Saturday, September 29, 2012

Prompt #120 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,” here’s what we worked with.
  1. A twelve-line poem divided into three four-line stanzas.
  2. No rhyme and no prescribed meter.
  3.  Each stanza begins with the same word.
  4.  Line 1 is repeated as line 5.
  5.  Line 4 is repeated as line 12.
  6. 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, click here for a great villanelle "how-to."

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

Villanelle Examples:


  1. I'm not a fan of the villanelle, though I have tried a few with some success as far as the form is concerned (and the terzanelle as well).

    Such fixed forms are too forced for my taste. This prompt, however, is refreshingly uncomplicated and allows room for the kind of freedom I love in poetry.

    I read somewhere that the villanelle ranks second only to the sonnet in popularity. I also read an essay once in which the villanelle was called "the Villainous Villanelle." All in good fun and, thankfully, there are so many forms around that there's something for everyone. Speaking of fun, the "Adeleanelle" is exactly that!

    Thanks for another wonderful prompt!

    Rich Mandel

    1. Thanks for your comment and kind words, Rich! Seems we're on the same page ...

  2. This FANTASTIC!

    I've always been afraid to try a villanelle, but now I can ease my way in with the Adeleanelle!

    Adele, you should write a book of prompts!

    1. I like the idea of easing your way into a villanelle! Thanks for your comment and for your kind words, Jamie! (Yes, I'm considering doing the kind of book you suggest!)

    2. Oh, how embarrassing! I just saw the typo in my post from September 30th. That first line should be "This is Fantastic."

      Jamie of the Red Face

  3. My Heart Races

    clinging golden leaves
    the smell of autumn in the air
    my heart races to the beat of change

    clinging golden leaves
    soon fall
    only a grey and brown
    blanket covers the earth

    clinging golden leaves
    dormant life
    bursting forth again in spring
    my heart races to the beat of change

    1. NIcely done, Risa! You didn't sacrifice your style but still observed the guidelines for the form.

  4. Risa, this is wonderful! You took the form and used it to compliment your unique style. The theme of "change" works so well.


    Thanks so much for sharing.


    1. Thanks. It was such a challenge, and since it was a first, I had my doubts about it. It felt right to me, but what is often right for me .... well, you know. Thanks. That's so encouraging

    2. I agree with Adele, Risa - you really "nailed it." Thanks for posting!

  5. Magnificent post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not notice this. You must continue your writing. I'm confident, you have a huge readers' base already!
    San Diego Office & Modular Design