Roundel (poetry)

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A roundel (not to be confused with the rondel) is a form of verse used in English language poetry devised by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909). It is the Anglo-Norman form corresponding to the French rondeau. It makes use of refrains, repeated according to a certain stylized pattern. A roundel consists of nine lines each having the same number of syllables, plus a refrain after the third line and after the last line. The refrain must be identical with the beginning of the first line: it may be a half-line, and rhymes with the second line. It has three stanzas and its rhyme scheme is as follows: A B A R ; B A B ; A B A R ; where R is the refrain.

Swinburne had published a book A Century of Roundels.[1] He dedicated these poems to his friend Christina Rossetti, who then started writing roundels herself, as evidenced by the following examples from her anthology of poetry: Wife to Husband; A Better Resurrection; A Life's Parallels; Today for me; It is finished; From Metastasio. [2]


Swinburne’s first roundel was called "The roundel":

    A roundel is wrought as a ring or a starbright sphere, (A)
    With craft of delight and with cunning of sound unsought, (B)
    That the heart of the hearer may smile if to pleasure his ear (A)
        A roundel is wrought. (R)

    Its jewel of music is carven of all or of aught - (B)
    Love, laughter, or mourning - remembrance of rapture or fear - (A)
    That fancy may fashion to hang in the ear of thought. (B)

    As a bird's quick song runs round, and the hearts in us hear (A)
    Pause answer to pause, and again the same strain caught, (B)
    So moves the device whence, round as a pearl or tear, (A)
        A roundel is wrought. (R)

Swinburne’s poem "A baby's death" contains seven roundels. Here is the fourth roundel, which became a song "Roundel: The little eyes that never knew Light" when set to music by the English composer Edward Elgar:

    The little eyes that never knew
    Light other than of dawning skies,
    What new life now lights up anew
        The little eyes?

    Who knows but on their sleep may rise
    Such light as never heaven let through
    To lighten earth from Paradise?

    No storm, we know, may change the blue
    Soft heaven that haply[3] death descries
    No tears, like these in ours, bedew
        The little eyes.


  1. ^ Algernon Charles Swinburne, A Century of Roundels (London: Chatto & Windus, 1883) Kindle ebook 2011, ASIN B004TP1MWW .
  2. ^ Rossetti, Christina , The Complete Poems, Penguin Books, London ,2001, ISBN 9780140423662
  3. ^ haply, adv. by chance or accident, as in the expression "it happened"

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