Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rondeau by James Henry Leigh Hunt

Yesterday's poem was the most famous rondeau of the English language, In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. Today's poem was selected because of its title:

by James Henry Leigh Hunt

Jenny kissed me when we met,
  Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
  Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad,
  Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I'm growing old, but add,
  Jenny kissed me.

The official title of the poem is "Rondeau", although it is often called "Jenny Kissed Me" as well. Unlike an actual rondeau, this poem is a single stanza of eight lines, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD. It is written using trochaic feet (DUMta DUMta DUMta) in a form of hymn meter, with the following syllable counts: 7-8-7-8-7-8-7-4. What it shares with yesterday's rondeau (in addition to calling itself by that form's name) is the use of the first three words (or first four syllables, if you prefer) as its "refrain", with the poem beginning and ending with those same three words.

The poem is semi-autobiographical. Leigh Hunt had been seriously ill with influenza; upon visiting his friends Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane Welsh Carlyle (nicknamed "Jenny"), she jumped up and kissed him. Leigh Hunt wrote the poem as a tribute.

Although I think this poem reads like something from the first half of the 20th century, it was in fact written nearly a century earlier, during early Victorian times. James Henry Leigh Hunt was born in England in 1784, and lived until 1859. He was a good friend of both Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, and introduced Keats to Italian poetry as well as personally introducing Keats to Shelley. Leigh Hunt was also an essayist and newspaper writer. He was also the person on whom Charles Dickens based the character of Skimpole in Bleak House.

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Eric said...

This poem is one of my favorites, and I came across your blog trying to better understand it. So Jane kissed Leigh or Thomas? What was the scene?

Eric said...

This is one of my all-time favorite poems, and I came across your blog trying to better understand it. So Jane kissed Leigh or Jane kissed Thomas? What do you know of the scene that happened?


Kelly Fineman said...

Eric: The story is that Jane, the wife of a friend, jumped up and kissed the poet, James Leigh Hunt. There is some doubt that it ever actually occurred, and - if it did - it was undoubtedly just a kiss hello, and nothing romantic.