The Poets

May 15, 2010

The Killing of a Spider- A Virelai Nouveau

I was over a friends house when suddenly something caught his attention ... it was a spider- a baby spider- crawling rather unaggressively up the wall. With some hesitation he walked over to it and- just as I asked him not to kill it- he killed it. The death of that spider unleashed a debate between us.

In general, I argued that this thing, this spider, as tiny and as creepy as it was, had just as much right to live as any other sentient organism- humans included. His argument: "I don't like spiders, and if I feel like killing 'em- I'll kill 'em."

The truth is I don't like spiders either (as well as flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, or any other dirty, creepy insect). Where I have the opportunity I'll put a spider outside- especially a baby spider ... but the bottom line is this: there are living organisms that I will kill without compunction (and mosquitoes top that list). I just felt bad for the baby spider.

Anyhow, to make a long story longer, it was that event- and the loss of the life of that baby spider- that provoked this poem in me. Enjoy.

The Killing of a Spider

The killing of a spider’s right
If not from fear, then yes, from spite
For be it even ever small
A dot upon a wall of white
It creeps him out the way they crawl
And so he says that in his sight
The killing of a spider’s right

Just think about the spider’s bite
Defenseless that we get at night
That wound upon the flesh so raw
Whose throbbing mass is red and bright
As if this spider meant to maul
The meat of creatures full of might
And not from fear, it seems, but spite


His guilt is therefore less than slight
For in his mind it’s as a law
If not from fear, then yes, from spite
The killing of a spider’s right


Of the Poem (Virelai Nouveau)

One of the more delightful and thrillfully challenging forms of poetry I've done thus far would have to be the virelai nouveau. The form derives itself from medieval fixed forms of French verse, and were used as a the foundation for song and poetry writing. A clear and precise definition of a virelai nouveau's parameters doesn't seem to exist, but there's no question that the poem's refrain is an essential part of its structure.

The poem's alternating refrain is probably its most interesting aspect. The first two lines of the poem constitutes the poem's refrain so that the first line concludes the first stanza, the second line the second stanza; and in the final stanza- called an envoi- both lines serve as the poem's concluding lines- but reversed.

The poem's structure therefore, written out, looks like this:

1st stanza: A1.A2.b.a.b.a.A1
2nd stanza: a.a.b.a.b.a.A2
3rd stanza: a.b.A2.A1
Note: the capital 'A' represents the poem's refrain

An eight syllable count seems to have been the poem's most commonly adopted meter, called tetrameter- but this is hardly always the case.

The villanelle is another French form that bares semblance, in both difficulty and structure, to the virelai nouveau.

The virelai nouveau usually uses only two rhymes throughout (e.g. right, spite, white, as one; small, crawl, raw, and so on, as the other).

Notice that I took advantage of slant or oblique rhyming patterns throughout the poem ... for example, in the second stanza the words raw and maul are not direct rhymes, but the sonorous articulation of them bare so close a resemblance rhythmically that their use is justified.

For some reason alliteration and assonance were among the poetic devises that seemed easy to employ using this form- examples below:


If not from fear, then yes, from spite
It creeps him out the way they crawl
And so he says that in his sight


For be it even ever small
A dot upon a wall of white (notice these vowels sound the same)
It creeps him out the way they crawl

The stanzas I selected here for this poem are two septets and a concluding quatrain, called an envoi. From what I've come to learn, the virelai nouveau doesn't require a specific stanza type, but most do seem to have an envoi or some sort of isolated stanza dedicated to its conclusion- as I mentioned, there are no clear cut parameters on this type of poem.

I really enjoyed working with this form so much that I intend to write a few more based on it in the near future. For anyone who wants to take on the challenge of a tricky and rarely seen poetic form, I highly suggest this one (in fact, I'd love to read and post it).


Nancy said...

You never cease to amaze me... that a spider could evoke a work of art. Art of which your discussion is always so helpful in truly appreciating.

I do have to say that my rule is - If you're a spider or insect in my house, you die. Not from spite, but perhaps ambivalence to your existence(sorry). Outside you can do what you please.

Maha said...

i am so glad more than you could imagine for having found your blog. not only do you write such amazing pieces but also, you taught e things I never knew before.

John W. May said...

Wow, Maha. Thanks. Reading through your site has impressed me as well ... you're style of writing and selection of ideas reveals a writer with a great amount of talent. I'll stop at your site often.

As of April 9th, 2010