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by Louise Robertson

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One of the most beautiful forms is the villanelle. Its cousin the pantoum is equally beautiful, but they are so similar that we’re going to pick one and let you look the other one up.

These forms use repeating lines — not a repetend, you repeat the whole dang line. The echo effect creates this really powerful resonance and call-and-response effect. If you pick a good line to repeat, there’s also a tendency for meaning to shift and become more poignant.

And! If you pick the right hook, the poem will practically write itself.

Evocative, resonant, beautiful, powerful, and easy — what could be better than that?

I guess I have to give up the goods now. Here’s the formula for the villanelle. It’s 19 lines:

Line 1 – this’ll be repeated so make it good
Line 2 – uh, not going to be repeated, but everything is important so make it good!
Line 3 – the other line that will be repeated – so, you know, make it good. In fact, make it rock because this is going to be the last line of poem and we all know that if you stick the ending much will be forgiven in the rest of the poem (especially in an oral rendition — much like rocking the opening line will carry a poem on the page)

Line 4
Line 5
Line 1 – copy and paste (yes, you can change the punctuation — that is kind of cool when you can do that.)

Line 7
Line 8
Line 3 – actually, don’t copy and paste, the process of re-typing or re-writing keeps the momentum going for the writer, I think.

Line 10
Line 11
Line 1

Line 13
Line 14
Line 3

Line 16
Line 17
Line 1 – at this point the reader should be really feeling the heft of the words
Line 3 – ok, now it’s time to stick the ending.

Example: You probably already know this form. There’s a really famous poem that is a villanelle. It is so, so famous. In fact I recent lost a trivia contest because, while I could recite the lines of the poem and I knew the name of its form, I could not for the life of me remember then name of its author, even though the author is just about one of the best poets of the 20th Century who was known for being a performer, too. (Yes, ignominious defeat. And as Calliope and Erato as my witnesses I shall never forget the name of this poet again.)

Enough about me, here’s a powerful, beautiful, amazing piece of art built in the form of a villanelle by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage 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.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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