The Chaucerian Roundel*


Basic features & history of the verse form:
Number of lines 13
Structure / divisions Tercet / quatrain / sestet
Rhyme scheme AB1B2 / abAB1 / abbAB1B2
Meter In English, usually iambic pentameter
Refrain line or lines Yes — refrain lines are designated by A, B1 and B2; B1 and B2 rhyme with each other
Time / place of origin 14th-century England (or France — Machaut wrote at least a few roundels of this type)
Medieval / Renaissance poets
  associated with this form
Guillaume de Machaut, Geoffrey Chaucer
Examples written in English
  by or before —
14th century (Chaucer)


An example of a roundel:

Yowr Yen Two Wol Slee Me Sodenly
by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400)

(This roundel forms the first section of the triple roundel sometimes entitled Merciles Beaute)

      1  (A)   Yowr yen two woll sle me sodenly.
      2  (B1)  I may the beaute of them not sustene
      3  (B2)  So wondeth it thorow out my herte kene.
      4  (a)    And but your word wol helen hastely
      5  (b)    Mi hertis wound while that it is grene
      6  (A)   Your yen [two woll sle me sodenly.
      7  (B1)  I may the beaute of them not sustene.]
      8  (a)    Vpon my trouth I sey yow feithfully
      9  (b)    That ye ben of my liffe and deth the quene,
    10  (b)    For with my deth the trouth shalbe sene.
    11  (A)    Your yen [two woll sle me sodenly.
    12  (B1)  I may the beaute of them not sustene
    13  (B2)  So wondeth it thorow out my herte kene.]


* I have used the term "Chaucerian roundel" to avoid confusion with Swinburne's eleven-line version of the form, which is a 19th-century adaptation with a rhyme scheme of abaR / bab / abaR. Swinburne so successfully highjacked the roundel form that most modern poetic dictionaries use his version to define it; indeed, many sources ignore Chaucer altogether and credit Swinburne with inventing the roundel.


A Brief Guide to Some Medieval and Renaissance Verse Forms

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Table and its contents copyright 2004 by Jennifer M. Tom    ( Jennifer Monroe Franson )