How Many Lines Does A Villanelle Poem Have?

by Amy

A villanelle poem is a highly structured poetic form known for its intricate rhyme scheme and repetitive pattern. Originating from the Italian and French traditions, the villanelle has gained significant popularity in English poetry as well. This essay delves into the specifics of a villanelle, exploring its structure, rhyme scheme, meter, and examples from renowned poets. Additionally, it examines the versatility of the villanelle form and its enduring appeal in modern poetry.

Definition of a Villanelle Poem

A villanelle is a poetic form consisting of 19 lines in total. Its structured nature involves a specific arrangement of tercets (three-line stanzas) and a concluding quatrain (four-line stanza). The villanelle’s roots can be traced back to the Italian and French Renaissance periods, where it evolved as a vehicle for exploring themes of love, loss, and contemplation. Over time, the form was adopted by English poets, further enriching its repertoire and significance in literary traditions.

Structure of a Villanelle Poem

The hallmark of a villanelle is its precise structure:

It comprises five tercets, each followed by a quatrain.

The tercets follow a rhyme scheme of ABA, with the first and third lines of the initial tercet repeated alternately as the last lines of subsequent tercets.

The final quatrain consists of the repetition of these refrains, culminating in a closing couplet that often encapsulates the poem’s theme or offers a final reflection.

This structured format provides a framework that poets use to develop complex themes and emotions within a relatively constrained space, showcasing both creativity and discipline in poetic expression.

Rhyme Scheme

The rhyme scheme of a villanelle is meticulously crafted to enhance its musicality and thematic resonance. The repetitive nature of the rhyme scheme—ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA—creates a hypnotic effect, reinforcing key phrases and ideas throughout the poem. This repetitive structure not only serves as a mnemonic device but also contributes to the poem’s emotional intensity and aesthetic appeal.

Meter and Form

While villanelles are often written in iambic pentameter, which consists of five feet per line with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, adherence to strict meter is not mandatory. Poets may vary the meter to suit the poem’s thematic content and emotional tone. The form of the villanelle, combined with its rhythmic cadence, enhances the poem’s musicality and lends it a distinctive voice that resonates with readers.

Examples and Analysis

Examining examples of famous villanelles provides insight into how poets employ the form to explore diverse themes and emotions. Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” exemplify the villanelle’s ability to convey profound insights and personal reflections through its structured repetition. Thomas uses the villanelle’s form to intensify the urgency of his plea against death, while Bishop skillfully navigates loss and acceptance in her exploration of mastering the art of losing.

Usage and Variations

Traditionally associated with themes of love, mortality, and philosophical contemplation, villanelles have also been adapted to explore a wide range of subjects. Modern poets continue to experiment with the form, introducing variations in rhyme scheme, meter, and thematic focus. These variations contribute to the ongoing evolution of the villanelle as a flexible and enduring poetic form that accommodates contemporary sensibilities and narrative styles.

See also: What is The Structure Of A Villanelle Poem?


In conclusion, the villanelle stands as a testament to the enduring appeal of structured poetry. Its defined structure, intricate rhyme scheme, and thematic depth offer poets a canvas on which to explore the complexities of human experience. By encouraging further exploration of villanelle poems, readers are invited to appreciate the form’s unique qualities and its capacity to capture profound emotions and ideas within its disciplined framework. As poets continue to innovate and adapt the villanelle form, its legacy as a revered poetic tradition remains secure in the annals of literary history.

FAQs about Villanelle Poems

1. Is a villanelle 19 lines?

Yes, a villanelle is a 19-line poem. It consists of five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a concluding quatrain (four-line stanza). The structured format of a villanelle provides a framework for poets to explore themes with repetition and variation, culminating in a closing couplet that often summarizes or reflects on the poem’s central themes.

2. Does a villanelle need 10 syllables?

While many villanelles are written in iambic pentameter, which consists of ten syllables per line (with an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one), strict adherence to this meter is not required. Poets may vary the syllable count or meter to suit the poem’s thematic content and emotional tone. The key defining feature of a villanelle lies in its rhyme scheme and structure rather than its specific syllable count.

3. What is the 19-line poetry form from France?

The 19-line poetry form from France is the villanelle. Originating from the Italian and French traditions during the Renaissance, the villanelle gained popularity as a poetic form known for its structured repetition and thematic depth. It typically follows a rhyme scheme of ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA, where the first and third lines of the initial tercet are alternately repeated throughout the poem.

4. Does a villanelle have a couplet?

Yes, a villanelle ends with a couplet, which is a two-line stanza. The final quatrain of a villanelle consists of the repetition of the refrains from the tercets, culminating in the closing couplet. This couplet serves to summarize the poem’s themes, provide a resolution, or offer a final reflection on the subject matter explored in the preceding lines of the poem. The couplet in a villanelle contributes to the poem’s overall structure and thematic coherence, reinforcing the significance of the repeated lines and bringing closure to the poem.

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