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Macaronic Verse

Macaronic verse is poetry written in more than one language. It refers to instances in which writers compose their work using bilingual puns and other clever combinations of words and languages. 

The word “macaronic” comes from the word “maccarone,” meaning “dumpling.” It is a derogatory phrase applied when languages are intentionally mixed to create a humorous result. Macaronic verse is usually not taken seriously or was written solely to entertain readers. But, in other cases, the term applies to literary works of a more serious nature in which two or more languages are used. 

Macaronic Verse definition and examples


Macaronic Verse Definition

Macaronic verse is poetry that uses more than one language. This could be a combination of English and Latin, German and Spanish, or any other coupling of languages that a poet is interested in (more than two languages is also possible).

These examples of verse are often humorous and contain purposeful translation errors, puns, and more. Not all examples are supposed to make the reader laugh (see below), but more often than not, humor and puns are at the root of these poems. 

Examples of Macaronic Verse

Maid of Athens, ere we part by Lord Byron 

Maid of Athens, ere we part’ is one of the best-known examples of macaronic verse in the English language. It was written in 1810 by Lord Byron and dedicated to a young girl he met in Athens, Teresa Makri. The poet uses a Greek refrain at the end of each stanza: “Ζωή μου, σᾶς ἀγαπῶ” that readers “My life, I love you.” The poem begins with: 

Maid of Athens, ere we part,

Give, oh give me back my heart!

Or, since that has left my breast,

Keep it now, and take the rest!

Hear my vow before I go,

Zoë mou, sas agapo!

While this example is generally considered macaronic, it is not humorous as some other instances are.

Read more Lord Byron poems

In Dulci Jublio by Robert Lucas de Pearsall

Robert Lucas de Pearsall is best known for his translation of ‘In Dulci Jublio,’ a Christmas Carol that uses macaronic verse. His version was completed in 1837. The original is thought to have been written around 1328 by the German mystic Heinrich Seuse. It was originally written in a mixture of Latin and German, and Pearsall translated it into sections with English text that rhymes with the Latin phrases. The first part of reads: 

In dulci jubilo

Let us our homage shew:

Our heart’s joy reclineth

In praesepio;

And like a bright star shineth

Matris in gremio,

Alpha es et O!

This song is considered one of the most popular Christmas carols in history and is still often performed in contemporary religious services. 

Nolo mortem pecatoris by Thomas Morley

Nolo mortem pecatoris’ is an anthem that dates to the fifteenth century. It uses both Latin and English. Latin is used as a refrain, as the Greek refrain in Byron’s ‘Maid of Athens, ere we part.’ One section of the poem reads: 

Nolo mortem peccatoris; Haec sunt verba Salvatoris.

Father I am thine only Son, sent down from heav’n mankind to save.

Father, all things fulfilled and done according to thy will, I have.

Father, my will now all is this: Nolo mortem peccatoris.

Father, behold my painful smart, taken for man on ev’ry side;

Ev’n from my birth to death most tart, no kind of pain I have denied,

but suffered all, and all for this: Nolo mortem peccatoris.

The Latin line, “Nolo mortem peccatoris; Haec sunt verba Salvatoris” translates to “I do not wish the death of the wicked; These are the words of the Savior.” The poet uses this line to allude to specific parts of the Bible.

Macaronic Latin 

Often, the term “macaronic” refers to a particular kind of writing that uses Latin endings. It is a kind of jargon made up of vernacular words given Latin, or Latin-sounding, endings. These examples are generally comic and meant to entertain more than educate or sound professional/serious. 

FAQs 

What is a macaronic rhyme?

A macaronic rhyme is that which rhymes words from different languages. For example, rhyming an English word with a Latin, German, or Italian word. This allows writers to combine various languages and maintain a rhyme scheme

What is the meaning of macaronic?

In literature, the word “macaronic” refers to the combination of multiple languages. Latin is commonly used, but any language can be utilized to create macaronic verse. 

What is macaronic poetry?

Macaronic poetry is verse in which a poet combines words, phrases, or entire lines from more than one language. For example, a poet might use a German refrain at the end of every English language stanza.

What does macaronic mean in Medieval music?

In Medieval music, the term “macaronic” refers to the use of Latin along with another language. Or words that are given Latin, or Latin-sounding, endings. (This sometimes results in a humorous composition meant to entertain audiences.)


Related Literary Terms 

  • Dialect: a form of a language spoken by a group of people.
  • Figurative Language: figures of speech that are used in order to improve a piece of writing.
  • Poetic Diction: describes the language of poetry. It is differentiated from everyday language and that which is commonly used in novels, by its style, vocabulary, and use of figurative language.
  • Rhetoric: use of language effectively in writing or speech to persuade the audience.
  • Carol: a song that is sung during a festive period, such as Christmas, although not exclusively. They are usually religious in nature.


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