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What Is an Envoi?

A. Leverkuhn
A. Leverkuhn

An envoi in poetry is a short verse or stanza usually found at the end of the poem. This short piece, which some might call an echoing stanza, helps to provide a conclusion for the poem. The word comes from the French, but has been used in English to refer to this poetic construction.

In terms of its use, the envoi has been traced back to medieval times, where troubadours or bards used it to conclude their poetic songs. It has evolved through the ages along with poetry in general. As free verse replaced more traditional forms of poetry, the formal envoi became less common, but is still a recognizable feature of many classic forms of poetry, with a defined function and structure.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

One characteristic of many of these concluding parts is that they tend to address a specific listener. A good example of the start for an envoi would be “and so, my friend,” followed by a few short lines that sums up the scenario narrated in the preceding poem. Other examples of this form are addressed to someone by name. One special kind of address that has been common throughout multiple eras is its use to address someone of royalty or nobility, or generally, of high standing; this type of address reveals a lot about the relational aspects that formed the fundamental structure for many types of classical poetry.

The envoi also has a typical format. In many cases, this poetic form is composed of rhyming lines or couplets. These lines generally have a standard meter, such as iambic pentameter, where lines of ten syllables alternate between stressed and unstressed syllables. Poets can also use a variety of other meters, which are usually fixed sets of stressed and unstressed syllables.

Specific forms of poetry have been more likely to include an envoi. The sestina, a complex form popular with troubadours of the twelfth century, is one such format. Although according to experts, the sestina is not necessarily of fixed length, it does have a fixed rhyming scheme, where three lines at the end of the poem constitute an envoi that used a specific trio of end rhymes. Envois that conclude these and other kinds of poetry are often composed of either three or four lines, though some may be longer.

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      Woman standing behind a stack of books