Poetry Challenge 2: Many and Many A Year Ago

So now we have come again to the day of our bi-weekly poetry challenge. The task this time around was to write a poem beginning with Edgar Allan Poe’s line “It was many and many a year ago.”

Post away!

Many and many a year ago
a hungry man went creeping
and found through grief the brilliant orchards of the lands
of the rains.

Always and ever the sowers sow
who reaps is always reaping
and the crystalline and sparkling juice their hands
daily stains.

Give me, saith the man.
Pick your own, they answered merrily.
Straight to the nearest tree he ran:
I die of joy, verily!

So long the rains had plowed the dust
that the ancient plows were rust;
the sowers and reapers, rank by rank,
entered the walls at evening, and sank
in familial heaps and sang and drank:

Nor fruit spoiled; no person stank:
the fruit was pure and could not be abused;
whatever was picked was used.

My people will never come this far,
at dawn the willing weeper mused.

We called but they refused,
said one whose beard glimmered like a star –
wild, white, a beard like a mane
flying with wind and curling in rain;
oh, a peaceful face and a stern, sweet eye –
but the beard like lightning struck the sky.

Ah, dear lord! the sigh went round
and the man from the dustlands shook with the sound.

A song went echoing over the lake
and a light from his heart shone gold for the sake
of the song, and of him to whom the song was sung.

But remembered famine troubled his rest
though a child’s hand curled on his chest,
and a woman’s hair across his arm was flung.

Back to the dustland I cannot go
that I came from many a year ago;
back down the mountains that creeping I came
never again will I suffer the same:
a man is not couth who leaves better for worse
and the dustland’s blessing is worse than the rainland’s curse.

The star-bearded man led him over the fields;
they spoke of rains, and percentage of yeilds;
they climbed the foothills; the sun fell low;
they stood on a crag with the dustlands below.

Here is your perch, said the man with the beard.
Do you remember the song that you heard?
Aye, lord, never can I forget!

Then sing, till the sun has set.


  1. Wow, you really make that meter sing! This is lovely, lovely, on so many levels. After reading it out loud, all I wanted to do was hear it again. That’s an accomplishment!

    So, I thought the line we were working with was “It was many and many a year ago.” Small difference. Anyway, here’s my poem. 🙂

    “Snow White’s Mirror”


    It was many and many a year ago
    when mirrors swam the sea
    and queens looked down from castled heights
    to a floating ecstasy-

    where panes, bejewelled, would sun themselves,
    and iridescent light
    washed through the gems from the sky to the air
    in rainbows of delight.


    An old queen sighed and turned away.
    “I am unknown to me,”
    She, pensive, mused, then birthed the cry:
    “Fetch me a mirror from the sea!”

    A mirror hung and framed with gold
    was placed upon her wall,
    and from it’s depths the echo rang
    that presaged Snow White’s fall.

    An apple grew, was sold, and bit;
    the maiden fell asleep,
    her glassy coffin framed with panes
    twice stolen from the deep.

    When Snow White rose, the coffin cracked
    and found the old queen dead.
    Her mirror Snow White took and hung
    above the nuptial bed.

    In hopes to catch a glimpse of sky,
    she gazed and was denied,
    yet touched the glass and wondering felt
    it less solidified.

    It hangs there still, and soft reflects
    through muted, marbled sheen
    the tossing of the wat’ry waves
    now murky, and now crystalline.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’re right, I absent-mindedly changed the line. 😦

      Leah, I have a lot to say about your poem. Looking it at whole, as a total work of art, I’m most impressed by its imaginative quality. I think you must have taken A. C. Bradley to heart, because this is an excellent example of writing on a subject “matter” that already exists in people’s minds (the Snow White fairy-tale) but not just regurtitating that matter in the same basic form you found it. Nor have you flatly “re-imagined” it in the sense of reinventing it – you haven’t done any violence to anything iconic or archetypal in the original story. And yet, no one else has written about Snow White’s story in this way, with this content. You have succeeded in interacting with this material imaginatively. I think that the word “imagine” could even be taken somewhat literally in this case. We’ve all seen the sea in that condition in which the waves are glittering and almost seem like tossing panes of glass reflecting the sunlight. To have singled that image out, and then to have followed that suggestion, extracted the reflective quality of the waves into literal mirrors, built a story around it – this is authentic imaginative work here – this is the quality of magic.

      The result is this fascinating idea that the “mirror mirror on the wall” was not originally created to hang there and judge beauty contests – but had an existence of its own in the sea. What an idea!

      I worked through the poem line by line, considering whether I would have made all the same choices of wording and syntax that you did. In most cases I can see why you did what you did. A few places could be tweaked.

      You wrote, “She, pensive, mused” and that’s a little awkward. It’s OK to switch up the word order in a number of possible ways, but putting an adjective after its noun never feels quite right in English. You have a very consistent metrical pattern and I’m guessing you didn’t want to break that up by switching it to “Pensive she mused.” But actually, the only requirement of meter is that each line have the same number of feet, and that the feet be mostly the same. Substituting a foot here and there can have a pleasant effect, banishing monotony. If it’s done for the sake of syntax, all the better – it makes you readers trust you more because they knows now that your poetic effectts are not coming at the price of honest, authentic speech. It leaves them free to feel what you poetic effects are asking them to feel.

      The same line has “birthed the cry,” and I have to question that choice as well. “Brought forth” is ambiguous enough to get away with. “Birthed” is too explicit to make a good word-picture – there’s too much graphic information associated with it that contradicts the idea of something coming out of someone’s mouth. If you did want to use that as a word picture, I think you’d have to develop it a bit, limit and qualify it. I think it’s a good idea to use dactyls in the poem, tying it back to the dactyls in the first line.

      “…and found the old queen dead.” With a verb, one must always keep in mind the subject, no? The subject of this sentence is “the coffin” so technically this says that the coffin found the queen. Easy fix: start a new sentence with subect “She.”

      I love the idea that the mirror refuses to reflect the sky – only reflecting the sea. At the same time I wonder – in its native condition it must always have reflected the sky, no? Is this a protest? If so, how should we feel about Snow White keeping the mirror? The details about touching and finding it not quite solid, the changing light, this is quite beautiful and fascinating.

      Overall, an evocative and successful peice.


    • “This is lovely, lovely, on so many levels. After reading it… , all I wanted to do was [see] it again. That’s an accomplishment!” says just how I felt about yours – the images work wonders. An old story is new. I shall read this to my granddaughter who lives far away in the land of make believe (well, California).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aw, thanks AR and Albert for your kind comments. I’m really glad you enjoyed it! I love fairy tales and Snow White has long been a favorite, so it was very fun to write.

        I did have some theological ruminations going on under the surface of the poem, and that partly inspired it, however (yes, following A C Bradley :)) I focused on representing what I had imagined rather than rendering those secondary ruminations explicit. I’m uncertain how much they show through to someone else and whether it’s a loss to the poem if they don’t, however explaining them a bit may clarify the reasoning behind some of the choices you (AR) brought up.

        So, the queen, is or could be, an image of the devil or of a fallen ego-self. Her desire for self knowledge in isolation from the joyfully reflecting community results in the theft of the mirror from the sea– ie a faculty of her soul (sea) that was meant to contemplate and reflect God, she turns instead towards herself. In this context, when I said “birthed the cry” I was alluding to the verse in James about desire giving birth to sin, more than trying to paint a weird word picture ;). Does it work better with that understanding, or would you still recommend further tweaking?

        I don’t think self knowledge or the desire for it is necessarily an evil, but perhaps as and end in itself it is. At any rate, seeking it *is* risky and in the queen’s case, led only to comparison and envy, which led in turn to Snow White’s fall. The “echo” that rang is supposed to be the famous phrase “Snow White is fairer far than thee,” I’m suggesting that was the queen’s own thought mirrored back to her, and not something objectively revealed by the mirror. Perhaps this should be stated more directly in the poem?

        Fast forward to Snow White. She’s got the mirror now, and whereas the queen wanted to use it to see herself, our newly resurrected girl is seeking for something transcendent. She’s isn’t allowed to see the sky and the reason is purposely vague (I don’t know, either!)– perhaps some fall in the nature of things due the “ancestral sin” perpetrated by the queen? Or is Snow White herself not yet ready to see God direct– after all, the waters in her mirror are sometimes murky, sometimes crystalline. What she is given is a good second best, though. At least she is not seeing whatever the queen saw. And although the mirror originally reflected the sky directly, and now it will only reflect the sea, the sea, too, reflects something of the sky, so she gets it indirectly. (I suppose the image of the sea could be a number of things besides the soul and the unconscious, which were the main references in back of my mind as I wrote.)

        Anyway, I don’t think she can toss the mirror back into the sea at this point. What’s done has been done, but at least the power of death has been cracked.

        Excuse me the narcissism of critiquing my own poem. 😉 I really wondered if all or any of this is apparent, and if not, if you think the poem would benefit from more elaboration or best to leave it as it is.

        Also, I don’t mean to be lazy in the brevity of my comments on others’ poems, but am really hesitant to be more thorough, partly because of my awareness of the limitations of my critiquing skills, and partly because I’m unsure what other people are looking for from this.

        Ugh. . . meter. I know unending iambs are boring and monotonous, but I have Fear of Metrical Innovation, because of a critique I received on an early sonnet where I had switched up some of the feet (I hoped successfully): “such a mangled attempt at meter is literally painful to read.” ouch. lol. It’s not that I’m afraid of criticism, but I am afraid of mangling things. I figure monotonous is better than clumsy, but I do chafe at the limitations. Any advice?

        Thanks again *very* much for the helpful and interesting critique. I may be back again later, but right now some small remarkable animals (I loved that line from the first version of your poem, Albert!) are demanding my attention.


        • I really liked those “small remarkable animals” too. (just occurred to me that I think of my 4 yr old twin grandchildren that way, although I might not use that phrase with their parents if I expect hospitality next time). Why did they leave the poem? Sometimes revisions are as unhelpful as my other annoying obsessions.

          About what lies beneath your poem, I missed it altogether. But reading your commentary makes me think about it a lot more. It’s great when poems can operate on multiple levels. Strategically placed clues, whether recognizable phrases or images or even direct references to a theme can make it easier for readers like me who tend to stay on the surface unless drawn gently under or dunked. But the thing is, I had a sense that there was something mysteriously “other” about the story, especially from the use of “panes” and the heroine’s situation at the end, and of course the various pictures of the sea (especially in the last line).

          Finally, Part I is really good. Otherworldly good.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I give mine animal type nicknames all the time! They are so puppy like in those young ages it would be hard not to for anyone attuned to their cuteness on that level. Although I used to call my baby “slug” sometimes, because she was fat and drooled a lot. Maybe I shouldn’t admit to that.

            It was helpful for me to hear more about how you read the poem, and I’m glad you still liked it even without all of the “extra” meanings. I’m thinking I’m just going to leave this one as it is because it feels done to me, but I’m going to keep in mind putting in some clearer references to additional dimensions next time around.

            Thanks again. 🙂


            • Leah: Me too! Chicky, because she used to pop up her head and look around with her eyes so wide, it was like a chick popping its head out of the nest – and hair was all yellow and fuzzy. And starfish, because she would sleep spread-eagle and take up all the room in the bed even though she was so tiny.

              I LOVE slug! I called mine Lady Dumpling when she got into a particularly spread-ing plumpish shapeless stage.


        • Leah,

          Mangled? Literally painful? Eh. Sounds like something I could have said in my idiot period.

          Well, I’ve come to believe that anyone can become a better poet than he is – and that every person is a poet.

          As for the activity of criticism: it seems to me that the essential act of a good person is to detect virtues and approve of them. Therefore, when critiquing a poem, one ought to detect its virtues first. (Of course, what you are looking for is poetic virtues, so you have to get to know what those are.) Whatever is left over must be carefully compared against the virtues it ought to have. Thus, one tries first to discover how the poem succeeds, and only then tries to discover how far it falls short and why – not for the purpose of finding something to hate, but out of love for what the poem was intended to be.

          Some people claim the distinction of loving only good poems. Thus, they need opportunities to show off this distinction by hating on poems that they have detected to be NOT good poems.

          I claim the distinction of loving all poems and wanting them to be good!

          The reason for this is not because “it’s nicer” but rather because it is impossible to know whether a poem succeeds or not until you know what it meant to do and be; and the only way to know that is to take note of its virtues.


          Here’s a good quote about how I think meter works.

          “The first rhymes we hear are in the cot or at our mother’s knee. They are a mixture of the lulling and the playful. The lulling approximates to the predictable heartbeat, the playful to the leap of surprise. These are the earliest physical maps of poetry: the even road, the running stream, the tumbling of pebbles through the blood. Reassurance, progress, delight.”


          Anyway, I think the musical rules for using “rubato” probably apply here. Namely, if you are going to suddenly change the meter, make sure you re-establish that meter quickly afterward, and make sure you have allowed the meter to settle in the ear before you change it again.

          However, as I review your poem, I don’t think it’s as strictly metrical as I thought it was. I think you have a nice natural rhythm going on.


          OK, to reply to your other comments, hopefully in order.

          1.) The realization that this poem has an allegorical element was very enlightening to me. I still find “birthed” to be an all-around awkward word. Even as a reference to James, it is still a word picture, because it’s a word-picture in James! But changing it is not something I would insist on if you are comfortable with it.

          2.) I did understand what phrase the echo referred to. The idea that it is an echo of the queen’s fear of being second-best is not clear, I think. The problem is that echo can refer to a quality of sound, unless it’s specified that it’s an echo OF something. I guess I just saw it as, “the mirror said this line and it echoed around the room.” It’s not the best reading on my part, I’ll admit. I don’t know if I could have come up with the real meaning on my own though…

          3.) Although I didn’t “decipher” all the meaning in Snow White’s return from the dead, the story had an effect on me, nonetheless, so I think that the poem is better for your having thought through all this, and having it be something implicit that underlies what’s explicitly there.

          4.) That’s an excellent point that she’s seeing the sky indirectly. I should have seen that. Not being able to throw the mirror back, because knowledge has been acquired… I can see that. Perhaps what would make this all clearer is a set of words that indicate opposites or sequence. For instance, you have several references to the “old queen” so perhaps you should say “new queen” at some point, to show a level of continuity between the queen and Snow White, since that’s not present in the original fairy tale.

          5.) I don’t think it’s narcissistic to critique, interpret, or explain your own poem. I think it’s perfectly normal and helpful. Some of the rules of critique circles don’t apply on my blog, as I think they were created out of deference to a theory that authors should not be authorial.

          I doubt I will be editing my own poem soon, and I can understand your feeling of this poem being finished for now and just taking what you learned to do better with the next one. I have often felt that way, although I was sometimes able to go back years later and improve a poem, once I had enough distance from it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, this was helpful. I love your philosophy of criticism and loving all poems, and think I just may adopt it. The alternative requires too much waste of energy, especially when one finds oneself feeling ridiculously guilty (as I have sometimes done!) for liking a poem that they know isn’t actually a “good” one. And even if “it’s nicer” isn’t the reason for the approach, it certainly *is* nicer, and makes for a much more positive environment for learning and discussion. I’m enjoying all of this so much!

            Thanks for your thoughts re: meter. I’m going to do some more reading up and trying my hand at a little experimenting, I think.

            I was a little surprised to hear that you hadn’t recognized the poem as partially allegory, because it wasn’t something that I was actually trying to hide at all. I guess I was counting on the images to speak for themselves, but perceive now that they needed a little help in doing so. This is very informative. Although, I am half thinking of renaming the poem “Snow White’s Mirror: An Allegory” and solving the problem that way. 🙂


        • Also, it’s fine that everyone comments on other people’s poems only as much as, and in the way that, they are comfortable with. And if someone feels, like Merry, that they are better off just enjoying rather than critiquing, that’s fine too. The overall point is to become more comfortable with poetry, and it’s to be expected that people will be functioning, interpreting, enjoying, and contributing in different ways as that happens. That’s normal human interaction as far as I can tell. 🙂


        • About “I figure monotonous is better than clumsy, but I do chafe at the limitations.”

          I remember reading something a long time ago that helped me. It was in an essay or letter by Robert Frost. He felt the exact thing you are describing, but worked it out this way: the meter (if you decide to use a formal one) is like a clothes line. It holds everything up. The washing (words) , not being all the same size or shape, will hang there making somewhat varied patterns – but they need the line in order to dry. So this means to me that it works better to use only one clothes line (say, iambic, to name a commonly used one), but don’t feel obligated to hang all the long sleeved shirts together, and the pants one after another, etc.

          In this approach, it doesn’t work to have one line with a two beat pattern (da-DUM) and another with three beats (da-da-DUM) ; better to vary the placement of stresses by reversing them when the phrase calls for it, or using a strategic pause in place of a stress, or sometimes for emphasis placing two or three heavy stresses in a row to slow down the movement and emphasize an image or theme. But you know all this, right? So what Frost did for me with his clothes line image was to make it clear that in formal verse, even though a support line is needed, but it doesn’t look natural if all the clothes are the same. (e,. g. All socks hanging there like little soldiers at attention.) Most people don’t live, or work, or talk, or even sing with that kind of rigid pursuit of order.

          For myself, even though I like reading poems in that style, I’ve drifted away from writing in formal metric patterns, unless the content or inspiration seems to call for it. This would be a whole “nuther” discussion. I should have gone back and read again Alana’s comments about rhythm – I don’t think I paid close enough attention. I’m probably just repeating things she already said. But it would be interesting, and helpful to me, to hear further comments about alternatives to metered rhythms.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, all of this makes sense and is helpful. I really admire poets that are successfully innovative with meter and form. It’s just that when I’m writing, I lack the confidence to know if a particular variation of the pattern is going to enhance the rhythm or be jarring, so tend to lean towards more rigidity.


          • Whether you vary the number of feet per line occasionally, or vary the foot that is in the line occasionally, I think the variation has to be just that – an occasion.


  2. Many and many a year ago
    I met my Merry dear
    She was a sprite that brought me light
    And dissipated fear

    She lies there within my heart
    Alive with every breath
    True to herself and true to me
    E’en beyond my death

    Not children when our love was given
    Yet now our souls made young.
    To rejoice in What God’s given us
    As hymns of joy are sung.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is sweet, Michael. I’m glad you entered a poem this time around! Let’s see… I think this would have to be classed as a lyrical poem. It could almost be a song. Rather than a meter, you’ve used lines with four beats alternating with lines of three beats. So this is called accentual verse (as opposed to metrical verse.) The rules for accentual rhythm are less strict, which means you can go ahead and say “even” with no need to leave the ‘v’ out. Good news, right?

      I think the best image in the poem is the one of the woman lying in the man’s heart – that seems like a feeling a person might actually experience. “Alive with every breath” is also good, but it gets a little fuzzier. Do you mean that you feel her with every breath you take? Or that you are breathing life into her? Or that you seem to breath as if you were one organism, sharing your life at that visceral level?

      I like the idea that “although our marriage has not produced children it has made us, ourselves, like children again.” That’s excellent irony (the happy kind of irony.) The only problem is that the way it’s said doesn’t highlight the irony as well as it could – mainly because the words don’t add up to a complete sentence. Overall, I think the most helpful thing you could do at this level of development is this: Write your poem how you feel it, but then, put all the lines together into sentences and see if you have complete sentences with normal English syntax.

      “No children when our love was given but now our souls made young.” You see what I mean?

      Rather than tell you how to re-write the line, I would just suggest that you think carefully about a few things and make some editorial decisions.

      1.) Subjects and verbs: Who/what is the love given to, and who/what gave it? Who or what makes one young? And the “no children” part could be like a “verboten” sign – “No children allowed!” or it could be a ruminating thing, “No children came.”

      2.) Did you really want to emphasize the “given-ness” of the love, or might you just as well emphasize the “found-ness” or the “created-ness” of the love? In other words, once you have decided what the main idea of these two lines must be, everything else has to be subordinated to that idea. You can’t fit everything in, even if it feels pious to do so.

      “True to herself and true to me” is a good line in the song-writing tradition. It has balance, symmetry, strong rhythm, and the right kind of repitition (the kind that isn’t mind-numbing, but adds to development.)

      Thanks again!


      • AR. Doing this on my phone so one thing at a time: “alive with every breath…”. Yes to all of your perceptions.

        Our love was give..a bit like a bomb dropped on us and we are still trying to catch up.

        I was also trying to make some allusions to Poe’s poem and counter them. His love was taken. Death in his vs life in mine. Depressive sorrow vs transcendent joy.

        Shows a bit of the transition in my own life from my 20’s infatuation with Poe’s poem and its darkness to now and Merry’s place in that.

        As to the other technical issues. I need to think on those more. First poem I’ve attempted in about 40 years.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Writing a happy poem is a courageous thing, Michael. I imagine that if poetry used to be centered around darkness for you, this really would be a new beginning. As I said, it’s a good one. 🙂


          • My fascination with darkness lessened as I began to follow Jesus Christ and see such fascination as a temptation from the lord of darkness. That began 46 years ago but I am a slow learner.


      • No children was a typo. Should have been Not children, but the typo reveals a whole nuther angle I hadn’t thought of. Have to let that sink in a bit.

        Liked by 1 person

        • No, my mistake, Michael, it actually does say “not children” but I think the same problems are present with that. It seems like ‘children’ is going to be the subject of the sentence, but there is never a verb that can be connected with them.


    • Beautiful tribute, Michael! Who would not want to get as a gift something as direct and clear and musical as this. Your marriage is truly blessed.

      With something so personal, others’ reactions (other than Merry’s) can seem intrusive, so I’m hesitant to make official comments. And it’s interesting to me what we pick up on and how we can differ. May I say my funny little reactions.?

      I could not get away with calling Mary Anne a “sprite.” She drinks it regularly. And she doesn’t flit about, as I picture those airy inhabitants of woodlands and dreams–just the opposite. In fact, she might get upset if I told her she was lying “in my heart” and not doing anything, like I was poking at her seemingly continual need for, and delight in, naps. See how strangely words can work on me? Alana has already cautioned me about that, but we’re among friends, right? And I’m no critic, more of a scrabble-type reader.

      But I did interpret “not children” to describe your age, and I treated the “beyond my death” reference reverently e’n though I wondered if you talk so formally to Merry. (I don’t know how to make a smiley face, but imagine it here.)

      For being off the poetry wagon for 4 decades, you seem pretty comfortable with it. But hang on. From what the our driver says, the ride is going to get bumpier. Or more lively, depending on where we sit.


      • Albert, I’m glad you are having this conversation with Micahel, and I appreciate your involvement with the others’ poems.

        As a brief interjection, a smiley face 🙂 is made by typing a colon and then typing a 0-key parenthesis immediately afterward, and then hitting the space bar. If you hit the 9-key parenthesis, it will be a frowny face. 😦 A winky face is made with the semi-colon followed by the 0-key parenthesis. 😉

        The little symbols look like faces all by themselves (only they are lying on their sides, so to speak.) With wordpress, the symbols convert to a yellow “emoticon” when you hit the reply button. Not all websites do that for you. But generally, wherever you are typing, people will recognize the colon-parenthesis combination for what it is.

        Hope that helps.


      • I agree about the ‘sprite’ thing. It seems like an apt comparison for a tiny two-year old that never stops jumping off arm-chairs, but poetically speaking doesn’t carry much, well, public meaning, when referring to a mature woman.


      • Albert, although quite personal and based on the reality of my life, I tried to go beyond just that as well. The word sprite in reference to my wife comes easily–she fits her name.

        When I talk formally to Merry, she usually lapses into sleep but we both have lost spouses and know that such love never stops.

        I grew up on rhythm. My mother and her sister both danced with Martha Graham in NY. They choreographed and taught dance their whole lives. When you think about it, a dance is kind of a poem. Dance, too, when done rightly is a noetic activity–deeply of our inmost being.

        This one came easily, but the next one, should I try, will be a lot more work. You notice it is short. It could be expanded thematically, but I’m not sure I have the writing chops to do it.


  3. Tale Told Too Often

    Many and many a year ago
    My dreams were the kind that grow
    On illusion. I planed an adventurely
    Life–By land or by sea, I didn’t care which.
    It was the act of going that counted to me.
    And would make me rich

    In stories. But I married instead my lady Lu
    Who showed me adventure closer to home.
    She had dreamed of a place for us, and two
    Entertaining creatures that would come
    To live in our house and guide our lives.

    It was then that I knew I was trapped
    by love. Or a shove from a demon like love.

    Lucky the dream that survives
    A relationship. Mine didn’t. Or did. I left
    Her the house and the pets, and went off on my own.

    (Truth often hides in our stories: I left
    Out one important part, which even now rides
    In the seat beside me. Oh men who desert!
    Not even men: we are cowards.
    And I am the worst. A person bereft
    Of his soul. Those creatures were children! Ours!)

    I am older and wiser now, but the cost…
    The cost was this truth: I left. They lost

    What should have been theirs. A father left
    Them to dream. Now all are bereft.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sad, and thoughtful. Thank you for sharing! I like the title, too – it plays off of “Twice-told tales.”

      Most of the lines are excellent, and the expressions are poetic, in this narrative poem. Sadly, although the execution is excellent, I think it’s the concept that partly fails. The “two entertaining creatures” are so obviously children (even though you deceptively refer to them as pets) that the “big reveal” stanza falls flat. I also have to question: as terrible as it is to leave children without a father, isn’t it also bad to leave a mother without a means of support, to abandon one’s companion in life? In other words, if “and we had kids!” was the big reveal, doesn’t that downplay the other side of the abandonment, the part where he leaves the woman, too?

      “And would make me rich” – you could probably get away with “and that would make me rich” without harming any meter or anything. 🙂

      Can a “part of a story” really ride beside someone in the car seat? I think the idea is poetic – you are probably saying that an emptiness, a lack, or some kind of guilt or grief has become the man’s companion in life. It’s paradoxical – a nothing has become a companion; an absence is like a presence in its felt intensity. This is accurate and heartfelt, and well-imagined. But you didn’t manage to actually say it – that’s the rub. Not everything has to be explicit, but everything has to be discoverable.

      What is really strong, though, in this poem, is all the thought that has been put into the problem at hand. Like Leah, you didn’t just regurtitate the material as you found it. You entered into your characters’ inner world imaginatively (just as she entered into her characters’ outer world imaginatively) and came out with insights that are more than just stock platitudes or judgments. There are no extraneous sentences here – no extraneous words, even. I think it’s a keeper.

      Thanks again!


      • On target again! I completely overlooked the companion thing. A real poem (almost said “man”) would address that. More to do here. The “car seat” thing was last minute, true feeling but a bit forced because of rhyme & sounds, and my rush to get there – very perceptive of you to explore it. It is so good to write and have someone listen.


        • Just a note, Albert: I don’t mean to say you MUST write about the companion thing. After all, every poem has its own scope. I was trying to get at why the structure of the reveal stanza seemed to throw off the balance of the poem a bit.


    • Wow. This one touched my heart in a way I did not expect. Excellent work. Obviously someone who knows such pain. My children’s father left us, for a much younger woman, when they were still fairly young, and came to regret it terribly later in life. He died a very lonely man at 67. I just got a glimpse into the “other side of the coin” thru this poem. Thank you for the experience.
      (I am not critiquing the poems, but rather simply enjoying them and the stories they tell.
      I will leave the corrections to AR. She is much better at that.)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I left some comments on the other version of this that you had posted under AR’s reminder post. Wasn’t sure if you saw them or not. I don’t need a response or anything, but wanted to make sure they weren’t lost. 🙂


      • I did see them – and agreed, especially about the repetition of “left” (I was so proud of that – then began to worry – maybe too proud, too clever… Or, on the other hand, too clumsy, too much of a break with the form), which I’m going to keep handy in case I go back to working on it. Also agreed about the progression from animals to children. I may have started to think more about the rhythm than the feeling in the lines. Writing a poem, for me, is sort of like a golf swing – I think about one part and the others get messed up. It feels great when the ball takes off straight & true, and even (only) one shot out of 100 makes you want to come back tomorrow. But it’s a better game in a group than walking the course alone and muttering to yourself. So thanks for playing along! (sorry, I get carried away. Just wanted to say I appreciate your comments, Leah. )


  4. Reading again. I am not sure I understand the last two lines of the seventh stanza. Did you mean “for whom the song was sung”? I somehow read it that way automatically before, understanding it as, his heart burned with love for God and for those still searching, but then I noticed the “to”, and am reconsidering. His heart burned with love for God, and that incidentally served as a light to other seekers?


    • “His heart shone gold for the sake of the song, and to whom the song was sung.”

      All it says, is that this light shining from his heart was shining for the sake of two things: 1) the song and 2) the person to whom the song was sung. So, leaving out 1 it would read “his heart shone gold for the sake of to whom the song was sung.”

      I did think about this one a bit. I decided that although this is an unusual construction, it would count as an example of poetic ellipsis.


      It may not be easy to figure out, but on the other hand, there’s really only one way it makes sense, so I guess I’ll leave it in there to make people work for it a bit. 🙂 Thanks.


      • “It may not be easy to figure out, but. . . . I’ll leave it in there to make people work for it a bit.”

        I’m working, but I’m a bit anxious to say what I’m finding, especially in light of Leah’s comment about God. I didn’t see Him here, unless “the star-bearded man”….. But no, he resembles too much the Holy card Jesus of my childhood. And he’s addressed as “lord, not “Lord.”

        Also, the whole scene resembles a kind of human paradise, where the people don’t have to work (plows gone to rust),, they drink a lot, lie around “in heaps,” party all night, and never stink (from throwing up? Or just total disregard of amenities? Or, no, I don’t want to say what fantasies occur, but I keep seeing the woman’s hair that is “flung” beneath the man’s hand). And why is he a “willing weeper” if this place is so great. So when I get to the reference to something really bad about it (“rainland’ s curse”) which wouldn’t be “couth” – – I. E. cultured and refined–to take seriously, I start to wonder about what kind of song he is hearing over the lake. Maybe more of a hypnotic song like kids, and sadly many adults, use to numb themselves. When the lord starts talking the language of cold capitalism (“percentage yields”) I’m really freaked out. Not only is this place a haven of sensory pleasure, sort of like a hippie commune, but it is all carefully planned and managed, as if the people there are controlled not just by their desires but also by this attractive, dreamlike person who keeps them in their party mode forever. Then I put all this together with some similar images from ancient stories, like the Lotus eaters in the Odyssey, and the song of the sirens, and Circle who turns men into pigs, and of course, from our tradition, the tree, under which our hero here, the creeper, says, “I die of joy.”

        See why I am anxious? I wonder if I am not bringing things to the poem that aren’t there, that only reveal something (embarrassing to admit) about me.

        Then I think, I should have looked up Poe ‘s poem. Maybe I need to read this one with that background in mind.

        It’s hard to admit that I am not a good reader of poems. But in another way, this whole challenge is fun. (I didn’t say anything yet about the form, the music, the tone–all of which are handled quite effectively here. But I noticed, and admired, the skill behind the lines.) Please count any misreading of your content to the slowness of age and my latest fixation on the easy-to-follow prose of novels or sermons or familiar repetitive prayers).


        • Hmm, I don’t know if this is helpful or even if I’m reading the poem as intended, either, but it started working for me when I interpreted the whole through this stanza:

          “Always and ever the sowers sow
          who reaps is always reaping
          and the crystalline and sparkling juice their hands
          daily stains.”

          Then I decided it was “about” the Kingdom of God as a timeless reality that we can access even now, where spiritual hunger is satisfied. The things in the poem are sort of always happening, in the spiritual realm. The rain I read as an image of Spirit, the land as the heart, and the fruit as fruit produced by their interaction. So, the “discussion of rain and percentage of yields” made me think that it was a discussion about spiritual growth, along the lines of the conversations Christ had with his followers when he explained the parables to them, or when he was talking to Nicodemus, for example.

          “Star bearded” didn’t exactly work for me, either, except, well, stars are shiny and that is always nice. 🙂 And it’s something from “heaven” joined to something from earth, so perhaps it’s simply an image of Christ as human and divine.

          I think the weeper and the creeper (lol) are the same person. He is weeping for the sake of his people, who will, he fears, never leave the dustlands. “We called but they refused” is, I think, almost a direct quote from a couple gospel passages. Our hero’s memory still will not let him rest, because he is loves his people, but what can he do? Not return to the dustland, as the stanza starting such so beautifully elaborates (that was my favorite!). Instead, his voice is requested, and joyfully given over in service, to join in singing forth the call. Also, his heart shining gold (a purified heart?) works as a light for those in darkness, I think.

          About the people lying in heaps and drinking, I guess I was thinking more of a family friendly harvest festival, kind of like in the book of Ruth. The woman with the flung hair might be his wife, tired and asleep after gathering in the orchard all day?

          Hmm, now I’m about to hit post and I have a feeling Alana is going to disapprove of this style of analysis 🙂 because it’s treating the poem rather like a riddle; “this equals that”, and it’s supposed to be, I think, more of a song, but I wanted to describe how I was reading it before she comes back, because otherwise I’ll be too influenced by further comments from the author to remember how I read it before said comments and to compare the before and after effectively. Run on sentence. Phew!


          • Yes, Leah, I can see now the possibility of biblical allusions, especially in “sowers” and “reapers.” Also in the line about refusing the invitation, although I might be more open to that if it were an “I” who did the inviting instead of “we.” And the Ruth picture fits too, which makes me start to feel uncomfortable again about my version of that–makes me almost wish that we had a “take-back” or delete option after posting comments. But that’s part of the pleasure of reading and talking about poems. I like to remind myself of Wallace Stevens’ lines, “the poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully” (with a line break somewhere near the end – hoping I remember it correctly otherwise).


            • Albert, I think your comment brought up important questions: it’s making me think. Although Leah did grasp what I was going for, that’s possibly due to the fact that she and I share a set of imaginative experiences, because of our similar ages and backgrounds. Can I make my poetry more generally accessible? Would it be right to do so, or would it lose personality? These are things I have to think about.

              I have contacted WordPress support about the possibility of allowing commenters to edit and delete their own comments. If that is impossible, then please know that if you are uncomfortable with something you have written, you can always request an edit or delete and I will do that for you.


              • “you can always request an edit or delete and I will do that for you.” – eases my mind, but also opens up further temptations to take myself too seriously. 🙂 Is that a smiley face? Or this. 🙂 ? Whatever.

                Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve changed the star-beard section to make it more explicit. Thank you, Leah and Albert, for that critique. Let me know if the new version helps.


          • Uh-oh. I think you overdid it on the beard. Three different “likes” in one picture call attention to themselves. I understand that the star came first (and so probably carries the weight of inspiration), but I think that the “mane” and “lightening” images work better–both individually and together. I can’t come up with a rhyme companion for “far” – – except possibly “bizarre”–which would fit the context, so I won’t recommend changes. I do like the rest of the stanza, a lot. I’d say keep both versions, and see how they work for you some time later on.

            Regarding the other revisions: rains doing the work & leaving rusty plows behind clears things up. The child/woman picture is no longer ambiguous. I think it is better that you placed “heaps” ahead (in time) of “sang and drank” – so that “familial” might not even be needed, might be too explicit (adjectives not as good as good nouns). In that same vein, the abused/used couplet might not be needed either. Finally, I think “Ah, dear lord!” and “said one whose beard” are vague and ambiguous in a positive way – to allow for multiple levels of meaning without being confusing or contradixtory; therefore helpful revisions.

            But in the long run, you will know better than I what really makes the poem satisfying. Often the first “finished” version, with flaws or without, feels more alive and survives longer. I found that out more than once.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Oh, I love the new material about the beard. Especially these two lines:
            “wild, white, a beard like a mane
            flying with wind and curling in rain”

            that helps a lot and sounds very lyrical (to me). As far as the other changes go, I rather miss the original poem, but that may be because I had read it a number of times and come to like it quite a bit as it was, and not because the changed version is inferior.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Albert: so, while I was editing, I found it easier than I expected to adress some of the other ambiguities you brought up. Perhaps you could let me know whether the poem makes more sense now? Anything else that feels “off” still?

          As far as “percentage of yeilds” I realize that could be an investing term, but it also a farming term, and that’s what I meant it as here. I think the orchard context supports it, and it’s also a reference to the “parable of the sower” in which the Lord says that some yeild 30-fold and some 60-fold and some 100-fold. (I think 30-fold would be the equivalant of 3000%.) I like the idea that the fantasy-man (with the starry beard) is still a man – still interested in order, and in making things work, and in how well his crops are doing. I also think it’s important that he discusses this with his junior partner, the man from the dustlands, because this ennobles the junior partner and makes him a partner and not just a hand-for-hire.

          I also decided to keep “lord” instead of “Lord” because, even though it’s remarkably easy to read Christ and his kingdom into this little story, it’s can’t BE Christ and his kingdom unless we want to represent it in the exact terms of scripture. If we’re going to go the allegorical route, the Lord can only ever appear as represented by a lord.

          As far as the beard, it’s one of my favorite symbols of mature and powerful manhood, because it’s a thing of some wildness, that shows masculinity unbound, so to speak. Still, the poem is all the better (I think) for having clarified and elaborated on some of these things.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Leah, it’s not that it’s wrong to interpret the poem allegorically. It’s that there’s an order of understanding. First we make sure we have the literal grammatical reading, then we proceed to the allegorical interpretation. Most of the time we do these things automatically and at the same time, practically speaking. But when we stumble over a phrase or sentence, and have to analyze it, then is a good time to remember that division, that order.

      So I didn’t meant to correct or scold or disapprove, lol! of seeing God and the heart and so forth in my poem. I was just trying to insist on what I think is the correct way of talking about an issue that I was pretty sure is a matter of reading, and only secondarily of interpretation.


      • It’s easier to understand as a sentence, but now I’m wondering a little who the song is being sung to. I originally thought it was to the remaining inhabitants of the dustlands, but then you would say “them” rather than “him”, correct?


  5. (I’ll try it again commenting in the right location)

    Constancy and Change

    It was many and many a year ago
    Even before time took shape
    The infinite creative mind of God
    Thought order He would make
    Not that there was disorder,
    or chaos all in bloom
    But he thought to make, a reality to awake
    Expressed being to subsume
    He cleverly invented time and space,
    Then bound it by finitude,
    Not one could trace the One that Is,
    Who cannot be replaced.
    So we view that start with ancient story
    Replete with detail in allegory.
    Because to look direct we cannot see
    The Changeless Cause who Is, and will always Be.

    Oh, how I do not understand
    Constancy and change,
    For I see the one and know the other,
    And it leaves my mind deranged.
    His constancy is dynamic
    His opinions do not sway
    His reasoning is independent
    of propositional display.
    He is the premise on which He stands
    There is no furthering of argument,
    No challenge to make of greater demands
    Beyond that which is Self Evident.

    I can only conceive this changelessness,
    As greater knowledge behind the narrative
    which belies the brilliance of Very Being
    being shown in the comparative.
    But how to compare to Infinity?
    A finite thing is not the same
    yet we know through some affinity
    that Isness is His name.
    No! That is not a proper name.
    It is the telling of His being.
    The Name is not the words we use.
    It’s for grasping the unseen.

    So we leave off with where we were
    A tale to be told.
    Having become… somewhat more demure,
    before the Paradox of Old.


    • Ralph, welcome! Thanks for your entry.

      Wow, this is ambitious! A good theosophical poem uses words that wouldn’t normally appear in other kinds of poem – abstract words, long words, words with a lot of meaning but very little color. That makes it hard. Hard to make the rhyme and rhythm fit. Hard to bring out any images. I think you have to lean hard on any musical effects you can get, on the rise and fall of the energy, on the back-and-forth of statements, questions, and exlamations, and of course on the purely intellectual interest of the ideas.

      Another option is to intersperse the declarative statements with word-pictures and narrative elements that illustrate your point, like Edna St. Vincent Millay does here:


      At any rate, I think you only had a few days to put this together and you made a good beginning. If there was anything I would suggest, it would be the same thing, more or less, that I said to Michael. You’ve made these thoughts work as poetic lines; but line them up and make sure they work equally well as sentences. Power and symmetry come to sentences when you are very strict about the relationship between subjects, verbs, and objects, and then make sure all their attendents qualifiers are standing at attention.

      I re-wrote the poem in my own fashion (just for myself) to make sure I understood everything you were saying. I think there’s a genuinely interesting trail of thought and feeling here. Next time, if you have more time, let your concept into your imagination, and let it play around there for a while and acquire some characteristics of that world.

      I hope you will continue to participate in our poetry challenges in the future!


      • Thanks for your comments, Alana. I am not too disciplined with meter nor do I have a vocabulary for the various aspects of poetry; much like a musician who learned to play by sound but cannot read much music. I’d be interested in your rewrite to reflect on how you interpreted my ramblings – if you will. I did read the Edna St. Vincent Millay poem. It was very good, that is, insightful, reflective, and well said. But, like with most poetry, I did not find the insightfulness cutting very deep. The insightfulness was observant in novelty, but not depth of thought or indicative of struggle with issues as one works out an experience of truth. I am also a little prejudiced against poetry which does not conclude fairly quickly (I thought it long). Poetry is best communicative when succinct and precise (eh, maybe it is personal taste and not absolute truth but I’ll speak here as though it is absolute truth!). Poetry should be rich in communicative value, whether evoking emotion, drawing pictures with words or stimulating intellectual contemplation. As such, it is to be savored. Something to savor best comes in smaller bites or sips.

        Thanks for conducting this interchange. I can’t imagine how you find time. I’ll try to join in future challenges.


        • I understand. I actually do not think that a poem needs a perfect meter, even if it’s rhythmical and rhyming. I do think that it needs to have a rhythm that doesn’t go “bump.” So, to be a poet “by ear” instead of “by the book” you have to really listen to the rhythm, and feel how it works.

          Probably the best ways to take advantage of your learning style are 1) listening to skillful people recite poems, 2) memorize and recite metrical poems to yourself, and, 3) copywork – writing down other people’s poems with pen on paper, so your hand and eye and mind can get a sense of how it feels to write metrically or rhythmically. If you are going to do any or all of these, you definitely want to choose poems or parts of poems that are similar to the poems you want to write.


          I hope you won’t be offended when I say, I feel very sad that ‘Renascense’ did not cut very deep for you. I think that is a sad situation for you to be in. What, you didn’t scream with her when, after all, it turned out that in her monstrous arrogance she COULD touch the sky – had reduced it to a mere tent? Didn’t feel her remorse when she was forced to experience what God experiences in his pity for his creation? Didn’t feel relief when she was finally allowed to sink into a grave of unknowing – yet feel unsatisfied with this too-much shrinking? Didn’t throb with newly-made gratefulness for your own perfectly designed humanity when she returned to proper human stature and awareness, full of enjoyment and delight in what, previously, she had felt was too confining?

          What could be more human?

          I think that poetry is probably good medicine for you… because if this didn’t cut deep then you didn’t take in the poem as an imaginative experience. You read it analytically, didn’t you? Well, I suppose it’s understandable – I linked to it as an example of an element of poetry which I did, after all, want you to understand analytically. Still, when you haven’t immersed yourself imaginatively in a poem, you can’t really say anything about its insight, can you? Only technique is clear to you at that point.


          I do understand preferring shorter poems. I did for a long time, as well. Mental appetite grows only with feeding. All the same, I think it’s healthy to keep in mind that the ancient Greeks used to have public festivals in which they would listen to a very long poem recited, in turn, by various invited bards – and this would go on for days. Also, there’s Robert Browning’s ‘The Ring and the Book’ – a poem that took seven or eight years to write and that fills a volume of hundreds of pages. Even if we cannot share the enthusiasm of people who actually enjoy that sort of thing, I believe it’s healthy to respect them for it. After all, it’s not the person who is capable of enjoying less who is more to be envied – it’s the person who is capable of enjoying more! Surely the joy of the latter is greater?


          I am hesitant to share my re-write of your poem. It was an excercise in understanding for me. If I give it to you, I am afraid it may ruin your own poem for you. Ask me for it again five years from now, if you are still writing. 🙂


          • Alana,
            You said, “because if this didn’t cut deep then you didn’t take in the poem as an imaginative experience. You read it analytically, didn’t you? ”
            Perceptive and well observed on your part. A fault…no, more of a handicap of mine.

            You also said, “… if you are still writing.”
            I have been writing most all my life. Not that I have notebooks full. I have lost probably 95% of what I have written. Perhaps it should have been lost as well.

            Regarding succinctness; a poem that rambles on is a story and can hardly be distinguished from prose. I read and like prose as well. Good prose has gems to be mined from the reading. Good poetry is a gem. Here is a succinct example from 1987.

            Beyond Morality

            Beyond morality, I saw life.
            Wickedness was apparent,
            and dreadful to see,
            morality, a platform of hypocrisy.
            How sad it is ironically,
            the wicked see life
            though morality,
            while the moral see life, wickedly.

            Thanks for your time. When you have something for sale, advertise it. I will be the first to buy. It’s great fun having come across your blog.



            • Thanks, Ralph! Yes, I think “Beyond Morality” is very succint and the syntax is clean and tight. Both this and your other poem show that you are thinking, making distinctions, having insights. Analysis your strenght – I wouldn’t want to make it out a handicap.

              I used to take piano lessons and I played for a long time after the lessons stopped. I am right handed, but at the height of my piano-playing ability (such as it was) I was almost ambidextrous because I would spend hours playing little exercises, and I would always work my left hand harder than my right. Part of the point of these articles and challenges is to strengthen the “left hand” of imagination. But analysis is everywhere – I would no more wish to cut it off than my own right hand!

              Perhaps Lewis’ language is better – instead of invoking a specific faculty to use when reading, he simply says that you must surrender to the poem while you are reading it. Only then can you judge it from the inside. The goal is to enjoy.


            • Here’s my re-write of your poem, since it turns out you aren’t a newbie 🙂

              It was many and many a year ago –
              no, longer – time had no shape –
              God’s creative, infinite mind
              envisioned an ordered timescape.
              Not that disorder was present before;
              not that chaos had bloomed;
              He would not rest till being awoke
              from essential being subsumed.
              Wise his invention: time and space,
              bound by infinitude;
              Kind his intention, whom no other could trace –
              but guess, by his free-flowing plenitude,
              One there is whom none else could replace.

              We must view this beginning of creation’s story
              as the merest allegory –
              If we looked direct, we could never see
              the changeless Cause who both was, and will be.

              How deeply I fail to understand
              constancy and change
              For I see the one and know the other
              but my mind cannot arrange
              what I see and know: constancy
              dynamic! Understanding unswayed
              of all that sways! Independent
              Reason with no propositions displayed!
              He is the premise on which Himself stands;
              no argument his Being demands
              but appeal to the wholly Self-Evident.

              I can only conceive this changelessness
              as the story behind the narrative.
              For the narrative veils the brilliance
              by depending upon the comparative.
              But nothing compares to infinity!
              Finite things are not the same!
              (Though we know, through some affinity
              that ‘Isness’ is His name.
              No! Not his Proper name,
              but the telling of His Being.
              His name is not the words we speak,
              while we grasp for the unseen.)
              So now we have circled to where we began,
              the tale we would tell still untold.
              What progress? Why, finding ourselves more demure
              before the Paradox of Old!


    • P.S. Do you pronounce your name “Rafe”? I know it doesn’t matter for writing purposes, but I always hear words in my mind and for some reason it bugs me not knowing how to hear someone’s name.


  6. This was my first attempt:

    Many and many a year ago
    I called you love and you bade me go
    I whispered “dear” and you answered not
    I watched your coldness and burned more hot.

    Many and many a year ago
    I killed the love that you hated so:
    I struck down your shrine and my own face paled;
    I whispered “die” and my own heart failed.

    Many and many a year have flown
    since I broached an endless shoreline alone
    and flung my love on the endless wave
    with handfuls of sand instead of a grave.

    Many a year both came and went
    but still some invisible filament
    stretches behind me over the beach
    though what tugs it forever is out of my reach.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Manifesto

    Many and many a year ago
    Before the Net
    before the Shows
    An Emperor knelt
    in mountain snows.

    Feet unshod
    and head bowed low
    he prayed to God
    that Pope’s forgiveness
    would not be slow.

    Not Armies vast
    or Navys large
    nor tyranny
    o’r his his people
    did he ask.

    To tast a drought
    of Holy Mystery
    was his aim
    and Holy Roman Emperor
    was his claim.

    Happy Man!
    His days were four
    and forgiveness
    was granted
    on the hour.

    Innocent and Emperor
    no farce indeed
    their tale doth need
    no shadows take
    the shapes of men and trees.

    No Chancellor,
    however dread
    nor bland
    could ever
    in Cannossa stand.

    Much less kneel.
    In the Modern Cave
    we cast
    the shadows
    of forgotten past

    On huge blank walls
    in the dark
    the new Collective
    in deciet
    its creeds upon us marks.

    No Emperors or Innocents
    stand on any continent
    but presidents and chancellors
    congresses and soviets
    stewards only.

    Poor stewards indeed
    who slay their betters
    and dictate in place of rule,
    the hapless people
    transformed into savages and fools.

    Pastors now instead of priests
    now serve the mysteries
    tearing out the essence
    of them
    peice by peice.

    The Emperor whose days were four
    and whose torment ended on the hour
    more fortunate than us by far
    our Modern states
    grow worse as does our fate.

    Many and many a year ago
    my love was lost.
    Whither it went
    I know not,
    but to those responsible


    – Benjamin Applegate


    • All right, let’s examine “Mr. Applegate’s” effort here.

      First of all, I don’t think this is without poetic merit. Its main problem is that it is unfinished.

      Five lines per stanza? Genius!

      Somewhat unpredictable rhyme scheme? Musical!

      Development of theme? Not bad at all.

      Historical consciousness? Well-informed.

      Voice? Getting there!

      Put it all together? It needs work, brother.

      What we have here is a poem stuck at the “inspiration” stage. What we want to see from Mr. Applegate in the future is a poem that has been brought to the “fully actualized” stage.

      What will that require? Perspiration! For instance,

      The Emperor whose days were four
      and whose torment ended on the hour
      more fortunate than us by far
      our Modern states
      grow worse as does our fate.

      this stretch requires some editorial decisions.

      “The Emperor whose days were four and whose torment ended on the hour more fortunate than us by far our Modern states grow worse as does our fate.”

      Not really a sentence, see?

      So as I try to make sense of this I propose to myself,

      The Emperor whose days were four,
      whose torment ended on the hour,
      more favored was than we, by far.
      Our modern state
      declines with our fate.

      But there’s another problem here.

      Whether you say, “more favored” or “more fortunate,” the expression is unfortunate because it simply adds nothing to our understanding. It adds little more than “we’re bad off.” It’s too “on the nose.”


      So you, I mean Mr. Applegate, will have to put this idea of “more fortunate” through the grist-mill of his imagination and bring us some sausages. Did he really mean to invoke the idea of fortune? Or was he simply trying to say that the Emperor was happier? And if happier, in what sense? Surely he was pretty miserable during those four days!

      The overall problem – the fact that throughout the poem he is slipping unstoppably from poetry to political sermon – is shown clearly by the last line, and those immediately before it. Like all political ideologues, his only possible ending place is violence, or the threat of it. Sadly, threats don’t change people’s minds.


  8. This is not very good. Applegate does not impress me (although I thouroughly agree with his sentiments in this poem). But I posted his work as an experiment of sorts in literary criticism. Hack away!


  9. Back from the north, couldn’t resist revisiting comments. And revising. Here’s the latest version. No comments expected. I just wanted to share the process.

    Tales Too Often Told


    Many and many a year ago
    When my dreams were the kind that were rich

    In illusion, I planed for adventure by sea
    Or by land, no matter which
    Or where. It was the fact of going that counted to me.

    But I fell into bed and started to dream instead
    of a lady I met, named Grace,
    Who showed me adventure closer to home
    And explained how we could imagine a space

    For the small energetic animals she had dreamed of
    To hold and play with and fill up our lives.
    It was then that I knew I was held by something like love.


    Lucky the dream that survives
    A relationship. Mine didn’t. Or did. I left

    Her the house and the car and the pets, and went
    Off on my own. (Truth is often bent
    In our stories: I left
    Out this: I left

    All that matters now: my wife, my girls, who should have meant
    So much–Such sweetness–they were left
    Without love from a man who is now bereft
    –as he learned–of his sole
    Dream of becoming a man. He knows

    In his older and wiser soul
    That the cost,
    The terrible cost, was this truth: he left. They lost

    What should have been theirs. A father and husband left
    Them to dream. Now all are bereft.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I’ve been wondering what I could write about for this challenge. I’ve been walking around murmuring “it was many and many a year ago” for some days, and last night all of a sudden line two was right there to follow. This is what happened. I think the ghost of Edward Lear must have inspired me.

    It was many and many a year ago
    they sailed across the moon,
    splashing over the pearl-white orb
    into the starry lagoon!
    In a beautiful boat of beechnut wood,
    with a comet at the prow,
    they sailed away
    at the end of the longest day of the year,
    the man in green and the maid with the moon-white brow.

    He brought her a ring with a diamond star;
    she gave him a kiss in return,
    and he built a boat of beech (as I said),
    with a comet at the stern.
    She waved goodbye, he said farewell,
    and they sailed across the moon,
    and ever since then,
    they never, no never, were seen again!
    But sometimes a glimpse of a comet shines
    from the depths of the starry lagoon!


    • Hah, there’s some of that wildness I’ve been wanting to see from you. Very nice indeed. I liked your technique for courting the muse, as well – walking around muttering the line.

      Listen, there’s something off about the meter for the last two lines of each stanza. EDIT: last three lines.

      You might try the technique of a short line, followed by an expansion of the same line with added details. It’s not right for most poems, but it’s certainly very Edward Lear. 🙂

      So for instance you could say, “they sailed away/at the end of the day/the longest day of the year.”

      Anyway, you’ll want to count your stresses and lines carefully, and I’m sure you’ll easily fix it.


      • Revision:

        It was many and many a year ago
        they sailed across the moon,
        splashing over the pearl-white orb
        into the starry lagoon!
        In a beautiful boat of beechnut wood
        with a comet at the prow,
        they sailed away
        at the end of the day—
        the longest day of the year,
        the man in green and the maid with the moon-white brow.

        He brought her a ring with a diamond star,
        she gave him a kiss in return,
        and he built a boat of beech (as I said),
        with a comet at the stern.
        She waved goodbye, he said farewell,
        and they sailed across the moon,
        and ever since then,
        they never again—
        they never were seen again!
        But their comet may gleam from the depths of the starry lagoon.


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