The Secret Garden

Beyond these ivied walls grows naught but heather
Gorse and broom, the moors engulfed by blows
Of bitter, wuthering wind and gloomy weather.
This haunted land is barren, bleak and old.
But here—within the gate—my garden grows
Warmed by sunlight bright as marigold!

Enchantment! Every mum, each daffodil!
My lilies bloom like pearls and amethysts.
Irises and daisies line the rill;
Fragrant ruby roses guard the wall
And sweetly scent the dappled Yorkshire mists,
Exalting Summer, mocking at the Fall.

This bower is no prison—it’s a haven
Where songs of Spring make soft the bleak moor’s blast
Of Winter death: A finch; a soaring raven,
A robin’s chirp, the chanson of the lark.
The butterflies and hummingbirds flit past.
All thrive in joyous peace within this park.

A table and two chairs rest in the center;
A tablecloth with china, scones and tea,
Sweet plums and jam. Should some lost spirit enter
I’ll bid them join me in this lovely garden
To help me grieve beneath the willow tree
Where still I mourn. Where still I beg her pardon.

‘Tis here I see the face of every soul
I’ve ever loved. Remembrance does not fade.
They are alive! They’re happy, well and whole!
My secret garden’s not for all to view—
But Autumn thoughts grow green here in green shade—
And if you ask… I’ll share its joys with you.



A Hawthorn Leaf

a rondeau

A hawthorn leaf was pressed inside
The Bible that she kept beside
Her bed. The Psalm it marked was brief.
It spoke of mercy and relief
And gave her solace when he died.

That Bible never left her side—
A wedding gift from groom to bride
Engraved with an embossed motif
__—A hawthorn leaf.

For months she stayed at home and sighed.
Her meals were few. She often cried.
But she was strong in the belief
That faith brought meaning to her grief.
God gave a sign Love would abide
__—-A hawthorn leaf.



Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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29 Responses

  1. Paul Freeman

    I was particularly enamoured with ‘A Hawthorn Leaf’. It’s as perfect a rondeau as I’ve ever read.

    If I may be so bold, I felt that ‘sighed’ and ‘cried’ might work better reversed.

    Thanks for the reads.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Paul. I have learned to love the rondeau more than almost any other poetic form. I appreciate your thoughts on the “sighed” and “cried” lines. Because every word counts in a rondeau I did try every variation I could think of including your suggestion to switch them. I wanted my subject to be emotional but also somewhat stoic because of the strength of her faith. Because of that, I did not like the idea of her staying home for months crying. I thought her tears served the character better by being more sporadic, hence my reservation of “cried” for line 11 right before the declaration of faith. I also liked the alliteration of staying and sighing in line 10. But I very much appreciate your suggestion and the chance to explain my reasoning!

      • Paul Freeman

        It makes sense, yes.

        I recently had to write a villanelle and that was heading towards becoming my favoured form, but I soon reverted to Shakespearean sonnets.

        You’ve certainly more than just got the hang of the rondeau. I look forward to the next one(s).

  2. Margaret Coats

    Brian, “The Secret Garden” is an irresistible retreat of felicitous proportions and gorgeous details. The closed stanza rhyme scheme abacbc is most appropriate, and each of the five stanzas contributes essential development to what is ultimately an invitation into the mindset you’ve created. Happy or grieving, not many readers could refuse the pleasant individual companionship so courteously offered. The details give a new meaning to the concept of bird-and-flower painting, and while every mention of a season seems timely, they work together to reveal this as an all-season poem of place in the imagination.

    My one problem with reading is the apparent neglect of grammatical number in “Should some lost spirit enter/I’ll bid them join me.” Using “them” rather than “him” or “her” is common as politically correct degradation of English usage, but I’m willing to accept it from you here as artistically meaningful. The singular noun and plural pronoun indicate that you are inviting any or all lost spirits, but just one at a time. The table is set for two, for we can only fully attend to one person at a time. If this is your aesthetic solution to the apparent little difficulty of making the invitation general, you have managed to turn current sloppy language to beautiful effect, in addition to your other achievements in this poem.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Margaret! In a way I wish my use of “them” had been neglectful rather than deliberate because — as you well know — I am disturbed by the erosion of gender identity in general and how it has affected popular usage of pronouns. However, my word choice was deliberate and I hope that does not mean that I’ve sold out.

      My poetic problem was as you very astutely observe — I needed the table to be set for two. The number two was essential as it was meant to reflect the speaker and an absent seat for the deceased woman that he mourns. Thus, I would have lost a lot of meaning — at least personally — by making lost spirit into “spirits.” Yes, that would have solved the pronoun problem but (in my opinion) it would have done harm to the substance of the piece. Alternatively, I could have used proper usage for an unidentified lost soul and said “him”, but then I felt I was excluding all “hers.” And vice versa. Certainly, I couldn’t use “it” because that cold word for a lost spirit would undermine the humanistic sensibility of my piece. My best thinking was the use of “them” as a third-person pronoun — not with the intention of eliminating gender or promoting gender fluidity — but simply with the intention of expansively and inclusively referring to a lost soul of undetermined gender. In other words, I made this choice not for purported social justice reasons but to serve the poem. How I wish English had a respectable word other than “it” to refer to a third person of unknown gender!

      Thank you for understanding why I did what I did. “Sloppy language to beautiful effect” is a compliment I am delighted by given the difficulties here. And thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain it!

  3. D.G. Rowe

    Yes, yes! Brian, the composition and striking diction in ‘The Secrete Garden’ is V Good. High quality lyricism of the Swinburnian kind, a well crafted description of place and wonder.

    “Where songs of Spring make soft the bleak moor’s blast
    Of Winter death:” As Swinburnesque as it gets.
    He will always be my yard stick when I delight in a piece of verse, the stick measures well, Brian, very bloody well.

    If it interests you at all to read a poem in response to your piece, I recommend reading Swinburne’s “A Forsaken Garden”.


    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, D.G. I am thrilled to be mentioned in the same sentence as Swinburne and particularly delighted for my Victorian-inspired poem to be associated with a Victorian poet! I have read so little Swinburne (“Before Parting” and “Choriambics” are the only poems I can actually recall reading several decades ago.) I appreciate the recommendation, the rediscovery of a very fine poet and shall read “A Forsaken Garden” this very day!

  4. Peter Hartley

    Brian – This poem already has a good start with the wonderful choice of picture with which it has been headed (Evan?). A scene like this little “hortus occlusus” already reminds me of Frances Hodgson Burnet and the beautiful but oh so melancholy “Light of the World” by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Holman Hunt (at one time the most famous religious painting in the world), and that is before I even start to read
    your poem. I like the contrast presented in the cut-off points between the moorland, bleak, and occupied only by broom, gorse and heather outside the wall and the richness within where you compare the colours of the flowers to precious and semi-precious gemstones. I like the restrained and appropriate use of exclamation marks. I like the symbolism in the vegetable life: of grieving beneath the (weeping) willow, for example. I like a lot about this poem. Regarding Margaret’s comment on the misuse of “their” as a singular possessive pronoun, it is increasingly borne in on me that the language actually “develops” more through gaffes and blunders than anything else. When leading lights in the antiques business (Arthur Negus, Tim Wonnacott) for example, talk about a “jardinère” [sic] or a candelabra, what hope is there for we mere mortals? A few years hence and it will be standard English, as the word agenda is now a singular noun. I do wish sometimes that we COULD halt the march of “progress”, and I do admire Margaret’s interpretative efforts which must surely satisfy both camps in the debate.

    • Brian Yapko

      Peter, thank you for your wonderful comment! We do indeed have Evan to thank for the perfect picture choice and your reference to Frances Hodgson Burnet is spot-on since her classic children’s book about Mary Lennox and the troubled Craven family was indeed the inspiration for the first two stanzas of the poem which I then used as a springboard to allow the meditation to morph in a more personal and autobiographical direction. I’m also deeply pleased that you liked the specific details the poem presents and I appreciate your indulgence regarding my use of “them” as a third-person singular pronoun. If you have a chance to see my comment to Margaret, I do explain my reasoning for the deliberate word-choice — to serve the substance of the poem rather than to subvert proper English usage. Thank you again!

      P.S. I greatly admire your two “moors” poems of the other day. I was surprised and delighted to see the moors brought up by two different poets twice in one week!

  5. Jeff Eardley

    Brian, these are so good.
    I enjoyed the contrast between garden and the Moorland of England, so perfectly described by Peter a few days ago. I am intrigued by the Yorkshire reference. After your excellent recent attempt at Cockney, I will be on the lookout for an “Ee by gum” in your future entries. Thank you for a very good read today.

    • Brian Yapko

      Ey ‘up, Jeff, and thank you so much! If you haven’t guessed, I’m something of an anglophile and have always loved British usage — even the slightly more obscure ones. But I’m afraid a few phrases of cockney and three or four Yorkshire phrases are all I’ve got under my belt. And I’ve only got those because — Ee by gum — I like to read!

  6. Allegra Silberstein

    Your poem, “The Secret Garden” gave me so much pleasure. I loved the line that says I see the face of every one I loved for it seems so true to me. Thank you…Allegra

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Allegra. You’ve chosen what is also my favorite line in the whole poem. The idea of the loved ones who I have lost being alive, happy, well and whole means a lot to me. And I know of a place where they indeed are.

  7. Daniel Kemper

    I just peaked in with only a little time, but have to reply. Both were so solid. Secret Garden is awesome: detail, drama underspoken, paced to reveal perfectly, lush with literal and symbolic detail— just awesome!

    • Brian Yapko

      Daniel, thank you so much for your kind comment! I love your poetry so a generous compliment like this means a lot to me.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, thank you for two admirably crafted and beautifully conceived poems. “The Secret Garden” is a treasure trove of wonder that has me sorting through the linguistic gems and admiring the polished magnificence of each and every one. For me, the secret garden is a veritable Eden in the mind… a place of peace and memories away from the harsh elements of a cold and often cruel world. I love the fact there are hummingbirds behind a wall on the Yorkshire moors… and the table is set with “china, scones and tea/Sweet plums and jam” makes me think the memories are rooted in America and England… it reminds me of my backyard in Texas. “The Secret Garden” was a childhood favourite of mine, and I have a garden in my head that I often escape to. I will be returning to this poem on a regular basis – I love it!

    “The Hawthorn Leaf” intrigues me. I love a good rondeau and yours is wonderful. It intrigues me because I don’t know whether the “he” of the poem is the husband or a lost child. A hawthorn leaf symbolizes fertility… perhaps the “Love will abide” means a future of tiny footsteps or a reunion with a beloved husband. The fact that the poem has drawn me in so and left the form secondary to my musings is a sign of an excellent rondeau – I love this one too! Thank you!

    • Brian Yapko

      Susan, I am overjoyed by your comment. You absolutely understand what I was aiming for and how I got there. Yes, there are mixed English and American memories because I took the Frances Hodges Burnet story (which I also loved as a child) and used it as a springboard to describe my own American experience/state of mind. You think of Eden and I think of Heaven and maybe they should always be linked. And then when you mention your backyard in Texas you make me think of “Field of Dreams” — (Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.) I guess the point is that we do all have a secret place in our minds — I like to think of it as a garden — where grief is eased and the most marvelous things can take place!

      Thank you as well for your kind words about the rondeau. In my mind every rondeau I write has to pass “the Susan Jarvis Bryant test” 1) because you were the one to encourage me to try my hand at writing a rondeau and 2) because I consider your work to be the gold standard. So your praise of my rondeau is exceptionally meaningful to me. I had never considered the mother and lost child interpretation of this poem. I always thought of the subject as a grieving widow thus making the gift “from groom to bride” that much more poignant because the Bible came from her late husband. But I always hope that readers will come up with their own interpretations and I love yours for this sad but ultimately faith-affirming one.

      Thank you again for your wonderful comment!

  9. Yael

    I love the picture and the poems, thank you! They are very beautiful and inspiring, as they hint at a better world than what we are currently experiencing in this one.

    • Brian Yapko

      Yael, thank you for your very kind comment! We both have Evan to thank for the perfect picture. I really appreciate your saying that these are inspiring because I agree with you 100% — the world as it is really needs work and we need to be reminded that beauty can and does exist.

  10. Sandi Christie

    Brian, your poems are always a delight to read in artistry and form, and these are no exception. They are also a nice escape from politics which I try to avoid, but sometimes these days it is hard not to get caught up in. The Secret Garden is a wonderful escape to a place outside of time, and yet still there is pain here. An invitation to a lost spirit to enter, and perhaps in joining with, a miracle will occur. Joy is offered to the other, and in the offering, it is experienced by both. A holy instant in time. Only one of many possible takes on a wonderful poem.

    I really liked the rondeau as well, especially the ending. Thanks for sharing your work.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you, Sandi! I’m so pleased that you liked these poems. I wrote these hoping to take a break from politics and consider something more humane and timeless. That’s why I appreciate your observation of this secret place as being “outside of time.” Yes, there is indeed pain but there is also healing. I especially love your term “a holy instant in time” which I will remember for its beauty.

  11. C.B. Anderson

    “The Secret Garden”, Brian, is a nice bit of whimsy with glimpses into a field of much deeper subject matter. The ending stanzas are something of a surprise, where an old love looks to kindle new love. We don’t know whether any of the players have changed. I’m glad to see that you have appropriated the abacbc stanza, which, in my opinion, is one of the most pleasing of all the short, fixed stanza forms.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, C.B. I’m always grateful for your comments and insights. In this case I was hoping for there to be an elusive shadow of that “much deeper subject matter” and I’m glad you saw it. I’m also glad that you agree with my choice of rhyme scheme. I’ve never written in this form before but somehow it’s fixed symmetry seemed just right to describe an exuberant garden hidden behind a protective wall.

  12. James Sale

    The Secret Garden is fine poetry, Brian, and A Hawthorn Leaf is finer still. Well done, excellent craftsmanship in all this.

    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, James. A double thank You because you helped to inspire this work. At the poetry reading a few months ago you casually quoted Andrew Marvell (“green thoughts in a green shade”.) I never forgot that reference and so it found its way into the second line of the fifth stanza in my poem. Marvell led me to Coleridge, so I also have a teeny Coleridge reference in the line “this bower us no prison…” Thanks, James, for inspiring me! You never know what an offhand remark may lead to!

    • Brian Yapko

      Whoops, I meant the fifth line of the fifth stanza: “But Autumn thoughts grow green here in green shade.”

      • James Sale

        Yes, I did spot both allusions – and admired them accordingly as they blended in so well – but I confess that I had forgotten my own use of the quotation!!! Glad to be of assistance and – hey! – it’s how the universe sometimes works! Thanks.

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