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2 Villanelles

July 29, 2009

First, a definition from Poets.org:

The highly structured villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form is made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines. Using capitals for the refrains and lowercase letters for the rhymes, the form could be expressed as: A1 b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 / a b A2 / a b A1 A2.

Very similar to the sestina in its use of repetition, but this time, two rhymes are repeated throughout the poem instead of exact words. Its smaller number of lines also keeps the rhyme scheme tighter.

Here are 2 of the most famous ones:

——-

Do not go gentle into that good night

-Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

——-

One Art

-Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is not disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved homes went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it make look like (Write it!) a disaster.

——-

What’s amazing is that even with the strictures of this form, both of the poets above used it to their own specific advantage: Dylan Thomas employed the rhyme scheme in a forceful and chant-like call to arms, while Elizabeth Bishop’s method made for a deliberately unconvincing argument that “the art of losing isn’t hard to master”.

Fantastic!

The thing I love best about forms, like the villanelle and sestina, is the near-mathematical pattern of word usage. The poems become like a tower of words painstakingly built just so, shuttling straight into the ear and through the heart.

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