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A villanelle (or occasionally villonelle) is a traditional poem from which entered English-language poetry in the late 1800s from the imitation of French models.

Table of contents
1 Derivation
2 Form
3 Example
4 The Villanelle in English
5 External links


While it is sometimes claimed that the form is named for the French poet Franšois Villon (1431-1474), most experts agree that the form derives from a round sung by farmhands and that the name comes from the Latin villa, (farm) and villano (farmhand) via the Italian villanella. Medieval villanelles were of variable form and the earliest known villanelle in the modern form is a poem about a turtledove by Jean Passerat (1534-1602).


The standard villanelle consists of five stanzas of three lines each rhyming a-b-a and a sixth stanza of four lines rhyming a-b-a-a, giving a total of nineteen lines. The first line of the first stanza is reused as the third line of stanzas two, four, and six. The third line of the first stanza is reused as the third line of stanzas three and five and as the fourth line of the sixth stanza. The result can be illustrated by the following schematic representation:

Line one (a)
Line two (b)
Line three (a)

Line four (a)
Line five (b)
Line one (a)

Line six (a)
Line seven (b)
Line three (a)

Line eight (a)
Line nine (b)
Line one (a)

Line ten (a)
Line eleven (b)
Line three (a)

Line twelve (a)
Line thirteen (b)
Line one (a)
Line three (a)

Versions with three, seven, nine, or any odd number of three-line stanzas are also possible.


The following villanelle by Oscar Wilde illustrates the classic version of the form.

Theocritus: a Villanelle

O SINGER of Persephone!
In the dim meadows desolate
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Still through the ivy flits the bee
Where Amaryllis lies in state;
O Singer of Persephone!

SimŠtha calls on Hecate
And hears the wild dogs at the gate;
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Still by the light and laughing sea
Poor Polypheme bemoans his fate:
O Singer of Persephone!

And still in boyish rivalry
Young Daphnis challenges his mate:
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Slim Lacon keeps a goat for thee,
For thee the jocund shepherds wait,
O Singer of Persephone!
Dost thou remember Sicily?

The Villanelle in English

Although the relatively low number of rhyme words available makes the writing of villanelles more difficult in English than it is in Romance languages, many English-language poets have used the form. Wilde and Austin Dobson were amongst the first English practitioners and many twentieth-century poets have used it, often in reaction to free verse. These poets include W. H. Auden, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, William Empson, Theodore Roethke and Sylvia Plath. James Joyce included a villanelle, ostensibly written by his fictional alter-ego Stephen Dedalus, in his A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

External links