9 Steps to Successfully Write a Villanelle Poem

Learn to write a villanelle poem that repeats lines. Follow nine easy steps, from choosing a theme you care about to finishing your poem with polish.

By:   Hazel Max, Published on: 2024-02-09, Last Updated: 22-05-24

Reviewed by: Daniel Oliver

Table of Contents

A villanelle is a special kind of poem with a strict structure. It has a complicated rhyme pattern and lines that repeat. It began in France and Italy but gained popularity in English poetry in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Famous poets like Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath have written villanelles. They use this form to explore deep topics like love, loss, and thinking about life.

“He who seeks rest finds boredom. He who seeks work finds rest.” - Dylan Thomas

Alright, now let’s see what Villanelle poems are, their importance, and the critical steps to writing an impressive poem.

What is a Villanelle Poem?

A villanelle poem is a special kind of poem with 19 lines. It's split into five groups of three lines (tercets) and one group of four lines (quatrains).

Usually, the first and third lines of the first group of three lines are repeated in the poem. They also show up again at the end of the last four-line group.

This repetition gives the poem a special rhythm and makes it feel mysterious. Villanelles often talks about love, longing, and thinking about life. The strict structure of the poem helps to create strong feelings and ideas.

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Purpose of the Villanelle Poem

A villanelle poem has many purposes. It helps to explore deep feelings and ideas in a structured way. The repeated lines and strict rhymes create a rhythm that makes the poem more powerful.

It helps to talk about love, feeling sad, wanting something, and thinking about life. Following rules helps poets and readers be more creative about language and poetry. It helps them think and come up with interesting ideas.

The goal of a villanelle is to make people feel strong emotions. It also gives them a special poetic experience they'll always remember.

What is the Structure of a Villanelle Poem?

A villanelle has 19 lines split into five groups of three lines each, ending up with a group of four lines. In each group of three lines, the first and third lines are repeated in a pattern throughout the poem. They also come together at the end of the poem.

This creates a kind of musical pattern. The rhyme scheme follows a pattern too: ABA for the groups of three lines and ABAA for the group of four lines. Villanelles is written in a rhythmic iambic pentameter (ten syllables in each line).

This rhythm alternates between stressed and unstressed beats. But nowadays, people sometimes play around with this. Villanelles often talks about deep stuff like love, loss, or thinking about life.

Benefits of Writing a Villanelle Poem

When you write a villanelle poem, it follows structured creativity, deep emotions, and certain rhymes. This helps you improve at poetry and makes you think deeply about things. Now, let’s check out more of its benefits.

  • Sticking to a certain way of writing, like using specific rhymes and repeating lines,. This helps improve writing skills.
  • Strict rules help creativity. They provide a structure for being creative. It makes people think of new ways to use words, pictures, and ideas.
  • Repeating lines helps you go deeply into feelings and thoughts. It's great for exploring themes like memories, longing, or obsession.
  • Writing in an old style links you to a long history of writing and culture that's been around for a long time.
  • Creating a villanelle requires focusing on words and structure. You have to choose and use words.
  • Writing a good villanelle poem shows you're good at a hard kind of poetry, making you feel proud and want to write more.

9 Steps to Successfully Write a Villanelle Poem

You'll learn how to pick a theme and create a special structure for a Villanelle poem. It helps new poets learn how to make great poems. Certainly! Here are nine steps to successfully writing these poems:.

1. Choose a Theme or Topic 

Begin by selecting a theme or topic that resonates with you. Villanelles are well-suited for exploring emotions, memories, or patterns of thought.

Consider themes like love, loss, or remembrance. Your chosen theme will guide the direction of your poem and provide the emotional foundation for its creation.

2. Understand the Villanelle Structure 

Familiarize yourself with the structure of a villanelle. It consists of 19 lines divided into five tercets (three-line stanzas) and a final quatrain (four-line stanza).

The first and third lines are repeated in the last lines of the next set of three lines. Then, they're used together as the last two lines of a group of four lines.

3. Create the Refrain Lines

Choose your refrain lines, which will be repeated throughout the poem. These lines convey the core message, or emotion, of the poem. Make sure they are powerful, clear, and flexible enough to be used many times without losing their effect. The refrain lines define the poem's structure and convey its themes.

Related: How to Write a Poem in 7 Steps

4. Develop Supporting Lines 

Write the remaining lines of the tercets and quatrains. These lines help explain and add more to the main ideas mentioned earlier.

Consider how each line fits into the overall narrative or emotional structure of the poem. Use comparisons and words that make the reader feel more connected to the poem.

5. Establish a Rhyme Scheme 

Decide on the pattern of your rhymes. Use ABA for the groups of three lines and ABAA for the group of four lines.

Select rhyming words that enhance the poem. Pay attention to the sounds and rhythms made by your rhymes. They make your poem sound good and have a strong effect.

6. Consider Meter and Rhythm 

Decide on the meter and rhythm Traditional villanelles usually follow a certain rhythm called iambic pentameter. At the same time, modern ones can change this rhythm.

Try out different rhythms to see which one fits your poem's feeling the best. Consistent meter and rhythm enhance the poem's flow and readability.

7. Create a Draft 

Start writing your villanelle using the set structure, repeating lines, and rhythm. Try different words, pictures, and ways of saying things as you write. Keep the main idea of your poem, but feel free to play around with how you express it.

8. Revise and Refine 

Review your draft and make revisions to strengthen the poem. Pay attention to the clarity, consistency, and impact of each line. Simplify your sentences to make them shorter and easier to understand.

Remove any extra words, and make sure your descriptions are clear. Consider the overall tone of the poem and make adjustments as needed.

9. Finalize and Polish

Once you're satisfied with your revisions, finalize your villanelle. Read it aloud to yourself or others to ensure its rhythmic flow and musicality. Polish any remaining rough edges, fine-tuning the poem's language, structure, and emotional resonance.

Examples of Villanelle Poems

‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas 

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.

Related: 15 Types of Poems to Know, With Examples

‘The Home on the Hill’ by Edward Arlington Robinson 

They are all gone away,

The house is shut and still,

There is nothing more to say

Through broken walls and gray,

The wind blows bleak and shrill,

They are all gone away

Nor is there one today,

To speak them good or ill

There is nothing more to say

Why is it then we stray

Around the sunken sill?

They are all gone away

And our poor fancy play

For them is wasted skill,

There is nothing more to say

There is ruin and decay

In the House on the Hill:

They are all gone away,

There is nothing more to say.

Final Thoughts

Writing a villanelle is like making a special kind of poem. It's structured, like making a detailed picture with words. First, you pick a theme, which is like choosing the song of your heart. Then, you follow the rules of the villanelle to keep the beat going.

The lines that repeat in the poem are like marking important memories, making the poem strong. Each new line adds more to the story, painting a clear picture for the reader. The way the words rhyme and fit together creates a beautiful melody of thoughts.


How do you write a good villanelle poem?

To write a good villanelle, pick a strong theme you care about, learn how it's built, and make catchy lines that repeat. Enjoy making rhymes and keeping a steady beat in your poem. Make sure every line hits you in the heart.

Do villanelles have 10 syllables?

There's no strict rule for how many syllables each line in a villanelle should have. Traditional villanelles usually have lines with 10 syllables each. But nowadays, poets might change this rule to fit their style and message. Some villanelles have 6 syllables per line. Others have about 8.

How many stanzas are in a villanelle?

A villanelle is a poem with 19 lines. It has 5 groups of 3 lines each, and then a group of 4 lines at the end.

What are the themes of a villanelle?

A villanelle can talk about lots of feelings and thoughts, like love, sadness, and remembering things. Poets have a lot to work with when they write in this style.

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