A villanelle on self-pity and a few words hurled at heaven

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heynA villanelle, for those of you who don’t know the lovely form with its remarkable incantatory power, is a 19-line poem with a rhyme-and-refrain scheme that runs as follows: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 where letters (“a” and “b”) indicate the two rhyme sounds, upper case indicates a refrain (“A”), and superscript numerals (1 and 2) indicate Refrain 1 and Refrain 2.

Got that? Think Elizabeth Bishop‘s “One Art” or Theodore Roethke‘s “The Waking.”

The history of the villanelle, from the Italian villanella, a rustic song, goes back to the 16th century. The French poet Théodore de Banville compared the interweaving refrain lines to “a braid of silver and gold threads, crossed with a third thread the color of a rose.” The complex form was fixed with Jean Passerat‘s “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle” in 1606.

Here’s one more to add to the repertoire: “Self-pity” by a poet from the calm shores of Lake Michigan, Marnie Heynwho has just published a collection of poems, Hades Lades, with The Writers’ Bloc Press. (She takes liberties, as many poets do – clearly Passerat didn’t have the last word. Though she keeps to 19 lines and interwoven refrains, she combines terza rima with the villanelle.)

And below that, a more recent poem Marnie has written, about five years ago, dedicated to Humble Moi. I ran another dedicated to myself, titled “Gravitas,” by Patrick Hunt last March. As I noted then, it’s one of the pleasant byproducts of having poets for friends.

What both Marnie’s poems have in common, oddly, are the inclusion of buses. I wonder why … though I expect Marnie is a longtime fan of public transit.

Self-pity

I’m rigid on the bus at all the halts.
I set my jaw against sincere persuasion,
And that is not the gravest of my faults.

I overdress at any provocation.
My smile will never soothe a single sting.
I set my jaw against sincere persuasion.

I can’t subtract. Above all things,
I dearly love to win an argument.
My smile will never soothe a single sting.

My correspondents don’t get what I’ve sent.
I’m validated by the times I pine.
I dearly love to win an argument.

I decline my rightful turn in line
And trample on some hapless stranger’s feet.
I’m validated by the times I pine.

I lead in polka dancing, miss the beat,
And trample on some hapless stranger’s feet.
I’m rigid on the bus at all the halts,
And that is not the gravest of my faults.

 

hurling words at heaven

for Cynthia

you know I feel the creator’s presence the way I feel
the lateral coziness of that odd woman’s thigh, there
on the Trailways bus between one city in a state where
I know no one, and a city in another state where I know
no one, but I will manage well enough, and I am in
no danger, and going somewhere I want to be, there
beyond loneliness,
…….and so I know you will understand
that this bright, windy day I will not mirror Moses or
echo Jeremiah, rather that I will toss easy catches,
underhand, with flourishes, telegraphing every move,
soft, slow lobs right at the sweet spot where the stroke
can’t miss,
…….and ask, please, shine a light on the monster,
toss a banana peel under the heel of that stalker, whisper
a homecoming recall into every throbbing ear, and just
let Sinai be, let it be, while you show your countenance
to the gentle, the patient, the weary, this year, even in
Jerusalem

 

Postscript on 8/20: We have some nice pick-up from our friends at one of our favorite blogs, 3QuarksDaily, here.


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6 Responses to “A villanelle on self-pity and a few words hurled at heaven”

  1. Natalie T. Says:

    Thank you for a wonderful blog. I love the villanelle! The persuasive power of the repeated lines is impressive. I’ve been collecting new poets to read and Marnie Heyn is now on the list. I’ve been sampling a lot of book blogs lately and am unhappy that so few pay much attention to poetry. Thank you!

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    You’re welcome, Natalie!

  3. Edmund Robinson Says:

    I don’t think that “Self-Pity” actually fulfills the formal characteristics of a villanelle you outline.

  4. Cynthia Haven Says:

    You’re right. She takes some liberties. Most do – usually, I think, in the wording of the refrains. It’s hard in English to have the whole thing turn on two rhymes. Passerat clearly didn’t have the last word. I’ve added a sentence to acknowledge the point.

  5. Diana Senechal Says:

    Wow–these are wonderful.

    I love the missed beats in the villanelle. They suggest a gritting the teeth, a halt of the bus, or maybe a miscalculation:

    “I can’t subtract. Above all things,”

    “I decline my rightful turn in line”

    What’s also interesting is the relation of the title to the whole. I didn’t see self-pity right away; instead, I saw stubbornness and petulance. Just past the middle, the self-pity emerges (“I’m validated by the times I pine”)–which casts a new light on what came before. Then the final line, repeating the third, “And that is not the gravest of my faults” poses an implicit riddle (“what is, then?”). “Self-pity” seems to be the solution.

    And “hurling words at heaven” is beautiful and moving.

    I am far behind in my self-promised reading, but I couldn’t resist ordering a copy of Hades Ladies just now. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  6. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Thanks for visiting, Diana!

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