Monday, March 9, 2009

villanelle: the house on the hill

The House on the Hill
by Edwin Arlington Robinson

They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill.
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

A villanelle is a 19 lined poetic form that entered English from the imitation of French models. There are only two rhyme sounds used throughout the poem. However, the first and third lines of the first stanza are rhyming refrains that alternate at the end of each following stanza and forms a couplet at the end. The second line of each stanza also rhymes according to the second rhyming sound.

In the House on the Hill, Edwin Robinson laments upon the past. The House on the Hill symbolizes his past and throughout the poem he shares his remorse. Although he never expresses a want to return to it, he illustrates the “broken walls” and “sunken sill” of the house. In other words, his memories and experiences are slowly becoming the forgotten past. Being in nature a villanelle, the use of anaphora (the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of clauses) is expected. Robinson chooses the refrains: “they are all gone away” and “there is nothing more to say” to convey his tone. His past is the past, there is nothing in it for him and there is no reason to hold onto regret.

A dark undertone is also apparent in this villanelle. The “ruin and decay” of the “House on the Hill” shows the past was far from perfect. The two refrain lines can be viewed as a euphemism (an indirect expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt) for death. His relationships have “all gone away” meaning his friends are all dead. And he himself has “nothing more to say” because he is dying as well. This poem seems to almost express Robinson’s last words.