What Is a Rondeau in Poetry?

3 Stanzas and a Refrain Characterize This Poetic Form

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Snyder, Bob Holman & Margery. "What Is a Rondeau in Poetry?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 28, 2017, thoughtco.com/rondeau-2725578. Snyder, Bob Holman & Margery. (2017, February 28). What Is a Rondeau in Poetry? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/rondeau-2725578 Snyder, Bob Holman & Margery. "What Is a Rondeau in Poetry?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/rondeau-2725578 (accessed September 24, 2017).

The rondeau, like its cousin, the triolet, originated in the poems and songs of French troubadours of the 12th and 13th centuries. In the 14th century, poet-composer Guillaume de Machaut popularized the literary rondeau, which evolved to the use of a shorter repeated refrain than the earlier songs.

Sir Thomas Wyatt, who is credited with bringing the sonnet into the English language in the 16th century, also experimented with the rondeau form.

 

As it is used in modern English, the rondeau is a poem of 15 lines of eight or 10 syllables arranged in three stanzas — the first stanza is five lines (quintet), the second four lines (quatrain), and the final stanza six lines (sestet). The first part of the first line becomes the rondeau’s "rentrement," or refrain, when it is repeated as the last line of each of the two succeeding stanzas. Aside from the refrain, which obviously rhymes because it is the same repeated words, only two rhymes are used in the entire poem. The entire scheme looks like this (with “R” used to indicate the refrain).

a
a
b
b
a

a
a
b
R

a
a
b
b
a
R

'In Flanders Fields' Is a Rondeau

John McCrae's "In Flanders Fields" from 1915 is a famous and sadly evocative poem of the horrors of World War I that is a clear example of a classic rondeau. Notice how "In Flanders fields," the first three words of the first line form the last line of the two subsequent stanzas and serve to make the central point repeatedly, to intense emotional effect.

"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."