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frere jacques
Good afternoon poets (or evening or morning, depending on where in the world you are). I’m Tony Maude and it’s my pleasure once more to welcome you to Form For All.

As some of you might know, over the past few months I have been attending the Poetry in Practice class run by Edinburgh University’s Office of Lifelong Learning. In this class a group of poets submit examples of their work for scrutiny by their peers and by course tutor Jim Wilson. Our aim is to help each other to improve our poems by becoming more aware of areas of inconsistency and/or confusion in our writing, as well as spotting clichés, mixed metaphors and words which we have a tendency to overuse. One of my weaknesses is an over-fondness for en dashes – smiles.

One week each term Jim has asked us to write one or more cinquains – now you know where I learned to like them – and bring them to the class the next week. Over the course of each ten-week term he also introduces a number of other forms, mostly in response to work that we have submitted. Each term that I have attended we have had a discussion of sonnets, villanelles and sestinas. However, the other week Jim took us by surprise by introducing a form which none of us had written at the time – the Rondelet.

The Rondelet

The Rondelet belongs to a family of poems which all trace their roots back to a 13th Century French form, the Rondeau: the others are the Rondeau Redoublé, the Rondel, the Roundel, the Roundelay, the Triolet and the Kyrielle. What all these forms have in common is that they are poetic rounds; that is they are composed around a repeated refrain. (You are almost certainly familiar with musical rounds, the most famous examples being Frère Jacques, Row,Row, Row Your Boat, She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain, and London Bridge is Falling Down). Of these forms the Rondelet – literally little rondel – is the briefest, consisting of two rhymes over only seven lines laid out as a single stanza with a refrain that appears three times in the poem. Now that is probably as clear as mud, so here’s an example which should help to clarify things;


A rondelet
Is just seven verses rhymed on two.
A rondelet
Is an old jewel quaintly set
In poesy—a drop of dew
Caught in a roseleaf. Lo! For you,
A rondelet.

(Charles Henry Luders, 1889)

Let’s take a closer look at that to see what is going on.

The Form of the Rondelet

The first thing that you’ll have noticed in Rondelet is the refrain which appears as lines 1, 3 and 7 of the poem. In the traditional French form this consists of four syllables (French is not a stressed language like English; each syllable in a word should carry the same stress when pronounced); in English this is more usually two iambs.

The remaining four lines all consist of eight syllables or four iambs. Line four rhymes with the refrain (which means that Luders pronounced rondelet as ron-de-let; the correct pronunciation is ron-de-lay), while the other lines all rhyme with one another. This gives us a rhyme scheme of AbAabbA.

A Confession

Now it’s time for me to make a confession. It seems that the rondelet was not a popular form with the great poets of history. While researching this article, I searched high and low looking for good, freely available examples of rondelets to illustrate it … and, quite honestly, I’d have done just as well searching for dragon’s teeth … smiles. Aside from Luders’ poem above, the only other example I found is The Flowers of June by James T. White, and I only found that because Mary Baker Eddy (more famed as the founder of Christian Science than as a poet) wrote a poem called Rondelet in response to it;

The flowers of June
The gates of memory unbar:
The flowers of June
Such old-time harmonies retune,
I fain would keep the gates ajar,—
So full of sweet enchantment are
The flowers of June.

James T. White

Breaking the Rules

So far we have looked at the traditional form of the Rondelet, but who knows what might happen when this 13th century poetry form is put into the hands of 21st century poets? Could you write several rondelets to form the stanzas in a longer poem? Perhaps you might like to try writing an anapaestic refrain? This would give a first line of six syllables, which would mean the longer lines should be 12 syllables long: four anapaests or six iambs. Or maybe you will bring modern poetry’s slant/half-rhymes to bear on the form? Who says that the refrain has to be repeated exactly word-for-word? And while it might seem that the natural mood of the rondelet is pretty and light, does it have to be?

So what now?
• Write your Rondelet and post it to your blog
• Add a link to your poem via the ‘Mr Linky’ below.
• This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog URL and entered your name, click Submit. Don’t worry if you don’t see your name right away.
• Read and comment on other people’s work to let them know it’s being read.
• Share your work and that of your fellow poets via your favourite social media platforms.
• Above all – have fun!

PS That’s six en-dashes and two em-dashes, although I was not responsible for those … smiles.