In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
As we are entering the season of Remembrance, it seemed appropriate to bring the Rondeau to Form for All today for your consideration. In Flanders Fields, written by Canadian John McCrae in 1915 and reproduced above, is probably the most famous rondeau in existence, although the rules for the form were finalised in France around 400 years before McCrae wrote his poem.
The form we are considering – as always there are variations – is the traditional 15-line rondeau in three stanzas based on 2 rhymes and a rentrement or refrain with the scheme R-aabba aabR aabbaR. Typically, the rentrement forms the opening part of the first line of the poem; it can be as short as one word, but is more usually a complete clause or phrase.
If we look at In Flanders Fields more closely, we can begin to translate all that poetry technospeak into plain English.
First, the rentrement i.e. the repeated phrase, which in McCrae’s poem is In Flanders fields. This is the opening phrase of the poem, and reappears at the close of the second and third stanzas. Note that the rentrement doesn’t need to rhyme with any of the other lines of the poem – McCrae’s doesn’t – although there is no reason that it shouldn’t. Finding a good rentrement – a phrase that actually bears repetition and in being repeated contributes to the poem – is one of the main challenges of writing a rondeau.
After the rentrement, the next most obvious aspect of the form is its layout in three stanzas of 5, 4 and 6 lines respectively. As far as I can discover, this arrangement of stanzas is considered an essential, rather than optional, part of the form.
Thirdly, there are the two end-rhymes that give the rondeau much of its musicality. McCrae has used blow/row/below/ago/glow/foe/throw/grow for his a-rhymes, and sky/fly/lie/high/die for his b-rhymes. Finding 8 rhyming (or near rhyming) words for the a-rhyme is the second major challenge that the rondeau delivers; compared to that, the 5 b-rhymes are much less difficult to find.
Lastly, McCrae’s poem, in common with most rondeaux, is written in iambic tetrameter – and it is the rhythm or meter that is the other significant contributor to the music of the rondeau.
Just in case you think that the rondeau is yet another esoteric form that no-one writes today, our very own Björn Rudberg lists it as one of his favourite forms and has written quite a few. Here’s an example taken from his blog:
We’re fabulous, we are the best
adorned with ribbons on our chests
a brand of excellence for us
the common man we can repress
’cause our club excludes the rest
come look at us, the fair noblesse
we’re better bred there is no test
just DNA that makes us blessed
you say plebeians are oppressed
society has now progressed
why should this ever be discussed?
your simple manners don’t impress
remember this in your protest
If you compare this with the scheme outlined above, then you can see that Björn’s refrain (rentrement) is the phrase We’re fabulous, which appears as the opening of the first stanza, and at the close of the second and third stanzas of Björn’s poem. Björn’s a-rhyme is clear; best, chests, noblesse etc. The b-rhyme is a little trickier to spot, partly because it is very close to the a-rhyme in sound, and partly because Björn has disguised it by the use of partial rhymes; us/repress, discussed/impress. Or perhaps Björn has adapted the form to suit his needs by using more a-rhymes and fewer b-rhymes.
So there you have it, poets, the rondeau in all its rhyming and repeating glory. My name is Tony Maude, and it has been my pleasure to bring you this edition of Form for All.
What to do now.
• Write your rondeau 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. If you write more than one rondeau, it’s OK to link them separately … smiles.
• 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 <em>via</em> your favourite social media platforms.
• Above all – have fun!