Sinéad Morrissey 

The use of the villanelle form is beautifully appropriate in this poem, the pattern of repeating lines weaving around each other in the stanzas like the DNA helix, mirroring the shared gene bonds between the speaker and her parents. 

That bonding is apparent in the first line, with reference to both father and mother, in ‘fingers’ and ‘palms’, both essential connected parts of the speaker’s ‘hands’. The current separation of the parents is hinted at by the comma caesura and the ‘but’ in the first line, but their connection in the speaker still creates ‘pleasure’. 

The separateness of the speaker’s parents, indicated in such lexis as ‘repelled’, ‘separate’ and ‘other’, is balanced in the second stanza by ‘touch’ and ‘link’ – the combination of the parents and their link to their child can never be severed and in her hands she still celebrates not only their ‘togetherness’ but their ‘marriage’ in the following stanza. 

The connection is taken further in the recreation of the children’s finger game in the fourth and fifth stanzas; just as the villanelle is a neat match of form and meaning, the child’s visualisation of the ‘chapel where a steeple stands’ is an apt illustration of her parents’ union still present in her own hands. The finger game recreates that moment from the past in the present, linking time, and this is the point too where the poem turns to the future, pushing that time link beyond the present. 

In addressing her partner, the speaker looks forward to their own children, who as ‘bodies of the future’ will be mirrors of their own, that image of reflection demonstrating the continuous repetition. While the verb ‘bequeath’ has sombre connotations, is does also suggest a level of responsibility of passing something on, and the ‘parents’ of the final line becomes a universal reference, to the speaker and her partner’s parents, to themselves as parents, and to all parents, all linked in a genetic chain of heredity. 

It is usual for writers of the villanelle to alter the repeated lines slightly and Morrissey varies them more than most, with only ‘palms’ and ‘hands’ true constants. This too, it can be argued, is an apposite representation of heredity, with features slightly altering from one generation or stanza to the next, but the pattern always being recognisable.