What Is the Origin of Rondeau & Rondel Poetry?

The rondeau and rondel are both poetic forms with French origin. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, there are distinct historical differences between the two forms in both rhyme scheme and number of lines.


The rondeau -- or "round," in French -- is a lyric poetic form originating from medieval France. It is one of the three "forme fixe" poems, together with the ballade and the virelai. It is based on the earlier form, originated from troubadour songs from the 12th and 13th centuries, and was often used in poetry and song in France from the 13th to the 15th century. The form was commonly set to music during this time as it is structured around a refrain that repeats throughout the poem. Today, the term "rondeau" is used in a broader sense, referring to all its variants in medieval France. However, it also has a narrower definition, referring to the distinct 15-line form that developed from these earlier forms. The French rondeau form has been adapted many times into the English language, with some famous versions including one by Sir Thomas Wyatt and "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae.


The rondel -- or "small round" in French-- appeared as early as the 12th century in France. It is a short form, evolving from music as well. However, unlike, the rondeau, the rondel has not been used frequently outside the French language. There are very few English versions of rondels and even fewer poems that strictly adhere to the form. One famous English rondel is the 1375 "Rondel of Merciles Beauté" by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Rondeau Form

While the full French version has 13 or 10 lines with four stanzas, the modern English form of the rondeau consists of 15 lines split up into three stanzas. The first stanza is a quintet (five lines), followed by a quatrain (four lines), then finally a sestet (six lines). Each line contains eight or ten syllables. The first part of the first line acts as the refrain for the poem, repeating as the last line of the next two stanzas. Only two rhymes are used in the entire poem. The rhyme scheme is as follows: aabba aabR aabbaR, with "R" representing the refrain, or "rentrement."

Rondel Form

The rondel is a short poem as well, consisting usually of 14 lines of 8 or 10 syllables. These lines are split up into three stanzas -- two quatrains (four lines) and a quintet (five lines). The first two lines of the first stanza act as the refrain, or "rentrement," repeating as the last lines of the next two stanzas. Like the rondeau, only two rhymes are used in a rondel. The rhyme scheme is as follows: ABba abAB abbaA. The capital "A" and "B" in the second and third stanza represent the repeated lines of the first stanza.

About the Author

Gale Marie Thompson's work has been published in "Denver Quarterly," "Los Angeles Review" and "Best New Poets 2012." Thompson holds a BA in English and creative writing from the College of Charleston, a MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is working on a PhD at the University of Georgia.

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