I woke this day from napping, and I saw you lying there,
Across the room, upon a couch, asleep without a care.
The golden beams of twilight streaming through the windowpane,
Shone wondrously upon you like a rainbow in the rain.

Through moving trees, the filtered sunlight fell upon your face
In such a way as to imbue your brow with heavenly grace,
Erasing every line that marked the passage of the years,
And bringing out your beauty in a way that drew forth tears

From my delighted eyes to have your charms to me thus shown,
Like some celestial vision sent to bless my eyes alone.
A soft, supernal glow suffused your flowing locks of hair,
And kissed the petals of your eyelids, closed as if in prayer.

The radiant beams of eventide that brushed your tender brow
Appeared to share the deep affection I feel even now
When I think of your loveliness, and in my thoughts draw near
To lovingly caress your face so treasured and so dear.

Thus did those beams appear to touch your visage, not with lust,
But with a holy love uniting reverent awe and trust,
As one might touch with love and awe an angel by the arm
Whom heaven had sent down to save a favored soul from harm.

With such a sense of loving awe and gratitude did I
Look spellbound on your face as I was privileged to espy
Your beauty in full blossom in the dying light of day—
A sight emblazoned in my heart, forever there to stay.

 

 

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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20 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    The poem shows a solid command of technique and craft, and one cannot fault its metrical precision. There is a certain amount of over-the-top sentimentality in its subject and expression, but that is the legitimate choice of the poet, and I won’t debate the issue.

    Let me say a few things about iambic heptameter verse (called “fourteeners” in the Renaissance period). They can be hazardous. In some cases Elizabethan poets used them to approximate the quantitative dactylic hexameter line of Latin epic, at a time when many critics were still convinced that English poetry should follow the example of classical Latin verse. But all of those quantitative English imitations eventually died out, as they were not suited to the natural genius of our tongue. They sounded awkward and tub-thumping. This is the problem with “fourteeners.”

    There were exceptions, of course. The Catholic martyr Robert Southwell’s magnificent “The Burning Babe” is a prime example; it’s one of the most powerful religious poems in English. But most poets have steered clear of the iambic heptameter because of certain built-in pitfalls.

    First, by its very nature the measure does not lend itself to substitutions easily, and for that reason can fall into a monotonous sing-song pattern. Second, it tends to be useful in extended narrative rather than in shorter pieces, which means that such a poem will tend to be long, and length only accentuates the repetitive monotony.

    Moreover, the measure almost compels the poet to end with a masculine rhyme rather than a feminine one, and that masculine rhyme will tend to be a monosyllable (the case with most of the lines in Rizley’s poem). Once again, this adds to the heavy monotony of the measure.

    I’m not saying that iambic heptameter should not be used — far from it. If you can make it work well, more power to you. But in the hands of an inexperienced poet it can produce the opposite of what the writer intends — simply because the jog-trot rhythm of the lines can evoke a kind of laughter, followed by a sense of bathos.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks for your reflections on the use of iambic heptameter, and the pitfalls it presents. I am wondering what you mean by the term “substitutions” when you say “the measure does not lend itself to substitutions easily”?

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        A “substitution” is a variation in the “ideal” or paradigmatic pattern of a metrical line. In iambic pentameter, the ideal pattern is

        da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM

        but if one wrote in that ideal pattern for every single line, your poem would be intolerable. Substitutions allow the poet to vary the pattern by using a different combination of feet, as long as the five-stress line is preserved. In iambic pentameter, one of the most common substitutions is to begin the line with a choriambic foot (DUM-da-da-DUM) instead of the normally expected two iambs. For example, look at Shakespeare’s Sonnet 97:

        How like a winter hath my absence been

        (DUM-da-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM-da-DUM)

        Or look at Sonnet 27, which has the same scansion:

        Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed

        There are several other types of substitutions that you can use in an iambic line, or in any other metrical line, as long as you keep to the proper number of stresses that the “ideal” line requires.

        Of course, substitutions must be used judiciously and sparingly. If they are used recklessly, your poem just becomes another piece of free-verse garbage. One of the worst misconceptions among so-called “formalist” poets today is that all you have to do is to count syllables, and that if your line has ten syllables it’s an iambic pentameter line. This is like thinking that if your car has three wheels, it’s a tricycle.

        In regard to iambic heptameter, the nature of the line is very “in your face,” so to speak. It intrudes itself upon the reader, and sucks him in, like the meter of a good limerick. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does put a very strong brake on the possibility of substitutions. Just think of the very best limerick that you know, and try to vary the stresses in it. The thing will dissolve into something awful.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Excellent analysis, Joe. You have saved me a long reply which would have covered some of the points you have already made. To get back to the poem itself, Rizley’s contribution seems, to me, to avoid the pitfalls possible when writing in heptameter. I am mostly glad that, for a change, an author has undertaken the task of writing in strict meter. If you are W.B. Yeats or Robert Frost, then you can improvise in regard to meter any way you wish, but if you are a mortal, as I am, it’s best to adhere to pro forma conventions. Once you’ve mastered that, then, and only then, will you have earned the license to improvise.

      Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      And, David, that is the very idea I had hoped to convey.

      Reply
  2. Martin Rizley

    Thanks to all of your for your feedback and thoughtful critiques!

    Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    I wish to honor the poem for flirting with sensuality without crossing the line into sexuality. The central qualities of love, affection, beauty, admiration and devotion are kept in clear focus throughout and the context of a long-term, committed relationship avoids the hint of voyeurism that might otherwise have crept into a situation where a man is closely examining and admiring a sleeping woman. I would say that Martin is a lucky man to enjoy such a tender and affectionate relationship with his wife and that his wife is a lucky woman to be married to a man who loves her as much as this poem suggests.

    Reply
  4. B. S. Eliud Acrewe

    1. Mr. Rizley was adept in his substitutions in his iambic heptametres, as in L6 and L14.

    2. The iambic heptametre works well in short groupings, as in the four-lined groupings Ms. May used in her translation of part of Vergil’s “Eclogue 8”, or as in the six four-lined stanzas of Mr. Rizley.

    3. The quantitative experiments of the Elizabethans and the Victorians shows that, though the syllable has not attained the place writers, like Spenser and Tennyson, envisioned for it, still it refuses to go away. In English literature’s moments of heightened energy, it reappears in the most intrepid of writers. Still, the accent reigns supreme, even in free verse and prose, and may do so for a very long time. Interestingly, it is in mathematics where the language is accomplishing some of its most extraordinary of verbal pyrotechnics.

    4. As for the iambic heptameter, “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.”

    5. Masculine rhyme endings were strongest in the Elizabethans, for example, Spenser and Shakespeare in their sonnets. When I read the Shakepearean line “How like a winter hath my absence been…” I read it as an exact iambic pentametre. I can also read it as Mr. Salemi reads it, but as such, it is less satisfying for me.

    6. Yeats and Frost were mortals, and more cautious than Pound or Eliot. Still, nary a month goes by that I don’t bump into them, as well as other Modernists, who strove to “resuscitate” Poetry. It should be the duty and mission @ SCP to do so as well, even while we hang on firmly to the great classical tradition.

    Reply
  5. Mark Stone

    Martin,

    1. My five favorite lines, in terms of sonics, are 4, 9, 11, 20 & 23. Of these, my two favorites are:

    A soft, supernal glow suffused your flowing locks of hair,

    Whom heaven had sent down to save a favored soul from harm.

    2. It took me a while to figure out these two lines:

    When I think of your loveliness, and in my thoughts draw near
    To lovingly caress your face so treasured and so dear.

    First, it took me a while to realize that “I” is the subject for the verb “draw near.” The comma after “loveliness” caused me to not look for the subject prior to that word. Then I thought it should be “draw near to caressing your face” (draw near in the sense of time, not space), rather than “draw near to caress your face.” Then I realized that you mean “draw near to her” (in the sense of space) in order to caress her face. On the off-chance that anyone else experienced such confusion, one way to address it would be to put a comma after “near” (and use a choriambic foot to address the split infinitive). For example:

    When I think of your loveliness and in my thoughts draw near,
    Lovingly to caress your face so treasured and so dear.

    Or even in the absence of confusion, one might employ the choriambic foot simply to change up the meter, as Professor Salemi suggests.

    3. It is a wonderful poem.

    Reply
  6. David Watt

    The well-considered analysis given to this poem demonstrates, to my mind, that its technical skill and aesthetic impact warrants such attention.

    Reply
  7. Alexander Ream

    A deft and skillful offering to the sanctified side of the sensate. The Lord is the author of all things material and corporeal, and He deserves for these aspects of life to be honored, which you have done. Bravo; much needed.

    Reply
  8. Wilbur Dee Case

    Polish literature is syllabic; and thirteeners are important in Polish literature, which Leo Yankevich used, as well as my Polish charichords. I reserve the term “fourteeners” and “sixteeneres” as well, both of which I wrote earlier in my poetic career, to syllabic counts, as opposed to, say, iambic hexametres or trochaic octametres (which Poe used in “The Raven”).

    Reply

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