An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

The Synchronous Villanelle

Posted by xbanguyen on August 23, 2009

Patterns have many uses in digital design,  one of which is testing semiconductor memories.    Memory tests are different from  logic tests because memory test patterns can be completely  algorithmically generated, each pattern used to target a specific failure mode.  Some of the common patterns are galloping ones/zeroes, checker boards, sliding diagonal, walking zeroes and walking ones in which  a binary one walks across a field of zeroes to catch opened cell, short and address uniqueness.   A field of zeroes brings to mind the Tuscan hills probably because it is verbally related to  a field of daisies.  Daisies are similar to sunflowers — both can probably be used to play the game “he loves me, he loves me not”, and the Tuscan hills were extravagantly  decorated with fields of sunflowers during our trip to Italy some years ago, bringing with it the scent of rosemary, the simmering walls of Sienna seen from a hilltop,  the dappled shade of the olive orchard and the dusky grapes that conjured up Keats’s beaded bubbles all jumbled together like in a reverie. But then and there I actually had to remind myself that I was in Tuscany, sitting on a terrace by a rickety table complete with a plate of bread and olive oil while the afternoon sun turned the city below into a mirage.  Afterward the  interior of the farmhouse appeared cool and dark like the inside of a church made earthy with the fragrance from the pot of pappa al pomodoro bubbling on the stove.

That was then.  What I really planned to write about tonight was how the patterns inherent in the  rhymes and the formal meters found in certain types of poems make them more compelling. I am thinking of the sestina and especially the villanelle.  The villanelle  originates from the Italian word villa (that may also explain my prior preoccupation).   In case you are not yet familiar with this form of poems, a villanelle consists of nineteen lines, five tercets and one quatrain, carrying a specific rhyming pattern with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated in alternating order in the remaining stanzas and appear together in the quatrain at the end. Consider this most beloved villanelle — by now you already  know that I do wear my heart on my fingertips.

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.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

Do you feel the pull of the repeating patterns?  I wonder if the poet found comfort in using these patterns to keep his grief at bay.  As  for me,  I feel the indelible imprint of time in the cadence of the poem that synchronously lures me into accepting the inevitable … as if I have a choice, the fierce insistence of the refrain notwithstanding.

2 Responses to “The Synchronous Villanelle”

  1. Hello there,
    Cool blog, I just came across it and I’m already a fan.


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