Friday, June 24, 2016

Wendy Cope's "From June to December - Summer Villanelle"

If this blog has illustrated anything, it is my ongoing love of Wendy Cope's poetry, particularly her villanelles. I hadn't given her a great deal of thought recently, but Wednesday's edition of The Writer's Almanac podcast reminded me just how much I enjoy her writing.

While some argue that Cope is mawkish, I've always found her poems to be somewhat biting under the supposed sentimentality ("The Orange" is the exception rather than the rule). On the surface, "From June to December" is the typical love poem, where the speaker's thoughts are preoccupied by his (or her) love. Indeed, anyone who has ever been in love (or in the first stages of a passionate affair grounded in lust) can relate to the line "I think of little else but you." However, several elements of the poem (such as the title and the final stanza) hint at a slightly darker sentiment.

The title is intriguing and puzzling, since it asks the reader to determine what the span of time is in reference to. Does it mean that the affair only lasts from June to December? Or does it refer to the time span that the feelings in the poem lasts?

Similarly, the questions that start the last stanza, "But is it love? And is it true?/ Who cares?", can be interpreted as an indication that the speaker is still in the giddy early part of the relationship and doesn't care what anyone calls it, but it might also indicate that the speaker is aware that this might not be true love but is okay with that realization. Additionally, this poem is more overtly sensual than "The Orange;" rather than pure giddiness, there's some decided carnality at play here that keeps the poem from becoming too sentimental.

Of course, I might be totally off-base here, so please feel free to share your thoughts below!

From June to December 
Summer Villanelle
by Wendy Cope

You know exactly what to do—
Your kiss, your fingers on my thigh—
I think of little else but you.

It’s bliss to have a lover who,
Touching one shoulder, makes me sigh—
You know exactly what to do.

You make me happy through and through,
The way the sun lights up the sky—
I think of little else but you.

I hardly sleep-an hour or two;
I can’t eat much and this is why—
You know exactly what to do.

The movie in my mind is blue—
As June runs into warm July
I think of little else but you.

But is it love? And is it true?
Who cares? This much I can’t deny:
You know exactly what to do;
I think of little else but you.