On Death and Life

not by John Milton

Ere Death’s foul fetters drag me to my tomb
As fodder for the very maw of hell,
Should not my weary, failing soul rebel
And seek release from sin’s eternal doom?

For didst not Eden’s God deign to presume
To breathe eternal life into the shell
Of mortal dust in which our spirits dwell?
And by His Son prepare for us a room?

O Death defied! Thou shall not have thy way!
For by the blood of Heaven’s sinless Lamb
The curse of Adam has been set aside,
And I, redeemed by He who is I AM,
Shall be reborn and led by He who died
From endless night into eternal day.



Loughrigg Fell

not by William Wordsworth

How often have I faced the bitter chill
Of winter wind amidst the barren hills
That rise above the shadowed, sheltered groves
And brackened glens where whispered memories
Of summers past still echo in the splash
And dance of springs whose waters once refreshed
The lips of lovers who, in secret trysts
Sought sweet delights unseen by displeased eyes.

Yet even in the frosted, moorland heath
The thought of chimney smoke and fire within
A humble cottage built from thatch and stone
Breathes life into my numb and frozen soul.
For what we seek to find at heaven’s gate
Or on the throne of patriarchs and queens
May well be found behind a rough-hewn cottage door
That we have passed, unseen, a thousand times before.



Forgive Me, Little Bird

not by William McGonagall 

Forgive me, little bird, for I have sinned.
The hedge in which you built your house, I trimmed;
And saw the sparrow’s nest you neatly wove
And five dappled eggs—too small to be a dove’s.

I tried to cover it with severed twigs
And various assorted leaves and sprigs
From other plants I cut that grew nearby
Because I did not want the eggs to die.

But you, O grieving mother never came,
And to my disappointment, guilt and shame,
That after I have watched two full weeks pass,
The five-still unhatched eggs remain, alas!

It must be hard to be a bird, I think;
To lay up eggs and nests and have them sink.




Port Nam Mairtear

not by T.S. Eliot

With sleeves unrolled we leave
Indented silhouettes of laced
__and leathered feet
Upon the shell-strewn, wind-swept shore.

With feigned indifference we close
Our eyes to memories
__of dying monks
Who, felled by sword and spear,
Intoned their final, silent prayers upon
__these stones.

Their ancient blood cries out
As screeching seagulls squawk
__Pater dimitte illis
Thinking that their voices are their own.

But we know better,
As Te absolvsos echo in the winding stair
__that leads us
To the final door which opens
To a blinding, dim unknown.



James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse.

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17 Responses

  1. David Watt

    What a lovely set of poems!
    “Forgive Me, Little Bird” provided me with a good laugh, especially when reading the concluding couplet.

  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    James, I love this inspirational idea and its clever execution. I too love the smile of a poem, “Forgive Me, Little Bird” which is evidently ‘not by William McGonagall’ – it’s far too good!! Great stuff!

    • James A. Tweedie


      I find it more difficult to write a bad poem in imitation of McGonagall than to write one in imitation of a greater poet. Go figure.

      I would be interested to hear from you or anyone else how I could have improved my imitative efforts? For example, my entire Wordsworth poem is comprised of only three sentences. Is there any precedent for this in Wordsworth’s own poetry? And the rhyme pattern of the closing Milton sestet ABCBCA–was that ever used by Milton?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The problem with your version of McGonagall is that it is metrical. McGonagall had no conception of what meter is, and his poetry shows it.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        Mr. Tweedie,
        I hope someone else addresses your question here. On Milton: 1) should it be “didst” or “did” (line 5)?; 2) “shall” or shalt” (line 9?; 3) “He” or “Him” (lines 12, 13)? On the rhyme scheme, maybe M would have just scratched his head a moment. In any case 4 very accomplished poems–thanks!

  3. James A. Tweedie

    Dr. S,

    LOL! I completely agree. I have forced myself (painfully) to try it again. Any better? (or should I say, “Any worse?”)

    Forgive me, little bird, for I have sinned.
    The hedge where you built your house, I trimmed;
    And uncovered the nest you wove
    With five dappled eggs—a sparrow’s but not a dove’s.

    I tried to cover it with twigs
    And other leaves and sprigs
    That were growing nearby
    Because I did not want the eggs to die.

    But the mother never came,
    And to my eternal shame,
    That after I watched two weeks pass,
    The unhatched eggs remained, alas!

    To be a bird must be hard, I think;
    To lay eggs and then have them stink.

  4. Paul Freeman

    Let me tell you about a poet by the name of Tweedie
    at aping my style he was fair, not at all weedie.
    He tried to imitate the great works of the Scottish poet McGonagall
    but to tell the truth he could con some, but not con us all.

    Thanks for the reads. I really enjoyed Wordsworth.

  5. James A. Tweedie

    Note to Julian,

    Thank you for pointing these three things out.
    I believe that the “did” would be correct insofar as Eden is personified as a 3rdperson singular, thereby being the equivalent of “he or it did.
    Similarly “shalt” would be correct instead of “shall” since “shalt” would be used with 2nd person singular.
    “He”, however, is correct as in “He who is I Am.” First, because if the “who” was removed we would have “him is” which is clearly wrong. Also, the 1611 KJV uses similar language in 1 John 4:4 “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (subsequent versions frequently read “greater is he who is in you.” It is quite possible that Milton might have written my line as “He that is I AM.” But I think I am correct with this line.

    Thanks for pointing out these matters. I shall make the corrections on my copy of the poem forthwith.

    You might be interested in noting that a similar series of very helpful comments regarding Elizabethan grammar appeared in response to one of my previous posts titled “Three Sonnets in an Antiquated Style.” I encourage you to visit the poem and scroll down to the comments where Christina and Dr. Salemi offer wise and corrective guidance.


    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Thank you, James, for your careful reply, and for providing the link to Prof. Salemi’s enlightening comments on your 3o of earlier sonnets (beauties, by the way). I am still in doubt on the 3rd point above, though. I’ve read no Tyndale, and little of the James I Bible, and am unaware of the grammatical “state of flux” Prof. Salemi refers to; but your example from King James seems to me conventional nominative, and so does not satisfy as to “how they used to do it.” What comes to my mind is “I’ll make a corse of him that disobeys” (Richard III, Act l (?), ii), where the context and usage are objective. I”m not denying, for the moment, that there are examples from that period where nominative use replaces objective in an objective context–merely saying I don’t recall seeing one. In your own “For love of him,” you use the objective conventionally in the title and at “I sing of thee, whose love has made me whole”; in “Pledge” the relative “whom” seems to serve both objective and nominative antecedents:”To thee I pledge my troth … Whom God has joined …” If I read this correctly, it would qualify as poetic license, I think, and pretty adroit at that. But what is the tradition that calls for nominative in an objective context? Is there a consistent point to the practice? Can you find me 1-2 good examples?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        When a preposition precedes a pronoun, the pronoun is normally in the objective case (by him, to him, for him, on him, with him). But when that same pronoun is positioned so as to also be the subject of its own verb, you have a grammatical knot that is hard to untangle.

        One solution is to avoid the structure totally in composition. But if that cannot be done, then the writer has, in my opinion, a certain latitude in his choice. Look at Tweedie’s line:

        /And I, redeemed by He who is I AM/

        Should “He” be replaced by “Him”? In this instance I would say no, because the resulting structure (“Him who is”) is utterly un-English in the way it grates upon the ear. But in addition, the context of reference (the very essence of the Almighty) demands an unsubordinated pronoun in the subjective case.

        Julian’s quote from Richard III shows the basic difference. When Richard says

        /I’ll make a corse of him that disobeys/

        the basic context is purely secular, and the emphasis is on the threat of immediate action that will kill someone. Hence the objective “him” sounds perfectly appropriate.

        It is true that in Elizabethan and Jacobean times, the language was in flux. The strict separation of /who/ and /that/, reserving the former for reference to persons, and the latter for reference to animals or objects, was not in force, as the above quote from Richard III indicates. As Tweedie points out, subsequent more modern versions of 1 John 4:4 replace “that” with “who.”

  6. Julian D. Woodruff

    I think you may be right, Joseph. It’s true that the Amplified Bible Classical Ed., c1954, translates Jn 8:7 “… let him who is without sin …,” but this seems exceptional, and in any case doesn’t refer to Our Lord. Still, if it had read “let he among you who is …,” I’d grit my teeth. Your wanting to prefer the nominative when referring to the divine recalls John Mortimer’s comic, always nominative “she who must be obeyed,” Rumpole’s descriptor of his wife’.
    I’d love it if you can come up with 1-2 particularly awkward uses of the objective on and particularly authoritative uses of the nominative on in the sort of context we’re discussing.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      “Fear not — speak unto her that hath thy heart in thrall…”

      The problem could be solved here by rewriting “Fear not — speak unto her, the lady that hath thy heart in thrall.”

      “I wait for them that are my enemies…”

      The problem could be solved here by rewriting with a colon — “I wait for them: my enemies.”

      The basic idea is that if you can produce something appositional to the pronoun (rather than allowing the pronoun to govern its own verb) you avoid the problem.

      The very best book for understanding the differences between Elizabethan/Jacobean grammar and that of modern English is E.A. Abbott’s A Shakespearian Grammar (London, 1870), especially the section on relative pronouns for the issues raised here. There is a modern reprint of the text by Dover Press. (By the way, the title does say “Shakespearian,” although we today spell it “Shakespearean.”)

  7. Julian D. Woodruff

    Thanks, Joseph. This sounds like a valuable resource for Shakespeare and for the amazing group of his contemporaries.


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