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Villanelles

The Villanelle is a very interesting and challenging form of poetry to write. Throughout the entire poem, only two rhymes are used, and the writer is not tied to one particular meter (though iambic pentameter is often used).

The Villanelle has two "refrains" - lines that are repeated throughout the poem. What makes this form so interesting to write is that the refrains have to rhyme, and they are used in multiple circumstances: in tandem, at the beginning of a stanza, and also at the end of a stanza.

Each stanza of the poem has three lines. The first stanza begins with Refrain #1, followed by a line with a different rhyme, followed by Refrain #2.

In subsequent stanzas, the first line always rhymes with the refrains, the second line rhymes with the second line of all the other stanzas, and the third line is always one of the two refrains, alternating between #1 and #2.

Finally, the Villanelle ends with one stanza which contains four lines; the last two lines are the two refrains.

Sometimes an example is worth more than all the explanations in the world, so here is a villanelle I wrote for Easter.

Springtime Villanelle
Though winter's mournful dirge wails overlong
Accompanied by north wind's hissing whine,
Lift high the springtime's resurrection song.

Abandon dark despair, for days grow long
And sunlight brings new warmth as night declines,
Though winter's mournful dirge wails overlong.

Let fingers tap, and dancing feet grow strong,
And hopes arise in graceful descant line,
Lift high the springtime's resurrection song.

Green sentinels of summer, buried long
Escape their prison, in defiant line,
Though winter's mournful dirge wails overlong.

Sing long and loud, with this triumphant throng
Of reborn trees and blossoms on the vine;
Lift high the springtime's resurrection song.

Rejoice as Easter lilies lift their fronds
Recalling hope of life to every mind;
Though winter's mournful dirge wails overlong,
Lift high the springtime's resurrection song.

(Copyright 2008 by Douglas Twitchell)

The two refrains are: Though winter's mournful dirge wails overlong, and Lift high the springtime's resurrection song. Note how the first stanza contains both refrains, the last stanza contains both, and all the other stanzas alternate in use of the refrains.

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