Triquetra (symbol of the Trinity) in pastel colours against a dark background. Text: A villanelle on the Trinity. Faith in Grey Places

A villanelle on the Trinity (a poem)

Yes, “villanelle” is both a name and a type of poem.

Skip to the poem

The website Jericho Writers has a lovely article explaining various different poetry forms, with examples. I’ve been using it to inspire me to try out different forms of poems.

As they explain:

Villanelles consist of nineteen lines, in the form of five tercets and a closing quatrain, and they have a very specific rhyme scheme. The tercets follow the rhyme scheme ABA, while the quatrain’s rhyme scheme is ABAA. The first line repeats in lines 6, 12, and 18 of the poem, while the third line repeats in lines 9, 15, and 19. These repeated lines need to be signifcant and well-crafted as they occur so frequently. 

A famous example is Dylan Thomas’ poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, which (possibly) was written for his dying father. Certainly that would explain the first and third lines, which are repeated throughout the poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

For today’s poem, I thought a villanelle would be a great way to circle repeatedly around the Trinity. But it was a lot harder to write than I anticipated. There aren’t that many words that rhyme with “one”. And it’s gets harder when you rule out words that don’t exactly lend themselves to devotional writings (like, “bun”). Then you need to find creative ways of using them that so it sounds like the word was chosen for the line, not the other way around.

I did of course borrow from Pat Pattison’s advice in Writing Better Lyrics where he says you shouldn’t shy away from half-rhymes; they open up so many possibilities and help you avoid clichés. Agreed.

So anyway, here is my villanelle on the Trinity. Like the sestina I wrote previously, it echoes a lot of the story of salvation, including the Exodus story in the wilderness.

And so that you don’t miss it, I want to explain the “rock of water” reference. This is a reference to Jesus, borrowing from 1 Corinthians 10:4. Peter Enns has a lovely article that explains how Jewish thinkers interpreted the Exodus narrative where Moses strikes a rock to provide water for the Israelites. There are two recorded incidents: one at the beginning of the wilderness years, and one near the end.

I always assumed that these were two different rocks in Exodus, but in Jewish thought, they were one and the same. The rock accompanied the people wherever they went. And this is exactly what Paul is referring to in the New Testament when he says that the people drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that that rock was Christ.

Combine this with John’s gospel where Jesus says he gives “living water” (namely, the Holy Spirit, John 4:14) and we get into some lovely Trinitarian theology.


A poem on the Trinity

Holy Spirit, Father, Son,
How can I declare your name?
Ever-living three-in-one.

God, besides whom, there is none.
Rock of waters, fount of flame,
Holy Spirit, Father, Son.

Guarantee of all to come,
Kinsman in our temporal frame,
Ever-living three-in-one.

Advocate, whose love has won,
King, whose crown you rightly claim,
Holy Spirit, Father, Son.

Good and true in all you’ve done,
Age to age, you are the same,
Ever-living three-in-one.

Western shores to rising sun,
All will celebrate your fame,
Holy Spirit, Father, Son,
Ever-living, three-in-one.

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