Madrigal – What it is, Characteristics, Well-known authors, How to write a madrigal


What is the madrigal?

It is one of the most important lyric subgenres in literature, although its use has decreased substantially over time. However, it is during the Renaissance period that it reached its maximum development, mainly in Italy, thanks to the authors who took it to compositions that often alluded to themes of love. Thus, it was cultivated in Italy and later spread to other parts of the world.

The lyric composition of the madrigal proposes a specific structure of a combination of heptasyllabic verses, as well as hendecasyllables, which must maintain a consonant rhyme following the theme on which they focus. However, there is no specific number of verses, but the author freely chooses the number. Nowadays, although there is little knowledge of madrigal, it is possible to identify it by the repetition of the last verse.

Meaning of madrigal

The madrigal derives from the term “madrigale”, which refers to “flock”. This term began to be used to designate pastoral poetry, also known as bucolic poetry, in which amorous feelings are deeply expressed while maintaining a structure of 7 and 11 syllables.


According to the above, we can define the madrigal as a type of poetic composition that includes themes related to amorous feelings reflecting the heart of the author in a brief or more extensive fraction, as chosen. Its development and evolution, incorporating musicality, has turned the madrigal, in some cases, into a song, linking voices that sing the verses.

Origin of the madrigal

The first madrigals that began to develop maintained a simple structure and mostly consisted of two or three verses. Most of the compositions of this type of which we have reference, are in two voices with a superior voice characterized by a solid argumentation, while the second voice is simpler.

With the creation and development of these types of compositions, other sub-genres appear on the scene that will take references from the madrigal for their exploration, so that it is towards the middle of the 15th century that the madrigal begins to disappear. By the 16th century the madrigal was only applied to musical compositions of secular poems, among which Petrarca stood out, and which included 3 to 4 voices. This beginning marks the reduction of its use, creating substantial changes in the essence of the madrigal that ended up evolving the subgenre.

Origin of the madrigal

Characteristics of the madrigal

To learn more about this lyric subgenre mostly used in antiquity, let’s take a look at the following characteristics:


The madrigal has love as its theme, often it will be the loving feeling of the author towards a woman who is the protagonist of the composition and is the source of inspiration for the writer. Thus, the poem reflects the feelings of love, admiration and contemplation of the woman, praising her beauty and placing her as a symbol of perfection.

Freedom of composition

This type of lyric composition allows the author to choose the length of his madrigal work, so that he can either finish it in a single stanza or develop the idea in a few more stanzas. However, he must maintain the composition in terms of syllables, which will be of heptasyllables and hendecasyllables respectively.

Expression of feelings

In this type of composition, the expression of feelings is key to the construction of the madrigal, so it resorts to the emotional character. It maintains a bucolic tone is deep and intense, expressing through the verses, the look of the poetic heart that exposes the feelings of the author.


Another aspect that we must consider of the madrigal, has to do with musicality, since it is a literary writing that is linked to music, incorporating to the text a sound effect that allows to produce and express an aesthetic beauty in each of the words and verses of the work. Such is the relationship that many madrigals have become songs.

How to write a madrigal?

To write a madrigal you must take into account the following:

Define your source of inspiration 

We know that the theme of the madrigal is of a loving nature, so the first thing we will do is to define our source of inspiration, so we will think of that person who awakens such feelings in us. It may be that we write to a person from the past with whom we were in love and still remember, it may also be that we write to the loved one we have next to us or to that “impossible love” with whom for one reason or another we cannot establish a relationship.

The ideal is that the feeling is alive to be able to write and express it through the composition, this will give account of the most intimate expression of feelings.

Make a list of thoughts 

This can be a kind of preliminary draft or preparatory that allows us to explore those feelings and get the first ideas about what we want to say. So, what we will do is to start writing the feelings or small ideas as if it were a letter expressing what we feel, putting in evidence our own heart. This is an optional step that you can keep in mind in case you forget the ideas or if you want to follow a specific thread.

Start writing 

It’s time to get down to work. Take your notes, if you wrote them down, and start writing. Remember that although the madrigal allows you to choose between one or several stanzas, it is important that it is written according to the verse structure it establishes, which consists of heptasyllables and hendecasyllables that will be combined and extended to your liking.

Keep the structure and adapt the words to the syllables required in each verse to achieve the composition.

Review and revise 

Once you have finished, it is time to revise the text. Be sure to check the structure of the lines according to the number of syllables required, as well as other vital aspects such as spelling, the correct writing of the ideas and their line, and in general, evaluate your own creation.


Remember that due to the type of structure used in the madrigal, it is possible to compose music easily, which will allow the lyrics to be sung instead of read. If you want to make a musical accompaniment that gradually turns it into a song, you can try to accompany it with an instrument such as a guitar, if you do not know this art, you can ask someone to help you.

One of the best ways to start writing, especially in this case madrigals, is to start reading madrigals of recognized authors and works that have become key references of the subgenre to get an idea of the possibilities of writing and expression when putting it on paper.

Most important authors and works

Among the most important authors of the madrigal, we find Petrarch and Dante, who were key to the development of this lyric subgenre during its most important period of artistic expression. Later on, other authors who worked on madrigal will appear, such as Amado Nervo, José Asunción Silva, Dámaso Alonso.

Example of the Madrigal

The following is a madrigal by Mexican author Amado Nervo:

For your green eyes I would lose myself,

siren of those that Ulysses, shrewd,

loved and feared.

For your green eyes I would lose myself.

For your green eyes in what, fleeting,

sometimes melancholy shines;

For your green eyes so full of peace,

mysterious as my hope;

by your green eyes, effective incantation,

I would save myself.

To learn more about other lyrical subgenres and other genres of literature, then don’t forget to check out our complete Literature section where we tell you everything you need to know about this type of art.