Villanelles have captured the imagination of poets from at least the 1800s, if not older. If you haven’t encountered the villanelle, simply put, it’s a 19 line poem that has 5 tercets (three line stanzas) and one quatrain (a four line stanza). Within that scheme, there are two rhymes that fall at the end of each line, and two refrains (two repeated lines).
The rhyme scheme goes as follows: A B A A B A A B A A B A A B A A B A A Lines 1 and 3 become strands woven throughout the poem in a complex pattern, even resembling a refrain since each line is repeated three times. Refrain 1 (R1) = line 1 = lines 6, 12, and 18 Refrain 2 (R2) = line 3 = lines 9, 15, and 19 I know that explanation can be a bit overwhelming, but don’t worry. I’ll show you an example below. Many movies and TV shows use already-written villanelles in various ways. Even the WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment, had John Cena recite the most famous villanelle, “Do not go gentle into that good night," for a video game commercial! I have linked the commercial here. You can also read the poem below. :)
"Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas 1 Do not go gentle into that good night, A R1 2 Old age should burn and rave at close of day; B 3 Rage, rage against the dying of the light. A R2 4 Though wise men at their end know dark is right, A 5 Because their words had forked no lightning they B 6 Do not go gentle into that good night. A R1 7 Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright A 8 Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, B 9 Rage, rage against the dying of the light. A R2
10 Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, A 11 And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, B 12 Do not go gentle into that good night. A R1 13 Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight A 14 Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, B 15 Rage, rage against the dying of the light. A R2 16 And you, my father, there on the sad height, A 17 Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. B 18 Do not go gentle into that good night. A R1 19 Rage, rage against the dying of the light. B R2 With the example poem, do you see the rhyme scheme above with the A and B? You can also see the refrains, or repeated lines, with R1 and R2. Dylan Thomas sticks to the structure exactly, but some people don’t. Other poets, like Elizabeth Bishop in “One Art,” are a bit looser with the rules and structure. She tweaks the lines a bit throughout the poem. To help prepare you for the villanelle you’re going to write, try writing (or typing) the shorthand next to the poem like the above example for the structure on the poem below.
"One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster. I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn’t hard to master. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster. —Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident the art of losing’s not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster. Finally… it’s your turn! Write a villanelle about any topic you’d like. If you’re feeling up to it, you can even write more than one! Here is a structure below to help you get a start so you don’t have to think so hard about it. 1 _______________________________________ A R1 2 _______________________________________ B 3 _______________________________________ A R2 4 _______________________________________ A 5 _______________________________________ B 6 _______________________________________ A R1 7 _______________________________________ A 8 _______________________________________ B 9 _______________________________________ A R2 10 _______________________________________ A 11 _______________________________________ B 12 _______________________________________ A R1 13 _______________________________________ A 14 _______________________________________ B 15_______________________________________ A R2 16 _______________________________________ A 17 _______________________________________ B 18 _______________________________________ A R1 19 _______________________________________ B R2