Villanelle done well

Poems come in many forms and intents.  And there are people wiser than I who have studied the subject longer and can argue about what makes a poem work.  What follows is merely one that works for me and has had my abiding love for a tidy dozen years.

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

By Sylvia Plath

(First published in the August 1953 edition of Mademoiselle.  Typically included in the biographical note appended to The Bell Jar.)

The internet will tell you that there are excellent reasons why this is a successful poem.  For me it comes down to this: it is a mad girl’s love song.  The voice is clear and weightless and nicely highlights the weight of the words.  The echoes of the rhythm accent the sanity of what is being said – between intellectual meta-analysis and streaming ribbons of consciousness.

There is a lot to be said for self-aware and irreverent madness.  Especially when most of the world is so keen on othering itself from it.  That is what makes this a love song.  A poem would be too fettered; it’s a song that is stuck in your head even when you haven’t heard it for years and never ever knew the words.  But you know what it means even when you can’t remember what it said.

What appeals to me most about this one is the ease with which the verses weave through sophist solipsisms and undeniable realities until the end where I am the mad girl.  And she has written my song.