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

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The villanelle is a 19-line fixed form poem with repeating lines, composed in five tercets with a closing quatrain that ends in a rhyming couplet.

The villanelle is categorized as a modern classic form. It enjoyed a resurgence in the 20th century thanks to Oscar Wilde, Edwin Arlington Robinson, W.H. Auden, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Theodore Roethke, Seamus Heaney, and others. One of the century’s most famous poems, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," by the legendary Dylan Thomas, is a villanelle. The villanelle also assumes a place of prominence in today’s great poetic forms thanks to another revival by Howard Nemerov and the New Formalist movement.

Rhyme: aba-aba-aba-aba-aba-abaa
Structure: 19 lines – five tercets and a closing quatrain; 6 to 11 syllables per line
Measure/Beat: Iambic trimeter, tetrameter, or pentameter
Common Themes: Love, loss, and challenge
Other Notes:
  • Nineteen lines combine repeating refrains, rhyme and cross-rhyme schemes
  • First and third lines of poem later form the closing couplet
  • Final line of the first tercet rhymes with the first line of the next stanza, forming a repetitive rhyme between the first and third lines of every stanza