Does A Villanelle Have 19 Lines In It?

by Amy

A villanelle consists of exactly 19 lines. This fixed structure is a defining feature of the villanelle form and plays a crucial role in its distinctive rhythmic and thematic qualities.

Definition and Brief Overview

A villanelle is a highly structured form of poetry that originated from Italian and French folk songs of the Renaissance. It is characterized by its specific pattern of repeated lines and rhyme scheme. The villanelle’s strict format offers poets a framework within which they can explore themes with depth and nuance, using repetition to enhance emotional resonance and thematic cohesion.

Detailed Structure Explanation

The structure of a villanelle is meticulously defined, consisting of:

Five tercets: Each tercet is a three-line stanza.

One concluding quatrain: The final stanza is a four-line stanza.

Rhyme Scheme: The rhyme scheme is ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA, where each letter represents the end rhyme of the lines in the stanza.

The villanelle’s structure requires that the first and third lines of the opening tercet act as refrains, which are repeated alternately as the last lines of the following tercets and both appear together in the final quatrain.

Role and Placement of Refrains

Refrains are lines that are repeated at intervals throughout a poem, often to emphasize a central theme or emotion. In a villanelle:

The first line of the poem is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth tercets, and again as the penultimate line of the concluding quatrain.

The third line of the opening tercet is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth tercets, and again as the final line of the concluding quatrain.

This repetition creates a powerful echo effect, reinforcing the poem’s core message and emotional intensity.

Significance of the Villanelle Form

The 19-line structure of the villanelle is significant because it imposes a disciplined framework that enhances the poem’s rhythmic and thematic qualities. The repetition of refrains within the fixed rhyme scheme creates a musicality and resonance that can intensify the emotional impact of the poem. This structure allows poets to delve deeply into a theme, using the repeated lines to build layers of meaning and emotional depth.

See also: What Are Villanelle Poems Usually About?

Examples of Villanelles

“Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas

This is perhaps the most famous villanelle, exemplifying the form’s capacity for emotional intensity. Thomas’s poem uses the villanelle’s repetitive structure to convey a powerful plea against accepting death passively. The refrains “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” drive the poem’s urgent tone and defiant message.

“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

In this villanelle, Bishop explores the theme of loss with a tone that shifts from lighthearted to deeply personal and poignant. The repeated line “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” takes on new layers of meaning with each recurrence, illustrating the villanelle’s potential for thematic development through repetition.

Writing Tips for Villanelles

Adhere to the 19-line structure: Ensure your villanelle has five tercets followed by a quatrain.

Craft strong refrains: Choose lines that can bear repetition and develop new shades of meaning as the poem progresses.

Maintain the rhyme scheme: Stick to the ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA pattern, ensuring the rhymes feel natural and unforced.

Select a compelling theme: Villanelles are well-suited to exploring intense emotions and complex themes, so choose a subject that can sustain the poem’s repetitive structure.

Vary the refrains’ context: Use each recurrence of the refrains to build upon the poem’s narrative or emotional arc, adding depth and resonance.

Common Misconceptions

Line Count Flexibility: Some may mistakenly believe that the line count in a villanelle can be flexible. However, the villanelle’s form is fixed at 19 lines. Deviating from this structure means the poem is no longer a true villanelle.

Repetition Overload: While repetition is central to the villanelle, it’s important to ensure that each repetition adds new meaning or emphasis, avoiding monotony and maintaining the reader’s interest.

Rhyme Scheme Simplification: The villanelle’s rhyme scheme is strict, and simplifying or altering it can undermine the form’s integrity and impact.


To summarize, a villanelle indeed consists of 19 lines, structured into five tercets followed by a concluding quatrain. This rigid format, characterized by its specific rhyme scheme and the strategic placement of two alternating refrains, is integral to the form’s ability to convey depth and resonance. Understanding and respecting the villanelle’s formal requirements while creatively engaging with its constraints can result in powerful, evocative poetry. Examples like Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” demonstrate the form’s potential to explore complex themes and emotions with striking clarity and intensity. By following the provided tips and avoiding common misconceptions, aspiring poets can master the art of writing villanelles, embracing both its challenges and its unique expressive possibilities.

FAQs about Villanelle Structure and Form

1. Does a villanelle have to have 19 lines?

Yes, a villanelle must have 19 lines. This fixed structure is a defining characteristic of the villanelle form and is essential to maintaining its rhythmic and thematic qualities. The 19 lines are divided into five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a concluding quatrain (four-line stanza).

2. How many refrains are in a villanelle?

A villanelle contains two refrains. These refrains are the first and third lines of the opening tercet. They alternate as the last lines in the subsequent tercets and both refrains appear together in the final quatrain. This repetition creates a rhythmic and thematic echo throughout the poem.

3. What are 19 lines in a poem called?

A poem with 19 lines is called a villanelle. This specific structure, characterized by its five tercets and one quatrain, along with its unique rhyme scheme (ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA) and use of refrains, defines the villanelle form.

4. What is a 19-line poem form from France?

The 19-line poem form from France is known as a villanelle. The villanelle originated from French and Italian folk songs during the Renaissance and was later formalized into the structured poetic form recognized today. It is known for its repetitive lines and strict rhyme scheme, which contribute to its distinctive musicality and thematic depth.

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