Tipping the Scales

Today’s creative writing prompt is:


Life’s a balancing act, right? Think of being unbalanced, what it takes to stay on an even keel.

Think of scales, weights, opposing views, making adjustments, balancing the books, walking a tightrope.

Today I’m suggesting you write a poem. Not free verse this time though. Try a villanelle.

This is poetry in a very specific form and can be tricky to pull off – but is very satisfying when you do. There is repetition, rhythm and rhyme in a villanelle which traditionalists who balk at free verse may prefer

A villanelle has 19 lines, five tercets (three-line stanzas) followed by a quatrain (a four-line stanza). The rhyming structure is aba aba aba aba aba aba abaa and lines are usually of ten syllables.

The repetition makes this an interesting form. The first line of the poem repeats as the last line of the second and fourth stanza, and the third line of the last. The third line of the poem (last line of the first stanza) repeats as the last line of the third, fifth, and last stanza.

Once you’ve written the first stanza and paid attention to the rhymes available to your theme, with a bit of effort the rest should fall into place.

Dylan Thomas’s poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” is a striking example of a villanelle, written about his dying father.  Listen to Sir Anthony Hopkins read it here.

Who wouldn’t wish they’d written ‘Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light’? Well, me for a start. But I am biased. I’ve a thing about Welshmen and lyrical works by same, although I probably wouldn’t have liked the womanizing drunken hellraiser Thomas was – but I love his poems and short stories. And then there’s ‘Under Milk Wood’. Never heard of it? You are missing a treat. Google it. That should keep you busy for a couple of hours!

Meanwhile, here’s Dylan Thomas’s villanelle for you to read:

Every Wednesday afternoon at 5pm (Dublin time) I post a writing prompt and suggest a way in which you can use it to generate new creative writing. I usually include suggestions for short stories, flash fiction, poetry, memoir or creative non-fiction.

Knowing 42 is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything (as the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams explains in full), I began this in March 2020 as a Lockdown project  for my creative writing group members, creating 42 days of writing prompts and exercises. It began here.

When the original 42 prompts finished, I decided to go weekly instead. As always it is just for enjoyment, no pressure, no hassle, no worries and I will continue until I’ve had enough (or someone insists I stop).