Hello, everyone! Grace here. Now that we are all warmed up with last week's rondelet, let us venture into the murky waters of the Rondeau. There are several other members of the rondeau family I've skipped over, all characterized by that tricky rentrement, and all worthy of a little of your attention. However, in the interest of not bludgeoning out our brains on these devious French forms, we'll head straight into the head of the family.
Most of you, I'm sure, are already familiar with at least one famous rondeau, even if you aren't sure about the form. This one is so famous, actually, that I'm not even going to transcribe it here--it's "In Flanders Fields", by John McCrae. Even before I began to look more closely at the stricter French forms, I had that one memorized thanks to Margaret Atwood's "Poppies: Three Variations", a short story in her collection Good Bones and Simple Murders.
Another rondeau I particularly enjoy is also often cited as a great example of the form, titled "We Wear the Mask", by Paul Laurence Dunbar, a truly amazing poet of the late 19th century, and the first African-American to gain notoriety as a poet.
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties
Why should the world be over-wise
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see up, while
We wear the mask
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
With this perfect example of the form, we see the meter is strict: thirteen lines of eight syllables and two refrains, each of four syllables. The easiest parts of this format are its rhyme scheme and the limit of three stanzas.
The rhyme is deceptively simple, like its smaller sibling the rondelet:
A (the first half of which becomes our rentrement/refrain)
The trickiest part is to pick a refrain that will expand to fill the entire scope of your poem. It can change meanings or punctuation, but the first half of that first line must summon all the feeling succinctly. The 15th century writers of these rondeaux dealt with this problem in a novel (for the time) manner; instead of writing these lovely and complex poems about lofty subjects, they began to explore darker themes. Francois Villon wrote one named "Death I Appeal" in a strikingly different format:
Death I appeal your harshness
Having robbed me of my mistress
You remain unsatisfied
Waiting for me to languish too
Since then I've had no strength or vigor
But in her life how did she offend you?
We were two, we had but one heart
Since it is dead, I must die
Yes or live without life
As images do, by heart
I am not encouraging you to truncate your refrain in such a sharp manner, as I feel it robs this form of the slow ramping-up that makes it so effective. Yet it was once a common practice to amend the rules of the rondeau to suit the poet. We seem to be in good company, not too unyielding, when we stretch the form a bit.
This will be it for our little trip through the stanzas of the rondeau family! I hope you've enjoyed wrestling with this form as much as I have. If you want to read up on the other members of the rondeau family, a great resource that I just found yesterday is The Rondeau Roundup. I know I'll be checking in there to learn even more about these devils.
In fact, for extra credit, there is an even more vicious little form called the "rondeau redoublé ". If you accomplish that one, you will be a far more flexible poet than I! Perhaps someday we will double back to it along our challenge path.
As always, please link up and leave a comment so that I may selfishly enjoy the fruits of your labors! And thank you for your enthusiastic participation these last few weeks. It's been wonderful to watch you all take one form and shape it in so many varied ways.