Villanelles, a form of structured poetry, are 19 lines long and consist of two repeating rhymes and two repeating lines, called refrains. The first five stanzas of the poem are tercets -- stanzas made up of three lines. The final stanza is a quatrain that ends with the two refrains. In each stanza leading up to the quatrain, the first and last lines rhyme with each other while the middle line rhymes with the middle line in the previous stanza.
'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night'
Written by Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” is one of the best examples of a villanelle in the English language. Written as a eulogy for his father, this poem ends with the well-known couplet, “Do not go gentle into that good night/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” These two lines are the refrains in the poem and make up the latter half of the final stanza. Throughout the poem, each line either ends with an “-ight” word -- night, light, bright, right, flight, sight, height -- or an “-ay” word – day, they, bay, way, gay, pray -- to maintain the a/b/a rhyme scheme.
'The House on the Hill'
A mysteriously abandoned house is at the heart of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s eerie “The House on the Hill.” Written in the late 1890s, this succinct villanelle follows the structure with two refrains, “They are all gone away/There is nothing more to say” and draws on “-ay” rhymes and “-ill” rhymes to carry the rhyme scheme through the stanzas. Two versions of this poem exist, and though the refrains, rhymes and tone are consistent, the wording of the second and third stanzas vary significantly.
'Mad Girl's Love Song'
Though she is best known for being more than a bit crazy, Sylvia Plath’s poetry often had a tender, loving side. Written during her years at Smith College, “Mad Girl’s Love Song” is a villanelle exploring some of the fear, wonder and disbelief that accompanies young love. This poem is true to its form, repeating the refrains, “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead/ (I think I made you up inside my head).” In the “b” lines of her rhyme scheme she employs near rhyme, rather than exact rhyme, to tie the stanzas together.
Still considered a villanelle, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” deviates slightly from the expected pattern as the second line of the refrain, “…to be lost that their loss is no disaster” morphs slightly throughout the poem. In each stanza where it appears, this refrain still ends with the word "disaster" and carries the same message, maintaining a cohesiveness in both style and meaning that supports and even enhances the standard structure. The a/b/a rhyme scheme is intact, alternating between words that rhyme with "disaster" and words that end in "-ent."