To Old Friends

Around the bonfire, we were brothers who sang
Of joys that are gone, and the flame turned to ash
And blew on the wind to where endless stars hang
In search of past embers that flicker and flash.

How strange is the feeling of mortal life’s dance
The wheel of all souls and of gratitude’s debt.
How friendship’s long ties can our own lives enhance
With meaning from travelers we once had met.

Yet far and beyond me, my friends have outrun.
Alone now I visit that circle of old
Where coals of my memory, lit by the sun
That fades like our dreams in the creeping of cold.

Yet maybe we’ll meet in the end, reignite;
Again we’ll be brothers and sing in delight.


To Eros

Through the love and desire, through the longing and granting
Came Eros, above, to us men to bestow
Gifts of grief and such suffering, yet so enchanting,
His will was that through these, great virtue we’ll know.

We are drawn to the gentle and soft, painted faces;
As mortals seek merriment, so are we led,
But alas we just find in our temporal paces
That joys cannot last when desire’s well fed.

Then instead within beauty awaken our senses
To wonders that spring with great splendors arrayed.
Yet these wonders the Winter’s bite also dispenses
Such that in desolation the flowers will fade.

Into wisdom we’re left, at companionless ends,
Though by wind we’re unshaken by love that has been;
We are solid and steady, and firm without bends
In the game of the ages, beyond normal men,

Toward a love that’s divine and beyond helpless plea
In a palace of splendor forever unfading.
O, Eros, I beg you, just let the blind see!
That beyond mortal flesh is a joy radiating.


Joshua Philipp is a journalist living in New York City and Vice President of the Society of Classical Poets.

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13 Responses

  1. James Sale

    Two lovely poems, and the first is especially wistful and memorable, as I am sure we can all connect with the sentiment – those times lost and gone, we hope not forever. And the second is powerful too: Eros, of course, is sometimes viewed as the oldest of the gods, and also the youngest; for by love all things came into being, and yet love is forever young and its eyes always retain that wonder that only the childlike possess. There is a marvellous irony in the poem as it begs Eros to let the blind see; for Eros himself seems often blind as the lover adores the beauty of his/her beloved and outsiders think, ‘What the heck?’ Fortunately, then, love is blind and in this darkness the beauty of the created cosmos is revealed.

    • Joshua Philipp

      Thanks James. And good to see you here.

      The Eros poem was a reflection on Plato’s Symposium and Dante’s La Vita Nuova. I was thinking about what they wrote on the concepts of divine love. The poem is my attempt to explore the four elements of worldly love, love of beauty, love of virtue, and love of the divine.

  2. Charles Southerland


    Please don’t take me wrong; I like the whole poem. There are a couple of small stumbles in the meter, but overall, It’s pretty darn good. However, the essence of the poem, (IMHO) is below.

    Through the love and desire, through the longing and granting
    We are drawn to the gentle and soft painted faces
    To wonders that spring with great splendors arrayed,
    Though by wind we’re unshaken by love that has been
    Toward a love that’s divine and beyond helpless plea
    In a palace of splendor forever unfading.

  3. Damian Robin

    Hi Joshua, great to see you here again with two poems of fine sentiment.
    The second could be addressed to John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, famous for his truthful and exacting reports on Restoration sexual encounters and also his exaggerations of it. His verse was brilliant. His content was marginalised and his reputation sanitised. However, he may have a come back as the morals of this time are what the are.
    I wrote the following

    To Rochester, Always Making a Meal of Himself

    Your flashing verse turns round above a greater fire,
    Your main work basting with the rot from failed desire;
    A skewered sow with flagrant teats, each oozing rhyme,
    Whose ovaries were overcooked by Party Time.

    Beneath your fatty, sweating head, a promontory,
    A dunce’s cone, still warmed with sparkling poetry;
    You brashly let your brawny brain-stuff braise and sear
    And spit roast your intestines with invective’s fear –

    Deliberate, in forward drive to be forsaken;
    Long suicide, a wrecking trip down wrong roads taken;
    Combusted by internal needs that you let slide,
    Your melting soul now mounting to a pile of pride;
    Self-immolating flare, your kamikaze streak
    That burned your auditorium so you could speak.

    Not the pure content that should go on these pages but it is about an awkward author who did not look beyond his appetites and satyric subjects. He was an alcoholic and died in his thirties, probably of syphilis. Your poem shows a nobility and reach that he would have tried to rubbish.

    On the day-to-day of your Eros poem I would agree with Charles that there are stumbles in the rendering of the poem. One that stands out for me is the last line’s rhyme. “radiating” and “unfading” don’t match; because the first syllable of “radiating” rhymes with the second syllable of “unfading” it makes for a snare drum whimper effect when it could close with a kettle drum bang. I came up with “never finished” and “undiminished” though the connotations of incompleteness may be too strong. And being a feminine rhyme, there’s not a big bang. :^?

    Asking Eros, who is strongly identified with eroticism, to let people see a divine love beyond visceral love, is clever.

    • Joshua Philipp

      Thanks Damian. Actually, the original versions of the poems were a lot more ambitious. I was trying to combine some elements of ancient poetry, using kennings, and using the natural rise and fall of tone to establish the meter.

      This was the original version of To Eros. It used 12 syllable lines, and a meter of four beats. The kennings were references to the four stages of love (worldly love, love of beauty, love of wisdom, and love of the divine). I wasn’t sure if it worked in the end, though. I’d be interested in your feedback:

      To Eros

      Through love and desire, through longing and granting
      Eros, above, to the wills of man doth bestow
      such suffering and grief, to us here enchanting
      to follow his will so that in virtue shall know.

      For drawn are we to gentle, frail, painted faces,
      and through this world in mortal merriment are led
      only to find that in our temporal paces
      that joys cannot last, when our desires are fed.

      Then to beauty in all, awaken our senses,
      that the world’s wonders may spring with splendors arrayed
      yet, with winter’s bite, again all things dispenses
      that in desolation, beauty fails, flowers fade.

      Into wisdom and knowing, in solitary ends,
      that in passing of worlds, unshaken by the wind
      solid and steady, unbreaking will never bends
      to that goal of ages, beyond the world of men.

      Towards divine love, rising, past lowly narrow plea
      In that place of splendor, O’ Eros show thy creed
      that blinded men wander that deep begotten sea
      when beyond mortal bond, is a joy with hearts freed.

      • Damian Robin

        Thanks Joshua. I’m going to say a lot that you will know but here goes anyway.

        Scansion depends much on the individual voice. American-English and UK-English phrasing are different and then within our countries the states and regions have different renditions again. So when you use ‘natural’ in ‘the natural rise and fall of tone’ that natural will be specific to place. And the language changes in time; rhymes especially can tell us this.

        By ‘ancient poetry’ I’m guessing you mean Old English. From what I know of Latin and Greek B.C., the use of feet meant a set pace. You seem to say you were trying to vary where the stress came in the lines but keep to a set number of syllables per line.

        I remember having a passing of remarks with Evan about sprung rhythm of Gerard Manly Hopkins. We concluded that his was not classical scansion. This is shown in how idiosyncratic a lot of his poems are.

        What you have in your longer-lined version of ‘To Eros’ is similar. However, keeping to twelve syllables, there is a desire to rein things in.

        In it you say you wanted four beats. As said above, individual voice leads to different inflection.

        The first line, in my calculation, has four anapaests. The first wraps around the line, leaving one of its unstressed syllables at the end. Because you said there were 12 syllables per line, I counted ‘desire’ as three.
        Through lo/ve and desi/re, through lo/nging and gra/nting

        I looked for four beats per line throughout the poem and mostly found four. But sometimes I found five as in the second line
        E/ros, abo/ve, to the wi/lls of ma/n doth besto/w
        You could say that ‘man’ is a semi-stress and discount it and, presto, four stresses. But that seems a bit of a stretch. This line and many of the others are not as satisfying as the first which is ‘measured’ and ‘paced’. Both ‘measured’ and ‘paced’ are set ideas for classical metre. You do say you were being ambitious and trying to be natural with the metre in this early version. When I read commentaries on classical verse, I get the impression that the ancients used set measures and feet. Then, as they developed in competence and confidence, they ‘naturally’ messed things up a bit. Their eliding and dropping or adding in of syllables came after long use of, and familiarity with, the basics..

        I am interested to know where you intend the stresses to go. In fact, to save me guessing, it would be great if you could post the poem with the stresses marked.

        [This brings up the typographic problem of how to render diacritical marks. I’d also be interested to see how you do that :^). I find any way to do it on the computer is clumsy—either because of the effort to achieve it or the lack of visual elegance. Above, here I have crudely cut through the words after the stressed vowel.]

        To focus on one line, line 11 could have three stresses.
        yet, with wi/nter’s bite, agai/n all things dispe/nses
        Once I skip in and start dancing across the lines, the stresses can be few. If I start heavy, it falls into iambs or trochees. I find this generally in reading poetry. Maybe this is going into the actor’s or performer’s space. Often it is trying to push a meaning or a sound effect. In this line, if my first stress is ‘yet’, it’s six trochees; if I stress ‘win’ of ‘winter’ first, it can be four stresses but a bit cobblestoned. My ‘natural’ expected fall would be on ‘bite’ or the ‘a’ of ‘again’.

        For me the combining strength of ‘winter’s bite’ is central to the sound of the line. With stresses on the ‘i’s, even though they are pronounced differently, make a strong bond. The particular ‘w’ and ‘b’ sounds before the ‘i’s are similarly breathy. The ’t’s help glue the second and third syllables. The end of the ’s’ in ‘winter’s’ and the end of the ’t’ in ‘bite’ have an unvoiced exhalation. And the possessive relationship of the two words in meaning binds them.

        This covalent bond of ‘winter’s’ and ‘bite’ makes me ‘naturally’ want to stress the two ‘i’s. However, I want to stress the ‘win’ part if ‘yet, with’ is unstressed; or ‘bite’ if ‘with’ is used as the first stress.

        There is more in this line that demands attention. I am not sure what the subject of ‘dispenses’ is. It doesn’t match in number ‘world’s wonders’ so I assume it is ‘beauty’ though you mention beauty four words later. No harm in having the subject’s full name repeated in a sentence. Looking at your second version, I see that the subject could be the combo we’ve just been looking at ‘winter’s bite’. It is a strong set of words.

        Of the two versions of ’To Eros’, I see the second as more successful. The original’s longer lines have given scope for longer sentences with possibilities of misinterpretation and awkward scansion. Something I can learn from, thanks.

        I was not aware of ‘the four elements of love’. Is this a classical concept or something you have developed? The four make for a wonderful progression. I especially like the way you express, early in both versions, how Eros can teach us through the disappointment we find when the pleasure he is usually portrayed as giving, passes.

        When you wrote ‘kenning’ I had to look it up and found, and then remembered, Old Northern Hemisphere poetry words ’battle-sweat’, ‘wound-sea’, (both for ‘blood’) and ‘heaven-candle’ or ‘heaven’s jewel’ (sun) and the like. I also saw modern ones: ’four-eyes’, ‘gas-guzzler’. So the name for the semantic types of the four elements of love may be different to ‘kenning’.

        The above is probably more than you were asking for. However, you said you would be interested in my feedback. I have asked some people for a widening of their comments when they hinted at something I could learn from. None responded. So I felt I’d give you the courtesy and myself the challenge. And the endeavours are worth it.

  4. Alan Sugar

    Thank you for these. The first one, wow! –so especially beautiful and meaningful to me.

  5. David Watt

    Both pieces are excellent. However, the poignancy and adroit phrasing of “To Old Friends” is especially effective. For example:

    “And blew on the wind to where endless stars hang
    In search of past embers that flicker and flash.”

  6. David Hollywood

    Two wonderful poems, of which ‘To Old Friends’ just pips it for me because of the lovely melancholy contained, and which is so well presented that it feels personal. But both are really enjoyable.Thank you.


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