Poesy (also called posy or posie) was one of the most popular and versatile ring styles in the Middle Ages. Much like today’s engraved rings, poesy rings also contained poetic words inscribed on the band.
This ring style was greatly desired because each was personalized with its own meaning, and no two rings were exactly alike. Nowadays, many people seek to replicate poesy rings, by customizing their wedding band, and including their favorite message.
Let’s take a closer look at the meaning and significance of poesy rings.
Origins of the Poesy Ring
Antique 18th century poesy ring engraved with “God to thee directed me”. By JY Mankin. Check price here.
The word poesy comes from the French word poésie which means poem, as almost all poesy rings contained a poetic inscription engraved on the band. Rings very similar to this description were initially discovered in Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman cultures. But poesy rings as we know them today only became prevalent in the 15-17th centuries.
These rings were typically made of gold and had a unique poetical inscription engraved around the shank. These were particularly popular in England and France. They contained messages that were written in the romance languages of French and Latin.
Poesy rings drew their content from popular novels, poetry, and chapbooks. The trendy and romantic phrases in these texts would be cherry picked and given to the goldsmith to carve into the band of the ring.
Characteristics of Poesy Rings
Modern poesy ring by Two Silver Moons. See it here.
Poesy rings were primarily made of gold or silver. The ring was usually a plain band, that had an inscription or verse on the inside. Poesy rings were engraved with black ink, to portray the words more clearly. If the ring contained any images, they were filled with shades and colors. The poesy rings of the wealthy usually featured designs, images, or even precious gemstones and jewels.
The lines engraved on poesy rings ranged from romantic to religious. Some examples include:
- God to thee directed me.
- Loyalty – not fear.
- Two hands, one heart, Till death us part.
- You never knew a heart so true.
- Desire no other.
- Well for him who knows whom he can trust.
Personalized rose gold band by Blossom and Such. See it here.
While the name ‘poesy’ has largely fallen out of use, rings that have similar characteristics as antique poesy rings are still extremely popular. Jewelry engraved with personalized messages are common, with a large percentage of couples choosing to have their promise, engagement and/or wedding rings engraved with special quotes and messages.
Arguably, these could be called poesy rings, as they have the distinguishing feature of poesy rings – they contain a special message.
Uses of Poesy Rings
Poesy rings were primarily worn for their symbolic significance. Let’s take a closer look at what poesy rings really mean.
- Symbol of Love – Since the Middle Ages, poesy rings have stood as a symbol of romantic love. It was common for lovers to exchange poesy rings carved with their favourite lines and verses. These trendy and stylish rings were great to show off a romantic relationship.
- Symbol of Friendship – Poesy rings were exchanged between very close friends as a mark of affection and companionship. They symbolized the intricate bond, trust, and commitment between two individuals.
- Symbol of Sacrality – In the Middle Ages, poesy rings often had images of saints and religious figures. This reflected a dedication, not only to religion, but to the relationship as well. In this way, poesy rings functioned as both a religious symbol and an ornament of love.
- Symbol of Unity – Poesy rings were gifted between neighboring kingdoms or religious orders as a symbol of harmony. They strengthened the relationship between the two factions and established greater peace.
Script Used in Poesy Rings
Poesy rings were typically scripted with round, capital letters called the Lombardic script. After 1350, the Lombardic script was replaced by the more popular Gothic alphabet. The Gothic script was straighter and more angular, in comparison to the Lombardic. In some places, goldsmiths used both (or either) the Lombardic and Gothic script, according to the preference of the wearer.
Poesy Ring in Modern Times
Nowadays, the meaning of poesy rings has expanded, and they don’t necessarily have to be gifted to lovers or friends but can be purchased for individual wear. Many engraved rings now carry phrases of self-love, emotional independence, and assertion.
In contemporary times, poesy rings have been redesigned with a modern twist. While no longer called poesy rings, modern rings with engravings have the same concept of personalization.
Some choose to hang rings on a sleek chain for a stylish and fashionable look. These rings can be customized, and a favorite phrase or word can be printed on the band of the ring.
Poesy Rings in Literature
In the text Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit, by John Lyly, poesy rings were mentioned as a symbol of love and romance. This text was written in the 16th century, around the time when poesy rings were becoming more popular.
William Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice, mention and describe poesy rings. In The Merchant of Venice, the poesy ring is an important symbol of commitment, and is inscribed with the words “Love me, and leave me not”.
Poesy rings may be the trend of yesteryear, but they never really went out of style. These types of rings are still popular today, although they’re no longer known as poesy rings per se. Modern versions of poesy rings feature special messages or names engraved on rings and given to lovers, friends or even to oneself.