Does A Villanelle Have 14 Lines?

by Amy

A villanelle does not have 14 lines. A villanelle is a fixed-form poem that always consists of 19 lines. This specific structure is integral to its identity and functionality as a villanelle.

Comparison with Other Forms

The confusion might arise from the sonnet, another popular form of poetry, which has 14 lines. While both forms are highly structured and traditional, they differ significantly in their rules and purposes. Understanding the distinctions between these forms helps clarify why a villanelle cannot be reduced to 14 lines without losing its defining characteristics.

Definition and Brief Overview of a Villanelle

A villanelle is a type of fixed-form poetry that originated from Italian and French pastoral songs during the Renaissance. Over time, it has evolved into a sophisticated poetic form that poets use to explore complex themes through a structured yet lyrical format. A villanelle is known for its strict rhyme scheme and the repetition of specific lines, which enhances its musical quality and emotional impact.

Detailed Structure Explanation

The structure of a villanelle is meticulously crafted and consists of 19 lines arranged as follows:

Five tercets: These are stanzas of three lines each.

One concluding quatrain: This is a four-line stanza that brings the poem to a close.

Rhyme Scheme: The rhyme scheme of a villanelle is ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA. This means that the first and third lines of the opening tercet rhyme with each other, and this pattern is maintained throughout the poem.

The repetition of lines is another key feature

The first and third lines of the opening tercet serve as refrains that alternate as the last lines of the following tercets and are both repeated in the final quatrain.

Role and Placement of Refrains

Refrains are lines that are repeated at intervals throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm and emphasizing particular themes or emotions. In a villanelle:

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

The third line of the opening tercet is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth tercets, and it also serves as the final line of the poem.

This pattern of repetition reinforces the poem’s thematic unity 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.

Examples of Famous 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.

See also: Does A Villanelle Have 19 Lines In It?

Common Misconceptions

Line Count Flexibility: Some might 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 and Other Poetic Forms

1. How many lines are in a villanelle?

A villanelle consists of 19 lines. This structure includes five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a concluding quatrain (four-line stanza). The fixed 19-line format is essential to the villanelle form.

2. What do you call a poem with 14 lines?

A poem with 14 lines is called a sonnet. There are several types of sonnets, including the Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet, the English (Shakespearean) sonnet, and the Spenserian sonnet, each with its own specific rhyme scheme and structure.

3. What type of poem has 19 lines?

The type of poem that has 19 lines is a villanelle. The villanelle is characterized by its specific structure of five tercets followed by a quatrain, along with its distinctive rhyme scheme (ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA) and the use of two alternating refrains.

4. How long should a villanelle be?

A villanelle should be exactly 19 lines long. This fixed length is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the villanelle form. The 19 lines are divided into six stanzas: five tercets and one final quatrain, adhering to a strict rhyme scheme and refrain pattern.

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