Sonnet for a Cosmetic Company

Ah Youth! To whom each maiden plights her troth
To coax and woo each winsome charm to stay
‘Tis difficult to match your coat to cloth
So ill designed and irksome in its way.
Synthetic paints can never reproduce
The artistry of Nature’s first success –
And so we beg of you Titania’s juice
To smear upon those lids, the love to bless
(in blindness, dumb to absence of appeal)
Those hearts to whom our looks have been despair.
We thank you for your gifts both art and real
That, if not new, are passable repair.
Ah Youth! who conjures beauty in the plain
You must delight as science strives in vain.

Written 1965, rediscovered December 2017

Boy Soldier

Holland, September, 1944

He lay untouched, a boy, in a frightened street,
A place where once he’d cried and played and hopped
And laughed as children will. A crumpled heap
He lay, no possum play, his pulses stopped.
Too close, his brothers, friends, a childhood pal –
Who saw him fresh, take arms, then stand, to fight,
As once he’d learned to live, to add, to spell –
Now sad his steps to Death; unjust respite.
How young he’d seemed, how proud to take up arms
Defending homeland’s soil with loyal fire.
Now old in Death he was, now spoiled his charms,
He lies in shade, to fade, to never sire.
He knew a virile Death, his seed he gave
Defending Life with Life, but knew no grave.


Jan Darling is a New Zealander who has worked in Auckland, Wellington, London, Barcelona, New York and Sydney at copywriting and marketing strategy.  She has spent her leisure time over sixty years writing poetry and short stories. Now retired, she lives in pastoral New South Wales with her husband Arturo. 

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21 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    Both are excellent poems, Jan. “Boy Soldier” is so moving. The first line needs one less syllable to make it fit with the rest of the poem (ten syllables per line) . . . but other than that, it’s just really, really good. Thank so much for sharing these!

    • Jan Darling

      Thank you Amy, I tried to eject one syllable but in the end I gave in to “poetic licence” and hoped I could deceive you into thinking that “in a” was really only one syllable. I greatly value your comments. (It probably doesn’t surprise you that I have worked for two cosmetic companies.)

      • Murray Alfredson

        I agree with you there, Jan. Remember, rules of poetry-writing are not hard and fast laws. Metre is but a prediction of how a poem will go, of what the rhythm will do. So so a certain tension between predicted and actual makes for more interesting poetry. I have seen such extra syllables in Shakespear’s sonnets, that break the metre no matter how one tries to scan the line. And these days, at least from the early twentieth century, the sonnet form has been pushed around a lot by poets. What law says the lines have to be of 10 syllables? What says they must be Iambic: why not dactyls, for example? Ant what says that they must have five feet. ‘Feet’, it seems to me, does not really make sense as a concept in French and Italian poetry. I have seen Rilke write a sonnet with only three stressed syllables to each line, from memory, I think, among his Sonette an Orpheus. So do not worry about it.

        If you like, I could send an essay of mine that was published a few years ago in Ashvamegh, an Indian literary journal. Or I might see if it is OK to reprint it here. English poets have never followed metric ‘rules’ slavishly. I have cited examples from Chaucer to Browning. Indeed, Browning could be absolutely wild with his departures of rhythm from metre.

      • Jan Darling

        ….and somehow I fumbled the keyboard (distracted by my cat – distcatted perhaps?) and left my meagrely populated website instead of my pen
        -name. By marriage I am Buchanan-Medina.
        Apologies, Jan

  2. Murray Alfredson

    Why, I wonder do I encounter here poems with such a concentration of old-fashioned and artificially high-flown language, as though writing so-called ‘formal’ poetry required such diction? I once published an essay on archaism in modern poetry, an apologia for continued use archaic words and syntax? But that needs too be done with a purpose, used lightly and not so as to weigh a poem down.

    And I sspeak as one who has even used the word, ‘wanhope’ in a poem, becauseit seemed to me thestrongest to express utter despair.

    • Jan Darling

      Dear Murray
      Have you considered that the form itself (the medium is the message) is a reflection of the whole language and its history? Personally I greatly dislike dissonance and the rat-a-tat-tat of “poetry” that is widely regarded as reflective of modern times. The border between rap and some modern poetry barely exists. You probably encounter classical forms of writing here because this is a classical poetry website. You might have opened the wrong cyberdoor.

      • Murray Alfredson

        Thank you, Jan, for your comment. If it is still up on the site, my essay on archaisms in mmodern poetry was published in an e-zine out of New York City, ‘Umbrella’. I was under constraints of length and also a limitt to the later 20th century (which I stretched a little to include JRR Tolkien.) Many editors, critics and poets these days (possibly in the wake of the early 20th century Imagists) do not tolerat any of the older words and constructions, such as inverted syntax used by poets for different reasons such as metre, rhyme or even nuance. I do not agree with such knee-jerk responses. Nevertheless, too much so-called ‘archaism’ can grate on the sensibility of modern readers. Although I do use ‘archaic’ words and syntax, I think I do so sparingly and for special reasons. The English language has lost much of its former flexility and exactness, so I refuse to limit myself entirely within the bounds of curent usage, in the interets of conserving what virtues we have left in our language. I ended up writing that essay for Umbrella, because I had challenged the editor’s policy against all archaism.

        Of course, sometimes even highly respected dictionaries can get it wrong, such as the OED with the word ‘naught’ in its proper meaning, ‘nothing’. I have seen it used in this in 21st century journalism. So an error made by a late 19th century lexicographer was still enshrined in the current OED last time I looked.

        An example of a knee-jerk reaction by a fine poet and commentator is Geoff Page taking Matthew Arnold to task, or at saying we may forgive him his mixed syntax in ‘Dover beach’: ‘tremulous cadence slow’. Sure, it helped Arnold with his rhyme, and has a lovely sonorous rhythm within normal metrical variation used by poets in English, but there is noothing to forgive, even in my view, in a poet using such syntax.

        What I suggest, however, is we poets use such traditional tricks of poetic rhetoring sparingly. To do this too heavily gives our writing a ponderoius feel. Let our language have a fluent feel.

        What do you say, Jan?

      • Jan Darling

        Good grief Murray! I shall have to assemble my thoughts before I give you a proper reply. I am in the process of organising a move to another town and don’t want my answer to be glib. Allow me, kind sir, another 48 hours and I promise by then to offer you something. I congratulate you for not using Spellcheck but you do need to hone your proofreading skills.

      • Murray Alfredson

        I have just noticed, Jan, that you remarked as ‘mjustification’ that this is a site forpoems in forms that we call ‘classical’. I agree, and expect to find people publishing socalled ‘formal’ poetry here. (I do not like the word, ‘classical’ in this context; in Engish literature, we more prperly limit the term to Augustin and 18th century poetry).

        But it is a bit quaint that these days we feel we need such qualifiers to designate what once we sinly called ‘poetry’.

        My issue is not with poetry written in more or less traditional forms, though I would argue that the formal/free construct is more continuum than a par of sharply delimited opposoit poles. My issue is not merely with you or your particular poem, but a by no means universal phenomenon of poets writng ‘formal’ choosing to use old fashioned diction.

  3. David Watt

    Your sonnets reinforce the transience of Youth, and also the frailty of Life.
    I look forward to seeing more of your work.

    • Jan Darling

      Thank you David. The nature of transience is curious, it is itself transient yet has always existed. Hildegard of Bingham expressed one aspect of this concept most beautifully as “a feather on the breath of God”. As a child I used to put myself to sleep by trying to imagine eternity. Paradox is fascinating. I hope my future offerings will not disappoint you.

      • Jan Darling

        Don’t you hate it when you forget to check what your keyboard corrected for you? Bingen. Thank you – it tried the same trick again!

  4. James Sale

    I like these Jan and I love the fact that you rediscovered one – and one so good – from 1965! What a year! The Walker Brothers had made it to number one in the UK with Make It Easy on Yourself. Ah! All these immortal moments.

    • Jan Darling

      Yes indeed! A great year – imagine an Engel a Maus and a Leeds all ending up as Walkers who crashed through the charts. Nice cover pic on ‘Make it Easy on Yourself’- it captures the very essence of the time. Thanks for your acknowledgment, it’s rewarding to share.

    • Jan Darling

      Thanks Steve – I had in mind a particular occasion when the brother of a close friend was killed on a street in Holland during WW11. I wanted to write his grief.

  5. Jan Darling

    Message to Murray
    I have found time to read your scholarly essay on archaisms and rejoice that I am a much simpler soul than thee. But you caused me to re-read my sonnets and I can, hand on heart, aver that I write exactly as my heart feels and my vocabulary allows.
    I do not anguish over unnatural rhymes, when writing the sonnet form, I think in iambic pentameter and by the time my fingers reach for the keyboard the thought is already formed. Perhaps I am a little old-fashioned in my general use of the language (although I swear I can curse as well as anyone I know).
    For instance I am very fond of the subjunctive mood – it cannot be replaced. My Latin teacher also drummed into me that the verb ‘to be’ takes the same case after it as it does before. Both examples are Latin-inherited details of English grammar that my English teacher omitted to share with the class.
    But back to splendid writing. You have probably read James Sales’ ‘To Rhyme or not to Rhyme’. I found in him a kindred attitude.
    I thank you for your commentary and recommend the hugely amusing ‘Macro-Aggressions’ by Malcolm Paige and published by Trinacria.
    I do appreciate that one such as you can be bothered with less accomplished versers. I wonder if that verb exists?


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