03 April 2012

two villanelles for national Poetry Month

When I was a librarian, I was the one who made certain that the library's poetry section was kept modestly current, and that the collection included enough of the classics to ... well, to keep it from being embarrassing. Did the books circulate a lot? No. Did I care? Not really. 

How many times, after all, have I sat in a library or bookstore and its poetry there, but have not brought it home? Sometimes, you need a dip, not a full immersion

Were I still a librarian, I would purchase this book for the library. 

cover picture for Villanelles, an anthology
What is a villanelle? Poets.org gives this daunting definition:
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.


But... allow me to share two examples and point you to a third. I assure you: you all have read villanelles without knowing it; their repetitive, almost soothing structure can ease the most stark and necessary conclusion. "Do not go gentle into that good night," says Dylan Thomas, in a villanelle studied by every school child -  "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." 

And now, the poems. 

From Elizabeth Bishop, One Art.

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no 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 houses 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 may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

And, from Theodore Roethke, The Waking.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.
Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.


Huette said...

losing things . . . how freeing.

especially satisfying is the act of losing destructive things. bad memories, grudges, friends who sap energy, the need for the floor to always be clean . . .

Melwyk said...

Wonderful post, and I completely and fully agree with you about keeping poetry sections of the library at non-embarrassing levels. If only I had The Power!! This book looks amazing. I love the villanelle form and know the poems you've shared. There's one I love by a Canadian poet Robyn Sarah, and it is about April so it's very timely! I posted it on my blog a few years back for poetry month.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett said...

I've loved this Roethke poem since I studied poety in college.....thank you.

teabird said...

Barbara, you're welcome. It was really hard to choose amongst all of the poems, but I had to go with Bishop and Roethke