What is An Example Of A Famous Villanelle Poem?

by Amy

A villanelle is a highly structured poetic form consisting of 19 lines. The form is composed of five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a quatrain (four-line stanza). The rhyme scheme is intricate, adhering to ABA for the tercets and ABAA for the quatrain. Two lines, known as refrains, are repeated alternately at the end of each tercet and both appear in the final quatrain, creating a circular pattern and a sense of refrain.


19 lines: Five tercets (15 lines) and one quatrain (4 lines).


Refrains: The first and third lines of the initial tercet alternate as the last lines of the subsequent tercets and appear together as the closing lines of the quatrain.

Origins and Evolution

The villanelle originated as a form of rustic Italian folk song. It did not follow the strict structure we associate with it today. The French poet Jean Passerat is credited with the earliest known example of the fixed-form villanelle in the late 16th century. Over time, the form evolved, becoming more popular in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was embraced by poets for its musical quality and the emotional impact of its repetitive refrains.

Famous Villanelle Example

“Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas. This poem, written by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in 1947, is one of the most renowned examples of a villanelle. It addresses the poet’s plea to his dying father to resist death with fierce determination.

Analysis of the Example


The primary theme of “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is defiance against death. The poem encourages fighting against the inevitable, urging a vigorous resistance in the face of mortality.

Language and Style:

Repetition: The repeated refrains “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” intensify the poem’s emotional appeal and emphasize its urgent plea.

Imagery: Thomas uses vivid imagery, such as “Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright / Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,” to illustrate various responses to death and the value of fighting until the end.

Tone: The tone is both somber and fervent, reflecting the gravity of death and the passionate resistance to it.

Other Notable Villanelles

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop: This villanelle deals with themes of loss and acceptance, with the repeated line “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” providing a poignant refrain.


“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”

“Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath: This poem explores themes of love, loss, and mental anguish, with the refrain “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.”


“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

“The Waking” by Theodore Roethke: A meditation on life and awareness, this poem’s repeating lines, “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow,” create a reflective and philosophical tone.

These examples demonstrate the villanelle’s versatility in expressing a wide range of emotions and themes, all while maintaining its characteristic structure and musicality.

FAQs about Villanelle Poems

1. What are some examples of a villanelle poem?

Some notable examples of villanelles include “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas, “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop, “Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath, and “If I Could Tell You” by W.H. Auden.

2. Who wrote the first villanelle poem?

The origins of the villanelle form are not attributed to a single poet. It evolved over time in France during the Renaissance period, with early examples found in the works of various poets. Jean Passerat, a French poet of the 16th century, is often credited with popularizing and formalizing the structure of the villanelle.

3.Is a villanelle a lyric poem?

Yes, a villanelle is considered a type of lyric poem. Lyric poetry is characterized by its expression of personal emotions and feelings, often in a musical and melodic manner. The repetitive and structured nature of the villanelle, along with its focus on themes of love, loss, and mortality, aligns it with the broader category of lyric poetry.

4.How do you write a simple villanelle?

Writing a villanelle involves adhering to its specific structure and rhyme scheme. Here’s a simplified guide to writing a basic villanelle:

  • Choose your refrain lines: Select two lines that will be repeated throughout the poem, usually the first and third lines.
  • Write your first tercet: Use the first refrain line as the final line of the tercet.
  • Write your second tercet: Use the second refrain line as the final line of this tercet.
  • Continue alternating tercets: Follow the ABA rhyme scheme for each tercet, with the first and third lines being the refrain lines.
  • Conclude with a quatrain: Use the refrain lines as the final two lines of the quatrain, maintaining the ABAA rhyme scheme.

Ensure the meter and syllable count are consistent throughout the poem, though this may vary depending on poetic preference. This basic structure allows for creative exploration within the constraints of the form, offering opportunities for nuanced expression and thematic development.

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