Medieval Verse: The Rondeau

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February 23, 2015 by phicks2012

ctree2Although there are variant forms, the rondeau is a form of French poetry composed of 15 lines, written using only two rhymes and a refrain, though there also is a corresponding musical form developed to suit this characteristic verse structure. It was one of the three formes fixes in period (the other two being the ballade and the virelai), and was one of the verse forms in France most commonly set to music between the late 13th and the 15th centuries.

The rondeau as a form of verse was also used in English language poetry. It makes use of refrains, repeated according to a certain stylized pattern, and it was customarily regarded as a challenge to arrange for these refrains to contribute to the meaning of the poem in as succinct and poignant a manner as possible.

The rondeau consists of thirteen lines of eight syllables, plus two refrains (which are half lines, each with four syllables), employing, altogether, only three rhymes. It has three stanzas and its rhyme scheme is as follows: (1) A A B B A (2) A A B with refrain: C (3) A A B B A with concluding refrain C. The refrain must be identical with the beginning of the first line.

EXAMPLE: We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar:
We wear the mask that grins and lies, (A)
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— (A)
This debt we pay to human guile; (B)
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, (B)
And mouth with myriad subtleties. (A)
Why should the world be over-wise, (A)
In counting all our tears and sighs? (A)
Nay, let them only see us, while (B)
We wear the mask. (C)
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries (A)
To thee from tortured souls arise. (A)
We sing, but oh the clay is vile (B)
Beneath our feet, and long the mile; (B)
But let the world dream otherwise, (A)
We wear the mask! (C)

My own attempt at a Rondeau can be found below, and I hope that my readers will find some merit in it.

Rondeau No.1 For Honor’s Sake

For Honor’s sake we lift the blade
As in true fealty oaths are made
That we may chivalry assure;
Our hearts unsullied; motives pure,
Deserving of the accolade.
And in our manner we endure,
For service is no sinecure
Nor warranted to be repaid,
For Honor’s sake.
And by our arts we reassure
And may resist the dark allure
Of open paths more smoothly laid,
But answer calls to be obeyed
And lesser summons all abjure,
For Honor’s sake.

[1 September, A.S. XLVII 2012]

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February 2015


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