Villanelle

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The crack is moving down the wall.
Defective plaster isn’t all the cause.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

It’s mildly cheering to recall
That every building has its little flaws.
The crack is moving down the wall.

Here in the kitchen, drinking gin,
We can accept the damndest laws.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

And though there’s no one here at all,
One searches every room because
The crack is moving down the wall.

Repairs? But how can one begin?
The lease has warnings buried in each clause.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

These nights one hears a creaking in the hall,
The sort of thing that gives one pause.
The crack is moving down the wall.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

Weldon Keys

I stumbled upon the villanelle form in my book Staying Alive for my summer poetry class. My class is mainly poetry appreciation intended to inspire poetry of my own. I quite like Weldon Keys “Villanelle.” Sometimes cracks are visible, and for whatever reason, we often seem to wait for the roof to crash. As for my own poems, I have my work cut out for me, nothing ready to share.

The villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two rhymes throughout, consisting of five tercets (three-line stanzas) and ending with a quatrain (four-line stanza). The first and third lines of the opening tercet recur alternately at the ends of the other tercets and with both repeated at the end of the closing quatrain. Some of the tercets above might look a wee bit, um, janky (with a fourth line) via phone. On my laptop, they come across as intended. 

Probably the most famous villanelle is Dylan Thomas’s poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Who knew that this one is a villanelle? I did not. You are welcome.

If you have a minute and a half, here is Thomas reciting his poem in 1952, a year before his untimely death at age 39. For Dylan’s text, click here.

Source:
Staying Alive, ed Neil Astley, Miramax Books, 2003.

 

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Source: Being Alive, ed Neil Astley, Bloodaxe, 2004