I am the raging tempest tossed
upon the fretful sea;
you are the calm and quiet gale
that steadies me.

And yet I am the raging sea
as well as all its roar;
and you are even, still, the sure
that calms the shore.

And I am blackened night as when
the ship has sunk away;
and then I see your light which shines
as if a day.

And in the dark and cold, alone
I cry for one to hear,
and then you come; you are the lifeboat
drawing near.

This vessel that you are is strong
to bear all my within,
for you receive the charge with grace
and take me in.

You tilt against the whirling swirl
and navigate the course
so far from tumult, where I dwell
with ever force.

Your shoulder is against the gale
and me against your chest,
and we against the hollow grey
I come to rest.

I find mercurial repose
upon a curious shore;
because you gently landed me,
I ask no more.

And so we are of polar force
that meets in synergy:
you are the shaman of the waves;
I am the sea.



Theresa Rodriguez is the author of Jesus and Eros: Sonnets, Poems and Songs, a chapbook of thirty-seven sonnets, and Longer Thoughts (Shanti Arts, 2020). She is a retired classical singer and voice teacher who has written for Classical Singer magazine. She recently released an album entitled Lullabies: Traditional American and International Songs which is available on all streaming services.

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46 Responses

  1. Angel L Villanueva

    A lovely poem and delightful read. I like the imagery presented, as well as the varying syllabic rhythm of each stanza.

  2. Dana

    This poem is WONDERFUL! The images it provokes, and the parallels it promotes,… it is amazing!!!

    I commend you!!! Write more,… please!!!

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you for the kind comments Dana, I appreciate it very much!

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Quite nicely done. The metrical rhythm of the poem suggests the movements of the sea.

    Can I make one suggestion? In quatrain four, the word “lifeboat” in line three is out of sync with all the other third lines. All of those others end with a monosyllable. Can’t you find some substitute monosyllabic word to replace “lifeboat,” which is intrinsically awkward, clunky, and out of place in this mellifluous poem?

    It should be easy, since you don’t need the final word in the third line to be a rhyme with anything.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you Dr. Salemi for your kind comments, I appreciate them all very much.

      I will have to give the “lifeboat” issue some thought. Thank you so much for suggesting a way to improve the poem.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Yes, to fortify regularity, the last two lines of that stanza might have gone:

      You are the boat
      That’s drawing near.

  4. Mark F. Stone

    Theresa, Very nice job on this poem. My favorite phrases are “whirling swirl” and “the sure that calms the shore.” With regard to Professor Salemi’s suggestion, one option is that you could replace “you are the lifeboat drawing near” with “a lifeboat that is drawing near.” Mark

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you for your kind comments, Mark, I appreciate them very much. Thank you also for the suggestion about “lifeboat.” I will have to give yours and Dr. Salemi’s suggestions some thought.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Here’s one possibility:

        and then you come, like rescue’s craft
        drawing near.

        By doing this you get to use the perfect word “craft” (sometimes it refers to a small boat or skiff), while emphasizing the sense of “rescue” that the entire poem dwells upon.

        Mark, the problem with “lifeboat” is that it simply is an ugly and ungainly word that doesn’t fit in this beautiful poem.

  5. Mark F. Stone

    Theresa and Professor Salemi, My wife and I put our heads together and came up with three possibilities: “a beacon who is drawing near”, “a lodestar who is drawing near”, and “a guiding light who’s drawing near.” Of course, the last one may cause people to think of the soap opera by that name. Mark

    • Mark F. Stone

      Or, if we had alliteration, then perhaps something like: “a lodestar soul who lingers near.”

  6. Theresa Rodriguez

    Thank you Dr. Salemi, C.B., and Mark for your further comments and perspectives. I will give these all some thought. I appreciate you all taking the time to try to improve my poem.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    Theresa’s poem is a fine bit of work. What has come up in this discussion thread about the poem is a point that needs to be raised more frequently at the SCP. It concerns diction in general.

    Some words, by their very nature, are what I call “prosaic.” This doesn’t mean they can’t be used in poetry, but rather that they are limited, by accepted decorum, to only certain genres of poetry. Words such as “lifeboat” or “typewriter” or “golf club” or “prosthesis” may work perfectly well in a comic or satiric poem, or in light verse. But they really have no good place in LYRIC poetry, which is what Theresa’s poem is.

    If you use a prosaic word in lyric poetry, you slip into what Alexander Pope called “bathos,” or unintended absurdity and comedy. And bathos is the death of poetry, since it utterly undermines the desired effect that your poem is attempting to bring about. Pope’s excellent essay “Peri Bathous, or the Art of Sinking in Poetry” is the locus classicus for understanding this pitfall.

    That’s why we have to be careful here about the desire to “stir the pot,” as someone has urged in another discussion thread. Saying that “Anything goes!” in formal poetry is an invitation to bathos and absurdity.

    • William Glyn-Jones

      I think the point about diction is an important one. Particularly if the aim is to invoke a quintessential classical ambience. Of course the required vernacular is a moving target. 200 years ago, to Keats, the Elizabethan language of Chapman seemed perfect for translations of Homer. Now, Pope seems just right, suitable old but still clear, while Chapman seems so old now as to be quaint and a little obscure. I am in favour of the classical vibe in the extreme when the mood is right but there must be some room for variety – a spectrum. And when one is feeling even more ambitious, one might take on a bigger challenge, to take on something from the modern world, and classisize it, mythologise it, alchemically glorify it so that it can in some way integrate itself into the cannon. Bit by bit, we could classisize the modern world. In theory.

  8. William Glyn-Jones

    I like this a lot. The lifeboat line is okay. That verse is 3+4 =7 then a hexameter, like the others. Yes it is the most non-timeless word in the poem, but it’s fine to have the odd contradiction in a poem, or it can pass by so smoothly one hardly notices it! That said if a stress didn’t fall on “are” it might work even better. What about just “for you’re” instead of “You are”? Or something like that. But as I say, all good. I was challenged slightly by “as if a day”. A day is a period of time, so a light can’t be a day, but rather something you see in the day. I might have said “as if t’were day” or “as of the day” or something like that, but it’s minor thing. It is a good one.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I don’t quite follow what you’re saying. Take another section from the poem (in the first quatrain) as a template:

      you are the calm and quiet gale
      that steadies me.

      The scansion of that is as follows:

      / x x / x / x /
      x / x /

      That’s basically the way the parallel sections of the other quatrains are supposed to scan, with the usual variation in stress placement. Now look at the one in question:

      and then you come; you are the lifeboat
      drawing near.

      The scansion there is as follows:

      x / x / x / x / x (or / /)
      / x /

      The problem is that “lifeboat,” which is essentially a compound word, can be scanned either as LIFE-BOAT (two separate stresses), or LIFE-boat (a trochee). In either case, it doesn’t belong at the end of the line, since it is awkward as well as prosaic. This explains why Theresa’s following short line
      “drawing near”) does not begin with a short syllable — she is instinctively hearing the syllable “boat” as carrying over to be put in front of “drawing.”

      As for “lifeboat” being “an odd contradiction,” there aren’t supposed to be any odd contradictions in a poem. An “odd contradiction” is just another way of saying bathos.

      Bathos is a menace in formal poetry, since it is like a land mine that the poet can suddenly and unexpectedly step on to destroy his poem. Just one bad word choice can set it off. Here’s a perfect example of bathos from what was supposed to be a serious poem published at some Christian evangelical website a few years ago:

      You need deep cleansing of your soul
      To make your wounded spirit whole.
      God’s laving grace will soothe your hurt
      And be the bathtub for sin’s dirt.

      Anyone who can read that without laughing hysterically simply doesn’t understand how dangerous bathos is. Notice that “bathtub” (like “lifeboat” is another one of those clunky, prosaic compound words.

      • William Glyn-Jones

        Joseph thanks for this detailed response and it is a joy to be arguing with someone intelligent! You are certainly correct that I see the “boat” as carrying over. In every other verse, line 3 does not end with a trochee, but line 4 starts with the unstressed syllable of an iamb, then in this verse line 3 ends with a trochee, and lo and behold, unlike all the others, line for doesn’t start with an unstressed syllable – coincidence? Clearly not – and mathematically all is resolved. And you must keep in mind that there are hints of a less formal mode here due to the fact that lines 1 and 2 suggest the Ballad form – a four and a three, that run together like a 7. It’s an interesting fusion of the fluidity of ballad and the formality of Sapphic ode – the very synergy of sea and shore that the poem is about. Theresa hasn’t labelled it lyric. And if it was purely classical it wouldn’t have words like shaman (a Siberian word) and synergy (although form a Greek root, its use in English is relatively modern). I see now that you are hearing a pause that is not notated, and I do agree that much poetry relies on pauses at the end of a line for its rhythm, but in this case I think it’s too close to the ballad to have a pause between 1&2 or 3&4. That’s my opinion.

      • William Glyn-Jones

        “There aren’t supposed to be” is quite a weird philosophy for a poet. According to who? The only issue is whether it works. I’m a keen proponent of meter and verse but only because I think they work, not because someone says that’s what poetry is supposed to be. I think all this lifeboat stuff is a distraction form the one bit that really ought to change because it is a logical/grammatical non sequitur – “as if a day”. As if the light was a day? What does this mean? Doesn’t anyone else think this has to become “as of the day”? I.e. as if it was a light of the day time?

  9. William Glyn-Jones

    Joseph, “and then you come, like rescue’s craft drawing near“ is a bit odd because either you have to place a stress on “ing” or make drawing one syllable, which leaves it as pentameter when this line should be hexameter, and inventing a new phrase where there already is a word everyone knows could actually sound more absurd than just using the word. To be honest the verse would probably work perfectly well if it just ended “And then across the waves I see you drawing near.” We already know it must be in the role of rescuer from the context, so that would be enough, and we could guess it must be in a boat. But the line as it is in the poem is fine.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you William for your kind comments and suggestions, I appreciate it very much!

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Your difficulty comes from attempting to read two separate lines as one. Theresa has her line breaks there for a purpose. The short lines that end her quatrains are independent lines; they aren’t just carry-overs from the preceding line. Like the choriambic bob-lines that end a Sapphic stanza, they function independently.

      My suggested fix went like this:

      and then you come, like rescue’s craft
      drawing near.

      The scansion would be:

      x / x / x / x /
      / x /

      Your objection seems to be that the short final line needs an unstressed syllable to start, or otherwise there would be two stressed syllables next to each other. But the previous line ends with a solid pause after “craft.” There is no carry-over (except in enjambed sense) to the following shorter line. If you demand an unstressed syllable in that bob-line, try this:

      and then you come, like rescue’s craft,
      that’s drawing near.

      Again, a perennial problem here at the SCP seems to be this compulsion to count syllables, rather than understanding that stress is is the basic consideration in metrical poetry.

      • William Glyn-Jones

        I don’t take the line breaks so heavily. If they started with capitals I might, but I’m not sure it would change my reading of the meter. Try reading the poem like this and I think you’ll find it has a pleasing rhythm. Bracket indicate unspoken pauses for breath). No pauses between 1&2 or 3&4, only between 2&3 and 4&1. Pause for 1 “beat” between 2&3, and two “beats” between 4 and line 1 of next verse. I.e. (excuse my notation method!):

        Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum
        Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum (& pause)
        Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum Ti tum
        Ti tum Ti tum (& pause & pause)

        I feel sure this is how Theresa hears it.

      • William Glyn-Jones

        My last word on the subject:

        This line’s a fireside ballad in
        a tavern in a cove
        While this line’s carved in marble
        In an apple grove

  10. David Watt

    Theresa, your lovely poem maintains a sense of movement through every stanza. The consistent flow of wind and sea imagery is very well done.

    Having had the benefit of previous comments, I would opt for:

    “You are the craft
    That’s drawing near.”

    That is, if you were inclined to make a slight amendment to your fine poem.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you David for your kind comments and suggestion. I have certainly been given food for thought. I appreciate it very much.

    • William Glyn-Jones

      But….but….I just don’t think craft is right for this poem. It’s a sincere, and emotionally authentic and passionate poem. It doesn’t adhere to classical rules or meter for the sake of being “correct”, but uses meter for its real purpose: to empower the emotion of the thing. ‘Craft’ is too mannered. This isn’t a mannered poem. Craft where I’m from is used in a light way. Here in England we still sometimes use that word but we do so slightly ironically, in contexts that are leisured, pleasurable, fun. ‘A fine craft!’ But lifeboats – they are used in swelling storms to rescue people – and that is what Theresa is talking about, so I continue to argue that we leave that line alone!

  11. Joseph S. Salemi

    To William —

    Well, we all tend to read things somewhat differently. First of all, I do believe that confusion over where a line ends or starts could be easily dissipated if we just all went back to beginning every poetic line WITH A CAPITAL LETTER, as our ancestors did ever since the goddamned beginning of print culture. One of the worst consequences of the stupid modernist revolution was to change that sensible practice for the idiocy of refusing capitalization unless the line began a new sentence, or started with a proper name.

    Second, it’s a major mistake to think that a poem isn’t worthwhile unless it’s “sincere,” “emotionally authentic,” and “passionate.” This is the half-baked twaddle of Romanticism. The very first thing a poem has to be is an excellent linguistic artifact. You can “empower emotion” by watching a soap opera, or listening to a drunk’s sob-story. Poetry demands something much higher and richer, and more difficult.

    Actually, Theresa’s poem is a highly mannered one. Just imagine the savagely violent reaction it would receive if posted anywhere on the poetic internet other than here at the SCP. It would be damned, cursed, ridiculed, and berated as a horridly reactionary and hopelessly old-fashioned piece. It is, in fact, a very fine poem. But fine poems are made of language and structure, not of feelings.

    • William Glyn-Jones

      Agreed with much of this. I’m not anti mannered. I’m a fan of Pope – his Homer works better than any. And I love poems where the word-craft is more important than the emotional authenticity. But Theresa’s is quite emotional and raw and that’s good too, because it’s tempered by meter, rhyme etc.

    • William Glyn-Jones

      Agree with much of this. I’m not anti mannered. I’m a fan of Pope – his Homer works better than any. And I love poems where the word-craft is more important than the emotional authenticity. But Theresa’s is quite emotional and raw and that’s good too, because it’s tempered by meter, rhyme etc.

    • William Glyn-Jones

      Much as I admire Pope and can’t agree with Keats for preferring Chapman’s Homer, there is an exquisite beauty to some Romantic poetry. Anyone who can’t see the beauty of Keat’s ode To Autumn, Shelley’s to the Skylark, Wordsworth’s Daffodils and Coleridge’s Kubla Khan is massively missing out!

  12. William Glyn-Jones

    Given me an idea:

    This line’s a fireside ballad in a tavern in a cove
    While this line’s carved in marble in an apple grove
    Then these two lines are jaunty and comic and quick
    For their anapaests live in an old limerick
    While this one’s in heroic five-stress time
    And then a couple short and fast
    Now lead us on until at last
    Our five-foot hero finds his partner rhyme
    If I could make this fourteen lines
    I’d slap a label on it
    I’d jump up high and shout hurrah
    And call the thing a sonnet
    With two more stanzas it could be an ode
    My word! That’s fourteen lines – well I’ll be blowed!

  13. Bruce Dale Wise

    1. Mr. Salemi has pointed out, some words “by their very nature” are prosaic. He goes on to say, they are “limited by accepted decorum” to only certain genres of poetry, like comic, satiric or light verse. They have no good place in lyric poetry.

    2. Take, for example, the term “lifeboat”. According to Merriam-Webster the first usage of the word “lifeboat” in its modern sense was in 1797, some time after inventor Lionel Lukin’s non-submersible patented craft of 1785, and Henry Greathead’s claim of 1790. Pope could not have even used the word. After that, there were the poem “The Lifeboat” by George Robert Sims (1847-1922), the hymn of M. M. Brabham (1909-1965), “The Lifeboat”, and more recently, the lyric “Lifeboat” from the Heathers dark comedy of 1988, none of which I would label simply comic, satiric, or light.

    3. On what should be allowed in poetry, I think Mr. Salemi is absolutely right that it is an important topic that should be brought up “more frequently at the SCP”. However, I approach the problem from another point of view. I think too many words are “banished by use” from poetry, even here @ SCP. Since Plato, prose has dominated Western Civilization, and poetry has been shoved from the Republic. But it has not gone willingly. And my thought is that it should fight its way back into a more prominent place in the Republic. [You may say that I’m a dreamer, and I may be the only one.] Though the following poem is not much (for so many reasons), I had to indulge, as I think I have never used the word “lifeboat” in a poem.

    The Little Lifeboat
    by W. S. “Eel” Bericuda

    The little lifeboat floats adrift upon the raging sea,
    and though it’s tossed about, o, quite a bit, it does not sink.
    Around it sharks may circle, threatening its tiny space;
    but maybe it will keep its passengers unharmed and safe.
    The little lifeboat travels up and down the rolling waves,
    the only thing that stands between the people and their graves.
    Around it seaweed’s seen, and maybe plastic bottles too;
    occasionally one may even see a fishy school.
    But its main purpose is to keep its passengers alive;
    and it will be successful if each one of them survives.

    4. One of places I have striven to unite poetry and prose is in the bilding. I have used the word typewriter many times; here is one instance from a decade ago. Again, I do not claim much for this ekphrastic sketch; but my main point is I believe no word should be banned from Poetry.

    An Oil on Canvas
    by Red Was Iceblue

    The painting QWERTY is by Robert Cottingham.
    It is an oil on canvas of 2004,
    a section of Postmodern flotsam and jetsam.
    The picture’s view is looking down into the core
    of a typewriter on a bright orange background,
    which lies along the picture’s left and top sides more.
    It contrasts with the black, blue, white, and silver bound
    together in the platen, spools, typebars and keys
    in such a crisp and striking way it does astound.
    It is amazing how an artifact can please,
    so placed with such precision, and how lighting can
    produce a clarity one wishes would not cease.

    5. As for Ms. Rodriguez not using capitals at the front of her lines, I think it is fine. To me aesthetically (and I know others like Mr. Salemi, feel differently), it has a sparer, cleaner, more classic look, yet, at the same time, seems more modern.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Bruce, I’m tired and out of sorts, but someone has told just told me that you posted this comment last week, and that I ought to reply to it since it is largely directed against me.

      First off, let me ask a question. Aren’t you ever in the slightest bit embarrassed at being obtuse enough to post two of your own poems in the middle of a discussion thread about someone else’s work? This thread was about Theresa Rodriguez’s poem, and simple courtesy would dictate that comments should be about her work, and whatever specific aesthetic questions to which her work might give rise.

      Second, you mention three poems that make use of the word “lifeboat,” presumably as a way to contradict what I have said concerning decorum in lyric poetry. Let’s consider all three of them.

      George Robert Sims’s poem “The Lifeboat” is a low-grade colloquial narrative piece in fake sailor dialect. Do you seriously suggest that this poem can be brought forward in connection with a discussion of decorum in lyric poetry?

      M.M. Brabham’s “The Lifeboat” is a painfully crummy congregational hymn, meant to be sung to organ music. It is insulting and simple-minded to compare this vulgar thing with Theresa’s fine poem.

      The lifeboat poem by The Heathers is just an amateurish song from a pop musical. What bearing does anything of this nature have on the discussion at hand, which pertains to poetic decorum in diction? Did you just pull these three worthless poems out of thin air, to try to impress us all?

      You say “I believe no word should be banned from poetry.” That’s just fine, because I believe the same thing. But if you had actually been following the discussion here, instead of looking for some way to intrude yourself and your work, you would have noticed that the issue was not one of banning words, but of employing diction that is appropriate to levels of usage in different genres.

  14. James Sale

    Glad this poem was published, as I particularly picked it out in my review of Theresa’s work on these pages:”And again, the concluding stanza of “Shaman of the Waves” also captures something of her intense yet understated erotic power:

    And so we are of polar force
    that meets in synergy;
    you are the shaman of the waves;
    I am the sea.”

    To see the full review of her work, go to: https://classicalpoets.org/2019/11/26/review-poetry-by-theresa-rodriguez/ and do comment if you feel moved to do so. I am glad her work is attracting such interest and debate.

    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you again, James, for your wonderful review and your encouragement!

  15. Joseph S. Salemi

    James —

    I have just left a lengthy comment at your review of Theresa’s book, which touches on some issues of diction, style, and what we mean by “classical” poetry around here.

    • William Glyn-Jones

      I now think of that lifeboat line as the exception which – if not proves – then, reveals the rule. It’s nice to know what rhythm the poet had in mind, and if it wasn’t for that line, and it’s carried over syllable, we could read it with various types of pause at the end of the line. But once we see the carry over, we know the ballad-like rhythm intended. So in a sense it the poem needs that one exception, one might argue?

    • William Glyn-Jones

      In many ways I think of meter and rhyme as being rhetorical devices, like any other, there for the poet to use to achieve or amplify a certain effect. The difference I suppose is that they are so powerful that without them, well there’s not a lot left! But it’s still the poet’s choice. I wrote this today, free-verse – most unusually for me, but to make a point:

      My Eclogue IV

      Has the circle of the centuries turned round
      Has some great cosmic gong clanged to say
      “Free verse be uninvented, only ryhme!
      Let everything be said in metered time!”?

      Even in Arcadia
      There will still be the odd flock
      That wanders unshepherded
      Or loose-shepherded by untutored or muse-deaf swain
      Under the ilexes
      Nibbling at the herbs

      I am a persistent purveyor of classic verse
      But I relinquish any mantle of prosodic cleansing
      Ridding the World of some imagined threat
      As if the World is so delicate it would shatter at the shock of a few unshepherded lines
      “The enemy! Free verse.” No.

      Where would one stop
      Policing every written and spoken utterance across the World
      Till all the World’s a Jacobean play?

      It may not have the resounding resonance
      Nor appear quite so much a creation carefully crafted
      It may seem rather dated now
      A bit Twentieth Century
      Harking back to beatniks, cigarettes and polo necks
      Half baked
      Modern grown old
      Barking madly from the comfort of an armchair
      In a home for the elderly and infirm
      But at the end of the day, a lack of meter and rhyme
      From time to time
      Does, at least, no harm.

      The World’s embrace is wide enough
      For many things.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The last sentence in your poem is a nice sentiment.

        Too bad the purveyors of free verse garbage who run things in the po-biz world don’t agree with it.

      • William Glyn-Jones

        Yes you’re right there! I was reading something one of them said recently: poetry that follows the rules is the definition of bad poetry. It made me furious. All poetry from the classical tradition is bad? So ridiculous. And it made me want to retract the above foray into free verse. To try to make amends I then penned this:

        There’s no such thing as free-form verse
        As any layman knows
        Cos if the thing’s well formed it’s verse
        And if it’s not it’s prose

        There’s nothing wrong with prose, it can be
        Arty and poetic
        But if you want to call it verse
        Uh-uh, mmm-mmm. Forget it.

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