The harvest of an ancient past can waft
to mind as we enjoy a measured taste
of last year’s blend. The darlings who were chased
down vineyard lanes, who drew us to come after
her with earthy murmurs, birdsong-laughter,
raised eyebrows, whose fondling fingers traced
the swelling fruit, whose glow was never chaste—
escaped: they always do with every draught.

The vines are old; the grapes are new. The lines
are cultivated. Nature can improve;
we reap the rush of vintners at their craft.

The thunder-spangled sun strolls on, inclines
his fading glow, but does not yet approve
the trellised clouds, hung shaft on shaft on shaft.



Daniel Kemper is a systems engineer living in California.

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14 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Two very interesting things in this sonnet — the reversed ABBC-CBBA rhyme scheme of the octet, and the diacope of “shaft on shaft on shaft” in the closing line. The rhyme of “chased” and “chaste” would be condemned by some purists, but it works here.

    My one question is on the metrics of line 6. Something is missing, and it is not corrected by pronouncing “fondling” as “FON-del-ing.” I would suggest the change of that word to something with an x /x stress, like “consoling” or “revealing.”

    • Daniel Kemper

      Hi! Thank you a million for your thoughtful feedback. This one made me particularly nervous for reasons I can’t put my finger on at the moment. I’m cheating like a dog on the rhyme; and although it remains traditional Petrachan, it culminates in the problematic place you touch on. Here’s the culprit:
      “her with earthy murmurs, birdsong-laugh/
      ter, raised eyebrows, whose fondling fingers traced”
      -done in the previous line as well. The “aft/er” should be broken. I *think* the stresses work out better that way. -?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Why would you have a problem with a feminine rhyme like “laughter” and “after”? Why break them at all? And putting a cut-off syllable at the start of the next line might get applause at Eratosphere, but it won’t be appreciated here. The stresses don’t work out at all, unless you like enjoy baffling the reader.

      • Daniel Kemper

        Hi again Mr. Joseph*

        Right! I wouldn’t and didn’t do the line break in what I posted. I only meant “technically” though my wording was bad. I’m just writing the break there for clarification. I do think the line scans regularly if one “envisions” the ‘er’ on the next line. If you laid it out as a ten-foot line (I know, I know), I think it scans pretty regularly. Just reading it through is smooth too, don’t you think? That’s the real key. I get it: iff there’s an unavoidable stumble somewhere, explaining it away is no good.

        *Mr. Joseph How do you prefer me to address you? My small-town default is first name for warmth, title for respect.

  2. Julian D. Woodruff

    An interesting technicality. I think the reader is drawn slightly off guard by the identical weak syllables, -(t)er. Theoretically, different 2nd syllables are possible–which would force breaking both words over the line breaks.
    “Thunder-spangled sun strolls” is a remarkable sequence, as is “trellised clouds.”

    • Daniel Kemper

      Hi Julian

      You’re right about the identical weak… Strained on some details; whiffing others. Ug. Different second syllables- absolutely. But not written broken. When heard, the meter and rhyme naturally assert themselves.


  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    Just call me Joe S. to distinguish from the several Josephs who post here.

    As for how the line ends, we’ll have to agree to disagree. You can’t depend upon the reader envisioning anything, metrically, if conventional line breaks in a formal poem are disregarded.

  4. Margaret Coats

    Satisfying atmosphere for a wine lover, whatever you decide about the little difficulties with meter and rhyme! Just wondering about the number of nymphs, with “her” at the beginning of line 5 appearing to be a mistake. Is that an intentional riveting focus on the pursuit? Or a suggestion that one or many does not matter, as they all eventually escape? I would prefer “them,” as both nymphs and pursuers are otherwise plural.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Margaret, hello!

      Thanks for the props. I love the “her”; she is indeed a personification. “Darlings” comes from the editor’s phrase, “killing your darlings”. Not that they’re to be killed here. Just for what I hope the word choice alludes to.

      Still, plural should be aligned. You’re right. Escape? “Last year’s words belong to last year’s language…”

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Daniel, your poem intrigues and delights me. I love the title. The full meaning of the poem is just out of my reach, but the images and sensations it conjures are akin to the rich voluptuousness of a fruity, full-bodied red on a “thunder-spangled” evening. The closing three lines are delicious.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Susan, goood moorning er sort of– wrote this hoping to post in the a.m. from work, but …

      Some might sigh and say “the same old vines”, but those who cultivate their lines know fresh results can occur from craft and patience. The vintages of creativity reflect the year, the weather/times, but also the craft of their artists. Old vines can make new wines. She is the classical poem personified, not quite in reach yet, but soon will be, as last year’s was, though she too will escape again. Thank you so much for your compliments.

  6. C.B. Anderson

    There was much to love in this poem, Daniel. As for breaking a word at the end of a line, well-regarded poets (L.E. Sissman comes to mind) have done it before when it was necessary to save a rhyme, but don’t expect everybody to like the practice, and be sparing in your use of this technique. And, as J. Salemi asseverates, there’s nothing at all wrong with feminine end rhymes. This was one of the more interesting poems I’ve read this year, on it’s technical aspects if nothing else.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Thank you C.B., for your considered compliments and cautions. I hear you about using the technique sparingly, however valid it might be. I’m fine with feminine end rhymes, though I prefer them to rhyme on two syllables and not just the unstressed one. I enjoy playing with structure a lot– I’m not well-enough versed in contemporary poets, but seems like it’s an under-utilized method of expression– to bend forms in such a way that they re-enforce the content. I’m rambling. Thank you again for your perceptive eye.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Yes, Daniel, a full two-syllable rhyme is best (e.g. suffer/buffer), but if you can at least get the unstressed syllables to assonate (e.g. surface/purpose) you won’t get many complaints. There’s a lot more to it than that, and I suppose I should just write an article on the subject.

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