The Music of the Earth

In walking home from church one winter’s eve,
I paused to hear the echoes down the street;
The dead leaves rattled dryly on the branch
And scraped along the sidewalk at my feet.

But far beyond, another, sweeter sound
Ran deeply, like a river through my heart,
A sound that cannot ever be compared
To music born of human skill and art.

It echoed faintly in the evening wind,
And in the cries of children down the lane:
The mystic, minor music of the earth,
So peaceful, yet so poignant in its strain.

No other earthly blessing can compare,
Nor words convey the joy I felt to hear
The somber, searching voice of Father Earth
Lamenting low the twilight of the year.


A Winter’s Day

Behold the vale of seamless white!
Its virgin beauty bathed in light,
As dazzling as a diamond field,
Stretched out its maiden charms to yield.

Above, a cloudless sky of blue
Ascends to ever-deepening hue;
Its richness beckons me to pass
In thought, as through a looking glass.

High overhead, the Prince of Day
Climbs up the heaven’s steep gangway;
His golden beams now cast a spell
Of timelessness on all the dell.

The pristine crispness of the day
Awakes each sense along the way
To hear, to feel, to smell, to taste
Each detail of this wintry waste:

The crunch of snow beneath my feet,
The musty smell of rotting peat
That mingles with the smokey trace
Of ash from many a fire place,

The numbness of my frozen toes,
The warmth of wool against my nose,
The dampening of my eyes with tears
As icy winds bite cheeks and ears.

Then, suddenly, I stand quite still
And feel the penetrating chill
Invade the marrow of my bones
And touch my frame’s foundation stones.

Gripped by the cold, I briefly quake
As creaking houses sometimes shake
In winter, rattling pane and door
So tremble I, from roof to floor.

How wonderful to be alive!
Though all around  me, earth and hive
Lie dormant now till spring returns,
Within my heart, a fire burns.

The buzz of life within my veins
Will not be still while youth remains,
These puffs of breath, this pumping heart
From lifeless things set me apart.

The heat and vigor of my frame
Stand out against the icy sameness
Of the landscape all about;
I must seize life, so thrust me out!

Thrust me forth into the cold,
For I am young and strong and bold,
For all too soon, I too must sleep
Till spring arrivesin nature’s keep.


Martin Rizley grew up in Oklahoma and in Texas, and has served in pastoral ministry both in the United States and in Europe.  He is currently serving as the pastor of a small evangelical church in the city of Málaga on the southern coast of Spain, where he lives with his wife and daughter.  Martin has enjoyed writing and reading poetry as a hobby since his early youth.


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14 Responses

  1. The Chained Muse


    These poems demonstrate quite a fine talent, and joy. Your descriptions are great.

    Lines like these are very nice:

    But far beyond, another, sweeter sound
    Ran deeply, like a river through my heart,
    A sound that cannot ever be compared
    To music born of human skill and art.

    You can feel the music running through you when you read something like that.

    However these poems have many such fine descriptions.

    In light of that, though you do take a greater conceptual step in your second poem, which I also liked, I think you can go even further and be even bolder given your natural talent.

    I’ll give you an example of what I mean of course:

    Percy Bysshe Shelley and the Motivführung Principle in English Poetry

    This is written by the poet Daniel Leach, whose great poems were just recently published by the Society,

    This other article was written by myself, for The Chained Muse, which I edit:

    Lastly, one by another poet, Paul Gallagher, who has written much great stuff on the question of classical composition:

    You can also see some of his poetry published by The Chained Muse, as proof that these are not people who merely talk the talk.

    I look forward to seeing more of your poetry.


    David Gosselin

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you for the encouragement and for the tips you have given me. I will certainly read the articles you cite.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Both poems are well structured and smooth. There are two small faults.

    In the fifth quatrain of “A Winter’s Day,” the proper spelling is /smoky/. The form “Smokey” is only used as the name of a forestry service cartoon figure of a bear, or as the nickname for highway patrolmen who wear the same type of headgear.

    In the same poem, in the penultimate quatrain, the meter is spoiled by the word /sameness/. Moreover, it doesn’t rhyme with “frame.” The word “sameness”is also a poor diction choice because it is a vague abstraction that jars with the mostly straightforward vocabulary of the rest of the poem.

    I’d suggest the following revision:

    The heat and vigor of my flesh
    Stand out against the icy mesh
    That grips the landscape in cold webs:
    I must seize life, before it ebbs!

    • Martin Rizley

      I was wondering about the very line you point out and was uncertain what to do with it. Thanks for your suggested revision. I have a question about the issue of meter in this regard. When a poem is written in iambic tetrameter, is it ever considered permissible in classical poetry, or simply clumsy, to write one line that ends in an unstressed syllable (four iambs plus an unstressed final syllable), if the following line begins with a stressed syllable? (Which is what I did in that quatrain).

      • James A. Tweedie

        I am hopeful that Dr. Salemi will offer his definitive view of the matter, I will only offer my opinion. If I had written the stanza I would have formatted it:

        The heat and vigor of my frame
        Stand out against the icy same-
        ness of the landscape all about;
        I must seize life, so thrust me out!

        It looks awkward to the eye but allows the reader to flow through the thought without stumbling over the strange appearance of a word that does not seem to belong there. Of course, it is better to avoid such things entirely (there is a word for this which I can’t recall). When I have done this, myself, it has been intentional and usually to underscore the humorous, lighthearted subject of the poem. Here is an example (note the intentional free-ness in the meter, which further emphasizes the cheeky subject of the poem):

        The photos of my grandson always turn out
        Blurred. He’s always on the go. Perpet-
        Ual motion personified. He seems all set
        To be on never-ending walkabout.

        I would not ordinarily recommend doing this in a poem that you intend to be taken “seriously.”–although, as poet, you are free to do whatever you want! As long as it is done intentionally, for effect. Otherwise, it may come across as hinting at a lack of effort to find a better solution.

        As I said, I hope Dr. Salemi will add his view since I have asked the same question myself.

        By the way, I agree with David in his description of that particular stanza as delightfully musical and descriptive. I enjoyed the poems very much, especially since tomorrow is forecast to be the coldest of the year in my neck of the woods!

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Dear Martin Rizley —

        Yes, an unaccented syllable at the end of an iambic pentameter line is a “feminine ending.” It’s acceptable, but not when rhyme-paired with a line that has a masculine ending (i.e. that ends with a stressed syllable). The rhyme can’t happen if you do it.

        As for Mr. Tweedie’s solution (a split word carried over to the next line), it’s considered bad form and should only be used in dire emergencies when nothing else will solve the problem. In my Gallery of Ethopaths, I did it only once in 5000 lines, and even there it was to be taken as somewhat tongue-in-cheek and comical — exactly as Mr. Tweedie mentions in his post.

        It should never happen in a poem that is serious or exalted in tone or subject. Besides, consider the spoiled symmetry. Anything that detracts from the expected symmetry, rhyme, and balance of a formal poem is like an infected wart on the face of an otherwise beautiful woman.

  3. Martin Rizley

    Thanks for your very helpful reply to my question. And hope you can stay warm tomorrow! I have been hearing about the brutally cold weather in parts of the U.S.

  4. Mark Stone

    Martin, Both poems are well crafted. I especially like the second one. Stanza 11 of the second poem reads as follows:

    The heat and vigor of my frame
    Stand out against the icy sameness
    Of the landscape all about;
    I must seize life, so thrust me out!

    Here’s another alternative:

    The heat and vigor of my frame
    Stand in contrast with the same
    Icy landscape all about;
    I must seize life, so thrust me out!

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Mark, for your suggested revision. In light of the feedback that you and others have given me, I have been considering a complete rewrite of stanza 11; perhaps the best solution, instead of trying to preserve the exact wording, would be to preserve the basic thought, but tie the stanza more closely to stanza 10, in which I have just mentioned a fire within–“within my heart, a fire burns.” Tied in with that, the next stanza could read:

      “The quickening power of this flame
      Makes me stand out against the frame
      Of icy whiteness all all about:
      I must seize life, so thrust me out!”

      That preserves the basic idea, I think, though in this revision, the word “frame” refers to the landscape itself, rather than my own body.

      • Martin Rizley

        Actually, the reference the “fire within” is in verse 9, not verse 10. I didn’t see that at first. So I’ll have to think through this some more!

  5. Dusty Grein


    I think you have received some great suggestions on tightening the metric flow, and smoothing the slight irregularities in your diction. My only thought on those subjects is to polish carefully. As classical style poets, we craft our poetry in much the same way that the master sculptors of old built their art. We start with a blank page, and we chisel our form and breathe life into it with our passion, and our talent. We then continue to polish and shine it (some of us do that polishing in many rounds and after a step away for perspective).

    In these two works you have captured a beautiful and heartfelt series of images and emotions. and if you polish too much, you run the risk of lessening the intrinsic beauty you have breathed into these simple quatrains and paired couplets.

    In curiosity, have you ever worked in any of the longer forms, or lesser used meters? With your vision and expression, you really should try something along the lines of the villanelle, the rondeau redoublé, or perhaps–if you are moved deeply and your tale longer–a chant royal.

    All in all, these two are very good writes, and both have the potential to really shine, if you are careful as you finish the sanding and polishing of the faces on them.

    Great write.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks, Dusty, for your feedback. Although I have used a variety of meters in my poems, until now, I have not yet written poems in any of the longer forms. My method in writing has been quite simple– write an opening couplet or quatrain, allowing that to establish the metrical scheme, then continue writing without know ahead of time how long the poem will turn out to be. In the future, however, I want to take on the challenge writing in some of the classical forms you mentioned. Beyond writing a few sonnets, however, I have not yet done that. My interaction with poets like yourself on this website is very stimulating and helpful and is moving me to work harder at “polishing the face” of what I write.


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