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Warning: Fixed Form Poetry Approaching



The villanelle is a fixed form of poetry originating from the French that has grown in popularity in the English language. Over the years, the traditional villanelle has been put to great use by many notable poets, including, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Theodore Roethke, and Oscar Wilde (double villanelle in traditional). There are also many wonderful, more modern and progressive examples of the form by poets today, such as Dan Lechay's Ghost Villanelle (traditional; altered language), Steven Cramer's Villanelle After a Burial (traditional; altered punctuation), Rita Dove's Parsley (double villanelle in traditional and free verse) Ashley Anna McHugh's Into These Knots (traditional; additional refrains), Justin Webb's Into the Light (nested villanelle in traditional) and my own rendition of the form, Remorse is a Clean Mouth (villanelle petite in traditional).

There are even more ways to vary a villanelle, and that is by modifying the rhyme scheme. Another poem by Justin Webb, The Siege, modifies the existing traditional rhyme scheme to have one rhyme dominate the other. If you wish to write a villanelle in one of its many variations, you must stay within the parameters of what defines the form. A villanelle is always defined by having at least two refrains made up of one entire line each and two rhymes that follow an organized rhyming pattern and a structure ending in a quatrain preceded by tercets (stanzas consisting of 3 lines). There is no limit to the number of tercets a villanelle may have, but a traditional villanelle has five: An introductory stanza that provides the reader with the refrains that are used throughout the poem followed by four more tercets before the closing quatrain.

But perhaps the more defining aspect of the villanelle is its use of refrains. When the refrains are first used in the poem, there is at least another line between them that buffers the reader, preventing them from seeing what the entirety of both refrains reveals or separating their repetition. This can be used to create a new sentence with an entirely new meaning when the lines are read one after another or slowly drill words into the reader until it culminates at the end of the poem.




The first thing to do when writing a villanelle, if you have an idea, is to decide what form of villanelle will work best for your idea. If you don't have an idea, you should really go back to the drawing board (or writing notebook) until you have some phrases you like along with words you want to use. Pick a form and start burning at both ends. All of the templates for the forms and variations of a villanelle can be found below. If you create one yourself, I will gladly add it to the list. Maybe you'll create a new variation of the form, like a reverse villanelle! Which, I would like to say, I have failed at creating multiple times.

This short tutorial is going to assume you are writing a traditional villanelle for the sake of clarity, then I will explain the templates of the other strains of the form.

When writing your masterpiece, you should attack the poem from both ends; it is important to note that this is not a poem that will write itself. First and foremost, write out some rough versions of the end lines and then go back to the beginning and insert them there and then start to form a second line. As that second line starts to formulate, define your end lines further until you are satisfied that they will have their desired effect. When you have a first stanza you're comfortable with, move on to the next. Make sure you are using the correct refrain in the right place. As you get a better idea of what you're writing, think about the lines leading up to the end lines in the last stanza (the quatrain) and start working on them when on and off while taking break from writing the tercets. This allows you to see the poem in a bigger snapshot and not get "tunnel vision" on one area of the piece. From there, it's just a matter of hammering out the rest of the poem.

This will make for a long-scrolling wall of templates, but never fear, we have a table of contents! Click to navigate to the desired variation of the villanelle.


A1
b
A2

a
b
A1

a
b
A2

a
b
A1

a
b
A2

a
b
A1
A2



A1
b
B1

a
b
A1

a
b
B1

a
b
A1

a
b
B1

a
b
A1
B1

You could also switch it up so that the 'a' rhyme occurs more often. But that doesn't seem to work as well....



This one is pretty simple and is divided into 3 stanzas and is the bare minimum of a villanelle.

A1
b
a

a
b
A2

a
b
A1
A2



A1
b
a (or b)

a
b
B1

a
b
A1
B1



This form is jswebb's baby, but it is a monster to tackle. I've tried two concepts out trying to write one unsuccessfully. Though I have seen one written by rockstreetpoet called Gardener's Greed The form is two traditional villanelles interwoven with each other, or "nested." To differentiate between the two, indent one of the villanelles. Without further ado, here is the form:

A1
b
A2
B1
a
B2
a
b
A1
b
a
B1
a
b
A2
b
a
B2
a
b
A1
b
a
B1
a
b
A2
b
a
B2
A1
A2
B1
B2

And as said so many times before, you can modify the rhyme, especially in this version of the form.

What type of villanelle will you create?

I've been on a villanelle craze lately, so I decided to show how to write one, with templates for its variations. If you have a variation you would like to share, comment below and I will add it.
Add a Comment:
 
:iconabbeygrimm:
AbbeyGrimm Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2014
oh my thank you so much for this! i've been searching for an understandable villanelle tutorial for a week now and this was a godsend. words cannot express the depths of my gratitude for this.
Reply
:iconnichrysalis:
Nichrysalis Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
:heart: I'm glad you found it so useful!
Reply
:iconakkajess:
akkajess Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I shall give a villanelle a shot! I love trying out new forms, it's just the content part that I have trouble with, haha :D
Reply
:iconnichrysalis:
Nichrysalis Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
:P Usually a certain poem just screams to be written in form.
Reply
:iconsolarune:
Solarune Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2012   Writer
Featured here at :devthewrittenrevolution!: :) (under Featured Resources at the bottom)
Reply
:iconnichrysalis:
Nichrysalis Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Many thanks! :love:
Reply
:iconsolarune:
Solarune Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2012   Writer
<3
Reply
:iconreflectionsinwater:
reflectionsinwater Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you for writing such an article. So far lately, I have only been limited to the free verse, sonnet, ballad, blank verse and haikus (simple), and various combinations of these forms. These articles are incredibly useful to all writers, (professional or amateur) :)
Reply
:iconnichrysalis:
Nichrysalis Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Welcome. I'm glad you found it useful, villanelles are fun to write!
Reply
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