Poetry in Scrolls

Instructor: E∫tienne Le Mons d’Anjou, Poeta Atlantiae


Adding poetry to scrolls is a wonderful way to personalize your work for the recipient, increase the memorability of the scroll reading, and add a bit of period flair to a scroll. While it is not always the easiest thing to do, you can often make a poem that is more accurate to the award or order than the suggested scroll text.

In addition, heralds love to read something new that is tailored for vocalization. It really gives them the chance to shine. I often make reference to a ‘reading sheet’. This is a sheet that contains the scroll text in a plain font (like Arial, Verdana, or Times New Roman) and any notes that will make reading the text easier (like pronunciations). If you provide your heralds with a reading sheet, they may hug you inordinately. You’ve been warned...


One of the most important parts of incorporating poetry into a scroll text is to keep the verse to a manageable level. Remember, not only does the text have to be put onto the scroll by a calligrapher (sometimes with very limited space), but the herald in court has to read the entire scroll as well. A scroll text isn’t really the place for an epic poem, but you may be able to take elements utilized in an epic poem and put it into a shorter version.

Poetry in a scroll text is really like rapier fighting. You want to be fluid and graceful and strike with rapidity and speed. The reading of the text should not take more than a couple minutes.

Alliteration and Meter

Alliteration is the repetition of the first sound or the same letter in a group of words or poetic lines. Alliteration is very useful as a means of grabbing the attention of the listener and can also be used as a way to insert humor into an otherwise completely serious piece of work. The use of this poetic tool is also extremely old and seen throughout our period.

Unfortunately, alliteration can cause some difficulty for performance. Unless the herald is clearly heard and enunciates the words properly, the tool can lose its effectiveness. In order to understand the difficulties of alliteration for a herald, I suggest practicing alliteration yourself to understand the pitfalls. This includes reading your own work aloud to see where you stumble. If you stumble and you wrote the verse, you might consider revising it to make it easier for someone who may be reading it on the fly.

PRACTICE PIECES (In ascending difficulty)

Easy: Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum.
Moderately Easy: Lovely Ladies Looked Lively in Linen.
Average: Six Snakes Sell Sodas and Shells.
Difficult: Scratch, Scrunch, Scribble, Scrub, Shrub.
Extremely Difficult: The Sixth Sick Sheikh’s Sixth Sheep’s Sick. 2
If your poem that you have incorporated has a specific meter, it’s a good idea to have some note of it on a reading sheet for the herald, otherwise the meter may be completely missed. With a reading sheet, the herald can have notes of how the verse should be performed and can decide from that if they can perform the meter. Meter is really the rhythm of the verse and, while it may work for the poet and may work on paper, it may not work from the mouth of the herald. If a herald decides not to use the meter as written, this is their option and not something the wordsmith should take to heart.
With meters that are not written in feet, like drottkvaett which depends on having stressed syllables, but not in specific feet, you may need to designate which syllables are stressed in your reading sheet. This can be easily done simply by making them bold and explaining you’re the meter in an introduction.

Tailor Your Selection – Awarder and Awardee (Do Your Homework)

If you know who the scroll is for beforehand, you may be able to tailor the scroll text to their persona. If you do not know who the scroll is for, but at least know who is giving the scroll, that still gives you the opportunity to use an appropriate style based on the giver’s persona rather than the recipient.

For example, if you know that the king presenting the award has a French persona and the queen is Irish, you might consider mixing the Ballad & Ballade styles to come up with a style that fits both personas. Always remember that these forms are there for your use, not your restriction. Use them as you will and throw out what parts of them you don’t like (or don’t fit what you’re doing).

There are many appropriate styles to our time period, but there are also several that are not. Many of the styles that are appropriate to our time period do not conform to the necessity of brevity needed for scroll text, but you can alter them to make them fit your needs. For example, while a sestina is a 39 line poem, there’s nothing that says you can’t take the form and condense it into 1/3rd that size. While it may not be a “true sestina” to the purists, it can still carry the feel and design of the original.

Here’s a list of appropriate styles (and what culture they originate from):
·         Acrostic – Very widespread (Biblical – modern)
·         Anglo-Saxon Verse – English (7th – 9th centuries)
o       Eduard Sievers 1 noted five distinct alliterative patterns in Anglo-Saxon Verse, but we do not have an explicit system or poetic rules on the verse of the ancient Anglo-Saxons. All known information about the poetry is based on modern analysis.
·         Awdl – Welsh (6th century, 12th – 13th centuries)
·         Ballad – Irish & English (13th century – modern)
·         Ballade – French (14th – 15th centuries, revived in modern)
·         Carmen figuratum – Greek (but spread throughout Europe)(300 BC – modern)
·         Chansons de Geste – French (11th – 12th centuries)
·         Chaucerian Roundel – English (14th – 15th centuries)
·         Englynion – Welsh (6th – 12th centuries)
·         Jintishi – Chinese (8th century – modern)
·         Kyrielle – French (11th – 14th centuries)
·         La Cuaderna Via – Spanish (13th century)
·         Minnesinger Poetry – German (12th – 13th centuries)
·         Ode – Greek (spread widely) (Ancient Greek – modern)
·         Old Norse (Skaldic) Poetry – Norse (8th – 13th centuries)
o       Fornyrðislag, Ljóðaháttr, Dróttkvætt, Hrynhenda, Málaháttr & others
·         Ottava Rima – Italian (15th century – modern)
·         Petrachan Sonnet – Italian (12th century – modern)
·         Qasida & Ghazal – Arabia & Persia (5th century – modern)
·         Rhymed Couplet – English (most common form in period) (10th century – modern)
·         Rime Royal – English (12th century)
·         Rondeau – French (12th – 15th centuries)
·         Rondel – French (14th – 15th centuries)
·         Ruba’i & Masnavi – Persian (5th century – modern)
·         Sequences – European (8th – 15th centuries)
·         Sestina – French (but spread rapidly in Europe) (12th century – modern)
·         Shakespearean Sonnet – English (16th century – modern)
·         Sijo – Korean (11th century – modern)
·         Tanka – Japanese (10th – 16th century)
·         Terza Rima – Italian (12th century – modern)
·         Triolet – French (11th – 15th centuries)
·         Villancico - Spanish (15th century – modern)
·         Villanelle - French (16th century – modern)

Knowing the non-period forms is almost more important. For example, if the individual receiving the award is Japanese and well-versed in the history of their culture in period, they may not want a haiku but could greatly appreciate a tanka. Some forms that people may think of as period and appropriate but are not include:
·         Canzone (debateable)
·         Cinquain
·         Gogyōka
·         Haiku (as a stand-alone form, can be used in period as an introduction to another poem)
·         Limerick
·         Pantoum

Scroll Sections

Another major consideration for penning a scroll is that you have to include specific wording and sections for the scroll itself. Know where you can take license and where you can’t. Also know what you have to include and what can be left out.
1)     The first section of a scroll is the Address. This is where you get the attention of the populace and give greetings. You can use poetic license with this section as long as it still grabs attention and shows respect.
2)     The next part of a scroll is the Intitlation. In a scroll, it is important to know who is awarding the award. This part cannot be left out and should be near the beginning, but you can change the order if necessary for the wordsmithing. You can also combine this with the Address, making it easier to give verse.
3)     The fun part is the Notification and Exposition. This is where you can really put in some creativity and have some very beautiful verse. The notification gives the recipient’s name and the exposition tells why they are receiving the award. This is your chance to sing the praises of an individual and really embellish your wordsmithing. Flourish is appreciated here.
4)     You would end your scroll text with the Corroboration and Date. This gives the crown or coronet a place to sign. Again, you can use this section to give a little more flourish to the text.
5)     There are other sections that are specific to the Awarding or Granting of Arms.
a.      The Disposition gives the recipient the right to arms and can be included in the verse if you want.
b.      The Blazon and Emblazon both show and tell the device being given. Note: You do not have poetic license in this section. The wording should be exactly as passed by society.
c.      Sometimes a Triton’s Affirmation will be included at the end of the wording to attest that the arms have been passed by the College of Arms.
d.      SPECIAL NOTE: Only use the word “grant” if the recipient is being awarded a Grant of Arms.

Final Notes

When you write scroll text, you are putting words to the good deeds that have been done and shaping the mood of the recipient. Your words could live on for decades in their scroll, framed on their wall for all to see. You never know the impact you can have on someone with just a few words, so make all of your words count.
Poetry is supposed to move people, bring forth emotions, and inspire others. Regardless of style, model, structure, rhyme scheme, or any other outside variable, try to use your wordsmithing to make yourself and others feel strong emotions and embody those emotions in your verse.
Here’s the most important consideration though…. Be sure that you, the recipient, the herald, the awarder, and the audience all HAVE FUN!

1 An Old English Grammar, translated and edited by Albert S. Cook (1885)

2 Guinness World Records. (2011). Guinness World Records. Retrieved from

1 comment:

  1. From Gerrard:

    I've used acrostic poetry in a few scrolls. Very Period.
    A series of lines or verses in which the first, last, or other particular letters when taken in order spell out a word, phrase, etc.