Details

Refrain, Again: The Return of the Villanelle

by French, Amanda Lowry, MA

Abstract (Summary)
Poets and scholars are all wrong about the villanelle. While most reference texts teach that the villanelle’s nineteen-line alternating-refrain form was codified in the Renaissance, the scholar Julie Kane has conclusively shown that Jean Passerat’s “Villanelle” (“J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle”), written in 1574 and first published in 1606, is the only Renaissance example of this form. My own research has discovered that the nineteenth-century “revival” of the villanelle stems from an 1844 treatise by a little-known French Romantic poet-critic named Wilhelm Ténint. My study traces the villanelle first from its highly mythologized origin in the humanism of Renaissance France to its deployment in French post-Romantic and English Parnassian and Decadent verse, then from its bare survival in the period of high modernism to its minor revival by mid-century modernists, concluding with its prominence in the polyvocal culture wars of Anglophone poetry ever since Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” (1976). The villanelle might justly be called the only fixed form of contemporary invention in English; contemporary poets may be attracted to the form because it connotes tradition without bearing the burden of tradition. Poets and scholars have neither wanted nor needed to know that the villanelle is not an archaic, foreign form. The introduction documents the current popularity of the nineteen-line fixed-form villanelle in Anglophone poetry and its absence in Francophone poetry. The first chapter focuses on Jean Passerat’s “J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle,” offering a history, collation, interpretation, and new translation of this ignored original villanelle. The second chapter describes the highly politicized aesthetic context of nineteenth-century French and English post-Romanticism, when professional poet-critics Théodore de Banville and Edmund Gosse claimed a false history for the villanelle. The third chapter examines the low status of the French forms in the period of high modernism and the Great War, discussing works by Joyce and Pound as well as patriotic poems. The fourth chapter explores the sources of Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” and its influence on later poets, especially Elizabeth Bishop. The conclusion places the villanelle firmly within the context of contemporary professional poetry culture.
Full Text Links

Main Document: View

10-page Sections: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 Next >

Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Stephen Cushman

School:University of Virginia

School Location:USA - Virginia

Source Type:Doctoral Dissertation

Keywords:villanelle, poetry, poetic form, literary history, french forms

ISBN:

Date of Publication:08/01/2004

Document Text (Pages 1-10)

Refrain, Again: The Return of the Villanelle

Amanda Lowry French
Charlottesville, VA

B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1992, cum laude
M.A., Concentration in Women's Studies, University of Virginia, 1995

A Dissertation presented to the Graduate Faculty
of the University of Virginia in Candidacy for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy

Department of English
University of Virginia

August 2004

___________________________________

___________________________________

___________________________________

___________________________________


Page 2

ABSTRACT

Poets and scholars are all wrong about the villanelle. While most reference texts
teach that the villanelle's nineteen-line alternating-refrain form was codified in the
Renaissance, the scholar Julie Kane has conclusively shown that Jean Passerat's
"Villanelle" ("J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle"), written in 1574 and first published in 1606, is
the only Renaissance example of this form. My own research has discovered that the
nineteenth-century "revival" of the villanelle stems from an 1844 treatise by a littleknown
French Romantic poet-critic named Wilhelm Ténint.
My study traces the villanelle first from its highly mythologized origin in the
humanism of Renaissance France to its deployment in French post-Romantic and English
Parnassian and Decadent verse, then from its bare survival in the period of high
modernism to its minor revival by mid-century modernists, concluding with its
prominence in the polyvocal culture wars of Anglophone poetry ever since Elizabeth
Bishop’s "One Art" (1976). The villanelle might justly be called the only fixed form of
contemporary invention in English; contemporary poets may be attracted to the form
because it connotes tradition without bearing the burden of tradition. Poets and scholars
have neither wanted nor needed to know that the villanelle is not an archaic, foreign
form.
The introduction documents the current popularity of the nineteen-line fixed-form
villanelle in Anglophone poetry and its absence in Francophone poetry. The first chapter
focuses on Jean Passerat's "J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle," offering a history, collation,
interpretation, and new translation of this ignored original villanelle. The second chapter
describes the highly politicized aesthetic context of nineteenth-century French and


Page 3

English post-Romanticism, when professional poet-critics Théodore de Banville and
Edmund Gosse claimed a false history for the villanelle. The third chapter examines the
low status of the French forms in the period of high modernism and the Great War,
discussing works by Joyce and Pound as well as patriotic poems. The fourth chapter
explores the sources of Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that good night" and its
influence on later poets, especially Elizabeth Bishop. The conclusion places the villanelle
firmly within the context of contemporary professional poetry culture.


Page 4

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABSTRACT................................................................................................................... ii
TABLE OF CONTENTS................................................................................................iv
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...............................................................................................v
PERMISSIONS........................................................................................................... viii
INTRODUCTION.........................................................................................................10
CHAPTER ONE: The Lost Turtledove..........................................................................31
CHAPTER TWO: Young Men of Talent .......................................................................62
CHAPTER THREE: Ardent Ways...............................................................................109
CHAPTER FOUR: Grave Truths, Grave Men .............................................................149
CONCLUSION ...........................................................................................................185
APPENDIX I: Anthologies Examined .........................................................................193
APPENDIX II: List of Villanelles................................................................................199
APPENDIX III: Historical Collation of Passerat's "J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle" ............228
APPENDIX IV: Comparisons......................................................................................240
BIBLIOGRAPHY .......................................................................................................241


Page 5

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I could scarcely believe how simultaneously comfortable and productive the first
meeting of my dissertation committee was. My advisor, Professor Stephen Cushman,
introduced me to the villanelle and to the work of Elizabeth Bishop in his superb lectures
for History of Twentieth-Century Literature in English, and his Fictions of Form was
highly important to my thinking. He also took me on as a dissertation student when I half
expected him to turn me down, and when he was very busy with other commitments.
Like Professor Cushman, my second reader, Professor Mark Edmundson, gave me by
example the courage to be unfashionably individualist in my scholarship with great books
like Nightmare on Main Street and Teacher. He also came to hear me play the guitar
once, which was cool. Professor Lisa Russ Spaar of the Creative Writing Program offered
a friendly ear and insight into the culture of creative writing, and Professor Mary
McKinley of the French Department was particularly indispensable when I was preparing
to write Chapter One.
Professor Alison Booth was a role model from the very first. Professor Jerome
McGann offered advice on directions for a project and read my attempts to formulate
one. Professor David Vander Meulen first introduced me to the principles of bibliography
and was no less than essential to the development of the historical collation that forms
Appendix III. Professor Michael Bishop of Dalhousie University at Halifax, Nova Scotia
in Canada answered my questions on contemporary French poetry via e-mail. Professor
Julie Kane of Northwestern State University at Natchitoches in Lousiana wrote a great
dissertation that sparked my imagination, wrote a great manuscript of poetry that ditto,


Page 6

vi
and wrote me very fully and satisfyingly back when I wrote to her, which she
certainly didn't have to do.
The English Department gave me employment as well as education for many
years: first as a work-study student with office jobs, research assistantships, and
graderships, then as a graduate instructor. In conjunction with the Teaching + Technology
Initiative, they funded my position as Teaching with Technology Support Partner for
three years. The Rossetti Archive and the Electronic Text Center at Alderman Library
also gave me paid work marking up texts in SGML and XML. The UVa branch of the
Minority Medical Education Program gave me summer work for four years teaching
medical school applicants to write personal essays for their medical school applications.
Every single one of these jobs did more than pay the bills; all of them were challenging
and enjoyable and sometimes moving, and all of them gave me much to ponder about life
and language and the relationship between them.
The Interlibrary Loan office at the University of Virginia Library labored
tirelessly on my behalf. The University of Virginia Library in general amazed me with its
seemingly endless resources—its stacks, its Special Collections, its diverse services, and
its technological sophistication. The OCLC FirstSearch database WorldCat and the
Eureka RLG Union Catalog (formerly the RLIN Bibliographic File) seemed omniscient.
ISIResearchSoft's bibliographic software program EndNote organized and formatted
everything for me; I can't imagine working without it.
Michelle Allen, June Griffin, Elizabeth Outka, Lisa Spiro, and Virginia
Zimmerman (now all anointed Ph.D.s!) held my hand patiently through several years of a


Page 7

vii
project that I eventually chose to abandon; my memories of that project are
now colored with distaste, but my memories of our dissertation group are green and gold,
like spinach and garlic, and are some of the best memories of my life. Gangs of women
dedicated to a professional vocation are too rare; the members of that group all know how
special those meetings were. My close friends Margaret Gardiner, Danny Schmidt, Janus
Raphaelidis, Jan Smith, Browning Porter, Jeff Romano, Paul Curreri, and Devon Sproule,
on the other hand, might not know that they've enriched my intellectual life every bit as
much as they have my social life. I appreciate and admire their talents, their ambitions,
their principles, and their constancy more than I can say.
Finally, I would like to thank my mother: firstly that she conceived me, secondly
that she bore me, thirdly that she raised me, fourthly that she also did all the same for my
beloved brother Sam, fifthly that she discreetly supplemented my income when I needed
it (which was often), and lastly because she is in her own right an energetic, generous
woman with the strength to start all over again.


Page 8

PERMISSIONS

Professor Phillip K. Jason granted permission to reprint his English translation of
Jean Passerat's "Villanelle" ("J'ay perdu ma Tourterelle"), which originally appeared in
his article "Modern Versions of the Villanelle," College Literature 7 (1980). Robert S.
Means, English and American Literature Librarian of the Brigham Young University
Library granted permission to use his scanned image of "We Shall Not Sleep," Ladies'
Home Journal 35.11 (1918 Nov): 56. The image is also available at
http://www.lib.byu.edu/~english/WWI/main/LHJ1918.html as part of a virtual exhibit
titled "Anthem for Doomed Youth: Writers and Literature of The Great War, 1914-
1918."


Page 9

Whenever we think of what fulfills itself
By making use of us, we are somewhat uneasy.
A form is accomplished, exists, though before it was not,
And we have nothing more to do with it. Others, generations,
Will choose what they want, accepting or destroying it.
And instead of us, real, they will need just names.
Czeslaw Milosz, from "At Yale"1


Page 10

INTRODUCTION

The first villanelle I ever read knowing that it was a villanelle was Elizabeth
Bishop's "One Art." I read it in the fall of 1998, while in graduate school at an American
university at the tail end of the twentieth century, serving as a teaching assistant in a 300student
class on twentieth-century literature in English for English majors: Elizabeth
Bishop served a week's sentence on the syllabus. Until that time, I had not heard of the
villanelle--or if by some chance I had, it would only have been a passing mention
(immediately forgotten) in connection with Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gentle into that
good night" or Theodore Roethke's "The Waking," no doubt. Even though I had always
been fond of both those poems--and remembered studying the Roethke at some length in
a class during my undergraduate work--I had certainly never before learned that (as these
lecturers explained to these undergraduates) the villanelle was an archaic French form
whose rules were strict: nineteen lines, five tercets, one quatrain, two rhymes, and two
rhyming refrains alternating at fixed intervals.
Struck by Bishop's poem, I looked up the villanelle in a poetry handbook—
Stephen Adams's Poetic Designs: An Introduction to Meters, Verse Forms, and Figures
of Speech (1997). I happened to have this handbook on hand because it had been assigned
as one of the chief texts in Studies in Poetry, a class I was to teach for the first time in the
following semester. I was at that time specializing in the Victorian novel, but I had been
tapped to teach Studies in Poetry chiefly on the strength of having written a few poems,
which made me better qualified to teach the class than the other prose specialists bursting
the seams of the department. Nevertheless, I was of course anxious to increase my
authority in this relatively unexplored field before having to pose as an expert in it, and

© 2009 OpenThesis.org. All Rights Reserved.