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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.

 

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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.”

 When I finally made it to C. S.  Lewis’s grave, I was struck by the fact that, though his remains were only six feet away, I was closer to him with my head in one of his books on the other side of the Atlantic.  For that very reason it was a powerful experience of the futility of death, and hence of life, if the Christian hope of the resurrection is not true.  But if it is true . . .  Only a villanelle (think Dylan Thomas and “Do not go gentle into that goodnight”) could come close to capturing that moment.

THE GRAVE OF C. S. LEWIS

Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, Oxfordshire

There was a marble slab, the evidence

Of burial, with writing on the stone

Which said, “Men must endure their going hence.”

The mind that had restored my mind to sense

Was there reduced to elemental bone;

There was a marble slab, the evidence.

That well of wisdom and of eloquence

Was now cut back to just one phrase alone,

Which said, “Men must endure their going hence.”

No monument of rich magnificence

Stood fitting one who had so brightly shone;

There was a marble slab.  The evidence

That plain things have their power to convince

Was in that simple block with letters strewn

Which said, “Men must endure their going hence.”

The weight of time was focused there, intense

With wrecked Creation’s universal groan:

There was a marble slab, the evidence,

Which said, “Men must endure their going hence.”

C. S. Lewis

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)!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CXI

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.”

This poem marks a couple of momentous moments.  One was the loss of our dog, who had gotten out of her yard and disappeared only to be found later dead on the road.  The other is the composition of my first villanelle.  The villanelle is one of the most challenging verse forms in the language: six triplets in iambic pentameter rhyming ABA, etc., until the last stanza adds an extra A line to end in a couplet.  The catch is that lines one and three have to be substantially repeated as the final lines of the following triplets, alternating until they come together in the last stanza as the final couplet.  In one way it’s easy.  When you finished three lines, you already have a third of the rest written!  But the trick is to make the repeated lines sound like they would completely naturally have been there anyway.  Now that is hard!

The advantage is that if you do it well, there is an intensity bound by rigid limits that lends itself to containing otherwise uncontrollable emotion.  The best example of this use is Dylan Thomas’s famous villanelle on the death of his father, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”  This one is not lacking in a certain similarity to that one.

Farewell to Snoopie: A Villanelle (No. 1)

Beagle1

The once lithe body lay too large, too long:

The proportions were off, the head’s angle strange;

Something about it certainly was wrong.

 

Something about the way the limp legs hung

Boded less wandering, a shrunken range.

The once lithe body lay too large, too long.

 

Never before had I seen her without a song

Of bugle-haunted greeting in glad refrains;

Something about it certainly was wrong.

 

The silk ears once in gay abandon flung

Were still, and their position did not change:

The once lithe body lay too large, too long.

 

A fly crawled slowly undisturbed along

The nose; fur rose in wind foreboding rains.

Something about it certainly was wrong.

 

And standing there, I felt no longer young

And thought age no great bargain in exchange.

The once lithe body lay too large, too long;

Something about it certainly was wrong.

Beagle2

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.

 Donald T. Williams, PhD