More villanelles

villanelleThe villanelle is a form associated with pastoral song in the Renaissance, but adopted by many poets working in English in the mid twentieth century. In James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus writes a villanelle, ‘Are you not weary of ardent ways‘. We looked at perhaps the most famous of twentieth-century villanelles in class together, Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’. There’s much more about Thomas’s poem here, part of a whole doctoral thesis on the villanelle form. Another example is Sylvia Plath’s ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’:

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

Plath, as you’ll see, uses half-rhymes in places here. Anther well-known example of the modern villanelle is William Empson’s ‘It is the pain endures’, which Dylan Thomas apparently described as ‘Empson’s good poem’. In fact, Empson’s poetry is well worth reading. He’s better known as a literary critic, but critical respect for his poetry is steadily growing. Here’s his villanelle – you can find more information about it, and a reading by Empson himself, here.

It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
Your chemic beauty burned my muscles through.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

What later purge from this deep toxin cures?
What kindness now could the old salve renew?
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

The infection slept (custom or change inures);
And when pain’s secondary phase was due,
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

How safe I felt, whom memory assures —
Rich that your grace safely by heart I knew.
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

My stare drank deep beauty that still allures.
My heart pumps yet the poison draught of you.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

You are still kind whom the same shape immures.
Kind and beyond adieu. We miss our cue.
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

W. H. Auden, too, tried his hand at the villanelle. Here’s his poem, ‘If I could tell you’:

Time will say nothing but I told you so
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be sold, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reason why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to More villanelles

  1. 20804215k says:

    I would like to comment on ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ by Dylan Thomas. The speaker of the poem touches on death and how one shoul resist death’s overwhelming power. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker seems to be referring to any person who is at the edge of death. However, towards the end of the poem the reader witnesses that the speaker’s own father is about to die. Throughout the play the speaker repeats the following two lines:”Do not go gentle into that good night.” and ” Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” His repetative usage of these lines are signs of desperation, indeed. He wants to encourage the target audiance and especially his father to live even though he knows that it is inevitable. The villanelle is impressing and sentimental, in my opinion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s