Daguerreotype

An old once-treasured memory engraved
On glass to keep the dying past alive.
A fractal blink of time preserved and saved
So that the tableau-ed moment would survive.

Three men, each silent, starched and stiff, perform
A stoic. static, soulless pantomime
As their unsmiling, frozen faces form
A triptych-ed portrait from a former time.

Three lives reduced to sepia and dust.
Whose nameless voices rise as if to say:
“How quickly earthly treasures turn to rust;
“And memories and lifetimes fade away.

“Remember us,” they beg with pleading eyes.
“For everything that is forgotten dies.”

 

 

Unsung Heroes

Forgotten, unsung heroes, deeds unknown,
Their names, their sacrifice and labors lost
To time, erased from memory and blown
Away like leaves felled by an autumn frost.

No doubt they lived the same as you and me,
With hopes and dreams of days and years to come,
And yet when duty claimed their liberty,
They added up the cost and paid the sum.

I sense their fragrant presence in the air,
Inspiring me with every breath I take
To lift whatever cross I’m asked to bear
In offering my life for other’s sake.

What love demands—There is no nobler task.
“Known but to God”—Far more than I could ask.

 

 

To Live and Die in Pompeii

Beneath the stars, the sun, the moon, the sky;
Beneath the trees, the flowers, ash, and loam,
Beneath the buried walls of Pompeii lie
Our bones, entombed in what was once our home.

Beneath a looming Mount Vesuvius,
Where once we lived and loved and laughed and cried,
Death’s darkness like a shroud enfolded us.
With gagging gasps we breathed our last and died.

How quickly life can be reduced to dust.
And gold become as trifling as the clay.
And what we crave with greed and burning lust
By time and tide will all be swept away.

Yet, even so, we lived as best we could.
For life, while it belonged to us, was good.

 

 

James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.


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28 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I love a good Sonnet and these three smoothly flowing, admirably crafted, prime examples capture mankind’s ephemeral existence beautifully. A pleasure to read.

    Reply
  2. Leo Zoutewelle

    James, to me these three sonnets were beautiful and inspiring.
    Thanks!
    Leo

    Reply
  3. Sally Cook

    You are good! Just one comment on the negative side — I don’t see the reason for the hyphen in “triptych-ed:. Without that, everything flows beautifully.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Sally,

      Reply #1: The hyphen was inserted after I had originally written the word without it, “triptyched.” I knew this would probably be the correct way to write it but every time I looked at it my brain wanted it to read the first syllable as “tripty.” This drove me nuts so I inserted the hyphen simply to preserve my own sanity. So, the reason for the hyphen was mostly arbitrary, selfish, and without any grammatical merit.

      Reply #2: On the other hand, since the word appears to be a neologism of my own creation (try Googling it) I felt free to write it any way I chose. The hyphen served as my way to show that it was a construct.

      Reply #3: Although I considered the possibility, in the end I concluded that it was unlikely the hyphen would be a “negative” for anyone. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t work for you.

      Also, as concerns your opening sentence, thank you for the high compliment!

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        P.S. Note that I did the same thing (and for similar reasons) with the word “tableau-ed.”

      • Sally Cook

        I do understand how some words can transform themselves into aggravations of the spirit, without any logical backup. Who can say why that happens? And of course you are free to write it in a way that relieves that aggravation. New words often occur in the dictionary for similar reasons.
        We agree that it was a construct. (Sorry I missed the other hyphenation – that in itself was unlikely.) However, I remain unconvinced, and still feel it made the meter bumpy, as it was outside the total landscape of your lovely poem.

  4. Amy Foreman

    I always appreciate your interaction with the infinite, James! These are eloquent, masterful, and deep–what a pleasure to read!

    Reply
  5. Martin Rizley

    James, these are really excellent poems on the subject of mortality, well-constructed, direct in their expression, with memorable, pithy turns of phrase and sincere poignancy of feeling. I love the aphoristic ring to some of the lines, such as the closing couplet of the second poem and the third stanza of the last poem. Thank you for sharing these!

    Reply
  6. Peter Hartley

    James – Do you know what I liked best about these? The rhyming couplet at the end of each: all three poems are nothing less than masterful, but if I had to pick the best, the first poem takes the biscuit. I find it so ineffably moving, as photographs detached forever from their sitters often are, and the impassioned plea of the final two lines takes some beating. The “Daguerreotype”, under your command of our language, spoke as eloquently for the dead as a seventeenth century Dutch vanitas with its skull, its hourglass and its unstrung lute. When I walked up Vesuvius I was surprised and pleased (but also disappointed in a little way) to find that it didn’t loom in a physical sense – the gradient is too shallow – but of course you and all the hapless householders of Naples are certainly correct that it “looms” in the sense that it is a constant and increasing threat. These poems are well brill, as I might have said to embarrass my children , if I had any

    Reply
    • Monty

      Until recently, Pete, I was virtually absent from these pages for about 4 months. Since then, I’ve made the decision to choose a handful of contributors to SCP whose work I regard highly . . and back-track over some of their submissions (if any) during said absence. Alas, I found nothing from Amy Foreman or Daniel Leach (two of the five) but, you being another of the five, I did find your sestet on the Scottish Islands . .

      . . and I can tell you that I had a whale of a time with them. By the time I’d read the 2nd of the six, I’d already surrounded myself with all the tools I needed to not only fully absorb the poems, but also to be geographically educated by them. I had the poems on my phone visible to my right; a physical encyclopaedia to my left; and my ipad in front of me, with which I was constantly flitting between Maps, Wiki, and Google Earth. For one who was into geography long before poetry: I was in my absolute element. I was there for well over an hour; it was like I was taking a (sort of) crash-course on the islands. Not only their history, but even just their geographical locations (whoever would’ve known where North Rona was? It can’t even be seen on a map until one zooms in to airplane height!). What an adventure I had.

      I simply adore poems which give a sense/education of geography. Like I say, geography came first for me; it seems like it was there from the very start of life (I once named 108 capital cities when I was in my late 20’s; and I didn’t even go to school! See what I’m saying?): and then when I discovered poetry (also in my very late 20’s), and subsequently geographical poets like Betjeman . . I had all I needed.

      So, not only cheers for the poems, Pete; but cheers for the education. And I feel that the sestet could be used to educate others if it could somehow find it’s way into the hands of the Scottish Tourist-Board.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Monty – Welcome back to the site and I really am chuffed to bits that my poetry lies somewhere in your top five, With your expertise and experience and critiquing ability that is a tremendous accolade for me and a feather in my cap that I’ll want to keep hold of. I’m glad to hear that you liked the six poems on Scottish Islands, and gratified to note that you did so much to ensure that you got the most out of them. Ever since I was at school I’ve been fascinated by remote places, and I think it must come out quite strongly in my verse which usually has more than a tinge of sadness and a hint of melancholy about it. Some of these islands have a vast literature attached to them, far out of proportion to their size, and I’m thinking particularly of St Kilda. I’ve written three poems about the (almost) tame rats in the airport at Kathmandu recently, but I’m not sure that Evan would consider them a suitable subject (though they were certainly very impressive rats that I saw – I don’t know what YOU think of them.) and another three about Everest mountaineers. I thought of you more than once during their construction. Many thanks indeed once again for the compliments.

      • Monty

        Well, it weren’t really a fixed top-five: I just thought of a few names “off the top o’ me ‘ead, like”, and it happened to be five. I’ve since been reminded that there are another two or three whose names could easily have came to mind at that time (one of whom wrote the above poem): they just didn’t.

        I must tell you that I can’t and won’t accept your above reference regarding my so-called “expertise, experience and critiquing ability”. They’re strong words when it comes to describing one’s ability to perfectly analyse the construction of a poem; and shouldn’t be used loosely. Expertise? Experience? I’ve only just got past learning the basics, Pete (and those ‘basics’ have only been learnt in the thirty months I’ve been affiliated with SCP). For example, I didn’t even know what a Dactyl was until last week’s submission by Mr Stone . . and I’m 56! And although I’ve now got to grips with such terms as Syntax, Spondee, Alliteration, Trochee, Anapest, etc: I still have to look them up when I see them mentioned on these pages . . just as a reminder; and yet, it seems that most contributors here have known such terms since school. So how can I ever be described as having “expertise and experience” in the critiquing of poetry?

        Those words must be saved for the REAL experts on these pages, Anderson and Salemi: real learned men who seemingly know (literally) everything there is to know about such matters; and with whom even the most minutely-technical of failings in a poem wouldn’t go unnoticed. THEY are the “expert” critics. Me? I’m no more than an observer. I observe poems on these pages, and I’m not shy about making an observation to the author if I see fit. But all such observations only ever concern ‘basic’ errors: sloppy/unclear diction; forced/inconsistent rhymes; inadequate grammar and punctuation . . errors which I feel I can detect just by having feeling for the written-word, without having to necessarily be learned. I’m careful never to get out of my depth when making my observations: I know my limits.

        Kathmandu Rats? You must beseech Mr Mantyk to publish them. If a piece such as last week’s aimless, wooden drivel about dawn in the forest (Mr Behrens) can make it onto these pages, then how can such an interesting, unique subject – by an accomplished writer – be refused? I wanna see ’em . . now! When were you in Kathmandu (henceforth abbreviated to the local vernacular of Ktm)? You may or may not know that for the last 15 years, I’ve been living in Nepal for 3-4 months every winter (200kms west of Ktm) and still to this day, I’m fascinated at the utter indifference the rats show towards humans, and the admirable impunity with which they go about their business . . not just in Ktm, but nationwide. It’s as though they’re aware of how earthy, humble and gentle the local humans are.

        I noticed in your discourse with another on these pages that you mentioned Schopenhauer: are you familiar with him? Whether yay or nay, you simply must read some of his aphorisms. He really was the Oscar Wilde of his time for his social observance, and his knack of being able to see things as they really are. Here are a few apéritifs:

        If we were not all so interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.

        They tell us that suicide is wrong, that it’s the greatest piece of cowardice; When it’s quite obvious that there’s nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title . . than to his own life and person.

        Money is human happiness in the abstract; he who is no longer capable of enjoying human happiness in the concrete.. devotes himself utterly to money.

        Religion is the masterpiece of the art of animal-training; for it trains people as to how they shall think.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    The three sonnets are all quite beautiful and resonant. But I do agree with Sally that the separated /-ed/ of “triptych-ed” (and also “tableau-ed”) is off-putting.

    A real problem is that many readers will scan the two words as trisyllabic, when in fact they are disyllabic. They’ll try to pronounce them as TRIP-tych-ed, and “ta-BLEAU-ed.”

    Instead of the “triptych-ed” word, why not try “triple”? Same meaning, same aesthetic effect.

    Reply
    • Anna J. Arredondo

      Joseph and Sally,

      As to the hyphen affecting the meter of the poem, I disagree. I feel that any reader familiar with the sonnet form who mistakenly draws the word out to three syllables would simply self-correct and reread the line again with a two-syllable pronunciation. Thus the meter is not made bumpy by the words’ hyphenation.

      James,

      I appreciated your three replies showing the thought behind each aspect of word choice. Whether truly a neologism (like “googling” something) or not, they are certainly rare adjectival forms of (fairly) less common nouns; I think the hyphen allows a reader unfamiliar with the word to “google” it in its lexical form to easily find your meaning…

      Thoroughly enjoyed all three sonnets.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        I am very much enjoying and appreciating the comments and suggestions regarding my use of the hyphen. Although all three poems were included (with the hyphen) in the publication of my latest book (“Mostly Sonnets–Formal Poetry for an Informal World” Dunecrest Press; available on Amazon and released earlier this month) I am thinking that “tableau-ed” still reads less awkwardly than “tableaued,” while the choice between “triptyched” vs. “triptych-ed” is more or less a toss-up. As the good Dr. Salemi has so often pointed out, the poet should be true to himself rather than play to his audience. Although you are a fine audience, I am inclined–should the poem in question ever be reprinted–to retain the hyphens.

  8. Monty

    I’m not in the least surprised at the quality of the above pieces; so consistently accomplished has your work become these days. I’d venture that a point has now been reached where you couldn’t write an inferior poem if you tried (well, maybe you could if you REALLY tried).

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      LOL How about this:

      There once was a poet named Monty
      Who . . .

      Oh . . . never mind . . .

      Reply
      • Monty

        This is the first time it’s ever come to my attention that my name doesn’t rhyme with another word; or at least not one that comes readily to mind.

      • Peter Hartley

        Too true Mister Monty
        Knew two sisters Bronte,
        Knew Bran well and Anne well
        And Charlotte the Harlot,
        But never knew Monty
        Was M (illy) (Br) onty

      • Anna J. Arredondo

        A luckless young orphan named Monty
        Suffered poverty, hunger, and want; he
        Found his luck took a turn
        When a place he did earn
        In the home of his affluent auntie.

  9. James A. Tweedie

    All of your kind comments are greatly appreciated. It is satisfying to hear that the poems touched your hearts even as they touched my own when they were being written.

    Reply
  10. David Watt

    An outstanding trifecta of sonnets. Each one is a winner, but the sepia photograph accompanying the first piece adds even greater impact.
    I second Peter’s astute observation that the concluding couplets are a highlight of each sonnet.

    Reply
  11. James Sale

    Wonderful poems, James, there is a sense of accomplishment in them without a straining for effect. The sonnet can be a difficult form to master but you handle it with an easy grace and mastery. Well done. Also, I have to say, there is a certain poignancy in the observations you are making – that sense that time always gives us, of loss.

    Reply
  12. Mark F. Stone

    James,

    I agree with those who feel that “tableau-ed” and “triptych-ed” sound awkward and are therefore a problem. My solution is not to remove the hyphens, but rather to revise the lines to remove the “-ed” (and thus remove the issue). Here are a couple of options:

    So that the tableau’s moment would survive.

    A triptych portrait from a former time.

    Apart from this matter, all three poems are very well done. My favorite is the Pompeii poem. It is beautiful and very moving.

    Mark

    Reply
    • James Tweedie

      Mark,

      You have shown a self-evident, yet satisfying alternative that had somehow eluded me. I shall change the digital master copies of the poem accordingly. And, once again, thanks to you and to all who offered their thoughts and comments.

      Reply
  13. C.B. Anderson

    James, I vote with the consensus opinion: The hyphens are an impediment to both understanding and pronunciation.

    Reply
  14. Wilbur Dee Case

    I agree with Mr. Sale: “There is a sense of accomplishment in them [these three sonnets of Mr. Tweedie] without a straining for effect,” which he handles with “grace and mastery,” and with Mr. Rizley that these three sonnets are “direct in expression, with memorable pithy turns of phrase and sincere poignancy of feeling” with an “aphoristic ring to some of the lines”.

    I thought Mr. Tweedie’s take on the eruption was very nice. [When Aedile Cwerbus wrote a sonnet about Pompeii many years ago, his couplet ended with a metric violation using “Pliny”.] I also liked Mr. Hartley’s comment about Vesuvius “looming”, because he is right, Vesuvius doesn’t loom, and yet when one is going to Pompeii or leaving, it certainly is there in the background.

    What I wonder is which of these three sonnets, or even some other sonnet of Mr. Tweedie’s, would best represent his work as a whole in an anthology of NewMillennial poetry, if someone were to make one.

    Reply

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