The rondel as a poetic form is a variant of the French rondeau.

It originated in Renaissance France, and is usually composed of thirteen lines around two rhymes. Each line has eight or ten syllables. The poem is divided into three stanzas - two quatrains and a cinquain. The first two lines of the first stanza serve as a refrain at the end of the second stanza(lines 7 and 8), and the first line is also the last line(line 13 - hence the 'roundness' from which the form gets its name). This form, as you may be able to tell by now, is much easier to look at than to explain. With that in mind, the rhyme scheme and format of the poem is usually:

A
B
b
a

a
b
A
B

a
b
b
a
A

...where capital letters indicate the repeating lines.

There are, of course, variations on the rondel variation, which include:

  • The Free Rondel - in which the first line sets the number of syllables that will be in each line. Free rondels may also vary the rhyme scheme, making the first stanza ABab or the last stanza ababA.
  • The French Sonnet, or Rondel Prime - in which the first two lines reappear at the end of the poem as a couplet, making it fourteen lines long. The definition Webster 1913 gives is actually for a French Sonnet.

When writing a rondel, it is best to keep in mind that the ending words of your first two lines will each need five rhymes in order to complete the poem. Some words that are not good choices to end lines with*: Cusp, Death, Jinx, Love, Mollusk, Month, Mouth, Normal, Orange, Sculpt, Sixth, and Wolf.

Edmund Gosse, Robert Louis Stevenson, W.E. Henley, and Neil Gaiman are all guilty of having indugled in this form of poetry. I have only written one so far, but they're pretty fun to do. (provided you're not one o'those "no form can be imposed upon my angst!" types.)

Sources include: The Norton Anthology, Mediadrone, and Bartleby.com. Oh, and I guess I should cite Mr. Gaiman, for getting me interested in the form with his rondel, Reading the Entrails.

A rondel dagger was a small dagger that was used particularly for stabbing through chain mail and through the joints of plate mail or eye-holes of a visor. The blade, while traditionally edged on both sides, was very thick, and cutting or slicing would not be its primary task. Some rondels gave up all pretense of being a cutting weapon, and were essentially a spike with a triangular or cruciform cross section.

The rondel was in use in Europe in the late Middle Ages (1300s onwards), and were used for sparring, and as a secondary sidearm. It came to replace the earlier knightly dagger, and by the 1400s was becoming a usual part of a knight's armament. They foreshadowed the eventual development of the Italian stiletto, which would eventually replace them.

The name 'rondel' (or sometimes 'roundel') comes from the traditionally flat, round hand guards and pommels. These daggers were sometimes also called a 'misericorde', from the Latin misericordia, literally meaning 'act of mercy'; this derived from the use of the rondel as an armor-piercing death-blow, which might also be used to put a severely wounded knight out of their misery.

Ron"del (?), n. [Cf. Rondeau, Roundel.]

1. Fort.

A small round tower erected at the foot of a bastion.

[Obs.]

2. [F.] (a)

Same as Rondeau.

(b)

Specifically, a particular form of rondeau containing fourteen lines in two rhymes, the refrain being a repetition of the first and second lines as the seventh and eighth, and again as the thirteenth and fourteenth.

E. W. Gosse.

 

© Webster 1913.

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