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Poetry Competitions UK
14 Jun 2011

How to Write a Rondeau

Rondeaux are French lyrical poems, originally developed as a form of medieval courtly music. As song, the form was four stanzas with fully repeating refrains. It was adopted by church musicians as an emotionally rich container, ideal for spiritual worship.

The rondeau developed into a form for expressing devotion to secular objects such as springtime, love and romance and also offered a vehicle for the celebration of melancholy: many rondeaux seem to be about pain and loss; yet turn, by the last stanza, almost jovial. It has been reported that only the English, who adopted the rondeau at the end of the 18th century, truly attempt serious verse with this form. The standard, literary rondeau is usually found as three stanzas - a quintet, quatrain and sestet - with each of the 15 lines containing eight syllables. The refrain consists of the first four syllables, (or sometimes the first word), of the first stanza; and ends the second and third stanzas. Only two rhymes are used throughout and the rhyming scheme is as follows: aabba aabR aabbaR.


In Flanders Fields by John McCrae is a good example of the standard literary rondeau:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow  (A)
Between the crosses, row on row,  (A)
That mark our place, and in the sky,  (B)
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,  (B)
Scarce heard amid the guns below.  (A)
We are the dead; short days ago  (A)
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,  (A)
Loved and were loved, and now we lie  (B)
In Flanders fields.  (Refrain)
Take up our quarrel with the foe!  (A)
To you from failing hands we throw  (A)
The torch; be yours to hold it high!  (B)
If ye break faith with us who die  (B)
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow  (A)
In Flanders fields.  (Refrain)

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