Saturday, November 22, 2008

Villanelles & Sestinas

I do not have time for poetry much anymore. One of my favorite poem styles is the villanelle.

Probably the most famous villanelle Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night, a poem about his father's passing.

Here are the poetic stanzas for a villanelle:

Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 2 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)
Line 4 (a)
Line 5 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 7 (a)
Line 8 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)
Line 10 (a)
Line 11 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 13 (a)
Line 14 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)
Line 16 (a)
Line 17 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Refrain 2 (A2)

I have always enjoyed trying to write poetry to a form. Free verse certainly has its place but there seems to me something musical about a poem written with rhyme, half-rhyme, repeating words, etc.

Another favorite poem form is the sestina. It doesn't rhyme, usually, although it can, I guess. Generally what happens is the last word is repeated in various places along the six-line stanzas, like this:

Stanza 1: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Stanza 2: 6 1 5 2 4 3

Stanza 3: 3 6 4 1 2 5

Stanza 4: 5 3 2 6 1 4

Stanza 5: 4 5 1 3 6 2

Stanza 6: 2 4 6 5 3 1

Tercet: Variable.

Ezra Pound wrote some setinas, as did Rudyard Kipling.

Sometimes I have poetry run through my mind, or maybe just a line, and I think, that would make a good sestina. Or a good villanelle.

These kinds of poems can take a long time to write. My poetry never seems finished to me, so I don't often share it.

Maybe one day soon I will find some time to try to write a few poems. I think that would be divine.


  1. Mara likes to write these. I find it oppressive and too much like math. Although I can do haiku because it's such a small order.

  2. I've never understood poetry so for you to offer this explanation of how some poetry is written is very enlightening. Thanks!

  3. Every time I hear the word villanelle, I think back to my poetry class at Hollins last year. I had to attempt this. I'm glad I was with a great group of gals for the critique! Let me just say this - we all had a good laugh.


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