a villanelle

The mortal eyes in time shall wilt away,
as fast as breath retreats its kiss from glass,
but delight they will on the endless light of day.

We never had enough of dawn’s array,
of green of grass and blue of sky which pass.
The mortal eyes in time shall wilt away.

We drank our lover’s face like cabernet,
forgetting flowers wilt when plucked, alas!
But delight they will on the endless light of day.

The boastful mind so frail could not unlay
the mystery of time and space and mass.
The mortal eyes in time shall wilt away.

Alas, no eyes did suffice; all tended to decay
despite the beauties sweet they thought would last;
but delight they will on the endless light of day.

It hurts to tear away and end so long a stay.
Will there be good beyond a space so vast?
The mortal eyes in time shall wilt away,
but delight they will on the endless light of day.



Emmanuel Flores, LC, was born in the southernmost region of California. He is a religious brother on his way to the priesthood. He is currently studying philosophy in Rome.

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2 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson


    Your second repetend, “but delight they will…” has too many syllables, and the metrical structure is anybody’s guess. The middle line of the first stanza is an abuse of good English. Breath does not retreat anything (in a transitive sense); it either retreats or it doesn’t.

    There are so many other grammatical, syntactic, and logical lapses in this poem that I almost don’t know how to continue this criticism.

    It is a metrical jigsaw puzzle, as well, Manny, and I know that you know better.

  2. Margaret Coats

    This is a haunting villanelle with moral and spiritual depth and some very good lines. I’ve come back to it several times in the two days it’s been up

    The most striking lines are the “we” lines, apparently spoken by mortal eyes that never get enough of dawn, and that drink a lover’s face. Emmanuel, if you want to revise this poem, think about calling it “We Mortal Eyes” and consistently using the eyes as first person speaker. This could be a poem that gives a significant twist to the commonplace concept of “speaking eyes.”

    Another good line is “as fast as breath retreats its kiss from glass.” “Retreats” is a splendid word choice here–even though it is not a transitive verb. “Withdraws” could be used, but does breath really pull back the moisture it leaves on glass? No–breath retreats, and the moisture evaporates with no transitive action performed by the breath. “Retreats” is a better word to picture what happens.

    One could criticize “wilt” as something that eyes don’t do. But again, it’s an unusual and attention-getting image in a poem that discusses decay of the eyes. “Wilt” (especially when repeated conventionally for flowers in line 8) forces the reader to think about what happens as eyes die. Not a pleasant thought, but suited to the poem’s theme.

    The unfamiliar “unlay” sent me to the dictionary to find that it’s a good nautical word worth remembering–and distinguishing from “inlay” or “onlay.” But this is a poem about eyes; could one comment on their frailty rather than that of the mind in these lines?

    The poem’s rhythm is somewhat rough, but metrical flaws can be fixed. “But delight they will on the endless light of day” has too many syllables, but its number of beats is correct for a pentameter poem. Still, this important line needs to read as smoothly as possible. How about “But delight will we” or “But we’ll delight”? Line 16 (“It hurts to tear away and end so long a stay”) does have both too many syllables and too many beats–but the meaning of the line makes it a most suitable place to vary the form with a long line, especially a perfectly iambic one like this.

    Line 13 (“Alas, no eyes did suffice; all tended to decay”) seems too long, too rough, and too past tense for a poem largely written in present and future tense. What about “No eyes suffice, for all tend to decay”?

    Editing is easier than writing; please forgive any failure in reading your poem that I may have shown. This villanelle is superior to many chosen for the 2012 Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets book entitled “Villanelles.” Keep up the good work!


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