(Poem #904) The Shrinking Lonesome Sestina
Somewhere in everyone's head something points toward home, a dashboard's floating compass, turning all the time to keep from turning. It doesn't matter how we come to be wherever we are, someplace where nothing goes the way it went once, where nothing holds fast to where it belongs, or what you've risen or fallen to. What the bubble always points to, whether we notice it or not, is home. It may be true that if you move fast everything fades away, that given time and noise enough, every memory goes into the blackness, and if new ones come- small, mole-like memories that come to live in the furry dark-they, too, curl up and die. But Carol goes to high school now. John works at home what days he can to spend some time with Sue and the kids. He drives too fast. Ellen won't eat her breakfast. Your sister was going to come but didn't have the time. Some mornings at one or two or three I want you home a lot, but then it goes. It all goes. Hold on fast to thoughts of home when they come. They're going to less with time. Time goes too fast. Come home. Forgive me that. One time it wasn't fast. A myth goes that when the years come then you will, too. Me, I'll still be home.
[Note on form] Sestina: an elaborate verse form employed by medieval Provençal and Italian, and occasional modern, poets. It consists, in its pure medieval form, of six stanzas of blank verse, each of six lines -- hence the name. The final words of the first stanza appear in varied order in the other five, the order used by the Provençals being: abcdef, faebdc, cfdabe, ecbfad, deacfb, bdfeca. Following these was a stanza of three lines, in which the six key words were repeated in the middle and at the end of the lines, summarizing the poem or dedicating it to some person. The sestina was invented by the Provençal troubadour Arnaut Daniel and was used in Italy by Dante and Petrarch, after which it fell into disuse until revived by the 16th-century French Pléiade, particularly Pontus de Tyard. In the 19th century, Ferdinand, comte de Gramont, wrote a large number of sestinas, and Algernon Charles Swinburne's "Complaint of Lisa" is an astonishing tour de force-a double sestina of 12 stanzas of 12 lines each. In the 20th century, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden wrote noteworthy sestinas. -- EB [Commentary by Thomas] The danger with sestinas, of course, is that they can easily become repetitive and dull: no matter how far afield the poet roams, he is compelled to return to one of the six words with which his lines end. It goes without saying, then, that the choice of these six words dictates not just the form, but also the content of the poem; they are like the scaffolding around which the poet (more architect than artisan) piles up the bricks and mortar of individual lines of verse. Miller Williams handles his architecture adroitly. His six words -- home, time, come, goes, fast, to -- are simple enough to feel natural and unforced wherever they occur; at the same time, they are evocative enough to give the poem a depth beyond mere nostalgia. [Commentary by Martin] The sestina, as Thomas has pointed out, can be a rather restrictive verse form; while six fixed words per stanza may not seem like too much of a constraint, the fact is that line endings have a disproportionately large effect on a poem, even when (as in the case of most sestinas), the poem is unrhymed. As with villanelles, one way to counteract the monotony of the repeated words is to play with the form. Techniques include using words that can be cast into various parts of speech, relaxing slightly the 'exact word' restriction (to/too in today's poem, for instance), and, as Williams has done here, playing with the line lengths to add variation to the stanzas. Note, though, that this is not merely idle wordplay superposed on the form. The shrinking lines are an integral part of the poem, mirroring the lessening spate of memories to thoughts of home when they come. They're going to less with time. and building up to the startlingly unexpected monosyllabic verse, 'Time goes too fast. Come home.'. Watching the message emerge, like a rabbit out of a hat or, perhaps, like a three dimensional image springing into life from a random sea of dots, is nothing short of magical, and adds greatly to the impact of the poem.  a counterexample is Swinburne's "The Complaint of Lisa", a rhyming double sestina to which the only applicable phrase is 'tour de force'. [Links] Here be a nice link: http://www.writer2001.com/sestform.htm "The Complaint of Lisa": http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/swinburn18.html Reading the poem, I (Martin, that is) kept getting echoes of MacNeice's "When all is told, we cannot beg for pardon" (from 'The Sunlight on the Garden'); it makes a nice companion piece to today's poem. poem #757 [On the theme] This week we're going to examine some inhabitants of the menagerie of named verse forms: familiar creatures such as the sonnet, the haiku, the villanelle and the limerick, and more curious beasts such as the sestina, the triolet and the pantoum. If you have any suggestions for these (or for any other named verse form), do write in.