How To Write a Villanelle

A villanelle is one of the toughest forms of poetry to write. This is, in part, because the villanelle is a form that relies on repetition, which makes it hard for the author to progress further into the poem without it having a feeling of not moving forward. When done right, however, the villanelle is a truly amazing poetic form to write in.

The villanelle consists of 19 lines. These lines are separated into six stanzas, all of which have three lines except the last, which has four lines.

The really tricky part to a villanelle is its repetition pattern. In a villanelle, there are two lines that will be constantly repeated throughout the entire poem, so it’s important to choose these two lines well. They have to be something that can work well in many contexts and that can progress the poem towards a conclusion without sounding like you’re repeating the same thing over and over again.

The forms of the stanzas of a villanelle are oftentimes represented by letters. A1 is the first repeated line of the poem and A2 is the second repeated line. The lowercase a and b represent lines that can say anything and but have a certain rhyme scheme (r lines rhyme with other r lines and t lines rhyme with other t lines). Thus, the stanzas are described as the following: R1, t, R2 // r, t, R1 // r, t, R2 // r, t, R1 // r, t, R2 // r, t, R1, R2. Also, keep in mind that your rhyming lines (R1 and R2) will rhyme with each other, as well as rhyming with the lines represented by lowercase r.

The format of a villanelle may be hard to grasp and understand, so it is highly recommended that you read a couple villanelles of your own. One of the most famous villanelles is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” though there are plenty of other good examples of villanelles that will give a good guideline for how to write them.

Keep in mind that your repeating lines will be the concluding lines of your villanelle, which means they should be lines that not only work with other sentences, but which go well together and form a complete thought. They should also be lines that will form an acceptable conclusion to your poem rather than just leaving it open-ended.


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