Conclusion to Chapter Three

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In the nineteen-twenties, after the war, some of the French forms had another mild revival in light verse, especially with American wits; Dorothy Parker’s “Rondeau Redoublé (and Scarcely Worth the Trouble, at That)” of 1922 exemplifies this phase of their history. A scholarly take on the French forms also appeared in 1922 (so, more notably, did Eliot’s The Waste Land): Helen Cohen’s Lyric Forms from France: Their History and Use. This work included a historical essay coupled with an essentially nostalgic anthology heavily weighted toward the late-Victorian work of such poets as Gosse, Dobson, Swinburne, Stevenson, Lang, Dowson, and Henley; Cohen thanked a still-active Edmund Gosse for his help: “I am glad to acknowledge a more personal debt to Edmund Gosse, to whose interest in this project of mine and to whose generous encouragement I owe much” (xxiii). Some verse of recent date was included: “In Flanders Fields” is given a place of honor at the very end of the lengthy section devoted to the rondeau, and a highly conventional ballade and a rondeau by Charles G. D. Roberts are included, though not “Going Over.”

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Other twentieth-century poets of recognizable name in Cohen’s anthology included Robert Bridges, Gelett Burgess, James Branch Cabell, Don Marquis, Brander Matthews, and Louis Untermeyer: many of these poets used the forms for light verse, and their parodies stand in Cohen’s anthology alongside the soulful Victorian examples they mock, though Cohen does not seem to recognize this trend toward ridicule. In summarizing the current standing of the French forms, Cohen emphasizes the primacy of the ballade and rondeau:

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 What Dobson, Swinburne, and Gosse intended has happened. The ballade and the rondeau, at least, are completely acclimated.[…] The triolet is dedicated particularly to the uses of English familiar verse. Only George Macdonald and Ernest Radford have turned it to more serious account. The sestina remains an exotic. The villanelle appears to be growing in favor. (91)

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 If the villanelle was indeed growing in favor with serious poets, there was little proof of it in Lyric Forms from France. Cohen’s two latest examples were comic: Louis Untermeyer’s “Lugubrious Villanelle of Platitudes” and Franklin Pierce Adams’s triple meter “Villanelle, with Stevenson’s Assistance,” a cataloguing parody on Stevenson’s epigram “The world is so full of a number of things / I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” Another late example by Rowland Thirlmere, “My Dead Dogs,” does not seem to be comic–at least not intentionally:

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Dear, faithful beasts who went before–
Who swam Death’s river undismayed–
I’ll find them on the further shore!

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 When Charon grimly rows me o’er
Vixen will bark and Jack who stayed–
Dear faithful beasts who went before! (438)

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Cohen’s 1922 survey of the French forms notwithstanding, I would argue that the villanelle was virtually underground in the period from 1900 to 1930. In that period, most of the examples of the French forms were magazine verse or light verse, wholly separate from serious literature; in the nineteenth century, the efforts of Banville and Gosse and the other post-Romantics had borne more the character of a concerted, if largely unsuccessful, literary movement. The notoriety of “In Flanders Fields” can only have confirmed modernist disdain for the French forms, and Charles G. D. Roberts’s attempt to bring the villanelle into modernity was an isolated and disregarded endeavor. Modernists, as represented here by Pound and Joyce, packed the French forms away like a grown woman packs away her dolls. But as the memory of the nineteenth-century villanelles faded, so too did the negative connotations of the villanelle form.

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