My word will not survive a fire: the dust,
the ash of paper singed by matches struck
by fingers bent on silence. And it must
rot here in summer heat in humid muck
where mold will gnaw away at every page.
My poetry will age like bread left out
upon a table for the dead, will age
like blossoms on a heated branch. The route
of mortal flesh and mortal word is death;
we store away in books and memory
and pray our children will forever breathe
our lines and songs each year, each century
to no avail: our fate will lead to life,
to newer songs and younger poets’ strife.



Sterling Osborne lives in south Florida. He is a private tutor and has been published in the literary magazine Ancient Paths.

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11 Responses

  1. Christopher Flint

    Your thought is striking.

    You might want to think about changing the order of this line:

    rot here in summer heat in humid muck”


    “in smmer heat here rot in humid muck”

    That makes “rot” a bit less abrupt and makes the second use of “in” less awkward.

    If you wanted to purify your rhyme in these lines, you might consider something like:

    “we store away in books that we would bind
    and pray our children give forever breath
    to lines, and songs each year until they find”

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Actually, Mr. Flint is suggesting the removal of the only trochaic substitution in the poem (“rot here in summer…”). This is in accord with his obsession with absolute metronomic regularity in iambic pentameter lines, and — as far as I can see — in any line of what he calls “perfect” metrical poetry.

        Trochaic substitutions are not “abrupt.” They simply begin the line with a stress.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    Sterling, Your poem directs my thoughts to Isaiah 40:8 which reads,

    “The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God shall stand forever.”

    Jesus refers to this verse when he says, “Consider the lilies of the field . . . Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.” Yet, he adds, “tomorrow it is cast into the oven.”

    As human beings and as poets we yearn for immortality, a word infamously associated with Shakespeare. Interesting to note that in my Last Wishes I request that my three children, in honor and in memory of their father, read all the books and poems I have written and published and listen to all the music I have composed and recorded, and look through all the photographs I have taken and digitally saved on my computer, and to do this once, after which they can do with them as they wish. My fleeting final flirting fling with immortality!

    After that it will be my turn to “fade away” and up to my children and grandchildren to write their own stories . . . and to bloom.

    Thank you for writing such a lovely poem. Its words, while not immortal in and of themselves, reached far enough to touch it.

  3. Yael

    A lovely poem and such a true observation. It reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes, which many people believe was penned by king Solomon. I wonder if the author of Ecclesiastes might have written some lines just like yours if he had been composing in English and living in south Florida?

    • Cynthia Erlandson

      I agree, Yael; I have always been fascinated with Ecclesiastes, and I think Sterling’s poem reflects it very well.

      • Allegra Silberstein

        I agree and liked this honest and thoughtful poem.

  4. Gail Root

    Indeed. Nicely put. Our obligations are our own; not for us to place on others. I like the idea of my children making their own ‘songs’.

  5. Cynthia Erlandson

    As I mentioned to Yael, I really like this sonnet, Sterling — both the universal truth it expresses, and its musicality. I did get tripped up on line 10, though, because it seems clear that “store” is being used as a verb; but since it is a transitive verb, it needs an object (store what?). I thought of a possibility: If it is “prayers” that we are attempting to store, maybe something like “We store away in books and memories / Our prayers that children will forever breathe…” might be clearer. Or, if we are also attempting to store away our “lines and songs”, then just adding commas at the ends of line 10 and 11 — after “memory” and “breathe” — might clear it up. Just an idea.

    • Chtistopher Flint

      The objects of “store”, albeit somewhat removed, are “lines and songs”. Some additional punctuation could make that clearer for some, but might tend to confuse others. Semicolons joining clauses of such disparate length are probably best avoided, but I think the flow here carries both thoughts adequately. That said, taking it to a colon is pushing the poetic license envelope.

      Still, I didn’t find it unduly bothersome.

  6. Christophet Flint

    Actually, Mr Osborne, I have an obsession with helping people think about their work critically because I’ve received that sort of help myself and I know its potential value.

    There are wonderful people on this site, including Mr. Salemi, whose advice is well worth absorbing and weighing.

    In this case, I said nothing about a trochaic being in your line:

    “rot here in summer heat in humid muck”

    In my view, the preceding line ends with “must”, a strong stress. The word “here” following “rot” is, per your meter and context, also a strong stress, enabling, I believe, “rot here” to be read as an iamb, despite three strong words sounding in a row. I just believe “rot” is simply much more effective as a fully stressed syllable. A much weaker word beginning the line and much weaker words surrounding “rot” give you the maximum effect of that very strong word.

    I thus think:

    “must…in summer heat here rot in humid muck”

    is worth considering. In this case, your meter and two strong surrounding words soften “here”.

    As for purifying your rhyme, I made no value judgment one way or the other. I was just trying to give you a way to explore the possibility.

    If I had offered my opinion, I would have advised you that I feel when you start with strong rhyme, if you don’t finish that way, you risk the perception of disappointment with unsatisfiied expectation, and you tend to give away one of the best means you have to make your lines memorable.

    On the other hand, if you dilute rhyme to achieve a particular purposeful effect, the gain can certainly be worth what you sacrifice. That’s the way I would suggest you think. And you have to make that call. I personally think your work here would be more effective with stronger rhyme because it’s a great way to help people remember great lines. If there’s a better way, though, that’s the path that should be taken..

    I feel the same is true of meter. Making your meter clear and sticking to it is one of the best ways you have to help people read your work the way you mean it. But ultimately. what makes your work most meaningful and most memorable is what’s most important. Getting the greatest impact out of the words you use is an important part of that.


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