TCS: Poems for National Repeat Day

. . Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings.
This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning
a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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Twice and thrice over, they say, good
is it to repeat and review what is good.

– Plato

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Refrain: a verse or phrase that is repeated at intervals throughout a song or poem, usually after the chorus or stanza.


One of the most famous examples comes from the play, Cyrano de Bergerac, which was written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand. In Act I, Scene 4, Valvert makes the mistake of insulting Cyrano’s oversized nose, and Cyrano challenges him to a duel:

Cyrano: You shall die exquisitely.

Valvert (contemptuously): Poet!

Cyrano: Why yes, a poet if you will; so while we fence, I’ll make you a ballade extempore.

Valvert: A ballade?

Cyrano: Yes. You know what that is?

Valvert: I—

Cyrano: The ballade, sir, is formed of three stanzas of eight lines each—

Valvert: Oh come!

Cyrano: And a refrain of four.

Valvert: You—

Cyrano: I’ll compose one while I fight with you; and at the end of the last line—thrust home!

Valvert: Will you?

Cyrano (declaims): “Ballade of the duel at the Hotel de Bourgogne Between de Bergerac and a Boeotian.”

Valvert (sneering): What do you mean by that?

Cyrano: Oh that? The title.

(Tableau: A ring of interested spectators in the center of the floor, the Marquis and the Officers mingling with the citizens and common folk. Pages swarming up on men’s shoulders to see better; the Ladies in the boxes standing and leaning over. To the right, De Guiche and his following; to the left, Le Bret, Cuigy, Raguneau, and other of Cyrano’s friends.)

Cyrano (closes his eyes for an instant): Stop… Let me choose my rimes… Now! Here we go— (He suits the action to the word, throughout the following.)

Lightly I toss my hat away,
Languidly over my arm let fall
The cloak that covers my bright array-
Then out swords, and to work withal!
A Lancelot, in his Lady’s hall…
A Spartacus, at the Hippodrome!…
I dally awhile with you, dear jackal,
Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!

(The swords cross; the fight is on.)

Where shall I skewer my peacock?… Nay,
Better for you to have shunned this brawl!-
Here, in the heart, thro’ your ribbons gay?
In the belly, under your silken shawl?
Hark, how the steel rights musical!
Mark how my point floats, light as the foam,
Ready to drive you back to the wall,
Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!

Ho, for a rime!… You are white as whey—
You break, you cower, you cringe, you … crawl!
Tac!—and I parry your last essay:
So may the turn of the hand forestall
Life with its honey, death with its gall;
So may the turn of my fancy roam
Free, for a time, till the rimes recall,
Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!

(He announces solemnly) Refrain:

Prince! Pray God, that is Lord of all,
Pardon your soul, for your time has come!
Beat— pass— fling you aslant, asprawl—
Then as I end the refrain…

(He lunges; Valvert staggers back and falls into the arms of his friends. Cyrano recovers, and salutes.)

—Thrust home!

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Another well-known example comes from William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, Act V, scene 1, the final song, sung by Festus:

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
’Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.

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Here’s a modern variation on the refrain, from “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou:

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

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The refrain makes it easier to remember a poem or a song. So here’s to National Repeat Day, a very good day for poets and lyricists.

May yours be a good day too.  (Repeat)

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Visuals

  • The rain it raineth 
  • Portrait of Maya Angelou by Radhika Ravindran
  • Portrait of Cyrano de Bergerac, artist uncredited

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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
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