literature

How to Write Villanelles

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Daily Deviation
Daily Deviation
January 10, 2009
How to Write Villanelles by =Mattiello is an accessible, fun guide to writing what is perhaps the most difficult form in poetry.
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           Villanelles can be quite discouraging; they look simple but are actually quite difficult. However, when mastered, it becomes “technically easy” according to Conrad Geller.  Just like riding a bike, right?  The name Villanelle is derived from the Italian villa, or country house, which is where aristocrats went to “refresh” themselves.  Strangely enough, the form is originally French and only appeared in the English language in the lat 1800s (19th century).  Out of the 19 lines in a Villanelle, only two rhymes are used.  Furthermore, two lines repeat throughout the poem; usually the first and last lines of the first stanza are repeated interchangeably throughout the second, third, fourth, and fifth stanzas (starting with the first line of the first stanza) until the last stanza where both are repeated in the same stanza.

          To continue your education on the structure of a villanelle, it is important to remember that the first five stanzas are to be triplets, while the last stanza consists of four lines - the last two lines of which are the first and third lines respectively of the first stanza, making a “rhymed couplet.”  If you’re feeling terribly confused, be sure to pay attention to the following good news:  A villanelle requires no particular meter or line length, therefore allowing you a little room to breathe by experimenting with the form.  Let’s go through this step by step.

          The first step you will need to take is to create a pair of rhyming lines that are your overall meaning.  These lines are what we refer to as a Basic Couplet, meaning two lines that rhyme with each other.    We will begin by using Dylan Thomas’ famous Villanelle, “Do Not Go gentle into That Good Night.”

                Do not go gentle into that good night
                Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

          After developing your two key lines, you must put in an un-rhymed line between the two.  By doing this, you will create the necessary “triplet” stanza.  Thomas puts, Old age should burn and rave at close of day, between the “main” lines as I refer to them.  Therefore, the first stanza will end up looking like this:

                Do not go gentle into that good night,
                Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
                Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

          The second stanza begins with a line that rhymes with the basic couplet.  The second line in this stanza, which will be your middle line, should rhyme with the second line of the first stanza. To complete the second triplet stanza, you must repeat the first line of the couplet as the last line in the second stanza.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, (rhymes with the couplet)
Because their words had forked no lightning they (Rhymes with day ; middle line of first stanza)
Do not go gentle into that good night, (repeated first line of the couplet)

          As with the second stanza, you continue to do the same for the third.  You are to create a line that rhymes with the basic couplet, a line that rhymes with the second line - middle line - of the first stanza, but the last line of the third stanza will be the only line that is different than the second.  The last line of the third stanza is the second line of the couplet. Each line rotates throughout the poem;  the first line of couplet to the second stanza, the second line of couplet to the third stanza,  the first line of couplet to the fourth stanza, etc.  The rotation of the lines ends with the sixth stanza.

                Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright (rhymes with the couplet)
                Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, (Rhymes with middle line)
                Rage, rage agianst the dying of the light. (repeated second line of the couplet)

                Wild men you caught and sang the sun in flight, (rhymes with the couplet)
                And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, (Rhymes with middle line)
                Do not go gentle into that good night, (repeated first line of the couplet)

                Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
                Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
                Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

          The sixth stanza is the only stanza that has four lines in its stanza.  The Sixth stanza consists of a line that that rhymes with a couplet, a line the rhymes with the middle line of the first stanza, and the original couplet as the last two lines – all in order respectively.  Therefore, the last stanza of Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night looks like this:

                And you, my father, there on the sad height, (still rhymes with the couplet)
                Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.  (Rhymes with middle line)
                Do not go gentle into that good night, (first line of couplet)
                Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (second line of couplet)

          There you have it.  This is how you create a villanelle, step by step and rule by rule.  If you have any trouble, simply review the rules slowly and create your own villanelle step by step.
Thank you very much for reading. I encourage all of you to try this step by step and create a beautiful piece of work. Please, spread this resource around so that others may learn from it.

I really enjoyed writing this. It refreshed my own memory on the subject and stoked my desire to write a villanelle.

The poem used in this essay is the copyright of Dylan Thomas, but the essay itself is copyright by Joseph L.M. Sturm

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Take a look at some of my other tutorials:

:bulletred: Colons, Semicolons, and Hyphens
:bulletred: Apostrophes: Two commandments
:bulletred: Flashbulb Poetry: How to Write
:bulletred: How to Create Visual Poetry
:bulletred: The Acrostic Haiku
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:star::star::star::star::star-half: Overall
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This guide is very well written and helpful to anyone who wants to know how to write in villanelle and knows how to read.

When I first searched "how to write villanelle", Mattiello's guide came up first and I didn't need to go to a different result to understand the form.

The guide is very concisely written and to the point. The guide isn't littered with confusing words and run on sentences. It gives an example and clearly labels lines to further explain how the form works.

The only thing I thing that would have improved the guide is having the whole poem written at the end since it was dissected throughout the rest of the guide.