Examples of Villanelle : Poetry through the Ages

A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...



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Common elements.

Poets have used villanelles for a variety of subjects, but all good villanelles have two things in common. First, villanelles have strong opening tercets, with the first and third lines providing a two-barreled refrain. They also gradually build in tone and intensity from one stanza to the next. The works of Dylan Thomas, Edward Arlington Robinson, Sylvia Plath, and Elizabeth Bishop exemplify the villanelle form.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

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,

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.

The Home on the Hill

Edward Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

They are all gone away,

The house is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say

Through broken walls and gray,

The wind blows bleak and shrill,
They are all gone away

Nor is there one today,

To speak them good or ill
There is nothing more to say

Why is it then we stray

Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away

And our poor fancy play

For them is wasted skill,
There is nothing more to say

There is ruin and decay

In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.
One Art
Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979)

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Mad Girl’s Love Song

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead,

I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,

And arbitrary darkness gallops in.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed

And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head).

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:

Exit seraphim and enter Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said.

But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head).

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;

At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head).
 

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