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Definition:
The rondeau, like its cousin the triolet, originated in the poems and songs of French troubadours of the 12th and 13th centuries. In the 14th century, poet-composer Guillame de Machaut popularized the literary rondeau, which evolved toward use of a shorter repeated refrain than the earlier songs.

As it is used in modern English, the rondeau is a poem of 15 lines of eight or ten syllables arranged in three stanzas — the first stanza is five lines (quintet), the second four lines (quatrain), and the final stanza six lines (sestet). The first part of the first line becomes the rondeau’s rentrement (refrain) when it is repeated as the last line of each of the two succeeding stanzas. Aside from the rentrement, which obviously rhymes because it is the same repeated words, only two rhymes are used in the entire poem. The entire scheme looks like this (with “R” used to indicate the rentrement):

a
a
b
b
a

a
a
b
R

a
a
b
b
a
R
Examples:
Sir Thomas Wyatt, who is credited with bringing the sonnet into English in the 16th century, also experimented with the rondeau form. One of his rondeaux and several more modern examples are in our library here at About Poetry:

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