John of the Mountains

To him we owe a mammoth debt, our grateful thanks and praise,
For the lasting conservation trails with foresight he did blaze.
A “voice calling in the wilderness,” like John the Baptist, he
Preached love of God’s Creation – mountain, waterfall, and tree.

When first he saw Yosemite, the sight inspired awe
In his transcendental spirit – to see such beauty raw!
He scrambled down its jagged cliffs and jumped from “flower to flower,”
He noted in his journal, as he felt the valley’s power.

He gazed at all the waterfalls and hiked Cathedral Peak;
He “whooped and howled” at vistas, making climbs not for the meek.
Scientific observations he oft’ made of plants and trees,
And posited that glaciers formed Yosemite’s valleys.

Along a creek, he built himself a cabin, so designed
That through one corner, water flowed – the sound helped him unwind.
He fed his soul with reading books by Emerson and Thoreau –
Their words he’d ponder ‘neath the stars and feel his purpose grow.

A steady fixture in the valley John Muir soon became –
Both scientists and artists sought this man of wide acclaim,
Who fought to save the Redwoods and the lakes and meadows, too,
From industrial development and the waste that would ensue.

He also sought to put an end to damage caused by sheep,
Calling them “hoofed locusts” for their grassland trail marks deep.
Of the newly-formed Sierra Club as president he did serve;
Our first national forests they worked hard to preserve.

His most important camping trip in ’03 he did take
With President Teddy Roosevelt, where his great plea he did make
To declare the Yosemite Valley our second national park –
Without federal protection, its future would be stark.

They talked late into the night, ‘neath the stars at Glacier Point,
And to his joy, Muir’s blesséd plan the president did anoint;
Other parks Muir later urged – the Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier,
Sequoia, General Sherman, Glacier Bay – all he held dear.

Eventually, he married, had two daughters, settled down,
But he’d start to feel quite anxious if he spent too long in town.
So, he’d oft’ return to nature – ‘mongst the trees, he’d find his rest;
There, he’d pray, renew his soul, and fulfill his spiritual quest.

An archetypal free spirit, Muir lived life as he desired;
A dreamer and an activist, his words many inspired.
He taught respect for nature and for life in all its forms –
That message still resounds as it teaches and transforms.

He saw God’s work in Nature – called it sacred and divine;
Like the psalmist of the Bible, he described it line by line.
Like a fiery-eyed convert, his wild gospel he proclaimed –
And for his lifetime’s work, “nature’s saint” he has been named.


In Praise of Sonnets

For many years, the sonnet form was king;
To write in perfect meter earned acclaim.
In fourteen lines, true sonneteers would sing,
To share deep thoughts on life and love their aim.
In octaves and in sestets, they would rhyme,
Iambic patterns filling up the page.
For many, Petrarch’s style was sublime,
While others preferred Shakespeare as their gauge.
The sonnet’s “volta” offers up a turn,
A fork in thought, an argumental twist;
And though some critics now this form do spurn,
Supporters on its merits still insist.
Ah, for those days when sonnets ruled the heap –
For I, those metered measures, like to keep!


Tonya McQuade is an English teacher at Los Gatos High School in Los Gatos, CA, and lives with her husband in San Jose, CA. She has been writing poetry since fourth grade and is currently a member of Poetry Center San Jose. She has been published in’s America at the Millennium: The Best Poems and Poets of the 20th Century, Pushpen Press’s Three: An Anthology of Flash Non-Fiction, and California Teacher Association’s digital California Educator. 

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24 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    WOW, Tonya!!! I’m gonna comment on “John of the Mountains” before I even read your other one – out of the park, grand slam home run!!!

      • Tonya McQuade

        Thank you! So excited to see these up on the website this morning! 🙂

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    There’s a syllable lacking in line 7 of the sonnet. It spoils an otherwise commendable poem.

    I’d suggest the following as a fix:

    “For many persons, Petrarch was sublime…”

    • Tonya McQuade

      Thanks for the suggestion, but I’m not sure I see the problem in line 7 – at least to my way of speaking, both “persons” and “style” have two syllables. Do you hear just one syllable in “style”?

      • James A. Tweedie

        A word like “style” can sound (oh, my!)
        As if two syllables are what it’s got.
        But “smile while miles file by,”
        Pentameter iambic it is not.
        And so with “guile” and “wire” and “tire,” too,
        One syllable is all they have, not two.

        I’ve done the same thing myself, many times and it took me several re-reads to see what Mr. Salemi saw right away. I just jotted down this doggerel to help myself remember to remember this in the future. By the way, my father worked his way through college during the depression at Camp Curry (Yosemite) and my grandparents, parents and my wife and I honeymooned there. I still hike there every summer and am continually in awe of what John Muir accomplished on my/our behalf. Thank you for celebrating his life and legacy in your poem.

      • Tonya McQuade

        Good to know. Thanks for the explanation – and I’m glad my John Muir/Yosemite poem spoke to you! Yosemite is one of my favorite places to visit.

      • Monty

        One hears only one syllable in ‘style’; ‘cos there’s only one syllable to be heard. There was some healthy banter exchanged elsewhere on these pages last week . . when someone tried to claim (fruitlessly, it transpired) that ‘inspire’ contained three syllables.

    • Tonya McQuade

      Thanks! And I appreciate a scientist who embraces poetry and literature! 🙂

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        For me “style” is a monosyllable, but I’m from Noo Yawk. In other dialects it might be a different case.

    • C.B. Anderson

      It’s only a big deal if one wants to get the meter right. Any good dictionary will make the monosyllabic nature of these words quite clear.

      • David Paul Behrens

        C.B., I believe one of us has ESP or maybe we coincidentally had the same thought. Earlier today, before I discovered your above comment regarding using the dictionary to verify the syllable count of a given word, I was thinking the same thing.

  3. James A. Tweedie

    Re Monty, the confused poet you refer to was me! In my poem “Desolation” I counted the word “stumbling” as three syllables. I believe it was Mr. Salemi who caught me on that one, too. As you can see, I’ve “been there, done that” myself and personally consider it more of a formal, technical concern than an artistic one. Even so, I do what I can to get things right so as to avoid causing a distraction to readers who trip over them.

    • Monty

      I wasn’t referring to you, James; I didn’t even notice the metrical imbalance of ‘stumbling’ in ‘Desolation’ when I initially read it.
      I was referring to last week’s ‘Two Sonnets’ by Andrew Barker, in which he attempted to use ‘inspires’ as a 3-syllable word; following which, a healthy debate ensued in the accompanying Comments. In my opinion, that debate was resolved indubitably by Mr Anderson’s comment, in which he explained why and how ‘inspires’ can only ever be a 2-syllable word.

      Regarding the above poem and its accompanying comments: I feel that Mr Anderson has again given the final word on the matter. He explains quite simply that if one wants to commit the (in my view, criminal) act of using ‘style’ as a 2-syllable word . . they’re doing so only to fit a given meter. Of course he’s right, and this is exemplified in the fact that the above writer is asking the reader to pronounce ‘style’ as ‘sty-luh’ . . how perfectly ludicrous. One must assume that the same writer wouldn’t hesitate to ask the reader to pronounce ‘smile’ as ‘smy-luh’; or ‘file’ as ‘fy-luh’.

      I feel this to be such an obvious and blatant misuse of a word . . that I can only conclude (rightly or wrongly) that the writer is aware (even if only subliminally) that ‘style’ contains only 1-syllable; but attempted to extend it for metrical convenience. If poetry’s about discipline . . where’s the discipline in that?

  4. Beau Lecsi Werd

    There are differing points of view on syllabic measurement. In Ms. Quade’s “In Praise of Sonnets,” I think her use of style as two syllables is perfect as is.

    To follow up on Mr. Med’s comment, I find Mr. Barker’s use of inspire as three syllables acceptable as well. In ancient Greek poetry, the lengthening of a vowel in poetry was called ectasis, and the shortening of a vowel’s length was called systole.

    As for Mr. Tweedie’s use of stumbling as three syllables in his trochaic meters, I thought that was fine too. I think either is fine: stum-bling or stum-bәl-ing. In Mr. Med’s clipped British English, or even in Mr. Salemi’s Noo Yawk English, perhaps style can only have one syllable; but in my broad Western American English, it can have two (or one), depending on the context.

    For one modern example, to make an English word, Japanese, the syllabic count (not mora), can take a seemingly trisyllabic word, like MacDonald’s, and alter it, because of the thick consonant clusters in our language to macudonárudo.

    Still, despite the bulkiness of our language, compared to ancient Greek, Latin, and even modern day French, Spanish, and Japanese, English possesses so many other gifts: indeed abundant recompense.

    • Monty

      Mr Anderon’s assertion – both in this discourse and last week’s – was and is final.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Yes, I do believe that the mystery man is in error here. If one wants to exaggerate local dialect for metrical effect, there are ways to do it, e.g.: rhyming “pure” (PEW-er) with “sewer.” This works pretty well in light verse, but not so well in verse that is intended as serious.

  5. Esiad L Werecub

    I very much enjoyed Mr. Mantyk’s foray into food in the Odyssey. It is one of the many memorable aspects of Homer’s poem. It reminded me of my early morning ablutions in the late 1990s, plodding through the Iliad’s Greek hexametres.

    I am reminded, too, that syllabic concerns confronted Homer himself. Take, for example, the present infinitive ειμί “to be”; Homer employed five metrically different forms throughout his epics [as per Mark W. Edwards]. I think the most I ever do is two or three different metrical forms for the same word. I find, however, more recently, that I sometimes even place an accent mark on an unaccented syllable, in a desire to make the word more fluid—obviously not a concern with most of the writers here, even those close to the Mediterranean Sea.

    Homer himself demonstrated greater flexibility in metrical composition than many here could even countenance. Take the very first line of the Iliad. Its ending Πηληϊάδεω ‘Αχιληος, which is scanned by taking εω as one syllable (which in Greek it is not, as it is two separate long vowels, as in Beowulf). I personally prefer to err on the side of tradition and greater fluidity in language.

  6. Educable Wires

    Are we to study only English poetry?

    Is that what classical English writers did, like Chaucer, Spenser, Jonson, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Johnson, Byron, Tennyson, Eliot, et cetera?


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