after the style of Petrarch

The aching of your leave clings sadly, still
And pangs of emptiness I lone endure
But slowly I ascend towards love pure;
The path of life lies stretched – a long steep hill.
Becalmed, my spirit self its fears fulfil,
And panic seeks to strengthen its tenure
Invading soul with doubts and angst obscure
Malicious as a sideshow trickster’s shill.

I see the guarded lilies of your eyes
Beseeching me to calm these present fears,
To contemplate our love, our joy complete.
Fear not that Fate may prowl and steal our prize
Before we’ve shared the happiness of years,
True love must always doubt and fear defeat.


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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13 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    Sometimes I think “maybe,” but then again I just don’t know. Petrarchan sonnets are less a “style” than a fixed form. Supposedly they are more difficult to write than Shakespearean sonnets, because of the putative paucity of rhymes in English. and I hope you have not tried to prove that canard true by trying to rhyme “tenure” with “obscure.” Numerous other infelicities mar this otherwise good-intentioned effort, and the point of it all evades, and is impenetrable to, close scrutiny. Lines 12 & 14 seem to contradict one another, and one is left wondering what the point of the whole thing might be.

    • Jan Darling

      Greetings CB
      I have failed to please you yet again. Impenetrable me! Worse, I find no fault with obscure and tenure.
      Closer scrutiny of this infelicitous, if good-intentioned, effort may stimulate the imagination to wonder what could be the occasion that produces such apparent contradictions. Lovers are parted by the call to arms and no longer is anything certain.
      The lady left behind seeks to transmute her earthly love into a metaphysical longing for pure love, perfection. She sees a long lonely path before her and doubts that she can make the metamorphosis. She gives in to fear. She sees her lover begging her to remain calm. She cannot give herself to the belief that he will return. It is easier to doubt, and be proven wrong, than to suffer the absolute blow of his death and be unprepared for it. Fear not (good advice)……..(but) true love must always doubt and fear defeat. That is her only way to handle her fears. I hope this helps explain apparent contradictions. We each have our strategies to protect ourselves – this is one. Beware – mixed metaphor: This may walk both sides of the street but the strategy is not uncommon. That might be the point of the whole thing.

      • C.B. Anderson

        One thing is abundantly clear, Jan. And that is that you have no need or obligation to please me. James explained the problem with obscure/tenure below. Rhymes are unsatisfying if the syllables rhymed are not both accented. That’s not My rule; it’s something Timothy Steele pointed out in an article he wrote about rhyme many years ago. James’ example of “come/home” is not quite the same thing: though I would prefer “come/hum” or “comb/home” it is what may be called a near-rhyme or perhaps a sight-rhyme. He seemed to have no problem understanding the meaning of your poem, but I found myself trying to decipher it.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    C.B. I also hiccuped a bit with obscure and tenure but, on the other hand, I just finished a poem with “come” partnered with “home,” which is generally considered to be acceptable despite the fact the words are less of an audible rhyme than obscure and tenure. (the rhythmic hiccup of ob-scure’ and ten’-ure is still there, of course). As far as the meaning of the poem, I read it exactly as Jan explains it, although I must confess that I read it from a man’s standpoint rather than a woman’s.

    Jan, I want you to know that I thoroughly enjoyed your sonnet. I have never written one in the Petrarchan style but I suspect that I will attempt one in the near future simply to see if I can do it half as well as you did this one!

    • C.B. Anderson

      Not sure I agree with the first point. Here we have “ob-SCYOOR” paired with “TEN-yer.” That’s two strikes.

  3. Jan Darling

    I thank each of you for your comments. Of course I am more grateful for James A’s in which he avers his sensitive and accurate reading of the meaning.
    On the subject of the ‘rhythmic hiccup’ please allow me to refer you to Daniel Jones’ Everyman’s English Pronouncing Dictionary. And here is where we confront the differences between Standard Southern English and United States of American English. Daniel Jones is my authority.
    In October 1963 when I qualified as a teacher of Speech and Drama, it was imperative to have a proper reference at hand. The highly qualified Dr Jones (M.A. CAMBRIDGE; DR PHIL H.C.(ZURICH); HON.LL.D (EDINBURGH). PROFESSOR EMERITUS OF PHONETICS IN THE UNIVERSITY OF LONDON. CORRESPONDING MEMBER OF THE GERMAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, BERLIN, HONORARY MEMBER OF THE ROYAL IRISH ACADEMY) presents ‘obscure’ and ‘tenure’ as the most common pronunciations (endings phonetically identical), whilst noting that the pronunciation you are championing is also used. Just not as widely at that time.
    So both distance and time change usage. But that does not make one right and the other wrong.
    I am sure that you must have observed that there are many differences both in pronunciation and grammar between language use in United Kingdom and U.S.A.
    How, then, could you have been so sure that I had stretched the bounds of propriety of pronunciation in my sonnet?
    Surely, with so many variations in the language you must find much English poetry (writ by Brits) unsatisfactory!
    Yes, I am pedantic, but when I come across an unfamiliar or strange usage I look for a reason before assuming that it is wrong and I am right.
    Please consider this a transatlantic spanking.
    And I thank you once again for the time you have taken to read me and reply (to each other and) to me.

    • James A. Tweedie

      Jan, You are very persuasive in your argument in defense of pairing the words tenure and obscure. I said I hiccuped over them but did not discredit their use. As you point out, the hiccup was due to variant pronunciations of the word obscure. It’s rhythmic accent in the UK appears to be significantly more amorphous than in the US. In any case, I never suggested that you change it. The poem is lovely as it is. By the way, I do not consider myself to have been spanked. You simply placed a paper bag over my head and cured me of my hiccups. For this, I say, “Thank you very much.”

      So “ay up me duck” and cheerio!

      • Jan Darling

        So now you have charmed me. But that does not let you off this – It’s rhythmic accent – !!!! Please tuck your apostrophes in with your shirt tails. Cheerio! (Down Under this is a toast or a farewell and less tastefully – a small saveloy, almost always drowned in tomato sauce). Aye oop yer dook!

  4. Mark Stone

    Jan, Hello. I have eight recommendations followed by eight compliments.

    1. I was confused by the plot of the poem. After I read the first two lines, I thought that the narrator’s lover had left her forever, so the rest of the poem didn’t make sense to me. However, you explained it clearly and eloquently in your response to the first comment. If you make it clear that the departure is in response to a call to arms, that will clarify the story for the reader.

    2. Lines 6 & 7 read as follows:

    And panic seeks to strengthen its tenure
    Invading soul with doubts and angst obscure

    Regarding pronunciation in the USA, I agree with C.B. that “tenure” and “obscure” don’t rhyme. The reason is that “tenure” has the emphasis on the first syllable, and “obscure” has the emphasis on the second syllable. It’s like trying to rhyme “desert” and “dessert.” It looks like it should rhyme, but it doesn’t. Of course, I cannot speak to pronunciation in Australia. Here are two ideas for line 6:

    Your absence makes me feel so insecure,

    And panic seems to have a strange allure,

    3. Line 1 reads as follows:

    The aching of your leave clings sadly, still

    I’ve never heard the phrase “your leave” in the sense of “your absence.” It sounds odd to me, but, of course, it might be common usage in Australia. Here’s an alternative:

    The aching that you’re gone clings sadly, still

    4. Line 2 reads as follows:

    And pangs of emptiness I lone endure

    “I lone endure” doesn’t sound natural. I assume that “lone” is a shortening of “alone” to make the meter. However, the narrator is probably not the only one whose lover is being called off to war. So the line could be changed to:

    And pangs of emptiness that I endure

    5. Line 5 reads as follows:

    Becalmed, my spirit self its fears fulfil,

    If one unwinds the inversion, I assume the sentence would read:

    Becalmed, my spirit self fulfils its fears,

    If this is correct, then we would need to change “fulfil” to “fulfils.”

    6. Line 7 reads as follows:

    Invading soul with doubts and angst obscure

    I may be in the minority on this, but leaving out the article (a, an or the) to make the meter often creates awkwardness. “Invading soul” is an example. Here are two alternatives:

    Invades the soul with doubts and angst obscure
    Invades my soul with doubts and angst obscure

    7. Line 14 reads as follows:

    True love must always doubt and fear defeat.

    For me, this inversion doesn’t work. If we unwind the inversion, I assume the line would read:

    True love must always defeat doubt and fear.

    However, “doubt” is both a noun and a verb. The first time I read line 14, I assumed that “doubt” was a verb. But then I realized it’s probably intended to be a noun. So I was temporarily confused.

    8. Regarding punctuation, in line 1 it seems the comma should be after “still,” rather than after “sadly.” Also, it seems there should be a comma at the end of lines 6 & 7.

    9. The iambic meter is flawless.

    10. In line 1, I love the sound of “aching… clings sadly still.”

    11. L8 reads as follows:

    Malicious as a sideshow trickster’s shill.

    This is my favorite line. This line has a literary device (a simile), a strong image (something I can visualize) and alliteration. If this line were to be scored as in the game of Password, it would receive a Triple Letter Score.

    12. In line 9, the more I think about the phrase “guarded lilies of your eyes,” the more I like it.

    13. I very much like the strong consonance in line 12.

    14. I think the phrase “Fate may prowl and steal our prize” is very creative.

    15. The poem expresses a beautiful sentiment, one shared by many thousands of military spouses worldwide.

    16. I believe this poem has potential. With proper editing, I think it can be successful and strong.

    • Jan Darling

      Thank you Mark, for your thorough analysis and your comments. I appreciate your detailed observations. Please accept my responses as simply that – not as any kind of defence.
      1. Yes, this clarifies this particular motivation to write. I think I will rename the Sonnet “Call the Arms”, thus establishing the theme immediately so that all that follows will be read in that context. Thank you – thy will shall be done.
      2.Lines 6 and 7 – I leave that for Daniel Jones to explain.
      3. This may be simply difference of usage and, if so, I would be disinclined to change it. Otherwise, I would be condemning my verse to take into account potential nuances from all societies. ‘You may take your leave’ is commonly interpreted as ‘you may absent yourself’.
      4. ‘I lone endure’ – my understanding of the difference in meaning is this: ‘lone’ = having no support; whereas ‘alone’ = no one else present. They are two separate words, not a contraction.
      5.I’m not certain about this – does not the inversion make the whole phrase the subject: (My spirit self its fears) fulfil? I have moved house recently and cannot lay hands on my ‘Fowler: Modern English Usage’.
      6.I prefer the present participle because it implies an act that has yet to end. The present tense in this instance, I think may truncate my meaning. Not a strong argument, perhaps just a personal foible.
      7. You are right. If I were to capitalise Doubt and Fear – would this make the meaning immediately obvious to you? I realise this may present a problem re Angst.
      8. How about ‘sadly, still,’ I want to avoid ‘sadly still’ because it, too, can be misinterpreted.
      9. Yes. A comma after line 7, definitely. But I’d like to leave 6 and 7 connected.
      I am hugely pleased that you have taken so much care with your response. I wish that we could sit down together and discuss a hundred poems, each of choosing fifty.
      You have made my week.
      Thank you

  5. David Hollywood

    I most enjoyed this poem and its solid yet fragile romance and consequently look to appreciate it as a piece that gives me pleasure and thought, and I thank you. I look away from a number of critical commentaries (unless they cross the threshold of being personal in their criticism) once I fear they are set within an academic set of requirements because I am not convinced the ambiance always fits with the pressure to make make it perfect. I am not of the view that poetry must always be clear (if so then it may as well be prose!). I liked your poem and that is enough for me to contend with.Thank you again.

  6. Eddy Newman

    Jan Darling, it is a pleasure to see you are loved by your peers!


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