lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

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Location: Kolkata, India

Monday, June 18, 2007

Not a bad apple, considering it's an orange

Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, not the lark,
That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.
Romeo and Juliet, Act III Scene V

Partings are bittersweet. There is sadness, there is wrenching. There is anticipation of the next meeting and waiting for it. In thinking about the inevitable parting do we already miss the other while still in their company?

Noble metal adjured morning song (6), I said to myself, as I read the poem. Aubade is easy to construct a clue for, but not so villanelle. Level in all is an anagram of villanelle, I can tell you though.

Though the most well-known or most mentioned aubade is that embedded in Romeo and Juliet, John Donne's The Sun Rising is much cited, too. By definition, an aubade is a song or poem about lovers parting at dawn.

Donne's aubade is a grumble addressed to the sun. Philip Larkin wrote an aubade to life. But then, he was morbid. Aubades aren't very popular, I think. And villanelles would have remained an obscure verse form if it weren't for a few famous ones.

To be rigidly conventional, the villanelle should be seven syllables a line, using two rhymes distributed in five tercets and a quatrain. The rhyme scheme is aba for the tercets and abaa for the quatrain. An additional convention has the first line repeated in the sixth, twelfth and eighteenth, and the third line repeated in ninth, fifteenth and nineteenth.

But this was not always followed, in the beginning. Theoretically, one can write any number of tercets and round it off with a quatrain of abaa scheme and it will still be a villanelle; but the convention now is five tercets and a quatrain. The exact repetition of the first and third lines isn't always followed rigidly either, but that is a pity rather than poetic license, if you ask me.

Villanelles originated in Italy, and meant rustic songs at first. The term was used in France to designate a short poem of popular character favoured by poets in the late 16th century. These used to be unrestricted in form. It is said the current rigorous and monotonous pattern was set from a hugely popular poem by Jean Passerat. Here is an interesting essay and a translation. A sample.

J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle:
Eft-ce point celle que i'oy?
Ie veus aller apr├ęs elle.
I have lost my turtledove:
Isn't that her gentle coo?
I will go and find my love.

The most famous villanelle, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, by Dylan Thomas, illustrates the verse form well, as Thomas adhered to the meter mostly and the convention of repeating the first and third lines exactly. Elizabeth Bishop, in her One Art, ignored that convention and repeated the third line rhyme alone throughout the poem, and her poem suffers because of that.

Most poets ignore the seven-syllable rule, though. A truly neurotic writer would adhere to all the rules, perhaps, but poets always break rules; and if they know what they are doing the results are spectacular.

On the other hand, William Ernest Henley defines the rules of a villanelle in a delightful villanelle, it is a perfect example and charming to boot.

A dainty thing's the Villanelle,
Sly, musical, a jewel in rhyme,
It serves its purpose passing well.

A double-clappered silver bell
That must be made to clink in chime,
A dainty thing's the Villanelle;

And if you wish to flute a spell,
Or ask a meeting 'neath the lime,
It serves its purpose passing well.

You must not ask of it the swell
Of organs grandiose and sublime--
A dainty thing's the Villanelle;

And, filled with sweetness, as a shell
Is filled with sound, and launched in time,
It serves its purpose passing well.

Still fair to see and good to smell
As in the quaintness of its prime,
A dainty thing's the Villanelle,
It serves its purpose passing well.
Here is a parody of Do not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, and it illustrates what Henley stated, that a villanelle is best suited for lighthearted ideas. While Dylan Thomas could sustain brooding intensity and powerful imagery, and build up to the climax to end with the brilliant last two lines,
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
Bishop's poem stuttered because she chose to repeat the third line rhyme alone. A villanelle wasn't the right form for her theme anyhow. It wasn't, for Dylan Thomas' idea either, but he could carry it off brilliantly.

When a favourite blogger finally deigns to post it is time for rejoicing. But when you wait six months for a post, you get to quibble. It is a lovely poem. He calls it an aubade and addresses it to life, but it is neither an aubade nor a proper villanelle, I tell you.

Cheers!

8 Comments:

Blogger ?! said...

We differ. It IS an aubade.

And we quibble. *I* never claimed 'twas a villanelle, no ? The post only says aubade : ).

And whereas only Rodney "No Respect" Dangerfield recited Dylan Thomas (though with some heartfelt passion), Cameron Diaz recited One Art, so there.

(Err, many thanks ).

2:11 pm  
Anonymous Ash said...

You are right in your quibble, the poem is neither an aubade nor a villanelle proper. The scansion limps too. Brilliant idea, but written in a hurry, I felt.

A nice erudite post after a long time, Lali. Bravo.

4:12 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

?!- You can differ all you want, it is not an aubade. You can quibble all you want too, you don't have to state it is a villanelle when it is clearly one, albeit in Liz Bishop style.

I don't know or care who Ms. Diaz is, and her recitation won't make One Art a better poem.

Ash- You are the sort who'd complain about scansion reading Ogden Nash too, so that is par for the course. Of course it is a lovely idea.

6:06 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

So you liked Dylan Thomas, but didn't like Elizabeth Bishop's poem, but what about the poem you linked to? Did you like or hate it? I am not sure.

A fun piece next,please. This post was heavy reading.

7:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

she walks in beauty,
she nitpicks at will,
she larks in duty,
has poison to spill
on unsuspecting verse
come under stern glare.
to disagree plain makes it worse,
we folks just wouldn't dare.

Sincerely,
Secret admirer

10:37 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Rajesh- Huh? I said it's a lovely poem. One fun post, okay.

Anon- The scansion limps. Get a name.

4:52 pm  
Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

Why am I so clueless about poetry and philosophy ? .. How about some heavy stuff for a change, Mrs. M ?

6:29 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Ram- Sigh. My heavy stuff cuts no ice with the young man, he wants heavier stuff. We shall burst a few blood vessels to cater to your request, I promise.

10:28 pm  

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