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Types of Poem Forms - French Rondeau and Roundel Poems

Updated on December 26, 2012

Straight out of the birth of French Triolet poems, came a close relative in the poetry family, the French Rondeau or Roundel poem forms. In Old World French Rondeau poems, were what are commonly known today as Roundel poems. Outside of the French Ballade fixed poetry form, in the English language, the Rondeau is one of the most popular of French forms, perhaps because it is easily set to music.

This type of poetry is thought to have been born in northern France (Provence) during the 14th century. It’s evident in the poetic verses of Froissart, Deschamps, and other poets. In the beginning these poems were simply a lyric of two stanzas, with each stanza limited to four of five lines. The rhyme scheme was triolet-like containing two sounds in one or the other in a standard triolet, or a ten line deviation of a triolet.

Charles Ier d'Orléans - Source: Statuts, Ordonnances et Armorial de l'Ordre de la Toison d'Or, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Charles Ier d'Orléans - Source: Statuts, Ordonnances et Armorial de l'Ordre de la Toison d'Or, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Charles d'Orleans' Roundel Poem

Later French prince and poet, Charles d’Orleans, gave the Roundel a new distinct poetic form that has become the classic preferred form of yesterday, consisting of fourteen lines on two rhyme schemes. Thankfully, he had a lot of time on his hands during different times of imprisonment and in his later years.

In his version of the Roundel, the first two lines are repeated as the seventh and eighth lines, and then again as the final couplet. This double repetition proved to be dreary to later French poets, so they condensed the poem form to thirteen lines, excluding the second line of the original refrain at the end of the poem.


Rhyme Scheme Pattern of Charles d’Orleans Roundel Era

1R, 2R, 2, 1

1, 2, 1R, 2R

1, 2, 2, 1

1R

2R

General Rules For Writing French Roundels

In the fixed poem Rondeau (Roundel):

  • The poem can be ten, thirteen, or fifteen lines.
  • Generally, each line is eight syllables long.
  • Refrains are four syllables long.
  • French roundels have two rhyme schemes.

Rhyme Scheme Pattern of Modern Roundel Poems


1R, 2R, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1R, 2R

1, 2, 2, 1, 1R

Using the Roundel To Create A Word Portrait

It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone reading my Roundel what the state of my mind and body were on the day I wrote:

At Sixty-two

This rusted suit of late honor

Wakes me full of crepitus pain

Fingers, neck, hips, groan and complain

Grating, crackling or popping sounds


Osteoarthritis pain has no bounds

Relegates my life to the slow lane

This rusted suit of late honor

Wakes me full of crepitus pain


Effusion make stairs a moaner

Tenderness and joint pain disdain

Locking and stiffness leaves me wane

Osteoarthritis I am the owner


This rusted suit of late honor

Wakes me full of crepitus pain


Jerilee Wei © 2011

Hip replacement due to osteoarthritis - National Institutes of Health, Creative Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
Hip replacement due to osteoarthritis - National Institutes of Health, Creative Commons, via Wikimedia Commons

Examples of Rondeau (Roundel), Rondelet, and Rondeau Redouble Poems

There are numerous examples of these French poem forms in print. Some of the better known examples are:

Paul Laurence Dunbar "We Wear The Mask"

Charlotte Perkins Gilman “A Man Must Live”

Paul Hansford "Guard of Honour"

John McCrae "In Flanders Field"

Cosmo Monkhouse “To a Blank Sheet of Paper” and “Rondeau Redouble”

Samuel Minturn Peck “Before the Dawn”

May Probyn “Rondelet”

Algernon Charles Swinburne “The Roundel”

Jehan Valliant "Listen, Everyone!"

Algernon Charles Swinburne "Love and Sleep" Poem animation

French Rondelet Poems

A cousin of the Roundel poem form, the Rondelet poems consists of a seven line fixed poem form, usually done in four eight syllabled lines, and then three refrain lines, with four syllables each. However, other versions of this poem scheme can vary in length. The rhyme scheme is:

1R, 2, 1R, 1, 2, 2, 1R

French Rondeau Redoublé

Another poetic fixed French form, is the French Rondeau Redoublé. It spins off into more of a themed poem variation, of which there are also many variations. Traditionally the beginning quatrain sets the theme tone. The next four quatrains, become are all terminal poem line stanzas of regular length. The final refrain repeats the first half of line one of the very first line of the French Rondeau Redoublé. So one popular French Rondeau Redoublé rhyme scheme example would be:

1a, 2b, 1c, 2d,

2, 1, 2, 1a

1, 2, 1, 2b

2, 1, 2, 1c

1, 2, 1, 2d

2, 1, 2, 1, Refrain

It is fairly complex in construction and has a distinct rhyme scheme but doesn't usually go as far as being strict in terms of writing. Another example of the rhyme scheme here would be known as a Glose (in a French Rondeau Redoublé with a "texte" variation). It consists of four stanzas, ten lines each, ending in the four repeated lines of the beginning. In this fixed form, lines six, nine, ten rhyme, but the rest of the rhyme scheme doesn't necessarily adhere to it. An four stanza example would be:

1a, 2b, 1c, 2d

3, 4, 3, 3, 4, 1, 3, 1, 1, 1a

3, 4, 3, 3, 4, 2, 3, 3, 2, 2b

3, 4, 3, 3, 4, 1, 3, 3, 1, 1c

3, 4, 3, 3, 4, 2, 3, 3, 2, 2d

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    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks Tom Rubenoff! I think I paid a lot of attention when learning French forms simply because "All I ever wanted to do was write songs," similar to your "All I ever wanted to do was play (the trombone)."

      Thanks RedElf! Creak they do.

      Thanks Paraglider! I hope we can both raise that flag higher in exposing and inspiring others to join the fun.

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      You're doing a good job in shining a light on these 'obsessive' forms. They still have plenty of life in them. By coincidence, I published a hub with a rondeau in it a couple of days ago. Some of us are still flying the formal flag :)

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 6 years ago from Canada

      Your joints may creak, but your words breathe fresh life into an ancient and honored form.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      You get around nicely in the form you chose to exemplify. I especially like the line: "This rusted suit of late honor"

      Great outlining of these complex rhyme schemes, too.

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