Villanelle

A villanelle is a poem with five 3-line stanzas with rhyme scheme aba followed by a concluding final stanza or four lines.  Featured in the 19-lines are two refrain lines which occur throughout the poem. The first line of the poem is repeated as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas while the third line of the opening stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas.  These two lines are form a kind of heroic couplet as the conclusion of the poem.

In The Making of a Poem, Mark Strand and Eavan Boland suggest that the form originated as a rustic Italian song form but emerged into modern poetic experience via French pastoral poetry.  The villanelle form is a clear reminder of the fundamental link between song lyrics and poetic literature.  Boland and Strand also argue that the villanellle form “refuses to tell a story” due to the circular feel created by the repetition of the refrain lines; instead, Boland and Strand seem to view the form as deeply connected to emotion and memory – particularly also of loss.

About the Poem

Villanelle #1 is an experiment with a traditional form. Since the poem was intended as an experiment, the basic inspiration began with a painting of a barnyard being covered in a blanket of snow. This respects the pastoral origins of the form and provides a simple template to build within the form. Being written very near Hallowe’en, it seemed appropriate to try something that Edgar Allen Poe might enjoy.

In this experiment, the first and third lines were composed first to set the overall tone and rhyme template of the refrain. The long i sound was chosen to create a plaintive note. All of the lines with this long i sound were written first with the non-refrain final words dry, cry, why, die, fly being used to create a movement direction of the poem. The additional rhyme “lie” at the beginning of the third line fit easily in the line to create an extra repetitive whine.

The remaining lines came into place following the final word “build” of the second line. Overall the sound -illed, suggests sickness but the word is never used. This is an interesting feature which emerged in the writing. It is an unspoken reinforcement of a theme of death.

The villanelle form proved very easy to work with; the repeating lines provide a comforting direction to write within. At every moment, there is a kind of certainty of where the poem will proceed to. The crucial detail is to have refrain lines that will work effectively when repeated and when combined as a heroic couplet.

Villanelle #1: Winter’s Wings, A Poem in Draft

The merciless snow drifts down from the sky
Now silent, how silent the layers do build
Lie still as the blanket stifles a sigh

The black sky is solemn, distant and dry
My moon turns away from this moment so chilled
The merciless snow drifts down from the sky

The wind bites bites deep with a moan and a cry
Drawing on warmth for a need never filled
Lie still as the blanket stifles a sigh

Cast out to the blackness, cast out, asking why
And hear back nothing and nothing is willed
The merciless snow drifts down from the sky

Life in this moment; in a moment to die
Time lingers, time passes; time’s wasted and killed
Lie still as the blanket stifles a sigh

With winter’s wings, only the snow does fly,
Down again. Life chilled. Down again. Life stilled
The merciless snow drifts down from the sky
Lie still as the blanket stifles a sigh

The Model – Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

One of the finest and most haunting models of the villanelle form is Dylan Thomas’ Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

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.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
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.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

See Also

References and Citations

  1. https://www.wwnorton.co.uk/books/9780393321784-the-making-of-a-poem
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villanelle

Article History

All content on www.ericadriaans.com, the Erickipedia, is updated and revised based on new information, further consideration, reader feedback and whim. To recommend updates, provide feedback or comment please use the contact and feedback form.

  1. Original draft: October 28, 2018

 

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