the other villanelle

Just a short one for today.

I said when I posted what is possibly my favorite of my own poems, “Busy Music,” that I had written another villanelle. In the interest of artistic fairness and balance, I am posting the second effort at this difficult and exhausting verse form. I don’t think it’s as good, but in typing it up I found myself caught up in something about it.

A villanelle, originally invented in Italian, nowadays requires a sternly rigid form: six stanzas of three lines each (except the last, which is four lines)—so 19 lines, and the first and last lines of the initial stanza alternate as the last lines of the following stanzas, with both lines used to end the poem, which is why the last stanza is longer. It also rhymes in an ABA pattern, leaving the poet only two rhyming sounds. It’s quite hard to make sense with such limited resources (and I am not quite sure I do here). In this poem I wanted to play grammatically, altering the repeated lines by breaking them up differently in the repetitions. Well, at least one of them.

“Busy Music” was the fruit of the unsought end of my first big romance, written in 1974 originally (I’ve labored on it since). This one popped out in the fall four years later.

As with the other villanelle, I wanted the repetition to be an element of the meaning (since as I note elsewhere:  form is meaning is form), and as with the other one, the speaker is trapped, caught up in his inability to escape a former, ended romance, although he would like to…

Waking Up

Sunslippered musics name our afternoon
at morning too often for me nowadays.
When simple magic spoke, your silent tune

…reminds me more of our own kitchen now rather than the seedy rental house in which I lived in 1978

shaped quiet pleasure in a sleepy June;
honeyed, dew-hearted, you in a thousand ways
sunslippered music’s name. Our afternoon

blessed us in a drowsily amorous swoon,
as craftily I plotted two-edged to praise
when simple magic spoke your silent tune,

and invented night―and none too soon―
icesharp (because starlit nothing stays
sunslippered). Musics name our afternoon,

though memory states cruel darkness’ rune,
and between, pointless existence strays
when simple magic spoke your silent tune.

Morninglight smears yellowed coffeespoon
todays, and no perky-pot rhythm awakes

sunslippered musics:  Name our afternoon
when simple. Magic spoke your silent tune.

29 September 1978

Sound effects were large in my mind while writing and revising this poem. I can still recall reading it aloud to myself repeatedly to savor the vowels and consonants in their proper orders. This poem is also from the same period (early Maquoketa) as “Freya’s Steel.” Although I originally composed that one during my two-year residence in Ft. Madison for my first two years of teaching, I kept working on it for about five or six years, eventually breaking the original sonnets into the free-verse lines now. You might notice the shared images, especially in the fourth and fifth stanzas.

For what it’s worth, there it is, actually completed on the day noted (which I had to search out in my poetry file). Although I recall exactly what romantic implosion created “Busy Music,” I don’t think I had any particular personal issue in mind writing this poem—just general mid-twenties romantic angst, I guess.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

3 thoughts on “the other villanelle

  1. Thank you sir. I’m not entirely sure I should have let anyone else see this one… (And in looking through stuff this morning, I discover I lied: there is a third one.)

  2. I very much like your villanelle, “Waking Up”. I have a blog dedicated to the Villanelle. At the time of this post I have around 800 villanelles from 116 villanelle poets. I frequently mine the internet for villanelle poems and include them on my blog, along with the author’s name and copyright year. If you would like to be included in the largest repository of Villanelles on planet Earth, alongside the likes of Sylvia Plath, John M. Ford and Wendy Cope, e-mail me and let me know. All rights remain yours. Please include the exact date of writing or publication, as I like to order the poems chronologically as well. Thanks for your time, and have a great day!


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