“Come one, come all, it´s time to ride
The carousel of fools!
It’s free, it’s fun, just step inside,
Get on—there are no rules!”

So spoke the barker at the tent
To crowds that passed him by;
“I´m broke,” I said, “without a cent;
I´ll give this ride a try.”

I stepped inside and saw displayed
The whirligig go round
Before my eyes, while music played
With loud and festive sound.

“You must jump on; it never stops!”
A voice said from behind,
So like a cricket when it hops,
Eyes shut, I jumped on blind!

The number of all those around
Was far too great to count.
The ride was packed, but still, I found
One vacant horse to mount.

While starting slowly, by and by,
The ride picked up its pace,
Until it dawned on me that I
Was riding in a race!

The eyes of all my fellow horsemen,
Looking straight ahead,
Seemed fierce as those of savage Norsemen;
Yet, so strangely dead,

Like all the painted eyes of those
Fake horses that they rode
With fearsome gaze and flaring nose,
Whose lifeless nature showed.

(For painted eyes, though wild, intense,
And filled with burning ire,
Are glazed and still, devoid of sense,
And so lack life and fire.)

What strange delusion grips the heart
Of those within this tent
To make them think they must take part
In some warlike event?

How strange to think one can compete
Upon a carousel!
For there´s no challenger to beat,
No finish line, as well.

Each horse stays frozen in one place
While going round and round,
Fixed to a pole; it cannot race
Or gallop on the ground.

Why do these fools such scowls make
At riders by their side,
As though someone will overtake
Them on this silly ride?

Do they not see they´re on a wheel?
It makes no sense to burn
With pride, ambition, selfish zeal,
When each must soon return

To where he first stepped on this train,
This madcap ride of fools
Who go nowhere, but strive and strain,
In search of worthless jewels!

The worthless jewel all longed to clasp
Was one cheap, shiny ring
That kept itself beyond our grasp
While dangling from a string.

I saw how all looked on that ring,
With longing in their eyes,
And thought, “Why strive so hard to cling
To such an empty prize?”

“Why do these people vainly strive
For something that lacks worth,
Is that the reason we´re alive,
The purpose of our birth?

With that, I tried to leave this twirling
Madhouse, but I found,
The ride kept spinning faster, hurling
Me both up and down.

I struggled to dismount, but found
Some force kept me astride;
I could not jump down to the ground—
I felt so sick inside!

Until with one great thrust, I leapt
And tumbled down beside
The barker, who toward me then crept—
But I ran fast outside.

I´m off that ride now, thankfully!
I´ve found my special prize—
A valued pearl so dear to me,
So precious in my eyes.

But if you long for worthless jewels,
Then please, go right ahead!
The barker calls to simple fools,
“Come join the living dead!”



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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27 Responses

  1. Peter Hartley

    Martin – Brilliantly done, and a great metaphor for the lives so many of us lead. It kept my interest from the first stanza to the last. It reminds me of paintings of fairs by the likes of Brueghel, and also calls to mind a bad memory of mine of being on a roundabout one day when the local bully leaped onto it and span it round with his feet so fast that I thought I would either be very sick or go flying off it.

      • Martin Rizley

        Thanks, Joe! I´m glad you liked the poem.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Peter. I did I quick internet search on Brueghel to look at the pictures of fairs that you mentioned, and I can see why the scowling, leaden-eyed Norsemen/horsemen of the poem brought to mind Brueghel´s somewhat comical-looking characters!

  2. Jason Dain

    Martin’s cent
    He did not have
    Was so well spent
    I see;
    He joined the carousel of life, glazed eyes, hyped hope, ven-eered and meritricious worth & false reality !
    And yet his mind was still aware
    He had the wit to see
    And to focus on the world outside,
    The place he’d rather be;
    To struggle with the rest of us
    And live amongst humanity !
    Martin’s verses bring to my mind, for comparison and contrast, the poem that starts “I am monarch of all I survey”. Two false worlds: one of supreme status with nothing more than purposelessness and loneliness, the other of exciting razzmatazz with nothing more than never-to-be-fulfilled promise with the false reassurance of safety-in-numbers amongst the living dead.

    The struggle of real life, with its harsh unkindnesses of inequality and poverty and unfairness, is REAL.
    Those of us (not me, I am speaking collectively !) with the strength given by faith and hope and belief in some kind of unidentified future worth struggling for, are in fact the unwitting lucky ones.

    I hope I haven’t travelled off Martin’s own inner thoughts and philosophy.
    The value of your poem to me is the paths of thought it leads me down. Thank you.

    • Martin Rizley

      Jason, Thank you for sharing your thoughts in response to the poem. I am glad you found it thought-provoking and that you valued “the paths of thought it lead you down.” You correctly discerned that it is about two different approaches to life. On the one hand, there is the approach to life limited by the horizons of earth and by a restless striving to “keep up with Joneses” (the carousel in this context symbolizes the rat race of life, the dog eat dog philosophy that says “he who dies with the most toys, wins.”) Those on the carousel act as if material gain can bring happiness or as if the whole purpose of life can be found in terms of what is found on the carousel itself (the “cheap, shiny ring”symbolizes temporal, fleeting goals that perish). You are also right in interpreting the poem to say that life´s purpose is only found when we turn our focus on the world “outside”– in other words, the realm of the eternal. The “pearl” is a well-known metaphor in Western literature for Christ and the kingdom of God– as in George Herbert´s poem, “The Pearl.” So the poem really amounts to a confession of faith, in a sense, affirming that until our lives are grounded in eternal reality (a relationship with God through Christ) and the eternal riches of His kingdom are our chief pursuit, we are going round in circles chasing after the wind, for whatever earthly things we obtain must all be left here when we die– and what then? I guess you could say something of the outlook of Ecclesiastes in the poem– “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, a striving after wind.” At least, that´s all life offers until you find the reality outside the carousel, which doesn´t have to lead to escapist pietist existence that opts out of all involvement in the world– as Dr. Salemi understood me to be saying. Rather, it brings a heavenly perspective into earthly pursuits, so that we can act as salt and light in the world by involving ourselves fully in this world– yet as pilgrims passing through it, whose final destiny is not here.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    And once you’ve got your “valued pearl,”
    How wonderful for you!
    You’ll sit inside your little church
    With nothing more to do

    Than disregard the savage war
    That rages far and wide
    Among the rest of us who fight
    To keep our place and pride.

    And you can mumble pious psalms
    And close your tranquil eyes,
    While leftist vermin with their bombs
    Take power as a prize.

    You’re off the carousel, of course —
    You’ve called your private truce.
    Since you’re not mounted on a horse
    They’ll walk you to the noose.

    • James A. Tweedie

      Dr. Salemi, Each and every person has a “valued pearl” that guides their way through life. Call it a philosophy of life, or a world view, or a code of ethics, or a moral compass, or call it God, or Jesus, or some other religious faith, or “ism” or whatever you want to call it. I have mine and you have yours and Martin has his.

      Since Martin hasn’t spelled out what his “pearl” is, or how it shapes his world-view or how it leads him to respond to things in any particular way, I am befuddled as to how you are able to render such a passionate judgment based merely on the content of his poem.

      I ask this because you have leaped to similar conclusions in response to a number of my own submissions.

      Are you suggesting that Martin should stay on the “carousel”? And that he is somehow mistaken in wanting to get off of it? Are you riding the carousel yourself? and, if so, is there an unreachable ring you are trying to grasp?

      And what is the “valued pearl” that you possess, that guides your way through life?

      Like I said, I am befuddled and am hopeful that any response you can offer will make me less so.

      I will leave Martin to respond or not respond. I am not pretending to speak for him or defend him. In fact, I am not even challenging or initiating a debate over what you have written.

      I am simply seeking understanding and a way out of my befuddlement.

      As for the poem itself, I find it well-written and vividly descriptive to the point where, like Peter, I was beginning to feel a little unsteady on my feet!

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Look — there are two ways to reply to your inquiries, and both are valid. The first is by way of aesthetics, and the second is by way of subject matter, ideology, and political tactics. I think you’re more interested in the second, but it’s necessary to deal with both, since you have asked questions about both.

        Let’s start with aesthetics. I made no criticism of Mr. Rizley’s work in that area, since the poem is a perfectly adequate tetrameter-trimeter set of ABAB quatrains. And my poem in response was in a similar form, except that my first two quatrains were rhymed ABxB, since I composed the piece quickly. Again, to stick with aesthetics — I employed Rizley’s image of a carousel ride to frame my response, and to drive home my final point. In other words, I made use of his poetic apparatus to fashion a new but related poem of my own. The difference is that he has imagined the “carousel” as some pointless round of human foolishness. I have imagined it as the bloody and inescapable struggle of life and death that swirls all around us, especially in today’ politics.

        OK, now let’s turn to subject matter and ideology, which seem to be your major interest. Yes, we all have “a valued pearl.” But it the height of Pollyanna-ish liberalism to think that all of those various pearls are compatible, and can live together in peace. If there is one myth that is being torn to shreds right now, it’s that hoary Enlightenment fable. Rizley’s point — which is clearly obvious to any astute reader — is that we can somehow avoid the conflicts of ideology and the current culture wars by abstracting ourselves from them all, taking no part in the struggle, retiring to a life of prayer and self-sequestration, and leaving it all in the hands of God. This is pietistic quietism, and I have heard it from countless Roman Catholics and Protestants. It’s basically “Leave me alone at my prie-dieu.”

        Before you say that I have made an unwarranted assumption, let me say this: it’s clear that Rizley’s solution is religious, for otherwise he would not have used as his central metaphor “the pearl of great price” parable from the Gospels. When a poet makes an allusion like that, he must expect intelligent readers to pick up on it. I have “leapt” to no conclusions.

        You ask me about my “valued pearl.” I can be completely candid. I value above all else Western culture and the European peoples who created it. I value Roman Catholicism in its pre-Vatican II fullness and totality, without the post-1958 excrescences and modernist perversions that mar it today. (There’s a lot more I could add, but that is the heavy-caliber material).

        The fact that you had to ask this question, and that you had to come forward as a quasi-champion of Rizley, only tips your hand. You didn’t like my poem because it expressed skepticism about a belief-system with which you sympathize. That’s OK; we all have the right to our opinions. But one of the inescapable problems about human opinions is that they crash into each other regularly. You can’t complain when one gets smashed up badly.

      • Martin Rizley

        Hi James, I appreciate very much your comments on my poem.
        I found your interaction with Dr. Salemi very interesting! Although the poem has a definite backstory, I am hoping people from different backgrounds can enjoy both the narrative and the imagery in the poem and find things in it with which they can identify.

    • Martin Rizley

      Dr. Salemi,
      I am glad you took the time to respond to my poem and to interact with James Tweedie. I have given some interpretive clues in my comments to Jason above. I will only add that I can see how one could interpret the poem as advocating an escapist “pietist quietism,” as you put it, but that´s really not what I was trying to say. That fact is, I believe that faith should lead to involvement in the affairs of earth, not retreat from them, which is why I have on occasion “moonlighted” as a political commentator. I am greatly concerned over what I see happening in the United States at the present moment, for example, as ignorance of history and the principles of American government has led to a generation of young people brainwashed by Marxists like Howard Zin into despising America and believing that self-immolation and handing the head of George Washington on a silver platter to Antifa and BLM revolutionaries are the only possible atonement for America´s past sins.

      As I said to Jason above, the present poem is intended to depict two approaches to living– one limited in its perspective by the horizons of earth and the fleeting character of material reality, in which temporal gains are everything, and the other informed by a heavenly perspective, in which life´s pursuits are elevated to the level of the eternal and the imperishable– a perspective that enables us to be involved in life´s battles without yielding to despair, since we know that Christ´s kingdom will come and God´s purposes for history will be finally established, no matter how much men may rage against them (the perspective of Psalm 2). Is this not the perspective that Augstine expresses in his magnum opus The City of God, written to give eternal hope to people distressed by the fall of a temporal empire?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Mr. Rizley, no one is questioning your good will or your sincere faith. That was never my intention. If your aesthetic purpose in the carousel poem was simply to speak of the baser human passions and how they ought not to govern our lives, that’s fine with me, and I have no objection to that argument. And as a Roman Catholic, I don’t even have a problem with persons choosing a cloistered monastic existence where they can pray and meditate and labor while being “dead to the world,” and to all secular concerns. That is what our ancient contemplative orders offer as a gift to postulants.

        Some of us take the way of Martha, and some fewer take the better way of Mary. You take both, since you moonlight as a political commentator in addition to your religious duties. That’s OK — St. Thomas More did the same thing, as did St. Catherine of Siena and countless other highly active saints.

        But an easily forgotten fact is that what governs the secular world and what governs religious life are two different sets of rules. And no matter what priests, ministers, and rabbis may say, sometimes those rules are in diametric opposition, and irreconcilable. Frequently when devoutly religious persons attempt to deal with the secular world, they act in childish and naive ways because they don’t understand the difference.

        Reflections of this problem come up in a few things that you have said here in this thread. You say that you are “concerned” over what is happening in the United States, and that you reject the Marxist brainwashing that has polluted the minds of most of our millennials.

        Is that all you are? “Concerned”? Where is your boiling rage? Where is your resentment? Where is your willingness to speak with a tongue of fire against what’s happening? We’re not playing quoits here, my friend — we’re in the preliminary stages of a violent leftist revolution! The secular world is governed by passions, and if you don’t have them in your arsenal of weaponry you are at a distinct disadvantage. This is why your carousel poem rubbed me the wrong way.

        What is even more troubling are your words about “atonement for America’s past sins.” Nations don’t commit sins, Mr. Rizley. Only individual human beings do that. There is absolutely nothing that America as a nation has to apologize for. These words of yours are the quintessence of why the mainstream conservative resistance is doomed. Your words are a disguised surrender to the leftist radicals, and a rule in secular politics is that you NEVER surrender to the enemy, and certainly not with a verbal acceptance of guilt! Once you say that we “have sins to atone for,” you’ll probably be easily talked into reparations for slavery, land transfers to Indians, the destruction of historical statues, and a general degradation of white persons to second-class status via discrimination and punitive taxation. And it is far too typical of religious persons to make these sorts of disastrous compromises. They are always whining about sin, and desperate to apologize.

        You know, I often have arguments with my fellow Catholics over the Battle of Lepanto, which saved Europe from the horror of Moslem tyranny. Many of them say “All of those rosaries did the trick!” I lose my temper and reply “Yeah, sure — those rosaries did it. Forget about the halberds that we shoved into Turkish guts, and those crossbow bolts that we send crashing into the breasts of Janissaries, and those culverin cannon that we used to blow Ottoman ships out if the water, and the Niagara of Mussulman blood that we shed to make the sea crimson for days!”

        I’ll end by recalling a scene from of of Shakespeare’s Henry VI play. The feckless and overly pious King Henry is in London, and there are dangerous riotous disorders in the streets. His counselors urge him to send in military forces to chastise the mob. King Henry replies “”I will send some holy bishop to entreat with them…”

        The baffled counselors roll their eyes, and realize that this pietistic, weak King is utterly unsuited for secular command. He has allowed his religious scruples to blind him to the reality of power-politics. He shies away from confrontation. He won’t kill the enemy when killing is the only option left.

        Pietistic, polite, psalm-singing mainstream conservatism is of no use to us anymore.

      • Margaret Coats

        Mr. Rizley, the Marty Owen articles are splendid. But here (perhaps unintentionally) you slight Augustine, who gave immediate encouragement to members of God’s Kingdom on earth, the Church. He did not place the Kingdom only in eternity. In City of God XIII:21, his best interpretation for the Garden of Eden is the Church–and he makes it clear that both Eden and the Church must be understood as having real, temporal existence. To relate this to your poem and the “living dead” in the last line, Augustine remarks when preaching on the resurrection of the dead (Sermon 361:1), “Christ our God is now building His Church as the Ark of Salvation, and is calling upon all men to enter it.”

    • Martin Rizley

      Dr. Salemi,
      I agree that many religious leaders are clueless about the different roles of the church and the state in human society and confuse the two in terms of how they are to function. Anti-law enforcement liberals would have judges turn the other cheek and say to violent criminals, “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.” Advocates of liberation theology equate violent Marxist revolution with the coming of Christ´s kingdom. Both are mistaken because they base their theology of the state on something other than the teaching of Jesus in the gospels and the apostle Paul in Romans 13, both of whom clearly distinguished the church from the state while recognizing both as having a necessary and God-ordained function. The church advances the cause of Christ through weapons which are spiritual; the state defends the rule of law with physical weapons, and it must not hesitate to use them when necessary– as for example, to quell insurrection, when violent terrorists, thugs and criminas wreak havoc in the public square and terrorize law-abiding citizens.

      Of course, I am angered by the betrayal I see from government leaders who have allowed Marxist revolutionaries and anarchists to have a field day setting buildings on fire, toppling monuments, etc., but what good is anger toward men if it is not joined to faith in God? There is no benefit in nursing importent rage. Rather, one must rest in God´s sovereign control over history, then channel righteous anger in lawful ways to seek change- not only through prayer, but also by doing all that is one´s power to turn the tide of public opinion. I think pastors who speak in line with biblical teaching on these issues can help to dispel in some measure the confusion that reigns in society. They can clarify the duty of public officials and exhort them to fulfill that duty, rebuke incompetent and self-serving politicians, expose manipulative lies that are deceiving multitudes, and charge all to fulfill the duties of responsible citizenship by getting informed, voting, and standing firm in their commitment to do what is right.

      I very much agree that what is needed at this time “tongues of fire to speak out against what is happening.” Would that more Christian leaders took a stand on these issues. At the same time, however, it is also true that temporal issues, from a Christian perspective, must not be allowed to overshadow gospel proclamation. Nations rise and fall, but Christ´s kingdom endures, and people need to know that so that hope endures even when temporal regimes collapse.

      You might enjoy looking at a couple articles I wrote lately on the current political crisis in the U.S. which were published under the pen name Marty Owen (a name which I use for my political writing).



      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Those are two very powerful and hard-hitting articles. My deepest respect is due to you.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Dr. Salemi, I can feel the fear, anger, and hand-wringing despair in the powerful words of your hard-hitting poetic response. I feel much the same. I am angry that our church cannot sing, cannot partake in the usual holy communion, cannot greet, has to wear masks, maintain social distancing upon entering, sitting, and leaving. Why is it that “protestors” can stand shoulder to shoulder, scream into the face of policemen, and brawl on the streets and suffer no shame? Yet, those locked behind closed doors are shamed for even considering going to their local beach… and no sermon seems to, at the very least, address this huge elephant on the lectern.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Mrs. Bryant, I can answer your question precisely. Right now, today, we are living in a situation analogous to the chaotic period that came between the forced abdication of Tsar Nicholas in March of 1917, the temporary (and harebrained) government of the idiot liberal Kerensky, and the October 1917 Revolution that brought the Soviet nightmare to power.

        If Biden is elected this November, the parallels will be unnervingly accurate. Like Kerensky, he is politically stupid, vaguely liberal, and totally vulnerable to radical influence. He will be swept away very quickly.

        And that’s when the real knives will come out. If you think things are skewed and unfair to us now, just wait.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Dr. Salemi, I agree. The signs are there for anyone who chooses to look: Queues for loo rolls, hand sanitizers, and certain food items. Free speech shut down. Cheering in the streets is obligatory (clapping for NHS in UK). Any wrong-thought means reeducation. People snitching on their friends and relatives encouraged. The state managing every single aspect of life (COVID regs) etc. etc. etc. I am, indeed, worried, very worried.

  4. David Paul Behrens

    This is an excellent concept for a poem. It reminds me of a song by Joni Mitchell called “The Circle Game.” Here is the chorus:

    And the seasons they go round and round
    And the painted ponies go up and down
    We’re captives on the carousel of time
    We can’t return we can only look
    Behind from where we came
    And go round and round and round
    In the circle game

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, David, for bringing to my attention the song by Joni Mitchell. I was not familiar with it, but I find it fascinating how she uses the metaphor of the carousel in a way that is not far removed from how I use it in my poem. For her, the carousel represents time itself; as I said to Jason above, my understanding of the carousel is that of an approach to living limited by the horizons of earth or material reality, uninformed by eternal values. I appreciate your comments.

  5. Sultana Raza

    To Martin, I see this poem as an apt metaphor for the rat race, which you’ve brilliantly turned into a carousel. This poem is specially relevant now that millions of people are questioning their values. Again, I like the timeless quality of this poem, in the sense that we can’t place it in a particular decade.

    • Martin Rizley

      Ms. Raza,
      Thank you so much for responding to the poem. You hit the nail on the head with the expression “rat race.” That´s exactly what the carousel is meant to represent, as I explained in my comments to Jason above.

  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Martin, your admirably crafted poem reeled me in with its title, swept me up in the breathless ride, and left me with thoughts swirling around my head and a nod of recognition. I too have my “valued pearl”. For me, it’s the truth – being true to myself and to those I care for, and not running with the rest of the herd even though it’s easier to be swept up in the giddy frenzy of their promises and pursuit.

    I would also like to say that I’ve gained an awful lot from the comments your poem has brought forth. To my mind, a good poem always leaves room for the reader’s interpretation. Your poem is excellent.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Susan. I really appreciate your feedback. It has been gratifying to me to read the responses to it, which shows that people enjoyed it on different levels and felt drawn into it. I agree with you that it is often good for a poem to hint at or suggest a theme, without being overly explicit, thus leaving room for interpretation.

      • Jason Dain

        I read Martin’s comment to you.

        I did want to “butt out” of this multi-logue, but have been so very greatly enthused/fascinated (I cannot find a single appropriate word) by the varied and vehemently expressed responses Martin and his commentators have drawn. My position is not to care what opinions (again not the right word) people express, but to wish always to find feelings behind each reply.

        I once found – on the page opposite the title page of a paperback version of Lyrical Ballads – a quotation of Quintilian: Feeling is what makes men eloquent, and force of imagination; that is why even the uneducated have no lack of words, if only they are stirred by some emotion.
        This is exemplified by the commentaries Martin’s lines have drawn.

        A final thought: to ride on the carousel and choose to tumble off may (or does) enrich one’s subsequent life infinitely more than if one never gets on or never gets off. The nature of the enrichment is essentially abstract and probably differs for each one of us depending on how reflective we are in spiritual and intellectual terms. Martin’s non-existent cent bought access to a world over the horizon: and his poem plus the myriad of commentaries it has drawn lead me down new worthwhile and strangely re-assuring paths of thought. Thank you again.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Thank you for your reply, Martin, and thank you for your interesting take on it, Jason. Jason, I’m glad you didn’t “butt out”. I love the quotation of Quintilian, and feel this is exactly the sentiment that has driven the interesting comments on Martin’s poem. Also, your thoughts on the choice to “tumble off” this metaphorical carousel are in keeping with my thoughts. I’m a definite tumbler, and feel all the better for it. Thank you very much for your considered and interesting reply. It’s much appreciated.

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