Old Glory

It’s just another jobanother day
At work in dismal districts of this world.
She sorts out shapes and strips of cloth unfurled;
Enduring cruel hours for paltry pay.

And having fitly threaded her machine,
She swiftly stitches stars upon the field;
Then stripes, by color and specific yield;
So unaware of what the patterns mean.

To her, that crumpled emblem in her hand
Is one of many thousands sewn in grief.
While dreaming of true freedomsome relief
Her work drapes caskets serving that demand.

May conscience move those hearts among the free;
Who buy in spite of her lost liberty.

 

Recovering

My open eyes alone do not give sight
And though I tried, alas, I could not see
The faintest glow to love and comfort me;
For shrouds of pain forbade such precious light.

But just as dawn doth bring an end to night,
With brilliant rays from which all shadows flee,
So kindled by your love—oh, can it be—
That eyes once dim behold something so bright?

And now so lifted up my heart doth sing
As though alit atop Earth’s highest bluff.
A sweet refrain of gratitude I bring
For sharing of your light—and healing touch.
What can I give for my recovering?
All I possess could never be enough.

 

The Wayside

Once a little boy went out, upon a fair-weathered day,
And sat in the grass on the side of the road;
Not really wanting to play.
The grass smelled sweet, was neatly cut; the air was fresh and clean.
He liked to watch the cars go by—to ponder life—to dream.
He waved at people passing by, who also waved and smiled.
Young, content and happy—so blessèd was this child.

Once a fine young man went out, upon a windy day,
And sat in the grass on the side of the road
To think a bit and pray.
The grass had weeds, was poorly cut; the air was dry and sour.
He sat and watched the cars go by, and pondered the greed for power.
He waved at people passing by; few smiled and few waved back.
He wondered where humanity went—what threw it off its track.

Once an elderly man went out, upon a cloudy day,
And sat in the grass on the side of the road
And thought of his passing away.
The grass was dead, dry and frail; he coughed as he breathed the air.
He sat and watched the cars go by and wondered why no one cared.
He waved at people passing by until he grew tired and weak.
No one waved and no one smiled, but threw garbage at the “freak.”

He thought back to his boyhood days—to those cherished memories kept.
And he sat in dead grass on the side of the road
And prayed to the Lord as he wept.

 

Just Fold Your Paws And Rest

for Cowboy, our beloved Border Collie

Would you still have me dig beneath the snow?
As winter’s frost has made so cold a bed,
This time of year is no fine time to go.

While darkened skies bring chilling winds that blow
Through coats of fur and skin—of cloth and thread,
Would you still have me dig beneath the snow?

We’d hoped you could stay on and feel the glow
Of springtime’s warm, reviving sun instead.
This time of year is no fine time to go.

Please sleep and dream of better days.  We know
This bitter weather fills us all with dread.
Would you still have me dig beneath the snow?

You’ve loved and served us well.  Now take it slow;
Just fold your paws and rest your grizzled head.
This time of year is no fine time to go.

Will you still curl up, sigh, and leave us so;
Despite our pleading and the tears we’ll shed?
Would you still have me dig beneath the snow?
This time of year is no fine time to go.

 

Jeff is a lifelong poet with a particular affinity for writing formal verse.  He currently resides in rural Clark County, outside Battle Ground, Washington, USA, with his wife and a few lingering adult children.  Though his educational background is in English and Theology, Jeff currently directs the Technical Services department for a global architectural glass coatings manufacturer in Ridgefield, Washington.

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26 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    In “Old Glory” what the hell does “specific yield” mean? Or was this just a clumsy attempt to find a good rhyme?

    In “Recovering”, in line 8, the reader is forced (by the established iambic Meter) to pronounce “something” as “some-THING,” which is rather awkward.

    The meter in “The Wayside” is sketchy. I think the intention was iambic, but line 2 goes iamb/anapest/anapest/anapest. What gives here?

    The last poem is metrically much better, though in the last stanza, in the first line, after “so,” better a comma here than a semicolon. I understood very well the idea of this poem: I, too, once buried a dog in the dead of winter, and it was not easy digging through the frozen ground, to say nothing of the sadness of the occasion.

    Reply
    • Jeff Nicholson

      Thank you for your comments, Mr. Anderson. Your analysis is most valued and validated by the disciplined attention you give to your own work.

      In a manufacturing environment, “yield” is often used to account for output and may directly relate to a precise count. It is meant, here, not only to provide the rhyme, but also to convey the idea of an almost robotic or mechanized process–her attention only to the strict instruction of producing a specific pattern devoid of emotional attachment.

      With the word, “something,” I do not find myself tripping over stressing the second syllable. Although, I suppose that choice might be best accommodated by separating “some” and “thing” or choosing “a thing” instead. Or even “a _______” and select a word more specific and descriptive of the illumination source than “thing.”

      The meter employed in “The Wayside” was, at the time of its writing, nothing more than than the rhythm bouncing around in the mind of the sixteen-year-old boy who wrote it–with no particular regard for the rules of formal poetry. Over thirty years later, I still preferred to let it stand as it was written (although I am not at all against editing past work).

      Thank you for the tip on swapping the semicolon for the better-suited comma. I will openly admit that my correct application of punctuation (especially in poetry) needs much improvement.

      Finally, your empathetic sentiments are appreciated.

      Reply
  2. James A. Tweedie

    Last night I wrote a poem that contained several of the same rhythmic hiccups mentioned by C.B. After several attempts to fix the imperfections I decided to let them stand insofar as they best served the larger purpose of my poem. I see something similar at play in these fine poems. Could they be improved with a little more spit and polish? Of course, yet they are nonetheless successful just as they are. Each uses a classical poetic form to tell a story, convey emotion, and address subjects such as morality, justice, relationships, and love. I was particularly touched by the plaintiveness captured in the closing villanelle. I believe I have discovered a soul-mate in both vision and style. I look forward to reading more of Mr. White’s poetry in the future.

    Reply
    • Jeff Nicholson

      Thank you also for you comments, Mr. Tweedie. I am a believer in continuous improvement in all things, but can also appreciate your consideration of “the larger purpose” of your poems.

      For me, the greatest importance lies in the poem’s ability to effectively communicate to, and be understood by, its intended audiences. The rhyme and meter of formal verse should support that experience. If it is horrendously defective, or otherwise detracts from that goal, much work needs to be done.

      A “little more spit and polish” is always good for me and I appreciate all of the collective experience and advice of fellow poets like you and the others featured here.

      I would be glad to read the poem you wrote last night and I have enjoyed the other pieces of your work selected for our reading.

      In closing, I believe “Mr. White” is the fine artist of the painting chosen for “Old Glory.” My name is Nicholson. I do hope to share more of my work from time to time if it is selected for publication on the site.

      Reply
  3. Wilbur Dee Case

    Words Written Before Mr. Nicholson’s Reply

    1. To answer Mr. Anderson, as abruptly as he critiqued Mr. Nicholson: A “specific yield” is a “particularly achieved result”. Duh. If he doesn’t like it, fix it, and make it better.

    2. Though less expansive, striving perhaps after a deeper feeling, and in a different form, Mr. Nicholson’s “Old Glory” reminds me of Longfellow’s “The Ropewalk”. In the background I sense Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner”.

    3. Mr. Anderson gives the clue to his second complaint: separate something to some thing. It’s that easy—if it’s a big deal.

    4. Mr. Anderson is correct that the meter of “The Wayside” is all over the place; but one doesn’t have to keep one single kind of meter (Just don’t claim it is one single meter when it isn’t, as some writers @ SCP do). The second line in each stanza is purposefully the same, as Mr. Anderson has pointed out: an iamb followed by three anapests. It is the poem’s restrained refrain. In truth, it seems the anapest is the longed for plateau of the poem, uncaged only in its final two lines.

    5. I concur with Mr. Anderson’s preference for a comma at the end of Mr. Nicholson’s poignant villanelle at L16; but it may not be what Mr. Nicholson desires.

    6. This morning, while reading excerpts of Lucretius’ “De rerum natura”, I noted that Lucretius’ verse is at times rough, he doesn’t have the Vergilian feeling for word placement, some of his elisions are rather awkward, and there is a certain monotony of structure, yet the poem has a power lacking in all the poems @ SCP. To harp on one of my constant themes: if we are serious, we English poets really have our work cut out for us.

    Words Written After Mr. Nicholson’s Reply

    7. Considering “The Wayside”, I can truly appreciate it better with your note. When I was eighteen, I used to go out on the bridges over the I-5 freeway in Seattle, and I would stare for hours at the constant, passing vehicles; but where you saw a happy commerce between driver and observer, I saw a great, motorized, industrial power on the move, and my youthful visions were entirely hard, futuristic, and unfriendly. My writing in those years was in the main free verse. You are correct to save that pattern—and then play with it poetically afterwards, or keep it exactly as is—because there is a purity and an honesty in a yield from that openness that is missing in a regularized meter with a specific rhyme scheme.

    8. As poets, we all take stands. My fight right now is with the sonnet and the iambic pentametre; and as such, it takes some effort to sonnetize my mind and see how fine a sonnet “Old Glory” is; but that is the sought-for flavour @ SCP, even when Shakespeare and Milton are missing from the equation. In light of that, it is attempts, like Mr. Sale’s “Cantos” and Mr. Salemi’s “Ethopaths”, even if I don’t appreciate them enough to satisfy their authors, that at least strive for a larger vision.

    Reply
    • Jeff Nicholson

      Thank you, Mr. Case, for your thoughtful analysis and comments. I have particularly enjoyed your remarks on the works of others I have read on this site and consider it all worthy of every poet’s attention.

      Your experience in Seattle sounds more like the subject’s experience as an elderly man in “The Wayside.” I have lived most of my years in more rural locations. Even there, I began to notice a sea change in social behavior–a gradual decline in friendliness, courtesy and overall neighborly affection between people–and with that, a growing depression.

      I particularly appreciate your comment about “purity and an honesty.” I truly have a profound fondness for formal poetry. My first memories of exposure to the written word are largely composed of times when my mother read formal poetry to me. I can remember lines of poetry flitting in and out of my mind like songs throughout my days. When I was first capable of writing them down, I had no concept of forms, styles and rules whatsoever–except for the patterns of verse exemplified by those countless “tutors” whose works were read to me. Some of the poems that left lasting impressions on me were from virtually unknown artists whose work was by no means metrically perfect or composed with flawless rhyme–yet there was impact–and that is what mattered to me.

      Reply
  4. James Sale

    I have enjoyed Old Glory and think it a good poem whatever small blemishes may mar its perfection; but then I tend to think perfection the enemy of progress. This dilemma Dr Johnson wrestled with as he considered the smoothness of the verses of Pope versus the ruggedness of the metaphysical poets of the C17th. There are wonderful things in Pope but I still prefer to read Herbert and Donne. But on a side issue, please do not think in any way, Wilbur, that I am dissatisfied with your appreciation of my poetry. On the contrary, that you mention me at all is enough for me, and I always feel that you are not biased or partisan but attempting to survey the poetry from the widest possible angle. That is a good thing even if I may reach different conclusions from you on various occasions. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Jeff Nicholson

      Mr. Sale, I am pleased you enjoyed the poem and I also appreciate your comments. I agree with your point about perfection–though I see how many argue over just what “perfection” is. I tend to look for (and desire to produce) a kind of literary “symbiosis” between the rules and relationship–the form and the meaning. To me, it seems as though perfection is then more of a personal matter of preference and impact.

      Reply
      • Jeff Nicholson

        I did enjoy your article on Scylla and Charybdis, thank you. I believe your present-day applications of the myth’s intent are spot on. If I understood correctly, one such application, specific to the points often covered in the comments at SCP, might be as follows:

        1. Scylla represents an unrelentingly legalistic insistence for perfection in form, diction and every rule applicable to the craft. At this extreme, the heads are ever-watchful for prey within reach and the teeth are sharp and merciless. Individuals too close and caught unaware are devoured in gory disregard for any semblance of substance or beauty.

        2. Charybdis represents the insatiable maw of reckless abandon—unrestrained, stripped and utterly bereft of structure. At this extreme, the vortex vehemently reviles form and so violently churns and erupts it often defies itself with indiscriminate destruction—here nothing is spared and the entirety of all that may be called “art” in any respect (perfect, good, bad, disgusting or otherwise) is swallowed and lost.

        Thus, the critical importance of seeking balance! But for me, as was for Odysseus, I prefer to sail a bit closer to Scylla and take my chances with the teeth.

  5. James A. Tweedie

    Jeff, I apologize for typing the artist’s name in place of your own. Happy New Year to you!

    Reply
    • Jeff Nicholson

      No harm done, Mr. Tweedie. I hesitated to even mention it and I, too, have found myself mistaking the name of the featured painting artist for the poet’s. A very Happy New Year to you as well!

      Reply
  6. C.B. Anderson

    All,

    Mea maxima culpa. Yes, I am a fool for regular meter, with its acceptable variations and substitutions. We are not writing the New Psalms of David here. Rather we are imitating and, optimistically, advancing the traditions of English poetry. My model for this sort of project is Richard Wilbur. Any of you who have not read his Collected Works should do so, and I think you will find that he has accomplished every poetic ideal you have ever dreamed of impeccably. Although I am surely guilty of being a stickler for regularity and order, I am not sorry about that. The idea, to paraphrase Joseph Salemi, is not to say something good, but to say something, whatever it might be, well. And I think that orderly meter, precise diction & good grammar serve to advance this purpose. All else is dross.

    Reply
    • Jeff Nicholson

      Very good, Mr. Anderson. I both appreciate and admire Wilbur’s work. He is a fine example of one holding firm to the higher standards (as he believed them to be) of form against the rising tide of anti-formalism. I know he faced some harsh criticism for his steadfastness and for his refusal to conform to those (strangely enough) priding themselves as non-conformists. I understand those who sought to imitate him suffered persecutions that also reverberated back at him. I think, even more than his superb poetry, I admire most his apparent honesty and determination to remain true to his convictions.

      That said, I certainly also admire your determination to remain true to your convictions as well. We all need those who will hold us accountable and will call out that which is, at best, substandard or, at worst, intolerable. How else will iron sharpen iron? God forbid every piece passed off as “poetry” is celebrated in some kind of “everyone deserves a trophy” utopia–nothing will destroy true excellence more readily than that!

      Reply
  7. James Sale

    Thanks for this CB. I have read some Richard Wilbur and enjoyed it; but I obviously now need to acquire his Collected Works and take a deeper dip.

    Reply
  8. Shari Jo LeKane

    Dear Mr. Jeff Nicholson,

    I empathize with your sentiments conveyed in Old Glory, Recovering, The Wayside, and Just Fold Your Paws and Rest. This poetry has truly touched my heart.

    Reply
    • Jeff Nicholson

      I am grateful for your appreciation, Ms. LeKane, and I thank you for your kind comments.

      Reply
  9. Wilbur Dee Case

    1. I was washed in the brutality of existence early. My father left for the Korean War right after my birth. But I was also bathed in the luxury of America.

    2. I spent some of those earliest years in Portland, OR, and lived in Vancouver, WA, when I was first married. Though Battleground and Ridgefield may be rural, Mr. Nicholson lives and works close to a growing urban area.

    3. Indulging in depression, like Coleridge in “Dejection: an Ode”, no longer appeals to me. No matter how hard the circumstances, I feel the need to move on (cf. Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy”).

    4. In S1 of “The Wayside”, L4-L6 are in the ballad form, the regularized line I have come to at this point in my life. But what also interests me are the natural anapests, which late Romantics, like Byron, Key, and S. C. Moore regularized.

    5. The assonance of ō fits the topic of “Just Fold Your Paws and Rest”. That is what I used on my sonnet written immediately after 9-11, and which Poe used in “The Raven”.

    6. I do like that Mr. Anderson is picky about meter; that is a good thing; though I wish he were a lot more picky with his poetic comrades.

    7. As to Mr. Anderson’s admonition that we are not writing the New Psalms of David, that makes no sense to me. Poet Esther Cameron once pointed out to me that I should be studying David’s Psalms constantly. While I would not go that far, I would go one step further: read them in Hebrew and study not only the depths of their meaning, but also their poetic elements, which do not include rhyme.

    8. In addition, as Mr. Anderson points out, we should be imitating traditional (I would say classical) works, but even more importantly, creating new realms. This is why failures, writers like Realist Whitman, and Modernists D. H. Lawrence, Pound, Williams, and Crane, though I dislike much of what they did, at least strove for new realms for English language poetry.

    9. One of the reasons I admire Postmodernist Richard Wilbur is he too was striving for new arenas; so much so he avoided writing sonnets. However, even though I have written poems on him and in response to works he has written, and even an essay on his poetry that he briefly critiqued, I would have liked him to have tried harder poetically (the same thing I criticize myself for diurnally). However, I certainly do not find his “The Death of a Toad” a masterpiece, as Mr. Burch does.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I certainly agree that “The Death of a Toad” was not Wilbur’s best poem. (And, yes, I have read Burch’s remarks about that.) My sentimental favorite is Wilbur’s “Blackberries for Amelia”. In that one he managed to entwine the most cosmic and the most earthly threads of human existence. But the probable bottom line is that he actually had a granddaughter named Amelia, whom he cared for at least as much as he cared for his exquisite verse.

      Just who are my poetic comrades whom I fail to take to task, and how have you linked me with them?

      I have had many profitable exchanges with Ester Cameron, and she was always very kind to me, in every way a new poet might wish. As you must know, she moved to Israel with The Deronda Review, in which she published two of my poems, but, sadly, I’ve lost contact and don’t know what’s become of her or that publication.

      Reply
  10. James Sale

    Hi Jeff – yes, your interpretation of my Scylla and Charybdis article is spot-on, and I guess all of us have a preference one way or the other. Indeed, as you point out, Odysseus himself was advised to steer just off centre himself, to err on the side of Scylla rather than Charybdis, since the consequences of the latter getting you were far worse than the former. Thanks.

    Reply
  11. Acwiles Berude

    Not to put too great a damper on Mr. Sale’s essay, but Odysseus was stuck between a rock and a hard place. There was only one choice for Odysseus—Scylla. It wasn’t a balance; it was one choice.

    Reply
    • James Sale

      Ha ha! Sadly, Acwiles, your point is false because there is always a choice, and that is the option to the choose the alternative, or indeed to choose not to act at all. Of course, if you had said, ‘it was the one right choice’, then you’d be right.

      Reply
      • Acwiles Berude

        In his Postmodernist balancing act, Mr. Sale is right.

  12. Martin Rizley

    I enjoyed all your poems, especially Recovering, which I found to be exceptionally beautiful. The opening two lines are perfectly constructed, in my opinion, and set the tone for what follows– a poignant expression of gratitude for sight restored. I noted the rhythmic issue that Mr. Anderson mentions in line 8 with the word “something.” Perhaps, you could make the beat more regularly by using “see” instead of “behold” revising the line thus: “That eyes once dim see something now so bright.” That rendering would bring the additional advantage of introducing a contrast between what “once” was and “now” is.

    Reply
    • Jeff Nicholson

      Thank you, kindly, Mr. Rizley. I have given some thought to the issue of the word “something” and agree that a correction is in order to restore the syllable stresses to their more natural places. Your idea of introducing “now” in contrast to “once” in L8 is worth considering–although I might then think the use of “now” in L9 is a bit awkward. Good things to think about and I appreciate your contributions.

      Reply
  13. James Sale

    Good news: my Collected Richard Wilbur arrived today via Amazon, and as I bought a second hand copy I am delighted to report that it is a withdrawn copy from Harris County Library, Houston, Texas, originally purchased by them for $27.95 – hardback, first edition too. Apparently, their insert sticker says, ‘There’s a Branch Near You’ – who could have guessed that Harris County Public Library was so close to Bournemouth, UK? But there you are – happy ending story and I look forward to reading this.

    Reply

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