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The Poets

September 03, 2009

Poetic Forms: The Villanelle

Of all the poetic forms there are, and of all the types of stanzas and rhyme schemes that exist, I chose long ago- as my first attempt at poetry- to take on the villanelle. It was an arduous task, to say the least. The reason is because villanelles are tough poems to complete.

The poem itself consists of 19 lines broken up into five tercets and a concluding quatrain. The meter, which is called an iambic pentameter, consists of ten syllables per line. Its rhyme scheme is aba aba aba aba aba abaa. The difficulty of the composition has to do with the refrains that alternate throughout the poem, so that the poem takes on this structure: aba aba aba aba aba abaa. Another way to write the structure is this: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 (where ‘A’ = the refrain).

In other words, the first refrain (the first line) is repeated in lines 6, 12, and 18; while the second refrain (the third line) is repeated in lines 9, 15, and 19. Meanwhile, to add to the difficulty, the composer has to maintain 7 rhymed words on the one hand, 6 rhymed words on the other, while puzzling in the refrains so that the poem makes sense as the meaning of the refrains alternate ... again, an arduous task.

But when these poems are complete, and are done well, the results are just beautiful. The Waking, written by Theodore Roethke, is a great example of a villanelle.


The Waking

I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.


We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

3 comments:

Nancy said...

So where is yours?

John W. May said...

Nice try Nancy, but the two villanelle's I wrote don't quite 'feel' complete- and as a rule I won't post an incomplete work. :)

I promise you, when I do post them you'll be the first person I'll contact.

Until then: l'hit yadidah sheli

Nancy said...

Hey! Remember? You're supposed to let me know when you comment after me... I can't just be lurking around your blog ALL the time now can I? Love you John, you're the BEST!

As of April 9th, 2010