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Love Poems

Villanelle

Oh, run with the sun and the wind in your hair! 

Before the day-star sets in the west: 

Love flowers best in the wide, open air. 

 

Behold! The noon-tide waxes not more fair 

Than you, my one, as these my lines attest. 

Oh, run with the sun and the wind in your hair! 

 

Cast off what you were never meant to bear!

Let nothing take you from your pilgrim’s quest!  

Love flowers best in the wide, open air. 

 

To God surrender every earthly care 

That burdens mind or heart or heavy breast. 

Oh, run with the sun and the wind in your hair! 

 

Arise with the light to life’s grand affair! 

Fledge like the dawn from its far eastern nest! 

Love flowers best in the wide, open air. 

 

For, you are born by angels in my prayer, 

As I by thought of you am ever blest. 

Oh, run with the sun and the wind in your hair! 

Love flowers best in the wide, open air. 

Author’s Note – On Reclaiming the Villanelle

While I admit that my villanelle is a fresh, spontaneous outpouring in celebration of my wedding anniversary—and therefore an occasional poem—it is not for all that without significance in the history of the form, since it restores the villanelle’s original, amatory function. Indeed, I was privileged to have studied the history of la poésie française with some of the finest professors the University of Paris ever produced: Claude-Marie Senninger and Roger Guichemerre. Nor were the rondeau and rondelet, lai and virelai, chansonette and chant royal, excluded from their courses in the history of French verse. The villanelles of Jean Passerat were obligatory reading. We students were expected not only to summarize the spirit of the age that produced them, but also trace their development through Honoré d’Urfé and the one, outstanding example Philippe Desportes has handed down. Things were expected of us!

What we have always known about the villanelle is best expressed in the words of a famous scholar of the subject, Joseph Boulmier, who notes that, by the beginning of the seventeenth century, it had become “une espèce de romance tendre et galante, ou même, parfois, une chansonnette passablement leste et grivoise”—a kind of tender and galant romance, or even, at times, a chansonette, agile and carefree. Passerat’s “I’ay perdu ma tourterelle” adds a further note of naiveté evoking les enfantillage de l’amour that characterized its earliest manifestations.

With the rise of true villanelle, we soon find ourselves in that lost, enchanted world of Astrée, where young and handsome shepherds addressed young and charming shepherdesses in simple, rustic terms. What better form, I reasoned, than this, to address the beautiful object of a poet’s immortal love? If, at the same time, I should reclaim the villanelle, not in the name of some cliquish “poetry” movement, but for the glory of Poetry itself, then so much the better. In any case, the musty old ghost of Dylan Thomas hovers no longer above the ancient and venerable villanelle whose history, conventions, and spirit he never understood or even sought to know.

Winner of the 2020 Society of Classical Poets Competition (America's highest honor in classical verse), Joseph Charles MacKenzie is a traditional lyric poet of New Mexico. He is also the only American to have won the Scottish International Poetry Competition (see: Times Literary Supplement, Jan 27, 2017). A Pushcart Prize nominee, MacKenzie's verses have appeared in The New York Times, The Scotsman (Edinburgh), The Independent (London), The Telegraph (London), and many other venues. He wirtes primarily for Trinacria (New York) and the Society of Classical Poets (New York).

4 Comments

  • Wren Bruce LC

    This is simply exquisite. It combines both the spirit of youthful, simple statement with the most elegant and subtle control of true, studied, poetry. How to make this reach the masses of our jaded American public seems to me such a puzzling conundrum. Perhaps only time can renew what a decadent age cannot appreciate.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      A poet of great distinction himself, Bruce Wren has just summarized for us the spirit of the primitive French villanelle. For, the “spirit of youthful, simple statement” is precisely what Joseph Boulmier means by les enfantillages de l’amour in his study of the form. This essential characteristic, this constitutive element, if you will, even to the same extent as its formal components, is what makes for a true villanelle. A modernist would not even be able to read those older chansons because they belong to such an uncomplicated world—the youth of Western poetry.

  • C.B. Anderson

    As I read this poem I felt the sun and the wind in my hair (what’s left of it), and I wondered why the flower of my love seems to have vanished into the open air.

    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      No worries, as the sun is the light of faith illuminating the intellect, while the wind is the breath of the Holy Ghost, so that the soul in its earthly journey flourishes in the wide open air that is the immensity of God.

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