Jan 13, 2011


This is a form that I had started to explore at one time, then abandoned thinking it was a little too complicated for the time frame I was working with.

The canzone is an Italian form with strong similarities to the sestina. There are no rhymes; instead there are five keywords that determine the structure of the poem. Every line ends with one of the keywords, which must appear in a prescribed order.

Scholars believe that the first canzone was delivered at the Sicilian court of Frederick II during the early 13th century, leading to an explosion of early canzone, ballata, and sonnet compositions on the island.

While many believe the canzone influenced the sonnet, the two forms actually developed side-by-side in the 13th century. The canzone grew more popular when the triumvirate of pre-Renaissance Italian poetry and literature – Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio – learned and publicized the form.

The structure of the canzone is five verses of 12 lines with a five line envoi. It was originally syllabic, using Italianate lines. In English it is often written in iambic pentameter, but it is really up to the poet whether the poem is to be syllabic, metered or unmetered.

The layout is as follows:

stanza 1: abaacaaddaee
stanza 2: eaeebeeccedd
stanza 3: deddaddbbdcc
stanza 4: cdcceccaacbb
stanza 5: bcbbdbbeebaa
envoi: abcde

It wasn’t until I attempted to create an original example of a canzone that I figured out why I’d abandoned it in the first place. It’s even worse than a sestina! While I did start writing a canzone and have every intention of one day finishing it, the example below is not by me.


When shall we learn, what should be clear as day,
We cannot choose what we are free to love?
Although the mouse we banished yesterday
Is an enraged rhinoceros today,
Our value is more threatened than we know:
Shabby objections to our present day
Go snooping round its outskirts; night and day
Faces, orations, battles, bait our will
As questionable forms and noises will;
Whole phyla of resentments every day
Give status to the wild men of the world
Who rule the absent-minded and this world.

We are created from and with the world
To suffer with and from it day by day:
Whether we meet in a majestic world
Of solid measurements or a dream world
Of swans and gold, we are required to love
All homeless objects that require a world.
Our claim to own our bodies and our world
Is our catastrophe. What can we know
But panic and caprice until we know
Our dreadful appetite demands a world
Whose order, origin, and purpose will
Be fluent satisfaction of our will?

Drift, Autumn, drift; fall, colours, where you will:
Bald melancholia minces through the world.
Regret, cold oceans, the lymphatic will
Caught in reflection on the right to will:
While violent dogs excite their dying day
To bacchic fury; snarl, though, as they will,
Their teeth are not a triumph for the will
But utter hesitation. What we love
Ourselves for is our power not to love,
To shrink to nothing or explode at will,
To ruin and remember that we know
What ruins and hyenas cannot know.

If in this dark now I less often know
That spiral staircase where the haunted will
Hunts for its stolen luggage, who should know
Better than you, beloved, how I know
What gives security to any world.
Or in whose mirror I begin to know
The chaos of the heart as merchants know
Their coins and cities, genius its own day?
For through our lively traffic all the day,
In my own person I am forced to know
How much must be forgotten out of love,
How much must be forgiven, even love.

Dear flesh, dear mind, dear spirit, O dear love,
In the depths of myself blind monsters know
Your presence and are angry, dreading Love
That asks its image for more than love;
The hot rampageous horses of my will,
Catching the scent of Heaven, whinny: Love
Gives no excuse to evil done for love,
Neither in you, nor me, nor armies, nor the world
Of words and wheels, nor any other world.
Dear fellow-creature, praise our God of Love
That we are so admonished, that no day
Of conscious trial be a wasted day.

Or else we make a scarecrow of the day,
Loose ends and jumble of our common world,
And stuff and nonsense of our own free will;
Or else our changing flesh may never know
There must be sorrow if there can be love.

~ Wystan Hugh Auden

No comments: