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On Lonely Paths

On lonely paths I like to walk, beneath pure azure skies,
Where white clouds stretch like streaks of chalk, and one lone eagle flies;
I watch him gliding overhead and feel as blithe and free
As he who soars, with wings outspread, in circles over me.

Why am I drawn to paths that wind when spring is in the air?
It’s then I leave all griefs behind and doff my load of care
And don a knapsack, well supplied, and take a staff in hand
And quit dark, narrow rooms for wide, expansive tracts of land.

Set free from cloistered walls that bind, my spirit can unfold
Like some rich carpet unconfined, on winding paths unrolled.
Thereon the Lord from heaven may send His angels to process
Or in His grace may condescend to tread, my soul to bless.

When here in solitude I stroll, like Isaac in the field,
God often comes bless my soul—and glory is revealed!
When praying Isaac raised his head, he found, to his surprise
The woman whom he soon would wed, right there before his eyes.

So when I’m on the open road and look around and see
The glory that has been bestowed on field and brook and tree,
I look up then and see its source in One who’s coming soon,
Whose beauty, with uncanny force, can make my spirit swoon.

That Bridegroom, whose creative might made life from lifeless ground
And makes the glow of Eden’s light still shine is all around.
That’s why I love to walk in spring on lonely paths, to sense
His nearness, whom the songbirds sing in woodlands dark and dense.

He flies across green fields at dawn through mists like gentle dreams,
And up steep rock and rills rides on and on and leaps o’er rushing streams
He gallops on his snow white steed down valleys green and wide
On countless winding roads that lead Him nearer to His bride.

To Him my pilgrim soul would call, yes, Him my heart would find;
He is the one I seek on all these lonely paths that wind;
For naught below and naught above can fill the longing heart,
Not nature’s joys, nor human love, nor priceless works of art.

These gifts are meant to point to Him who only can supply
The thirsting spirit’s deepest need, its hunger satisfy.
So give to me my woolen cloak, my staff, my knapsack, too;
On lonely paths He waits who woke me for this rendezvous!

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The Silence

after Isaiah 45:15 and John 11:35

The pelting raindrops cold as ice had drenched the woods all day,
As freezing winds gripped like a vice the trees held in their sway;
But toward the eve, the winds died down, the rainfall seemed to cease;
As ghostly mists rose from the ground, there reigned an eerie peace.

At this dark hour, as shadows fell upon the moldering leaves,
A lone man walked as in a spell, or like someone who grieves;
He wandered slowly through the woods, with pensive look so grave,
In somber silence, till he stood before an open cave.

The dying breezes that still blew made dripping branches beat
Against the gloomy entrance to that hollow, dread retreat.
The black hole seemed to stare at him, with keen gaze fixed and full,
Like some dark socket of a grim and weather beaten skull.

“Hello!  Please tell me, are you there?” he cried into that pit,
“I pray you hear my earnest prayer, which humbly,  I submit.
I know you dwell in darkness far beyond my feeble reach;
I see you not, but know you are attentive to my speech.

“I know I cannot penetrate your realm of mystery
Or think that passing through this gate, I’ll see all that you see.
I dare not pry into what’s hidden from my human sight,
Since I live by the truth I’m bidden to seek in the light.

“Yet, even so, in my distress, I come to you and seek
A word from you, that you might bless me with a little peek
Into your secret counsel, so that I might understand
The things that fill my heart with woe, which from of old, you planned.

“I do not ask that you reveal all mysteries to me,
But it would surely help me heal if I could only see
A glimmer of the reason for these painful providences,
That I might trust and love you more, and strengthen faith’s defenses.”

Thus, having made known his request, he looked for a reply
And peered into the dark, distressed, and sorely wondered why
No answer came, though minutes passed—more time than he could bear!
“So be it, then,” he said at last,  “I trust that you are there.

“I’ll take your silence as a clue that you are indisposed
To break, upon another’s cue, your silence self-imposed.
If by your hand you guide and steady countless stars in flight,
You’ll surely speak when you are ready—and that is your right.”

With that, he turned and walked away among the trembling trees,
Grown darker with the dying day, as colder blew the breeze;
He withdrew slowly, deep in thought, and vanished in the mist,
No wiser, but more willing not on his will to insist.

Dark shadows, falling, gathered round the entrance to that cave,
As solitary, still, and soundless as an open grave. . .
But when the fog of evening, creeping, shrouded it in gloom,
A sound broke forth, like Someone weeping by his dear friend’s tomb.

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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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9 Responses

  1. Cynthia Erlandson

    Martin, this is full of strong visual and auditory imagery; the things you described entered the eyes and ears of my imagination. Your poems echo “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork.” In “On Lonely Paths”, I especially like the effect in line 26 that you give by adding the extra syllable to emphasize the “leaps o’er rushing streams” (although personally I try to avoid using “o’er). The truth of the final line — and the clever rhyme using “rendezvous” — are striking. If you are open to suggestions, there is one other technique you occasionally use, which I would try to avoid, which is certain grammatical inversions such as “my soul to bless” and “its hunger satisfy”. Because they would sound unnatural in speech, those kinds of phrases can tend to reveal that the poet was straining for a rhyme. In “The Silence”, “pensive look so grave”, and “keen gaze fixed and full” seem to me to fall into that category also. But overall I love the poem, especially the splendid visual comparison of the cave to a skull. And it is a clear illustration of Isaiah’s profound proverb reminding us that God is there, though He certainly does hide Himself.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Cynthia,
      Thank you for your perceptive comments. I agree with you about avoiding as a general rule the use of gramatical inversions. Although I have done that often in the past, I am working on a few poems with a more natural, speech-like diction that avoids gramatical inversions where possible. I am so glad you grasped the intended meaning of “The Silence.” I wasn’t entirely sure if the meaning of the poem would be clear to the readers, but by capitalizing the word Someone, and referencing the two passages of Scripture, I think the clues are there to grasp the meaning of the poem, as you have done. Thanks again for your comments.

      Reply
  2. Margaret Coats

    “The Silence” certainly has a difficult subject, and your treatment of it is intriguing. Your speaker departs, apparently content with silence after considering what he knows about it. And then the silence is broken, confirming what the speaker has said! Rather different than George Herbert or Gerard Manley Hopkins in similar situations.

    Just as your pilgrimage “On Lonely Paths” is quite the opposite of Chaucer’s pilgrimage in company with others who represent the world. Like him, you make provision for the trek, and it seems for a while that the search is made for the Creator in the Creation–until you point out that even nature’s joys are not the goal. The speaker is still journeying at the end of the poem, in comfort and confidence–but so unlike that in “The Silence.” I prefer “On Lonely Paths,” but appreciate the carefully worked out two poems on a similar theme with different perspectives.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks for your feedback, Margaret. You point out that the speaker seems “content” in the end with God’s silence, and while that is true, in a sense, that is not to suggest that his perplexity and pain have simply vanished. That is what I meant by saying that he withdrew from the scene “slowly” and “deep in though”– in other words, the perplexity and sadness are still there, the “healing” process is still ongoing, but the speaker is sustained by faith in knowing that God is there and is in control; although his questions remain, he is willing to abide for now in the the mystery of not knowing the why of whatever “painful providences” he has had to face, for which he still feels a sense of grief.

      Originally, the poem ended there, with the fog shrouding the cave and the silence continuing, unbroken; but I wanted the poem to end on a more affirmative note, underscoring the reality of God’s abiding presence in the midst of the “silence” and His empathy with those who trust in Him in the absence of understanding, as we see illustrated by Jesus’ tearful empathy with Mary and Martha who grieved by the tomb of their brother Lazarus.

      Reply
  3. Yael

    The Silence poem is great, I love it! It has given me new insights into the Bible passages referenced with it. I really enjoy how you depict the scenery in clear and straight forward terms, painting a landscape and a mood all at once. I can also relate to the speaker really well. The poem flows evenly and naturally and there is a feeling of masterful simplicity about your composition.
    While I enjoy the subject matter of On Lonely Paths and I really like the ending, I think it needs editing (line 14) and perhaps even some rewording here and there. It lacks the clarity and transparency of The Silence poem. It just doesn’t seem to flow right in a few places, although I think that it could be composed to do so.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Yael,
      Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your sharing how “the Silence” resonated with you on an emotional level. My aim was to create through the landscape, as you point out, a mood of melancholy, grief, even death, suggesting perhaps that the “painful providence” the speaker has experienced involves the death of a loved one. The impenetable darkness of the cave, the rain, the ghostly mist, is also intended to create an air of mystery.

      Perhaps the reason the other poem seemed to flow less smoothly was because it lacks the narrative development and conversational speech pattern found in the Silence. Also, the words “and on” in line 26 (following “rides on”) need to be removed; they are redundant, and cripple the regular iambic heptameter rhythm of the poem.

      Reply
  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Martin, I love both of these beautifully wrought poems, but, especially “On Lonely Paths”. I love the musicality of it and although, like Cynthia, I don’t generally appreciate inversions, for me, this poem has the timeless feel of a hymn and the inversions just melt away in the cadence of the syntax. I feel at my closest to God in nature, and the way you acknowledge the awe and beauty of our Creator’s skill is nothing short of awesome. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Susan, Thank you for your very encouraging words! I think as a general rule, it is best to avoid inversions, for if relied on too frequently, a poem can end up sounding like the verbal equivalent of a rubic´s cube, with everything out of order! I have read some poetry that struck as me as stilted and unnatural through an overuse of inversions. But I agree with you that this is one rule that admits for exceptions, if inversions are used judiciously and sparingly.

      Reply

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