Poetry 101: Villanelles

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Photo by Thought Catalog

I love learning about new forms of poetry! Recently in class, we studied the villanelle form, and I thought I would share a bit about it with you.

A villanelle is a 19-line poem with an alternating rhyme scheme of sorts. It’s made up of six stanzas, the first five are tercets (they have three lines) and the last one is a quatrain (four lines) of sorts. Villanelles are typically written in iambic pentameter but don’t always have to be. The form isn’t as metrically restricted as other forms tend to be.

The neat thing about villanelles is the way the rhyme scheme is composed.

A1
b
A2

a
b
A1

a
b
A2

a
b
A1

a
b
A2

a
b
A1
A2

At first glance, the rhyme scheme in a villanelle just appears to be repeating lines of ABA, but you’ll see I added an annotation of A1 and A2 above. These are particular lines where the last lines of the tercets match the lines in the first stanza.

Villanelles then have a sort of musical repetition to it. I think villanelles as a form sound a lot like a pendulum swinging back and forth, and I like using the form when conveying a narrator that is split between two decisions or two streams of thought. There’s a lovely duplicity that’s formed, and we all deal with that from time to time, right?

Thematically, villanelles have three parts. They start be introducing the subject, then the second part develops it further, and finally, there’s a conclusion. As a form, it’s intentionally tense, it builds tremendous tension and eventually resolves itself.

Here are some examples of famous villanelles:

2 thoughts on “Poetry 101: Villanelles

  1. Pingback: “Lissadell,” Wendy Cope | Honey In My Hair

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