Ovillejo: Poetic Form

The story behind me selecting today’s poetic form is maybe as complicated as the form itself, which is pretty complicated. Poetic Asides regular De Jackson credited me with sharing this form on the blog when she wrote a post on the ovillejo over at dVerse Poets Pub, though I’m not certain if I did or not.

Unfortunately, whole swaths of previous posts were permanently deleted from the site during one of our server moves a few years back. So maybe I shared the form, but it’s also possible the form was shared in the comments of another post–or even in a thread on Facebook. Regardless, here we are now: getting ready for the ovillejo.

Ovillejo Poems

The ovillejo is an old Spanish form popularized by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). This 10-line poem is comprised of 3 rhyming couplets (or 2-line stanzas) and a quatrain (or 4-line stanza).

The first line of each couplet is 8 syllables long and presents a question to which the second line responds in 3 to 4 syllables–either as an answer or an echo.

The quatrain is also referred to as a redondilla (which is usually a quatrain written in trochaic tetrameter) with an abba rhyme pattern. The final line of the quatrain also combines lines 2, 4, and 6 together.

As such, here’s how the whole poem comes together (line-by-line):

Line 1: a rhyme in 8 syllables
Line 2: a rhyme in 3-4 syllables

Line 3: b rhyme in 8 syllables
Line 4: b rhyme in 3-4 syllables

Line 5: c rhyme in 8 syllables
Line 6: c rhyme in 3-4 syllables

Line 7: c rhyme in 8 syllables
Line 8: d rhyme in 8 syllables
Line 9: d rhyme in 8 syllables
Line 10: (Line 2) (Line 4) (Line 6)

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Confused? Here’s my attempt at an Ovillejo poem:

Into the World, by Robert Lee Brewer

Where do you place a captured fish?
On a dish.

How do you expect to be heard?
With a word.

Into what are all people hurled?
The world.

And if the meaning seems unfurled
like odd pieces to a puzzle,
don’t delay haiku or ghazal
on a dish with a word–the world!

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A couple more notes on the Ovillejo:

  1. I don’t believe lines 1, 3, and 5 have to be formatted as questions. It’s just how I did it for my example.
  2. As with many modernized forms, I’ve also seen a range of syllables used. (As if poets prefer to bend the rules, right?

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Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.

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13 thoughts on “Ovillejo: Poetic Form

  1. mjdills

    Ovillejo to the Aging Thespian (for Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi)

    The stage is ours to act upon,
    Though gone
    Will someday be the bright illuming lights
    Of Opening Nights;
    And so we watch, observe those of a lesser age
    Cavort with joy and rage.
    Vicariously, as we rest on tottering feet, offstage,
    Cheering wildly, yet we don’t pretend,
    Perceiving our prospects presently will come to an end;
    Pass torches on, as we might, to youthful sage.

  2. taylor graham

    OVER THE SUMMIT

    Hear the mountain tumbling its falls?
    An echo calls.

    Saddle up, line out, reins in glove –
    don’t you love

    a nicker, pricked ears, windblown tail?
    the long trail.

    Here’s a history like myth, this tale
    that we’ve heard retold all our lives;
    its mystery unfading survives.
    An echo calls “don’t you love the long trail?”

  3. ely the eel

    Rainy Days and Fun Days

    The clouds curtain the sun.
    Oh what fun.

    It could bring joy, it might bring pain.
    Let it rain.

    Oh please, have it fall, let it drop,
    never stop.

    Into mud puddles we’ll kerplop.
    We can be as children at play,
    soaked and laughing throughout the day.
    Oh what fun, let it rain, never stop.

  4. Anthony94

    Sinking the Pot

    Into the ground sweet basil goes;
    who knows

    why bruising leaves scent skin and air?
    I dare

    to waken roots from sleep, untaze
    their maze.

    This herb bed now complete will please
    tired palates, incite senses.
    Rabbits will nibble, no fences.
    Who knows I dare their maze?

  5. pmwanken

    TRANSFORMATION

    We’re in desperate need of more grace
    in this place.

    Have we been reduced to primates,
    filled with hate?

    Guidance can come from God, above;
    He is love.

    In the end, when push comes to shove,
    we’re family to each other:
    sister, brother, father, mother.
    In this place filled with hate, He is love.

    1. DMK

      in the wake of current happenings this seems well timed. but my mind on the death of a friend.
      we as humans to seem to need to evolve or transform seeming to forget we are family and what effects one effects another

  6. taylor graham

    QUARTZ HILL

    At such low altitude the hills
    that longing fills.

    Why denigrate mistakes long past
    to learn at last –

    must these old battered hills enclose
    the miner’s rose?

    And still only the deep stone knows,
    what’s buried rises toward the light
    to surface like a second sight.
    That longing fills to learn at last the miner’s rose.

  7. RJ Clarken

    Nomenclature

    Obstinacy of buffalo?
    A group, you know.

    Also, a business of ferrets
    has like merits.

    Lions? A pride. Leopards? A leap.
    What about sheep?

    They’re called a flock, but not a heap.
    With such peculiarity,
    hilarity’s no rarity.
    A group, you know, has like merits. What about sheep?

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