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Villanelle -- William Empson

(Poem #706) Villanelle
 It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
 Your chemic beauty burned my muscles through.
 Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

 What later purge from this deep toxin cures?
 What kindness now could the old salve renew?
 It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

 The infection slept (custom or changes inures)
 And when pain's secondary phase was due
 Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

 How safe I felt, whom memory assures,
 Rich that your grace safely by heart I knew.
 It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

 My stare drank deep beauty that still allures.
 My heart pumps yet the poison draught of you.
 Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

 You are still kind whom the same shape immures.
 Kind and beyond adieu. We miss our cue.
 It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
 Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.
-- William Empson

Empson's blend of emotion and intellect is very reminiscent of John Donne,
and like Donne, his poems, though dense and impenetrable at first, reward
the reader willing to explore their intricacies. Today's poem is as
metaphysical as they come: the central conceit [1] is reinforced and given
depth by the precise use of terminology [2], yet not so much as to detract
from the essentially human feeling that gives rise to it. The choice of form
is equally inspired - the strict constraints of the villanelle, like Donne's
convoluted syntax, work to harness the flood of emotion that would otherwise
sweep the poet away. Wonderfully done.


[1] "Better living through chemistry!"... errm... maybe not.
[2] chemic, purge, toxin, salve, infection, poison... a Physick's Delight of

[Minstrels Links]

Poems by John Donne:
Poem #330, "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"
Poem #384, "Song"
Poem #403, "A Lame Beggar"
Poem #465, "The Sun Rising"

Poems by William Empson:
Poem #202, "Missing Dates"
Poem #233, "Let It Go"
Poem #351, "The Teasers"
"The Teasers" has an Empson biography attached; "Missing Dates" includes an
assessment of his contribution to twentieth-century poetry and criticism.

Poem #38, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", Dylan Thomas
Poem #202, "Missing Dates", William Empson
Poem #393, "Villanelle (minimalist): One Drunken Night", Peter Schaeffer
Poem #639, "One Art", Elizabeth Bishop
Poem #677, "Villanelle", W. H. Auden

Poems that use the word 'chemic':
Poem #568, "Especially When The October Wind", Dylan Thomas

48 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

JAck Patel said...

It is a very good poem. Good Examples. Thank You.

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