National Poetry Month: Villanelle

Similar to the ballad and sonnet, it started off as a poetic form that is sung. The form originates from France; some scholars believe the fixed format was established when Jean Passerat wrote the poem Villanelle (J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle) in 1606. Other scholars believe that format as we know today was established in the late 19th century by french poet, Theodore de Banville. Its repetitive nature and strict rules can make it seem like the composer is obsessed with the subject of the villanelle. Villanelle derives from the Latin word, villanus, which can translate to bumpkin.

Basics

  • Consist of 19 lines
  • Uses five stanzas of tercets (three lines) follow by a single quatrain (four lines)
  • The rhyming scheme is as follows ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA
  • The first line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the second as well as the last line of the fourth stanza and finally the third line of the last stanza
  • The third line of the first stanza serves as the third line for the third and fifth stanza and the final line of the entire villanelle

Examples

This video is a song by They Might Be Giants titled, Hate The Villanelle. It’s a villanelle about villanelles.

Don’t hate the villain! Hate the villanelle
With these picky rules and odd jigsaw rhymes
Curses! These verses are my prison cell
At school I ran from the very first bell
The teacher’s ruler, those maddening chimes
Don’t hate the villain! Hate the villanelle!
Joking in class. Oh! The words I misspell
Mumbles and stammers but are those real crimes?
Curses! These verses are my prison cell
If someone could hear, for someone to tell
But friends have all fled to far away climes
Don’t hate the villain! Hate the villanelle
I solve this puzzle but tumble through hell
These words are fractions when I needed primes
Curses! These verses are my prison cell
My hands disappear as I wave farewell
This gentle quicksand turns into hard times
Don’t hate the villain! Hate the villanelle
Curses! These verses are my prison cell
April marks National Poetry Month! Throughout this month we will share information about some of the varying poetry styles practiced today and a little bit about their history. The purpose of the month is to increase the awareness and appreciation of poetry, and maybe help a few people find their inner poet talent.
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About nclbph

The North Carolina Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NCLBPH) is a special public library that circulates books and magazines especially made for persons who cannot use regular printed material because of a visual or physical disability. The library is located in Raleigh, but mails materials throughout the state. The NCLBPH is a state agency operated by the State Library of North Carolina as a part of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. It is also a part of the network of regional libraries operated by the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS).
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