10: Canzone

Canzone  – Literally “song” in Italian, the canzone is a lyric poem originating in medieval Italy and France and usually consisting of hendecasyllabic lines with end-rhyme. The canzone influenced the development of the sonnet – poetryfoundation.org

Spring (to H.D.)

Past the long and unkind embrace of winter,
Now is brutal rebirth of Spring, that dirty
Ragged flailing of life to fill the empty
Broken ground and choke up the sky with reaching,
Gasping hunger for heat. The wind rampages
And the nakedness snow had clothed now shivers
Under turbulent clouds, by swollen  rivers.
I, too, abhor that goddess myth of preaching
Modernists, with their boy’s idealism bleaching
The deep cruelty of Spring, because your vision
Taught me. Yours were the words, the cool precision,
Made so lasting a mark upon my teaching
That now, when Spring becomes, I feel the shred
Of roots, I see the blood in maple’s red

So when I looked up hendecasyllabic lines, wikipedia told me that no-one really uses them in English. It turns out that’s because they’re stupidly hard to write. However, because I am stubborn, I stuck with it, except for the last two lines because that’s structurally justifiable.

I also had a hard time settling on something to write about this time, since the form is so open in terms of themes. It was originally just going to be about the Spring, it being finally not a frozen wasteland here, but ended up shifting into engaging with H.D.’s representation of Spring, which was formative for me. I was reminded as I was looking through one of my old poetry anthologies that I wrote an essay on H.D. at some point in undergrad. I like the idea I was going for in this poem, even if the execution is not great.

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3 thoughts on “10: Canzone

  1. Your use of the hendecasyllabic line is brilliant! It is a ragged-sounding metre that is well suited to spring – at least the sort of spring that you describe. I like the way you write about (and in response to) H.D.’s cool precision. I think I’d describe your writing as having a kind of ornate precision – which is even rarer, and very wonderful, and maybe just what poetry now needs.

    I love the hendecasyllabic metre and have used it in two poems I’ve written for my “I, Clodia” project but for my canzone I just used a very loose line of around eleven syllables, in a loosely iambic metre, but not really very metrical, and used a very simple rhyme scheme too. I looked for a few more definitions of canzone and found them very various. I liked the idea of patterned stanzas even though I could only be bothered doing two, and I made a bit of a gesture towards the suggestion that the canzone might start by setting out who it is for and what its subject is, given on this website: http://www.webexhibits.org/poetry/explore_obscure_canzone_make.html

    And I borrowed the long last line of the stanza from our experiments with the alexandrine, but this line is even longer – on beyond the alexandrine!

    Autumn canzone

    I write in answer to a spring canzone
    that Sonia’s written half a world away, where
    the dirty ragged flailing of life is laid bare
    as all the winter snow begins to go; we
    in Wellington look out at the last flush of
    summer: the grass drying to a soft gold-brown,
    the hens a mess, their feathers lying all round
    their feet, a carpet made of their own selves.
    This is no season to have dreams of flight;
    the days run softly, warm but moving quickly into night.

    I am no Icarus, any time of year.
    I leave the hens’ feathers lying where they fall.
    Supposing that I did gather them up, all
    I’d do with them is make a quilt to wear
    about me in my bed; I’d gather all round
    myself a feather quilt of dreams, and this way
    travel further than the sun, swiftly, safely,
    and without my body rising from the ground.
    The less we strive and struggle, the more we let
    our feathers fall, the richer reads the ground beneath our feet.

    • This is lovely – again, hens are so wonderful!

      I’m impressed that you can not only write in hendecasyllabic verse that well but also do it comfortably enough to love it! I found it terrible.

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