All right, you obsessive-compulsive Daughters and Devotees of Denethor – You should be all warmed up by now –

the terzanelle convinced you it could be done, the triolet that is could be fun – well, forget all that – here comes the Villanelle.

This is a form so structured that I could readily believe that Denethor had actually come up with it – no putting a toe out of place, Boromir! No fooling around with extra rhymes, Faramir! What’s that? Oh, yes, sorry Finduilas – yes, they are lovely, just like you. So here we go

Villanelles are French, and the form didn't appear in English until the late 1800's. I believe the name refers to it being something to do on a long idle summer afternoon while you hang around in your villa – so that seems like something an immortal would like. Perhaps we should consider writing a series called The Rivendell Villanelles.

The poem is 19 lines long, and only uses two rhymes. (yipes!) and because that isn’t scary enough, we will be repeating those first two rhymes throughout the poem.

The first five stanzas are triplets, and the last is a quatrain that sums up the ideas we worked our way down to.

Here’s the tricky part - the first and third lines from the first stanza are repeated alternately so the first line becomes the last line in the second stanza, and the third line becomes the last line in the third stanza…

The last two lines of the poem are lines one and three, making a rhymed couplet, and like a sonnet, this is where we should get our bang–for-the-buck.

Are you still with me? Good, because it will get easier when you see them in action.

And here’s a ray of hope - A villanelle does not have a required meter or line length, (thought the first and last lines of the triplets should match each other, and then all the center lines should match each other.) But the form is quite crazed enough – don’t let meter keep you from trying them, that will come later as you get a grip on the repetition.

A strong villanelle uses line breaks and refrains that make sense. Experimenting with line break (enjambment) can take the edge off the repetition of the refrain making the refrain seem less forced. It is good if you can use a word or line that (like the terzanelle) can have slightly different meanings. Misdirection is also good – but so is simple and straightforward and stripped back to feeling and heartbeats.

The refrain should be as natural as you can get it, the natural next line when you can manage it - otherwise you will lose your place and so will your reader. Try for good flow.

But don’t worry about things like line break on the first try. Just try to get comfortable telling a story that repeats. And if you feel you must add or subtract a triplet or two to practice, by all means, see if that makes it work for you!

Remember – you only get two rhymes – (That’s right - no villanelles about Osgiliath!) so try out your end words before you start. If you can get some good choices, do what you did with the terzanelle – see if you can get a closing pair that carries up to the top and lets you begin.

Here is your map, better take it with you!

A first A (sets meter for pairs)
B first B (can be different meter, and will set up meter for the centers)
A second A (rhymes and matches meter with first A)

A third A
B second B
A repeat first A

A fourth A
B third B
A repeat second A

A fifth A
B fourth B
A repeat first A

A sixth A
B fifth B
A repeat second A

A seventh A *
B sixth B
A repeat first A
A repeat second A

*(Tay likes to repeat a line she likes from above if she can, in case it just isn’t weird enough!)

Once again, I am not going to write a silly one as an example (though I may in a day or two – the silly villanelle sounds like it needs to exist!)

But I have an example in my work here, called Finduilas and Alawa has a beautiful example in her Aragorn villanelle called Watching Thoughts.

This is Dylan Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night. It is probably the most famous villanelle and it should inspire you to see how little he pushes the line breaks, the structure and all that jazz around. It is just simple, elegant and heart-stopping.

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.poets, start your engines!



I still have not written the silly villanelle, but I did, at Starlight's request, write a triolet about a villanelle:

I thought I’d write a villanelle
about an elven bower
and how my heart begins to swell--
I thought I’d write a villanelle
about the charms of Rivendell
in every sun-Kissed hour
I thought I’d write a villanelle
about an elven bower


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