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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.” 

This poem resulted from a student challenging me to write a poem on the most difficult topic in the most difficult form.  One week later, I gave him this.  Most difficult topic:  the hypostatic union, a technical theological term for the way the divine and human natures of Christ are joined in one Person.  Most difficult form: the villanelle.  I think I met the criteria.

The poem was ridiculously easy to write, because the form became the solution.  the genius of the villanelle is the lines that are supposed to repeat at specified intervals.  I wrote one repeater line to represent the divine nature of Christ: “The Word set forth before the world began,” echoing John 1:1.  I wrote the other one to represent His human nature:  “The crying of the infant Son of Man.”  It doesn’t get any more human than that.  Then the form of the villanelle makes these two ideas weave in and out throughout the structure of the whole until they come together to form one couplet at the end.  The form is the perfect reflection of the content.  In writing traditional poetry, that is what we call success.

THE HYPOSTATIC UNION

                                           The Word set forth before the world began

Wrote out the mournful tune in minor key:

The crying of the infant Son of Man.

There was no way that they could understand

How that small and helpless child could be

The Word set forth before the world began.

Joseph wondered at the tiny hand,

The scrunched-up face, the frail intensity

Of crying in the infant Son of Man.

The angel host deployed and took its stand

To sing out with celestial harmony

The Word set forth before the world began.

Mary marveled at the shepherd band

Who came to hear, while bowing awkwardly,

The crying of the infant Son of Man.

Yet it was in accordance with the plan

Articulated from eternity:

The Word set forth before the world began

Was crying in the infant Son of Man.

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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255

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.

 

239

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

CLXXXVI

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 trick in writing a good villanelle is to make the repeater lines varied without being varied.  Note here how the line “The glory latent in the flesh: a rose” has exactly the same words but is punctuated differently each time it appears.  And then in the last line, the pun in the division of the world arose carries the weight of the entire development.  I was pleased with how this villanelle turned out.  See if you are.

FIRSTFRUITS 2

The saints believe what every lover knows

Who, gazing on one face, can plainly see

The glory latent in the flesh: a rose.

If Love is what leads lovers to compose

Their songs of praise and deeds of charity,

Then saints believe what every lover knows.

The truth the Heavens declare, the Firmament shows,

To starry-eyed and moon-struck is most free:

The glory latent.  In the flesh, a rose

Can shine in cheeks as brightly and disclose

To opened eyes as deep a mystery

Which saints believe and every lover knows.

Yet ash to ash and dust to dust it goes,

An aching void its only legacy,

The glory latent in the flesh.  A rose

Will lose its petals, yet the Spring bestows

New life; but what hope for the flesh can be?

The saints believe what every lover knows:

The Glory latent in the Flesh arose.

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 book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CXLI

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 last poem (CXL, March 31) wasn’t satisfied just to be a sonnet; it wanted to be villanelle too.  When the Muse calls, the Poet must obey.  Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, were the first to attempt the sonnet in English, in the early 16th century, before it was perfected by Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare in the latter half of the century.

 

THE ENGLISH SONNETEERS

Villanelle # 3

 

I come to sing the English sonneteers

(Not worthy, I, to emulate their form).

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Portrait-Wyatt
Sir Thomas Wyatt

For rules our modern bards have only sneers

And honor Chaos as their highest norm,

But I will sing the English sonneteers.

 

Show me the free-verse monologue that cheers

The heart, a battlefield for love forlorn,

Like Wyatt and Surrey, just the pioneers!

 

 

 

The dulcet sequences first reached our ears

From Italy and France, all full of charm,

But I will sing the English sonneteers,

 

For when in Shakespeare’s tongue the thing appears,

We see the first rays of a splendid morn:

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
Sir Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

The great ones—Spenser, Milton, and their peers—

Would follow and the highest truths adorn.

And so I sing the English sonneteers;

Wyatt and Surrey were the pioneers.

 

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