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Writing

How to Write a Rondeau Poem: Definition and Examples of Rondeau

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Feb 14, 2020 • 4 min read

One of the most exciting parts of studying poetry is discovering new, exciting poetic forms. The rondeau—along with other fixed forms of poetry types such as the haiku, villanelle, sestina, triolet, and rondelet—presents a rigid set of structural rules that can serve as a unique and satisfying challenge to a poet.

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What Is Rondeau Poetry?

A rondeau is a French form of poetry composed of 15 lines, each of which contains between eight and 10 syllables. Rondeau poems contain a fixed verse form divided into three stanzas: a quintet, a quatrain, and a sestet.

The opening words of the first line of the first stanza serve as a refrain that will be repeated in the last line of the second and third stanzas.

Rondeaux are rhyming poetry forms, in which the rhyme scheme is as follows, with “R” representing the refrain: AABBA AABR AABBAR.

What Are the Origins of Rondeau Poetry?

The rondeau has its origins in twelfth- and thirteenth-century France, when the old French troubadours (trouvére in French) would apply the rondeau structure to song form. The musical form was usually a monophonic song that covered subject matters like spirituality, romance, and courtship.

Literary rondeau poems became popular in the fourteenth century, and the rondeau form continued to evolve as lyric poetry in the Renaissance era of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It is considered one of the original formes fixes (“fixed form”) poetic forms, along with the ballade and the virelai.

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An Example of Rondeau Poetry

The following is an example of a rondeau written by John McCrae in 1915, called “In Flanders Fields.”

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

What Is a Rondeau Redoublé?

The rondeau redoublé poem is a variation of the rondeau that features five stanzas consisting of four lines each, followed by a final stanza of six lines. Each line in the first stanza is repeated elsewhere in the poem: The first line of the first stanza becomes the last line of the second stanza, the second line of the first stanza becomes the last line of the third stanza, the third line of the first stanza becomes the last line of the fourth stanza, and so on. Finally, the first part of the first line serves as the final line of the last stanza.

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An Example of a Rondeau Redoublé

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The following is called “Rondeau Redoublé (and Scarcely Worth the Trouble, at That)” written by Dorothy Parker and first published in 1922:

The same to me are sombre days and gay.
Though joyous dawns the rosy morn, and bright,
Because my dearest love is gone away
Within my heart is melancholy night.

My heart beats low in loneliness, despite
That riotous Summer holds the earth in sway.
In cerements my spirit is bedight;
The same to me are sombre days and gay.

Though breezes in the rippling grasses play,
And waves dash high and far in glorious might,
I thrill no longer to the sparkling day,
Though joyous dawns the rosy morn, and bright.

Ungraceful seems to me the swallow's flight;
As well might Heaven's blue be sullen gray;
My soul discerns no beauty in their sight
Because my dearest love is gone away.

Let roses fling afar their crimson spray,
And virgin daisies splash the fields with white,
Let bloom the poppy hotly as it may,
Within my heart is melancholy night.

And this, oh love, my pitiable plight
Whenever from my circling arms you stray;
This little world of mine has lost its light ...
I hope to God, my dear, that you can say
The same to me.

What Is a Rondel?

The rondel poem (sometimes spelled rondelle) is a variation of the rondeau that includes two quatrains followed by either a quintet or a sestet as the final stanza. The two opening lines of the first stanza appear as refrains at the end of the second and third stanzas. The first and second refrain appear as the last two lines of the second stanza and final stanza—though sometimes only the first line of the poem repeats at the end of the last stanza. Rondels are 13 lines total and generally follow an ABBA ABAB ABBAA rhyme scheme.

An Example of a Rondel

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The following is a rondel poem entitled “Rondel of Merciless Beauty” by Geoffrey Chaucer. This rondel was originally written in Middle English but has been adapted into modern English language:

Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly;
Their beauty shakes me who was once serene;
Straight through my heart the wound is quick and keen.

Only your word will heal the injury
To my hurt heart, while yet the wound is clean—
Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly;
Their beauty shakes me who was once serene.

Upon my word, I tell you faithfully
Through life and after death you are my queen;
For with my death the whole truth shall be seen.
Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly;
Their beauty shakes me who was once serene;
Straight through my heart the wound is quick and keen.

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