EIF Poetry Challenge #13: Villanelle

Happy New Year, poetry lovers! I’m excited to begin a whole new year of poetry challenges by examining a lyrical, dance-like poetic form: the villanelle.

The form originated in France, though its name derives from the Italian villanella meaning ‘a rustic/peasant song or dance.’ It was originally a ballad-like pastoral poem with no fixed form, dating from the Middle Ages. It’s fixed form originates in the 17th-century poem “Villanelle (J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle)” by Jean Passerat, though many villanelles have since been composed in English.

The Villanelle Form

The form of the villanelle is fixed as follows:

  • 19 lines in total, consisting of five stanzas.
  • The first 5 stanzas are tercets (3 lines); the last is a quatrain (4 lines).
  • The first and third lines of the first stanza alternate as endings to the next 4 stanzas.
  • The final quatrain stanza concludes with the first and third lines of the first stanza.
  • Rhyme scheme: ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA.

If this sounds a little complicated, it really isn’t once you take a look at some examples of the form.

Examples of the Villanelle Form

Perhaps the most famous villanelle poem of all is Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night.’ A rousing cry to go down fighting at the end of life:

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.

These lines feature prominently in Christopher Nolan’s epic sci-fi movie, Interstellar.

Some believe that the villanelle is the perfect form to give voice to the outsider, or those marginalised by society. Consider Sylvia Plath’s poem, ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song,’ which perhaps gives an insight into her experience with schizophrenia:

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

But this could also be a metaphor for any love we create within our own minds which turns out to be unrequited:

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I stuck with the theme of unrequited love when composing my own villanelle ‘His hands make light work of my dreams.’

The Challenge

Write a formal villanelle on any subject. Please stick to the form as described/illustrated above. You can find many more examples of the form online: in fact, there are some great examples right here on WordPress.

You can enter in any of the following ways:

  • Write a blog post featuring your villanelle and link back to this post. Please mention the EIF Poetry Challenge in your post.
  • Email your entry to experimentsinfiction@protonmail.com.
  • Tweet a link to your poem tagging @Experimentsinfc.
  • Post your poem to Instagram tagging @experimentsinfiction.

The deadline for entries is midnight C.E.T. on Tuesday, 12 January. This week’s Challenge will be judged by Elizabeth Gauffreau, winner of the Christmas Poetry Challenge.

61 thoughts on “EIF Poetry Challenge #13: Villanelle

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  1. Well Benji, you’ve put us all to shame by posting such an excellent example so quickly. Well done!
    …………..and the Dylan Thomas example from Ingrid only had three lines, so yours is much better!
    I’m going to set Dauphy onto this challenge, but I can’t promise anything.

      1. Acceptable for you maybe!
        The Dylan T. example finishes with four lines, ABAA
        I’m a titch confused now. You know what a stickler me and Dauphy are for rules. None of your Aussie Larrikin laxness in this househo;d!

      1. I reckon it’s a typo…. The dog licking his typing finger at the time…..Rolf’s a bit like that…go away Ralph…..jeez Ingrid he’s put slobber all over the keyboard…..

  2. Here is my entry:
    I think now often

    I think now often of my younger days
    Of times when life was vivid quick and clean!
    But life now seems a dark and dismal haze

    And now I have a question I must raise
    And that is what these changes truly mean
    I think now often of my younger days

    They mean, I think, that I must change my ways
    No longer running as a reckless teen
    But life now seems a dark and dismal haze

    I wander through an endless twisting maze
    Looking for a truth that I can glean
    I think now often of my younger days

    I find I have so little left to praise
    On sheets so white so crisp and oh so clean!
    I think now often of my younger days
    But life now seems a dark and dismal haze

    1. Thank you, I really enjoyed this. Please just add an additional three-line stanza before the final quatrain: I am sure this won’t be too much of a challenge!

      1. Here is my missing stanza if its not too late, to be inserted before the final quatrain
        :
        I hope my pain is just a passing phase
        The final outcome still has to be seen
        But life now seems and dismal haze

        I must learn to count !

      1. Sorry? Can you explain that in Yorksher please.
        How do I, a)get your link b)insert it into my site?
        Forgive me. I know that this is probably Billy Basic stuff, but Dauphy is as confused as I am, and that never augers well!

      2. Copy the link from the browser when looking at my post then post it in your post. You can highlight a pice of text and press ‘ctrl+v’ to paste it and convert the word into a link!

      1. A bit prosaic, I admit. Could you explain what EIF stands for please? I feel a bit daft doing a challenge and not understanding the name of it!

      1. Dunno…maybe you said ‘dippy skinning’…..(which makes sense)…and she thought you said ‘skinny dipping’ (which makes no sense)….

        Jane ‘Thanks for pushing me into writing another villanelle. Just please don’t ever suggest skinny dipping in January…’

        Skip says it’s me who’s all mixed up….. quite on the cards

      2. Gawd…don’t put ideas in her mind… she’s probably read this already. Told her you switch your phone off when on holidays. She doesn’t listen. I’ve done my vill after lotsa deep pain. Sylvia thinks I show promise……

  3. I submit the final version of my missing stanza as I had missed a couple of words in the previous version:

    I hope my pain is just a passing phase
    The final outcome still has to be seen
    But life now seems a dark and dismal haze

    Ok , sorry for the cock ups!

  4. After much struggle and deep pain here is my entry. Sylvia says I show promise. Thankyou Sylvia.

    “A Villanelle I’m Gonna Write”

    A villanelle I’m gonna write
    Just one that I will come upon
    If I need stay up all the night

    First tercet’s done its looking right
    All this is new, but I’ll press on
    A villanelle I’m gonna write

    I need to add a bit of bite
    (A villanelle requireth one)
    If I need stay up all the night

    My bladders’s calling, gotta plight
    Excuse me while I use the john
    ………………………………………..
    …………..I’m back………………..
    A villanelle I’m gonna write

    I’m nearly there, but thinking, shite
    This is a bloody marathon
    If I need stay up all the night

    I’m finished yay! am high as kite
    (On coffee), buggered, all in, done
    A villanelle I’m gonna write
    I did need stay up all the night

    yawn…..

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