While driving on an April day along a winding road
Through rolling hills, beside the way, I spied a small abode
A little cottage in a glen below a bridge I crossed,
The sight of which, had I not then looked down, would have been lost.

Although my eye caught sight of it but briefly and askance,
I comprehended quite a bit from that one fleeting glance.
I knew that I could well assume that folks were living there,
For from the chimney flue a plume of smoke rose in the air.

A swingset too minute for grown adults to sit upon
Told me a child, perhaps alone, would play there on the lawn.
While hanging out betwixt two trees, three dresses in a row
Told me a warm maternal breeze through that blesséd house did blow.

I knew a strong man lived there, too, for propped against a wheel
A heavy axe bore witness to strong arms made out of steel
A car nearby shone in the sun, immaculately clean,
Which spoke of washing lately done—attested by its sheen.

A spirit of domestic grace seemed clearly there to reign,
E´en though I never saw a face peer through the curtained pane.
E´en though no form, the stillness breaking, opened wide the door,
There simply could be no mistaking signs of life galore.

Especially that plume of smoke that rose into the wide,
Expansive sky, which clearly spoke of human life inside.
It would have made no sense at all to say that naught could be
Behind the door, inside the hall, beyond what I could see.

Do cozy fires themselves ignite in chimneys cold and bare?
Do hearths fill up with wood each night, created from thin air?
Does clothing hang itself to dry? Do cars take baths each day?
Do swingsets self-assemble right where children never play?

No! Common sense lays bare the flaw in thinking time and chance
Could ever make what there I saw in that one sweeping glance;
It would have been absurd to doubt that in that domicile
A family lived, who would come out in just a little while.

So foolish would it be to say that God cannot be here
Unless to human eyes each day He chooses to appear.
For God is not a man, that He must to our eyes be shown,
Stripped of invisibility, before He can be known.

No! God, He is pure spirit, uncreated and immense,
He speaks, though none can hear it who rely on carnal sense.
He makes His certain presence known through signs that round us lie
In plenty, scattered from His throne through earth and sea and sky.

The greatest sign, that rising plume that fills the skies above,
Proceeding from the fiery womb of His eternal love.
That womb from which God´s most amazing gift to men was given,
To be consumed upon a blazing altar lit from heaven.

An altar from which waves of blessing warm forevermore
All who, into God´s house processing, enter through the Door.
Those blessed ones who aren´t averse God´s hearth to gather round–
The center of the universe, where Christ the Lord is found,

The core of all creation where God bids all men draw near
And by paternal love laid bare casts out all servile fear.
Yes, there would I each day abide beside that roaring fire
To warm myself with all inside and purify desire.

Such were the thoughts that came my way that day, when I had seen,
That little cottage tucked away within a valley green.
And though the sight of it was brief, in times of doubt, I find
The thought of it then brings relief and calms my troubled mind.

For that gray plume of smoke ascending into the crisp air,
Reminds me that my God, although unseen, is always there,
And that hearth blazing burns the lies of unbelieving men,
When I recall, with thankful sighs, that cottage in the glen.

 

 

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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17 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    The scansion started off OK but very soon seemed to go awry. I have often wondered why poets in the twenty-first century should use self-conscious archaisms like “betwixt” and I wonder if it tells us anything that the word “between” doesn’t, beyond reminding us, perhaps, that this is a poem?

    Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    There are a number of problems here that have to be addressed. Some have to do with the nature of the “fourteener” meter, but some from other sources.

    In quatrain 1, line 2, there should be a colon after the word /abode/ since what follows is grammatically appositional. In line 4, the meter is technically correct but clunky, and this is due to the fact that all the words in that line are monosyllabic. We need to remember one thing about English poetry — it is STRESS-BASED, and is not based on syllable count. You can’t simply count up syllables and claim that your line is therefore proper!

    In quatrain 3, line 4, the word /blessed/ is misspelled. You can’t put an accent mark on a vowel that is not to be pronounced. “Blessed” with a grave accent is pronounced “BLESS-ed,” but if the pronunciation you want is “BLEST,” then you should spell it that way, as Kip Anderson once pointed out in a thread here. The way the line is written now, it cannot be scanned.

    In quatrain 4, line 2, there should be a period after /steel/.

    In quatrain 5, lines 2 and 3, the obsolete form “E’en” is absolutely unnecessary. All you have to write is “Although” in both cases!

    In quatrain 6, line 1, there should be no comma after /wide/, since the description is enjambed over to the next line.

    In quatrain 7, line 1, the words “themselves ignite” are hopelessly awkward and unnatural. Why not simply say “light themselves,” which is easier and which goes along perfectly with the meter?

    In quatrain 12, line 2, the word /processing/ is incorrect diction. To “process” is a transitive verb meaning to “manage,” to ” handle,” or to “arrange,” as in the sentence “We are processing the applications.” You can’t “process” into God’s house. In line three, the issue of “blessed” comes up again — here the pronunciation does demand the grave accent. But the entire line is twisted out of syntactical shape by the bizarre inversion “who aren’t averse God’s hearth to gather round…” This is one of the pitfalls of “fourteeners” …if you are not careful, you will be forced to make these sorts of contortions just to keep to the metrical beat. That’s why I pointed out in a different thread that the “fourteener” is a very demanding meter that does not take well to substitutions.

    Also, this poem illustrates two other hazards of the “fourteeer” — its tendency to force the poet to go on for too long, and its penchant for a kind of long-winded preachiness.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you for your careful reading of the poem, and the helpful suggestions you have made. In addition to pointing out certain errors in punctuation, and the unnecessary use of the accent mark in “blessed,” you and Mr. Hartley have both pointed to a couple of obsolete words I used (betwixt, e’en) that are quite unnecessary and easily expressed in more modern language.

      The reason I used “themselves ignite” in quatrain 7, line 1 was because I was counting the word “fires” as a single stressed syllable with “them” following as an unstressed syllable. But if the word “fires” can count as two syllables (fi- ers), I prefer the reading you suggest-“Do cozy fires light themselves.” Can the word “fires” be used

      I am aware that the poem is a bit too long– even though I edited it from its original length! This is partly due to its narrative character. But it is true that religious-themed poetry is often most effective, when it is more concise in expression– as in some of Herbert’s and Donne’s shorter religious poems, that pack a punch.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The word “fire” (or others similar to it like “wire,” “pyre,” “tire,” “sire” and the like) can be construed as either single-syllabled or two-syllabled. I myself tend to think of fire as a disyllable, but poets have a certain metrical latitude with words whose vowel is a diphthong. Sometimes the diphthong is elided into a single sound, and sometimes the diphthong is sounded as two separate vowel sounds.

        The real point is this: Why are you still counting syllables? The crucial thing in metrics is to determine stress patterns. That’s why an iambic pentameter line doesn’t have to have ten syllables. It might have eleven, or nine.

        A problem I sense here at the SCP is that too many people are fixated on the orthography of a word rather than how it is pronounced. Orthography in English (as in French) is highly conservative, and is not necessarily connected to the actual pronunciation of any given word.

  3. James A. Tweedie

    Martin,

    1. I enjoyed the poem because I like a good story. This was a good story.

    2. I am always edified when Dr. Salemi takes the time to critique my own poetry. Here, however, I will point out that the word “process” is used correctly. As I see it, you are capturing an image similar to that expressed in the RSV translation of Psalm 42:4, which reads:

    These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
    how I went with the throng,
    and led them in procession to the house of God,
    with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
    a multitude keeping festival.

    Here, the verb “to process” refers to a formal (either secular or liturgical) linear movement; i.e. a processional. As in, “Now, it was the bride’s turn to process down the aisle.”

    3. “Fourteeners” are indeed difficult to carry off. For better or worse, I have posted several poems at SCP in that form. Here is one of them, a posting which also includes a comment from Dr. Salemi!

    https://classicalpoets.org/2018/11/14/the-cost-of-higher-education-by-james-a-tweedie/

    4. Although I consider “Fourteeners” most effective in narrative or light-hearted settings, it can, when done well, rise to eloquence–as, for example, in the hymn, “America.” (which avoids becoming “sing-song-y” by breaking the poem into couplets separated by the refrain.)

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      In the Biblical passage that you quote, the verb “to process” is not being used. The prepositional phrase “in procession” makes use of the noun /procession/, and is NOT a verb.

      You can be “in a procession” to the house of God. But you can’t “process” into, or “process” down, or “process” to. The proper verb in those cases would be “to proceed.”

      The uses of verbs and nouns are distinct, even when they derive from the same etymon.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        With all due respect, in my vocation this word is commonly used as a verb. Both British and American dictionaries list the word “process” in a way similar to this:

        pro·cess
        [prəˈses]
        VERB
        processes (third person present) · processed (past tense) · processed (past participle) · processing (present participle)
        walk or march in procession.
        “they processed down the aisle”
        ORIGIN
        early 19th century: back-formation from procession.

        It is also noted that British and American pronunciations slightly differ.

    • Martin Rizley

      I am glad you enjoyed the poem. I enjoyed your own poem about the kow-towing of American universities to the PRC.
      .

      Reply
  4. Wilbur Dee Case

    1. First off, Mr. Rizley’s “The Cottage in the Glen” is an excellent poem. I think it does an excellent job of mixing Neoclassical meditation and Romantic sensibilities. I like it because it is such a rarity in the New Millennium; but I should note that e’en T. S. Eliot felt the late Neoclassical era was “more like an age of retired country clergymen and schoolmasters” and was “cursed with…pastoral convention…”

    2. I thought the scansion was fine, a little blip here and there perhaps, but nothing significant. I do not find a problem with what Mr. Salemi calls the fourteener, but which I would call iambic heptametre. Mr. Rizley utilized it well, at moments surprisingly well, for instance, the neat pacing of “The sight of which, had I not then looked down, would have been lost…” and many other examples for the student of literature to examine.

    3. O, we are such pedants—but unlike Mr. Salemi, I would put a comma after abode instead of a semicolon, because it is appositional, but not worth making two main clauses. I agree with Mr. Salemi on blessed; accented it doesn’t scan. I agree with Mr. Salemi as well about the period after steel, which was a jolting, clichéd metaphor for me. I do disagree with Mr. Salemi, though, about the use of e’en; I think it’s fine; “although” personally I’d go for between as opposed to betwixt, as Mr. Hartley suggested, unless betwixt had some other significance. Nevertheless, writers choose what they want to use, and pedants be damned. I would note that great poets, like Spenser and Coleridge, frequently used archaisms to achieve remarkable results. Contrary to Mr. Salemi, and perhaps now the author himself, I prefer the slightly jarring “themselves ignite” to the more typical “light themselves”, whether Mr. Rizley was counting syllables or not (which is not a bad thing), as it is more forcefully poetic in my mind.

    4. Concision is important, as Mr. Rizley has pointed out, so let me finish; but I did not find the poem too long at all. I agree with Mr. Tweedie that “The Cottage in the Glen” was a “good story”.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you so much for sharing your reflections
      on the poem. Your well-considered observations are both helpful and encouraging.

      Reply
  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    I did not say a semicolon; I said a colon. They are two distinct punctuation marks. A semicolon separates two independent clauses, but a colon does not.

    Bruce, you try so hard to show us how much you know, and yet you always manage to make a blunder that indicates the reverse.

    Reply
    • Wilbur Dee Case

      It’s true; I try so hard, and yet I still make blunders: unlike Swami Salemi.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Bruce, I neither claim to be error-free, nor to be perfect. Nevertheless, you’re the one posting a comment here (the previous one in this thread) where you use the pronoun “I” no less than seventeen times.

        If this isn’t narcissistic self-absorption and posturing, what is?

  6. Martin Rizley

    Thank you so much for sharing your reflections
    on the poem. Your well-considered observations are both helpful and encouraging.

    Reply
  7. Wic E. Ruse Blade

    Perhaps You should write more about Mr. Salami and Mr. Boloney.

    Reply

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