Villanelle
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

Formalists don’t care about content. Whatever poison a liberal pours into the shell of a fixed poetic form, such as the villanelle, they will happily imbibe and promote. Their compendious support of stale, literary canons confirms the pseudo-academic establishment they pretend to oppose. Once confronted with authentic Christian meaning, however, formalists suddenly flare up about content, attacking anyone who dares lift poetry above their self-referential universe.

Dylan Thomas was such a formalist, and his most famous poem, in the form a villanelle (but without being one), exhorts his own father to die a tortured death of agony, on the Marxist pretext that “they all died that way.” Satanically, the poet even commands his father to curse him. A godless, self-centered socialist handicapped by a middle-class education and mentality, Dylan, of course, was already cursed. Today, he manages to live on in the pages of the U.K.’s Socialist Review, the usual communist journals, and the ongoing praises of today’s “conservative” formalists.

These latter suppose that adherence to so-called “conservative values” somehow absolves them of their underlying liberalism. In their common discourse, however, they everywhere and constantly assert liberalism’s fundamental principles: an absolute, but error-shackled “freedom” of thought, religion, conscience, creed, speech, press, and politics; the abolition of every kind of authority derived from God; the relegation of religion from public life into the private domain of individual conscience; the absolute ignoring of Christ’s Church as a public, legal, and social institution; the denial of objective truth, and so forth—all of which is amplified in their oft-repeated dictum: “Poetry is whatever you want.” 

Well, the dead twentieth century can keep its mock villanelle and subjectivist mediocrity. Like a limb cut off from the tree of tradition, Dylan’s moribund misuse of the form is now a dried-up leaf already consumed by the inevitable rot of time. The poem is spiritually jejune, awkward on the tongue, and devoid of euphony save what the form imparts.

While I freely admit that my villanelle is a fresh, spontaneous outpouring in celebration of my wedding anniversary—and therefore an occasional poem par excellence—it is not without significance in the history of the form, since it restores the villanelle’s original amatory function. 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 (the great scholar of seventeenth-century French theatre). Nor were the rondeau and rondelet, lai and virelai, ballade and ballade royale, 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 left to 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 sixteenth century, the villanelle is “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 boldly free. 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 true villanelle, we 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.

Joseph Charles MacKenzie is a traditional lyric poet of New Mexico. He is First Place winner of the Scottish International Poetry Competition (Times Literary Supplement, Jan 27, 2017) and a Pushcart Prize nominee. His verses have appeared in The New York Times, The Scotsman (Edinburgh), The Independent (London), US News and World Report, Google News, and many other outlets. He writes for Trinacria (New York) and the Society of Classical Poets (New York).

One Comment

  • 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 renewal what a decadent age cannot appreciate.

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