An Attempt at Villanelle

An Attempt at Villanelle

By Andrew Lazo

For this month’s challenge, I decided to try two hard things. First, I offered to go first, getting my poem in to Kelly apace.

And second, I suggested we tackle the complex and highly structured villanelle. Delicious examples include Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” as well as Elizabeth Bishop’s staggeringly courageous “One Art,” which never fails to make me weep (one of the great gifts I look for in my favorite poems).

My inspiration, beyond the sheer challenge of the thing, comes mostly from loving, memorizing, and reciting Malcolm Guite’s tour-de-force example of the form, “On Being Told My Poetry Was Found in a Broken Photocopier.” You can read it and hear Malcolm recite it here or enjoy a slightly frantic jazz reading here. I’ve done a previous All Nine post about that poem which I’ve edited a bit and posted here. I encourage you to tape up a copy of Malcolm’s verse in your workroom.

For my first go at a villanelle, I thought I’d pick a topic that would inspire plenty of twists and turns in the pattern which at once offers loads of possibilities while also deeply restricting the writer to two rhymes and two lines each repeated four times. This poem’s form offers a paradox: endless possibilities, only two possibilities.

I must admit, I’ve kinda fallen for the form, and I plan to play around with it much more. Obviously, the two repeated lines have to interlock in lockstep even while opening up a world around their repetitions. Give it a go if you like to try such stuff!

Image Courtesy the Marion E. Wade Center
Image Courtesy the Marion E. Wade Center

So I’ve shamelessly, obviously written my first villanelle for C. S. Lewis, and take some inspiration of course from Ps. 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

But even more than the biblical allusion, Lewis’s insistence on reading for pleasure also continues to offer me a whole lot of light You may even notice a small allusion to Malcolm’s own nod to Yeats and CSL. I hope you’ll consider me inspired and not lazy in swiping from my betters, and I hope you enjoy this monthly romp of fun with form!

The Pleasing Locksmith: A Villanelle for CSL

You light the path to pleasures evermore,
From you I learn to think, to love, to see;
Your books hide keys that open every door.

I flounder through your depths until, brain-sore
These oft-read words reveal each mystery;
You light the path to pleasures evermore.

Unwinding labyrinths of the deep heart’s core,
Of friend and lover, God, and family;
Your books hide keys that open every door.

You teach what eyes and sunbeams were made for,
And weave a darkling veil that helps us see;
You light the path to pleasures evermore.

You clear our stormy vision from your shore,
And thence you make a map of every sea;
Your books hide keys that open every door.

You wisely wake us up with lion’s roar,
Till we have faces, joy, humility;
Your books hide keys that open every door,
You light the path to pleasures evermore.



Andrew Lazo is a teacher, writer, and sought-after speaker on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. Read more from him at his website:

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