Harvest Requiem — Can You Write a Villanelle Poem?

One Writer

— This one was challenging!

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Harvest Requiem

Shadows slip out, dripping over the moon,
a thick silence curls into my skin.
I fear the winter is coming too soon.

Secrets creep, spilling out into the lagoon,
stench hangs heavy with impermeable sin
as shadows slip out, creeping over the moon.

Corn stalks sway, singing a somber tune
under biocide nightmare their spirits bend.
I fear their winter is coming too soon.

Crows dressed in veils of black and maroon
atop a fence-line wait as night descends.
Shadows seep out, dripping over the moon.

Their feathers wrinkle as they suffer the mood
that lingers the hours before harvest begins.
Yet, I fear the winter is coming too soon.

Hope still hides in the soil underfoot,
beneath whispers of doom that choke and send
shadows oozing out, creeping over the moon.
And I fear the winter, coming all too soon.

What is a Villanelle poem?

The Villanelle is a highly structured poem and I, being a very highly unstructured person, felt that writing one was a bit like a shoving of myself into a teeny box. But I do appreciate what challenging ourselves as poets with classic form can do for our attention to meter, rhyme schemes, and stanza structure. It is sometimes good to stretch our creative limits by imposing “corners.” Once you begin to work with the structure you will likely find a new voice, a new appreciation for the work of classic poets, and by reeling in that creative spirit to a more focused poetic birth, you can create some memorable work.

A very brief history

The Villanelle did not begin as a fixed poetry form, but during the Renaissance as Italian and Spanish dance songs, often with rustic or pastoral themes. (As you will see in the one, and only one, Villanelle I have ever written, I tried to stick to these earthy themes, while adding a modern element of climate change distress.) This complex poetic structure was recognized as a fixed form by French poet Théodore de Banville in the late nineteenth century.

The most famous Villanelle is one of my favorite poems: Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night”

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
— Dylan Thomas, Do not go gentle into that good night

How to Write a Villanelle

If you would like to try your pen at the Villanelle here are a few great resources for you: How to write a Villanelle, Tamyka Bell Article Describes Structure, Villanelle Vestiges.

The structure for the 19-line poem, composed of five tercets and a concluding quatrain, with 2 repeating refrains, is as follows:

A1
B
A2

A
B
A1

A
B
A2

A
B
A1

A
B
A2

A
B
A1
A2

Here is a breakdown of Harvest Requiem to see how the structure is implemented:

Shadows slip out, dripping over the moon, (A-1)
a thick silence curls into my skin. (B)
I fear the winter is coming too soon. (A-2) (This stanza is a tercet.)

Secrets creep, spilling out into the lagoon, (A)
stench hangs heavy with impermeable sin (B)
as shadows slip out, creeping over the moon. (A-1)

Corn stalks sway, singing a somber tune (A)
under biocide nightmare their spirits bend. (B)
I fear their winter is coming too soon. (A-2)

Crows dressed in veils of black and maroon (A)
atop a fence-line wait as night descends. (B)
Shadows seep out, dripping over the moon. (A-1)

Their feathers wrinkle as they suffer the mood (A)
that lingers the hours before harvest begins. (B)
Yet, I fear the winter is coming too soon. (A-2)

Hope still hides in the soil underfoot, (A)
beneath whispers of doom that choke and send (B)
shadows oozing out, creeping over the moon. (A-1)
And I fear the winter, coming all too soon. (A-2) (This stanza is a quatrain.)

Note the word “moon” is repeated as A-1 throughout the poem and “soon” is used throughout for A-2. The “A” and “B” words vary slightly but keep to the rhyme scheme without losing the meaning of the poem.

Let’s look at the repeating refrains: The first line repeats as lines 6, 12, and 18, and the third line recurs as lines 9, 15, and 19. Note how some of my words are changed but the line still has the feeling of being repeated.

First line repeats:
Line 1 — Shadows slip out, dripping over the moon
Line 6 — as shadows slip out, creeping over the moon
Line 12 — Shadows seep out, dripping over the moon.
Line 18 — shadows oozing out, creeping over the moon.

Third line repeats:
Line 3 — I fear the winter is coming too soon.
Line 9 — I fear their winter is coming too soon.
Line 15 — Yet, I fear the winter is coming too soon.
Line 19 —And I fear the winter, coming all too soon.

In brief conclusion, this is a challenging poem structure. Yes, try it! The experience of writing Harvest Requiem, my only Villanelle, has made me a better poet. If you finish one and are pleased with it — tick off that box in your Poetry portfolio. Well done! Now, carry on my poet friends…you will need your feather quills, a quiet space, and a heap of patience for this one; but it’s worth it.

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