This first line will not go away,
and though the middle ones will disappear,
the third, like the first, is bound to get more play.
Examples of the type are written every day,
and whether uplifting or drear,
that first line just won’t go away.
It seems some lines have the right of way.
It’s their job to reappear,
for example, the third, always getting extra play.
Whether you squawk like an African gray
or sing sweetly to the inner ear,
the line you wrote first just won’t go away.
You may compose all night and day
under a bare lightbulb or a crystal chandelier,
but line number three must get more play.
How can a poet hope to go wildly astray
or sing out like a romantic gondolier
when the first line just won’t go away,
and the third one always has the final say?
Billy Collins has authored several collections of poetry, the latest of which is Horoscopes for the Dead (Random House, 2012). His second new and selected poems, Shouting over the Machinery of Time, was published in 2013.
“Villanelle” appears in our Winter 2012 issue.