Aubade is a French word which means “dawn serenade” or ‘dawn song’. Later it came to refer to a song sung in the morning hours. So, an aubade is a song or lyric poem in any verse form or metre in which the coming of dawn is lamented because it brings the pains of separation to a pair of lovers.
The dawn song is found in almost all the world’s early pieces of literature and expresses the regret of parting lovers at daybreak. The earliest European examples date from the end of the 12th c. There is a theory that the aubade grew out of the night watchman’s announcement from his tower of the passing of night and the renewal of day.
The classic English example is John Donne’s The Sunne Rising. The exchange between Romeo and Juliet at the end of their wedding night in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an extended dramatic adaptation of the aubade convention.
Perhaps the most beautiful and moving one in English literature occurs in Book III of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde:
“Myn hertes lif, my trist, and my plesaunce,
That I was born, allas, what me is wo,
That day of us moot make disseveraunce!
For time it is to rise and hennes go,
Or ellis I am lost for evere mo!
O nyght, allas! why nyltow over us hove,
As longe as whan Almena lay by Jove?”
Thus Criseyde begins when she hears the cock crow, and the exchange continues between the lovers for a further fourteen stanzas. An interesting modern example is William Empson’s Aubade (1940)
Also read: What is a Pastoral Elegy? Definitions and Examples