Better than a Great Song

Serenade_(1921)_-_Walsh_&_CooperSeveral years ago, British poet John Fullerwrote a poem with a bright future as a chart-topping pop song.  Perhaps its catchy flow is due to the fact that it’s a strict villanelle, or perhaps it’s due to the fact that the poem is about unrequited, but not tortured, love. There’s just enough heartache to make it interesting, but no one is suffering too badly.

Fuller is known for mastering traditional form and making it palatable.  The villanelle for example can be denser, with a darker, more obsessive subject matter, as is the case with Dylan Thomas‘ “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

But Fuller’s speaker, although in need of attention, makes it clear that he is out to have a good time. He has drinks, allows city sounds to enter the conversation, and possibly even takes a break to play the guitar.  Sure, his date is off-puttingly jaded, but he might actually enjoy being strung along. Together, they are playing the eternal game, and, as readers, we are lucky we get to watch.

 

Song

You don’t listen to what I say.
When I lean towards you in the car
You simply smile and turn away.

 

It’s been like this most of the day,
sitting and sipping, bar after bar:
You don’t listen to what I say.

 

You squeeze a lemon from a tray,
And if you guess how dear you are
You simply smile and turn away.

 

Beyond the hairline of the bay
the steamers call that shore is far.
You don’t listen to what I say:

 

Surely there’s another way?
The waiter brings a small guitar.
You simply smile and turn away.

 

Sometimes I think you are too gay,
smiling and smiling, hour after hour.
You don’t listen to what I say.
You simply smile and turn away.
Photo credit: Still from the American silent film Serenade (1921) with George Walsh and Miriam Cooper, page 62 November Photoplay.
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