What is an Aubade?

An examination of the history, form and use of Aubade, a type of love poetry

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An Aubade is a love song set in the morning, as opposed to a Serenade which is at night.

History

The term Aubade first appeared in France in the 1600s, where it referred to a song sung in the morning. It’s literal meaning is ‘Morning Seranade,’ and it is often conflated with the Alba, a poem written as two lovers part in the morning.

The Aubade came into popular English use as a form of poetry along with the emergence of Metaphysics as a movement, and though they would appear frequently between the 18th and 19th Centuries, the 20th Century saw the form emerge once more, though with a slight difference. Instead of focusing on courtly love, the Aubade became about a person departing in the morning. This is perhaps most evident in Philip Larkin’s last major work, ‘Aubade,’ in which a lone narrator, closely analogous with the writer, walks in the pre-dawn darkness contemplating his own encroaching death.

Alongside this renewed interest in the poetic form, French composers also began to revisit the song form of Aubades with a number being written between 1883 and the 1930s.

Form

The Aubade is a non-prescriptive form, meaning it does not dictate elements like rhythm or rhymes. This allows the poet to employ metrical tricks and linguistic experimentation at will. It is perfect for slotting in those beautiful images that don’t fit neatly into more rigid forms.

What determines an Aubade is it’s commitment to the theme. The Aubade is a poem set in the morning, before or at dawn. A good poet will weave the appearance of light into their imagery without explicitly stating it.

Use

The presence of dawn has an inherent poetic quality. It is a simple metaphor for hope, change and new beginnings, however this is not to say that is all it can be. In Larkin’s ‘Aubade’ the rising sun represents the loss of another day in one’s life and serves as a marker on the march to death.

To write an Aubade, the poet would do well to step out before the rest of the world has woken, to soak in the stories. The early hours of the morning are an unusual, liminal period and everyone awake before sunrise has a story.

Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.

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