Villainous Villanelle

One of the classic forms in poetry is the Villanelle. This form is nineteen lines in length and includes five tercets and a concluding quatrain. The rhyme scheme follows:  aba / aba / aba / aba / aba / abaa, and the use of the first and third lines (from the first tercet) as repeating lines makes for a challenging format. Initially, the subject for this form usually depicted pastoral scenes. (Hence, the image shown below is an example of a pastoral scene, a painting actually titled Pastoral Scene by Flemish painter Jan Siberechts.)

FROM: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d9/Siberechts,_Jan_-_Pastoral_Scene_-_c._1665-70.jpg

Opinions vary about the Villanelle form. One website states plainly:  Villanelles are a nightmare. Personally, I think it’s an elegant form, and though it looks simple enough, its format is deceptive. The strict format guidelines may easily intimidate or discourage any poet.

The challenge of a villanelle is to choose two foundational phrases (the first and third lines of the first tercet) that are strong enough to hold up for the entire nineteen lines. Perhaps one of the most memorable samples is Dylan Thomas‘s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. At this link, you’ll find other excellent villanelles, as well as some good information related to the Villanelle form. Continue Reading →