As I mentioned last week, we’ll be staying in the V section of the poetry dictionary this week with one of my favorite poetry forms: the villanelle. It is a very long entry in the dictionary so I’m only sharing part of it, just enough for you to know how to write one.
VILLANELLE (vil-uh-nel’; Italian, folk-song about rural life, from the Latin, “country house”) A fixed form, usually nineteen lines in length, consisting of five tercets and a quatrain.
The first line serves as one refrain (repeated in lines six, twelve, and eighteen), and the third line serves as another refrain (repeated in lines nine, fifteen, and nineteen). These refrains rhyme with each other and with the opening line of each stanza. The middle lines of each stanza rhyme with each other, so that there are only two different rhyme sounds (a and b) throughout the entire poem.
The villanelle began as a French adaptation of Italian folk songs about country people. The term had been used widely, for various lyrics with refrains, before the form took its current pattern from Jean Passerat’s “Villanelle” after the turn of the seventeenth century. Despite all of the intricate, fussy rules, the villanelle has become a powerful form in twentieth-century poems such as E.A. Robinson’s “The House on the Hill,” Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gently into That Good Night,” W.H. Auden’s “If I Could Tell You,” Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking,” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” Although Passerat’s prototype is written in octosyllabics (eight-syllable lines), most contemporary poets write their villanelles in iambic pentameter or perhaps tetrameter.the poetry dictionary, pg 338
My challenge to you today is to write a villanelle with octosyllabics. I’m a big fan of the eight-syllable line. 🙂 You may, as John Drury mentions later in the definition, alter the exact wording of your refrains if you choose. I think the original theme of country people has long since been left by the wayside, so I don’t expect you to follow that part of the definition, but you can if you want to. Just remember that you had better really like your first and third lines because you’ll be repeating them.
My tip for you, as you write a poem in this interesting form, is to write the following rhyme/refrain scheme down the margin of your paper to help you keep track. A1/b/A2, a/b/A1, a/b/A2, a/b/A1, a/b/A2, a/b/A1/A2.
The paint chip words and phrases you have to work with in crafting your villanelle are marigold, ice cap, deep-sea vent, Earl Grey, porcelain, elephant, and euphoria.
I would like you to use at least three of these paint chips in your poem. You can also use your own descriptive words for the colors of the paint chips. For example, you might think marigold looks more like day lily or summer sun. I mean, what fun is it to have colors as part of the chips and not get to play with those too?
I started a different poem, one that was dark and a bit angry. But I couldn’t quite finish it and decided to go a little more lighthearted instead. This one fell together pretty quickly once I switched gears.
A Poem about Flowers I grew a bright red marigold For a bouquet quite elegant It was a beauty to behold A circus coming was foretold Please don't trample, dear elephant I grew this yellow marigold One day the weather turned so cold A great ice cap threatened my plant It was a beauty to behold Blooms a porcelain vase did hold China the perfect element I grew an orange marigold Each flower faithfully unfolds To think it's me is arrogant It is a beauty to behold Euphoria I feel threefold Creation appears evident I grew three lovely marigold They were God's beauty to behold
Show me your villanelles, whether lighthearted or dark, funny or serious. You can share your poem in the comments, or post it on your blog or website and drop a link in the comments. I look forward to reading all your wonderful villanelles.