10 Villanelle Poem Examples To Study

There are countless villanelle poem examples from which to choose, but which are the best of all time? Learn more about this poetic form below.

When people think about poems, they often think about tercets, quatrain, and couplets. There might even be some repeated lines; however, villanelle poems are unique unto themselves.

The villanelle form is a French verse that contains three-line stanzas before a final quatrain, ending on a powerful last line in the final stanza. The first and third lines of the first stanza repeat in alternated following stanzas. This creates a unique literary structure that has inspired English poets, Italian poets, and countless other literary giants, such as French poet Jean Passerat and Oscar Wilde, who embraced the fixed-form of this work.

If you need to brush up on your poetry terminology, we have covered all you need to know in this article discussing must-know poetry terms.

Take a look at some of the top villanelle poem examples below!

1. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Dylan Thomas

Top villanelle poem examples

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas, is one of the most famous poems of all time. In this case, the poem’s title also serves as an instruction for the reader. The poem was written about the death of Dylan Thomas’s father and was finished just before the author died himself.

The poem has been echoed across many other famous works, both in books and on the big screen. It remains one of the most enduring examples of villanelle form. “Rage, Rage at Close of Day” is an enduring phrase throughout the work that leads to the final line, making this a great example of a villanelle.

2. Merciless Beauty, by Geoffrey Chaucer

This is an older poem, but Merciless Beauty by Geoffrey Chaucer, from the Medieval Times, is one of his most famous works. The poem describes the impact that one person has on Chaucer, causing him to fall in love. It is a definitive work that demonstrates the villanelle form’s flexibility, versatility, and power. The work closes with the pain of being loved, as the author is wounded through the heart.

3. Villanelle of Spring Bells, by Keith Douglas

Villanelle of the Spring Bells, by Keith Douglas, is another powerful example of this unique poetic form. Douglas passed away at the age of 24, dying during the D-Day landings in 1944; however, he left behind a long list of poems even though he died young. The poem describes the impact that bells have on people of all ages who hear them. The poem is also a unique commentary on human nature, as the joyous sound of spring bells immediately precedes the outbreak of war.

4. Closures, by Oliver Tearle

Even though many villanelle poems are written in iambic pentameter, Closures is written in tetrameter from the first line. The poem is a contemporary work, and its few lines hint at fragmentation and social isolation. The poem describes the impact of social isolation on someone, describing how it harms someone’s physical and mental health.

5. One Art, by Elizabeth Bishop

Villanelle Poem Examples: One Art, by Elizabeth Bishop
Brazilian National Archives, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This is a devastatingly sad villanelle poem titled One Art by Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop wrote a variety of poems, and this is one of her greatest. The poem cleverly uses specific words in the right spots, making a powerful impact on the reader. The poem is moving, clever, and holds the reader’s attention throughout. The poem is about love and loss, describing how the author does everything to overcome it.

6. Mad Girl’s Love Song, by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is known for her dramatic, emotional works, and Mad Girl’s Love Song is one of the most powerful examples. The result is a unique take on the villanelle form. Plath wrote the poem while still in school. There are many ways to interpret the work, with one popular example being that the poem is a direct response to schizophrenia. The poem is a bit more closed off than some of the other villanelle poems, but it remains one of the most powerful examples of the genre.

7. Tears, Idle Tears, by Lord Alfred Tennyson

Lord Alfred Tennyson is one of the greatest English writers of all time, and this poem, titled Tears, Idle Tears, is one of his greatest works. It describes how people cry for various reasons, and some people might not even know why. The poem discusses summer days, the beauty of friendship, and the sadness of death. The poem should encourage everyone to get the most out of every day they live.

8. If I Could Tell You, by W. H. Auden

Villanelle Poem Examples: If I Could Tell You, by W. H. Auden
George Cserna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The poem If I Could Tell You, by W. H. Auden was written at the start of the Second World War. In this brief poem, it is evident that the author has a lot of uncertainty about the future. The world has been at peace for 20 years but appears to be headed right back toward another global conflict.

The poem is actually a love poem, telling the reader, “I love you more than I can say.” This beautiful poem demonstrates a mastery of the villanelle form, communicating a powerful message on the outbreak of war.

9. The House on the Hill, by Edward Arlington Robinson

The House on the Hill, by Edward Arlington Robinson, talks about how life changes. The narrator appears to have returned to a home where they once lived but finds nothing there. The house is shut, the walls are broken, and “there is nothing more to say.” The house, which used to be the sight of vibrant life, now has nothing left. In a way, the poem is about loss.

10. The Difference Between Lack and Absence, by Annie Diamond

The Difference Between Lack and Absence, by Annie Diamond, is precisely what the work is about. Lack implies a desire for something, while an absence can be welcome. The work also includes the word “missing,” which is the act of not having. The work describes the different emotions that all of these words evoke, taking the reader on a journey through the English language while discussing the impact of these words on the narrator.

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  • Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.