How to Poem: How to Write Villanelles

Welcome to the first of a new series which will pop up sporadically about my blog! Some of you may be interested to know I have recently finished a dregree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and looking back over it I realised I have had a load of exposure to a huge number of different poetic forms and prose styles. So I’m going to offer some of that knowledge to my readers. I will do this though two separate series: ‘How to Poem…’ and ‘How to Prose…’ each post looking at a specifical form or style of writing.

Hopefully at the end of each post I will have give you all some insight on how to make up these forms of poetry and prose and maybe you’ll even post response blog posts with examples of your own work!

 

Villanelles

I’m not starting you off lightly. The villanelle is one of the most annoying and tricky poetic forms to imitate, especially if you are trying to make it a perfect example of the form. The issue is the strictness of the rhyme scheme and the refrains you have to use. The poem of course should make some kind of sense, but it should also have the right rhythm and tone as well as adhereing to one of the stricted rhyme schemes in all of poetry.

A villanelle is a nineteen line poem which consists of four tercets (three line stanzas) and one quatrain (four line stanza).

The rhyme scheme is:

A
B
A

A
B
A

A
B
A

A
B
A

A
B
A
A

That’s an awful lot of As and Bs! Each of those has to have the same rhyme, and so you ahve to pick a word sound which is commonly found at the end of a lot of words. Things like AY, OUND, EYE, ED, AIN, ITE, ING, ER and EEP are good because of the sheer number of words which fit into that pattern. But any words where there is a significant limit to the rhymes you could use are things best avoided.

On to the refrains, the first tercet’s first and third lines are repeated throughout the poem. It’s probably easiest to show rather than tell in this case.

A – 1st refrain
B
A – 2nd refrain

A
B
A – 1st refrain

A
B
A – 2nd refrain

A
B
A – 1st refrain

A
B
A – 1st refrain
A – 2nd refrain

So! The first line is repeated exactly on lines 6, 12 and 15 and line 3 is repeated on lines 9 and 19.

So, using this format I have written an example poem. My poem uses OLD and EES as its two rhymes, EES was probably the more tricky to find relevant words which fit the themes of the poem. I chose this particular topic because I’m a bit of an eco poet, I love writing about nature and things like that!

Well this is awkward, there was a poem here, but it’s been published! I’ll post the link to it when it’s up!

I hope there was something useful in this post! If you want to have a look at some better villanelles than mine I’d suggest looking at Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’ or W.H. Auden’s ‘If I Could Tell You’ which isn’t as strict as Thomas’s but is still really good!

I hope I have inspired you all to try out this form, and feel free to leave suggestions on the comments as to what I should look at next.

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  1. #1 by Amelia Groves on June 11, 2014 - 7:24 pm

    What a lovely poem! I think the villanelle has to be one of my favourite poetic forms, yet I can never get my head around it. This post is certainly easy to follow and very inspiring. So thank you! 🙂

    • #2 by alexicon1 on June 11, 2014 - 7:26 pm

      Thank you so much for the feedback! Honestly that poem was just something I threw together, it certainly took a lot less time than my first ever villanelle. It’s such a unique form as well, and I love a good rhyme. Maybe you should try it out? Once you’ve figured out the first stanza half of the poem is written for you ater all!

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