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.)


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.

In my lifetime, I’ve written (so far) a single villanelle. (Did I mention the intimidation factor?) If I were going strictly by its early application, my villanelle would probably be disqualified because the scene I describe is not exactly pastoral … unless you’re being very generous to define pastoral to include serene mother love.

This particular villanelle was written when my sons were small. Every day as they grew older, my brain reminded me to store those memories of their baby- and toddler-hood away because they were growing by leaps and bounds (literally!) into boys. (Today, I think the same thing about my grandchildren!)

I will be doing more villanelles, but in the meantime, here’s my first. (And by the way, there’s still a bit of pie left if anyone’s hungry!)

villanelle, mother and son, son, love poem, poetry, poem, light verse
Poem: My Son, a Villanelle

2 thoughts on “Villainous Villanelle

  1. This is lovely, Renee! I’ve written a few villanelles over the years, but now that flow so smoothly as this. Great job!

    1. Debbie, thank you. I was young and naive then, willing to tackle any form without a second thought. Though I admit I didn’t know what I was doing, somehow it came together! But I shall try again.

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