a villanelle

The sun descends into the silent sea.
As shadows lengthen in the fading light
I journey on to seek what yet may be.

As death from life yearns to be free,
And grief seeks comfort in the night,
The sun descends into the silent sea.

And as the past with all its misery
Sets with the sun and disappears from sight,
I journey on to seek what yet may be.

And as for love there is no guarantee.
For whether one is in the wrong or right,
The sun descends into the silent sea.

From pain and suffering no one can flee.
And so, amidst the brokenness and blight,
I journey on to seek what yet may be.

Yet hidden in this pain is harmony.
Within my heart its whispered dream burns bright.
The sun descends into the silent sea;
I journey on to seek what yet may be.

 

James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.

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16 Responses

  1. Connor Rosemond

    I’ve recently come of the opinion that villanelles are hard to write well, and are commonly botched by the incompetent, so I’m glad to read one of clear quality! Great work, James.

    Reply
  2. David Watt

    James, your choice of refrains work extremely well! Great work.

    Reply
  3. J. Simon Harris

    This is a very well done villanelle. I agree with David Watt that your refrains are very well chosen. A good refrain should evolve in meaning even as it is repeated, and I think yours do this. I especially like the fourth stanza: it puts things in perspective in an evocative way. Nicely done.

    Reply
  4. E.v.

    This is a beautiful Villanelle. I liked how you paired the setting sun and journeying on refrains. It makes day’s end become the prelude to the following day.

    Reply
  5. David Paul Behrens

    Life goes on despite what troubles we as individuals must endure and a light burns bright upon the path going forward. Deep and uplifting. Great poem!

    Reply
  6. James A. Tweedie

    I am grateful for the (so far!) positive response. This was my first attempt at a villanelle and I found it much more challenging than I had anticipated. I had Dylan Thomas’ “do not go gently” in front of me the entire time to serve both as a model and as inspiration. Aim high and you might hit something.

    Reply
  7. C.B. Anderson

    James,

    All of the comments were on point, and I just want to add that your rhetorical connections from line to line were superb, where the failure to accomplish this is the downfall of many a villanelle. Also, this poem was thematically very coherent, which is always a good thing. Though Thomas’ villanelle might be the most famous one in English, I don’t think it’s the best by a long shot.

    Reply
  8. Leo Yankevich

    C.B.,

    Thomas’ villanelle is the best written by anyone anywhere at anytime. The second best is Auden’s:

    If I Could Tell You

    Time will say nothing but I told you so
    Time only knows the price we have to pay;
    If I could tell you I would let you know.

    If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
    If we should stumble when musicians play,
    Time will say nothing but I told you so.

    There are no fortunes to be told, although,
    Because I love you more than I can say,
    If I could tell you I would let you know.

    The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
    There must be reason why the leaves decay;
    Time will say nothing but I told you so.

    Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
    The vision seriously intends to stay;
    If I could tell you I would let you know.

    Suppose the lions all get up and go,
    And the brooks and soldiers run away;
    Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
    If I could tell you I would let you know.

    –W.H. Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973)

    Mr Tweedie’s attempt is lightweight, a symphony of clichés. However, it is not terrible, and deserves its due.

    Reply
  9. Leo Yankevich

    Here is my attempt at the villanelle, published in Triancria:

    “Your Mother’s Eyes, Your Father’s Chin”

    When you kneel down to feed the poor
    they’ve got to have your mother’s eyes,
    your father’s chin. Spurn, curse the Moor.

    Muhammad, scornful to the core,
    dreams of a Euro Paradise
    when you kneel down to feed the poor.

    Stupidity is not a cure.
    Look at the anger in their eyes,
    hate in their mouths. Spurn, curse the Moor.

    The haughty Mullah can say more,
    on the blond beach, a lord of flies,
    when you kneel down to feed the poor.

    Lock the front gate and bolt the door;
    defend your blood; pray to the skies,
    to Mars or Thor. Spurn, curse the Moor.

    Love not thy foe, defiant, sure,
    you have been fed a pack of lies.
    When you kneel down to feed the poor
    think of your own. Spurn, curse the Moor.

    Leo Yankevich

    Reply
  10. Leo Yankevich

    Here’s the third best villanelle, in my opinion:

    The Waking
    BY THEODORE ROETHKE

    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
    I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
    I learn by going where I have to go.

    We think by feeling. What is there to know?
    I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

    Of those so close beside me, which are you?
    God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
    And learn by going where I have to go.

    Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
    The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

    Great Nature has another thing to do
    To you and me; so take the lively air,
    And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

    This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
    What falls away is always. And is near.
    I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
    I learn by going where I have to go.

    William Empson’s gets honorable mention;

    Villanelle

    It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
    Your chemic beauty burned my muscles through.
    Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

    What later purge from this deep toxin cures?
    What kindness now could the old salve renew?
    It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

    The infection slept (custom or changes inures)
    And when pain’s secondary phase was due
    Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

    How safe I felt, whom memory assures,
    Rich that your grace safely by heart I knew.
    It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

    My stare drank deep beauty that still allures.
    My heart pumps yet the poison draught of you.
    Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

    You are still kind whom the same shape immures.
    Kind and beyond adieu. We miss our cue.
    It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
    Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

    William Empson

    Reply
  11. Mark Stone

    James, I like the poem. I might change “amidst” to “amid,” to make the line flow more smoothly.

    Reply
  12. Wilbur Dee Case

    1. The opening stanza of Mr. Tweedie’s “I Journey On” demonstrates the heights of purity, which his poetry occasionally attains.

    2. Although I do not generally like the villanelle, it appears New Millennial writers are continuing to crank them out.

    3. Though I find I frequently disagree with Mr. Yankevich in his literary assessments, and I would never put it this way, I absolutely agree with him that “Thomas’ villanelle is the best written by anyone anywhere anytime” in English, which I have argued before on these literary strands, and which, if memory serves me correctly, Mr. MacKenzie disagreed with and Mr. Sale concurred.

    4. I am less impressed with the other villanelles; but what a nice reminder of the poetry of Roethke (1908-1963). I never think of his poetry these days, but reading his villlanelle that Mr. Yankevich placed on this strand, brought back to mind his poetic oeuvre, which rushed into my mind, like a Northwestern American river flowing through the wild. It was refreshing, to say the least.

    Reply
    • Leo Yankevich

      Wilbur Dee Case,

      I failed to mention EDWIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON’s

      “The House on the Hill”

      They are all gone away,
      The house is shut and still,
      There is nothing more to say.

      Through broken walls and gray
      The winds blow bleak and shrill:
      They are all gone away.

      Nor is there one today
      To speak them good or ill:
      There is nothing more to say.

      Why is it then we stray
      Around the sunken sill?
      They are all gone away.

      And our poor fancy-play
      For them is wasted skill:
      There is nothing more to say.

      There is ruin and decay
      In the House on the Hill
      They are all gone away,
      There is nothing more to say.

      or

      “Villanelle of Change”

      Since Persia fell at Marathon,
      The yellow years have gathered fast:
      Long centuries have come and gone.

      And yet (they say) the place will don
      A phantom fury of the past,
      Since Persia fell at Marathon;

      And as of old, when Helicon
      Trembled and swayed with rapture vast
      (Long centuries have come and gone),

      This ancient plain, when night comes on,
      Shakes to a ghostly battle-blast,
      Since Persia fell at Marathon.

      But into soundless Acheron
      The glory of Greek shame was cast:
      Long centuries have come and gone,

      The suns of Hellas have all shone,
      The first has fallen to the last:—
      Since Persia fell at Marathon,
      Long centuries have come and gone.

      Anyway, all of the villanelles I have posted could be considered “the best,” but few poets today could aspire to such heights.

      Best

      Reply
    • Leo Yankevich

      Regarding Roethke, kindly recall this:

      IN A DARK TIME

      In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
      I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
      I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
      A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
      I live between the heron and the wren,
      Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

      What’s madness but nobility of soul
      At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
      I know the purity of pure despair,
      My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
      That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
      Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

      A steady storm of correspondences!
      A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
      And in broad day the midnight come again!
      A man goes far to find out what he is—
      Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
      All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

      Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
      My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
      Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
      A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
      The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
      And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

      This is greatness.

      Roethke was a much better poet than the poetaster Robby Lowell.

      Reply

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