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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 The great thing about villanelles (see last week’s blogpost) is the focus they can give to a topic if you can manage to keep the repeater lines from sounding too repetitious.  They help keep us on track when trying to describe a very intense emotional experience, like the death of Dylan Thomas’s father in perhaps the most well-known example of the form—or Dante’s first encounter with the smile of Beatrice, as re-imagined here.

Beatrice

BEATRICE

In her smile I knew that I could see

All the bliss that Heaven keeps in store:

The stronger God that ruleth over me.

I was but nine years old the day that she

First dawned on me, unlearned in lover’s lore,

But in her smile I knew that I could see

The beauty that resides in sanctity,

The joy of the Creator’s skill, and more:

The stronger God who ruleth over me.

When on the street she gave her greeting, free,

There was no greater boon I could implore

Than in her smile I knew that I could see.

When I was slandered by an enemy

And she withheld it, oh, my heart was sore,

For still the stronger God ruled over me.

And when she died and I was lost, her plea

For grace retaught me what I should adore.

For in her smile I knew that I could see

The stronger God who ruleth over me.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Dante

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)! Order from the publisher or Amazon.

 

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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 One of my favorite ways  to challenge myself is to write a poem about a particular poetic form in that form.  I did it first in a moment of inspiration during my PhD prelims when one of the questions was “Define Skeltonics” (a form of light verse named after Renaissance poet John Skelton), which I proceeded to do in perfect Skeltonics.  (See number XCV in this blog series.)  The toughest challenge of that sort might well have been the Villanelle.

John Skelton

THE TEST

Perhaps the toughest test of writing well

Is one that’s hardly ever tried today:

The daunting challenge of the villanelle.

The devil’s in the details, I can tell.

Six triplets linked and rhyming A B A:

Is that the toughest test of writing well?

Oh no, there’s more.  The trick is in the trail

The repetitions leave along the way.

That is the challenge of the villanelle.

Each one must feel like fate as they impel

The reader onward, never let him stray

From  this, the toughest test of writing well.

When  Dylan Thomas’ father died, the yell

Could not be stifled in its fierce dismay.

Alone the challenge of the villanelle

Could hold such anguish to its task, to spell

Out clearly what the torn heart had to say.

He passed the toughest test of writing well:

The daunting challenge of the villanelle.

Dylan Thomas

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!  Order from the publisher or Amazon.

 

254

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 Nothing in this life is more valuable than friendship—real friendship.  I have been privileged to know it a time or two.

FRIENDSHIP

The quest is not for love so much as one

Who cares about the things you care about.

You serve a King whose other servants doubt

The worth to Him of everything you’ve done.

And yet, you know the race you try to run

Is one He called you to, that He holds out

The prize, though no one cheers along the route;

Still, running all alone is not much fun.

The quest is not for love.  But when you find

Another runner stumbling down the track

Whose eyes are focused on the self-same end,

Who has a loyal heart, a kindred mind,

Who falls in stride with you, does not look back—

Oh, there’ll be love alright:  you’ve found a friend.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)! Order from the publisher or Amazon.

 

 

 

253

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 Nothing like a good dragon fight to get the blood flowing again after breakfast!

THE KING’S MARINERS, II

The captain laid the sextant on the table;

The first mate laid his finger on the chart.

A hundred weathered seaman, strong and able,

Felt a sudden chill about the heart.

 

“Strike the mainsail; drop the anchor; batten

Down the hatches!”  cried the mate with dread:

For “Terra Incognita” read the Latin,

And “There be dragons here!” the English said.

 

Then up upon the deck the knight came striding,

Covered, cap-a-pie, with shining mail.

Far North and West the vessel had been riding

Across the waves, hot on the monster’s trail.

 

Ultima Thule they had left far behind them.

Their world was roaring ice, fantastic lights,

And eerie whalesong, serving to remind them

How great his peril who the dragon fights.

 

Yet memories sustain them: children screaming,

Farms and villages awash in flame.

And so the valiant knight in armor gleaming

They’ve brought: St. George of England is his name.

 

The lookout scans the sky for signs of trouble;

Into the longboat then the warrior climbs.

The sea against the ice-floes foams and bubbles;

The sailors think upon the dragon’s crimes.

Four hardy seamen are the knight’s companions;

The captain puts the lance into his hands.

The worm lies hidden in the frozen canyons;

“Lower away!” the bo’sun then commands.

 

The sea is restless, and the spray is chilling;

The knight is soon deposited on shore.

One thing is sure: a dragon he’ll be killing,

Or warmth of hearth and home he’ll know no more.

 

The crevasses are turning and they’re twisting;

‘Round any bend the deadly foe might lie.

The sky is sleeting heavily and misting.

Soon either St. George or the worm must die.

The crevasses are twisting and they’re turning;

His boots upon the ice refuse to grip.

The mist turns foul; the ice seems to be burning.

He readies the lance and prays he will not slip.

 

Amidst the reeking fumes he fights confusion.

It will not do to charge here; let the worm,

Angered at the warrior’s rash intrusion,

Pounce here where no footing can be firm!

 

Even amidst the stench that he was making,

The dragon caught the hated human smell.

Aroused to wrath, and caution all forsaking,

He launched himself, full hideous and fell.

 

Never before had any been so daring;

Never before had any been so bold,

Across the frozen ocean to come faring

And taunt the evil serpent in his hold.

 

Around the bend he came with nostrils burning;

But at his heat the ice began to melt.

His sharpened claws were flailing and were churning;

Helpless, he slid toward where the warrior knelt.

 

Focused, calm, the knight continued kneeling.

His prayer done, he knows he has one chance:

The legs push upward, now!  The blow he’s dealing;

Into the dragon’s mouth he drives his lance.

Stunned by the blow, the knight falls backward, sprawling

Across the slippery ice, but keeps his grip.

The lance snaps, but the dragon too is falling;

The scalding life-blood foams about his lip.

 

The crevasse was collapsing, melting, steaming.

How he got out, the warrior never knew.

Back on the ship, he thought he had been dreaming,

But blood-caked mail and blistered skin showed true.

 

Songs of praise were sung that night at matins

As swiftly South, toward home, the vessel fled.

For “Terra Incognita” read the Latin,

And “There be dragons here!” the English said.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!  Order from the publisher or Amazon.

 

 

 

252

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on “ the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 Two-plus of the remaining decades mentioned below are now already gone.  And I thought they were disappearing in a hurry back then!

Memento Mori — Reminder of What is Coming

UBI SUNT?

Four decades and a half have disappeared;

They vanished in the twinkling of an eye.

And now, the three or four that may remain

Are poised to follow.  It is to be feared

They’ll hardly say “Hello” before they fly.

Some subtly altered circuits in the brain

Are the only legacy they leave behind:

It’s what they’re literally remembered by.

And even that inheritance would be vain

If those faint traces vanish with the mind.

If anything survives, it’s understood

That there are yet some changes that I would

Accomplish if I can before I die.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest books: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2016) and “An Encouraging Thought”: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of L. R. R. Tolkien (Cambridge, OH: Christian Publishing House, 2018)!  Order from the publisher or Amazon.