a villanelle

My heart goes out to those unknown,
Whose life by Time’s cruel hand erased,
Their ravaged, riven, nameless stone.

Shattered, lost, grass o’ergrown,
No date to tell when coffin placed.
My heart goes out to those unknown.

How many winds and rains hath blown,
To scourge the words and leave defaced
Their ravaged, riven, nameless stone?

Your name is yours to know alone,
What stories made were left to waste?
My heart goes out to those unknown.

Wind be your life, dust be your bone,
Dolefully you have been replaced
By ravaged, riven, nameless stone.

I fear your plight shall be my own
Ages after Death I’ve faced.
My heart goes out to those unknown,
And their ravaged, riven, nameless stone.



When she’s not tirelessly studying to be an audio engineer, Camille Cechini is drawing poetic inspiration from the breathtaking natural beauty of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest where she makes her home.

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15 Responses

  1. Terry L. Norton

    Beautiful the way you handle the repetition not only of lines but in the use of the mournful long /o/ sounds throughout.

    • M.A. Scott

      I read it again with your comment in mind, and you’re right! It makes reading it out loud more delicious, more heartbreaking.

  2. M.A. Scott

    “Wind be your life, dust be your bone” is a tremendously powerful line. Well done!

  3. C.B. Anderson

    The problem with this poem is that some of the lines are syntactically meaningless. “Whose life by Time’s cruel hand erased” is nonsense. Perhaps you meant to write “Whose life by Time’s cruel hand was erased” but then realized that this would spoil your tetrameter meter. “Their ravaged, riven, nameless stone” is a nice line, but it just dangles there, without any grammatical or syntactic connection to what precedes it. Yes, a reader might infer what it was you meant to say, but it’s better just to say it and not force the reader to speculate.

    In line 7, “hath” serves no purpose other than to suggest that the writer is familiar with archaic English verb forms. “Have” would have done just as well. I’ll forego any further analysis, since no one is really paying any attention to simple matters of English diction.

    Having said all that, I think you started with a very nice idea for a poem, and I’m only sad that the poem wasn’t fleshed out as well as it could have been.

      • Monty

        CB has nothing to be embarrassed about. His above remarks are astute and warranted; lines two and three are senseless and incompatible with each other. First and foremost, another word is required in between ‘hand’ and ‘erased’.

        To make any sense as correct diction, it could read as: “Whose life, by time’s cruel hand, has erased their ravaged, riven, nameless stone.” But even written as such, it still contains anomalies:

        a/ Given that it refers to “those unknown” (which means more than one person), line two should begin with ‘Whose lives’ (plural), not ‘Whose life’ (singular). Accordingly, ‘stone’ should be ‘stones’.

        b/ It infers that their lives – when they were alive – have erased their stones: “Whose life erased their stone”. To which one has to ask: How can one, when living, contribute to the future erasion of their own stone when they’re dead?

        Further mishaps are as follows:

        a/ L5.. We know full well what the author means by “when coffin placed”; but one shouldn’t waive the correct diction of ‘when the coffin was placed’ just for the convenience of metre and rhyme.

        b/ L10-L11.. I’d be interested to know how you interpreted those two lines: and what sense you made of them.

        c/ L16-L17.. In L16, the speaker is referring to the future, hence it’s in the future tense. But in L17, we have the word “faced”, in the past tense. Irrespective of tense, what is one to make of the words “ages after death I’ve faced”. Utter nonsense! To make sense, it could read as: ‘I fear your plight shall be my own, ages after the death I face’.

        I applaud the author for attempting such a difficult task as the villanelle; but villanelles are not to be taken lightly. It’s a specialist form, and it requires the utmost care and attention to pull it off successfully. Above all, it requires respect. It’s not to be used in the sense of: ‘I’m gonna write a villanelle to prove to myself I can do so; and if basic diction has to be abolished along the way in order to fit the form.. so be it.’ It should never be forced. When it IS forced, it’s usually indicative of the author trying to run before they can walk.

        CB remarked about some people not paying attention to simple matters of English diction; and that evidently includes you, MA. If the poem affected you sentimentally, good for you; a dash of sentimentality now and again is to be welcomed. But it’s imprudent to allow sentimentality to obscure reality.

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I have read this thought-provoking and poignant villanelle together with the comments on it with interest. The villanelle is one of my favorite forms and having written many myself, I know just how challenging it can be. I love your message and the vivid images you create. While I agree with some of the criticisms put forward by C.B. Anderson and Monty, I honestly think a tweak here and there will set this beautiful villanelle on the road to perfection. I especially like stanza 4 and the closing stanza. “I fear your plight shall be my own/Ages after Death I’ve faced.” is a touching observation that is certainly not “utter nonsense”. I’m certain you meant to say “I fear your plight will be my own after I have faced death” and chose to invert the sentence to maintain the rhyme scheme. I appreciate the effort you have put into the poem and love your observations. I thoroughly look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Monty

      Why do you ask, MA? The remarks I made pertained only to the foggy diction and the patent misuse of tenses. I never mentioned the subject-matter. And in this instance, your question is surely impertinent, given that the poem’s subject is clear and obvious. It speaks for itself.

      Contrary to what you seem to think, I happen to feel that the author has conceived of a very thoughtful and affecting subject for her poem. To me, it speaks not only of the faded gravestones of those who’ve departed – and consequently the subsequent anonymity (“those unknown”) – but also of the (if any) still-living friends and relatives of the departed, who have the displeasure of witnessing the gradual fading of the stones. In this sense, I feel that the author has managed to effect what I consider to be one of the most vital functions of a poet and poetry; to take a seemingly insignificant matter which we generally take for granted . . and expand upon it: draw our attention to it: force us to attach thought to it; invite us to see it from a different perspective. Additionally, the author comes across as having a genuine empathy for her subject; one can feel it in her words. It seems apparent to me that she didn’t just think of a subject for a poem . . she FELT the subject, and managed to get it down onto the page. That is how poetry should be produced.

      My only gripe – and it’s an unshakeable gripe – is that she could/should have used a more standard form of poetry with which to convey her feelings, a less complicated form . . and not a form as complex and challenging as a villanelle. If she’d have done so, one assumes that it would’ve been presented without any basic errors of diction.

      As an example of how villanelles can be mastered with a deliciously light touch, I invite the author (and anyone else, for that matter) to look for two pieces by Wendy Cope: ‘Lonely Hearts’ and ‘Summer Villanelle’.

  5. C.B. Anderson

    This poem, M.A., is about the sadness of unremarked lives & unmarked graves over which the cold winds of time blow. As I wrote earlier, the idea is a very good one, but the expression of the idea leaves much to be desired. Monty went much deeper in his analysis than I did (I think he has a lot of time on his hands), and I concur with most, if not all, of his points.

  6. M.A. Scott

    Monty, C.B., thank you. I only asked because your scientific and, I suppose architectural, critique of the piece bored me. This is poetry, not coding. Your take on its meaning is far more intriguing, and I was curious.

    • C.B. Anderson

      There’s no science or architecture in my criticisms or Monty’s. We simply insist on well-formed English sentences. I’m sorry if clarity, as the means of delivering meaning, offends or upsets you.

      • Monty

        Well there you go, MA: if ‘well-formed English sentences’ and ‘clarity of diction’ “just bores you”, then it’s understandable that you took umbrage to my and CB’s observations. But it doesn’t bore everyone; for some, it’s a prerequisite of decent poetry, and should be a poet’s priority, before they even consider rhyme, metre, etc. Science and architecture’s got nothing to do with it.

        I wonder, CB, what made you think that “Monty’s got a lot of time on his hands”. In reality, it’s the exact opposite for me at this time of year! Being high-season in the South of France, us taxi-drivers are full-on at the moment: and I mean full-on.. 15-17 hours per-day! Consequently, I haven’t seen hardly any of the SCP submissions in the last ten weeks (have I missed any of yours?), let alone commented upon them. They just get buried under the deluge of work-related emails that I get this time of year. I’ve probably seen about a handful of poems; realised after one or two stanzas that the subject-matter was of no interest to me, and deleted them.

        Tellingly, about five days ago I made a one-sentence comment in response to a Theresa Rodriguez poem I came across . . which had appeared on these pages in early July! See? I’m hopelessly behind the SCP times. In the winters, on the other hand, when I take my annual 4-month sabbaticals in Nepal, I HAVE got time on my hands: truckloads of it. Accordingly, I generally see everything which appears on these pages between October and March.

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