Villanelle How To Write?

by Amy

In the vast landscape of poetry, the villanelle stands as a testament to structured beauty and rhythmic grace. Originating from the traditions of French and Italian poetry, the villanelle has captivated poets and readers alike for centuries with its distinctive form and haunting refrains. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the essence of the villanelle, uncovering its origins, dissecting its structure, and offering invaluable insights into crafting your own masterpiece.

Definition and Origin

The villanelle, a form of fixed poetry, finds its roots in medieval French and Italian poetry. Its name is derived from the Italian word “villanella,” meaning “rustic song” or “peasant song.” Initially associated with pastoral themes and simple melodies, the villanelle evolved into a sophisticated poetic form characterized by its intricate structure and repetitive refrains.


At the heart of the villanelle lies its structured elegance. Comprising 19 lines divided into five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a concluding quatrain (four-line stanza), the villanelle adheres to a specific rhyme scheme: ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA. This rigid structure provides a framework within which poets can explore themes and emotions with precision and depth.

Refrains and Repetition

One of the defining features of the villanelle is its use of refrains and repetition. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are alternately repeated as the final lines of the succeeding stanzas, creating a hypnotic rhythm that echoes throughout the poem. These refrains culminate in the final stanza, where they are combined to form the concluding couplet, imbuing the poem with a sense of closure and resonance.

Meter and Syllable Count

While the villanelle is known for its strict structure, poets have the flexibility to experiment with meter and syllable count. Traditionally written in iambic pentameter or tetrameter, the villanelle invites poets to play with rhythm and cadence, enhancing the musicality of the poem. The precise meter and syllable count contribute to the poem’s overall harmony and balance.

Theme and Tone

The themes and tones explored in villanelles are as diverse as the poets who write them. From love and loss to longing and reflection, villanelles offer a canvas for expressing a wide range of emotions and experiences. The form’s repetitive nature lends itself particularly well to themes of obsession, memory, and existential contemplation, inviting readers to ponder the complexities of the human condition.

Examples and Analysis

To truly appreciate the artistry of the villanelle, one need only look to the works of master poets who have wielded this form with mastery. Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” are prime examples of villanelles that transcend the boundaries of time and language. In “Do not go gentle into that good night,” Thomas explores the theme of mortality with fervent urgency, while Bishop’s “One Art” grapples with the inevitability of loss with poignant grace. Through meticulous analysis, we can uncover how these poems exemplify the form, structure, and thematic elements of the villanelle, inspiring poets to craft their own works of enduring beauty.

Tips for Writing

Crafting a villanelle requires both skill and intuition. Here are some practical tips and techniques to guide you on your poetic journey:

  • Begin by brainstorming ideas and themes that resonate with you personally. Whether it’s a fleeting moment of joy or a profound revelation, allow your experiences to inform your poetry.
  • Focus on drafting the refrains first, as they will serve as the foundation of your poem. Experiment with different variations and phrasings until you find the perfect balance of repetition and variation.
  • Embrace the repetition inherent in the villanelle, but avoid monotony by introducing subtle variations in imagery, language, and tone. Each repetition should deepen the poem’s meaning and resonance.
  • Pay close attention to the poem’s structure and theme, ensuring that each stanza flows seamlessly into the next. Use enjambment and punctuation to control the poem’s pacing and rhythm, guiding the reader through the emotional landscape of your verse.
  • Don’t be afraid to revise and refine your poem multiple times. Great poetry often emerges from the crucible of revision, as poets strive to distill their thoughts and feelings into their purest form.

By following these tips and techniques, you can unlock the full potential of the villanelle, harnessing its rhythmic power and expressive depth to craft poems that resonate with readers for generations to come.


In the realm of poetry, the villanelle stands as a beacon of structured beauty and rhythmic grace. From its humble origins in medieval Europe to its enduring legacy in contemporary literature, the villanelle continues to captivate poets and readers alike with its timeless elegance and haunting refrains. By understanding the form’s origins, structure, and techniques, aspiring poets can unlock the secrets of the villanelle, harnessing its poetic power to express their deepest thoughts and emotions. So, pick up your pen, let your imagination soar, and embark on a journey into the heart of the villanelle.

FAQs about Writing Villanelles

1. How do you write a villanelle format?

Writing a villanelle follows a specific format that includes 19 lines divided into five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a concluding quatrain (four-line stanza). The rhyme scheme is ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are alternately repeated as the final lines of the succeeding stanzas and then together as the final two lines of the quatrain. This repetition creates a unique rhythmic pattern that is characteristic of the villanelle form.

2. Are villanelles hard to write?

Villanelles can be challenging to write due to their strict structure and the need to effectively manage repetition while maintaining coherence and emotional resonance. Crafting a villanelle requires careful attention to detail, as poets must navigate the intricacies of the form while expressing their thoughts and emotions with clarity and depth. However, with practice and dedication, aspiring poets can master the art of writing villanelles and unlock their creative potential.

3. Why would someone write a villanelle?

People write villanelles for various reasons, including:

Challenge: Some writers are drawn to the villanelle’s strict structure and repetitive form as a creative challenge that pushes the boundaries of their poetic skills.
Emotional Expression: The villanelle’s repetitive refrains provide a unique opportunity to explore themes of obsession, memory, and existential contemplation with depth and nuance.
Artistic Tradition: Villanelles have a rich literary history and are considered a classic poetic form, making them an appealing choice for poets who wish to pay homage to tradition while exploring contemporary themes and ideas.
Musicality: The villanelle’s rhythmic pattern and melodic quality lend themselves well to themes of love, loss, and longing, allowing poets to evoke powerful emotions through the interplay of sound and meaning.

4. What is a good topic for a villanelle?

A villanelle can be written on virtually any topic, but some themes lend themselves particularly well to the form’s structure and repetition. Good topics for a villanelle may include:

Love and Romance: Explore the complexities of love, desire, and heartache through the lens of the villanelle, using repetition to convey the intensity of emotion.
Loss and Grief: Reflect on the experience of loss and grief, capturing the cyclical nature of mourning through the poem’s refrains and repetition.
Nature and Time: Contemplate the passage of time and the ephemeral beauty of the natural world, weaving imagery of seasons, cycles, and change throughout the poem.
Memory and Nostalgia: Delve into the realm of memory and nostalgia, revisiting moments from the past and exploring their resonance in the present through repeated refrains and motifs.

Ultimately, the best topic for a villanelle is one that resonates with the poet on a personal level, inspiring them to explore it with depth, insight, and emotional authenticity.

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