What we choose to fight is so tiny

The Man Watching // Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

–Translated by Robert Bly

Billy Collins Interview

INTERVIEWER: So what was this new form?

COLLINS: The paradelle, which is like a fusion of parody and villanelle. The rules were an absurd mix of the dead easy and the nearly impossible. [...]

In the poem itself, the incompetent poet whose role I was playing — we should italicize playing — was able to repeat lines—bravo!—but could not manage to recycle all the words, so every stanza ended with a pile-up of remainder words, leftovers. Like, “And find the time, cross my shore, to with it is to.”

I sent the poem to The American Scholar. I knew the editor, Joseph Epstein, had a sense of literary humor. They published the poem and that, I assumed, was that, until Epstein wrote to tell me about the mail they were getting. Subscribers were sending angry letters questioning the magazine’s judgment for having published such a slovenly poem. How could the journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society endorse such literary incompetence? One person said it was the worst paradelle he’d ever read. No kidding.

Epstein invited me to respond to a typical letter. I didn’t want to fess up and spoil all the fun, so I wrote a letter that asked for sympathy. The paradelle is an extremely difficult form, my defense ran. I did the best that I could. Then I began hearing rumors that the paradelle was being assigned as a workshop exercise. And now a young professor in Georgia is working on an anthology of paradelles! I agreed to write an introduction titled “A Brief History of the Paradelle” accounting for the disappearance of all the paradelles written between 1200 and 1998. My ultimate dream is to see the term paradelle in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, but I’ve probably just blown my chances by taking you backstage.

- The Paris Review, No. 83