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What is a Villanelle and How Do You Write One?

Updated on August 6, 2017
lovebuglena profile image

Lena Kovadlo is a writer for various content sharing websites. She's an author of 10 books and helps other authors publish their books.

There are different poetic forms and styles that you can write in. One of them is a villanelle.

What is a Villanelle?

A villanelle is a poetic form may hold some similarities to a sonnet, but it is much more difficult to master, and may be confusing when learning this poetic form for the first time.

A villanelle is usually written in iambic pentameter though trimeter and tetrameter have also been used. It is comprised of six rhymed stanzas – the first five of which are made up of three lines, while the last is made up of four lines.

Breakdown of a Villanelle

The first and third lines (refrains) of the first stanza are repeated throughout the poem in the five stanzas. But they are not just repeated any which way. The first refrain is repeated in last line of the 2nd and 4th stanzas, while the second refrain is repeated in the last line of the 3rd and 5th stanzas. In the sixth stanza the two refrains are together again, except that now they make up the last two lines of the poem, with the first refrain being in line 3 and the second refrain being in line 4.

Rhyme Scheme of a Villanelle

A villanelle has a rhyme scheme that needs to be followed. In the first five stanzas the first and third lines must have the same rhyme, while the second line has its own rhyme throughout each of the first five stanzas. In the last stanza the second line has the same rhyme as the second line of the other five stanzas, while lines 1, 3, and 4 have the same rhyme as the first and third lines of the other stanzas.

Breakdown of a Villanelle by Stanza, Line, and Rhyme Scheme

Stanza 1:
Line 1 (Refrain1) – rhyme a1
Line 2 – rhyme b
Line 3 (Refrain 2) – rhyme a2

Stanza 2:
Line 1 – rhyme a
Line 2 – rhyme b
Line 3 (Refrain 1) – rhyme a1

Stanza 3:
Line 1 – rhyme a
Line 2 – rhyme b
Line 3 (Refrain 2) – rhyme a2

Stanza 4:
Line 1 – rhyme a
Line 2 – rhyme b
Line 3 (Refrain 1) – rhyme a1

Stanza 5:
Line 1 – rhyme a
Line 2 – rhyme b
Line 3 (Refrain 2) – rhyme a2

Stanza 6:
Line 1 – rhyme a
Line 2 – rhyme b
Line 3 (Refrain 1) – rhyme a1
Line 4 (Refrain 2) – rhyme a 2

A Sample Villanelle

Here is a sample poem of a villanelle. I wrote it for my poetry class years ago and it is my first and only villanelle. Perhaps reading it will make it even clearer as to how this poetic form is structured and needs to be written.

"SPRING"

Spring has awakened and opened its wings.
Streets once blanketed with snow are now bare.
The birds’ sweet echoing melody rings.

Naked branches are covered with seedlings.
Green grass slowly peeks, scent wafts in midair.
Spring has awakened and opened its wings.

The cool breeze sifts and serenity lingers,
The threads of music serenade the air.
The birds’ sweet echoing melody rings.

Burning sun warms bodies and hearts’ cravings,
From winter that has left us in despair.
Spring has awakened and opened its wings.

On shores, waves smash against the rocks like springs.
The boats, whose bells ring in the morning air.
The birds’ sweet echoing melody rings.

Flowers’ rich aroma crafts us greetings,
For months to come and savor this affair.
Spring has awakened and opened its wings.
The birds’ sweet echoing melody rings.

© 2012 Lena Kovadlo

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    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      This was an informational hub, Lena. Villanelles are one of the hardest forms of poetry out there, but a well constructed and well thought out one can invoke emotions any day.

    • lovebuglena profile imageAUTHOR

      Lena Kovadlo 

      5 years ago from Staten Island, NY

      Thank you Deb. Hope you found this poetic form interesting and worth using sometime...

    • lovebuglena profile imageAUTHOR

      Lena Kovadlo 

      5 years ago from Staten Island, NY

      Regis. Thanks for your feedback. I do hope you try writing a villanelle. Something tells me it will be a piece of cake for you to write...

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      6 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      Lena..excellent hub..thank you so much..you have taught me so much..I am voted up and awesome..debbie

    • wordpaintrix profile image

      wordpaintrix 

      6 years ago from Huntington, WV

      interesting! never knew that.

    • lovebuglena profile imageAUTHOR

      Lena Kovadlo 

      6 years ago from Staten Island, NY

      You're welcome Regis. And thanks. Care to give this form a try? I am sure you're gonna do great. :)

    • rauffray profile image

      rauffray 

      6 years ago from BC, Canada

      I commented on this much earlier today but I don't see my comment... ...so; thank you for sharing this information on what seems a rather complicated and difficult form of poetry. I commend you for your poetic creativity using this genre.

    • rauffray profile image

      rauffray 

      6 years ago from BC, Canada

      Wow! That seems complicated but certainly a worthy challenge. I think I prefer free verse. Lol!!! Thank you for sharing this interesting poetic form, Lena. :)

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