On Romantic Longing*

Was it when autumn filled the air
With musty smells and chimney smoke,
This feeling in me first awoke,
Which hitherto, had not been there?

Or was it on a summer’s eve
I felt this strange emotion dawn,
As children tumbled on the lawn,
And played at games of make-believe?

When was it then? I must confess
I know not when, but what I feel
Grows all the more intensely real
As youth fades, and the years progress.

How can mere words describe a mood
That blends wild joy with deepest pain,
A sense of loss and greater gain,
Of childhood’s end, and life renewed?

It is a passion never cooled,
A thirst unquenched, a void unfilled,
A rushing river never stilled,
A stallion that cannot be ruled.

It is a longing, so it seems
For some more distant time and place,
A line cast out through endless space
Into the starry sea of dreams.

In youth, we first begin to feel
This ache within, as time distills
The liquor of life’s joys and ills
Into a cup that makes us reel.

As passing years ferment this brew,
We crave more keenly here below
Things far away and long ago,
The things we dreamed and never knew.

Oh, who can taste the bittersweet
Of such a mood, and not shed tears?—
We must discard the husks of years
To banquet on such savory meat!


*”Romantic longing” (sensucht) may be defined as “the desire to grasp the Absolute, a longing for that which, by definition, cannot be fully grasped or represented” (Birgit Roder). “This longing is often seen as the driving impulse behind the work of the artist, who seeks through the medium of art to give expression to his intense longing for the Ideal realm of truth, beauty and goodness.”



The Trees

Thus far the trees have grown—so high!—
Yet higher still they would extend
Their arms into the azure sky
To touch the heaven’s farthest end.

Impatient with the pace of time
And drawn by some affinity
For boundless space, they upward climb
And sigh to kiss infinity!

Beneath their crusty coats they hide
The rings of countless summer suns;
How oft’ their branches, spreading wide,
Have offered shade to weary ones!

Above the agony of years
They raise their lofty heads, like sage
Old veterans, whose youthful tears
Have made them venerable with age.

Tossed by the wind, the treetops sway,
While birds a royal fanfare sing,
And tender leaves obeisance pay,
Like subjects to their passing king.

The countless multitudes bow low
And rise again in rolling waves;
Lashed constantly, they groan “heave-ho”
Beneath the whip, like galley slaves.

How fitfully they rise and fall,
The treetops!—like a troubled soul
That strives to answer heaven’s call
But can’t break loose of earth’s control.

They bend and struggle to be free;
Or like great whales upon a beach
That helpless lie beside the sea,
They moan for realms beyond their reach.

Oh, ancient ones! To see you dance,
So full of pain and ecstasy,
Is to behold, as in a trance,
A vision of what I will be

When, having risen high above
The anguished growth of many years,
And reaching up in ripened love,
Though tossed about by doubts and fears,

I leave at last the earth below
And climb into blue realms on high
And kiss the Sun that made me grow
And made me long to reach the sky!



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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17 Responses

  1. Anna J. Arredondo

    I particularly enjoyed On Romantic Longing. To me it evokes the same indescribable yearning as Tennyson’s “Tears, Idle Tears.”

    • Martin Rizley

      I re-read Tennyson´s beautiful poem, and I think you are right– the theme and mood of the two poems are quite similar. I was also trying to give expression to the same sense of “indescribable yearning” that many poets have felt as they have called to mind scenes and moments of transcendent beauty in a world characterized by mutability and loss. Thank you for your feedback!

  2. Jeff Eardley

    Martin, it is always a tonic to read your poetry which always bounces along so melodically. I love the reference to leaves, under the whip, like galley slaves, and “Romantic Longing”is excellent. I think we are all doing that as we curse this loss of time as we yearn for the return of normality. On your recent posting, “The Immigrant”, I suggested turning this into a song. Under present restrictions, I am not allowed to meet my Irish musician friends, so I will have to do it all myself. I will keep you posted, and thank you for recommending The Irish Whistle album. I play this constantly and love “The Mountain of Women” and “Loftus Jones.” Best wishes and thank you again for these two most enjoyable gems.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you for your feedback, Jeff. Look forward to hearing back from you when you set “The Immigrant” to music! By the way, if you and your Irish musician friends ever playing the Immigrant tune from the Irish Whistle album, I wanted to let you know that I have written word to go with that tune. In fact, that’s how my own poem on the SCP website started out. I first wrote lyrics to go with the tune on the Irish Whistle album; then, later on, l took those lyrics and adapted them into the longer narrative poem that was published on this website.

  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Martin, I am in awe of “Romantic Longing” and can recognize that driving impulse behind the work of the artist. Your poem most certainly “give[s] expression to his intense longing for the Ideal realm of truth, beauty and goodness” in the admirably crafted lines and tangible and sensory imagery.

    I also like your song of the trees and love the idea of them kissing infinity. We could learn an awful lot from those trees and I’m drinking in the wisdom of your lines.

    Thank you!

    • Martin Rizley

      Susan, thanks so much for your very encouraging comments! I wanted to congratulate you, as well, on your prize-winning poem about the Napa Valley winery. When I saw the contest and the photo of the rose and winery on the SCP website, I was stymied by the challenge and didn’t know where to begin in writing about a burnt and charred winery! You took up the challenge and produced a truly beautiful poem, written with great skill and imagination.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    Though I’m not sure, Martin, whether or not trees strive, struggle or moan, I have always wondered why a given tree species can reach a certain height and no more. I suppose there is a balance between gravity and genetically determined bio-physical limits. In the end you were not writing about trees, and it does seem that human beings can go beyond their supposed limits, both physically and spiritually. Both poems were well wrought, but, unlike what you have suggested in the first poem, I have never pierced the veil of mundane reality, though there have been times when I felt “beside” myself and let another voice take control. I need to go back to that place, that state. It sometimes comes unbidden, but more often one simply needs to relax and do no more than provide technical assistance to the “other.” Some call it the Muse, others here (e.g. MacKenzie & Sobilo) have called it divine guidance, but I prefer to think of it as a human possibility with which we have been endowed by our Creator.

    • Martin Rizley

      The comment about “the creative process” below was written as a reply to your comment. Somehow, I failed to submit as a reply.

  5. Martin Rizley

    The creative process is indeed mysterious and does seem to employ both sides of the brain– both the “right brain creativity” out of which flow images, symbols, dreamlike associations, etc., and “left brain logic” which gives form, structure and coherent order and development to a poem. Who can fathom this mysterious process?

    As you point out, the Creator of all has put in us this impulse to create. I believe it’s a part of what it means to be made in His image. Moreover, I believe the “romantic longing” of the first poem is likewise of a religious nature, in this sense: it is a God-endowed aspiration for the transcendent that points us to God and can only be fulfilled in God. As C.S. Lewis points out in his biography “Surprised by Joy,” the longing for the Absolute, the desire to lay hold of trascendent beauty, truth and goodness in their ideal form– is in essence a longing or aspiration for that which can only be satisfied in that which is eternal– i.e., in God and in the eternal order of the age to come, not here below in this passing realm marked by mutability and the inevitability of death and decay.

    • Cynthia Erlandson

      Martin, as soon as I read these poems, I thought of two of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotations — and then was delighted that you also cited Lewis in the quote just above! In “The Problem of Pain”, Lewis says, “All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness.” And in “The Weight of Glory” (which truly is a glorious read!), he says, “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of of it.”

    • C.B. Anderson

      I’m with you on this, Martin, and though I’m not a big fan of brain science, the “in His image” idea strongly resonates with my own thoughts. “God helps those who help themselves” is a strong suggestion that He has provided us with everything we need, if only we take ownership of it, our divinely ordained birthright. To refuse this gift is to deny the sovereignty of our Creator. I don’t necessarily demand knowledge of the absolute, but I would like to think that I can instantiate a bit of relatively sound ontic presence.

      • Martin Rizley

        I certainly would not want to be understood as reducing thought to brain chemistry. I believe in the continuance of the human personality beyond physical death, but in this present mortal life, there is no question that human thought operates in connection with our brains, so it makes sense to me that different regions of the brain could perform different functions with respect to how we form our thoughts. There is great mystery here, no doubt, that at some point transcends what science can trace, insofar as spiritual reality transcends what can be detected with scientific instruments.

        It is interesting to note in this respect that in the Bible, there is a clear indication that artistic inspiration– does not arise merely from man’s natural endowments, or the physical properties of the brain- but arises from the mysterious interaction between God’s Spirit and the human spirit. We read in the Old Testament that the Lord said to Moses concerning Bezalel, “I have filled Him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and all kinds of skills– to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts” (Exodus 31:3-5).
        So it is interesting to note that, as with the gift of eternal life itself, artistic creation is attributed to God’s gracious initiative and the working of His Spirit, and not simply to man’s own will and natural giftedness.

  6. Cynthia Erlandson

    The poems are very beautiful, by the way! You totally avoided the pitfall of sappiness with which this sort of topic tempts lesser poets.

  7. Martin Rizley

    Great quotes from Lewis! I have not yet read the whole of his autobiography–only excerpts– but it is on my reading list for the near future. I am glad you liked the poems.

  8. David Watt

    Martin, your ‘poem, ‘The Trees’, is one of the most thoughtfully descriptive pieces I have read. The description of ‘tossing, rolling waves, whales on a beach, and lashed constantly’, combine as a particularly effective extended metaphor.

    ‘On Romantic Longing’ is simply a pleasure to read.


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