Fiction

I have become extremely stressed

I have become extremely stressed,
Always rehearsing to be first
For a simple scansion test.
Professor will be so impressed,
If I master all rhyme and verse.
I have become extremely stressed.

Obsession is hard to suppress.
I will contest, curse and coerce,
For a simple scansion test.

But what does the message express?
Why can’t poets simply converse?
I have become extremely stressed.

I can only guess. (trochaic?)
This foot will be my hearse (iambs?)
For a simple scansion test.

My breast bursts cardiac arrest (I feel distressed, suppressed, unexpressed)
I feel entirely submersed.
I have become extremely (unstressed stressed unstressed) stressed
For a simple scansion test.

This is a fixed verse form known as a villanelle.

The villanelle is a nineteen-line poem characterized by two repeating rhymes and two refrains: the first line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the second and fourth stanzas, and the third line of the first stanza serves as the last line of the third and fifth stanzas.

The most famous villanelle is probably Thomas Dylan’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night or Elizabeth Bishop’s One

I have become extremely stressed was created for my Poetics class. My Professor strongly emphasized scansion, which is the determination of metrical character. There were many exercises where we had to note the stresses, feet and so on, which was not very exciting.

When my Professor gave the class a creative writing task, I wrote I have become extremely stressed for him as a very passive-aggressive revenge fantasy.

I would not typically explain my poem, but I had to for the assignment. I have copied it here:

My poem “I have become extremely stressed” is a villanelle, mimicking the technical aspects of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.” I aimed to create a persona that was absorbed with perfecting the technical art of scansion for a small quiz, sacrificing an actual understanding of the poem. The persona eventually unravels to their obsession, unable to connect to the verse on any level.  The repetitive and rhyming nature of villanelles makes it ideal for portraying an unhinged character fanatically fixated on a task.

I implemented Thomas’ traditional adherence to form, with two repeated refrains alternating between the ends of each tercet. This serves to reiterate the main message: the persona’s increasing stress over a simple scansion test. Tripling, sibilance and consonance are used extensively to emphasize specific ideas and terms. The increasing use of rhetorical questions shows the persona’s crumbling confidence as they struggle with understanding the content of the poetry. I also imitated Bishop’s more unorthodox villanelle, with uneven syllables (for my poem, the second refrain is one syllable short). This irregularity is used to parallel the persona’s slipping mind, as the poem’s very own meter is fluid and unstructured. In particular, I drew from Bishop’s use of parentheses. While initially still keeping the tetrameter in the fifth tercet, the brackets in the final quartet devoid their lines of meter uniformity.

I also aimed to manipulate the meter and rhyme of the poem in differing areas. Most notably, tercet five has the persona guessing if the scansion is trochaic or iambic, at the loss of the end rhymes. The rhythm of the respective lines reflect the guess: the persona’s reality is in effect being rewritten to her scansion needs. Like with Bishop’s work, the final two lines sees alterations in parentheses for the first refrain. This serves to highlight the devolution and downward spiral of the persona, that they are so far removed they cannot but help scan their own refrain, ending the poem with the persona’s obsession consuming her.

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