Poetry Prompt: The Villanelle

Poetry Prompt

Where my last poetry prompt was all about the Acrostic, with its one simple rule, this blog will be about the Villanelle which seems, well . . . complicated.

But don’t worry!

Once broken down, you’ll get the hang of the rules.

First thing’s first, let’s talk history.

The villanelle grew out of the peasant dances of Renaissance Spain and Italy and the theme was always pastoral — that is, pertaining to country life.

The songs didn’t have the fixed set of rules they have today until much later though.

It wasn’t until the 19th Century that French poet Théodore de Banville defined them.

Famous and infamous Villanelles

What comes to mind when you think “villanelle”?

The first thing that came to mine was the infamous main character from TV show “Killing Eve”!

Aside from the quirky TV show assassin though, another famous villanelle is Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night”, possibly one of the most well-known poems of all time.

Here are the first two verses:

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.

You can read or listen to the rest here.

A closer look

Everyone has heard of this one, but let’s look closer at the rules it follows.

As a villanelle, it contains five three line stanzas and a sixth stanza of four lines.

The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated alternatively in the last lines of the following four stanzas.

Take another look at it.

The first line from the poem is repeated in the last line of the second stanza and the last line of the fourth stanza.

The third line of the first stanza is repeated in the last line of the third and fifth stanza.

The final stanza of the poem is always four lines long, and ends with the two lines that have been repeated throughout.


Now you know how to build one, have a go at writing your own villanelle.

Maybe you’ll go traditional and try to write something rustic and relating to country life.

For a more contemporary challenge you could try writing one about TV assassin, Villanelle!

The choice is yours!

For another Poetry Prompt from Abbie, click the tag below.

Prefer slightly more long-form content? Click here to try one of Fiction Ed Lucy’s Story Starters?

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.