The style of poetry known as Rondeau (plural Rondeaux) is undoubtedly one of the simplest forms to understand, and yet it is also one of the most difficult to master. A close cousin of the Triolet, the Rondeau is also of French origin and dates as far back as the 13th century. In fact, between the 13th and the 15th centuries, the Rondeau was commonly set to music in France, as it was perceived as one of the three ‘formes fixes’ like the ballad and the virelai. The Rondel, or Roundel in English, is a variant of the Rondeau, invented at a later stage by innovative poets.
The Rondeau is usually made up of a quintet, a quatrain, a sextet and a refrain, the latter stanza being made up of lines that comprise just four syllables whereas the other stanzas are all made of lines containing eight syllables each. The most common form of the Rondeau is a poem comprising fifteen lines, though some variants do exist with ten or thirteen lines only. In other words, the most common form of Rondeau consists of thirteen lines of eight syllables and two refrains which comprise half lines of two syllables each.
So, the Rondeau should begin with the Quintet structured in the following manner: line 1 should rhyme with lines 2 and 5, while lines 3 and 4 rhyme with each other. Whereas the first 3 lines are commonly referred to as the A lines, the par made up of lines 3 and 4 are called the b lines. Thus, the first two lines of the quatrain should be A’s while the third line should be a B. The final line of the poem will be the refrain, which is made up of the first four syllables of the very first line. The sestet of the Rondeau should consist of the first two lines which are A’s and its next two lines should be Bs. The fifth line should then be an A and finally the Rondeau ends with the refrain.
A more complex form of the Rondeau is the Rondeau redoublé, which is written in two rhymes and which comprises five stanzas of four lines each, as well as one stanza of five lines. The four lines of the first stanza are repeated as the fourth lines of the second and the fifth stanzas, and the first part of the first line is repeated as a short fifth line to conclude the sixth stanza. The rhyming scheme of the Rondeau redoublé can be represented as A1,B1,A2,B2 – b,a,b,A1 – a,b,a,B1 – b,a,b,A2 – a,b,a,B2 – b,a,b,a,(A1). However, when you have just started learning how to write Rondeau, it is always better that you try the simpler forms of this poetic style before you have a go at this more complex type.
An example of a simple Rondeau by the poet Leigh Hunt can be viewed here.
And another one by John McCrae can be read here.