Numbered Sonnet Opus 2 #3

Alas, my lady, what is happiness?
For music, dancing, wit, and jesting fade,
And even beauty pales as time grows less,
As do all mortal joys that God has made.
But weighty conversation with dear friends,
And peaceful silence, swaddling with its hush,
Because they seem to serve eternal ends,
Do not so quickly dim beneath Time’s brush.
Still, as the starlight fades as dawn draws nigh,
And tongues find subtler scents as hunger wanes,
Our souls were made to taste the joys on high,
For all that sense is dulled by sin’s black stains.
But even so, I cannot but protest:
Alas, my lady, what is happiness?

Back in high school, I began an (execrable) sonnet beginning with the line “Alas, my lady, what is happiness?” And apparently I finished it, but when I reorganized my (digital) poetry-related files sometime in college I thought, from my brief glance at it, that I hadn’t finished it, and so decided to thoroughly revise it, just so I could get one more piece out of my “unfinished projects” collection without completely discarding it.

About two years ago, I thought of a concept for a “reimagining” of the sonnet, completely changing everything about it except the form and the first line, and started into writing it. But my thoughts ran dry, and the poem lay essentially untouched (except for a slight revision that also added one line, that fall) until earlier this month, when browsing through my unfinished poems I happened on it and thought of how I could continue it. Getting that thought down turned fairly easily into finishing the poem.

I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.

Advertisements

“Carmel”

How long must we still dither, hedge our bets?
The fallen flames leap high, and burn so bright—
Despite our best attempts to douse the wood,
To soak the sacrifice, and drown the stone,
And frenzied prayers to gods who’d do our will,
Our self-inflicted wounds accomplished nothing.
The sign is clear: The Lord alone is God!
Why will we not repent, nor bend our knee
Before our Maker and our rightful King?

I’ve always found the Bible’s story of Elijah to be both a fascinating story and a fertile source of lessons applicable to the world today. (Which is, I suspect, part of why I’m so fond of Mendelssohn’s oratorio.) I began this poem back in 2016, when the first two lines flew into my head, but I didn’t get any farther until I took it up again earlier this month and finished it. And then it occurred to me that it would be a good fit to post in this, the first week of Lent.

As always, I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.

“Psalm 16”

Protect me, God, my chosen hiding place!
As I have said, you are my only good,
And all my joy is in your holy ones
Whose lives show forth your glory in the land—
But those who leave the truth for other gods
Shall surely always see their sorrows grow,
So I will make no offerings to them,
Nor shall I even speak their names aloud.

Lord, you in grace have given me a share
Within your kingdom and among your folk,
And even welcomed me within your house;
Your will and law securely hold my cause,
And you assigned a pleasant place to me.
I praise you, Lord, for showing me your way;
Even at night my heart repeats your words,
And while you always stand at my right hand,
Nothing can move me or shall make me fall.

Even my flesh is safe within your care;
You will not let me slip out from your hand
To fall into the silence of the grave,
Nor suffer rot to touch your Righteous One,
And so my heart and tongue rejoice with praise.
For you will show the road of life to me,
The path to meet you, where is utmost joy,
And grant me pleasure for uncounted days.

A Summer Day (Eduardo Leon Garrido)

This poem is the sixteenth in my series of verse paraphrases of the Psalms. I began this project in 2012, starting with the first Psalm, and have worked on one Psalm at a time; I began this poem soon after finishing my setting of Psalm 15, back in February, but didn’t finish it until earlier this month.

As always, I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.

“Psalm 15”

Sovereign Lord, our Lord, who may live with you?
And who will you allow within your house,
To come into your holy presence there
And stand before your glory and your face?

A person who has lived a blameless life
And never wandered from the righteous path,
Whose heart is full of truth and overflows
To speak no lie against his neighbor’s good,
Who holds those who love God in high esteem
But scorns the vile, who disregard God’s law,
With grave contempt born from his highest love,
Who makes no promise he will fail to keep,
Who seeks no profit in his neighbor’s pain
But gives and lends his money without cost,
Who judges justly and impartially,
Finding in favor of the innocent
And never looking at an offered bribe—

If anyone is righteous, he shall stand
And enter in God’s presence in his house,
Where nothing shall disturb his trusting rest.

The Anchorite by Teodor Axentowicz

This poem is the fifteenth in my series of verse paraphrases of the Psalms. I began this project in 2012, starting with the first Psalm, and have worked on one Psalm at a time; I began this poem soon after finishing my setting of Psalm 14, in November of last year, but didn’t finish it until earlier this month.

As always, I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. The Kindle edition of my book is on sale this weekend. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.

“Sublimation”

“Go, hang these just-washed sheets out on the line.
Though last night’s snowdrifts rise above your knees,
The creek out back is silent, frozen solid,
And underneath the morning’s brilliant blue
The lazy, bitter breeze will burn your cheek,
The sun shines bright, so ere the evening falls
These cloths, though sopping now, will be as dry
As Sinai’s sandy, scorching wilderness.”

In the same way, if God will smile on me
With the bright sunshine of his countenance,
Though I feel sin and failures weigh me down
Like leaden chains, or thick and soaking wool,
They’ll lift from me, and pass away like dew,
As light as down, and all shall work his praise.

March by Isaac Levitan
The opening phrases of this poem came to me last month when I suddenly found myself thinking about sublimation by which water and ice pass away on sunny days even in winter’s bitter cold, and also about the spiritual, psychological, or alchemical sense of the term. And I found the alternate voice I found for the first lines interesting, and was minded to continue. I finished the poem earlier this week.

As always, I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.

“Magi”

Inspired by a star, they traveled far
To kneel before the cradle of a king,
But then went home, and dropped out of the tale.
For once astrology was on the mark:
Not only Judah’s rightful king, but theirs,
Lay in the poverty of Bethlehem,
But did they later heed his gospel’s call?

As I was thinking about what to write to mark Epiphany this year, some lines popped into my mind. They weren’t quite right (to use them as they were would have meant switching to a different meter for the rest), but as I thought them through and revised them the stanza above nearly wrote itself.

Three Philosophers by Giorgione

As always, I earnestly welcome your questions, suggestions, or other comments about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments); get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing; or follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things). You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.