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Poetry in Flames, 3 Lines at a Time

Ring His Death Knell - NARA - 534312

Speaking of death knells, Carruth also worked in tercets to explore his hatred for Nazis in Adolf Eichmann (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The riotously, gloriously funny Glen Weldon issued this insta-classic tweet on March 20: Carruth, Carruth, Carruth is on FIRE! – Thing poet Hayden Carruth was often heard muttering to himself upon completing a good tercet.* 

I immediately recognized the name Hayden Carruth—he’s the editor of a much-thumbed poetry compilation—but realized I didn’t know a single one of his poems. I did know a tercet is a stanza of 3 lines, which could be a complete poem in itself, like a haiku, or could be a building block for a much longer poem, such as a villanelle. I have a tremendous weakness for villanelles, so I found a Carruth example:

Saturday at the Border
“Form follows function follows form . . . , etc.” —Dr. J. Anthony Wadlington

Here I am writing my first villanelle
At seventy-two, and feeling old and tired—
“Hey, Pops, why dontcha give us the old death knell?”—

And writing it what’s more on the rim of hell
In blazing Arizona when all I desired
Was north and solitude and not a villanelle,

Working from memory and not remembering well
How many stanzas and in what order, wired
On Mexican coffee, seeing the death knell

Of sun’s salvos upon these hills that yell
Bloody murder silently to the much admired
Dead-blue sky. One wonders if a villanelle

Can do the job. Granted, old men now must tell
Our young world how these bigots and these retired
Bankers of Arizona are ringing the death knell

For everyone, how ideologies compel
Children to violence. Artifice acquired
For its own sake is war. Frail villanelle,

Have you this power? And must Igo and sell
Myself? “Wow,” they say, and “cool”—this hired
Old poetry guy with his spaced-out death knell.

Ah, far from home and God knows not much fired
By thoughts of when he thought he was inspired,
He writes by writing what he must. Death knell
Is what he’s found in his first villanelle.

I also found a Carruth poem dealing with the moon and cows and the rain, chunked all into tercets except for the very last, solitary line; you can hear him read this poem yourself.

The Cows At Night

The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

I stopped, and took my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad

and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them-forty
near and far in the pasture,

turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad

because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then

very gently it began to rain.


*Don’t get the reference?

One comment on “Poetry in Flames, 3 Lines at a Time

  1. I, too, have a weakness for the villanelle. Glad to find a poetic compatriot.

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