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Today's post is in tribute to Professor Randy Pausch, who died at age 47. You may be familiar with him after his Last Lecture became a television and internet sensation, or after his book became a New York Times Bestseller. That's what the book cover looks like, there on the right. The YouTube video can be found below:

An irrepressibly upbeat man, Pausch did what he could to live his dreams, even when untreatable pancreatic cancer entered the mix. To my way of thinking, Pausch took the advice contained in Dylan Thomas's poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", which Thomas wrote for his father.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Read the whole poem at The Academy of American Poets
(And yeah, never mind that Thomas was Welsh. The AAP puts up poems by all sorts of folks.)

About the villanelle
Thomas's poem is arguably the best known villanelle ever written. I say that because so very many people know this poem, even if they don't know that it is, in fact, a villanelle. A villanelle is a specific poetic form. The poem consists of nineteen lines in all, set in six stanzas, and is usually written in iambic pentameter. The first five stanzas have three lines each, set in a rhyme scheme of ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA. The sixth has four lines: ABAA. The first stanza in a villanelle is terribly important, because it sets up two lines that recur throughout the poem. In the case of this poem, the two lines are "do not go gentle into that good night" and "rage, rage against the dying of the light".

So if I were to write the pattern out again, using A for "do not go gentle" and A' for "rage, rage", it would look like this: AbA' abA abA' abA abA' abAA'

The form first entered the English language in the 18th century, coming in from the French. Since then, despite its French name, it is predominantly an English form. It was popular for a while in the 1800s, then fell into disfavor, only to be resurrected in the early 20th century by poets including Theodore Roethke, Sylvia Plath, and Dylan Thomas.

Villanelles are a bear to write. They are best written when you have something almost obsessive as your topic (a tip I received at a recent writer's conference), in order for all that repetition to be allowable without sounding tortured.

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( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 25th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
Wonderful tribute, Kelly.

Randy Pausch was an ordinary man who reminded us to seek out the extraordinary in life.
Jul. 25th, 2008 07:49 pm (UTC)
It's a reminder to all of us to follow the advice from that Tim McGraw song and "live like you were dyin'".
Jul. 25th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Kelly. I love that video! What a guy! I'm going to look for his book.
Jul. 25th, 2008 07:50 pm (UTC)
'Tis easy to find at most booksellers.
Jul. 25th, 2008 05:25 pm (UTC)
About the villanelle
Very interesting, that. And the tip, most so.
Jul. 25th, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC)
Re: About the villanelle
Indeed. Barb Daniel, who gave the tip, noted that the poetry lends itself to ideas of an obsessive nature. And I believe she's correct. The other are where it works is introspection, but again, of a kind that allows for much repetition.
Jul. 25th, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)
Beautiful tribute to an inspiring guy. Thanks, Kelly.
Jul. 25th, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
I didn't know him, of course, but after seeing a light shine so brightly, I thought it only proper to mark its loss.
Jul. 25th, 2008 06:08 pm (UTC)
TadMack says: :)
I have a dear friend from childhood -- actually he was thirty when I was nine, but he really was a friend -- with the same kind of pancreatic cancer -- round two. It depresses me a little to hear that this shining light has died, but -- agreed. He did not go gentle, by any means. Thanks for this.
Jul. 25th, 2008 07:54 pm (UTC)
Re: TadMack says: :)
I shall hope for good things for your friend. And I agree with you - even though I didn't know Randy Pausch, having seen how brightly his light shone, I thought it meet to mark his loss.
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Jul. 26th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC)
I've written one pantoum so far, and it ends up sounding somewhat obsessive, but it's because of the content.
Jul. 25th, 2008 10:40 pm (UTC)
I'm so sad about his passing. Even though I know he lived the best life he could, I wanted him to have more. Or something. I don't know. Anyway, I'm going to get his book. I think I need to really listen to his wise words.
Jul. 26th, 2008 02:26 am (UTC)
I haven't bought it yet either, although it's a very good-looking book. And I agree with you on the sadness and wishing he'd had more time.
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Jul. 26th, 2008 02:26 am (UTC)
I was sorry, too. But as soon as I read that headline, I knew this had to be my post today.
Jul. 26th, 2008 12:19 pm (UTC)
Perfect poem for him. Sara's (Read, Write, Believe) poem today would work, too.
Jul. 26th, 2008 08:33 pm (UTC)
He was a bright light, and I'm sure the people who knew him will miss him dearly.
Jul. 26th, 2008 06:47 pm (UTC)
A perfect tribute for a man who really knew the true meaning of life.
Jul. 26th, 2008 08:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Tribute
Thanks. As I said in response to an earlier post, he embodied the idea in Tim McGraw's song, "Live Like You Were Dyin'".
Aug. 3rd, 2008 01:38 pm (UTC)
His book was on the faculty share shelf in May and I left it there. I've been wishing I had picked it up ever since. I hope it's still there when I go back in a couple weeks (or maybe I hope others have read it and brought it back).

I've been trying to write villanelles this summer too. Those first stanza lines are such a huge opportunity and so hard to nail. I think I have enough obsessions that I should be able to get it to work eventually. If we ever get through sestinas I want to do villanelles next.
Aug. 3rd, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)
I haven't read the book yet either, although I must say I like the look of it.

Thus far, I've written only one villanelle, and I'm afraid it's particularly awful. Sylvia Plath was a genius at it, and I think that before I attempt another, I'll go back and look at all of her villanelles. So many of hers feel so natural, which is wild when you consider the set up and how unforgiving they are when written in the classic style.
Aug. 3rd, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC)
Yes, Plath is who I think of for villanelles. I have a vague memory of a quote of hers (from the Bell Jar? or somewhere...) about how awful and depressing life is but oh well, "I'll just go write another villanelle." Do you remember her saying that?
Aug. 3rd, 2008 11:50 pm (UTC)
And here is where I confess to not having read The Bell Jar.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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