Coming Home

“Thank you for letting me come home,” she said
To me the night she died, and I, tongue-tied,
I could not answer her. I should have tried,
I know, for tacitly her thoughts I read:
“I shall not see the dawn, nor shall I tread
This earth again; I shall not sit beside
You, hear the blackbirds sing, nor bide
With you to pleasurable silence wed.”

Our dreams are done and you are dead and gone,
But even heathens are allowed to pray
For what are just deserts in heaven for one
Who never rated wealth or brash display.
If I let you come home to me that day
Why does it feel that you have gone away?


That Night

That night a being shone with perfect light,
Unseen by me but for an aura quite
Ethereal, eclipsing all in sight
Of the unearthly soul within. I might
Have seen by proxy what she saw: despite
Her torments I could see her eyes ignite,
And in those eyes the fire of love invite
Her and direct her soul’s immortal flight.

And on the day she died she knew her fight
Was done, no more could trials ever blight
Her life. Though tenuous my title was I right
To pray to him that we may reunite?
So bright her eyes before she died, so bright
They were before she slipped into the night.


How Resolute Are the Condemned

How resolute are the condemned and how
Their courage overtops their burning fear!
As I till this, though in our fifteenth year,
Had never seen such valour to avow,
Or anyone whose mettle I should bow
To and revere or something very near:
To step into the darkest night from here,
And leave her place among the living now.

That she’d be gone before the dawn she knew,
A knowledge she alone was privy too.
And she, beyond belief, beyond compare
Came home to me, away from nursing care.
Her fears she must have taken to the grave:
Without them she could not have been so brave.


Worldly Wealth

For worldly wealth she really didn’t care
And most of her possessions poorly made.
Her dying sister’s ragged teddy bear
She tenderly conveyed from Adelaide.
A wedding ring she had, the rest was bling,
A few pathetic little bits of paste
And worthless costume jewels: so sobering
To think that even what we put to waste

May long outlive our frail mortality.
I must discard the gimcrack things she had,
Each tired and tawdry little thing a sad
Reminder of her lack of vanity.
While still imbued with her, so hard somehow,
Though someday soon I really must, not now.



Sometimes I look and she is there with me,
A cushion, throw or rug enough to mark
Or represent her presence in the dark.
I know, because I have been told, I’ll see
Her less and less as time goes by and she,
As memory grows fainter than the spark
Of fire-flies, fainter grows the mounting lark
With height, so too her clarity will be.

The failing memory is nature’s balm,
We are not made to suffer any more
On earth than we are able to endure.
Cold comfort this to one as she, the calm
Of night was broken by her dying breath,
Composed at last to meet a peaceful death.



Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.

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34 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    Certainly there is no more for me to say than thank you for sharing this with us.

    It takes my breath away that you have.

    • Peter Hartley

      Joe – Thank you for your comment. It came as a surprise to me that I have found it quite easy to write, though not perhaps particularly well, on this theme because it gives me the catharsis I cannot find elsewhere and which I feel that I need. C S Lewis found the same catharsis and comfort in his intense and minutely monitored “A Grief Observed”. Those five little poems are drawn almost at random from over thirty, and I think each will stand alone. They each evolved over some time and I can see, now these are in print, that there is some emendation still to be carried out, mainly over infelicities in the sounds of adjacent words that I tend not to notice at a first or twentieth reading!

    • Peter Hartley

      And thank you, Leo, for telling me so. What this site needs (what I think this site needs) is to hear some of this massive stockpile of poetry you compiled while you were working with the animals.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, these compelling and relatable poems are beautiful in their sadness and sincerity. As a whole, they capture the raw thoughts surrounding loss – thoughts that bring me a greater sense of gratitude for the life and love I have, and I thank you for that. My favourite is “Worldly Wealth”. This captures the nature of your lovely lady perfectly, and reminds me of “My Mind to Me a Kingdom Is” by Edward Dyer – one of my go-to poems when I need further perspective on this tough life. The definitive “not now” of the closing line says everything and had tears sliding down my face – the mark of a successful poem together with a deep understanding of the meaning of love and loss. Thank you very much for sharing these. I am certain they will reach out to many.

    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – Thank you for your very kind and favourable response to these little poems, and I’m so glad that they seem to have elicited precisely the response that I was after, despite their manifest shortcomings. Unfortunately my self-critical faculty operates very ponderously so that it is some time very often (and long after they have been dispatched to Evan) before I notice the ones that least get my intentions across. One of these is the forced rhymes at the end of the octet of the second where, because I have only used one end-rhyme in fourteen lines I am beginning to panic (though, in my defence, I do rally a bit in the sestet). But making this panic so patent is an egregious fault on my part which several days ago I fixed. I have also changed that last line of the fourth that you liked (and I hope you would approve) to make it even more staccato, with a full stop and a capital initial L. Your opinion would be highly valued even if I totally disagree with you.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Peter, I can relate to all of your pains when it comes to perfecting a poem. I go through exactly the same thing. In fact, I consider all of my poems works in progress. I remember reading that a poem should be left at least four days after completion before returning and tweaking with a fresh eye. I am far too impatient for that. A lot of my poetry is of the moment, and I simply have to let it go in the raw. Ouch!

        I have re-read the poems in question with your concerns in mind. I do not consider myself wholly qualified to comment, but I will give an honest opinion. None of the rhymes in “That Night” appear forced. The poem flows along seamlessly and sweeps me up in its content without a second thought given to technique. The liberal and adept use of enjambment ensures that attention is drawn away from the end rhymes, focusing the reader on what matters – the message. I wouldn’t change a thing.

        In my favourite, “Worldly Wealth”, I like the closing line for its subtlety. The line flows along and then… the unexpected punch in the gut of the “not now” (for me) reads like a soft whisper of a sob that a staccato effect may ruin. But, that is only because of the effect it had on me on the first reading… such a perfect reaction, I wouldn’t change a thing.

        Peter, I have nothing to teach you all the while I’m busy learning from you, but, thank you for asking.

  3. Peter Austin


    Your sonnets really resonated with me, for I lost my wife 4 years ago to leukemia. I wrote several sonnets after her passing, including the following:

    In Koerner Hall

    In Koerner Hall I sit and raptly listen
    To Danny Elfman’s music. On a screen
    Marble-eyed Martian clones begin their mission
    To conquer us and carve up our demesne.
    As drum and cello war with flute and timbrel
    From a descending saucer slides a probe,
    Senses the gathered crowd, to crash of cymbal
    Annihilates it with a white-hot strobe.

    Why do I now remember? We were here
    A year ago come April – Joan and I
    (She in a wheelchair), seated at the rear.
    Mahler’s Adagietto made her cry:
    ‘Good tears,’ she smiled, her fingers’ flimsy freight
    Weightless in mine, on this our final date.

    • Peter Hartley

      Peter – That is an extremely moving sonnet of yours and it packs a real punch in the last line. I don’t know who Danny Elfman is or where Koerner Hall is, but I don’t think I need to do I? D was in a wheelchair for the last few months of her life and I found it astounding just what a barrier to communication it turned out to be, so much so that the wheelchair itself became the subject of one of my longer poems.

  4. James A. Tweedie

    Peter, Your comment reference to C.S. Lewis was spot on, insofar as you have allowed us to enter the heart and soul of your own struggle with grief. Today, I know you better than I did yesterday, and that is a good thing. But, more than that, you have given me a glimpse into the soul of the one who loved you–something a photograph can never articulate as well as you have done in these tender letters of love.

    Also, as I often do, I agree with Susan insofar as I also teared up when I read the words, “not now.”

    Given the subject, it almost seems trivial to mention how well written these poems are. As you mention, memories fade–but, in these poems, you have captured and preserved details of words, thoughts, and feelings that you will treasure for the rest of you life.

    • Peter Hartley

      James – Thank you once again for your very generous remarks. I think that I wanted to demonstrate as quickly as I could, in citing C S Lewis at the outset that there IS eminent precedent merely for the notion of describing a deathbed scene, because in a way I suppose nothing should be more private, more sacrosanct, than this. I decided that as long as I didn’t feel the need to dissemble (De mortuis nil nisi bonum) AT ANY POINT in what I wrote about her, then it was OK to go in a poem. Besides which, of course, she is not identified, and, most paramount, I don’t think she would mind. Your telling me that I have provided a glimpse into D’s soul is a tremendous accolade, and your words, as always, are immensely encouraging.

  5. Margaret Coats

    Peter, first of all I must echo Joe Tessitore’s comment. Thanks for being willing to share some of your poems on your wife’s passing, and may she rest in peace.

    About “The Night,” you did indeed fix whatever may have been forced in the rhymes, because I read the poem without noticing that there was only one rhyme sound in it. As something of a sonnet scholar, I routinely check the rhyme scheme of every sonnet I read, and I had just checked the scheme in “Coming Home,” but forgot to do so as I became absorbed in “The Night.” Didn’t remember until I saw your question to Susan. In that second quatrain where you had trouble, the image of eyes and seeing dominates, and I was taking great care to comprehend the vision. Your sentence is perfectly clear in demanding the reader’s attention, and you got mine. The sequence of events is clear if one heeds the words more than the sounds (which do support the words). All that is a bit technical, but the message is, you succeeded. If you are still concerned about the soul’s immortal flight, because the soul (not the flight) is immortal, relax and keep it as it stands. There is some name for the rhetorical figure you are using by applying the adjective this way; a classical poet is certainly justified in using it!

    Each sonnet has an effective ending, and the sequence of five is well concluded by “Memory.” But since you have many more, polish and arrange them all. This could be a magnificent work.

    In “Memory” itself, I was struck by “The failing memory is nature’s balm.” It is perfect in context, except that “failing memory” is a very serious affliction to many people, including a friend of mine who is in nursing care solely because of her failing memory. She cannot remember to take her medication, and she cannot remember the much beloved husband who died about three years ago. Every time I see her, we discuss what she considers a grievous cross, and I remind her that memory is really a power of the soul, more than of her afflicted brain. The memories she so much wants to find are stored in her soul, and will return. For this reason, I would suggest that you carefully consider “failing memory.” “Fading memory” does seem trite as a substitute. But is there another word that might better tell what is really happening to that power of your soul–and still say what you want to say about nature’s balm?

    All my best wishes in continuing your poetic work.

    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret – Thank you for your comments and suggestions about my poems, and regarding what you say about the sonnet form I must say that I prefer the Petrarchan to the Shakespearean. I admire the symmetry in the octet although of course it is harder than it was in fourteenth century Italy where every word ends with the same vowel (well, not quite). And I feel I can be much more liberal with the sestet whereas in the Shakespearean form I think I try to stick to an unvarying EFEFGG. The title of the poem in my draft is “In Articulo Mortis”, this being the precise moment I was trying to capture. That word, by the way, for a figure of speech where the adjective proper to one noun is transferred to another I used to know and came across it again recently during a serendipitous wade through the OED. I’ve forgotten it again but I can offer “zeugma” which is the application of the same adjective to qualify two nouns when it properly only belongs to one of them. I shall go through this poem again in light of your remarks about the nature of the soul but it will take a bit of getting my head round to follow: “Memory is a power of the soul rather than the afflicted brain,” once I’ve equated soul with the mind. Many thanks again for your comment.

      • James A. Tweedie

        Peter, If I understand Margaret correctly (and, if I do, then I believe I agree with her), the distinction between soul and brain is important. After all, the soul is your “self.” It is “you” . . . somewhat akin to “ego” in the Greek sense (not the Freudian). If the soul and brain are equated, then the self dies when the body dies and you cease to exist. In this spiritual/metaphysical sense, the brain functions (in part) as a neurological interface between the soul and the body. When the brain malfunctions, the soul, along with memory, remains intact, although no longer able to control movement or speech, for example.

        (As a side note, this distinction is central to both Old Testament Jewish and New Testament Christian understanding of the relationship between spirit, body, and soul. It is also helpful in understanding the significance of resurrection.)

        If Margaret sees this differently, then I hope she will continue to refine the conversation.

      • Peter Hartley

        James – Thank you for very kindly providing that explication of Margaret’s comment. I have never studied psychology, metaphysics, ontology, theology or any other related ologies and have always found their concepts extremely difficult to grasp. Even St Paul, I believe, while he acknowledged that human beings possess a body together with a spirit and a soul as separate entities, was unable to view the spirit and the soul discretely and apparently conflates the two. I don’t know where I got that from but I put it in a poem a long while ago at a time when it intrigued me to understand the distinction between a human being and (every other) animal and to know whether animals had souls or not, a huge case of begging the question if ever I’ve heard one. A couple of sentences ago I said St Paul claimed the body, soul and spirit as separate “entities” but if an entity is something that has an independent existence then I’m not sure that is exactly what he meant (in separating spirit and soul). Aristotle, to confuse me further, tells me that all animals have mind (psyche), and body (soma) but what distinguishes us from them is that we have logic (nous) and they don’t. But they do. At least some animals have logic, and can be induced to demonstrate quite complex logical thinking under laboratory conditions. If you could tell me exactly what is lost in converting a living human being into a dead one, or put what it is into a bottle and show it to me it would go a long way towards telling me the difference between mind and body but it still wouldn’t tell me the difference between mind and soul. And I must apologise profusely for all the foregoing tripe. The whole subject of theology is a foreign country to me.

  6. Peter Hartley

    Susan – I wrote a great long reply to your last and as soon as I’d finished it I wiped it off the computer. What I can remember of what I said, though, can be summed up in a decision to leave that last line exactly as it is, as you would have done, and not split it into two sentences. As you say it gains in subtlety, but the fourteen end-rhymes I’ve rendered rather less prominent, to my eyes anyway. Worldly Wealth now goes:

    For worldly wealth she didn’t really care
    And her possessions mostly simply made,
    Her dying sister’s ragged teddy bear
    She tenderly conveyed from Adelaide.
    A wedding ring she had, the rest was bling,
    A few pathetic little bits of paste,
    And worthless costume jewels, nor anything
    Could ever make her flaunt expensive taste.

    They all survived her though her caritas
    Lives on. I must let go the things she had,
    Each tired and tawdry item. Yet so sad,
    These relics are, unworldly vanitas.
    With feelings raw as this so hard somehow,
    Though someday soon I really must, not now.

    I had wanted to ask you a favour Susan, and I hope you will be prepared to oblige. You will recall some time ago I wrote an epic poem in 600 cantos on the mouth organ. I have twice asked Evan to publish it but up till now he has refused to countenance the proposal, even though the second time I asked I did so in an exceedingly subtle fashion. I was wondering if you would put in a good word for me. You could maybe say something like, “If you publish that ode to the mouth organ I could virtually guarantee you’ll treble the membership of SCP within
    days.” Something like that. I mean I’m not asking you to go over the top, but I do believe a work of such stellar magnitude really does deserve a wider audience and I think Evan will listen to you.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Peter, I didn’t think there was room for improvement but the changes you have made are definitely for the better. I’m glad we’re in full agreement on the closing line. The poem is perfect.

      As for the favour, I am sorry to announce I have no sway over Evan’s decisions. He has just spurned my terza rima sonnet series on macramé and my triple sestina on cross-stitch and basket weaving. Just think of the crowds he’s lost over those! There’s no accounting for taste. I have one minor niggle – why only 600 cantos? I mean, how many poets have brought such an illustrious instrument to the fore? It deserves far more.

      • Peter Hartley

        I thought 600 cantos was quite enough for the mouth organ. However might I refer you to my ground-breaking magnum opus on the Tyrolese bugle, which I think runs to rather more than eighteen thousand pages of micrographically reduced type.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Peter, you should’ve mentioned your crowd drawing magnum opus on the Tyrolese bugle first. Evan will definitely agree to that – it’ll knock those smug, airport rats into a cocked hat!

  7. Peter Hartley

    Susan – it would certainly sort out their snug smugly snudging. I know someone who could write a poem about that. Btw thank you very much for the suggestion to revert back to the original line in that stanza. You were definitely right about that.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      I have read all the comments on your post with much interest. I share your love of animals, even rats. My first love was a guinea pig! As we’re talking of death and rats, I wondered if you had read Mervyn Peake’s poem, Dead Rat. I’ve printed it below, just in case you haven’t. This is one of my favourites and I seriously don’t think I can top it:

      Dead Rat by Mervyn Peake

      Were I a farmer I would call you vermin
      Because you’d be the villain of my crops
      And gnaw my wealth, but I am not a farmer,
      But only one that walks the farmers’ fields,
      And so when I came on your stiffen’d body
      Lying alone and flowered with frost, your eyeballs
      Glazed and your little front paws so beseeching
      Crossed on your breast and pink like human fingers,
      And when I saw your deadness in the frozen
      Light of the winter morning, I, unmanly,
      Unfarmerly, and most impractically
      Felt that rats even have a right to live
      And knew that there was beauty in your body
      Dusted with starry marvels of bright frost,
      And beauty in the little hands you crossed
      Upon your breast before you died this morning.

      • Peter Hartley

        Susan – Our first family pets were guinea pigs too, the Abyssinian kind with rosettes in their fur. Mervyn Peake I know mainly from the distinctive titles of his novels being used as the names of UK rock climbs. I do like the poem. Over the past eighteen months I have written many in a similar vein (if nowhere near the same quality) of which the following is a typical example, ending, as so many of mine do, with a rhetorical question:


        I well remember those poor sightless eyes,/Still bright, that held reflected just what we /Could see, not he, detached from all that he/had known, The lonely moors, the open skies,/The smell of heather, peat and rain, where rise/On clacking wing the grouse; No more to be/Among the boundless Pennine hills, nor see/Beyond our being what before him lies:/Another image bare, but far more bleak/I witness in those eyes and see it still,/We hold not for our beasts the hopes that will/From our conceit arise, Yet who more meek/Than he should be among those creatures worth/The love of Christ, inheriting the earth?

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Guinea pigs are a wonderful first pet. My guinea pig (Pepper) taught me a great deal. I love the fact they’re so chatty and each one (as in any species) has its own personal character. Your poem is beautiful and sad. I was told as a child that animals do not enter the kingdom of heaven and that broke my heart. However, I’ve since learned that C.S. Lewis and James Herriot have a different take – how heartening. Humankind is very good at analysing to the nth degree when it comes to the precise meaning surrounding creation. I believe we ought to humbly acknowledge we know next to nothing when it comes to the supernatural, and religion merely touches upon the bigger picture. I’ve a fuzzy feeling the bigger picture involves guinea pigs.

  8. James A. Tweedie

    Peter, I would welcome a conversation on the subject of body, mind, soul, and spirit–But I do not feel that SCP is the proper venue. Evan has permission to share my email address with you if you wish to pursue it further.

    Otherwise, all the best.

  9. Margaret Coats

    Thanks, Mr. Tweedie, you explained what I meant. The brain is part of the body, and when we speak of “brain” we mean an organ, while when we speak of “mind,” this is something more difficult to understand, as Peter remarks. When we say, “to my mind,” the expression means something like, “in view of my thoughts and experiences on this subject and/or in general.” More complex, obviously. When someone suffers dementia, the brain is malfunctioning. One’s thoughts and experiences may not change, but the power to make judgments or carry them out often does. However, when I say that memory is a power of the soul to my friend, I’m just reminding her of basic Catholic psychology identifying will, intellect, and memory as the powers of the soul. According to one medieval poet I’ve read, it was Aristotle who added memory to the powers of the soul, and that would mean that the idea is part of Western civilization’s classical heritage. The soul, in the same basic psychology, is what gives life to the body. The body (including the brain as a bodily organ) may interfere with exercising the powers of the soul, but it cannot take them away. I consider that a great consolation for anyone with memory difficulties. However, I also agree with Peter that the natural fading of memories as time passes (because we must process more recent sensory impressions into memory), can be of great help in overcoming grief.

    • James A. Tweedie

      Margaret, Considering the complexity of the subject, it is surprising to see that we are in such close agreement. My only quibble would be to identify the spirit (which is from God) as that which animates the body and which joins body and soul together.

      For me, and apparently for you as well, there is a clear connection between our understanding of body/mind, soul, and spirit, and our approach to life, death, and grief (which is why were are discussing this in the context of Peter’s poetry). Not everyone sees it this way, of course, and while the Greeks–including Aristotle–spun the subject in a somewhat different direction, it is, as you say, part of our Judeo/Christian/Western worldview (or, at least it was until fairly recently).

      • Margaret Coats

        I’m glad you’ve suggested continuing this discussion by e-mail, and I will ask Evan to give my address to you and to Peter.

  10. Peter Hartley

    Margaret – I finished writing a blinking long post to you half an hour ago and I think I’ve lost the lot, unless you know different. I feel as sick as a parrot about it so I’ll give it a rest for a bit and try again, maybe tomorrow. One slight problem was that I’ve lost your e-mail address already and I was trying to send it via Evan

    • Margaret Coats

      Peter, do try again after a restful break. I just had the same trouble trying to make this reply, so if it comes through we have defeated recalcitrant information technology.

  11. Margaret Coats

    Peter, your wish to send your thoughts today I consider a great gift. Please do try again after a restful break. I look forward to receiving them when we can get beyond the afflictions of blind information technology.

  12. David Watt

    Peter, thank you for sharing heartfelt thoughts and precious final moments. Your poems stand as a fine tribute to your wife.

    • Peter Hartley

      David – As I wrote a little bit higher up on this thread it wasn’t a very difficult thing to do and it does act as a catharsis, although I’m not sure I’ve really started the grieving process properly yet; but writing poetry certainly does keep me busy.

  13. Rod Walford

    Hello Peter – I just wanted to say how incredibly heartfelt I found your poetry to be. I cannot use the word “enjoyed” of course but you’ll know what I am saying. It is fitting that your verses have engendered a very long, empathetic and informative list of comments which I hope you have found cathartic. Personally, I don’t think there is any clearly definable starting or ending points to such deep grief but on the other hand I don’t believe it retains a constant effect forever. Very best wishes to you – Rod

    • Peter Hartley

      Rod – You are right of course. There cannot possibly be a clearly defined start and finish to grief for anybody. I feel certain that I haven’t really started yet, a part of me thinking that she is still in the house and the only possible explanation for the strange movement of objects from one place to another when I feel certain it wasn’t me. I suppose this is what being in denial feels like. One trigger for me is what I have called elsewhere the pathos in the trivial, that objects closely associated with the deceased are more or less pathetic in inverse proportion to their actual intrinsic value.


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