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Old 11-26-2018, 07:42 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Default If I Could Tell You

No cow’s like a horse, and no horse like a cow. That’s one similarity, anyhow. - Piet Hein ----
I have always wished I had written this villanelle. It’s one of the few villanelles I like. It expresses a part of how I feel right now. It’s very good.

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reason why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

by W H Auden

Last edited by Allen Tice; Yesterday at 10:48 PM.
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Old 11-26-2018, 11:23 PM
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I love this poem. I think "o" rhymes often work well in villanelles.
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Old 11-27-2018, 02:23 AM
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Deleted...
.
.

Last edited by Ann Drysdale; 11-27-2018 at 02:29 AM. Reason: self-censored self-indulgence.
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Old 11-27-2018, 08:47 AM
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Ann, whatever your self-censored thoughts were, I missed them by not signing in quick enough after Mary’s post. I’m sure my life will be poorer.
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Old 11-27-2018, 06:12 PM
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A further comment. I like this despite the somewhat shaky logic toward the end, where what holds it together is mood and its music. In that respect, its logic is that of the lyrics of many songs. One idea follows another without linking concepts such as “although”, which, where it appears, seems to be a “rhyme-driven” device to personalize the original. That must be bad. Very bad: being “rhyme-driven”. Read by a wider audience than the original recipient, its statement of love invites its use by others at any time. It was written in October 1940. The “vision” in the next to last stanza is obviously not random, but what does it refer to? A visit by “the muse” or something more concrete? I forgive that word. Almost.
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Old 11-28-2018, 02:57 AM
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Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is online now
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Allen, my earlier (deleted) post was a piece of self-aggrandisement related to an appearance in an anthology. I regretted it immediately.

The vision? I think it's just the rosy hope that entices one into eventual disappointment. Auden knew what he was referring to and perhaps the original recipient did, but, as a reader, I think it serves the poem better to provide one's own example than to guess at Wystan's.

By the way, I believe there's an "all" missing in your line seventeen.
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Old 11-28-2018, 10:05 AM
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Thank you, Ann, for the observation about the missing “all”. The reputable site this was copied from lacked that word, but yesterday my New Yorker came with a discussion of Auden by H. Arendt that included the missing word. Its use improves the meter a lot. However, Arendt’s quote doesn’t include the two stanzas I called attention to: stanza three (“I love you”), and the next to last stanza with “vision” and “roses”. For her own reasons, she compares him with Brecht. A worthwhile read, dated December 3, 2018. It has lots of car headlights and taillights at night on the cover.
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Old 12-01-2018, 10:28 AM
Brian Watson Brian Watson is offline
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I only know Auden through his better known, frequently anthologized poems. Would it be true to say 'vision' was a preoccupation? The Shield of Achilles and 'As I walked out one evening' involve visions, and 'Lay your sleeping head, my love' explicitly uses the word -- "Beauty, midnight, vision dies". (Or "fades", I think, in some versions).

Incidentally, I just noticed that in The Selected Poems the piece is titled "But I Can't".

Anyway, I think this is my favourite villanelle. One quality of a good villanelle is that on reading the two repetends in the first stanza, you spend the rest of the poem aching to hear the two come together as the closing couplet, and the intervening stanzas are a tease.
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Old 12-01-2018, 12:53 PM
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Regarding “vision”: My reading of the much later Auden has lead me to suspect that he sometimes relied on exotic stimulants to maintain productivity. Now, I shouldn’t suspect that! Personally, I want a very clear mind even if my literary productivity should suffer. I’m sure that it does, unfortunately. But first things first. If I seem an anti-pot (and cocaine) prude, well, that’s me nowadays. And I rely on studies about how long THC remains in body fat. Ok, dismiss me as Mr. Party-Pooper, but personal mental clarity comes way ahead of most things, even my artistic success.

The point here is that others are free to indulge as they want. Roads diverge. But it has always seemed to me to be stupid or inept to tip one’s hand in a poem about drug use, because it invalidates everything else in the poem to a certain degree. How can I, the awestruck admirer, sit gaping at the feet of a hookah-smoking caterpillar?

I do not know or say that Auden was high when he wrote this. My own experience suggests that some of its gleam might — just might — be the result of that. As I said, Auden and everyone else may do as they chose. I like the poem otherwise very much. Been there, done that, quit that, better for it.

People may despise my abstinence. And I’m probably wrong in this case with “vision” — maybe it’s an allusion to Yeats — but I can’t quite forgive that, to me, weak word.

Last edited by Allen Tice; 12-04-2018 at 06:51 PM. Reason: comma
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