The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Rondeau: A medieval French verse form typically consisting of fifteen octosyllabic lines in three stanzas with the rhyme scheme aabba aabc aabbac. The rondeau contains only two rhymes, except for the refrain, a short line indicated by the letter c. The refrain is identical to the first half of the first line and is repeated at the end of the second and third stanzas. Some critics do not count the refrains as lines and hence say the rondeau has thirteen lines. Practitioners of the form include sixteenth-century French poet Clément Marot, seventeenth-century German poet Georg Rudolf Weckherlin, nineteenth-century French poets Alfred de Musset and Théodore de Banville, and Victorian-era English poet Austin Dobson.

Variations on the rondeau, each built entirely on two rhymes, include the rondeau redoublé, the rondel, and the roundel. The rondeau redoublé, a rare form, consists of six abab quatrains in which each line of the first quatrain correspondingly appears as the last line of the next four quatrains and the first line also appears as the last line of the poem. The rondel consists of thirteen or fourteen lines in three stanzas with the rhyme scheme abba abab abbaa(b). The first two lines are repeated as a refrain at the end of the second stanza. In a thirteen-line rondel, the first line is also repeated at the end of the third stanza; in a fourteen liner, both of the first two lines are repeated, making a complete refrain. (A simpler form of the rondel is now called the triolet.) Unlike the rondeau, the rondel uses entire rather than partial lines for the refrain. The roundel, a variation developed by Victorian poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, consists of eleven lines in three stanzas with the rhyme scheme abaB bab abaB. Like the rondeau, the roundel has a refrain (B) identical to the first half of the first line, but unlike in the rondeau, the refrain has the same rhyme as the lines marked b.

The term roundel is also sometimes used synonymously with both rondeau and rondel.

EXAMPLES: John McCrae’s rondeau “In Flanders Fields” (1915):

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

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.

Other examples include Swinburne’s A Century of Roundels (1883), Dorothy Parker’s “Rondeau Redoublé (and Scarcely Worth the Trouble, at That)” (1926), Frank O’Hara’s “Three Rondels” (1954), and Marilyn Hacker’s “Rondeau After a Transatlantic Telephone Call” (1980).