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

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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

CXXXVII

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 key to an effective villanelle is good repeater lines that are able to carry a weight of meaning sufficient to prevent their growing tiresome and justify their coming together at the end in a final summation that leaves the reader with a sense of closure that no other form can match.  If I did not achieve that here in my second villanelle, I don’t think I ever will.  This one is highly appropriate for Good Friday.

"Gordon's Calvary"
“Gordon’s Calvary”

THE SEED

Villanelle # 2

And so the Seed was planted and it grew.

And thought it seemed an ordinary tree,

The Gardener knew what it was to do.

That every kind of bird that ever flew

Should nest upon its limbs was the decree,

And so the Seed was planted and it grew.

Though any reason why it should be true

Was more than men as yet had eyes to see,

The Gardener knew what it was to do.

Although the soil was dry, and rocky too,

The branches spread out strong and green and free:

And so the Seed was planted and it grew.

If growth so rich could be left to accrue—

But that was not the way it was to be;

The Gardener knew what it had to do.

Chop it down, a lifeless stump?  And who

Could see hope in such heartless husbandry?

But so the Seed was planted and it grew;

The Gardener knew what He had to do.

The Via Dolorosa
The Via Dolorosa

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

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