Villanelle Definition

A 19-line poem consisting of five tercets and a final quatrain on two rhymes. The first and third lines of the first tercet repeat alternately as a refrain closing the succeeding stanzas and joined as the final couplet of the quatrain.

A villanelle is a type of poem that consists of nineteen lines with two refrains and two repeating rhymes. The poem is made up of a quatrain that is preceded by five tercets. The third and first lines of the first tercets are alternately repeated in the final lines of the subsequent stanzas; and in the last verse, the refrain works as the two closing lines of the poem. Using lowercase letters for the refrains and uppercase for the rhymes, the poem can be represented as b1 B c2 / B C b1 / B C b2 / B C b1 / B C b2 / B C B1 b2.

Odd as it may seem for poems with such a fixed rhyme scheme, villanelles didn’t start off as a rigid form. Villanelle poems were French and Italian dance songs during the Renaissance period. Poets from France who called their called their poems ‘villanelle’ did not observe any particular refrains, rhymes, or schemes. Rather, the title inferred that, like the Spanish and Italian dance songs, their villanelle poems spoke of plain, often rustic or pastoral themes. 

Villanelle Poem Example

This is Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night." It is one of the most famous villanelles and, while Thomas does not experiment much with the form, the poem is a great example of how villanelle repetition works. The boldface and italics are there to more easily show the repeated lines and demonstrate the structure of the poem.

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.

Top 5 Villanelle Poem Examples

PMPoem TitlePoetFormCategories
Premium Member Poem MY GARDEN ALLISON, JAN Villanellebeauty, butterfly, flower, garden,
Premium Member Poem The Other Side of Winter Adams, Cona Villanellebeauty, snow, winter,
Ashen Snow mohn, david Villanellesad, september,
In Celtic Shadows - A Collaboration With Lin Raven, Vladislav Villanelledream, love,
Premium Member Poem Still I Run Cozart, Dale Gregory Villanelleautumn, death, truth,

Other Villanelle Definition

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Misc. Definitions

\Vil`la*nelle"\, n. [F.] A poem written in tercets with but two rhymes, the first and third verse of the first stanza alternating as the third verse in each successive stanza and forming a couplet at the close. --E. W. Gosse.

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