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For this week’s Writer’s Toolbox post I am going to be looking at one of the poetic forms out there that is rarely seen, but I find that its repetition offers a wonderful format for a poem. So to begin, we must dive in to what a villanelle is.

The villanelle is a nineteen-line poem that is made from five tercets and a quatrain. It has two repeating lines and a refrain. All of these work together to make a majestic poem. One of the more famous examples comes from Dylan Thomas, who wrote the poem “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.

As you can see by this poem, the first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines. This provides a nice repetition throughout the entire poem that provides emphasis on certain thoughts or emotions.

Some poets have taken on this form and slightly altered the wording of each repetition of those lines, providing a slightly different meaning throughout the poem. It is a fun form to experiment in, as I found a few years ago when I was testing out various poetic formats. As a special treat, here is the poem I wrote in the villanelle form, preceded by the quote that inspired the poem:

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs and build your wings on the way down.” Ray Bradbury

 

POETRY BESTOWS WINGS

 You soar up high, poetry bestows wings,
to glide above the clouds along the way.
Recite the words aloud until it sings.

Writers guide readers toward amazing things,
making new, objects seen every day.
You soar up high, poetry bestows wings.

Forming phrases, brilliantly capturing
the true essence within the words they say.
Recite the words aloud until it sings.

 Rounding up emotions and bottling
them in verse, with words the abstract stay.
You soar up high, poetry bestows wings.

The words joined form a smooth cadence, to bring
a musical rhythm to life today.
Recite the words aloud until it sings.

Skillful poets draw in readers, sending
them to places in a day, far away.
You soar up high, poetry bestows wings,
reciting the words aloud until it sings.

Had you ever heard of the villanelle before? What are your thoughts after reading two poems in this form? If you have written, or end up writing, a villanelle please feel free to share a link in the comments!

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