Rondel

The rondel is a verse form that has its origins in lyrical poetry of 14th century France. The rondel has two quatrains that are followed by a quintet, a set of five lines

It is similar to both rondeau and roundel forms and are very easily confused. (The roundel is exemplified within the work of Algernon Charles Swinburne and the rondeau can famously be seen in ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae.)

A rondel poem could have fourteen lines and conclude with a sestet, or set of six lines.  Just as with other poetic forms, such as the villanelle, there is an element of repetition worked into the pattern. This imbues the text with a certain musicality that is well-suited to some subjects and inappropriate for others.

In the case of traditional rondels, the the first two lines of the first stanza are refrains. This means that the lines are used and reused at other moments in the text. One possible pattern could look like this (with the bold letters representing the refrain lines): ABBA ABAB ABBAA. Alternately, the “B” ending could be used instead of the “A” at the end of the quintain.

 

Example of the Rondel Form

Rather than trying to interpret the form though a written description it is much easier to understand its complexities when looking at an example. Here is ‘Rondel of Merciless Beauty’ by Geoffrey Chaucer:

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.

 

Analysis of the Rondel Form

When looking at these lines, and considering the description of the form, its patterning becomes clear. The phrase “Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly” is used at the beginning of the first stanza, then again at the end of the second and third. The same can be said of the second line, “Their beauty shakes me who was once serene”. By the time you get to the third stanza it becomes clear that Chaucer chose to add a sixth line onto his rondel, concluding the poem with the third line of the first stanza “Straight through my heart the wound is quick and keen”.

While poets who choose to write in this form are well aware of the “rules” associated with it, they often experiment with the order of the lines. This means that the repeating lines could vary or fall in different places. Additionally, these kinds of poems benefit from additional moments of repetition and steady rhyme schemes such as Chaucer makes use of in Rondel of Merciless Beauty’. 

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