Saturday, August 27, 2016

Summer Rerun – The Adeleanelle

I admit, with a slightly red face, that I’ve never written a villanelle, though I do admit that I have enjoyed reading a few, especially Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” I’ve excused myself with the thought that formula poems are almost mathematical (and math was never my strong suit) but, perhaps I’m just a coward …

Developed in France and  introduced into English literature during the late 1800s, a villanelle has 19 lines, with two repeating lines throughout the poem. Here’s the canonical format:

Refrain 1 (A1)
Line 2 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 4 (a)
Line 5 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 7 (a)
Line 8 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 10 (a)
Line 11 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)

Line 13 (a)
Line 14 (b)
Refrain 2 (A2)

Line 16 (a)
Line 17 (b)
Refrain 1 (A1)
Refrain 2 (A2)

(Are you confused yet?) The first five stanzas contain three lines (triplets), and the last stanza contains four lines (a quatrain). The 1st (A1) and 3rd (A2) lines of the first stanza are alternately repeated, with the 1st line becoming the last line of the second and the fourth stanzas, and the 3rd line becoming the last line of the third and fifth stanzas. Lines 1 and 3 are repeated again to  become the last two lines of the final stanza. (Feeling compulsive?) There is no prescribed meter or line length; however, iambic (ta-DUM) and four or five feet per line are good bets. (Do you have an idea now why I’ve never tried to write one?) Of course, modern attempts stray from the rules and allow for some flexibility, and enjambments can be used to help the course of the poem. Note: Poems have two basic types of line breaks: end-stopped and enjambed (in an enjambed line, the break occurs in the middle of a sentence or phrase; end-stopped lines end with punctuation).

In one of my workshop groups, I recently taught the villanelle and, although it was happily received, the group members thought the form was too strict and too rigid for their purposes.  They asked if I would come up with a slightly simpler format loosely based on the villanelle but “easier.” Dubbed by group members as the “Adeleanelle,” (at the risk of seeming immodest) here’s what we worked with.

·      A twelve-line poem divided into three four-line stanzas.
·      No rhyme and no prescribed meter.
·      Each stanza begins with the same word.
·      Line 1 is repeated as line 5.
·      Line 4 is repeated as line 12.
·      The poem takes its title from the fourth line of the first stanza.

Here’s an unedited example from the group (thanks, Jayne R. for your permission to print it here).

Another Time, Another Life (the title is line 4)

Line 1                                                 And now in the retelling,
Line 2                                                 I wish and wish again that
Line 3                                                 the dream had been a dream—
Line 4                                                 another time, another life …

Line 5  (repeat line 1)                        And now in the retelling,
Line 6                                                 I wish you here, my love,
Line 7                                                 your still eyes wide (alive),
Line 8                                                 nothing in the shadows—

Line 9                                                And only light and light—
Line10                                               where loss forgets its place
Line 11                                              and your hand is warm in mine,
Line 12 (repeat line 4)                       another time, another life …
If the Adeleanelle doesn’t strike your fancy and you want to go for a “real thing” challenge, there’s a great how-to here

Note: Keep in mind that whatever you choose, meaning should never be subordinate to form!


  1. As one of the members of the Westfield Poetry Group, let me be the first to comment on her passing here.
    Wendy was a passionate poet, gracious host (most of our meetings took place in her home) and encouraging friend-poet.
    The suddenness of her loss accounts for our lack of comments here in this blogsite of Adele's. Every time I think she is no longer among us, I remember her smiling face and I continue denying her passing.
    Rest in peace Wendy.

    1. I'm very sorry for your loss, Basil, and for your whole poetry group. I really miss seeing your poems here on the blog and hope you'll consider sharing with us again (at least once in a while). With my sincerest condolences, Jamie Morris

    2. Wendy's passing has been devastating for all who knew and loved her. She'll always live on in our hearts and through her poetry. Thank you, Basil for sharing your feelings and your poem.


    The hospice nurse
    turns on the room’s blue light
    your face serene, ready for your final journey

  3. A lovely tribute, and a lovely way to say 'goodbye.'

  4. I remember this one! Very clever and the students back then really found it easier to work with than villanelles.