How to Write a Villanelle Poem

Villanelles started in Italy as song lyrics to a traditional folk dance. The poetic form still keeps to the tradition of every now and then repeating a certain line like a refrain. Many poets prefer to use this form of poetry for more brooding images or memories that come back to haunt you, but you can choose what subject matter you want. A villanelle is five groups of three lines, and then concludes with four lines, making 19 lines in all (not including the line breaks in between stanza groups).

Think of a memory, image or something that really stirred your emotions. Keep that emotion in your head as a guide for the poem.

List the rhyming pattern in the left margin of your paper, with one letter or letter and number per line. The pattern is A1, b, A2, skip, a , b, A1, skip, a, b, A2, skip, a, b, A1, skip, a, b, A2, skip, a, b, A1, A2.

Write two lines that rhyme. Just focus on those two lines, which will stand for A1 and A2 in your rhyme pattern. The reason the "A" is capitalized is that these lines repeat exactly each time they appear. Now, you've only eleven lines to go.

Open a thesaurus and rhyming dictionary to help you craft the other lines. All lines designated with a small "a" have to end with a word that rhymes. All words at the end of "a" lines will rhyme with the last words in "A1" and "A2" lines.

Fill in the "b" lines. All words at the end of "b" lines rhyme with other "b" lines, but don't rhyme with anything else.

Go back over the poem as many times as you need to fix it up and make the image and emotions clear.

  • Reading as much villanelle poetry as you can will help you get a feel for the style and the artisitic possibilities. Each line can be any length you want, but keeping lines close together in length helps make the villanelle more of a song. This is the traditional form of the villanelle. You are allowed to change the repeating lines a little bit in the modern form of the villanelle.
  • Don't use a really bizarre or hard to rhyme word like "oranges" for your rhyme scheme.
Items you will need
Thesaurus Rhyming dictionary Pen Paper
Photo Credits
  • Image by Ilco from Turkey