A Villanelle

For the past couple months, I have been struggling with getting into certain habits. One of these is expanding on the subjects I write about and the forms those writings take. 

I was reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce a couple weeks ago, and there is this scene where he wakes up with half of a Villanelle formed in his head. For those artists out there who occasionally wake up in a sweat with the hint of something genius on their brain, you probably understand how inspiring it can be to witness another’s inspiration. I will always be glad that Joyce wrote that scene because it speaks to me. 

But the point of this post is not that. The point of this post is my curiosity at the form of the villanelle. I remember trying to write one in my high school creative writing class and failing miserably because of the strict structure of the lines. 

Now, however, the difficulty of the form is what makes it attractive. If you can do the villanelle well, it is a beautiful and comforting cadence of rhyme and line. I am not saying that I can do it well–because I only just started experimenting with the form, and while I know the pattern of it by heart, there is so much more for me to work on and with in terms of how to make the most of the form.

You could say the villanelle and I are new besties who are laughing at all the same jokes, but still working on where the boundaries are and how we can stretch them.

In any case, I am including three villanelles below for your enjoyment and discussion.

Mad Girl’s Love Song
Sylvia Plath

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead,
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary darkness gallops in.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head).

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and enter Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said.
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head).

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head).

Villanelle from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Are you not weary of ardent ways?
Lure of the fallen seraphim,
Tell no more of enchanted days.

Your eyes have set men’s hearts ablaze
And you have had your will of him.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?

Above the flame the smoke of praise
Goes up from ocean rim to rim.
Tell no more of enchanted days.

Our broken cries and mournful lays
Rise in one eucharistic hymn.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?

While sacrificing hands upraise
The chalice flowing to the brim.
Tell no more of enchanted days.

And still you hold your longing gaze
With languorous look and lavish limb.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
Tell no more of enchanted days.

And, finally, my own:

I paid no mind to the cold
When we set out in the morning’s light
Among buildings far too old

The streets gleamed gold
And the sun was such a sight
I paid no mind to the cold

You shivered beneath the fold 
Of my jacket from last night
Among buildings far too old

I shivered from your hold
Around my waist, though it was slight
I paid no mind to the cold

I thought to myself of the mold
Of your body to mine in the quiet
Among buildings far too old

In the silence of the town of tales told
You and I found a moment of right
I paid no mind to the cold
Among buildings far too old

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3 thoughts on “A Villanelle

    1. I just realized I never responded to you. I’m so sorry. Sometimes I don’t think straight.

      But thank you and you’re welcome. I hope your studies go/have gone well. The villanelle is difficult, but it is sorely under-appreciated, as most forms are these days, and it just needs artists up to the challenge.

      1. No problem, thanks for replying! I submitted 3 poems in the end and I think my villanelle was probably the best of an average bunch. I enjoyed it though, and will continue to write them, and hopefully improve 🙂

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