A villanelle is a poem form with some strict rules. It has 6 stanzas, each with 3 lines (except the last which has 4). The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the final line of the second and fourth stanza. The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the final line of the third and fifth stanza. Then they both get repeated in the sixth stanza. Oh, and they have to rhyme. I only learned all of this today, when I had to write one for my poetry class tomorrow. It was, as with all of the poetry exercises I’ve been doing, at first frustrating, then restrictive, then fun. And the results are… I’m not sure.
So here’s my own example and, underneath, a beautiful villanelle by Elizabeth Bishop. It’s a poem which I’ve liked for a long time but only just discovered was a villanelle (seeing as I didn’t know villanelles existed until today.
Lost In Translation
There’s no poetry in sobriety,
only the algorithm of being clean.
Only the cold mirror of chastity.
I inspire your animosity.
You find me now too prim; pristine.
You see no poetry in sobriety.
Your Merlot mocks my earl grey tea.
By spilling. You wish to make a scene.
Confront the cold mirror of chastity.
I mop the mess with efficiency.
You find my earnestness obscene
and see no poetry in sobriety.
I wait. Hands clasped. Sit matronly
as you take to the streets for nicotine.
But the cold mirror of chastity
awaits. And I watch warily
As you light up: daring me to intervene.
To prove there’s no poetry in sobriety;
To crack the cold mirror of chastity.
One Art – Elizabeth Bishop