Thursday, June 01, 2006


This form is one I've tried more often than any other fixed form, maybe because the repeated lines suggest the sort of obsessiveness that poetry necessarily involves, for me. The problem is: how can you write lines that are meaningful yet versatile enough to last the whole poem? My solution here is to write on a pretty universal and recognizeable topic: lost or unrequited love. The two repeated lines are a bit ambiguous, and suggest the sort of ambivalent mood of a half-regretful, half-nostalgic speaker, looking back on mistakes and missed opportunities with a mixture of regret and irony.

Villanelle for the Headstrong and Heartbroken

How can you grieve for what you hardly needed?
It’s much too late. Just lose and let it be.
You never know which way the heart was headed.

Some good advice was not meant to be heeded.
I wouldn’t show the world my jealousy.
How can you grieve for what you hardly needed?

I almost thought that we must be related—
Resemblance was the only thing to see;
You never know which way the heart was headed.

To give myself was to become depleted;
My love was always more than intimacy.
How can you grieve for what you hardly needed?

Fighting for you, I might have been defeated,
Or worse yet, made to woo an enemy.
You never know which way the heart was headed.

Despite it all, our lives might have been wedded
One afternoon, when you asked after me.
How can you grieve for what you hardly needed?
You never know which way the heart was headed.

Does the mixed usage of "you" (meaning both everyone, and the significant other) confuse irreparably? It's something I tend to do a lot, and can find no way around. Here I like the way it gives the option of having the last lines addressed to her, not just to the ether, or to myself. But I'm not sure the situation is clear enough to the reader.


Blogger Brad said...

Sorry for the new wrinkle of word verification. I've been getting some ridiculous spammy comments.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Victor Schnickelfritz said...

Don't worry about the word verification. It has become a necessity.

I am not concerned with the conflation of the "you" between the collective "you" and the significant other, but with the other "you" I see here, that of the speaker addressing himself.

From the first line [How can you grieve for what you hardly needed] I read the "you" that way. How would the speaker know what was needed from a significant other that has long gone a separate way? Wouldn't this be conjecture on the part of the speaker? Wouldn't the speaker be more likely to know what he/she needed?

And why would the speaker be addressing the significant other with the directive "Just lose and let it be."? It doesn't seem like the speaker would be in a position to give that kind of advice.

The "you" is clarified in line 17 [One afternoon, when you asked after me] through the juxtaposition to the me. Here the particular "you" is in focus.

The other curious construction here is the inclusion of both past and present tense verbs in your two repeated lines:

How can you grive for what you hardly needed?

You never know which way the heart was headed.

The latter of the two seems particularly awkward to me. One never know about the past? This is the idea, but I think most readers would think of the truth-value in terms of the general case:

You never know which way the heart is headed.

This statement emphasizes the general case. It also renders that line as a more familiar idiom, something I know would probably bother you as it might sound like the advice an uncle would give. Could this not also be part of the charm with a line like that? After all, in terms of emotion, one isn't always looking for freshness, but something that rings familiar and true.

Because of the parallels in tense shifting of the above two lines, I have to assume it is intentional. But I can't quite re-imagine your strategy in constructing those lines that way.

I suppose it is to underscore that the intentions of the past are just as much of crap shoot as the intentions of the present. Couldn't keeping both verbs in, say, present tense, have the same effect?

12:55 PM  

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