With How Sad Steps

from a Philip Sidney sonnet

With how sad steps, O Moon, you climb the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!
What see you? Humankind’s excessive pace
Getting from here to there? We are not wise,
Who to alarm clock daily need arise,
At nighttime weary steps to bed retrace
Half drunk, the day’s displeasures to erase
And lie there, in the dark, with unshut eyes.

For what, so mad a gallop to the wire?
Retirement: frail, dyspeptic mals vivants,
Damning the crossword, dozing by the fire,
Scanning the news with mordant nonchalance,
Shaking off the temptation to enquire,
Did we slow down to smell the roses once?’




from a sonnet by Emmeline Stuart-Wortley

There is a racket in my mind tonight;
Unease, it brings, from I recall not where.
In the silence, I hear it sounding there,
The audible equivalent of blight!
’Tis not that Rimski-Korsakovian flight
Of vengeful wasps, nor some snake-charming air,
From which I lately ran, nor première
Of a barbaric, tuneless pagan rite.

Where wandered I, of late, and mayhap heard
That awful sound? I have it! – in a mall,
Piped from speakers, sickly as lemon curd
Except to the tone-deaf Neanderthal,
Whom it, perchance, unconscionably spurred
To open purse and spend (what utter gall!).



O Solitude!

“Hell is the aloneness of self” —T S Eliot

from a Keats sonnet

O solitude! If I must with thee dwell,
The haunt of mountain goats be not for me,
Nor yet a far-flung island in the sea,
Voiceless but for the waters’ ebb and swell,
Nor yet some sand-blown desert’s fiery hell,
Mirage beguiled, for shade a spreading tree
Where water springs but both, on closing, flee
Like phantoms…. If it please you, to dispel

The thund’rous roar of silence let there be
Some wherewithal to watch the daytime soaps,
An iPad primed with games (for you’ll agree
They deftly drive away the nighttime mopes),
And an ample supply of eau de vie,
Exile best being borne by him who topes.



Peter Austin is a retired Professor of English who lives in Toronto with his younger two daughters.

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9 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    Your craft, as ever, Peter, is superb. What’s more, using archaic pronouns and other turns of phrase along with very contemporary items (e.g. mall) adds a delicious touch of humor. Petrarch never had it this good. There are those who would say that petrarchan sonnets are harder to write because English is less rhyme-rich than Italian, but you (and many others) have shown that English has plenty of rhymes to go around.

    • Peter Austin

      Many thanks for the encouraging feedback. I agree that there are plenty of rhymes going round, if you have the stick-to-it-iveness to find them.


  2. Paul Freeman

    I can only echo that mixing in the modern (malls, iPads and soaps) with the traditional, worked really well, giving the themes of these poems a modern feel while (big word alert!) encapsulating them in a traditional sonnet form.

    Okay, it was a big word for me.

    I particularly enjoyed the second and third sonnets for their turn to humour.

    Thanks for the reads, Peter.

    • Peter Austin


      Thanks for the encouraging feedback. It’s always nice to be read and appreciated. As for ‘encapsulating’, it is a splendid word and deserves more use than it gets.


  3. Julian D. Woodruff

    Mr. Austin,
    Thank you for 3 fine poems, and for introducing me to 3 others. I fear that form me, scribbling poetry intrudes on smelling the roses; I need more balance, which would benefit me & also, probably, my poetry. The mal mall is aptly derided. I spent 40 minutes in a supermarket today & wondered what it would be like never to escape. But I hope the “barbaric, tuneless pagan rite” does not allude to The Rite of Spring. (I suspect it does, though.) My favorite line is the last of “Solitude”: great joke!
    2 questions: 1) Should the last line of “Steps” begin with a quotation mark?
    2) Were you thinking of R-K’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” Vaughan Williams’s music for The Wasps, or is there an R-K piece I don’t know? (Not that it matters for the success of the poem!)

    • Peter Austin

      Thanks for the encouraging feedback. I confess that the ‘barbaric, tuneless, pagan rite’ was a reference to the Rite of Spring, but I was expressing a point of view not my own: I rather like the music. I was also thinking of The Flight of the Bumblebee, but I figured wasps were somehow more fitting for the poem. And, yes, the last line of ‘Steps’ should have begun with a quotation mark. Ah, me…!

      Peter Austin

  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    Yes, I agree with C.B. — but I especially identify with “Muzak”! So many times when I’ve got away from dreadful mall muzak, I try to put some Vivaldi in my mental cd player (never Stravinsky, though….:)) I love the rhyme of Neanderthal / mall / gall.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Never Stravinsky, Ms Erlandson? I admit, he may not be the best foil to Muzak, but what about the Symphony of Psalms, the slow movements of the Violin Concerto, Apollo, or Orpheus?

  5. BDW

    The striking part of Mr. Austin’s “With How Sad Steps” are those of Elizabethan Philip Sidney (1554-1586). Those first four words alone fascinate, because they remain modern; but who in the NewMillennium would think them so?

    With No Sad Steps
    by Wilude Scabere

    With no sad steps, the Moon arises in the distant skies,
    unheard by human ears, a pale colour to these eyes,
    there in the heavens where no Cupid shoots his arrows forth,
    nor long-with-love-acquainted eyes attempts to find true North.
    Here is no love. No languished grace can be read in such looks.
    Its state descries naught where it f-lies, though it be found in books.
    The Moon can’t speak of constant love, as Juliet made clear,
    nor are proud beauties loved as here they are, o, loved so dear.
    Possessing neither love, scorn, virtue or ungratefulness,
    I wonder even if the Moon displays indifference.


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