The best villanelles everyone should read
As its name suggests, the villanelle is a French verse form, yet English has become its natural home. The villanelle is the greatest immigrant verse form. This intriguing verse form comprises 19 lines made up of five tercets (three-line stanzas) and a concluding quatrain. As the Oxford English Dictionary summarises it, ‘The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated alternately in the succeeding stanzas as a refrain, and form a final couplet in the quatrain.’ Although the form dates back to a late sixteenth-century poem ‘Villanelle (J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle)’ by Jean Passerat, it was in the twentieth century that it became a great English verse form. (Indeed, it appears that Passerat invented the form himself with this poem). As the following eight poems suggest, this poetic form has been tried out by some of the major poets of the twentieth century, with memorable results.
Edwin Arlington Robinson, ‘The House on the Hill’. One of the first great examples of the villanelle in English, this poem is a fine exercise in nostalgia, but also a wonderful example of how the villanelle’s built-in repetition can be put to effective use: ‘there is nothing more to say’, yet he will keep on saying it, that ‘they are all gone away’, because when we dwell on the past we are slaves to the same repeated statements and thoughts that the villanelle allows the poet to express. Read the rest of this entry
The best poems by America’s first poet
Anne Bradstreet (1612-1678) was the first person in America, male or female, to have a volume of poems published. She herself wasn’t American and had been born in England, but she was among a group of early English settlers in Massachusetts in the 1630s. In 1650, a collection of her poems, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung up in America, was published in England, bringing her fame and recognition. This volume was the first book of poems by an author living in America to be published. She continued to write poetry in the ensuing decades. Below we’ve chosen five of the finest Anne Bradstreet poems.
‘To My Dear and Loving Husband’. Like many of Anne Bradstreet’s poems, the language of this poem is relatively plain: Bradstreet praises her ‘dear and loving husband’, whom she regards as her complement, the one who completes her. His love is more valuable to her than all the riches of the East, all the gold in the world. Her love for him, too, can never be exhausted. Read the rest of this entry
What are the greatest classic animal poems?
From cats to mice, dogs to horses, fish to pigs, poets have written touchingly, powerfully, and enchantingly about animals. In this post we’ve chosen ten of our favourite poems about animals of all kinds. What would feature on your list of the best animal poems?
Robert Henryson, ‘The Paddock and the Mouse’. We get two animals for the price of one in this medieval poem: a frog and a mouse (‘paddock’ is an old word for a frog). Three centuries before Robert Burns would write his more famous poem about a mouse, the fifteenth-century poet Robert Henryson wrote this, a verse translation of one of Aesop’s fables. It’s written in Middle Scots – the medieval Scots dialect – and tells of a mouse that wishes to cross a stream. A paddock/frog offers to help, with disastrous results. The version we’ve linked to above is a modernised translation of Henryson’s poem.
Anna Seward, ‘An Old Cat’s Dying Soliloquy‘. This poem first appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1792, and manages to convey the cat’s voice in a manner that is ironic and amusing but also touching and poignant, since the cat realises that she will miss her master when she has died. Read the rest of this entry