Meet the Villanelle Poem

You Up To The Villanelle Challenge?

In the last article on poetic form, we looked at the Ottava Rima

This week we head into a fun form that gives the poets a chance to experiment and play with words. To showcase the works created from these series, our writing member community will have the opportunity of being featured here and on our substack site.

To submit your prose from last week’s cinquain introduction or this article, make sure to join our writing adventure to submit your poem.

The Poetic Form

The Villanelle poem was originally called a villanella and villancico. They were Italian and Spanish dance songs during the Renaissance era. It wasn’t until the late 19th century when French poet Théodore de Banville defined the Villanelle as we see it today. Even though these poems didn’t take hold in French circles, they gained popularity with English-speaking poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, W. H. Auden, Oscar Wilde, Seamus Heaney, and Sylvia Plath.

Despite its challenging structure, the Villanelle poem allows poets to experiment. By working with language and repetition, they play with rhyming patterns and syllable count. It creates unique powerful variations on the poetic form.

Structure of a Villanelle

The Villanelle is made up of 19 lines, with five tercets (three-line stanzas) and a final quatrain (four-line stanza).

Its rhyming scheme consists of:


Where the first and the third lines in the first stanza are repeated in alternating order throughout the poem, they then appear together in the last couplet, the last two lines).

Example of a Villanelle

One of the most famous examples of a villanelle is Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night.” This poem was written in 1947, and it is a powerful meditation on aging, death, and the human will to survive.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night, (1a)
Old age should burn and rave at close of day; (b)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (2a)

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, (a)
Because their words had forked no lightning they (b)
Do not go gentle into that good night. (1a)

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright (a)
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, (b)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (2a)

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, (a)
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, (b)
Do not go gentle into that good night. (1a)

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight (a)
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, (b)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (2a)

And you, my father, there on the sad height, (a)
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. (b)
Do not go gentle into that good night. (1a)
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (2a)

The Poems of Dylan Thomas

The House on the Hill

Written in 1987
By Edwin Arlington Robinson

They are all gone away, (1a)
The House is shut and still, (b)
There is nothing more to say. (2a)

Through broken walls and gray (a)
The winds blow bleak and shrill: (b)
They are all gone away. (1a)

Nor is there one to-day (a)
To speak them good or ill: (b)
There is nothing more to say. (2a)

Why is it then we stray (a)
Around the sunken sill? (b)
They are all gone away, (1a)

And our poor fancy-play (a)
For them is wasted skill: (b)
There is nothing more to say. (2a)

There is ruin and decay (a)
In the House on the Hill: (b)
They are all gone away, (1a)
There is nothing more to say. (2a)

From the Selected Poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson

If you’re up to it, I challenge you to write one and submit your poetic creation. If you accept, use the phrase “Villanelle Poem” for the name of the series in the form.

Leave a comment, as I enjoy hearing from each of you.

Happy Writing!

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