Rondeau (verse form)

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The word 'rondeau' - pronounced RON-dow, IPA: /'rɒn dəʊ/ - is used in the discussion both of poetry and of music. The plural of 'rondeau' is 'rondeaux', which may be pronounced either RON-dow, IPA: /'rɒn dəʊ/ or RON-dowz, IPA: /'rɒn dəʊz/.

The rondeau is a verse form which, like its close relations, the rondel and the roundel, has two distinctive features: the use of a very small number of rhymes and the presence of a refrain. A rondeau has fifteen lines, uses only three rhymes, and repeats the first half of the opening line as a refrain at lines 9 and 15. The lines of a rondeau are usually iambic tetrameters, i.e., contain four iambic feet, apart from the refrains, which have two iambic feet. The rhyme scheme is: AABBA AABC, AABBAC.

As an example, here is 'On the Hurry of This Time' by Austin Dobson (1840-1921)::


With slower pen men used to write
Of old, when "letters" were "polite";
In Anna's or in George's days
They could afford to turn a phrase,
Or trim a straggling theme aright.


They knew not steam; electric light
Not yet had dazed their calmer sight;
They meted out both blame and praise
With slower pen.


Too swiftly now the hours take flight!
What's read at morn is dead at night;
Scant space have we for Art's delays,
Whose breathless thought so briefly stays;
We may not work - ah! would we might! -
With slower pen.


Dobson wrote many rondeaux, among them 'You Bid Me Try', 'When Burbage Played' and 'In After Days' - the last of which may be found in The Oxford Book of English Verse (no. 830).

As a verse form the rondeau originated in the Middle Ages in France, where, particularly from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, it was often used for poems that were set to music and sometimes accompanied by dancing. A piece of music in this style is also known as a rondeau, and its form is the ancestor of the later rondo.

See further rondo, rondel, and roundel.