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Types Of Poem Forms - French Villanelle Poems

Updated on February 12, 2012

When I was first introduced to the French Villanelle fixed poem form, I remember thinking surely this is a cruel joke some villain thought up because it seemed pure evil and torture to be made to write one. Of course, this probably had a lot to do with being a student and not being overly fond of anything that had a lot of “rules. Add that and the fact that as a teen, I failed to notice that “Villanelle” wasn’t exactly spelled the same as “villian” but it was a perfectly logical conclusion. What I found out in writing that first Villanelle is that this fixed form is a delight to write, and relatively easy once you get into the rhythm of it.

Later, I learned that it turns out that both words (villanelle and villian) come from an Italian word “villanella” that evolved from and came from a different word “villanus” which more or less meant “country song” or dance or some combination thereof. While “villain” also came from the same source, that word originally meant “farm servant.” So I accidently connected the right dots on both words, but whether or not the farm servant and the farm song became evil is debatable. Anyway, the Villanelle poem form was for several centuries a work in progress. It progressed from agricultural songs of dance and music of no fixed form during the Middle Ages to a strict poem form by the 19th century with a lot of rules.

The Villanelle may have started out as a French poem form, but it became very popular at times by English poets during the late 1800s and less and less popular in France. Unlike the Sestina poem form, the Villanelle isn’t suitable for telling stories or narratives. It is however very useful for both serious poems as well as for writing playful poems.

Rules For Writing A Villanelle Poem

  • Always begin writing your Villanelle with the first two rhyming sounds revealing the sentiment of your poem’s theme.
  • This fixed poem form may have only two rhyme sounds.
  • Villanelle poems are nineteen lines long.
  • Villanelle poems have five three lined stanzas.
  • Villanelle poems always end in a quatrain.
  • The refrain couplet, which ends the poem consists of lines one and three of the first stanza.
  • Line one (the first half of the refrain) ends stanzas two and four.
  • Line three (the other half of the refrain) ends stanzas three and five.
  • The lines of a Villanelle can be any length.
  • Villanelle have no rigid fixed meter even though in the past they were trimeter or tetrameter, and today are often pentameter.

Thus, you end up with a Villanelle poem pattern as below:

1a, 2, 1b

2, 1a, 1

2, 1b, 1

2, 1a, 1

2, 1a, 1b


Close marigold - Tagetes flower - Source: Tracy Ducasse, 2004 Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons
Close marigold - Tagetes flower - Source: Tracy Ducasse, 2004 Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

A Mere Bloom Of Popularity

Sometimes I am a golden yellow marigold of short degree

Sometimes a tall red cockscomb or long stemmed yellow rose

Or a mere bloom of popularity growing alone


Kissed by the gentle wind of a far away island

Far from my azure town

Sometimes I am a golden yellow marigold of short degree


So on journey my senses awakened

Could I be in company and kissed by the rain and sun glows?

Or a mere bloom of popularity growing alone


Is it field or vase for whom I'm destined?

Or a bouquet for someone to propose?

Sometimes I am a golden yellow marigold of short degree


Is it that I'm to be woven into a garland?

Or stuck between the blank pages of a book yet to compose?

A mere bloom of popularity growing alone


Here to sanctify and applaud my legend

Into the hearts of those historically unaware of my prose

Sometimes I am a golden yellow marigold of short degree

Or a mere bloom of popularity growing alone

Jerilee Wei © 2011

A statue of Dylan Thomas, outside the Dylan Thomas Theatre at the Marina, Swansea. Source: geograph.org UK, Pam Brophy Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons.
A statue of Dylan Thomas, outside the Dylan Thomas Theatre at the Marina, Swansea. Source: geograph.org UK, Pam Brophy Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons.

Examples Of Villanelle Fixed Form Poems

  • W. H. Auden "If I Could Tell You"
  • Elizabeth Bishop “One Art”
  • James Joyce (Stephen Dedalus) “A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man”
  • Jean Passerat “Villanelle” and “The Making Of A Poem”
  • Sylvia Plath "Mad Girl's Love Song"
  • Theodroe Roethke "The Waking"
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson “The House On The Hill”
  • Dylan Thomas “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”
  • Oscar Wilde “Theocritus”

Dylan Thomas reciting his villanelle 'Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night'

Comments

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    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks Hello, hello! Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      That was aninteresting lesson and beautiful poem. Thank you.

    • Ginn Navarre profile image

      Ginn Navarre 6 years ago

      Excellent---maybe we are all a maragold of a short degree in life?

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks anglnwu! Villanelles are fun to write.

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 6 years ago

      Beautiful--love the repetition in a fixed designated manner. Nicely done and rated up.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks K9keystrokes! I appreciate the sharing!

      Thanks SimeyC! I agree the biggest challenge is making it flow while at the same time make sense.

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 6 years ago from NJ, USA

      I've attempted two Villanelle's for the competition so far and it's by far the hardest type of poetry I've tried! You do a great job of explaning the type of poetry and the poem itself is very good! It's easy to write a Villanelle, but very hard to make it flow and make sense! Good job!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      Beautifully presented and a delightful lesson in poem forms. I am very impressed with the quality you offer here. Sharing away!

      Cheers~

      K9

    • Jerilee Wei profile image
      Author

      Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks snakeslane! Do give it a try. I had a lot of fun with it.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 6 years ago from Canada

      Thank you very much Jerilee Wei for this great essay on the French Villanelle and your beautiful example tagetes poem. I find it so much easier to learn by example. The Dylan Thomas poem made me cry, but that is a whole other subject. Thanks again, I am inspired to give the French Villanelle a try now that you've layed it out so well. Regards, snakeslane

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