H.W. Gretton, “Triolet”

Honest, I haven’t been thinking about love lately. Okay, I’m lying. I probably have been thinking about it way more than I should. Still, this poem made me chuckle on its own merits:

H.W. Gretton

I wrote my love a triolet
That burned, as many do,
With ardour, but I now regret
I wrote my love a triolet.

Today a lighted match I set
To all our billet-doux.

I wrote my love a triolet
That burned, as many do.


Yesterday, I spoke to someone who was trying to figure out what he wanted from relationships. Somewhere in this discussion, I briefly mentioned that relationships can be about status. He bristled at this, but quickly composed himself. He said he didn’t understand what I meant. I then asked him about a bunch of couples he knew who flaunted their status as “together,” so much so that they inspired jealousy or anger from everyone else. “Point taken.”

So for this poem, I believe it’s worth reflecting on why love and revenge go together. It isn’t quite as simple as being disappointed that a relationship didn’t last. It’s closer to betrayal, at the least encompassing those feelings. The triolet captures this much well: “I wrote my love a triolet that burned… with ardor, but now I regret I wrote my love a triolet.” Regret turns into anger quickly, for “today a lighted match I set to all our billet-doux.” In fact, there’s a want to create a monument to anger, to make it permanent. We’re reading a triolet written, we think, after the relationship. “I wrote my love a triolet that burned, as many do.”

It’s those last lines which complicate things, though. When was this triolet written? Is it the same triolet he speaks of in the first stanza, the one “that burned… with ardour” and that he regrets? The poem invites us to speculate that his declaration of love and his destructive fury are the same thing.

In a way, they are. They’re both investments of feeling at the expense of one’s identity. You tie your identity to someone else, you let go of a little bit of dignity in order to burn with ardour and declare your passion. It doesn’t seem like the most substantial sacrifice, as plenty of people boast about being in love. But that boasting isn’t as insignificant as it seemed, on second thought. You tied your identity to someone else and made it clear that this made your life so much better, maybe better than many others. And while it’s true there is tremendous loss an an immediately personal level – you can feel like you lost years of your life – it’s also true that wanting to make a small monument to anger is more than a private milestone. You’re burning, trying to say that you can’t be wronged with impunity.


H.W. Gretton, “Triolet,” from Essential New Zealand Poems: A-Z, ed. Lauris Edmond & Bill Sewell. Auckland: Godwit, 2001. p. 106

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *