17 March 2019

When bleeds the heart with heartache harsh and deep,
And coiling loins are toiling, boiling hot,
And tears descend across the landscape steep,
Cascading in their anguish, frail and fraught
With senseless queries gathered in a heap,
I know not what my Father’s will has wrought.

My flesh and bones within lament and weep
Their anthems, day and night, in painful thought,
Bereaved, in tune their grieving chorus keep
Until they tie their harp-strings in a knot
And drown themselves in dreary, dreamless sleep.
My God, why have you seized what I have sought?

Does my love grovel in the earth-dust, deep,
While I must win the battles we have fought,
But now alone, afraid, like one stray sheep?
Is this my Father’s solace in the plot
Of my new aweless story while I weep?
His flawless wisdom is the woe he wrought!

So now, my love, adieu! I let you sleep.
Sleep on in blissful paradise where naught
Of my distress can wound or burn, or leap
Into the universe your Father bought
With blood for you. But someday soon I’ll creep
Into your world when sorrow turns to naught.



Jeff Kemper has been a biology teacher, biblical studies instructor, editor, and painting contractor. He lives with his wife, Sue, in York County, Pennsylvania.

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32 Responses

  1. J. C. MacKenzie

    Sincere question: We are supposed to be interested in this box of adjectives and the effeminate pouting, how?

    The soteriological error underlying the melodramatic display is also glaring.

    • James A. Tweedie

      Sincere answer: Only someone with a human heart could possibly be touched, deeply moved, or “interested” in this poem. Only someone with a heart of stone could possibly read this conflicted outpouring of profound and intimate grief as “effeminate pouting” (which is an insult to women as well as men), to reduce it to the level of a “melodramatic display” or to critique it in terms of “soteriological error.”

      Although I apologize for the rhyme, I recently concluded a poem, entitled “The Law of Love,” with these words:

      For when we stand before the judgment throne in heaven above,
      We won’t be asked if we obeyed the law, but did we love?

      It is clear to me that the author of this poem understands this, and, by the grace of God, will one day have the opportunity to answer the question with a profound, Passionist, and soteriological, “Yes.”

      • J. C. MacKenzie

        Not one aspect, attribute, quality, virtue, or particularity of the “beloved” is ever once mentioned anywhere in this poem. In fact, the person of the beloved is the Great Absent of the piece. Technically speaking, even its gender is not given.

        It’s all first person pronouns. There is no second person, singular or plural. In French we call this a “moi-je” text.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Your great support for simple sloppy emoting makes me think that you would be better off logging in as James Twee.

      • Mike Bryant

        Your deranged delight in scathing stupidity makes me think that you would be better off logging in as Conniving Bully Anderson.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Mr. MacKenzie,
      First, I’m replying to your 2nd response, below, for which I’ve lost the “reply” button. For the record (it doesn’t deny your point), “you” does occur in the last stanza, where the poet addresses his beloved.

  2. Julian D. Woodruff

    Maybe what we need is a contest: no entry may contain adjective or adverb. No verb for speaking save “say” / “said”. (“A traveler from an antique land declaimed …”–yecch!, [double] yecch!!) Elmore Leonard would be thrilled.

    • C.B. Anderson


      I like Elmore Leonard’s books — a lot! I’ve read tons of them, back to, and including WAITING FOR VALDEZ.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Mr. Anderson,
        No disrespect for EL intended, really–just a snide swipe at dispensers of writing advice who parrot his thoughts uncritically.
        (I saw a very interesting interview of EL not long ago. I haven’t read him, but may get to him yet.)

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    There is no reason to assume that this poem is in the voice of Christ. It might very well be a speech from the mouth of Achilleus, bemoaning the death of Patroklos. As a matter of fact, there is no Christian connection whatsoever in these lines:

    Does my love grovel in the earth-dust, deep,
    While I must win the battles we have fought…

    They do however, fit in perfectly with the Iliad’s description of the unburied body of Patroklos, the raging grief of Achilleus, and in his return to combat that this death and grief bring about.

    Moreover, since the speaker addresses a departed loved one, there is no way that the poem can be connected with Christ’s Passion.

    As for too many adjectives and adverbs, well… I suppose it’s a matter of taste. But such diction is a very prominent and florid element in the style of two Catholic poets, Crashaw and Francis Thompson.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        You mean Bryant’s poem about prestidigitation? I simply used it as an example of what real, objective poetry should be, as opposed to poems that are egocentric and driven by emotion.

      • J. C. MacKenzie

        Well, here we have a poem that is driven purely by egocentric emotion, so I hope you will please excuse me if I am a bit confused.

        Also, the syllogism “Homer’s heroes grieved, this poem grieves, therefore this poem is Homeric” seems to me defective. Are all pouting-poems Homeric then?

        Of course, Achilleus, as depicted by Homer, is a defective personality, precisely because of his emotionalism. But the comparison, which is perhaps viable with Achilleus as an analogate, does not rescue the poem, it seems to me in my very humble opinion.

        And even if the poem was directly drawn from a Homeric text, it then becomes an example of mere “poetic karaoke,” which, again, does not rescue it, in my very humble opinion.

        I moreover hope that you will please forgive me if I disagree with the idea that this poem is remotely within the realm of Crashaw and Thompson. This, it seems to me, is an impossible stretch, if ever there was one, in my very humble opinion.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Did I ever say that emotion was NOT ALLOWED in poetry?

        Did I make a SYLLOGISM about the poem’s possible relation to a Homeric text? I simply suggested a hypothetical reading. Perhaps you have forgotten that a syllogism is composed of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. All I did was mention that two lines of Kemper’s poem fit in nicely with the grief and rage of Achilleus over his friend Patroklos.

        Did I ever say that Kemper’s piece was “in the realm of Crashaw and Thompson”? All I did was mention two poets who are well known for their lavish adjectival and adverbial tendencies, as a way to indicate that your nasty reference to this poem as “a box of adjectives” was not only rude, but also stupid if you happen to be committed to the worship of two Catholic poets who do the exact same thing.

        Kemper’s poem is an example of “poetic karaoke” if it alludes to an existing poetic text? Are you kidding us? The entire corpus of Western literature is laced with references to earlier texts! Is Vergil’s Aeneid “poetic karaoke” on Homer’s Iliad? Is Chaucer “poetic karaoke” on Bocaccio’s Decameron? Is the entire English sonnet tradition “poetic karaoke” on Petrarch?

        I’m sure you thought that the idiotic phrase “poetic karaoke” sounded smart and witty. Frankly, it only shows your malice and your desperate grabbing at straws when you are refuted in argument.

        Also, we all notice that you have quietly dropped your argument about the “soteriological error” of the poem, when it became quite clear that the speaker of the poem was not Christ, and the death and grief references were not about the Passion.

        Here’s some well-meant fraternal advice: Perhaps you should think a bit, before hitting the keyboard.

  4. Leo Zoutewelle

    I do not presume to offer critique on technical matters of poesy, nor, even, on things of deep thought, but I will offer emotive reactions called forth within me by a poem, whether anyone cares or not: I am deeply impressed by the lyrical aspects of this one. Thank you, Jeff.

    • J. C. MacKenzie

      The person of the beloved is completely absent from the text, unless you count the non-specifying second person pronouns in the last stanza, which do not, by any means, bring the beloved into the picture. So we have an adieu to a person that was never quite present.

      Nor has any relationship between the voice and the beloved been established, for that reason (no relations to an absent).

      For me, the emotions are shallow, artificial, and borrowed.

  5. Jeff Kemper

    To emote or not to emote? That’s an invalid question. Poetry denuded of passion can be cold, impersonal, and inhuman. I said, can be. But to write it off because of an outpouring or passion, is not fair.

    My brother-in-law suddenly collapsed. The voice in the poem was that of his widowed wife grieving (as I imagined she might grieve). Death is a cruel master, trumped only by the Master of the universe. The speaker blames God partially and briefly. The second person of the final stansa is absent because he is no longer alive. I’m sorry to feel as though I need to defend my work. In the wake of death adjectives and adverbs, I will maintain, collude in a natural expression of grief. If grief is rational, it is not grief. And to avoid expression of grief is not human.

  6. J. C. MacKenzie

    So the voice of the poem is fictively that of someone else and your brother-in-law is not even mentioned. My statements therefore stand.

    I personally find it inhuman that the dead suddenly disappear from all thought or memory or mention in what you are calling grief.

    So, we will just have to agree to disagree. My sincere condolences for your loss.

  7. Jeff Kemper

    We can disagree, but the deceased is in no way absent from the grieving. She speaks to him in the final stanza! And she looks forward to joining him!

    • C.B. Anderson


      The dead are with us, whether we like it or not. Your poem is not quite as bad as Mr. Mackenzie makes out, but his hard-line credo demands much more of you than you thought was necessary. Don’t worry; if you can bear these slings and arrows, then your steel will have been tempered in the hottest of forges, and you will move on to your appointed destiny. But beware the overblown image, lest your work become a mockery of true feeling. Emotions thrive best when understated.

      York County, you say? I grew up in Bucks County, and so I hail you as a fellow Pennsylvanian. To the woods!

      • Jeff Kemper

        J.C., since you are infatuated with noting a soteriological error, it would be kind of you to identify exactly what it is. In your box of humble opinions, of course! If you wish to school me, please drop the arrogance and exercise a bit of kindness, or perhaps you need not bother yourself with what is attached to my name. I am new to SCP and so far have read mostly civil comments and criticism.

  8. Margaret Coats

    I admire the capable rhyming of a 24-line elegy in English on just 2 rhyme sounds. Rare artistry suited to the solemn subject, as is the organization of the thought in stanzas. The lack of specifics about the deceased and the person grieving, to my mind, also suit the subject, as the reader must make efforts to understand what is unknown here, just as the speaker does.

    • Jeff Kemper

      Margaret, thank you for your kind comments. I had to check on what you meant by two rhyming sounds. I had quite forgotten about that.

      Poetry is well suited for a reader-response interpretation. In fact I wrote this as an interpretation of someone else’s grief, as my response to her grief, and as my projection of what my own grief might feel like should I experience my own spouse’s death. I wish I had not needed to explicate my own work but …

  9. Rod Walford

    Jeff – I could feel the heartache in your work and I could sense the deference to The Almighty as the final judge of all. I think you have done all you set out to do. In the face of all the critics it always pays to remember that a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument. Well done.

  10. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Welcome to SCP, Mr. Kemper. It is obvious to me that a lot of heartfelt effort has gone into the lines of your poem. For me, the closing stanza is particularly emotive – even more so now you’ve been somewhat forced to reveal the bare bones of your work. I’m with Mr. Tweedie on this; “Only someone with a human heart could possibly be touched, deeply moved, or “interested””. I like the way your poem left room for the reader to bring something of their self to the words. It’s a pity someone had to convey a little too much of their own self-centered speculation.

    I urge you not to be disheartened by this. My husband and I have been honored to be members of this site for almost a year and we have gained an awful lot from many encouraging and learned poets who have embraced our works with grace, perspicacity and invaluable overviews.

  11. Theresa Rodriguez

    Thank you, Jeffery, for such a beautiful and heartfelt poem. It touched me deeply within my soul. I could certainly feel the heart bleeding with “heartache harsh and deep”! Welcome to SCP and I hope we shall see more of your beautiful poetry!

  12. Sultana Raza

    To Jeffrey Kemper, you’ve managed to make this grievous moment beautiful, which is a feat in itself. I usually appreciate the paintings (like this one) chosen by the Society’s editorial team. At the same time, your evocative and atmospheric words have conjured up images of a beautiful baroque cathedral, complete with candles, with incense smoke streaming about, while mourners try to restrain their grief. This is just a subjective reaction/interpretation, and is not meant to be taken literally. It’s not easy to write a poem with such details, yet allow the reader’s imagination enough room so that the poem can be transposed to different landscapes.

    • Jeff Kemper

      Sultana, by conjuring your own image of the sorrow and consternation that death leaves in its wake, you’ve interpreted my poem as I had subconsciously desired. I didn’t intend to give details, which I supposed, would detract from its reading. Thank you.

      • Sultana Raza

        Sorry for replying so late to you, Jeff Kemper. Just wanted to say that I’ve never attended a funeral in a baroque cathedral. So, in fact your words helped to conjure up those images, such as, ‘grieving chorus,’ or ‘harp-strings’ or the Christian allusions to ‘Father.’ Such is the power of your poetry.

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