Thursday, July 29, 2021

villanelles: bishop, thomas, mordhorst and the 7 sisters

What a pretty word, villanelle, musical and delicate!  And then you try to write one.  Maybe they should be called villainelles.  

But they are as lovable and impressive as they are fiendish. So we can't help ourselves when a Poetry Sister like Tanita says "Write!"  We say, "How hard?" and then get on with our "dichotomy villanelle."


Like a probable many, I turned to Elizabeth Bishop's famous One Art (1976) to get me going.  I also love Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas (1947).  I love each of their repeated lines, which give a villanelle its particular flavor and rhythm.

Thomas's are repeated exactly throughout his poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Bishop plays more with hers and in fact both lines do not appear in the initial stanza as prescribed by the form.  The second repeated line is also really more a repetition of the word disaster.

the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

So a villanelle is plenty challenging in its own right, but then a second challenge was layered on: to include or address a dichotomy of some sort. Np, ladies *snort*.

Here's my effort.


Honestly, I enjoyed this challenge and yet another chance to address a dichotomy or paradox I've labeled One Difficult Truth. Can't wait to see what the Sisters and our poetry playmates have for us this week!

Thanks to Rebecca at Sloth Reads for hosting our Poetry Friday today (learn all about PoFri here) and I'll see you at the Villanelles!



  1. Just wow, Heidi. Here is a prime example for pushing oneself to take on the villain! In this week of cheering on all gymnasts for all kinds of reasons, your metaphor is perfect and your wordplay takes the gold. xx

  2. WOW! You make that look easy....but it's not! What an incredible villanelle including the Olympics! Score 10 for you today. And, bonus points for the phrase, "a little alcohol." Oh, my goodness this is perfection.

    1. Ha! Funny, you two, that I wrote this BEFORE the Olympics started and Simone Biles became my new hero--and not for gymnastics!

  3. I marvel at your middle rhymes with fall, cortisol and alcohol. How we try to balance on the middle beam. I fall (fail) every day. Great poem!

  4. Heidi, beautiful topic for your villanelle. You have made it look easy, not at all a crawl. Sometimes we do have to crawl to stay balanced on that middle beam. Really clever theme and beautiful rhymes, as Margaret pointed out. "Now and never. Push-pull." You have really captured so much.

  5. I am enjoying reading so many villanelles today. It certainly seems like a very difficult form to master but you have done a fantastic job! I agree with Linda - I would give it a 10!

  6. I add the VILLAIN in my mind every time I write one of these. They always seem so, so easy... but yours is just GORGEOUS! I love the dichotomy you chose, and my WORD, the middle path is ever elusive, is it not! Thanks for playing along with us, I really, really love this.

  7. Who would've thought the "middle beam" would be such a lovely through-line for a poem about dichotomy? well, YOU, obviously. I love the humor and the word play, and as I read, I could clearly see a poet, teetering from line to line, as we all do when we joust with the villanelle. So well executed.

  8. Wow, Heidi--doesn't look like you struggled with this at all! The idea of balancing ripping you at the that. We think of balance, the midline, as the safer route, but there's also the fact that both sides are grabbing at you and you're not making either side 100% happy. Wonderful poem!

  9. Heidi, as I sit here tonight struggling with this poetic form, I see how deftly you mastered the villain. As if on a balance beam, you carefully moved your thoughts with an end in sight. What a great poem on the struggle of balancing life.

  10. Marvelous balancing act you engaged in and pulled off Heidi! And yay to the middle path that wins out over the extremes. I like the opposites you've enlisted here too, "Now and never, Push-pull, Less is more." thanks for all!

  11. Wow! You did an amazing job of embracing that challenging form. There are so many layers to this - it invites rereading and contemplation. Thanks for sharing this!

  12. This is great, Heidi! I esp. like the first two stanzas and "this balancing can rip me at the seams."

  13. I'm with you on the villainous nature of this form! One of my earlier drafts fought with the idea of either/or (as did the zinnia draft), but you nailed the dichotomy from the point of view of the middle path.

  14. This is a wonderful poem, Heidi. Since it's Olympics season, when I read this I thought of Simone Biles and her stand to tip the balance in favor of mental health.

  15. OK, I really try not to be hyperbolic, but I think this is an utterly perfect villanelle. That second line -- on one side nothing, on the other all -- whoa boy, I felt that with every inch of me. This is all so fine. Thank you.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!