Roundelay: Poetic Form

Here’s one final poetic form before the end of the year: the roundelay poem.

Roundelay Poems

Technically, the roundelay is any simple lyric poem that uses a refrain, but I found a very interesting version of a John Dryden roundelay in Lewis Turco’s The New Book of Forms. Basically, the roundelay is comprised of just an a rhyme and a b rhyme–with most of the lines acting as refrains.

Here is how the rhymes and refrains (capitalized with a number look):

Line 1: a
Line 2: b
Line 3: A1
Line 4: B1
Line 5: A2
Line 6: B2

Line 7: A1
Line 8: A1
Line 9: A3
Line 10: B3
Line 11: A2
Line 12: B2

Line 13: A3
Line 14: B3
Line 15: A4
Line 16: B4
Line 17: A2
Line 18: B2

Line 19: A4
Line 20: B4
Line 21: a
Line 22: b
Line 23: A2
Line 24: B2

As you can see, the A2-B2 lines complete each stanza–so these might be the most important lines of the entire poem as every other line bounces off this refrain.

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Here’s my (rather weak) attempt at a Roundelay:

Roundelay, by Robert Lee Brewer

this world is crammed full of liars
lying for love or drugs or gold
& i’m preaching to the choir
so maybe this statement’s not bold:
if liar-liars catch on fire,
why is it i always feel cold?

& i’m preaching to the choir
so maybe this statement’s not bold
where there was love there’s no desire
possibly since i’m getting old
if liar-liars catch on fire,
why is it i always feel cold?

where there was love there’s no desire
possibly since i’m getting old
now it’s like i’m set to retire
& watch every sunset unfold
if liar-liars catch on fire,
why is it i always feel cold?

now it’s like i’m set to retire
& watch every sunset unfold
or perhaps i’m caught on a wire
trying to buy all that i’ve sold
if liar-liars catch on fire,
why is it i always feel cold?

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Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.

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4 thoughts on “Roundelay: Poetic Form

  1. taylor graham

    CREEK’S RISING

    A week of storm. Rain pulled the switch
    and let the floodgates loose. This stool
    of hill’s an island, road’s a ditch
    gone wild like kids let out of school.
    No break in clouds, no sunbright glitch
    of rainbow colors in the pool.

    Our hill’s an island, road’s a ditch
    gone wild. Like kids let out of school,
    the waters leap and dance. They itch
    to shatter bounds, breech every rule.
    No break in clouds, no sunbright glitch
    of rainbow colors in the pool.

    The waters leap and dance. They itch
    to shatter bounds, breech every rule.
    With hoe and rake I snag and pitch –
    the creek laughs at each useless tool.
    No break in clouds, no sunbright glitch
    of rainbow colors in the pool.

    With hoe and rake I snag and pitch –
    the creek laughs at each useless tool.
    One stick or straw becomes a witch
    to cast the spell called Whirlypool.
    O break these clouds! a sunbright glitch
    of rainbow colors in the pool….

  2. taylor graham

    revision

    THE CRUELEST MONTH

    I woke to keening of the sheep,
    a lamentation dark as night
    when the wild hunger cannot sleep.
    A new lamb vanished out of sight –
    I looked and listened to the deep
    but found no sign, no line of flight.

    When the wild hunger cannot sleep
    a new lamb vanished out of sight.
    Off the high ridge coyotes sweep –
    are fences ever danger-tight?
    I looked and listened to the deep
    but found no sign, no line of flight.

    Off the high ridge coyotes sweep –
    are fences never danger-tight?
    The owl calls our defenses cheap,
    its talons quick and steely bright.
    He looks and listens to the deep.
    I find no sign, no line of flight.

    The owl calls our defenses cheap,
    its talons quick and steely bright.
    It lifts small prey that run or creep
    in shadow, fearful of the light.
    I’ll look and listen to the deep
    but find no sign, no line of flight.

  3. cet

    Museum of Keys

    I can’t explain all the keys
    To things I’ve owned and never owned
    From Cadillacs to old jalopies
    To places known and then unknown
    Some from people who gave them to me
    Some from people who never came home

    From Cadillacs to old jalopies
    To places known and then unknown
    Jagged teeth and skeletal mysteries
    Unlocking doors I’ve never been shown
    Some from people who gave them to me
    Some from people who never came home

    Jagged teeth and skeletal mysteries
    Unlocking doors I’ve never been shown
    Each key has a personal history
    A diary of traveled roads
    Some from people who gave them to me
    Some from people who never came home

    Each key has a personal history
    A diary of traveled roads
    They are like maps that I carry
    To places I’ve been or have yet to go
    Some from people who gave them to me
    Some from people who never came home

  4. taylor graham

    THE CRUELEST MONTH

    I woke to keening of the sheep,
    a lamentation dark as night
    when the wild hunger cannot sleep.
    A new lamb vanished out of sight –
    I looked and listened to the deep
    but found no sign, no line of flight.

    When the wild hunger cannot sleep
    a new lamb vanished out of sight.
    Off the high ridge coyotes sweep –
    are fences ever danger-tight?
    I looked and listened to the deep
    but found no sign, no line of flight.

    Off the high ridge coyotes sweep –
    are fences never danger-tight?
    I woke to keening of the sheep,
    their lamentation dark as night,
    and looked and listened to the deep.
    I found no sign, no line of flight.

    The owl calls our defenses cheap,
    its talons quick and steely bright.
    It lifts small prey that run or creep
    in shadow, fearful of the light.
    I’ll look and listen to the deep
    but find no sign, no line of flight.

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