Thursday, April 12, 2012

Creating an Open Learning Network Part 1

If the video is not playing, download it!

The eLearning Workroom on YouTube

It had to be done, I guess. I've now got the knack of doing video online on my own, but there really is no escaping that YouTube juggernaut. I hemmed and hawed over the idea, but finally decided to set up a dedicated channel for my new Educational Technology initiative, The eLearning Workroom.

The idea behind this initiative is to create videos and video series focused on a broader implementation of technology in the classroom, not so much on how I might use a certain whiz-bang neato thing with a couple of students in my own class, but more on how technology and online services can be harnessed in a way that it can benefit the faculty of an entire school or board, and the thousands of students connected to them.

Teachers are dedicated, often ingenious, but not always efficient. A teacher's classroom is, in practice, an isolated fiefdom. A place where procedures and traditions develop in a bespoke manner, where assignments and collected materials are both varied, and as unique as a fingerprint, from classroom to classroom.

It's not that teachers don't share resources, because they do, but almost always in a haphazard, ad-hoc manner. I might share worksheets with a colleague I like, but perhaps not with a colleague I am on the outs with. I might pop by the classroom next door, but perhaps not beyond that. Not everyone has all the best stuff, and often a herculean effort is endlessly required in order to find, make, and organize materials, worksheets, and lessons. More often, those herculean efforts need to be repeated as documents are lost, curriculum objectives shift, or people move.

This endless waste of time, just getting stuff together to use for a lesson, is the both the bane and the ordinary condition of almost any teacher. It is just a part of the job, and always has been. But that does not mean the situation is okay, or the situation has to stay. There is, in fact, a better way.

In the second video on the eLearning Workroom blog and channel, I begin a series where I explain and explore the power and utility of the Open Learning Network. The first video takes us step by step through the creation of the initial network, and subsequent videos will explore how we can link resources to this network, and utilize technology to do things with teaching that were not possible in the past.

Ever wanted to mark 1000 tests with the click of a button?

How about having an entire year long course prepared in advance?

What if you, your students, and their parents could access every pertinent piece of information they might need to succeed, all in a single place?

What if, instead of spending a third of your day trying to get your students to quiet down and listen, and a further half vainly trying to explain and re-explain the same concepts over and over again, you could skip all that, and free up more time in the classroom than you ever thought possible?

What if you could actually be a teacher? Not a task master, or a disciplinarian, or a burnt out wreck trying day by day just to make it to the last bell. But a teacher, in the truest sense. Not the font of all knowledge, but the guide, the friendly face, the helping hand.

That would be pretty nice, wouldn't it? 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Act of Watching TV Goes Back to the Future

I got my wife the new iPad 2 for Christmas, and it quickly became the go to device for my kids for watching music videos and playing games. Recently, however, we started using it to watch TV shows.

Hooking it up to the TV was simple, we just had to buy a little adapter, and an HDMI cable, and voila! MP4s on the big screen. For some reason, our DVD player only supports Dvix/Xvid .AVI files, so MP4s were something we only saw on the computer.

But now we could watch them in their full compressed glory.

Only one hitch. Watching a show, pausing a show, or changing to another show requires someone (me) to ponderously leverage themselves off the couch, and stumble over to the TV table to hit the home button, unlock the screen, and hit the pause button.

It brought me right back to my childhood, back when this was how I had to change the channel when I was a child (only we turned a knob back then), back before there were remote controls.

But then, in back-twinge induced moment of insight, I realized something... Remote controls were never invented. No. They have always been with us, just changing forms, is all. Remotes today have two batteries, remotes back then had two legs.

I... did have a remote for the iPad! In fact, I had three just waiting to be called upon.

Now I need only mention "Oh I better pause the show..." and make to move in order to spur six little legs into motion, all competing to beat me to it.

As my parents had trained me, so I now pass that on to my children.

Until they make a remote for my iPad, you know, the kind with two batteries.

Or maybe I'll just stick with what I've got. For as long as I can, at least.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Memo to Leafs: Thai Girl Goalie is Awesome

It'll never happen, mostly because the Toronto Maple Leafs are addicted to sucking, and they like to fill their roster like the Oakland A's from Moneyball (except that the Leafs ride high on a pile of fithly lucre, which makes their actions seem doubly insane), but if they did decide to take a leap into the unknown, and maybe whip up some excitement, I dont think they could do any better than signing 17 year old Wasunun Angkulpattanasuk.

Wha? Who? You say.

Just recently, at the Under 18 Challenge Cup of Asia, the Thailand team found themselves sans a goalie. Apparently male Thai's think being a goalie is a sissy thing, which only goes to show that they haven't seen enough footage of Patrick Roy or Ron Hextall. In any event, since none of the boys would put on the mask, the Thai team had no choice but to take on little Wasunun as their lone hope in net.

Once in the UAE, the Thai team nearly faced disqualification for this coed situation, but since the goalies don't interact with the other players, the tournament officials argued, there would be no chance of gender contamination, and therefore she could play (*Again, Roy, Hextall, et al).

Maybe they thought a girl in net would be a great opportunity to light up the scoreboard. Who knows. But what they got was a size two skate up the rear, because this little firebrand wasn't just standing around.

By the end of the tournament, the Thais has scored 47 goals, with Wasunun letting in only 4 total. A GAA of 1!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Introducing the eLearning Workroom

I recently gave a talk at the TESOL Arabia Pecha Kucha 20X20 event at the Dubai Women's College, and the feedback I got was extremely positive. So much so that I was inspired to get moving a bit, and start producing videos aimed at educators hoping to grasp the e-learning basics that they may have been struggling with as their schools, and around the world, shift to more e-focused curricula. (Gasp! That was a lot to say in one breath!)

So I set up a new website solely for educators, featuring video tutorials. I would like to introduce to you The eLearning Workroom

My first post is my talk from TESOL ARABIA 2012. There was a technology malfunction, so I had to redo the audio. Same stuff, just nicer sounding!

Talkin' with James

About a decade or so ago you would have found me rushing up and down the streets of Toronto going from one interview to the next. Not interviews for a job, but interviews with authors for my radio show "Covered & Bound" on CHRY 105.5FM, and later for my (now defunct) hand-coded-in-html blog "Engaging the Word".

I saved all those old interviews, an archive that numbers in the several hundreds, and I decided to start putting them back up online. I got to looking at Tumblr one day, and found that this was the perfect format for these interviews.

They are long form (20 minutes to 1 hour long)  interviews with authors from all across the publishing spectrum.

If you like HBO's A Game of Thrones, for example, you might want to check out the two interviews I did with George RR Martin.

I've linked to it at the top of this blog, or you can click this link here - Talkin' with James

Mackenzie's Kindergarten Graduation

My oldest daughter graduated from Kindergarten yesterday. Yes, yes, it's a long ways away from getting her JD, but still... Something to celebrate!

Kathleen's 4th Birthday

My second oldest daughter turned 4 recently. Time moves fast...

Easter Egg Hunt 2012

My wife's old schoolmate has started up a business planning weekend events for kids. She is just in the beta testing phase right now, but the kids had fun nonetheless.

Mackenzie's School Concert

My eldest daughter, at the wizened age of 5, is in higher kindergarten. One of the things I like about her school is their insistence on the arts and performance. This is a snippet of her 2012 concert.

Often Angels

I am blessed with three daughters, and friends will often remark on how lucky I am to have three girls instead of three boys.

Yes, I reply, they are often angels, but...

Dad vs. The Desert

My Dad came to Dubai recently. We hadn't seen him since 2007, but thanks to my sister getting him a ticket for Christmas, he was able to stop by.

 This is the first of a series of videos chronicling his visit.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Villanelle

vil·la·nelle \ˌvi-lə-ˈnel\
: a chiefly French verse form running on two rhymes and consisting typically of five tercets and a quatrain in which the first and third lines of the opening tercet recur alternately at the end of the other tercets and together as the last two lines of the quatrain

French, from Italian villanella
First Known Use: 1877{1}

- Merriam-Webster


No this is not a book, but it is pretty darn lengthy, so I thought I’d add a little preface in case it was late and you wanted to skip past the boring bits and get on down to the meat and potatoes of the thing. What follows is an overview of the origins and development of the villanelle form, followed by a section detailing the themes or motifs that seem to predominate in this form, followed by a short section on the structure of, and how to write a villanelle, and finally examples of the form from the late sixteenth century to the modern day.

But before we begin, a few words are in order, beginning with a question – What the heck is a villanelle?

The villanelle form is a bit of a vagabond, not so much an emigrant, but an immigrant, an immigrant akin to those who, seeking the American Dream, arrived at Ellis Island as ‘Skis, ‘Bergs, and ‘Steins, and left as Smiths or Johnsons. If you want a more contemporary, to the minute analogy, the villanelle is like Don Draper from Mad Men, a country rube of the humblest origins that found a new life in a new place with a new identity.

In practice, the villanelle is not a form of French poetry – it is exclusively an English form. This may sound odd, and seem to contradict what you are about to read, but stick with me, and in short order you will see what I mean.


It is believed that the French villanelle stems from the Italian villanella, and is related to the Spanish villancico, both of which originated prior to the sixteenth century. Derived from the latin words referring to country and house, a villanella (or villancico) was basically a country tune sung by illiterate peasants, usually accompanied by a dance of some sort.

Originally, there was no rhyme or reason (shout out!) to the villanelle, but there was a refrain. As Amanda French states,
to title a poem "Villanelle" would have been something akin to titling a poem "Blues" today. Structurally, the villanella had no rule other than that it usually had a refrain, which was-- as in the popular song forms of any era--a single refrain, not an alternating one. The terms "villanella" and "villanelle" referred to musical distinctions, not verbal distinctions; they were by no means set poetic forms, as the sonnet then was, and even as the triolet and the rondeau were. (21)
Yet somehow, along the way, the villanelle went from being the plaything of uneducated peasants, a staple of the rich oral tradition of the unlettered masses of France, to being something that conferred prestige and respect upon the highly educated elite who practiced this form on the pages of literary journals throughout the English world.

So how did this from get from A to B and only end up including A and B? (Sorry…poetry joke!)

Contrary to what Merriam-Webster indicates {2} the villanelle is over a half a millennium old. But for some reason, the form in its current iteration is believed to be nearly the same age – as if the villanelle was born fully grown, springing from the forehead of Zeus. But the truth is a little different.

That idea that the fixed form villanelle is close to half a millennium old, or older, is actually the result of an editorial decision that ended up changing the known history of the form for centuries to come. In the mid eighteenth century, the French lexicographer Pierre-Charles Berthelin, who had become the editor of the Rhyming Dictionary (Dictionnaire de rimes), got ambitious and wanted to beef up the dictionary by a significant amount, eventually adding about a hundred pages or so by including expanded definitions and exemplars of the different forms of poetry. It’s the sort of thing ambitious editors anywhere might do, and it’s where history, or at least the history of the villanelle, changed

Prior to Berthelin, the villanelle was widely known as the stuff of backwoods rubes. According to Julie Kane, writing in Modern Language Quarterly,
[Pierre] Richelet’s Dictionnaire françois (1680), the first comprehensive French-language dictionary (commissioned by the Académie Française), defines villanelle as a spontaneously improvised peasant song, rather than a fixed and written poetic form. (Kane, 433)
Richelet’s definition remained the definition of the villanelle for some time to come. When Richlet later took a rhyming dictionary created by Frémont d’Ablancourt (Nouveau dictionnaire de rimes, corrigé, 1648) and created his own rhyming dictionary (Dictionnaire de rimes, 1692), the definition he used for the villanelle was roughly the same one he’d used for the Dictionnaire fraincois in 1680 - Villanelle, vieux poëte français—sorte de danse et de poésie, which means, roughly, a kind dance and poetry.

But in 1751, when Berthelin’s edition of the Dictionnaire francois was hot off the press, the definition of the villanelle had changed. More than just changed, it had been transformed. This is how Berthelin defined the villanelle -
The villanelle is a shepherd’s song. Here is one from Jean Passerat…This little poem is divided into tercets, all containing two rhymes on elle and on oi, and the same two appear together at the end, making a quatrain instead of a tercet. One also finds villanelles with stanzas of six lines. (Kane, 434)
Nothing in this definition refers to spontaneity, lack of structure, or even dance. There is a nod to the rural origins of the form as a “shepherd’s song”, but other than that it appears to be a fixed poetic form. The entry even notes an exemplar of the form, Jean Passerat’s “J’ay perdu ma tourterelle”.

So what happened? Did the form evolve and transform between 1692 and 1751? Did a revolutionary new school of poets come along, taking the villanelle out of the country and into the halls of high society, as Percy Grainger did for the folk songs of the English countryside in the early 20th Century? Nope, nothing of the sort. Instead, what happened, or is believed to have happened (meaning that until a working time machine can be built, it can’t be proven) is that Berthelin, well, got lazy.

The ‘exemplar’ of the villanelle form that Berthelin chose, Passerat’s “J’ay perdu,” was actually the only villanelle in existence with that specific form. As Amanda French writes,
…only a single poet of the Renaissance wrote a villanelle by that definition, and he wrote only one. Jean Passerat's "Villanelle," also called "J'ay perdu ma tourterelle" (probably written in 1574), has come to represent a nonexistent tradition of which it is the sole example. (French, 17)
It was a very famous and well known villanelle at the time, which is probably why Berthelin had heard about it, but it was also absolutely 100% sui generis. Like a fingerprint, or your DNA, it was one of a kind. There were scores and scores of lesser known, published villanelles in existence, but only Passerat’s had that specific form.

What is believed to have happened, and this is just pure supposition, but it makes sense in a real, human, Occam’s Razor sort of way, is that by the time Berthelin got down to ‘V’ in his reimagining of the Dictionnaire de rimes, he was getting anxious to finish. “J’ay perdu” was a well-known villanelle, and had been held up by others as an excellent villanelle, so it seemed to make for a good exemplar. Berthelin popped the poem in, and did a basic deconstruction of the form. Since the villanelle form was not being widely practiced in the cities and high society salons of the time, who was to say that Berthelin was wrong? Nobody. And nobody did, for a good, long time.

As Julie Kane notes, “[d]espite Berthelin’s audacity in having silently fixed the form of the villanelle in that year, however, no poet seems to have noticed for almost a century.” (440) In fact, it wasn’t until 1845 that Passerat’s form was ever used again, and then it was used in parody, with Théodore de Banville simply copying the poem “J’ay perdu” wholesale and adding two tercets to the length. By 1867, the total number of Passeratian villanelles totaled four – the two already mentioned, along with another parody by Banville and an attempt at the form by a friend of Banville’s, Philoxène Boyer.

Up to that point, the villanelle as described by Berthelin was not what you’d call a widely practiced form. But then something happened that changed everything.

In 1872, Théodore de Banville included a definition of the fixed form villanelle in his treatise on French poetry - Petit traité de poésie française. Shortly after that, like a twenty-first century internet meme, word of the villanelle began to spread far and wide - and was suddenly being practiced by known and noted writers in France, England, and America. From then on, the Passeratian fixed form villanelle went from being a misconception born of a mistake, to being something known, and something real.
In the first decade following the publication of Banville’s 1872 treatise, the French poets Maurice Rollinat, Joseph Boulmier, and Leconte de Lisle; the British poets Edmund Gosse, Austin Dobson, John Payne, Emily Pfeiffer, Oscar Wilde, and Andrew Lang; and the American poet James Whitcomb Riley all published original villanelles. The first anthology of fixed-form poems, Gleeson White’s Ballades and Rondeaus, Chants Royal, Sestinas, Villanelles, &c. Selected (1887) {3}, contained an astonishing thirty-two English-language villanelles by nineteen poets. (Kane, 442)
At first glance, thirty-two does not seem like an overlarge number, but the Gleeson White anthology was the Norton Anthology of its time. That is, it represented the best of the best of English fixed-form poetry, and at that time fixed-form poetry was pretty much the only game in town. This is what makes the selection of thirty-two examples of the form so remarkable. Will the next edition of Norton Anthology of English Literature include a few dozen notable blog posts in amongst the finest short stories and essays in the English canon? It’s possible, and if it happens, it would be an indicator of how prominent the form has become.

From the late nineteenth century onwards, the villanelle assumed its place on the list of notable English poetic forms, and is still in use in the twenty-first century.

Oh, wait, did I just say the villanelle is an English poetic form? That probably doesn’t make all that much sense, considering the history that has just been outlined has been pretty much all France, all the time. But there it is, nonetheless. The villanelle is an English poetic form. Full stop. Why?

After the publication of the Gleeson White anthology, the villanelle, or at least the prescribed form outlined in the Dictionnaire de rimes pretty much faded from existence in the French literary world, while at the same time, exploded in popularity in the English literary world. Today, were you to canvas professors of modern French poetry, they would be hard pressed to come up with even a single well known example of the form in French.
As for the contemporary villanelle in French, it is not to be found: not in Claude Roy and Michel Décaudin's Anthologie De La Poésie Française Du XXe Siècle (2000); not in Alain Bosquet's Anthologie De La Poésie Française Contemporaine: Les Trente Dernières Années (1994), not in Henri Deluy's Poésie En France, 1983-1988: Une Anthologie Critique (1989). (French, 15)
Indeed, as French contends,
it does seem to be the case that the twentieth-century French villanelle is conspicuously absent—it is certainly nowhere near as thriving as it is in English. Dr. Michael Bishop of the University of Dalhousie, a respected and prolific scholar of contemporary French poetry, is at best dubious as to the whereabouts of any contemporary Francophone villanelle…No professor of Anglophone poetry would need to make such a modest reply…(15)
The 19 line, six stanza structure of the villanelle, the one English poets love and know so well, is really only used in the English language. The real villanelle, the country tune of peasants and farmers may very well still be alive and well, thriving in the countryside of France, Italy, and Spain, but that villanelle is not this villanelle, the fixed form English poem.

Common Themes and Motifs

What originally drew me to the villanelle was the gravitas in the form. My impression, I realize now, was probably entirely due to the fact that my first encounter with the form was through Dylan Thomas’ famous villanelle, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Thomas had written the poem as a response to his father’s terminal illness, and the emotional gravity of the situation is woven in every line.{4} At the time I first read it, however, I did not know the story behind the poem, and instead read it as a broader, more historical or political commentary. It seemed, to me, to be a poem that commented on civilization, and on the perceived inevitability of the decline and fall of all societies. Inspired by “Do not go gentle,” I wrote a villanelle of my own, though in my ignorance, and not fully grasping the scheme and technical details of the form, ended up writing a somewhat different villanelle, which my professor at the time generously (and quite delicately) referred to as an “O’Hearnian” villanelle.
Dawn alights upon the silent morning
Breathing relief at sight of night’s retreat
In my ear I hear the whispered warning

Contradicting disastrous prediction
The day now begins with little friction
A blackened scythe swings forth in angry flight
Then pausing only with the halt of night
Dawn alights upon the silent morning

The Lord I thank with my bellowed laughter
For the great and joyous gift of after
Looking seeing naught that’s inauspicious
Ignoring the signs as superstitious
In my ear I hear the whispered warning

Withhold your joy for this tenuous peace
For ‘tis only the shortest briefest lease
Over the horizon something still awaits
Acting in the stead of the three dead fates
Dawn alights upon the silent morning

We had thought to abide afar and hide
At faults divide we stood with bitter pride
Death and Famine and Plague and Pestilence
Have offered us too many precedents
In my ear I hear the whispered warning

Post a watch e’en though the day is bright
Prepare in advance for the coming fight
For the stout of heart there can be no sleep
Or the cost unknown we shall surely reap
Dawn alights upon the silent morning
In my ear I hear the whispered warning
For some reason (don’t ask me, I can’t fathom what I might have been thinking at the time), I thought a villanelle consisted of an opening tercet, followed by four cinquains made up of sets of rhyming couplets with an alternating refrain, and concluding with a sestet that included both refrains as the final couplet. In a strict, traditional sense as defined by Amanda French, I was probably fine in describing my poem as a villanelle since I did have a refrain (albeit an alternating one), but in terms of the commonly accepted fixed form – I was a bit off.

After learning, to my disappointment, that my villanelle was not actually a villanelle, I began looking at other, real villanelles in order to correct my lack of education about the form. Aside from learning about the proper scheme, what I found was pretty much what Ronald McFarland attests (and in a much more eloquent manner than I) in his treatise on villanelles, "The Villanelle: The Evolution of a Poetic Form." It turns out that villanelles really weren’t all that serious after all.

When English and American poets first began playing with the form in the late nineteenth century, it was more for novelty, as a way to add some exotic flair to their work. And, as all novelties generally are, it was considered to be somewhat unserious. The villanelle of the late nineteenth century was held in about the same esteem as the limerick is today – fun to write, but not really substantial.
The English poets…poems followed the point of view and tone implied by the adjectives which are prominent in [Gosse’s] comments on the villanelle: precious, delicate, dainty. "It requires a peculiar mood and moment" to compose a villanelle…and for many writers that mood and moment involved some form of nostalgia for the Golden Age (often pastoral), for past love, or for passing time (fin de siecle, as often as not). Too often, as subsequent examples will demonstrate, the result is a sort of insipid pathos, a sentimentality which is not capable of being poignant, however it may try. (McFarland, 128)
But something changed in the mid to late twentieth century. All of a sudden, villanelles began to exhibit a different mood and tone – instead of being precious, delicate, and dainty, they were far more serious, respectable, even.
I would argue that theme does not inhere in form, as the mid-century modernists proved by their complete erasure of the villanelle's previous "trifling" reputation.…After Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night," the villanelle was firmly proved respectable. (French, 180)
What happened was, on much a larger scale, pretty much similar to what happened when I tried to write my first villanelle – the mid-century modernists didn’t really know all that much about the form, and what little they did know did not predispose them to think of the form as trifling, which allowed them to take the form more seriously, the result of which led to a reinvented, re-imagined poetic form that could finally stand toe to toe with the august sonnet in the annals of English poetry.

The Structure of, and Writing of, Villanelles

The basic, fixed form villanelles is 19 lines long, and the lines “can be iambic trimeter, tetrameter, or pentameter (or, I suppose, any meter a poet can sutain).” (Adams, 93) The scheme used is A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2.

That said, you might have noted that Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle” does not actually follow a strict metre, which is a characteristic of many modern villanelles. Generally speaking, while modern villanelles might drop the use of metre, they usually attempt to keep the length of line consistent (Though a good many more recent poets seem to enjoy flouting this convention). This is just supposition, but it may be that the strict use of metre may have been part of the reason that nineteenth century poets felt villanelles lacked gravitas.

Villanelles maintain a very fixed stanzaic structure, comprised of four tercets followed by a quatrain. It is possible to add additional stanzas, which many poets have done in the past, but generally those additions follow the structure set out by the scheme, with alternating refrains in successive stanzas.

As for writing a villanelle, it is actually not that difficult. Part of the attraction of the form for the mid-century modernists was the perceved technical difficulty of the form, but as their efforts, and the subsequent efforts of many other poets have demonstrated, writing a villanelle is only difficult by reputation, not in reality.

The first thing to do when writing a villanelle is to come up with the couplet that forms the alternating refrain. The refrain is the both the heart and the backbone of the form.
While it would be unfair to judge any villanelle solely by its concluding lines, Mary J. J. Wrinn is probably correct in advising that the poet must first plan the couplet which will end the poem and will provide the refrain lines. One line, as she notes, "should grow out of the other." If the couplet does not have some peculiar force or appeal, the poem will likely fail. (McFarland, 129)
Once you have written a refrain you are satisfied with, it becomes a simple matter of scaffolding the poem, of basically filling out the lines marked A1 and A2. This takes care of 8 of the 19 lines of the poem. From that point on the poet’s job is to flesh out the story of the poem through the remaining 11 lines as the refrain weaves in and out.

Of course this paint by numbers approach may appear simplistic, but by using it, any apprehensions regarding the difficulty of the form can be shown to be baseless, allowing the poet to both feel free to use the fixed form, and, soon enough, to play with it.

Examples of Villanelles

The one that started it all – Passerat’s “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle”
J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle:
Est-ce point celle que j'oy?
Je veus aller aprés elle.

Tu regretes ta femelle,
Helas! aussi fai-je moy,
J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle.

Si ton Amour est fidelle,
Aussi est ferme ma foy,
Je veus aller aprés elle.

Ta plainte se renouvelle;
Tousjours plaindre je me doy:
J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle.

En ne voyant plus la belle
Plus rien de beau je ne voy:
Je veus aller aprés elle.

Mort, que tant de fois j'appelle,
Pren ce qui se donne à toy:
J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle,
Je veus aller aprés elle.
The same poem, translated by Amanda French.
I have lost my turtledove:
Isn't that her gentle coo?
I will go and find my love.

Here you mourn your mated love;
Oh, God—I am mourning too:
I have lost my turtledove.

If you trust your faithful dove,
Trust my faith is just as true;
I will go and find my love.

Plaintively you speak your love;
All my speech is turned into
"I have lost my turtledove."

Such a beauty was my dove,
Other beauties will not do;
I will go and find my love.

Death, again entreated of,
Take one who is offered you:
I have lost my turtledove;
I will go and find my love.
A nineteenth century example, Oscar Wilde’s “Theocritus”
O Singer of Persephone!
In the dim meadows desolate
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Still through the ivy flits the bee
Where Amaryllis lies in state;
O Singer of Persephone!

Simaetha calls on Hecate
And hears the wild dogs at the gate;
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Still by the light and laughing sea
Poor Polypheme bemoans his fate;
O Singer of Persephone!

And still in boyish rivalry
Young Daphnis challenges his mate;
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Slim Lacon keeps a goat for thee,
For thee the jocund shepherds wait;
O Singer of Persephone!
Dost thou remember Sicily?
Some notable mid-twentieth century modernist examples. First, Theodore Roethke’s “The Waking”
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go
Next up is Sylvia Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song”
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said.
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
And the last mid-twentieth century modernist example, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Now for some twenty-first century villanelles. First, Peter Cooley’s “Villanelle”
What do we take with us when we go?
I'm no John the Baptist: I love my stuff like you.
We won't have time to make a list, you know.

My favorite art tie: Self-Portrait by Van Gogh,
the spear I bought in Paris at twenty-two.
What do we take with us when we go?

Last year my parents died: I had to throw
away most of their seventy years together. Finally, I knew:
We won't have time to make a list, you know.

I lugged home family books I'll hate to read: Longfellow,
Whittier, all of Thompson's The Seasons to get through.
What do we take with us when we go?

My daughters married, moved to New York, Chicago.
They left their childhoods with parents they outgrew.
We won't have time to make a list, you know.

Oh, Love, your body, I have loved it so!
It will leave me like my own. Will you love mine risen, too?
What do we take with us when we go?
We won't have time to make a list, you know.
Next up, is Chad Parmenter’s “A Villanelle to Burn”
I used to light my sheets on fire
at night, to dare my tears to grow
and put it out before I burned.

But crying left these smoking scars.
By pouring water on the coals
I'd used to light my sheets on fire

I made a hissing steam, a storm
that dried the fire and tried to boil
but put it out before I burned.

No burns on me. What power here.
To test it, and to kill the cold
inside, I lit my sheets on fire

a final time. By nursing hurt,
we signal in the miracles.
So put me out before I burn.

They're burning down to fur. Come here
now, God, you crying ghost, before
the I that lit my sheets on fire
is put out, before your eye burns.
Now for Elisavietta Ritchie’s “How to Write a Villanelle”
If you would write a villanelle
Choose two of your most brilliant lines,
Ones you should have jettisoned.

Repeat them till you're bored
And so's your reader if he's stuck
This far through your villanelle.

Do likewise if you find a perfect rhyme.
Have no illusions that you are the first:
Whoever was, he should have jettisoned

All his favorite rhymes and lines.
So should you. Try fancy foreign forms
If you would write a villanelle.

As with new lovers: you repeat a line
Till you are bored and so is he or she,
That line you should have jettisoned,

For soon you may suspect that he's or she's
A villain/villainess who does not care
if you would write a villanelle.
This one you should have jettisoned.
And finally, making fun of the whole form, and taking a shot at Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”, is Campbell McGrath’s “Villanelle”
Bouncing along like a punch-drunk bell,
its Provencal shoes too tight for English feet,
the villanelle is a form from hell.

Balletic as a tapir, strong as a gazelle,
strict rhyme and formal meter keep a beat
as tiresome as a punch-drunk bell

hop talking hip hop at the IHOP - no substitutions
on menu items, no fries with the chimichanga,
no extra syrup - what the hell

was that? Where did my rhyme go - uh, compel -
almost missed it again, damn, can you feel the heat
coming off this sucker? Red hot! Ding! (Sound of a bell.)

Hey, do I look like a bellhop to you, like an el-
evator operator, like a trained monkey or a parakeet
singing in my cage? Get the hell

out of the Poetry Hotel!
defeat mesquite tis mete repeat
Bouncing along like a punch-drunk bell,
the villanelle is a form from - Write it! - hell.

{1} Yep, that’s right. It says “1877”. No, it’s not a typo on my part, it’s what they actually wrote.

{2} And people complain that Wikipedia is inaccurate! Merriam-Webster, owned by the same folks as what write that Britannica Encyclopedia is off by a couple centuries here!

{3} I could see Merriam-Webster picking the pub date of the Gleeson White Anthology as the date of origin for the villanelle, but even here the date is off, by ten years!

{4} Listen to it! You can hear the gravitas in Dylan Thomas' voice.


Adams, Stephen. Poetic designs: an introduction to meters, verse forms, and figures of speech. Broadview, 1997.

Bishop, Elizabeth. “The Complete Poems 1927-1979". Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979.

Cooley, Peter. New England Review (1990-), Vol. 23, No. 1 (Winter, 2002), p. 43 .

French, Amanda. "The First Villanelle: A New Translation of Jean Passerat's 'J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle' (1574)". Meridian 12 (2003): 30-37.

French, Amanda L. “Refrain Again: The Return of the Villanelle” Diss. U of Virginia, 2004.

Jason, Phillip K. College Literature, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1980), pp. 136-145 .

Kane, Julie. Modern Language Quarterly, Volume 64, Number 4, December 2003, pp. 427-443

McFarland, Ronald E. Victorian Poetry, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Summer, 1982), pp. 125-138

O'Hearn, James. "A Whispered Warning," 2000.

Parmenter, Chad. Harvard Review, No. 31 (2006), p. 138

Ritchie, Elisavietta. Poetry, Vol. 179, No. 5 (Feb., 2002), p. 270