Historic Poetry in Modern Verse
Not all modern poets stick religiously to the credo of abandoning all historical forms of poetic composition in accepting free verse. While James Joyce is said to have included a villanelle in his ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ as a means of satirising Stephen Daedalus’ juvenile attempts at versification, Dylan Thomas is credited with one of the most celebrated villanelles written in the English language: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’.
The origination of Villanelle
Although the word villanelle originated in France, it is said that there are more villanelles written in English than in any other modern language. I came across a close analysis of this form first in Stephen Fry’s ‘Ode Less Travelled’. Then, I wrote one of my own (Villanelle, p. 43). Although there is no requirement for a fixed meter, a repeated rhyme scheme is characteristic of this form. With five tercets followed by a quatrain, the villanelle is made up of 19 lines. (A tercet is a three-line stanza). The first and third line of the first tercet are repeated in a patterned way in the following lines with the same two lines repeated as the third and fourth lines of the last verse, the quatrain. I found it to be a pleasing arrangement.
The Poetry of Dante
Another verse form I used in my book is Terza Rima (Retirement, p. 52). This form is said to have originated with Dante when he used tercets (symbolising the Trinity) when composing his Divine Comedy. All major English poets including Chaucer, Milton, Shelley and Byron have used this form. Among modern poets, W.H. Auden and Robert Frost have provided us with shorter examples of this verse form. It is written using an interlocking three-line rhyme scheme (aba, bcb, cdc, ded, ee). Given that rhyming words are not as profuse in English as in Italian, there may not be that much enthusiasm to continue to engage with this form.
Next week I shall briefly explore two other forms I use in my book. They are sestina and enjambment.
Migel Jayasinghe is the author of Solace in Verse. http://sbpra.com/MigelJayasinghe