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Jan's Poetry Class--Villanelle

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Jan's Poetry Class--Villanelle

Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 30, 2009 2:23 pm

Whoops, sorry this is late--I wrote it last night, but forgot to post it before I headed out this morning.

Is everyone ready to tackle a trickier form of poetry? This week’s form is called the villanelle. It’s got some similarities to the triolet that we learned two weeks ago: there are only two rhyming sounds, and certain lines are repeated in a specific pattern.

Here are the characteristics of the villanelle:

1. It has 19 lines: 5 stanzas with 3 lines each, and a quatrain at the end.
2. It is a rhyming poem with an (aba) rhyme scheme (the final quatrain is (abaa)
3. It has a specific and consistent meter. The poet may pick any meter that works, but must strictly maintain it throughout the poem.
4. Lines 1 and 3 are called the refrain¸ and they are repeated in several places throughout the poem.

Confused? Well, I’ll try to sort it out for you, first by providing a line-by-line layout, and then by giving you a few examples.

1. Refrain, your first (a) rhyme
2. a (b) rhyme
3. Refrain, your second (a) rhyme

4. a line with an (a) rhyme
5. a line with a (b) rhyme
6. repeat of line 1

7. a line with an (a) rhyme
8. a line with a (b) rhyme
9. repeat of line 3

10. a line with an (a) rhyme
11. a line with a (b) rhyme
12. repeat of line 1

13. a line with an (a) rhyme
14. a line with a (b) rhyme
15. repeat of line 3

16. a line with an (a) rhyme
17. a line with a (b) rhyme
18. repeat of line 1
19. repeat of line 3

Probably the best-known example of a villanelle is Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night,” a poem he wrote about his dying father:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learned, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And of course, I had to attempt one for myself. This one’s not about my cat or my granddaughter, surprisingly enough! It’s very simplistic, for several reasons: I wrote it in a hurry, I’m not a deep poet, and I wanted you all to see that it’s not as hard as it looks.

I’ve given up on why
All answers lie with you
I’ll wonder ‘til I die

No matter how I try
To think the whole thing through
I’ve given up on why

You’re silent—no reply
My pleadings I renew
I’ll wonder ‘til I die

So what if I should cry?
My tears to nowhere flew
I’ve given up on why

Your grace is my supply
And hurt becomes untrue
I’ll wonder ‘til I die

So—will you sanctify?
Wilt fill with love anew?
I’ve given up on why
I’ll wonder ‘til I die

There—it shouldn’t be hard at all for you to do better than that!

By the way, there’s a free verse villanelle in Master’s this week—once hinting starts, I’ll tell you whose it is (it’s not mine—way too good to be mine!)

If the individual lines are long enough, a villanelle could conceivably be long enough as a Writing Challenge entry. Dylan Thomas’s poem above is 168 words.

I found that the key was picking words for the end rhymes that have LOTS of rhymes each. It’s wonderful to use complex and interesting rhymes for some types of poetry, but when you have to come up with half a dozen or more rhymes for the same word in one poem, you’ll want to avoid picking a word like bluster to start off with. Once you’ve used muster and fluster, you’ll find yourself in a pickle.

Homework: You guessed it—write a villanelle.

And please—let us know what your writing process was, and how you like this form, and anything else you can think of to say about villanelles. Do you think they’re especially suited for serious poetry, or can you see doing a lighthearted verse in this format?
Jan Ackerson

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upon this earth, a river flows

Postby OldManRivers » Mon Nov 30, 2009 5:04 pm

upon this earth, a river flows
from b’fore my time to b’yond my days,
to the unknown land, it surely goes.

so why, this course, no mortal knows
it is the fate of our human ways,
upon this eartth, a river flows.

now and then, the water slows,
but in the end, life never stays,
to the unknown land, it surely goes.

against the currents, across the shallows,
we pass the sites this route displays,
upon this earth, a river flows.

one more bend is what God bestows,
one more mile to distant bays,
to the unknown land, it surely goes.

so on and on, the pilgrim rows,
from his course, he seldom strays,
upon this earth, a river flows,
to the unknown land, it surely goes.
May God's gentle grace be with you.

Jim McWhinnie

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Postby gemstone » Mon Nov 30, 2009 6:09 pm

That's beautiful, Jim. Poetry is really your style to express your thoughts.

Mona

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Postby glorybee » Mon Nov 30, 2009 7:21 pm

Wow, Jim! What gorgeous imagery!

Can you talk us through your process? What do you like about this form? Any tips for would-be villanelle-ists?

Gold star for you this week--a beautiful, beautiful poem.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby Symphonic » Tue Dec 01, 2009 1:38 am

I've discovered that I really enjoy writing poems with very definite parameters. Maybe I'll even try one for the Challenge... someday... perhaps... in the far distant future... :)

This one was tough. I didn't even intend to finish it tonight--but the phrase "Upon a cold and starless night" haunted me as I drove to and from rehearsal. I started thinking of words that rhymed with "night"; then I had to think of a second line. The third line was relatively easy to come up with, though not very original. After I got home, I experimented with various words and phrases.

It could probably be a lot better... but here's my attempt. In keeping with the Season, it's a Christmas poem about how the shepherds might have felt before the Angels appeared:

Upon a cold and starless night,
Between the hills, among the sheep
Before the dawning of the light--
We did not speak of mankind’s plight
Around the fire, half asleep
Upon a cold and starless night.
Moved not by fear nor by delight
We knew not how to sing and weep
Before the dawning of the light.
As if deprived of sound and sight
We counted souls of men as cheap
Upon a cold and starless night.
We did not talk of love aright;
Did not esteem its price so steep
Before the dawning of the light.
Ignorant children of the blight
Had not grasped God’s love strong and deep
Upon a cold and starless night
Before the dawning of the Light.


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Postby glorybee » Tue Dec 01, 2009 8:06 pm

Carol, this is just beautiful! Hey, do you know anyone musical? (tee hee) Because this should be a Christmas carol...

Thanks for sharing your writing process with us, too. That's very valuable.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby GShuler » Tue Dec 01, 2009 8:41 pm

Sorry, this is all I could come up with for the assignment. My only "method" was to pick simple words that could be easily rhymed and then add a few poetic devices. I also kept the "a" lines at 11 beats and the "b" lines at 8 beats.

I have a question. Are the lines supposed to be in separated sets of three and then the last with four? If so, I have one sentence, the third line, that finishes in the next stanza. Not good?


Time, Like a Butterfly

Time, like a butterfly, is flitting away
uncaptured, unhampered, unknown;
while we, armed with nets, try and try to betray
the time that escaped from our lives yesterday.
Bow low your heads, humbly bemoan;
time, like a butterfly, is flitting away.
The gifts God has given were meant for today,
each moment His light should be shown
while we, armed with nets, try and try to betray.
Can your loved ones hear things that you never say?
It's too great a task to postpone...
time, like a butterfly, is flitting away.
When you are asked to explain, what will you say?
Try explaining how time had flown
while we, armed with nets, tried and tried to betray.

Respond to your call while it's still called "Today";
it's what you have already known.
Time, like a butterfly, is flitting away
while we, armed with nets, try and try to betray.
I had something really memorable to write here but I forgot what it was.
Gerald Shuler

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Postby glorybee » Wed Dec 02, 2009 7:21 am

Gerald, how poignant and sweet! Gotta love those poetic devices--wonderful extended metaphor here.

As to your question--none of the sources that I found on villanelle indicated whether there should be line breaks, so I think it's up to the poet.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby pheeweed » Wed Dec 02, 2009 8:54 am

When I read your lesson, I was sure this would be the week I drop out of this class. But I managed to write one. I'm not happy about the awkward sentence structures, but it's the only way I could make the rhyme and meter work. I wish I could just say what I mean to and it would naturally come out in rhyme ane meter.

When Holy Word is his delight
The fruitful man will blessed be
Just like a tree by river bright

Ungodly counsel men recite
But Godly man will from it flee
When Holy Word is his delight

The sinner’s way is full of blight
But Godly man stands from it free
Just like a tree by river bright

A scornful statement will incite
But Godly man will not agree
When Holy Word is his delight

A meditation day and night
Will open Godly eyes to see
Just like a tree by river bright

Abundant fruit will then excite
A year of budding jubilee
When Holy Word is his delight
Just like a tree by river bright

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"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8 NLT

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Postby glorybee » Wed Dec 02, 2009 9:33 am

Phee, you've done a wonderful job! It's so exciting to me to see you keep ssstttrrrreeetttccchhhhiiinngggggg. This is wonderful!
Jan Ackerson

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Postby pheeweed » Wed Dec 02, 2009 10:24 am

thank you, Jan. I know I'll never be a poet, but my goal is to learn to use words more deliberately. This has been very good for me.

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"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8 NLT

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Postby Verna » Wed Dec 02, 2009 12:52 pm

This past three weeks of poetry types have been great. I had no idea an acrostic could bring forth such excellent poems. These are kinds, that if they're done right, require time and thought--both of which I'm short on right now. I'll be back to try them at a later time. Thanks for keeping us inspired and taught.
Verna

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Postby CatLin » Wed Dec 02, 2009 5:48 pm

Rats. I forgot to do Acrostics.

I wrote a Villanelle last night, but it's really bad. Now I see how to important those "refrain" lines are, and I'm going to try again. I love these poetry challenges!
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Postby glorybee » Wed Dec 02, 2009 5:51 pm

Looking forward to it--and you can still do an acrostic, too.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby yvonne » Thu Dec 03, 2009 3:00 pm

Poems are harder when you're not in a poetic mood!

I started one poem but couldn't make sense of the words that rhymed.
(moon, loon, boon, coon, spoon, etc.)
(night, light, fight, plight, delight, etc.)

So, I started over again. Here's what I came up with:

TODAY

Yesterday has slipped away.
Tomorrow is not here.
Life is for today.

Childhood and youth will play;
The future does not fear;
Yesterday has slipped away.

Busyness cause nerves to fray;
Work and study keep us here;
Life is for today.

Misty dreams don’t seem to stay;
Often lost, we seem to veer
Yesterday has slipped away.

Don’t lose hope along the way
Wishful goals give us cheer;
Life is for today.

Lift your head to God and pray
Faithful, guide, ever near;
Yesterday has slipped away.
Life is for today.

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