The earliest Ovillejo was written in Spanish and dates back to the early 1600s. It occurs in Don Quixote (1605) written by Miguel de Cervantes. While there are specific guidelines for line length and rhyme, I noticed that in Cervantes’ sequence of three Ovillejos, he did not follow the rules to the letter as concerning the line length, although he did adhere to the rhyme scheme. As for me, I promise to stick to the rules for the sake of this tutorial, but may stray from it a bit when I use it later on.
According to one of my sources, the name Ovillejo comes from the word skein and refers to a tightly wound ball of yarn. This is a poem of 10 lines that rolls out in measured segments, then goes back and picks up the short threads for the final unraveling.
The 10 lines are organized into two stanzas. The first stanza of six lines is in the form of three rhyming couplets. The first line of each couplet asks a question in 8 syllables (iambic tetrameter, to be precise), and the second line gives a four-syllable answer (iambic dimeter). For the record, this is where Cervantes deviated from the rule. His answers had sometimes 3, and other times only 2 syllables, but never 4.
The second stanza is a quatrain of four lines that summarizes, or amplifies, the first stanza, with line 10 repeating the three short lines from the first stanza (lines 2,4,6).
A note about meter vs. syllables
Some of you may have a hard time understanding meter because you have not been taught the technical side of writing poetry, so you prefer to count syllables. If you wish to count syllables, the structure would basically be 8-4-8-4-8-4 for the first stanza, and 8-8-8-12 for the second stanza .
There is some flexibility in the syllabic count, however, and counting feet instead of syllables gives you that flexibility. For example, a line of four trochaic or iambic feet would have 8 syllables total, but a line of four dactylic or anapestic feet would have 12 syllables total. And if you mix the feet, as I often do, you get a syllable count somewhere between 8 and 12 per line. The important thing in an Ovillejo is to be sure that the lines have a certain number of strong beats, regardless of how many weak beats they may have.
When counting feet, the structure is 4-2-4-2-4-2 for the first stanza, 4-4-4-6 for the second stanza, with each number representing the number of strong beats you want to have in each line. Does that clear it up a little, or make it worse? I would like to make another demonstration video using the Ovillejo, but I have not had time up to this point. It will come, I promise, after the art show—which, incidentally, is going on this weekend! ☺ (This post and many others were scheduled in advance. Otherwise, they would not have happened.) In the meantime, I invite you to look at my earlier post, “The Nuts and Bolts of Poetry: Rhythm, Meter, and Rhyme,” for some help sorting out these terms if they are foreign to you.
In summary, the Ovillejo is:
- A decastich (10-line poem) written in two stanzas, a sestet and a quatrain.
- Syllabic Structure: 8-4-8-4-8-4 8-8-8-12
- Rhythm = trochaic throughout (I personally don’t always hold to this rule.)
- Meter = tetrameter (lines 1,3,5,7,8,9); dimeter (lines 2,4,6); line 10 = lines 2,4,6 combined
- Rhyme scheme = aabbcc cddc
It’s easier to show examples of an Ovillejo than to try to describe it, so I have done just that. Below are two samples for you. The first one is pretty much textbook Ovillejo, while the second one deviates from the rules a bit. I frankly believe the deviation from the question-and-answer format is strictly an English (if not American) thing because every source I have found in Spanish that describes this form says that the first stanza is a series of questions and answers, period. But if that’s too hard for you, then by all means, do one like my second sample, and be proud of it. ☺
What’s my favorite thing to do?
How much am I longing for?
More and more
Just how often do I pray?
By your side I’ll always stay
In your arms I feel the fire
I have only one desire—
Loving you more and more every day.
Copyright © 2018 Abigail Gronway – All Rights Reserved
Lost in a Book
When I found that book waiting on the shelf,
I found myself.
I was barely through the cover embossed
When I got lost.
I was caught and drawn in on a hook
In a book.
As the day wore on, other things forsook,
For the author seemed to know me well;
In her story I my own could tell—
I found myself when I got lost in a book.
Copyright © 2018 Abigail Gronway – All Rights Reserved
It’s Your Turn!
Now it’s time for you to write a Ovillejo. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Choose a topic. It can be anything. If you’re struggling for an idea, you might consider the Daily Prompts from The Daily Post
- May I suggest you write on a piece of paper or in a notebook.
- If you are using the syllabic-count method, the down the left column write the numbers 8-4-8-4-8-4, leave a space, then write 8-8-8 on the next three lines. On the last (10th) line, write the numbers 2,4,6 together, and circle them. That means the text from these lines will be repeated here on line 10.
- If you are counting feet, write the numbers 4-2-4-2-4-2-4-4-4 down the left column. again, on the 10th line, write the numbers 2,4,6 and circle them.
- Across from the numbers, in the right column, write the letters aabbcc, leave a space, then write cddc. This is your rhyme scheme.
- Now, inside this framework, write your poem.
- Remember that on the short lines, you don’t have to use exactly four syllables, since the masters didn’t stick with that either. The important thing is that those lines be short, but not cookie-cutter per se.
- Try to avoid filler words. Instead, use a thesaurus to find precise words that give you the right syllable count for each line.
- And of course, when you are finished, share your poem with the rest of us.
Don’t know how? Follow these simple steps…
- Write your blog post.
- Include the tag Decastich Challenge or 10LPC
- Publish your post on your blog.
- Come back here and click the blue button below to add your link to the others.
To find more samples and to learn from those who taught me, check out these sites. All links open in a separate tab so you can easily find your way back here.
Poet’s Collective ~ The forms on this website are not organized in alphabetical order, but he does have at least one sample poem for each form, he even has tags for rhyme scheme. He also has a visual template for every form so you can see the rhyme scheme and stress patterns, as applicable. That is extremely helpful.
Sol Magazine ~ This resource covers much more than just 10-line poems.
“Metric Forms from Pathways for the Poet” ~ This is an outline of information from Pathways for the Poet by Viola Berg (1977), a book for and by educators. This resource also includes more than just 10-line poems, but it helped to fill in the gaps where my other sources were a bit scanty with their information.
Shadow Poetry ~ This is my favorite resource for learning about poetic forms (and not just the decastich), but I have discovered that there is ever so much more to learn than what I can find here. This is, however, a very good place to start.