Poetic Forms – The Villanelle

The Villanelle is a classic poetic form, started in France during the 18th century. It’s rhyme/ flow have been replicated many times in various languages.

The modern villanelle consists of five tercets and one quatrain, and contains only two rhyme schemes. They are based on a rhyming couplet, the lines of which are repeated throughout the poem.

Poetic Forms

The lines may be of any length, and the basic rhyme goes thusly:

A1 b A2 – lines in first tercet

a b A1 – lines in second tercet

a b A2 – lines in third tercet

a b A1 – lines in fourth tercet

a b A2 – lines in fifth tercet

a b A1 A2 – lines in final quatrain

A1 and A2 form the basic couplet, and those lines are repeated throughout the poem as shown. The lines b do not repeat, but all must rhyme as shown in the basic rhyme scheme above. Each b line forms the second line of each stanza.

The Affect of the Villanelle

The villanelle, when done correctly, will often give one’s writing a haunting quality, with its repetitions encouraging the reader to delve deeply into the thoughts of the author. This is not always the case, however, as there are humorous Villanelles, Villanelles that tell a story, melodic Villanelles, etc.

When the villanelle first made its appearance in the mid-1800’s, it quickly became quite popular. It quickly spread from France to Italy, and then to England and the United States, and appears in native language versions in all those countries, and, to a lesser degree, in others as well.

It was born in the age of poetic forms, a time when many of the classical forms were invented and became popular. They are not so popular anymore, but are still used by poetic scholars, and others that enjoy form poems.

Two Examples of the Villanelle

Here is a villanelle written by Edward Arlington Robinson in 1896, called The House on the Hill.

They are all gone away,

The House is shut and still,

There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray

The winds blow bleak and shrill.

They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day

To speak them good or ill:

There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray

Around the sunken sill?

They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play

For them is wasted skill:

There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay

In the House on the Hill:

They are all gone away,

There is nothing more to say.

Hauntingly, Robinson leads us through the bleak story of a house and its fate.

Now, here is the famous villanelle written by Dylan Thomas in 1951, called Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rage at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Plaintive and heart-rending, Thomas wrote this about his dying father.

Poetic Forms: Villanelles and More

The villanelle is but one of many poetic forms enjoyed by many throughout the world. Do yourself a favor, and do a little research and look some of them up. You may find that you enjoy them more than you thought!

Above all, enjoy poetry wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you won’t be disappointed.