19 Lines

by wjw on February 10, 2007

The other day I wrote a villanelle.

This is a damned odd thing for me to do. I don’t write much poetry, and I do not normally read a lot of poetry (though every so often I will go on a poetry binge).

But I was trapped. The protagonist of my current enterprise is a kind of Confucian gentleman, the kind of person who can program a computer, fight a battle, refute Sartre, explore strange new worlds, perform flawless sword kata, and every so often toss off a verse or two as a comment on the action.

This habit of poetry was useful to me as a writer. As the character is over 1500 years old (it takes a few centuries to acquire all those accomplishments), his emotional states are complex and sophisticated to the point (some readers have complained) of opacity. The poetry lets you know what the old guy is actually feeling.

And I was able to keep it short. I am capable of writing competent haiku-like verse and not embarrassing myself. But suddenly, after a few surprising and shocking plot twists, I realized: “Oh shit, the guy’s going to write a villanelle, and because he’s fictional I’ve got to write it for him.”

Next time I’ll make the hero a painter or a cook.

Anyway, here are my 19 lines. (And let me state for the record that in general villanelles would be better if they were, say, 16 lines instead.)

Copyright 2007 by me, etc. Don’t fuck with it without permission.

The forms of love will not suffice
The soul a scatter of dry bone
The sad fact is I killed her twice

The wind burns cold as polar ice
Past the worn and tumbled stone
The forms of love will not suffice

From death’s cold hand now falls the dice
The heart’s wild wager overthrown
The sad fact is I killed her twice

How desolate the final price
Our history all overgrown
The forms of love will not suffice

Our certainties, now imprecise
Our melody a grating tone
The sad fact is I killed her twice

The scent of flesh was sweet and spice
The sweetness caught and torn and flown
The forms of love will not suffice
The sad fact is I killed her twice

Mathew February 11, 2007 at 6:54 am

This wouldn’t happen to be an Aristoi sequel would it?
I can always dream 🙂

SpeakerToManagers February 11, 2007 at 7:06 am

This is well done, I am really impressed. I tried to write a villanelle once, and gave up in despair: it’s very hard to it at all, let alone well. But then you can tell I’m not much of a poet from my comment on the Titanic menu.

If it isn’t an Aristoi sequel, could it be about Drake Magistral? He’d have to be much more mature to do all the things you described, but 1500 years can do that to a fellow.

Sage February 13, 2007 at 1:50 am

For those who would like to try this at home, may I recommend Patterns of Poetry, by Miller Williams, ISBN 0-8071-1130-1

Curtal Quatrain, anyone? Sestina? What about a Bob and Wheel?

Kelly February 13, 2007 at 10:02 pm

This poem is chilling.

One of the things I find so intriguing about your books is your protagonists are often (nearly always?) killers, and you get away with it. We love them anyway.

dubjay February 14, 2007 at 2:12 am

Killers are people too, I guess.

I try to give my more lethal protagonists good reasons for killing people, or in any case reasons that would seem good to a very confused 15-year-old.

And no, the book isn’t a sequel to anything. It’s a Brand! New! Original! Work! Which I hope excites everybody.

Stacy February 15, 2007 at 3:54 pm

Any new Williams is good. But I confess to a fondness for Aristoi and would love to see something done in that universe again.

Pedant February 15, 2007 at 6:08 pm

Allow me to add my voice to those who would be plenty excited by more from the Aristoi universe.

Shouldn’t it be “from death’s cold hand now fall the dice”?

Kelly February 15, 2007 at 7:57 pm

Brand new work, yaaaaaay! *flails with Kermit arms*

dubjay February 16, 2007 at 12:24 am

Falls, fall. The dice done fell, that’s what matters.

I have now and again considered a sequel to Aristoi. The problem is making it as good as the original work. I’ve read so many inferior sequels that I always hesitate to write one of my own.

And of course it’s commercially impossible to right a sequel to an out-of-print book.

Sage, I had to look up “bob and wheel.” I should have realized that you would be au courant with obsolescent poetic forms used by unknown poets in dead, or at any rate obsolete, languages.

Which is a way of wondering, “Once you’re inspired by the sagas and Anglo-Saxon epic verse, where do you go from there?”

(You write =Lord of the Rings,= I guess.)

Mathew February 21, 2007 at 3:38 pm

Actually I’m a big fan of stand alone books, which create thier own unique miliue. I just hope at some point there will be a conclusion to the “City on Fire” books. Even a short story would do 🙂

dubjay February 21, 2007 at 9:55 pm

Mathew, I can only wish that publishers admired the City on Fire books as much as my readers.

dsichel@gmail.com August 21, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Well, maybe NESFA or Nightshade would?

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