The Tree Planting Villanelle

If once a year we each planted a tree
To replace those lost in the year gone by –
A greener place this planet Earth would be

Certainly, not a soul could disagree
That we’d both breathe easier – you and I –
If once a year we each planted a tree

There’d also be more shade for you and me –
But paradoxically – unto the eye –
A greener place this planet Earth would be

As well – there’d be more sites for birds in glee
To stop and sing us a song as they fly –
If once a year we each planted a tree

Lastly – there’d be more oxygen for ‘free’ –
Though colourless – it’d be the clear reason why
A greener place this planet Earth would be

So need I say more to help make you see?
The message is simple – and it’s no lie!
If once a year we each planted a tree –
A greener place this planet Earth would be

07.22.94 – 08.11.94

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Copyright by Minh Tan on listed dated of completion
and published in Perspectives, ISBN 0-9686250-0-2.

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Notes to this poem…

I don’t recall where I first happened upon a villanelle during my poetry sampling of 1994, but I can tell you its form requirement of two lines comprising 8 of the poetic form’s 17 lines was very appealing for being able to get off to a “good start” on a poem. Of course, it would also be the initial challenge that wasn’t exactly easy to overcome, but I guess if I were feeling confident enough to translate Les Trois Oiseaux from French into a ballade form, I must have thought this linguistic challenge of the two iambic pentameter lines being in a stanza one time, ending other stanzas, and forming a final rhyming couplet to end the poem to be “nothing”.

At the time of writing, I was volunteering with a youth group called Youth for Social Justice (YSJ), associated with Oxfam-Canada. They were planning a tree planting excursion for Natural Connections Day at the Nova Scotia YSJ Camp where I would later participate as a camp counsellor and also do some tree planting. That event planning and idea was the inspiration for this poem, even appropriate because villanelles are supposed to be pastoral in nature so the nature was ideal for its form.

With the challenge to the villanelle being those two repeating lines that could work as the form required, I busted my brains for several days on them. Fortunately, it only took several days because I could remember being completely obsessed with thinking just about finding those two lines that my head hurt. Once I had found my two repeating lines, though, I was off to the races, a little too quickly, unfortunately, leaving a few awkward passages for wording as well as being a bit cryptic, i.e. “free” oxygen for natural availability. Poetry can be cryptic, of course, but not in that shallow sense. There’s an elegant art to being cryptic, not just finding some way to say something else that could be said in probably just as many words if only they fit the form requirements of syllables and rhyme. However, I was pleased with the complementary thinking I did so as to identify the things that could be seen, as well as the things that were absent, because of what trees did for the planet and its inhabitants, for incorporating into the poem.

Years later now, in 2007, I am sitting in the same situation of trying to turn this poem into a song with the appeal of repeating iambic pentameter lines being suitable for repetitive elements in a song. However, I am more critical and patient to try and weed out the awkwardness in the poem and making sure I don’t hastily put together a melody that isn’t as catchy as it could be just for the sake of suiting what I have already written as potential lyrics. The song will most likely not come out in villanelle form as I’ve had it for over a year now as of Sep 2007 and have not succeeded, and I will likely never write another villanelle in my life again, although I am sure if I ever came up with two flexible lines on something I might be tempted to. The lesson has been learned, though… I think.

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