Ovillejo Poetry Form: Chase Answers in Stanzas

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Here’s what the Ovillejo poetry form is:

The ovillejo is a ten-line Spanish poem form that gained popularity during the 17th century.

It’s a unique question-answer poem that weaves three couplets together with a final quatrain using short lines that are designed to intermingle on the last line.

So if you want to learn all about the Ovillejo poetry type, then you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s get right to it!

Ovillejo Poem Type (Simply Explained & Examples)

Forms of Poetry: The Ovillejo

young woman at the park writes in her personal diary

“Ovillejo” supposedly means something close to “ball of yarn” in Spanish, though I can’t speak from experience.

Nonetheless, it’s an apt description for this tightly woven short verse form hailing from Spain.

Sources trace it back at least as far as Miguel Cervantes, the writer of Don Quixote, though it may be older.

The ovillejo is structurally intimidating, but its short length keeps things rather doable.

It’s most noteworthy for the way the shorter lines of the poem interweave with the rhyme scheme and the unusual final line, which combines the three shorter lines into one little finale.

Basic Properties of the Ovillejo

reflective woman dressed in casual apparel holding a pen and journal
Rhyme StructureStrict
Origin16th century Spain (and possibly earlier)
PopularityRarely used in modern poetry
ThemeQuestions and answers

How Is an Ovillejo Structured?

Empty paper with feather and inkpot

The ovillejo is ten lines, comprised of three rhymed couplets and a redondilla quatrain, which is itself a separate stanzaic form that was popular in Spanish dramatic dialogue.

This poem form is from a very formal era in poetry, so it can be difficult despite its brevity.

The lines of the couplets alternate between 8 syllables and 3-4 syllables, though the quatrain at the end always features octasyllabic lines.

In English variants, we tend to see a preference for trochaic tetrameter, a relatively uncommon meter.

Meter is sometimes discarded entirely though, especially in modern examples.

The rhyme scheme is aa bb cc deec.

The tenth and final line is the most unique of the poem, as it’s a combination of the three answers from the shortest lines (2, 4, and 6).

There is not necessarily pressure to make this last line be fully logical, but it’s more impressive when it is.

Additionally, the shorter lines are typically expected to be a response to the longer lines.

This puts a great deal of pressure on these short lines, since they need to employ rhyme, work within their original position as responses, and work as a cohesive last line for the poem.

This is a form that really pushes the limits of what a ten-line form can be.

It should be noted, however, that the form doesn’t translate perfectly to English due to some differences in Spanish prosody, so this is more a description of the English version than the original.

Example of an Ovillejo

United hands of female friends outdoor

Where might you find a hiding mouse?
In our house.

What do we all do with our mouths?
We all talk.

What’s the best way for time to spend?
As good friends.

Challenge leads up to triumph’s door.
Life takes time to learn to love it.
Still, we must find a place to sit.
In our house, we all talk as friends.

The above poem doesn’t utilize trochaic tetrameter, chiefly to keep the form somewhat reasonable since it has a tendency to devolve into nonsense rather quickly if you follow its rules too strictly.

I won’t mince words with you; this one is very hard to achieve in any meaningful way.

If you’re of the mind that formal poetry stifles creativity, then this is not the form that will change your mind.

Regardless, the brain-bending nature of this particular form does limber you up to think about new ways to approach poetry, so it’s worth trying to make one work anyway.

Do I think the ovillejo will suddenly become the next big thing in modern poetry? No.

But its quirky structural elements are definitely unique enough and innovative enough to warrant a glance.

Tips for Writing an Ovillejo

female hand with pen above the notepad and a glass with purple flowers.

Allow your poem to be a bit silly.

The ovillejo, by nature of its arbitrary limitations and question-answer format, is intrinsically a tiny bit goofy and you don’t have to avoid that.

Poetry is allowed to be fun and non-aspirational sometimes.

Treat it as a game to play with yourself and you’ll do fine.

Personally, I would recommend writing the last line first.

Come up with an eight-syllable line you’d like to end on that can be broken up into three chunks, then design the rest of the poem to ask questions that lead back to those chunks.

From the reader’s perspective, it will look like you planned the whole poem to lead up to the conclusion, which is rather clever.

Alternatively, you can write the poem from top to bottom as you normally would, and just accept that the last line will perhaps be a bit weird.

The ovillejo demands an unusual sort of parallel planning in its design that we don’t often see, even in formal poems, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

beautiful brunette woman pensive writing while having coffee.

If you excel at multitasking, then you may find the challenge of finding lines that work immediately, later, separately, and together all at once to be exhilarating.

For better or for worse, this is probably going to be a form you either love or hate.

Formalists and challenge-seekers should absolutely research the ovillejo form and give it a whirl, but those who veer toward free verse and narrative poems may find its strange rules to be absolutely debilitating.

Of course, no one knows where you stand on that spectrum but you.

If you really want to spice things up, get some friends together and treat it as a collaborative poem.

This form strikes me as one where having the stanzas written by different poets could lead to hilarious results, though it will be more like a game of ad libs than anything else.

Poet’s Note


Not a fan of this one, personally.

I love narrative poetry that flows naturally and seamlessly from one moment to the next, so poems that get too caught up in wordplay tend to turn me off.

As I said, everyone falls somewhere on that spectrum from loving to hating this form.

While I see the form’s cultural and creative value, it’s not for me.

Comprehensive Collection of Poetry Forms: Craft Words Into Art

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