By. E. V. Wyler

Created by French troubadours during the Middle Ages, the rondeau is valued for its lovely lyrical qualities.  The tone of a rondeau may be joyful, mournful, or anything in between.  An example of a famous rondeau is “In Flanders Fields” by the Canadian soldier and physician John McCrae:

In Flanders Fields

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.

Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium.

As you can hear from reading John McCrae’s poem aloud, the repetition of the phrase, “In Flanders fields” emphasizes its meaning, creating a poignant echo effect as the poem unfolds.  This repetition, along with the use of only two rhyming patterns, creates the poem’s hypnotic enchantment.

Although several different formats of the rondeau have evolved, this tutorial pertains to the longer version with 3 stanzas:  a (5-line) quintet, a (4-line) quatrain, and a (6-line) sestet.

Summary:

15 lines:  divided into 3 stanzas (5 lines, 4 lines, 6 lines)
8 syllables per line (except for the two 4-syllable refrains)
2 rhyming schemes (8 “A” end-rhymes & 5 “B” end-rhymes)
8 “A” rhymes + 5 “B” rhymes + 2 refrains = 15 lines
The 1st 4 syllables of Line 1 are the refrain (for Lines 9 & 15)

Here is the rondeau’s visual layout:

Line   1:  End-Rhyme “A”  —  4-syllable opening phrase + 4 syllables = 8 syllables
Line   2:  End-Rhyme “A”  —  8 syllables
Line   3:  End-Rhyme “B”  —   “       “
Line   4:  End-Rhyme “B”  —   “       “
Line   5:  End-Rhyme “A”  —   “       “

Line   6:  End-Rhyme “A”  —   8 Syllables
Line   7:  End-Rhyme “A”  —   “       “
Line   8:  End-Rhyme “B”  —   “       “
Line   9:  Refrain (Line 1’s 4-syllable opening phrase)

Line 10:  End-Rhyme “A”  —  8 Syllables
Line 11:  End-Rhyme “A”  —   “       “
Line 12:  End-Rhyme “B”  —   “       “
Line 13:  End-Rhyme “B”  —   “       “
Line 14:  End-Rhyme “A”  —   “       “
Line 15:  Refrain (Line 1’s 4-syllable opening phrase)

One factor in deciding to compose a rondeau (as opposed to a villanelle, sonnet, etc.) is the selection of a strong mood-inducing refrain that works as an opening, a mid-poem repetition, and a closing.   In the early stages of a composition, it is best to begin with a simple image or idea.  Think of yourself as putting together the pieces of a puzzle whose picture can only be seen in your mind and felt in your heart.  I’d compare the puzzle’s straight-line perimeter pieces to the rondeau’s skeletal structure.  As the poet creates the rhyme, meter, and plot, the poem’s stanzas continue forming, like the landscape of a scenic puzzle, until finally the last “piece” is placed, and the completed rondeau emerges from the cocoon of the poet’s heart.

Finally, thank you to Shirley Anne Leonard for teaching me how to write a rondeau.

 

Rondeaus Published by the Society of Classical Poets:

Games of Gridlock
In Prison Cells:  Rondeau for the Falun Gong
Rondeau Beginning with a Line from the Gospel of Judas:

 

E. V. “Beth” Wyler grew up in Elmont, NY.  At 43, she obtained her associate’s degree from Bergen Community College.  She and her husband, Richard, share their empty nest with 3 cats and a beta fish.  Her oldest daughter is a biomedical engineer and her two other children are SUNY undergraduate students.  E. V. Wyler’s poetry has been published in:  The Storyteller, Feelings of the Heart, WestWard Quarterly, The Pink Chameleon, Nuthouse Magazine, The Rotary Dial, and on the website Poetry Soup.  In addition, 3 accepted poems are pending publication in Vox Poetica.  

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2 Responses

  1. Lew Icarus Bede

    E. V. “Beth” Wyler,

    What a nice contribution to the SCP. Your exposition is clear, and you chose one of the finest classics of Canadian literature as your model, McCrae’s In Flanders Field.

    One of your own sentences, utilizing simile and metaphor, is itself a fine example of poetic prose, i. e.,

    As the poet creates the rhyme, meter, and plot, the poem’s stanzas continue forming, like the landscape of a scenic puzzle, until finally the last “piece” is placed, and the completed rondeau emerges from the cocoon of the poet’s heart.

    Here is a rondeau on the relatively unknown American poet, Weldon Kees by literary critic and poet Wilbur Dee Case.

    On Weldon Kees (1914-1955)
    by Wilbur Dee Case

    He left his keys inside his car.
    Near Golden Gate his car was parked;
    but he was nowhere to be found.
    The movie reel had been unwound
    and put into its crate unmarked.

    The busy city glittered stars.
    The haze was slight, his gaze was far.
    And though he didn’t stay around,
    he left his keys.

    Across the bay the bright bridge arced.
    Above, below, the traffic barked,
    ten thousand this way, that way bound.
    A jazz cacaphony of sound
    surrounded him…when he embarked,
    he left his Kees.

    I wonder if you have a rondeau you might share with us.

    Reply
    • E. V. "Beth" Wyler

      Thank you for your kind compliment. My most recent rondeau, Hiding My Glee, is about a “mixed marriage” in that the spouses having opposing political views. It’s publication is pending on this website. My other rondeau (also political), “Games of Gridlock”, was published here on 9/4/16. Of course, I also write nonpolitical poetry. Thank you for your interest. Regards, E. V. “Beth” Wyler

      Reply

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