The villanelle

Hi everyone,

Just finished work on a new poem framed as a villanelle. I love writing those things! They are a challenge for sure but oh so worth it when they work. I can’t show you the new one but here’s an example of another I wrote a couple of years ago about a pig.

The Feisty Pig of France

The feisty pig of France is prone to root
In search of buried fungus called the truffle.
The problem is he likes to eat the loot.

Farmer tries to train the spry galoot
To snout the fungus out by sniff and snuffle.
The feisty pig of France is prone to root.

Farmer can’t control the greedy brute.
The pig will dig and fill a gallon duffel.
The problem is he likes to eat the loot.

When farmer yells, he doesn’t give a hoot.
He swings his derriere in a shuffle.
The feisty pig of France is prone to root.

Sometimes the farmer prods him with a boot,
But swine hide is much too tough to ruffle.
The problem is he likes to eat the loot.

The pig is much too valuable to shoot
And farmer knows he’d lose if they should scuffle.
The feisty pig of France is prone to root.
The problem is he likes to eat the loot.

— David L. Harrison

The form expects us to compose five stanzas of three lines and a final one of four. There are only two rhymes in all. In stanza one, the 1st and 3rd lines alternate as the third line in each succeeding stanza until the last and in it they come together as the final two lines.

You don’t want to begin a villanelle unless you’ve checked how many words rhyme with the two you’ve selected. They’ll be repeated six times each. In the poem I just finished I began with lists of 13 and 17 rhyming words but just barely managed to find six each that made sense with what I was writing about.

A villanelle must flow naturally with nothing forced. The third line of each tercet, being a repeat of one of the lines in the first stanza, must make a logical statement about that stanza. That may be the hardest challenge of all.

If you haven’t tried one of these before, take some time before long to attempt one. It’s truly an example of Frost’s statement that a poem is a word game.


18 comments on “The villanelle

  1. I love repeating forms! My favorite is the pantoum. I recently wrote a triolet that had me pulling my hair out, but now we’ve become friends. And though we’ve been eyeing each other, I haven’t yet asked the villanelle to dance. Yours has inspired me — terrific rhyme choice and funny to boot. Love!

    • Hi, Renee. It’s good to hear from you. I’m happy that you like my feisty pig. I’ve never written a triolet so one day soon I must give that form a try. And love back.

  2. As you say, David, it’s a challenging form. Having written my first one about five years ago, I’m afraid I’ve been too lazy commit myself to another one. I really must make an effort

    • Greetings, Bryn! I agree, one of these every now and then is fun; too many too soon would not be. Hope things are good in your camp these days.

  3. All is very well thanks, David. Just preparing for my next solo poetry show on 23rd October. Possibly my swansong as I’m not sure if I shall be able to come up with enough new material for another one

  4. David – here is my villanelle from the March Madness 2014 Competition.

    Spring has Sprung: A Villanelle
    by B.J. Lee

    It’s time for a party to celebrate spring!
    Let’s run with abandon, let’s race with the breeze.
    A boundlessly joyous, incontinent fling

    will let winter know he’s no longer the king!
    Let’s fix up our bikes and let’s put away skis.
    It’s time for a party to celebrate spring.

    Let’s fly our kites high, holding tight to the string.
    Let’s welcome the butterflies, beetles, and bees
    with a boundlessly joyous, incontinent fling.

    Let’s soar to the sky on the seat of a swing.
    Let’s dance round the lilacs and crabapple trees.
    It’s time for a party to celebrate spring.

    The migrating birds are all back on the wing.
    More crocuses, tulips and daffodils, please,
    to brighten our joyous, incontinent fling;

    for springtime is here! Let’s clap and let’s sing!
    Let’s tumble and tussle and green-up our knees.
    It’s time for a party to celebrate spring—
    a boundlessly joyous, incontinent fling.

    • B.J. I remember this one and am glad to see it again. Thanks for posting it here for others to enjoy. I love how you took off on an alternate meaning of incontinent to give us a totally different picture. Way to go!

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