How To Write A Villanelle Poem Step By Step?

by Amy

A villanelle poem is a structured form consisting of 19 lines, organized into five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a concluding quatrain (four-line stanza). This poetic form is renowned for its distinctive rhyme scheme and repetitive structure, which contribute to its musicality and thematic depth.

The traditional rhyme scheme of a villanelle is ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA. Here, the first and third lines of the opening tercet alternate as the last lines of subsequent tercets, and both appear again as the final two lines of the poem in the quatrain. So, how to write a villanelle poem step by step?

Choosing a Theme or Subject

Villanelles frequently explore a variety of themes, including love, loss, memory, nature, and existential reflection. These themes are well-suited to the form’s repetitive nature, allowing poets to delve deeply into the complexities and emotions associated with each subject.

Writers should select a theme or subject that resonates deeply with them, ensuring it can sustain exploration throughout the structured progression of the poem. The repetitive structure of the villanelle lends itself to gradual exploration and development of themes, making it ideal for introspective or emotive subjects.

Structural Planning

When embarking on writing a villanelle, it’s crucial to outline the poem’s structure from the outset. The poem consists of five tercets followed by a quatrain, providing a clear framework within which to develop the narrative or argument.

Planning the repetitive lines, or refrains, is essential. These lines should be chosen thoughtfully, as they will recur throughout the poem with slight variations. This repetition adds layers of meaning and emotional resonance to the poem, reinforcing its central themes or ideas.

Crafting the Refrains

The refrains in a villanelle are pivotal to its structure and impact. They must be chosen carefully to ensure they can evolve or shift meaning slightly with each repetition. Effective refrains engage the reader and deepen the poem’s exploration of its chosen theme.

For example, in Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” the refrain “Do not go gentle into that good night” evolves with each repetition, intensifying the poem’s plea against resignation and urging defiance in the face of mortality.

Developing the Narrative or Argument

Each tercet in a villanelle contributes to the overarching narrative or argument of the poem. Writers should use these stanzas to explore different facets or perspectives related to their chosen theme, gradually building towards a cohesive resolution or revelation in the final quatrain.

The structured progression of the villanelle allows for a systematic exploration of ideas or emotions, guiding both the poet and the reader through a journey of discovery or contemplation.

Meter and Language

While traditional villanelles often employ iambic pentameter—a rhythmic pattern of ten syllables per line with alternating stressed and unstressed syllables—it is not a strict requirement. However, maintaining a consistent meter or rhythm enhances the musicality of the poem and contributes to its aesthetic appeal.

Language choice is equally important in a villanelle. Poets should select words that fit the rhyme scheme naturally while conveying the intended meaning and emotional tone. The repetition of certain lines amplifies their impact, making precise word choice crucial to the poem’s overall effectiveness.

Rhyme Scheme and Word Choice

The ABA rhyme scheme of the villanelle presents both challenges and opportunities for poets. The repetitive nature of the rhyme scheme demands careful consideration of word endings to maintain coherence and flow across the poem.

Choosing words that fit the rhyme scheme while remaining expressive and evocative is a balancing act. Poets may need to experiment with synonyms or slight variations in phrasing to achieve both musicality and meaning within the confines of the form.

Revision and Refinement

The process of revising and refining a villanelle is essential to ensure its lines contribute effectively to the overall structure and thematic coherence. Poets should review the repetitions of the refrains for effectiveness, adjusting them as needed to strengthen the poem’s impact.

Revising allows poets to polish the poem’s language, rhythm, and imagery, ensuring each line serves its purpose in advancing the narrative or argument. This iterative process may involve reordering stanzas, revising word choices, or fine-tuning the poem’s emotional resonance.

Examples and Practice

Studying examples of well-known villanelles provides insight into the form’s potential and versatility. Poems such as Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” or Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking” showcase how the structured repetition of the villanelle can amplify themes of loss, change, and self-discovery.

Practicing the art of writing villanelles involves experimenting with different themes, refining techniques, and honing one’s ability to craft compelling refrains. Writing exercises can help poets explore the form’s nuances, experimenting with variations while maintaining its core structure.

See also: Villanelle How To Write?


In conclusion, writing a villanelle poem involves embracing its structured format while exploring themes with depth and emotional resonance. The defined structure of five tercets and a quatrain, coupled with the ABA rhyme scheme and repetitive refrains, offers poets a framework for creative expression and exploration.

Writers are encouraged to experiment with the form, adapting it to their unique voice and thematic interests. The villanelle’s structured approach provides both a challenge and a canvas for poets to convey profound emotions, ideas, and reflections through its rhythmic repetition and thematic development.

By mastering the steps outlined—from theme selection to crafting refrains, developing the narrative, and refining language—poets can harness the villanelle’s unique qualities to create poems that resonate deeply with readers and endure as timeless expressions of poetic artistry.

FAQs about villanelle poems

1. What are the steps of a villanelle poem?

Creating a villanelle poem involves several structured steps:

Choose a Theme: Select a theme or subject that resonates deeply, as villanelles often explore complex emotions or ideas.

Outline the Structure: A traditional villanelle consists of 19 lines: five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a quatrain (four-line stanza).

Develop Refrains: Decide on two key lines (refrains) that will be repeated throughout the poem. These lines alternate as the last line of each tercet and come together to conclude the quatrain.

Craft the Rhyme Scheme: Follow the ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA rhyme scheme, where the first and third lines of the first tercet alternate as refrains.

Meter and Language: While often written in iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line), strict adherence to meter is not mandatory. Choose words that fit the rhyme scheme while conveying the intended meaning.

Revise and Refine: Ensure each line contributes effectively to the overall structure and thematic coherence. Refine language, rhythm, and imagery to enhance the poem’s impact.

2. How do you write a simple villanelle?

Writing a simple villanelle involves focusing on clarity and coherence while adhering to the form’s structure:

Choose a Clear Theme: Select a straightforward theme or subject that allows for exploration within the repetitive structure of the villanelle.

Outline the Structure: Plan for five tercets followed by a quatrain. This clear outline provides a framework for developing the poem’s narrative or argument.

Craft Refrains: Create two distinct refrains that will alternate throughout the poem. Ensure these lines can evolve slightly with each repetition to add depth.

Follow the Rhyme Scheme: Maintain the ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA rhyme scheme, focusing on precise word choice to fit the pattern.

Edit for Clarity: Revise the poem to ensure each line contributes to the overall theme and structure. Simplify language where needed while maintaining poetic imagery.

3. What are the techniques of villanelle?

Key techniques in writing a villanelle include:

Refrains: Choosing two lines to repeat throughout the poem, each alternating as the last line of the tercets and appearing together in the quatrain.

Rhyme Scheme: Following the specific ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA rhyme pattern, where the first and third lines of the initial tercet are repeated.

Structure: Organizing the poem into five tercets and a quatrain, which provides a systematic progression of themes or ideas.

Meter: Often written in iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line), although this is flexible based on poetic preference.

Repetition and Variation: Using repetition to reinforce themes while varying the context or meaning of refrains with each iteration.

4. Does villanelle need 10 syllables?

While traditional villanelles often use iambic pentameter (10 syllables per line) to maintain a consistent rhythm and meter, strict adherence to syllable count is not mandatory. Poets may vary the syllable count or experiment with different meters to suit the poem’s tone and style. The primary focus should be on maintaining the ABA rhyme scheme and the repetitive structure that defines the villanelle form.

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