Paint Chip Villanelle Poetry Prompt

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

The Challenge

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?

My Poem

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

Your Turn

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.

I am a Jesus Freak, and I don't care who knows it. I am a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend. My blood family is only part of the larger family of Christ that I belong to. I love to write, especially about my dear Savior.


20 Responses

  1. I’m currently writing my villanelle, Linda. It’s kind of slow going. Not sure why I always wait until Thursday to write for your paint-chip challenges! 😅

  2. I like how the three marigold faithfully unfold displaying God’s beauty in Creation.

    I have read bits and pieces of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress recently especially the ending.
    The Pilgrims Reach the River

    From deep-sea vent to ice cap peak
    we followed where the trail led.
    The breath of God would to us speak.

    We let hope shine upon each cheek.
    We faithfully faced doubt and dread
    from deep-sea vent to ice cap peak.

    At places where the way was bleak
    we listened as the words were read.
    The breath of God would to us speak.

    This pilgrimage is for the meek,
    for those believing what was said
    from deep-sea vent to ice cap peak.

    This is a river, not some creek.
    To those who fear we’d seem as dead.
    The breath of God would to us speak.

    Euphoria is what we seek
    where there is more than mortal bread.
    From deep-sea vent to ice cap peak
    the breath of God would to us speak.

  3. Nly done this once before a few years ago. This took a long time for the form to behave. I hope it is right.


    I sip my earl grey tea and sigh
    My porcelain cup filled to the brim
    Dull elephants do catch my eye.

    My marigolds I do espy
    Look lovely from my window’s rim
    I sip my earl grey tea and sigh

    A deep-sea vent dissuades a cry
    Instead a smile not just a grin
    These elephants can walk on by

    Ice caps now threaten as they try
    I let things pass as if a whim
    I sip my earl grey tea and sigh

    Eden’s fragrant and sterile skies
    Long since is closed by Cherubim
    This elephant dull as a fly

    Euphoria now drawing nigh
    The curse of Satan did not win
    I sip my earl grey tea and sigh

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