How Many Refrains Are In A Villanelle?

by Amy

A villanelle is a highly structured poetic form characterized by its specific rhyme scheme and repetitive use of refrains. Originating from Italian and French folk songs in the Renaissance, the villanelle evolved into a sophisticated poetic form that challenges poets to balance creativity with formal constraints. Its historical significance lies in its enduring popularity among poets seeking to explore themes with depth and rhythmic precision.

Structure of a Villanelle

The structure of a villanelle is meticulously crafted to adhere to a set pattern of 19 lines:

It begins with five tercets, each consisting of three lines.

These tercets are followed by a concluding quatrain, which consists of four lines.

The rhyme scheme of a villanelle is ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA, where the letters denote the specific pattern of rhyme that must be maintained throughout the poem.

Explanation of Refrains

Refers in poetry are lines or phrases that repeat at regular intervals within a poem, often serving to emphasize key themes or sentiments. In the context of a villanelle:

A villanelle features two refrains: the first line of the poem is repeated alternately as the third line of each tercet, while the third line of the opening tercet is repeated alternately as the third line of each subsequent tercet.

These two refrains are then brought together in the final quatrain, appearing sequentially to create a powerful conclusion to the poem.

Role and Function of Refrains

The refrains in a villanelle play a crucial role in enhancing the poem’s structure and thematic coherence:

They reinforce the poem’s thematic unity by recurring throughout the poem, emphasizing its central message or emotion.

The repetition of refrains creates a musicality and rhythmic pattern that not only enhances the poem’s auditory appeal but also serves to unify its formal structure.

By echoing throughout the poem, the refrains anchor the reader’s attention and underscore the poem’s emotional resonance, leaving a lasting impression long after the poem has been read.

Examples of Refrains in Well-Known Villanelles

Examining examples from renowned villanelles illustrates how refrains contribute to a poem’s overall meaning and emotional impact:

In Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” the refrain “Do not go gentle into that good night” intensifies the poem’s plea for resistance against death, echoing with increasing urgency and defiance.

Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” utilizes the refrain “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” to convey the gradual acceptance of loss, each repetition deepening the poem’s exploration of resilience and emotional resilience.

Tips for Writing Refrains in a Villanelle

Crafting effective refrains in a villanelle requires careful consideration and artistic finesse:

Ensure that the refrains evolve or deepen in meaning with each repetition, revealing new facets of the poem’s theme or emotion.

Experiment with variations in tone, emphasis, or phrasing to maintain the integrity of the refrains while exploring different thematic nuances throughout the poem.

Use the refrains strategically to structure the poem’s narrative arc, allowing them to guide the reader through the poem’s emotional journey from beginning to end.

Common Mistakes and Challenges with Refrains

While refrains enhance a villanelle’s structure and impact, certain pitfalls can detract from their effectiveness:

Monotony: Repeating refrains without variation can lead to monotony, diminishing the poem’s emotional resonance.

Lack of Variation: Failing to evolve or deepen the refrains’ meaning throughout the poem can limit the poem’s thematic exploration.

Overcoming these challenges requires poets to approach refrains with creativity and intention, continually refining their use to maximize their impact on the poem’s overall effectiveness.

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


In conclusion, the villanelle’s distinctive structure hinges on the repetition and strategic placement of two refrains throughout the poem. These refrains not only reinforce the poem’s thematic unity and emotional resonance but also contribute to its formal integrity and rhythmic appeal. By examining examples from notable villanelles and offering practical tips for crafting effective refrains, poets can harness the power of this structured form to explore complex themes with depth and creativity. Ultimately, the refrains in a villanelle serve as essential components that shape its narrative arc, enhance its poetic impact, and leave a lasting impression on readers, ensuring the form’s enduring relevance in contemporary poetry.

FAQs about Villanelle Structure and Length

1. How many refrains does a villanelle have?

A villanelle has two refrains. These refrains are lines that repeat throughout the poem in a specific pattern. In a villanelle, the first line of the poem is repeated alternately as the third line in each tercet (three-line stanza), and both refrains appear together at the end of the poem in the final quatrain (four-line stanza).

2. How many syllables are in a villanelle?

There is no fixed rule for the number of syllables in each line of a villanelle. The syllable count can vary depending on the poet’s preference and the specific thematic or rhythmic effects they wish to achieve. Traditionally, however, lines in a villanelle often maintain a consistent syllable count within the poem to preserve its rhythmic flow and structure.

3. How many tercets are in a villanelle?

A villanelle consists of a total of six tercets, which are three-line stanzas. These tercets are followed by a concluding quatrain, making up the 19-line structure of a villanelle. The specific arrangement of tercets and quatrains in a villanelle contributes to its distinct form and rhythmic pattern.

4. How long should a villanelle be?

A villanelle typically consists of 19 lines in total. This structure includes five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a concluding quatrain (four-line stanza). The adherence to this fixed length is essential for maintaining the villanelle’s formal integrity and ensuring that it meets the traditional expectations of the poetic form.

Related Articles


Discover the soulful universe of PoemsHubs, where words dance with emotions. Immerse yourself in a collection of evocative verses, diverse perspectives, and the beauty of poetic expression. Join us in celebrating the artistry of words and the emotions they unfold.

Copyright © 2023