Proustian paradise poems

In the most recent New York Times Magazine, “On a Line by Proust” by Adam Giannelli. Then, from the “graduation dinner” for the 1990-91 Fellows at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, my “class poem”, “Les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu’on a perdus” (the very line by Proust). The Giannelli is a villanelle of sorts, for a general audience; mine is very free verse, also occasional verse written for a small community.

In chronological order.

The CASBS poem.


Very specific to its time, to the events of those months from September to June, and to the scholarly projects of that particular set of Fellows. No madeleines, but the red pepper soup that was one of the cook’s specialties for lunches.

(I was a visitor rather than a Fellow, working with Geoff Pullum, who was an actual Fellow. That June (27 years ago!) I went on to UC Santa Cruz to teach a course at the Linguistic Institute (the summer school of the Linguistic Society of America), which was held at UCSC that summer. Busy days.)

The NYT Magazine poem. The poem, in Rita Dove’s regular poetry column, on-line on the 13th, in print on the 16th:


Dove’s commentary:

The villanelle (Italian for “rustic”) is a pastoral song whose recurring lines and interlocking rhyme scheme create the ideal vehicle for Adam Giannelli’s paean to the past. According to this lament, we can never truly go home again, not even in our minds. Just as gardens wither and beloved figures depart into memory, so do the poem’s rhymes: The ingenious pairing of “paradises/irises” devolves into “chives/apse,” while the pure trinity of “host/toast/ghost” dwindles to “tallest/Eucharist/Julius/Proust.” Eventually we’re left with the villanelle’s twinned refrain — until even these wisps of sound recede.

Beautifully constructed: the villanelle comes undone as it proceeds.

From Wikipedia:

A villanelle (also known as villanesque) is a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines. The villanelle is an example of a fixed verse form. The word derives from Latin, then Italian, and is related to the initial subject of the form being the pastoral.

… The rhyme-and-refrain pattern of the villanelle can be schematized as

A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2

where letters (“a” and “b”) indicate the two rhyme sounds, upper case indicates a refrain (“A”), and superscript numerals (1 and 2) indicate Refrain 1 and Refrain 2.

In the Giannelli, the refrains are never exact, but only muted echoes; compare Dylan Thomas’s villanelle “Do not go gentle into that good night”, where the two refrains —

A1 Do not go gentle into that good night

ARage, rage against the dying of the light

— are repeated exactly. In addition, the rhyming is mostly half-rhyming, diverging further and further from identity as the poem goes on, though with the first a pair, host – lost (boldfaced below), recurring throughout:

a: host lost – toast – host – ghost – lost – tallest – host – Eucharist – lost – Proust – hostlost

b: paradises – irises – chives – apse – Julius – memories

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