Thursday, April 21, 2011


Villanelles are an odd, tight, technical form that originated during the Renaissance as freeform drinking songs. Somewhere along the line, supposedly in nineteenth century France, villanelles became highly structured and assumed the form they retain today: five tercets (stanzas of three lines) followed by a quatrain (stanza with four lines), with two repeating lines (refrains) and two repeating rhymes (a or b). The repeating lines are the first and third line of the first tercet. The ending quatrain also picks up those repetitious (and rhyming) lines. (Confused yet? So am I. I only write these with a penciled schematic in the margin.)

For someone like me who struggles with rhymed verse, villanelles are hell. Some poets - Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath - handled this form brilliantly. Me? I feel like I am writing script for greeting cards when I work on one.

Below is my first attempt (ever) at a villanelle, written in March of this year.


End of Day

Daylight fades across the way.
Shadows grow, colors end.
Candles lit at end of day.

Children coming in from play,
Parting from the many friends,
Daylight fades across the way.

Supper: hunger's now at bay.
Mother with the socks to mend,
Candles lit at end of day.

Bath time now, boat display!
Homework done with, time to spend.
Daylight fades across the way.

Day is over, time to pray,
Cares and worries now to tend.
Candles lit at end of day.

Sleeping household, let it stay
Quiet while the nighttime wends.
Daylight fades across the way.
Candles lit at end of day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The villanelle is one of my favorite forms, although I've never attempted to write one myself. It was one of the options my students could try for their second paper in my Introduction to Literature class. I wonder if the form might not work better if the line was a bit longer. You have the basic rhyme scheme down pat and the lines are repeating properly. Elizabeth Bishop's the Art of Losing is my favorite. Had not known this form began as a drinking song.