‘Simple Song Blues Villanelle’ by Tim Seibles follows the thematic ideas within ‘Sing a Simple Song’ by Sly and The Family Stone. Sly and The Family Stone base their song around the unending march of time, with a ‘song’ being the one thing they can hold on to. Seibles projects this idea throughout ‘Simple Song Blues Villanelle,’ exploring the transience of human life. Everything continues, people ‘grow older’, time never stops.
By basing ideas on ‘Single a Simple Song’ by Sly and The Family Stone, Tim Seibles creates a narrative of the inevitable passing of time. The poem begins by outlining the idea that your body will stop working with age and death is inevitable. Seibles moves towards introspection, wanting to make sure he is perceived a certain way throughout his life. As things happen so quickly, Seibles uses this poem as a way of trying to slow down, document his life and reassess his own journey. The poem culminates by repeating the key refrain, ‘All you get to hold onto is a simple song at last’, detailing that everything is lost in the end, but one can hold on to music.
You can read the full poem here.
The title suggests this poem will be a Villanelle, yet that is not the case. A villanelle consists of five stanzas of tercets, followed by one quatrain stanza – leading to a total of 21 lines. In ‘Simple Song Blues Villanelle,’ there are 7 tercets, with the final quatrains being split into two stanzas of two lines each. There are a total of 25 lines, not quite fitting into the Villanelle structure. Perhaps Seibles strays from the constraints of this form to reflect the loss of autonomy suggested within the poem, time marching onward and things becoming more difficult to control and live through.
The poem does not finish with an end stop, instead suggesting that the narrative extends beyond the poem. This can reflect the idea that time never stops, Seibles stressing this idea throughout ‘Simple Song Blues Villanelle.’
Analysis of Simple Song Blues Villanelle
Time is passing, I grow older, things are happening fast
All I have to hold onto is a simple song at last
The opening line of ‘Simple Song Blues Villanelle’ makes reference to Sly and the Family Stone, using a lyric from their song ‘Sing a Simple Song’. The lyric draws attention instantly to the idea of ‘Time is passing’, the endless march of time continuing ever onwards. Framing this idea within the first clause of the first line of the poem centralizes the meaning of the poem, focusing on ‘Time’ as the first word and largest theme of the poem.
This is then coupled with ‘I grow older’, the use of the personal pronoun engaging with ideas of the poet himself ‘growing’ as ‘time is passing’. The idea of human age and life span is also called into question, with Seibles pointing out the transience of human life. This is furthered by the idea that ‘things are happening fast’, life passing Seibles by as he grows ever older.
There is a slight linguistic distancing between the poet and his own body, Seibles dissociating with his physical body through the lack of ownership in ‘This tongue I use’, the ‘tongue’ being a device for Seibles, not classified as his own body. This is a strange idea, with Seibles perhaps suggesting that as one grows older, they feel more out of touch with the body they are living in, this depiction of the ‘tongue’ being ‘use[d]’ instead of ‘had’ insinuating a layer of distance.
Seibles concludes that all the ‘things I do will prob’ly come to grief’, stressing the idea that life is transient and will always end eventually. Knowing that life has to end, Seibles states that he must hold onto ‘a simple song’, keeping something close while all other things within his life fade into the distance.
Stanza Two and Three
The world rolls over—the shadow knows—it’s sunset in a flash(…)All I try to hold onto is a simple song at last
The harsh break in meter caused by a double hyphen within ‘The world rolls over-the shadow knows-‘ could reflect the ending of life. The abrupt break in the line mirrors the harsh destruction of life, the unending march of time always heading to that final end. Seibles depicts the end of life within this metrical break, enclosed in hyphen ‘the shadow knows’, ‘shadow’ being a symbol of darkness. This could be extended as a metaphor for death, the nothingness of death engendered through this depiction of the ominous ‘shadow’.
The spaces inserted across the line, ‘Time is passing: I got older: things’ reflect the passing of Seibles’ life, time flying past him as he grasps for more ‘time’. The final word of the second stanza focuses intensely on this idea, ‘fast’ concluding this train of thought.
The third stanza reaffirms this idea, the insinuation of ‘try’ suggesting that he is not successfully gripping on to his own life, it is passing him by.
Stanza Four, Five, and Six
Don’t we go a’gladly jobbing tryin’a get some cash?(…)All you have to hold onto is a simple song at last
Following the mid-line caesura of ‘could last. It won’t last’, Seibles further stresses the idea of ‘time’ not lasting forever. The reference to ‘today’ again aligns with the semantics of time, Seibles always focusing his argument from this perspective.
The double hyphen in the fifth stanza affirms this, the long metrical pauses reflecting the sudden end to life. The bluntness of ‘Time has passed me’, followed by the long metrical break, emphasizes the statement, Seibles constantly suggesting his own melancholy at time passing.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
Drowse along the riverside and dream into the grass(…)Only thing can fill me up is just this late belief—
The structures of the final three stanzas work together to demonstrate the idea that time is running out. Whereas the first seven stanzas of the poem all measure three lines, suddenly Seibles shifts into two shorter stanzas. The movement towards fewer lines could be emblematic of time running out for the poet, the shorter structure reflecting the nearing end.
Time is passing, I grow older, things are happening fastAll you get to hold onto is a simple song at last
The final stanza is two lines long, with the first line echoing the lyrical allusion to the Sly and the Family Stone song. This refocuses the poem on the central image of time passing and life continuing, ‘things are happening last’ contrasting with the final line which implores people to ‘hold onto’ life as long as they can. ‘Song’ in this final sentence can be understood as a metaphor for life, the activity, and joy within the verb connoting a sense of vigor. Seibles suggest to hold on to life as long as possible, ‘time’ is short.