I.

I’ve awed at the Atlantic’s bluest depths,
and peered at the Pacific’s deepest blues;
the warm blue summer waters of Key West,
and cold blue winter on the Charles, too.

I’ve watched the moon rise up above the Thames,
the stars upon a Minnesota lake;
I’ve seen the morning sun reflected in
the misty sweep of San Francisco Bay.

But nowhere in the world have I seen blue,
and nowhere have I seen the shimmering sky,
come close to matching what I’ve seen in you
when something lights a smile in those blue eyes.

As if an ocean hides beneath your face,
as if a heaven shines behind your gaze.

 

II.

Last year, we watched a million fireflies
at Grandma Bartlett’s farm, twinkling in the trees
as if reflecting all the billion stars
against the treetops rippling in the breeze.

My memory is dim, but in the dark
I think we reached to hold each other’s hand;
and in the moonlight, warmed each other’s heart;
and let out sighs across the glowing land.

That night, I saw my future in the swarms
of swirling lights: the dancing of those wraiths
revealed a thousand fears, a hundred harms,
and yet a hundred hopes, a thousand faiths;

and in the dance, I seemed to see your smile—
love of my life, and mother of my child.

 

III.

How can I write you anything, my love?
How can I write your smile in fourteen lines?
A hundred thousand lines are not enough,
much less to write the splendor of your mind.

How can I write the way I felt today,
when I awoke before the morning sun,
and in the bedside lamplight, there you lay,
smiling, watching me sleep, nursing our son?

How can I write the way your hair appeared,
red in the lamplight, fallen on the bed?
Or how your voice fell softly on my ears
like angels singing everything you said?

How can I write a sonnet true enough
for even one true moment of my love?

 

J. Simon Harris lives with his family in Raleigh, NC. He is a graduate researcher in Materials Science at NC State University. Much of his poetry, including his ongoing translation of Homer’s Iliad in dactylic hexameter and samples of his translation of Dante’s Inferno in terza rima, is available on his website (www.jsimonharris.com). His novel, Lemnos, is available now on Amazon Kindle.”

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19 Responses

  1. James Sale

    Love, love, love – love it! Fabulous poetry and great use of form. Anyone who has been in love – excepting narcissists of course – will feel the power of these sonnets.

    Reply
  2. Amy Foreman

    A beautiful, intimate glimpse into the purest and sweetest of human relationships! Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful sonnets, J. Simon!

    My only recommendation would be to change the second line of sonnet II from: “at Grandma Bartlett’s farm, twinkling in the trees” to something that keeps the syllabic count and meter more faithfully, such as “at Grandma’s farm, they twinkled in the trees,” . . . which would keep it straight iambic pentameter.

    But on the whole–these are delightful. Well done!

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Something similar has to be fixed in Sonnet I, where the last line of the first quatrain does not scan properly. “Charles” is a monosyllable, and this is the source of the problem.

      What is needed is a different river’s name with a disyllabic trochaic structure. This might be “Avon,” or “Jordan,” or “Dover.” I’d suggest a search of an atlas of the northern United States, to find a suitably cold river with a trochaic name. “Charles” doesn’t work at all.

      Reply
      • Amy Foreman

        Unless you are from the Midwest, and you say “CHAH-rulls.” Then it works perfectly! I guess half a lifetime in Missouri made me read it that way . . . and I didn’t even notice a scansion issue. But, of course, you are right.

      • J. Simon Harris

        Thank you for pointing that out, Mr. Salemi. Your criticism is entirely appropriate in your dialect. However, I’m from North Carolina and most of us here pronounce “Charles” with two syllables. Most importantly, my wife, to whom I wrote these sonnets, pronounces “Charles” with two syllables (CHAR-uhls). Part of the reason we southerners speak so slowly might be all the extra syllables we tack onto words (bet you’ve never heard “corn” as a two syllable word).

        There is another point which is important to me and my wife, although perhaps not to the general reader: I’ve actually been to the places mentioned in the poem. So selecting another river cannot be as arbitrary as searching through an atlas; I would have to choose a river that I’ve seen, and which means something to me. Again, the general reader may not care about this personal aspect of the poem, but I do.

    • J. Simon Harris

      Thank you, Amy. I’m glad you liked the sonnets. And thank you for your suggestion. Your criticism is not unwarranted, but unfortunately your suggested solution (although it sounds nice) has six iambic feet, whereas the lines of a sonnet need five iambic feet (pentameter).

      I’m aware that my line is not technically in iambic pentameter. I tend to follow an informal rule: if the thing that breaks the meter could have been abbreviated to fit the meter in Shakespeare’s day, then I still allow it in my poetry without the abbreviation. Hence, “in the trees” could be abbreviated to “i’ th’ trees”, so I allow it as a metrical variation. Not everyone will agree with this approach, but there you have it. Beyond that, I sometimes allow metrical variation if it sounds nice or has a particular purpose. But YMMV, as they say on the internet.

      Reply
      • Amy Foreman

        Actually, I believe your original line: ““at GRANDma BARTlett’s FARM, TWINKling IN the TREES,” has six stressed syllables, which makes it deviate from the iambic pentameter found in the suggested substitute: “at GRANDma’s FARM, they TWINKled IN the TREES.” But perhaps I am missing something or reading it incorrectly . . . 🙂

      • J. Simon Harris

        Amy, you are right! Your version is in iambic pentameter. Somehow my brain inserted “Bartlett’s” back into your version… oops. My mistake, thanks for pointing that out, and thanks again for your suggestion!

  3. Michael Dashiell

    Your sonnets are some of the purest, reaching for the stars type poems I’ve ever read. Indeed, you’re a romantic poet.

    Reply
  4. Mark Stone

    Mr. Harris,

    In the first poem, I am troubled by the “as if… as if,” since it’s not clear to me what is being referred to.

    In the second poem, the claim of a dim memory in the second stanza seems inconsistent with the very detailed memories set forth in the third stanza. Also, I’m uncomfortable with the line “I seemed to see your smile,” because, if she’s that lovely (and it sounds like she is), then I think he would clearly remember her smile.

    In the third poem, when I read lines 9 & 10, I pictured a red, fake hairpiece falling off of her head and onto the bed. Or did the lamplight fall onto the bed? It’s not clear.

    Notwithstanding these minor points, the poems are exquisite; the meter is strong and the imagery is captivating. Well done!

    Reply
    • J. Simon Harris

      Mr. Stone,

      Thank you for your kind words and detailed criticisms. Your point about the “dim memory” being inconsistently followed by “detailed memories” brought a smile to my face; perhaps you are right about that. I do want to respond to two of your criticisms however, and hopefully clear up your concerns.

      The line “and in the dance, I seemed to see your smile” refers back to this line: “That night, I saw my future in the swarms / of swirling lights.” The word “seemed” does not indicate that the speaker doesn’t clearly remember the woman’s smile; it indicates that the speaker is actually watching a bunch of fireflies while visualizing his future with her, and her smile is a part of that vision. Dante repeatedly uses the word “seemed” (Ital. “parere”) in the same sense in his Vita Nuova. And you are right: a smile so lovely is impossible to forget.

      As for lines 9 and 10 in the third poem: my wife’s hair is long and strawberry blonde. The warm-colored light of our bedside lamp accentuates the natural red in her hair; and because it is long, it indeed is “fallen” on the bed when she is laying down (fallen, but still attached to her head). Perhaps the line doesn’t adequately convey that image for you; but at least now you know what it is attempting to convey.

      I always appreciate your straightforward, matter-of-fact commentary. Thanks again.

      Reply
  5. David Watt

    These are tremendous love sonnets, written with evident feeling and skill. Apart from minor suggestions for change which have already been mentioned, my first thought on reading sonnet 1 concerned use of the words “I’ve awed”. To my ear these words, although the meaning is clear, don’t quite fit together.
    I raise as a possible solution:
    “I’m awed by the Atlantic’s bluest depths,
    and peer at the Pacific’s deepest blues;”

    These sonnets are a pleasure to read.

    Reply
    • J. Simon Harris

      Thank you, Mr. Watt, for your kind words and your suggestion. Respectfully, I prefer my version to yours, because your version breaks the symmetry between the first and second stanzas (the repetition of “I’ve” is important). Also, the past tense of the verbs is important for establishing that these are memories of things the speaker has seen, not things he is seeing now.

      Still, I appreciate that my use of the verb “awed” in the active voice is a bit unconventional. It would be possible to change the word, but then you would lose that feeling of breathlessness which comes with it (not to mention the alliteration with “Atlantic”). It all comes down to preference.

      Reply
  6. Beau Lecsi Werd

    1. Mr. Harris points out an important, obvious point; people pronounce words diff’rently; and therefore, don’t count syllables the same.

    2. It is int’resting to note how Japanese lexicographers bring English words into Japanese syllabic’lly; they are more likely to add extra syllables.

    3. I have had to deal with editors who miscount my syllables; I usu’lly make their changes, and then complain to other editors about them.

    4. In one of my early false starts (a 3+ year experiment), I wrote ev’rything phonetic’lly; it does give one an alternate perspective on one’s language.

    Reply
    • J. Simon Harris

      Thank you, Mr. Werd (an appropriate name… middle name sounds like “lexi-“, last name sounds like “word”). The same point applies to rhymes: a given pair of words might rhyme in one dialect and not in another. I saw a documentary about some linguists who suggested that some of the apparent slant rhymes in Shakespeare (e.g. prove/love) were actually perfect rhymes in the Elizabethan dialect of the time.

      Also, that’s a very interesting point about Japanese lexicographers; I’ve noticed the extra syllables from Japanese speakers of English, but I never knew why they spoke that way.

      Always a pleasure,
      J. Simon Harris

      Reply

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