The flexible villanelle

I’ve written before about the villanelle, that very strict verse form (all lines rhyme, only two rhymes used, two lines repeated many times) that sounds ridiculous but is extremely powerful in Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” (that’s one of his repeated lines; the other is “rage, rage against the dying of the light”). I tried out one myself and commented that it ended up rather more mournful and fatalistic than I wanted.

Well, I’ve written some more villanelles. CAUTION: WRITING VILLANELLES CAN BE ADDICTIVE. There’s one other serious one. But I thought: someone saying the same things over and over again. What does that sound like? Three of the answers I came up with were:

# A politician of a certain sort (Fascist, say) making a speech.

# An old-fashioned comedian with his familiar stock-in-trade phrases.

# A bore in a pub who has cornered a listener.

I’ve written villanelles to fit all three. Here’s the bore in the pub. For reasons of credibility and verisimilitude, there’s some bad language.

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DID I TELL YOU I USED TO BE IN OIL?

Did I tell you I used to be in oil?
You don’t mind if I scratch this awkward itch?
It literally makes your blood to boil

The way they treat the sons of their own soil.
She had it in for me, the snooty bitch.
Did I tell you I used to be in oil?

I used to be the right-hand man of Doyle
But last year I slept one night in a ditch.
It literally makes your blood to boil.

They used to say, “It’s him!” like I was royal
That stuff was really mine, but some cheap snitch…
Did I tell you I used to be in oil?

The shit who sacked me looked like a gargoyle,
I told him about her and queered her pitch!
It literally makes your blood to boil.

What did I get for all my fucking toil?
You know me, right? I should be fucking rich.
Did I tell you I used to be in oil?
It literally makes your blood to boil.

I’m guessing not many villanelles are like that. It turned out less light than I’d planned: here’s a guy who’s obviously brought about his own downfall, but he lacks the saving ability to admit it was his own fault and remains consumed by resentment – which he visits on anyone who can’t get away. So it is a kind of tragedy.

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