“How do my knees”

How do my knees not buckle, as they wish,
To pray the heavens for your swift return?
With your absence “are all my joys at once,”
As in your presence I was ever glad.

I wrote this bit of verse several years ago. At the time I thought of it as a fragment, and intended to expand it eventually, but it’s complete enough in itself that I couldn’t even think of where I might begin to try to add on to it. In all this, it’s quite similar to my other brief poem “Be thou with me”.

After the discussion i the comments below, I substantially revised this, and posted the revised version a week later.


5 thoughts on ““How do my knees”

    • I’ll readily admit that the line, as it stands, can’t possibly be optimal—but even after all this time I don’t see any revision that serves the meaning better without further breaking the meter. “[A]ll my joys at once” is a quotation from a song by John Dowland; in that context “gone” is the verb (“Dear, when I am from thee gone / Gone are all my joys at once”), but here I think I was aiming for a similarly parallel implied “absent.”

      While this is almost certainly merely resonance with the emotions from which the lines originally sprang, the end (and in fact, really, the whole thing) evokes for me more a feeling of quiet resignation than the sort of extravagant emotion that an exclamation point might indicate. (Like my probably-later poem “Nunc dimittis”, among other examples.)


      • I understand about the exclamation mark, Jonathan – you’re right.
        About my other comment, I must say that as that line stands you’re sacrificing meaning to metre. Please remember that I normally back down with you, because you know what you are doing, but in this instance I have to maintain my point of view. Either change it or you will leave your readers puzzled and dissatisfied.
        In His love,


        • You’re entirely right that the third line is, as it stands above, quite unclear, and that it ought to be revised. I I’d reread the poem closely enough to notice this (or the fact that the meter stumbles significantly there), I wouldn’t have posted it yet. My earlier comment wasn’t a denial of your critique, nor an affirmative choice of this form of the poem over any revision, but rather a resigned statement that I didn’t (at that point) see any possible recasting of the lines that would satisfy both of the two constraints, viz., 1. making clear sense and 2. fitting the blank-verse form the other lines have established. (Constraints, like in a logic puzzle, rather than priorities that can be “sacrificed” or played off each other.)

          But after shutting my computer down for the night, I finally thought of an iambic hexameter line that serves much better there, and found it fairly straightforward to rework the whole poem into that meter. (I still don’t have any ideas for expanding it, but that isn’t absolutely essential.) Since I’m running out of already-written poems to post here, I’ll post that revised version as this Friday’s poem, and change the accompanying text on this post above to point to the revised version.


          • All I can say is, that as usual, you have taught me something valuable. I’m trying to read formal poetry (currently, Francis Thompson), and having you discuss your work in this way (e.g., your preference for “constraints” over “sacrificed [to]”) is helpful.


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