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Regrets and Repercussions

Inconsequential are the things we do
Sometimes, or things we don’t, we don’t know why.
So will we wonder far too late and sigh
To think that if we knew we could undo
The past before it starts, begin anew.
How many of us would instead deny
The imminence of fate to justify
Inaction in the face of all we knew?

So often small mistakes may have such long
Far-reaching repercussions that amaze
In hindsight. If we knew where we went wrong
Before we did so, might we change our ways?
If only we were able to return
To where we were. But would we ever learn?

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The Passing of Our Days

In salad days, not grown enough to make
Us fearful for the coming of the night,
The sempiternal loss of light, the blight
Of everlasting sorrowing, to wake
Our dread of death, to make us ache and quake
In terror at the prospect of the sight
Of One who gave to us our blessèd light
And sent His Son to perish for our sake.

Then in the twilight of our years resigned
Are we to dread our mortal end, consigned
To chronic pain, tormented with ill-health,
Afflicted with shedloads of surplus wealth,
But then our imminent demise may find
That prayer may sharply concentrate the mind.

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Saint Dismas (The Good Thief) 

How dismal his demise! Did Dismas find
It difficult to feel the power of prayer
While racked with pain? How did he not despair?
On his conviction crucified, consigned
To hell on earth then to be quarantined
To grind his teeth in purgatory where
Obligatory torments may prepare
The sinful for their future peace of mind.

No place for Dismas, purgatory, for he
Bypassed the stage through his propinquity
To Christ on that auspicious day, to be
With him hereafter and his spirit free.
And so was Dismas blessed, soul unconfined,
Streamlined for sainthood, first among his kind.

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Peter Hartley is a retired painting restorer. He was born in Liverpool and lives in Manchester, UK.


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27 Responses

  1. Daniel Kemper

    Just read your “Regrets and Repercussions” and it really struck home for me. I enjoyed the flow of the meter and how it maintained a focus on the principles of it all — a metaphysical poem. There are times to bring it all together in a concrete example and times to lay the principles bare and let the reader apply them to their lives as they best fit. Thanks for this.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Daniel – Thank you for your perceptive comment on the first of these three little poems, and it is very true, or I have found it to be so, that the communication of an idea via a single throw-away remark has sometimes been enough to set in motion life-changing events (and so often, in my experience, for the worse) though we could not possibly be capable of predicting such outcomes at the time.

      Reply
  2. Paul Freeman

    I’m sure Regrets and Repercussions will have everyone thinking on those actions in life we would do differently given the chance.

    I particularly enjoyed The Good Thief. Once again, I’m amazed at how (seemingly easily) a member of the SCP can make a Bible story so accessible. If only Bible stories had been like this when I was at school.

    Thanks for three great reads, Peter.

    Reply
    • Lawrence Fray

      Wonderful reflections written in a well constructed format. Thank you for sharing these.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Lawrence – thank you for the kind remark on what are indeed mere reflections on a theme, providing no answers and merely intended to encourage us to think a little bit. I have sometimes allowed myself a touch of envy, if that is the right word, for Saint Dismas. I wonder if your barbecued namesake was similarly wholly discharged from purgatory!

    • Peter Hartley

      Paul – Thank you for your kind comment on “Regrets and Repercussions.” I made the possibly unwarranted assumption before writing this poem that the so-often exasperating experiences I describe are universal: hence the constant repetition of “we.” Then after submission I began to think, no, nobody else’s life could be so haphazard, so adventitious, so dictated in its development by mere whim. But perhaps I was right after all?

      Reply
  3. Brian Yapko

    Peter, thank you for these three wonderful poems. I especially enjoyed your St. Dismas poem — I was quite ignorant of the thief’s name and story other than that he was crucified with Jesus. This was very important instruction for me! I also greatly enjoyed Regrets and Repercussions, which has such rigorous yet understated rhyme. But of the three I think my favorite is The Passing of Our Days which, though melancholy, beautifully describes the human condition. The idea that “prayer sharply concentrates the mind” is one that I shall long remember. It is so true and stated so memorably. Thank you again.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Brian – thank you for your very generous remarks. I too had no idea of the name of the identity of the good thief, whose name is given, I think, in the gospel of Nicodemus. The bad, or unrepentant thief was called Gestas, the lancer was Longinus and the profferer of the sponge was Stephaton or Stephen, according to mediaeval tradition.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Brian – sorry my second sentence was a bit garbled, but you will be able to work out what I meant!

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, these are quite probably a set of favorites among your many wonderful poems. I love and appreciate the philosophical musings on life, death, sin, forgiveness, and the significance of prayer.

    ‘Regrets and Repercussions’ asks questions I have often asked myself. One thing I do know, I am always true to myself at the time… but time moves on… and one’s perspective changes with time… and with time comes humility… at least for me. I really do know less as time progresses. For me, the beautiful and humbling musings of ‘The Passing of Our Days’ builds upon that humility, perfectly. The aging process, both physically and mentally (from the perspective of experience), leaves more questions than answers, and, I believe, draws us closer to our maker. I feel ‘Saint Dismas’ answers many of my questions. The closer one is to Christ (Saint Dismas was close in the physical sense, but how could he not have been moved in the spiritual sense when he felt the power of His influence?) the closer one is to Heaven. If the wages of sin are death… how could anyone suffer in purgatory? But then, that’s a whole other subject.

    Peter thank you for these thought-provoking and admirably wrought poems that complement each other beautifully as a series. The internal rhyme, smooth flow of the language, and masterly use of alliteration (“How dismal his demise! Did Dismas find/It difficult…) didn’t pass me by. These poems have been an absolute pleasure to read. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Susan- I have never hitherto thought of myself as a philosopher but I like the hat and I shall wear it with pride. Thank you, as always, for your comments. The first poem had no didactic or moral intent on my part unless it is to decry the fact that so often we do nothing when we could do so much to improve our future prospects. I was hoping to convey here a little of man’s lassitude or inertia in the face of what Hardy saw, “in Æschylian phrase” as tragic destiny. The second poem I hope can be read, in the final couplet, as a plain statement of fact (and those two lines segue into the thoughts of Saint Dismas in the following poem) but there is also a deliberately ironic tone here too, for those wicked enough to be open to such an ungenerous and world-weary interpretation!

      Reply
  5. Mark Patrick

    What wonderful poems, Peter. The first truly resonates. For my own life, in the first, I swap the words ‘long’ and ‘wrong’. Thank you for this beautifully crafted insight.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Thank you, Mark, and I’m glad to find that something of what I have written mirrors your own experience. There’s nothing like poetry, is there, for the intercommunication of little ideas like this in order to convince ourselves that we don’t live in a vacuum?

      Reply
  6. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, my father used to say, “If I knew I would get to be this old, I would have looked after myself better.”
    “Regrets” is so true for we oldies and links so well to “The passing of our days,” which race by alarmingly these days. Thanks for “sempiternal,” a new word for me and for the lesson on the good thief. Thank you for having my thoughts provoked yet again.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff, Thank you for your very kind remarks about these three little poems. My father would have simply said “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” or “hysteron proteron” for this confusion of sequence and consequence but then he failed all his exams and died while playing the bagpipes on full dress parade at Woolwich Royal Arsenal. I’m delighted to hear I’ve been provoking once again. “Sempiternal” is one of my favourite words although “disgruntled” beats it hands down because it has “grunt” in the middle.

      Reply
  7. David Watt

    Peter, I have read your three poems several times now and gained something new each time. In my opinion, a reflective poem should be measured by the extent to which the reader is drawn, in their own way, to ponder such universal questions. Your poems definitely measure up to this standard.
    The passing of time, regret, and strength of conviction are all handled beautifully.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      David – many thanks for your comment, and I must admit that when I leave questions wide open like this it is usually because I have no answers to provide and am hoping to find them by dredging through the recesses of my brain during the writing, or through the feedback from readers, although it seems hardly fair sometimes to be asking for responses to unanswerable questions. I am very pleased that they gave you cause for reflection though.

      Reply
  8. Roy E. Peterson

    Great question in the first poem: “But would we ever learn?” Some never will. “The Passing of Our Days” speaks to all of us as new perspectives are gained with time. “Saint Dimas” introduced me to someone new to my religious background and the follow on information added more interest. Thank you for all of these.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Roy – many thanks for your very welcome comments. I have Evan to thank for a picture of what must undoubtedly be the only statue of Saint Dismas in the Western Hemisphere and also for all the information about him behind the highlighted text. Saint Dismas is not recorded in the canonical gospels but his name is found in the ancient Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate, the first part being about Christ’s trial, and the second the Resurrection.

      Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      David – I’m glad you liked my poems and thank you for the comment. Regarding the first I must admit that I have moved house for the sake of a single remark and set off a chain of disasters from which I am still suffering today, over forty years on.

      Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      David – I wrote an answer to your comment ages ago and it seems to have vanished. Thank you for your comment, and regarding the first poem I moved house on the strength of a single remark and still suffer the direct consequences forty years later!

      Reply
  9. Cheryl Corey

    Such bittersweet wisdom in “Regrets”. It really makes you stop and think. I love it. Thank you for writing it.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Cheryl – Many thanks for this comment. I cave just written another trio along the same lines and I’m encouraged to send them to Evan to see if he thinks they are worth publishing too.

      Reply
  10. Margaret Coats

    Peter, my favorite of these is “The Passing of Our Days.” What I admire is its perfect lucidity of thought, although the octave is a fragment sentence–and it has to stay that way. The subject “we” is no longer in that part of time. The sestet is a sentence in good grammar, and with three rhyming couplets, it gives the whole poem a most interesting sonnet rhyme scheme of abbaabba ccddcc. Prayer, the sharp concentration of mind lacking in the octave, is found in your sharp conclusion. Also like the word “shedload,” referring to a wooden shed on the side of a house, or to one of those little aluminium barns for sale at garden stores, neither of which has direct access to the living space in the house. Just a place to stack up surplus wealth one hardly ever thinks about.

    “Saint Dismas” presents an excellent brief picture of the genuine distinction of this individual. Because Jesus was near, he seems to have arrived at the great rarity of perfect contrition, being sorry for his sins entirely out of love of God. This poem goes in my collection of great saint sonnets.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret- well spotted, the octet being a fragment. It is only the protracted length of this non-sentence that, I hope, lets me get away with it, because few people but Margaret would recall by line eight that I should have written something like “[we are] not” on line one. I missed this gaffe because I couldn’t see the wood for my nose being too close to the grindstone. The couplet on this poem is deliberately ambiguous, its precise purport being left to the charitableness, or otherwise, of the reader. The significance of the word “shedload” has not been lost on either of us and I am pleased that you found it felicitous (not fortuitous, I can’t abide that malapropism!). In the third poem I must own to blind envy for Saint Dismas who had a rumbustious and exciting life doing exactly what he wanted and not giving a stuff about anyone else, but then finding himself in the perfect place (Golgotha) at exactly the right time (as he heard “Eli Eli lama sabacthani” from Christ and just before he had his own legs snapped as an analgesic) to obtain instant absolution. Dismas was indeed the object of a felicitous/fortuitous accident, good luck to him, and his fellow felon no doubt got what was coming to him. Thank you again for your thoughtful and careful reading.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Well, no, it was a bit before Christ said “Eli Eli etc”. Reading a little about Saint Dismas, although his cult is not quite as old as Christ’s, he seems to have a good provenance.

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