Villanelle: Understanding its Definition, Structure & Examples
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is Villanelle?
  2. Villanelle Structure
  3. Villanelle Creation
  4. Villanelle Examples
  5. Tips for Writing a Villanelle

Have you ever come across a poem that feels like it's playing a beautiful game with words, a game of repetition and rhythm? That's probably a villanelle! In this blog post, we'll dive into the definition of a villanelle, its unique structure, and sprinkle in some examples to help you grasp the concept better. So, let's get started with understanding what a villanelle really is.

What is Villanelle?

A villanelle, in the simplest of terms, is a 19-line poem that follows a specific structure of repetition and rhyme. It's like a dance of words on paper, where certain lines repeat in a pattern, creating a sense of rhythm and musicality. Now, let's break down the definition of villanelle into two main parts: its origin and its characteristics.

Origin of Villanelle

The villanelle is a form of poetry that originated from Italy, and its name comes from the Italian word 'villano', which means peasant. It was initially a simple, rustic song sung by Italian farmers. Over time, the villanelle evolved and was adopted by French poets, who gave it the structure we know today.

Characteristics of a Villanelle

Apart from just being a 19-line poem, there are some specific attributes that make a villanelle unique. Let's go over them:

  • Two repeating rhymes: A villanelle is characterized by two sounds that keep coming back throughout the poem. This makes the poem feel like a familiar, comforting tune.
  • Five tercets and a quatrain: The 19 lines of a villanelle are divided into five groups of three lines (tercets) and one group of four lines (quatrain).
  • Repeating lines: The first and third lines of the opening tercet keep popping up alternately at the end of other tercets. What's more, they both show up at the end of the poem, making a grand finale.

Combining these characteristics, the definition of villanelle becomes a charming interplay of repetition and rhyme, creating a rhythmic poem that's as delightful to read as it is to recite.

Villanelle Structure

A villanelle might seem like a complex puzzle at first, but once you understand its structure, it's really quite straightforward. Let's break it down line by line.

Line-by-Line Breakdown

A villanelle consists of 19 lines broken down as follows:

  1. Lines 1-3: The first tercet, where the magic begins. The 1st and 3rd lines will be your repeating lines throughout the poem.
  2. Lines 4-6: The second tercet. The last line repeats the 1st line of the poem.
  3. Lines 7-9: The third tercet. The last line repeats the 3rd line of the poem.
  4. Lines 10-12: The fourth tercet. Again, the last line repeats the 1st line of the poem.
  5. Lines 13-15: The fifth tercet. The last line repeats the 3rd line of the poem.
  6. Lines 16-19: The final quatrain, where both the 1st and 3rd lines of the poem make their final appearance, wrapping up the poem beautifully.

As you can see, the structure of a villanelle is like a pattern. Once you know the pattern, creating this type of poem becomes a fun challenge!

Rhyme Scheme

Another important aspect of the villanelle structure is its rhyme scheme. In a villanelle, only two sounds - 'a' and 'b' - are repeated in a specific order. Here's how it goes:

a1 b A2a b a1a b A2a b a1a b A2a b a1 A2

In this rhyme scheme, 'a1' and 'A2' represent the repeating lines, while 'a' and 'b' represent the two repeating sounds. This specific rhyme scheme is a key part of the definition of villanelle and its unique structure.

Now that you understand the structure of a villanelle, you're ready to start creating your own! But first, let's look at a few examples to help solidify your understanding.

Villanelle Creation

Creating a Villanelle can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. Let's walk through some steps together on how to create your own Villanelle. Are you ready to take the first step into the world of poetic structure? Let's go!

Pick Your Repeating Lines

First, you need to choose two lines that will repeat throughout your Villanelle. These lines should be meaningful and versatile since they will reappear in your poem multiple times. Remember, they will help tie your poem together, so choose them wisely!

Choose Your Rhyme Sounds

Next, decide on the 'a' and 'b' sounds for your Villanelle. These sounds will form the backbone of your rhyme scheme. For example, you could choose 'a' to be a sound like '-ight' and 'b' to be a sound like '-ore'. This will give you a variety of words to choose from and make your poem more interesting.

Build Your Tercets and Quatrain

Now, it's time to build your tercets and quatrain. Remember, a tercet is a group of three lines, and a quatrain is a group of four. Use your repeating lines and rhyme sounds to fill in the structure of your Villanelle. This is where you get to let your creativity shine!

Revise and Refine

Finally, once you've written your first draft of your Villanelle, it's time to revise and refine. Read your poem out loud. Does it flow well? Do the repeating lines add depth to your poem? Are there any words or lines that you could improve? Don't be afraid to make changes until your Villanelle feels just right.

And there you have it! You've just created your very own Villanelle. Remember, creating a Villanelle is more about the journey than the destination. So, take your time, enjoy the process, and most importantly, have fun!

Villanelle Examples

Now that we've covered the basics of creating a Villanelle, let's look at some examples to get a better sense of this poetic form. Poetry is often best understood by experiencing it, wouldn't you agree?

"Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"

One of the most famous examples of a Villanelle is Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." In this poem, the repeating lines "Do not go gentle into that good night" and "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" create a haunting rhythm and add depth to the theme of the poem.

"Mad Girl's Love Song"

Another excellent example is Sylvia Plath's "Mad Girl's Love Song." This Villanelle uses the repeating lines "I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead," and "(I think I made you up inside my head)" to convey the speaker's intense emotions and internal turmoil.

"One Art"

Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" is a powerful Villanelle that uses the lines "The art of losing isn't hard to master," and "But (write it!) losing's not too hard to master," to explore the theme of loss and acceptance. It's a great demonstration of how a Villanelle can convey complex emotions.

These examples show the versatility and depth that can be achieved with a Villanelle. Despite its strict structure, or perhaps because of it, a Villanelle can be a powerful tool in the poet's arsenal. So, why not give it a shot and create your own?

Tips for Writing a Villanelle

Now that we've explored the definition of a villanelle and looked at some examples, you might be wondering how to start writing your own. Don't worry, I've got your back. Here are some tips to get you started.

Choose Your Repeating Lines Carefully

The repeating lines of a villanelle, or refrains, are the backbone of your poem. Make sure they are impactful, and carry enough weight to be repeated throughout the poem. Remember, these lines will be the ones that stick with your reader, so make them count.

Plan Your Rhymes

Remember, a villanelle follows a specific rhyme scheme. Before you get too far into writing, it can be helpful to plan out your rhymes. This can prevent you from getting stuck later on.

Play with Language

A villanelle is a form that lends itself to playfulness with language. Don't be afraid to play with words, sounds, and rhythms. The repetition in a villanelle can create interesting opportunities for wordplay and linguistic creativity.

Embrace the Restrictions

Writing a villanelle can feel restrictive, but these restrictions can actually be freeing. They can push you to explore new ideas, and to express your thoughts in ways you might not have otherwise. Embrace the challenge and see where it leads you.

Remember, the most important thing is to enjoy the process. Writing a villanelle should be a fun and rewarding experience. So why not grab a pen and start exploring this fascinating poetic form today?

If you enjoyed learning about the Villanelle poetic form and want to further explore the art of poetry, check out the workshop 'Wordplay' by Celina Rodriguez. This workshop will help you dive deeper into various poetic forms and techniques, enhancing your skills and appreciation for the beauty of language and poetry.