(Poem #677) Villanelle
Time will say nothing but I told you so, Time only knows the price we have to pay; If I could tell you I would let you know. If we should weep when clowns put on their show, If we should stumble when musicians play, Time will say nothing but I told you so. There are no fortunes to be told, although, Because I love you more than I can say, If I could tell you I would let you know. The winds must come from somewhere when they blow, There must be reasons why the leaves decay; Time will say nothing but I told you so. Perhaps the roses really want to grow, The vision seriously intends to stay; If I could tell you I would let you know. Suppose the lions all get up and go, And all the brooks and soldiers run away? Will time say nothing but I told you so? If I could tell you I would let you know.
[On Auden] As both Martin and I have commented in the past, one of the pleasures of Minstrelsy is the discovery of new poems, many of which we'd never have chanced upon had it not been for this mailing list. Rather less common (but no less thrilling) is the reappraisal of well-known names, the sudden realization that you've come to like poets you didn't care for in previous years. W. H. Auden tops my list of the latter. For the longest time I was less than impressed by his work: I appreciated his obvious technical brilliance and the width of his stylistic experiments, but his actual verse left me a bit cold. An abundance of guest submissions changed that, though. Perhaps Auden's art takes time to appreciate, perhaps I just hadn't read the 'right' poems prior to the Minstrels , perhaps my own tastes in poetry have changed in the last year or two... for whatever reason, I found myself replacing disregard with tolerance, tolerance with a grudging respect, respect with admiration, and (finally!) admiration with a whole-hearted enjoyment of his work.  For make no mistake, Auden's poetic output was immense, and much of it is decidedly uneven. [On Today's Poem] At first glance, Auden's villanelle seems to echo familiar Shakespearean themes: "Time triumphs over Flesh, and Love over all" . But all is not as simple as it seems. In a particularly modernist twist to the poem, Time continues to be the malicious tyrant of old, but the triumph of Love is no longer inevitable . Instead, it's an object to be gained through struggle. And this struggle is made incalculably harder by the problem of communication, a problem that lies at the heart of all 20th century art. Deep Philosophical Questions are all very well; the magic of the poem, though, lies in the details - the roses and clowns, lions and soldiers. I confess I can't make sense of every single reference Auden uses (for example, how can _brooks_ run away?), but the overall effect is brilliant - it captures the ideas of evanescence and loss and yes, love, remarkably well.  See Martin's commentary on Sonnet XXXIII, from which the above line is taken: poem #219  See Cristina Gazzieri's wonderful essay on the crisis of love poetry in the 20th century, part of her commentary on Yeats' "Solomon and the Witch", archived at poem #407 [On Villanelles] Several modern poets have written villanelles; interestingly, they all seem to be on the subject of time and loss. Check out the following works in the Minstrels Archive, http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/: Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", Poem #38 William Empson, "Missing Dates", Poem #202 Elizabeth Bishop, "One Art", Poem #639 The first of the above has an explanatory note on the form, and (as a bonus) a self-referential villanelle by Peter Schaeffer appended. [Moreover] A version of the poem starting with the line "Time _can_ say nothing but I told you so" seems to be floating around the Internet. Needless to say, the connotations are very different indeed... thomas.