There Is a River

There is a river that I know that flows through quiet meadowland
Nearby a row of cottages which by a levee quaintly stand.
I saw that river long ago, when one day, to amuse myself
I built a jigsaw puzzle which my parents kept upon a shelf.
As piece by piece, the puzzle grew, there entered my enraptured sight
A bright bucolic scene that filled my youthful heart with sheer delight.
There in that place, a tiny sailboat drifted on the flowing stream,
Which glistened in the morning sun, like some rare vision in a dream.
I longed to be there in that boat, but knew not where to find the door
To enter in that scene which stirred up feelings I’d not felt before.

There is a footpath that I know that winds beneath the clouds of heaven
And stretches out across a vale as sweeping as the moors of Devon.
I saw that footpath long ago, when one day, I was feeling bored
And pulled from off the shelf a book that hitherto I had ignored.
Upon the cover of the book, I saw a picture of that trail,
And felt my heart so strangely stirred by feelings that words always fail
To suitably express (so otherworldly and sublime are they)–
A longing to go on that path across the hills and far away,
A yearning to find out what lies beyond the rim, just out of view,
A pining for that pleasant land reserved for heaven´s privileged few.

There is a seashore that I know that goes on endlessly, it seems,
Beside a rolling ocean whose dark waves reflect the sun’s bright beams.
I saw that seashore long ago, when one day, driving by the sea
I saw a lonely strand of golden sand and felt it calling me.
The hour was late; I could not stop; I left it for another day,
But many years and many miles have kept that seashore far away.
Sometimes I travel there in thought, and walk in bare feet on the sand
And watch the sun sink down atop the blowing dunes whereon I stand.
I hear the ocean’s hollow roar as, wave on wave, the tide rolls in,
And long to be there ere night falls and my life’s evening sky grows dim.

Somewhere, the gleaming river flows across the lush green meadow still,
The footpath on its winding way still stretches over dale and hill,
The lonely seashore beckons yet, its solemn roar still calls to me,
And in my thoughts, I still respond by looking out across the sea.
When I am gone, such sights as these will come into some pilgrim’s view
And stir up longings for a timeless realm, forever fresh and new.
Like some celestial wind, sweet thoughts into another’s heart will gust
To stir an ache too deep for words, a wondrous sense of wanderlust.
Another’s heart will feel the rapture I have felt, when I have gone
Where rivers flow and pathways wind and golden sands stretch on and on.

 

On Going Through Old Pictures

The other day, I stumbled on some pictures in the basement
Stored in an old, forgotten trunk beneath the window casement—
Old family photos, left behind by former generations,
The sight of which aroused in me some strangely sweet sensations.

A fading old daguerreotype stood out from all the rest,
The kind made by those pioneers who settled the Old West.
It showed a family gathered in their Sunday best to make
A graphic image of themselves, for their descendants´ sake.

In two straight rows, they posed, with frozen stares, their bodies rigid.
They looked so stern and stoic, you would think them rather frigid.
Their drab and rough-hewn garments and their reticence to smile
Showed they had little time for social graces, charm, or style.

The women, with their dour look and hair tied in a bun
And faces worn with work showed they had little time for fun.
The men with their stiff collars, looking awkward to a man,
Showed they would have preferred to be out working on the land.

Besides that striking photo, there were others, likewise faded,
Their paper yellowed with the years, their quality degraded.
They say a picture´s worth a thousand words, and that is so;
For without words, these pictures told a tale of long ago.

Each photo whispered stories that would fill a lengthy book;
In each, the subjects stared at me with penetrating look.
Across the years they gazed, with piercing eyes, both sad and sage,
Their faces fading, faded, gone, based on each photo´s age—

Once cherished faces, now forgotten, buried out of sight
Within a trunk for many years, then lately brought to light.
I felt a strange affection for these gray ghosts of the past,
Whose life´s blood now flows in my veins while my short life shall last.

I looked at their faint image, captured now in two dimensions,
And thought, “I am the living fruit of their noblest intentions!”
They came to an unsettled land to build a legacy
For future generations of descendants (such as me!)

They lie now silent in the soil, and nothing yet remains
Of their life´s dedication, toil, their daily sweat and pains.
Yet here I am, their son and heir, their grateful progeny,
And though the world has greatly changed, their spirit lives in me.

In me there lives the same desire to breathe sweet freedom´s air,
To walk the length and width of this great land without a care,
To know that where I go, I may, with boldness, speak my mind,
Free from the tyrant´s lash, who with his chains my tongue would bind.

I find in me the same contempt for all forms of oppression,
As though men could compel by force another man´s confession.
I see in me a deep respect for those who freely labor
To serve God without fearing men or currying their favor,

Who seek to live a noble life, with vision for tomorrow,
With hope that looks beyond brief days of hardship, trial and sorrow—
A hope that dares to face each test with persevering courage
That´s founded on God´s promises, which strengthen and encourage.

In looking at my ancestors, I also clearly see
Life´s swiftly passing nature, and my own mortality.
Their absence makes me conscious of a truth I can´t deny
The briefness of the time that´s left to me before I die.

I feel the mounting years pile up and press me from behind;
The pressure builds, the earth gives way and rushes forward blind
Like tumbling rocks on top of me, the years, cascading, fall
And grind me into powder pressed against a moveless wall.

I try to flee the avalanche, but cannot get away,
For soon the years will leave me buried under tons of clay.
I can´t escape the flow of years, their steady forward rush,
For when my life collides with death, I´ll face the final crush.

I would hold fast to life, but know my mortal flesh must yield
To time’s eroding forces, which will plant me in a field
Some day, when I lie down at last to leave this world of strife,
Dismantled, yet held fast by Him who is the Lord of life.

I praise, therefore, the God of life! In Him I put my trust,
For though my fragile frame, like theirs, will one day turn to dust,
He lives forever, and His power, all earthly power surpassing,
Will raise me from the dust of death to glory everlasting!

For those in Christ, the windswept grave won´t have the final word;
Though pictures fade in darkened basements, in a trunk interred,
The souls of those who sleep in Christ will never fade away,
They rest for now, but by God´s power, will rise at break of day!

 

 

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.


Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. The individual poet or writer featured in a post has the ability to remove any or all comments by emailing submissions@ classicalpoets.org with the details and under the subject title “Remove Comment.”

15 Responses

  1. Leo Zoutewelle

    Dear Martin,
    I found both poems exceptionally pleasant to read, especially the river one, giving me a fine beginning of a new day. Thank you!
    Leo

    Reply
  2. James A. Tweedie

    Martin,

    Themes of past, present and future co-mingled with themes of life and death, mortality and immortality without neglecting the hopes and dreams that go along with them, all interwoven with wisps of whimsy, sentimentality, and reminiscence. Not to mention a hint of regret over bucket lists that will never be completely checked off in this lifetime.

    A poetic Thanksgiving feast; a bountiful harvest affording us all much to chew on as we approach tomorrow’s American version of Thanksgiving Day.

    There is much to be concerned about these days. Even so, it is good to pause, remember the abundance of good things that grace our lives, remind ourselves to be thankful for them . . . and then say “Thank you” to those who provide them . . . including (and perhaps especially) God.

    Happy Thanksgiving, Martin. And Happy Thanksgiving to all.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Happy Thanksgiving to you, as well, James1 And thanks for taking the time to read my poems and share your response to them.

      Reply
  3. C.B. Anderson

    This might be the first octometer poem I’ve ever read. I will allow that the long lines give the writer space to reach the apposite end rhyme, but for the reader it requires an enhanced attention span. The first poem I found a bit moody and overlong, but there were some great moments there. As for the second poem, I think you could have expressed the idea a bit more compactly and not have sounded, at the end, like a Bible-thumping evangelist.

    Reply
  4. Martin Rizley

    Thanks, C.B. I agree with you that some of the most effective poems emotionally are marked by brevity, and in that regard, the second poem may be a little taxing on the reader and pack less of a punch because of its length. With regard to the ending, however, the sort of “self-evangelizing” at the end in the face of death’s stark reality (a reality brought to mind by the act of looking at the fading images of dead ancestors), flows quite naturally out of the existential angst that lies at the heart of the poem. It seems to me a quite logical conclusion for the poem, given its theme of life’s transience. This sort of “self-evangelism” in the face of death is a very common feature of 17th Century poetry, in which reflections on death often lead to triumphant affirmations of eternal life in Christ (one thinks of poets like George Herbert (Easter) John Donne (Death Be Not Proud), Henry Vaughan (Peace, the Morning-Watch). If that is a less common today, it is because we moderns tend to be less conscious of our mortality than those of former centuries who lived before the advent of modern medicine, and also, because we live in a less religious age than theirs– an age in which poetic reflections on the theme of death have become almost “taboo.”

    Reply
  5. David Watt

    Hello Martin, I enjoyed your first poem the most. The description of three different scenes: from a jigsaw puzzle, a book cover seen long ago, and a view of the seaside, lead in with the assistance of some memorable lines to a logical and well constructed concluding stanza.
    The second poem was also certainly well written. However, like C.B., I think that the impact would have been enhanced if it was more condensed.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, David. You and C.B. may well be right that the second poem could be made more effective through editing. I wrote it in bits and pieces over a several day period when I was travelling on the road, so it may have ended up a bit too “rambling,” as a result of is sporadic composition. Recenty, James Tweedie published here a poem with a similar theme (“Daguerreotype”) that was quite short, but very effective- in part, because of its conciseness. I was surprised to see his poem, since it was so close in theme to mine, which I had by then written and submitted to the web site. (So I assure you, James, I didn´t copy you!)

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Martin – I liked these two offerings quite a lot.Like CBA I thought this was the first octameter poem I’d read till I was reminded on Wikipedia of the verbal jousting and precision delivery of tongue-twisters at lightning velocity for which W S `Gilbert was famous and for which iambic octameter seems to be the perfect medium. I don’t know if the octameter helps in the delivery of the narrative because of its relative freedom from the strictures of rhyme. If that is why you used it you have certainly taken full advantage of it with lots of descriptive narrative. Just one point which is not a criticism but an observation: in English the title of the poem to me suggests paintings (oils, acrylics) or watercolours/gouache etc rather than callotypes and sepia prints and things like that. The “pictures” you describe so well I would be more likely to call photos or photographs unless I were being more specific, eg daguerreotype. These poems are very moving and very poignant, particularly the second. Well done!

      • James A. Tweedie

        Martin, my poem was generic. Yours was personal, familial, and introspective—not to mention an entirely different poetic form. Theme overlaps seem to be the norm around here, as we saw with the Spartan poems last week.

  6. James A. Tweedie

    Also, re octameter, I posted an iambic version not too long ago (A Poem on America’s Trade War with China) and shortly before that a trochaic octameter poem. (For Dayton and El Paso). At the time I wrote them I was not aware how rare this meter is. Evan pointed it out when I submitted them. I can’t decide whether it is effective or not.

    Reply
  7. Martin Rizley

    Peter Hartley,
    Thank you for your comments. To be honest, I´m not really sure how I ended up with the octameter meter. After the initial words of the poem came to mind (“There is a river that I know. . .”), it just seemed “natural” to extend the line an extra four iambic beats. Perhaps it felt right because iambic octameter lines “flow” seamlessly from one to another like the flowing river that is being described. (In contrast to an iambic heptameter meter, for example, in which there is a natural pause between each line).
    Regarding the word “picture,” there is perhaps a difference of usage here between American and British English. In American English, it is quite common to refer to photographs as pictures (I looked up the word in several dictionaries, and there are in fact quite a range of meanings for the word picture. A “picture postcard” for example, frequently contains a photograph instead of a painting. Even movies are sometimes referred to as pictures. It all depends on the context.

    Reply
  8. Monty

    Undoubtedly well written the pair of them, Martin, and I especially like the very idea of the second piece, the sentimental reason for writing it . . but I must concur with other observations above: I feel the first piece to be ever so slightly too long.. and the second piece to be more than slightly too long.

    In the first piece: L6 of S4.. and the words “When I am gone..” . . I would’ve felt tempted to BEGIN the stanza with those words.. a/ ‘coz it’s a significant turn in the narrative of the poem, and warrants a separation.. b/ I would’ve then dedicated the rest of that stanza to the “when I am gone” theme (future gazers of the same scene, etc).. c/ In dedicating the last stanza to the other theme, it would’ve made the whole poem seem less condensed (first three stanzas in the present; the last in the future).

    With the second piece: S15 is roughly centred around the words “for when my life collides with death” . . S16 around the words “when I lie down to leave this world” . . S17 around the words “my frame will turn to dust” . . d’you see what I’m saying? It’s like three variations on the same thing (you dying eventually.. and whoever you worship living forever). Thus, what you conveyed in those three stanzas could probably’ve been conveyed in one.

    The following is of no consequence whatsoever: it’s just something I wouldn’t have been able to resist doing . . . It regards the title of the second piece, and the fact that the first three lines then tell us EXACTLY what the title told us, and more! As such, I feel that it was an opportunity to’ve used a really imaginative title; one that doesn’t mention what the three lines tell us, but is instead a metaphor or an analogy of the same. Something along the lines of “How things once were” or “Digging up the past” . . or even something more obscure; ‘cos no matter how seemingly obscure the title was to the reader, after the first three lines, they’d naturally link the metaphoric title to the poem.
    Hence, given that the first three lines tell us unequivocally the basis of the poem, I feel it would’ve been a good opportunity for a non-obvious title.

    But that’s only me . .

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks, Monty, for your thoughtful comments and analysis. I can see your point about beginning the last stanza with the words “when I am gone,” since that does seem to mark a turning point in the poem. As I reflected on this, however, I think that there is a reason why I inserted the intervening lines about the river, the footpath and the seashore STILL flowing, winding and beckoning, years after I first saw them. The reason is to highlight a contrast between “change” and “permanence”– though many changes have ocurred in ME since that time “long ago” when I first saw these sights, these stand in contrast to the abiding nature of the sights themselves, which continue to exist “somewhere” out there in the world for someone else to discover, after I have gone. In other words, I wanted to highlight the abiding nature of these sights that people will discover from generation to generation, that stir the heart since they point like “signposts” to an eternal, enduring and unchanging realm “forever fresh and new” beyond the limitations of this mortal life, which is marked by change and decay.
      Regarding the title of the second poem, I will consider your suggestion of coming up with a more creative title that only hints at the content to follow.
      Thanks again for your feedback.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.