Her Paper Champion
I am her paper champion,
her guardian of mists,
a failing knight, with errant sight,
a loser at the lists.
I, at her side on evening walks,
give what comfort I can.
I smile and strut with head erect,
pretending I’m a man.
Thus walks this one with her at night
her ever fearful pawn,
her cavalier in pageant gear,
her paper champion.
[written in the 1980s, certainly after 1984]
In form, the ballad stanza somewhat matches the pseudo-heroic theme and the softness (from the metrical variation of lines and the imperfect rhymes) seems to balance somewhat the self-criticism and the heroic desires. The internal rhyme of the third lines of the first and third stanzas (and sound similarity in the second stanza) seems to emphasize the self-mocking tone but also perhaps present some sense of light playfulness.
Alliteration and other sound play adds some musicality and in some cases seems to aid the sense (e.g., "ever fearful" has almost a shivering effect). The closing of the last stanza matching the end of the first line (and perhaps the rhyme of the first line of the third stanza with the third line of the first stanza) seems to add to the sense of closure.
Word play of "errant sight" both relative to "knight" and meaning wandering and implying erring seems light. The vocabulary is heavy with knightly associations ("champion", "guardian", "knight", "errant", "lists", "pawn", "cavalier", "pageant", "gear"), but the writing is not generally archaic otherwise. (The hoisting of "I" in the first line of the second stanza and "thus" and "this one" in the third stanza may be a bit archaic/formal.)
The sense matches my feelings,particularly at the time. Even now I am still a little inclined toward self-deprecation and I certainly am not strong nor courageous, yet I also still have some affection for the knightly ideal.
A Woman's Love Triumphant
See your wickedness reflected
on my shining silver surface;
every blow that you inflicted
I return as ten-fold love.
By my being you are beaten,
as mere light breaks through the darkness;
so my love, outshining by ten
fold your night declares the day.
Wake, poor fellow, from your sleeping.
See the day that Living offers.
Turn your feet from downward slipping.
Take my hand and walk the Way.
[Completed c. 9 January 1991]
This is an example of my over-idealizing of women (as well as the sense of "love conquers all"). Although this is less true of me now, some such tendency still exists and I do like the virtuously defiant tone.
The mainly trochaic meter and significant alliteration gives a forcefulness to the woman's rebuke/plea.
The rhyme scheme ("consonnantal feminine rhyme"?), aside from being somewhat challenging to implement, seems to have a stronger effect than true feminine rhyme might have had.
There is a minor word play with "Living" refering both to the true life of virtue and Eve (which has a Hebrew word play with life-giver and living).mainly trochaic meter, only rhyming first and third lines of each stanza
Looking for Mr. Right
This is not a sinister plot I plan,
I merely wish to find myself a man
who is kind and true and who finds me fair,
a man to love, a man who'll care.
He need not have a dextrous wit
or write me verse, though that would fit
my love of such quite well indeed,
but this, of course, is not a need.
I would see myself at his left, my love
would make firm vows most worthy of
his affection's strength and the lasting link
which makes a marriage more than ink.
I do not seek a sovereign's right,
and, though I'd dearly love a knight,
my virtue's truest cavalier--
a gentleman would be as dear.
I would have that man sinestrorsely twine
about my heart his loving vine--
though I've searched for years for that one, my own,
yet still I find I'm left alone.
[completed 12 February 1991]
With the word play on 'left' ("sinister") and 'right' ("dextrous"), this might be categorized as "Light Verse", but the woman's defense of her seeking "Mr. Right" also has significant romantic aspects in topic. My defense of women's motives in this work is also somewhat "knightly"/romantic.
The metrical pattern is a bit unusual in that the "left" stanzas alternate anapests and iambs in the first and third lines while the rest of the work uses iambs. This sets off the different stanzas and may also give something of an airy, longing feel to the "left" stanzas while the "right" stanzas may have a more argumentative tone with their pure iambic meter. The paired couplets and mainly iambic meter generally give a fitting argumentative feel.
The left/right play may lighten the tone, making it feel less defensive. The "right" stanzas also emphasize that "Mr. Right" is not the same as "Mr. Perfect". The ending is a bit sad (though the word play of "left alone" may add a wry smile), but it is also a statement of defense for seeking a good man, not wanting to be alone ("Mr. Wrong" might abondon her physically or emotionally).
My Amazon Queen
Should she then wear the tragic scar
of her struggle so bravely borne,
the very same heroic mark
the mythic Scythians had worn?
Would that flesh-medal be on par
with the brave heart it would adorn?
I think of this in midnight dark.
Should I tell her I love her still
(though nurturant on but one side),
that I see her as great and warm,
of pain and death unterrified,
one who could win all to her will,
or would she merely think I lied,
knowing how well I loved her form?
But why am I so terrified
of having her augment her breast?
Am I so proud as to demand
my love to be the only test
of both her happiness and pride?
Would I deny what might be best,
to keep my gold in my own hand?
Am I afraid her purity
would be defiled by artifice?
Or that her brave magnificence
would seem the less for doing this
to ease her fears? Do I fear she
might yet be hurt and lose that bliss
which warms so well my every sense?
Some comforter I am, my love,
when I add my own fears to yours.
Let's hope our fears thus shared will bring
us strength to face the if's and or's
and hope that I am worthy of
your trust I will not bar the doors
opening to any good thing.
[Completed 1 August 1991]
This was written from my imagining how I would feel if my hypothetical wife was considering cosmetic surgery after a radical mastectomy to treat cancer. The uncertainty expressed still resonates with me and I would wish to idealize my wife as great, heroic, pretty, compassionate, etc. I am also still inclined to analyze my potential motives.
The iambic tetrameter seems to fit the lightly argumentative tone. The unusual abcbabc rhyme scheme seems to fit the uncertainty while providing a soft sense of completion in each stanza as the final rhyme is the most separated. The somewhat lighter use of alliteration and sound play may give a more introspective feel.
"mythic Scythians" refers to the Amazons, who according to legend removed one breast to aid in archery.
My Love Is Far Away
I lie alone holding a book
for my love is far away.
The story brings a longing look
because he is not near.
This meager warmth I curl around
because he is not near.
A tear escapes without a sound
for my love is far away.
[Written 19 December 1992)
This was inspired by a postcard with Ruby Aranguis' Macarina Reading.
The formal simplicity of this work may help in its communication of a soft sadness and longing. The rhymes are separated (axax) and use softer vowel sounds, and the repeated lines form abba.
The content is simple: a woman is reading a book by herself because her love is absent, something in the story reminds her of him and that he is not there, the book is a small comfort that she needs because he is away, yet she cries lightly because he is not with her. Yet this short work, just six unique lines, seems to have a strong, authentic feel.
A Courtly Dream
Kneeling before my lady and my queen,
she stands prepared her noble hand to lift,
as if esteemed but as a slight sequin,
a hand more precious than whole gowns gold-leafed.
That hand of elegance she gently raises
and offers that fair hand for me to hold
past lips as shamed with guilt as carnal roses
to forehead's touch where it is meekly hailed.
No lips as harsh and cold and cruel as mine
would dare embrace a hand so fair and pure.
How could this darkness and that light commune
or shameful burning meet a martyr's pyre?
I hold within my own that gentle hand;
along my arm I feel its warmth descend,
a fearful gift for me to apprehend,
a love as beyond measure as the sand.
It might be feared that my heart would defile
this gesture of respect and fealty;
but I thank God that she has let me feel
her hand than no gold band of mine may tie.
[Completed 11 November 1993)
This was an attempt to use analysed rhyme (where lines end consonnant1-vowel1-consonnant2, consonnat3-vowel2-consonnant4, consonnat1-vowel2-consonnant2, consonnant3-vowel1-consonnant4). Besides being somewhat challenging to use (which does encourage interesting associations), analysed rhyme also hides the rhyme giving a softer feel.
While there is significant sound play (e.g., "whole gowns gold-leafed" has near rhyme of "whole" and "gold", alliteration of "gowns" and "gold", "l" and "d" sound play between "gold" and "leafed"; "hand of elegance she gently" has similarity of sound in the end of the stressed syllables), it seems less intrusive or orvert than in some of my writings where it is more decorative or consistent/persistent in application.
The content is somewhat classically romantic: a man who sees himself as unworthy (in social standing and moral quality) ceremonial expresses respect kneeling and touching his forehead to his queen's hand, appreciates such as undeserved favor, and wishes for such not to be corrupted by his own heart-darkness. In some ways this presents a complementary view to that in "Love in Truth", where appreciated virtues in various woman are subservient to the love for the wife; here the virtues are excluded from direct intimate reception as (implicitly) above other women.
Love in Truth
As worldly beauty partially reflects
The loveliness of God to those who'd see,
So other women's beauty stirs in me
A love for you which burns away defects.
This love, so fine and fierce, firmly rejects
That falseness which would mar their chastity.
You are so fully lovable and free;
Your loving loveliness full faith expects.
Yet dangers of idolatry I fear,
Even of women worshiped in your name,
So comfort and correct me from such shame,
Yet do not let me hold you over-dear,
But point me higher, further as you run
To Paradise to meet the only Son.
[Completed 10 February 1994]
(On 26 April 1996, the title changed from "Of Women, the Woman, and the One" to "Love in Truth". The earlier title outlines the content, while the current title is more of a thematic statement.)
This sonnet seems intermediate between Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets. abbaabba is used in the first lines and a break in content is placed after these eight lines (like a Petrarchan sonnet) but the coupled at the end of cddcee also has a concluding thought (like a Shakespearean sonnet). The alliteration seems to express some intensity, particularly in lines five through eight.
The content presents an analogy of creation's beauty directing to God's beauty with the beauty of women generally directing to the loveliness of the wife. The analogous dangers of desiring marital benefits in various woman (analogous to worshiping creatures themselves) and of having the beauty of other women distract from the true beauty of the wife (comparable to seeking to worship God with idols, going beyond a recognition of vague similarity and connection). The concern about loving the wife properly then comes full circle, that her great creaturely beauty should point to a higher beauty. ("higher further as you run" is a reference to the end of C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle.)
A Victorian Woman
So proud yet sad, alone, you read and learn.
You lie unteared upon your netted bed;
upheld by trees you rest your large-brained head
and pause to bear each page before you turn.
Withdrawn to read within the sheltered wood,
your woman's torso shadowed under leaves,
the sunlight on your legs quite undeceives:
though pendant, pensive, still one sees you good.
[Written 14 July 1994, c. 3:25am]
This is another work inspired by a postcard, one with Winslow Homer's Sunlight and Shadow, where a woman is lying on a hammock reading a book. Small punctuation changes were made: "bed./upheld by trees" was changed to "bed/upheld by trees;" (15 July 1994) and later (8 May 1996) to "bed;/upheld by trees".
"large brained" came from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "To George Sand: A Desire" (which fits the Victorian image). The second stanza contrasts the hiding of withdrawing, sheltered wood, and shadows with light revealing, halo-like, virtue even in lower extremities, despite inactivity (hanging passively and thinking).
A lady, though untitled and unnamed,
a mind, a heart, well-clothed in human form,
you sit beside the window, staid and warm —
while sunshine lights your page, leaves are inflamed!
Your eyes are drawn far from the autumn gold.
The sunlight dances on the leaves unseen
and grasps your robe of living copper green,
yet you are held more warm by what you hold.
[Completed 7 October 1994]
Yet another postcard-inspired work; the postcard pictured Yamashita Shintaro's Woman Reading.
The Sleeping Beauty
When the fabled fairest maid
in the mist-filled forest strayed,
she found the sheltered hollows
and she chose their restful shade.
Embowered by the willows,
she bled from a thorny rose.
In the mead-sweet smell she laid,
and its magic made eyes close.
So the sleeping princess paid
for the peace sought in that glade.
She found rest from her sorrows,
but the rose her hopes betrayed.
A prince entered the hollows.
He tried their fearful shadows,
and his caring woke the maid —
by kiss he slayed her sorrows.
[Completed 12 November 1994]
This was an attempt to approximate a celtic form of poetry (englyn cyrch) which uses seven syllable lines with aaba end rhyme and an internal b rhyme in the last line and alternates the b and a rhymes between stanzas (e.g., the second stanza is bbab). (The internal rhyme in the second stanza comes too late for englyn cyrch and the alternating of stressed and unstressed rhyme syllables is not used.) Significant alliteration is used albeit less than in celtic poetry. The origin of the form seems fitting for the subject and the lack of strict accetual-syllabic feet and rhyme-linked continuing stanzas seems to fit a less formal narrative feel of a fairy tale.
The simple condensed story is a variation, rather than a malicious curse, the sleep is an accidental consequence of seeking peace by flight.
Reading Sonnets after Loss
The promises he made now seem so cold.
I seek an image of his love in words
we shared in our first spring — the morning birds
sang with our hearts of love. Now mourning's old,
and tears no longer fall. The autumn's gold
with beauty, loss, and chill breaks me in thirds.
Our poet's songs, like madly driven herds,
stir passion, fear and awe — his words still hold.
And yet I tremble in my waking breath
and flee the darkness formed of death and hell;
dried flowers help me seek the birth of Seth
in what his words and these shared sonnets tell.
I doubt and hope: Is love as strong as death?
And oaths of love, do they retrieve as well?
[Completed 2 March 1996]
The last of the postcard writings, this was based on Marie Spartali Stillman's Love Sonnets. (Small punctuation changes were made 26 May 1996: "death and helll." to "death and hell;" and "sonnets tell;" to "sonnets tell.") The title refers to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese ("love as strong as death .. retrieve as well" references the last line of Sonnet 27: "That Love, as strong as Death, retrieves as well.")
I like the word play of "morning" with "mourning" and "fall" with "autumn"; they seem to help emphasize the contrast of the vibrancy and freshness of love in spring with the pain and pleasure of remembrance in autumn. Despite the assurance that his love is an immutable fact, she wakes alone and frightened in the dark and needs a reassurance of hope (a birth of the child of hope, Seth).
Echoes of Moonlight
The bright wings of the swans were spread wide as they beat;
through the air they arose from the glass of the lake,
but the ripples they stirred still reflected the moon.
So I wondered through tears what was left in their wake.
Did my heart bring its fears with the noise of my feet,
and so shatter the light of the moon? Did I break
the true beauty of love by my speaking too soon?
I will listen and wait for the light from the lake.
[Completed about 7 April 1996]
This was an entirely imagined scene where a man walks by a lake at night, afraid that he had broken a possible relationship by "speaking too soon". The swans, images of faithful love, were frightened away by his footfalls and he sees a possible analogy where the breaking of the moon-reflecting mirror was not complete or necessarily permanent. He concludes that me must make up from his mistake of hasty speech with patient listening.
The idea came from the title which seemed a good title for a chapbook of romantic verse. The rippling of the lake water is a natural analogy to sound echoes, which quickly drew in the cause of the rippling (birds flying off having been startled).
The anapestic meter fits the first two lines particularly well, but it also seems to work well in the rest of the work. The enjambment of "did I break/the true beauty" fits nicely (I think I picked up this trick from Larry Hammer's "Remember Me?": "Do not tell each other what they know, rather part/Ways, leaving me in startled confusion."); the repeating of "moon" (one of the end-rhymes) at the line-internal phrase end may emphasize the break. The abcbabcb also seems to work somewhat well; the lack of rhyme in the first three lines seems to give a more narrative feel, where the first rhyme brings a sense of breaking from narrative to interpretation. There is a rapid anxious questioning (the meter seems to help the pace); "wake" and "break" are relatively quickly rhymed. The soft (in both sound and separation) of the rhyming of "soon" and the end-of-line "moon" may provide a penultimate easing of the tension (here the internal "moon" rhyme might play a part), while the final rhyme presents a formal resolution as the content reaches a resolution.
A Date Long Remembered
Waiting for my prince, I slide
with sighs through telling photos pulled
from time and times. Pearls and skies
are perched upon exalted cheeks,
exalted cheeks —
"Marie" — glassed time tells less truth
than a single touch of his breath.
Alone at our table, face to face,
cheeks high as telephone poles,
wires depending, a broadened smile.
Our private lines pass, mouth to ear,
mouth to ear.
No kiss could seal our hearts
or bind our minds as electric words.
[Completed October 2019]
This was an attempt to demonstrate that, contrary to Gregory Orr's comment in A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry("For my part, imagining that someone's cheeks are telephone poles disturbs or confuses me far more than it could ever delight me.", Chapter 11: Imaging), a peculiar image could be useful even if it use required greater care and skill: "Generalizing, it seems a difficult metaphor may be made more sensible by first softening the soil with setting and prefiguring, then implanting the seed with a clearer manifestation, and finally showing growth of attached meaning. (Intentional confusion is another possibility. This is lightly present in ecstatic love, but fracturing of rational sense may come from stress, psychosis, or inebriation. Statements might be intentionally cryptic (hiding information from others or self); introduction of a key may reveal meaning and possibly even hidden coherence. Likewise, images may be intentionally disturbing, revealing an internal or external pathology.)" (from my email to Gregory Orr).
While I thought from my own reading of the work that it had largely succeeded, others with whom I shared it did state that the image was very jarring even if the "poem is technically well executed". Even later minor edits (initially changing "his cheeks are telephone poles" to "his cheeks like telephone poles" then finally to "cheeks high as telephone poles", changing "drooping" to "depending") do not seem to have solved the problem. The preparation from her sighing over his high cheeks (and his eyes perched on his high cheeks like birds on a telephone pole or "pearls" imaging the white electrical insulation and the skies being the blue sky one sees looking up the pole) and the later extending of the image to his smile and the communication that bound their hearts was not enough to rescue the image.
I am still somewhat proud of the writing, even if it doesn't work well and does not accomplish what was intended. The unusual (for me) use of free verse (even if approaching accentual meter and having significant stanza regularity as well as having more sound play than seems usual in free verse) seems to give an airy feel appropriate for a deeply enfatuated woman. It include modern (sliding through photographs on a mobile phone and the wired telephone images) as well as traditional ("prince", "pearls and skies") images in a way that seems natural. The sentiment is very much typical for me; physical attractiveness and even physical expressions of affection, as wonderful as they may be, are less powerful, less beautiful, less true than words and the inward reality they express. "glassed time" seems like a nice image for sentimentally significant photographs on a smart phone. (The minor word play in the title, with "date" meaning either the social event or the position on a calendar, is also somewhat typical for me.)
The first stanza begins with the woman dreamily admiring how handsome her prince is but transitions abruptly when he speaks her name waking her to a reality that is better than her dreams. The second stanza begins with the couple calmly seated together, her still admiring his handsomeness but enjoying their conversation, with the break being less abrupt. Where the first stanza's break shows love as greater than romantic fantasies, the second stanza's break affirms that even passionate physical expressions are weak compared to true love.
The word/image play with "private lines" (private words or unshared telephone connections) and "electric words" seems pleasant, particularly as the woman transitions from looking at her handsome prince, seeing his affection for/enjoyment of her in his smile, and finally loving their intimate conversation. The chance association of telephone wires with his smile brought much of the content of the second stanza (mouth naturally linking to the intimacy of a kiss and to communication with the latter mapping well to a telephone).
While this attempt to rescue a peculiar image brought out significant poetic aspects and was probably good for me as an exercise (and it did get me to actually work on writing verse), I think modern images fit my sentiments less well than fanciful or archaic images.