The rondeau (occasionally spelt rondo) may appear arbitrary and artificial at first sight, with its three stanzas of uneven length - but if you try writing one, you may be pleasantly surprised. Some of these strange-looking forms have survived for a reason!

The Dividend
Is sorcery a forfeiture
Of logic? Eyewash? Are we sure?
Is looking at ones horoscope
The first step on a downward slope,
For those whose minds are immature?

Or is it a non sequitur,
To disbelieve what has allure?
And what of those whose only hope
Is sorcery?

When certain death lurks, premature,
A dread part of the furniture,
At times when science cannot cope -
Why not shake the kaleidoscope?
It may be that the only cure
Is sorcery.

Note first the refrain or rentrement (here "is sorcery") which occurs at the end of the second and third stanzas, and also at the beginning of the first line. When you're writing a rondeau, the refrain is the place to start. The refrain does not rhyme with anything else, but the rest of the poem uses only two rhymes. The rhyming scheme is aabba; aabR; aabbaR, where "R" denotes the refrain. 

"The Dividend" is a comment on The Divide, a fantasy novel for children by Elizabeth Kay.

Complications and related forms

The form described here is the 15-line rondeau. These is a also a 10-line rondeau form,

Originally the term rondeau was used for any fixed French verse form. So you may find older poems, particularly French ones, which claim to be rondeaux but whose structure is quite different from that described here e.g. Le temps a laissé son manteau by Charles D'Orléans (1391-1465). (The title means "The weather has taken off his coat". This may perhaps have been the inspiration for the old music hall song The sun has got his hat on.)

The earlier indiscriminate use of the term rondeau may also account for the large number of verse forms with similar names: rondel, rondelet, roundel, roundelay, rondeau redoublé, rondine. Of these, the rondine and the roundel are particularly similar to the present-day rondeau.

The rondeau is known in German as the Ringelgedicht, Ringelreim or Rundreim.

Notable rondeaux

In Flanders Field by John McCrae

Back to Verse Forms home page.

© Bob Newman 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007. All rights reserved.

This page last updated 08/03/2007