The villancico hails from Spain, and is a (largely forgotten) forerunner of the villanelle. As with the villanelle, whole lines are repeated. In fact, whole couplets are repeated. There are three stanzas, and last two lines of the first and second stanzas are both repeated at the end of the third. Here's an example, in the best possible taste:
Most frequent of our complaints Is ignorance in the young. Oftentimes my lady faints When plain folk misname their dung, But speak of otters’ spraints And we’ll know you are sound. On such small orthodoxies Aristocracy is based. Don’t know what “poo of ox” is? You’re so common; you’ve no taste! Waggyings of foxes - That’s where breeding is found. Badger’s werdrobe on the ground; Hare’s crotels scattered around; Wild boar’s fiants – Ha! You frowned! You’re not gentry, I’ll be bound! But speak of otters’ spraints And we’ll know you are sound. Waggyings of foxes - That’s where breeding is found.
The rhyming scheme is quite demanding, with 6 of the 8 lines of the third stanza required to rhyme with one another. In the only other example I have seen, there is even more rhyming (so that the lines here ending in "based" and "taste" ought to rhyme with "complaints"), but I flashed my artistic licence and claimed exemption from that requirement. 7-syllable lines seem to be standard, except in the two refrains, which both use 6-syllable lines.
I haven't seen a formal description of the villancico anywhere. Researching these obscure forms can be a frustrating business. According to various sources, the villancico is the Spanish equivalent of a madrigal, or of a carol, or primarily a musical form without lyrics. It is certainly not a verse form anyone is prepared to give an exact description of. (Except perhaps in Spanish - a language I don't speak.) Any information would be gratefully received.
In this example, I am taking the mickey out of the vocabulary of field sports. (Not for the first time. I also have a poem called Table Manners - more popularly known as Frushing the Chub - which uses a selection of Elizabethan carving terms.) Back in the days of Empire, there was a specific word for virtually every attribute or behaviour of any animal species of interest to the aristocracy. The best known of these are probably the nouns of assemblage - murder of crows, exaltation of larks, murmuration of starlings, dopping of sheldrake, etc. Harmless pieces of trivia for pub quizzes nowadays, but once these were potent shibboleths - anyone who didn't know the proper word for a hare's droppings (see above) or the sexual antics of foxes ("clickitting") was plainly not "one of us". An authoritative book on the subject was written by , first cousin to .
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This page last updated 09/08/2004