By lamplight through the long night hours, he kept his vigil by her side,
His love still fresh, though wilting flowers adorned the room on every side;
He would not give her up for dead, but tended her with loving care
And would not leave, though many said it did no good to tarry there.

He stood over her prostrate form, and weeping, said a fervent prayer,
“Lord, by your word you calmed a storm, and stilled the swirling, howling air.
If you can do such mighty deeds, then you can hush the solemn knell
That rings for her I love, who needs your healing touch to make her well.”

He looked upon her battered face, her two black eyelids swollen shut
The lips that he with tender grace once kissed, now bleeding, torn and cut.
He leaned against the bedside rail and took her hand and gazed upon
Her outstretched frame poured out, so frail, her bones so thin, her skin so wan.

He thought back to those former days when first he met his dying love,
When his astonished eyes did gaze upon her beauty, and thereof
His heart began to sing aloud her praise with songs of love and pride
To laud her every virtue, proud to have her standing at his side.

And oh! what virtues she did then display, outshining all by far.
Among the maidens fair to men, she stood out like a shining star!
Though born of painful labor, she did much, while young, to ease the pain
Of many who in hope would flee to her that they might freedom gain.

She beckoned all with open arms, and welcomed them upon her land
Where, far from tyranny´s alarms, they might, unfearing, freely stand,
She took in each abandoned waif in need of refuge and relief
From danger, that he might be safe, no longer bound with chains of grief.

All this she felt compelled to do because of that rich legacy
Received from noble forbears who in other lands across the sea
Taught her to prize the equal worth and dignity of every man
And guard the rights which all at birth receive from God´s Almighty hand.

From them she wisely learned to hate the vile oppressor and bemoan
The pride of earthly kings, who great in their own eyes, usurp God’s throne.
Embracing self-restraint, she placed upon herself the rule of law
That tyranny might never taint her shores, nor prove her fatal flaw.

Enriching poor men with her wealth, and throwing drowning men a rope,
Her face then glowed with youth and health, her eyes then sparkled full of hope.
She was a city on a hill, a light to guide men out of caves
Of persecution and ill will, where martyrs lay in unmarked graves.

Her love of virtue, fear of God, her sense of equity toward all
Who came to walk upon her sod, made many hearken to her call.
They came to seek a better life, a wholesome place to call their home
Where, free from warfare´s din and strife, they would no longer have to roam.

She was not perfect—that is true!—how sad she took so long to see
Her glaring sin against some who came to her land in chains, not free,
For far too long, she left in place those cursed chains and shut her eyes
To gross injustice toward a race who lifted up to heaven their cries.

This was a tragic chapter in the story of his dear one´s life.
Her tolerance of this one sin brought untold anguish, war, and strife
As brothers standing face to face in mortal combat on a field
Brought on her sacred soil disgrace, inflicting wounds yet to be healed.

Her sin, though great, was born of old, and banned at last by righteous laws,
A fact which shows, if truth be told, her virtues vanquishing her flaws;
That´s why so many ventured there, drawn by the ocean´s flowing streams
To climb her locks of auburn hair and find the maiden of their dreams.

But now, alas! Her head lies shorn, her locks cut off by worthless men
Who viewed her noble past with scorn, and scoffed at things beyond their ken.
Into their cruel company she fell in an unguarded hour—
A prey to their unloving schemes to crush her like a fragile flower.

Exploiting her naivete, they took her out, they said, to dine.
They fed her sweets along the way, and made her sleepy with fine wine.
Then having drugged her, stripped her bare, divested her of all her wealth
To show contempt, they cut her hair—and so deceived her by their stealth.

Deceiving her with clever lies and shaming her for sins long past,
They blinded her short-sighted eyes, and made her doubt her worth at last.
They led her blind into a rut, and called her names, like slut and whore
And left her bleeding, bruised and cut, unconscious of her life before.

As battered women often do, she yielded to this sad abuse,
Believing things that were not true, assuming she was of no use.
So acting like a faithless wife, she gave herself (to ease her pain)
To pleasures and a wasted life and ceased to walk upright and sane.

She drifted on from year to year, her darkened mind awash in drugs,
Until they found her, brought her here, no longer bullied by those thugs.
That´s why he stood beside her bed, and wept for her both day and night,
For though his love lay now half dead, she once had been a shining light.

His heart weighed down with woe, he turned and saw a woman sitting there,
Though aged, her face was all aglow with health and strength, as from her chair
She watched her troubled son in peace, then spoke soft words of quiet power
To make his heavy sadness cease, his heart consoled at this sad hour.

“I know you love her much, my son. I´ve loved her too, for after all.
She served our home for years and won our heart´s affection, you recall.
But keep in mind, that though you love her, she is still a servant girl;
You can´t make fish to fly above, nor from mere paste produce a pearl.

Nor can you make a servant rise to heights of glory that belong
To those with heaven in their eyes, who´ll sing forever Beulah´s song,
You are my royal son, my own, the heir to riches vast ahead,
One day you´ll sit upon a throne, long after this poor girl is dead.

I do not mean to wound your heart, nor speak too harshly, but you know
That servants must at last depart, they cannot live where princes go.
The same path you may walk awhile, but soon your pathways must diverge,
For you live under heaven´s smile, she´s of a world that God must purge.

Remember, too, from birth she had a known congenital defect,
We therefore knew she might go mad some day and lose all self-respect;
Let not your heart be ruled by rage because of what´s been done to her,
Instead, prepare to turn the page and to God´s providence defer.

I know not if she´ll pass away now at this time, or live on still—
Revived to live another day—that rests upon your Father´s will.
Although she lives, yet this is sure, the life she has, your life outruns.
No lasting union can endure of earth´s own maids and heaven´s sons.

My son, take heart, and be assured, your Father knows your every need
He´ll tend you as a mother bird protects her young and gives them seed.
He´ll heal your wounds and pour on you the balm of Gilead above,
And while on earth, take comfort, too, from having your dear mother´s love!”

Thus with these words old Sarah spoke, she stilled her dear son´s aching heart.
A sense of destiny awoke in him, that helped him to depart.
He looked upon his love, bereft, then kissed her cheek to say goodnight,
Then with his mother, as he left, with one last glance, turned out the light.

 

 

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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15 Responses

  1. Martin Rizley

    Thank you, Joe, for your very enthusiastic response to the poem. Your words are an encouragement to me to keep writing!

    Reply
  2. Rod

    I found this deep and moving poem truly engrossing and evocative. As Joe says- it is a masterpiece indeed. Good grief Martin. Congratulations!

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks, Rod, for your positive feedback. It brings me pleasure to know you found the poem “engrossing and evocative.”

      Reply
  3. C.B. Anderson

    Since you have gone to the trouble of creating a rhyme every fourth foot, one wonders why you didn’t simply use tetrameter lines instead of octameter. My guess is that, if you had, the poem would have been a mile long.

    Perhaps it’s just me, but I was a bit confused by the persona I had first thought of as a husband becoming, toward the end, a son. I might have taken the poem too literally (or simply lost the thread), not realizing that the whole thing was a fable, a metaphor, or some other kind of oblique expression I can’t quite put my finger on.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      The clue to the poem’s meaning is found in the names of the two women– Columbia, the younger, gravely injured woman who is the grieving man’s “beloved” represents the United States of America (the figure of Columbia has stood historically as a personification of the U.S.). The older woman sitting in the room, Sarah, symbolizes the church (the apostle Paul in the book of Galatians presents Sarah as a symbol of the New Covenant and therefore as the “mother” of all true Christians.) The grieving man represents therefore an American Christian, and the poem gives expression to the way many Christians in the U.S. view the cultural changes that have taken place in the country (through the inroads made by cultural Marxism) in light of their own “dual identity” as citizens of the U.S. and citizens of heaven, with a relationship both to the earthly land of their birth and to the “heavenly country” to which they are ultimately headed. The poem affirms, on the one hand, the rightness of patriotic feelings and love of country, while at the same time warning against the idolatry that could result from failing to see the passing nature of all earthly nations and their eventual demise, sooner or later, owing to their inherent imperfections. The message is that while it is right for American Christians to to desire and pray for the nation’s spiritual revival, at the same time, they must trust in divine providence, knowing that God’s kingdom will come and His purpose be established, regardless of what befalls the earthly nation to which they belong.

      I considered putting a verse reference under the title– Galatians 4:21-28– that would serve as a clue to its interpretation.

      Reply
      • Amy Foreman

        Thumbs-up to the idea of including the Scripture reference in this day of Biblical illiteracy, Martin.

        And I personally love the octameter you chose for this sweeping saga. I think it fits just right for the dense, weighty subject matter.

  4. Dusty Grein

    Martin … as someone who loves to write in longer forms, and a storyteller first and poet second, I applaud this incredible and moving piece. You have done yourself, and the world at large, very proud indeed.

    I will echo C.B.’s first observation, that you could have chosen tetrameter lines, but I think you made the right choice in combining them. This is a tool that has been very effective over time—by masters such as Poe and Wordsworth—to turn very long stories into ones that are more relatable to a larger audience by halving the line count.

    The shifting perspective and refocusing of the emotional impact across the body of the story well well-crafted and your piece polished nicely.

    A Very good job, and a definite modern classic. – Dusty

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Dusty, for your reflections and thoughtful analysis of the poem!

      Reply
  5. Joe Tessitore

    If Evan ever does a “Best of the SOCP,” this poem, in my opinion, should have a place of honor.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Joe, the extravagance of your praise bowls me over! Thank you for your kind words.

      Reply
  6. Amy Foreman

    This powerfully moving tour de force is definitely among the best of the best, Martin. Very impressive. Thank you for submitting it.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Amy, for reading the poem and responding it with such encouraging words!

      Reply
  7. David Watt

    Martin, I am impressed by your undoubted skill in crafting a meaningful poem in such a lengthy form. Furthermore, this poem held my attention throughout, and is technically outstanding.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you for your feedback, David! I am glad the poem sustained your interest throughout, which is what any poet hopes will be the case with a longer poem.

      Reply

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