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Vanity`s Villain

by Wooster 

Posted: 11 October 2010
Word Count: 163
Summary: When Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party I was pleased, having met him once at a conference. I thought he was promising......

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"Look, trust me, I'm a good sort of guy,"
It said all over his face and his notes,
"We'll win being straight, the others will lie."

Win this election or see our hopes die,
Was the message we got - he needed our votes,
"Look, trust me, I'm a good sort of guy."

April ninety-seven, election stand-by,
The others were dirty, we went for the throats,
We won all right, no need of a lie.

But joy turned to tears as peace was denied,
Those we had trusted wore a new set of coats:
"Look, trust me, I'm a straight sort of guy."

Now, God's pressed for war and on him we rely,
He's on our side our bold leader boasts,
"We'll win being straight, the others will lie."

When he grins street children really do die.
Triumphant and snug with the media he quotes:
"You trusted me, and I'm God's sort of guy,"
But we won only hate because of a lie.

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Comments by other Members

Ticonderoga at 11:22 on 12 October 2010  Report this post
Hello and welcome! I like this very much, particularly the refrain; my main 'complaint' is that I want more! The structure is very strong and that refrain accumulates effect the more it's repeated, revealed with each repetition to be hollower and hollower, and, ultimately repulsively hypocritical...........the litany of the man's offences against decency would make a very powerful, longer poem, producing an extremely speakable tirade.........which I look forward to!



James Graham at 12:22 on 12 October 2010  Report this post
A villanelle (or villain-elle, as it’s about Blair) - well constructed, the rhyme scheme working well. I’ve never attempted one, but I imagine the secret is to decide on your rhyming words first - collect rhyming words that are relevant to your subject - then set about composing lines. Some quite meaty lines find a place in it, e.g.

Those we had trusted wore a new set of coats


Triumphant and smug (not ‘snug’? ) with the media he quotes

But I can’t help feeling the villanelle form isn’t the best for this subject. With a different kind of subject, the refrains can become very haunting; but the impression here is that, even with variations, you’re saying much the same thing several times over. (I recognise Mike's point, though, that Blair's 'good guy' mantra becomes 'hollower and hollower, and, ultimately repulsively hypocritical' ).

Reading the last stanza it struck me that the strongest line satirically in the whole poem is ‘When he grins street children really do die’, and what a punch-line that would be if it were placed right at the end.

But we won only hate because of a lie.
Triumphant and smug with the media he quotes:
"You trusted me, and I'm God's sort of guy."
When he grins, street children die.

( ‘Really do’ can be left out without ruining the rhythm, and a shorter last line is more punchy anyway. ) However, this disturbs the villanelle pattern.

I would have thought that four-line stanzas with ABAB CDCD rhyme, or couplets AABB, would be more effective. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy (1819) but it’s an example of how we can look to the old masters for best practice.

In the opening stanzas Shelley gets waded into the Tony Blairs of his day:

I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh -
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
seven bloodhounds followed him:

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

My favourite is the passage on Lord Eldon, who was Lord Chancellor at the time. In the wake of the French Revolution Eldon had been the driving force behind prosecutions (some would say persecutions) of English radicals for high treason - which is one of the many reasons why Shelley loathed him. It was reported that Eldon once wept on the shoulder of King George IV, and another time on the shoulder of Lord Sidmouth. (Blair’s grin - Eldon’s tears. )

Here’s how (I think) the four-line stanza can be used so that the fourth line delivers a satirical knockout:

Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Eldon, an ermined gown;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.

And the little children, who
Round his feet played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.

Sorry to go on so long about Shelley, but once I get started...

You might set yourself two new tasks. Write a new villanelle, because clearly you can handle the form. And write another poem about Blair, using Shelley’s form...and like Shelley, don’t pull your punches!


Cornelia at 13:17 on 12 October 2010  Report this post
I think this works very well. It reminded me of war poems I used to teach -it was set regularly for a GCSE Eng Lit exam. I think, but an not sure, that some of the WW1 poems were in the villanelle form .


SarahT at 12:58 on 27 November 2010  Report this post

Just to say that I have popped by and read this but I think James has probably covered my thoughts on this in his response - especially on the repetition issue. And, because nobody else has said it so far, I would just like to say that I loved the dry humour of the first two lines:
"Look, trust me, I'm a good sort of guy,"
It said all over his face and his notes


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