.

__Of Helen, Menelaus, war,
Achilles, Paris and his treachery,
__Of Agamemnon, Troy, and more,
I wrote the Iliad and Odyssey.

__Of Saracens and Charlemagne,
Of Roland and his tragic, fateful day,
__Of gallant loss and nobler gain
I wrote and oft-performed my epic lay.

__From Florence, and all that it hides,
I went to Heaven, Hell, and in-between,
__With Virgil, Beatrice as my guides
And wrote in tercets all that I had seen.

__When fickle love spit in my eye
And charged my true heart false, and swore upon it,
__Instead of challenging the lie.
I praised my True Love’s beauty in a sonnet.

__Of Flanders’ fields where poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row on row,
__And of the men who lie below
I grieved and honored them with a rondeau

__When terrorists flew in and swept
Away the peace and swapped it for a curse
__I prayed and grieved and mourned and wept,
But also wrote my feelings down in verse.

__“What good is poetry?” you ask.
“It changes nothing” . . . “Just a waste of time.”
__And yet it is the poet’s task
Through formal rhythmic meter, wit and rhyme

__To capture for posterity
The beauty, truth and other unseen things
__That lie behind the mystery
Of history in ways so that it sings.

__And when it sings to us, we hear
The distant voice of those who lived and walked
__About with open eye and ear—
Who sang their words instead of merely talked.

.

.

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. J D Wallace

    For some reason, I was desperate to cease the talking altogether. I had been thinking about his very sentiment so it made my day thank you. -jd

    _And when it sings we hear
    The distant voice of those who walked
    __About with open ear—
    Who sang their words instead of talked.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      JD, Singing is, of course, a stylized way of talking so it’s hard to “cease the talking altogether” while making no sound at all! I’d be interested to know what you mean by the phrase. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  2. Paul Freeman

    I really like this poem, James. It gallops along without any of the convoluted hiccups poetry sometimes has that make us reread anything ambiguous.

    ‘In Flanders Fields’ is one of my favourite poems (as you might have realised from ‘At Brighton Beach’ – plug, plug!), though I’m aware that the message of the poem – that the fight must continue no matter what, the baton handed over by those that fall, until victory – was not shared by everyone. Just recall the sentiment in Wilfred Owen’s same era poems.

    What I’m saying is, yes, it’s important for poets to record their perspective on history for the sake of both posterity and future generations to debate – which I suppose makes the penultimate stanza my fave.

    Thanks for an extensive, exhaustive and thought-provoking trip through poetic history.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Paul, I like your use of the words, “their perspective on history” since I intended the word “history” to be understood in exactly that way–not being limited to merely “historical events.” But inclusive of the more intimate “reflective history” of the poet’s thoughts, feelings, and experience of life as well as larger events common to all.

      Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    A good interweaving of tetrameter and pentameter in ABAB quatrains.

    May I make one suggestion? In quatrain 3, the first line can indeed be scanned in the tetrameter pattern, but it is awkward. I’d consider revising it to

    From Florence, and what Florence hides

    The reason for the awkwardness of the original version is that the idiomatic pull of the words “and ALL that it hides” exerts itself to stress the word ALL in a way that interferes with a smooth reading. The above revision would take advantage of the solid trochaic force of “Florence,” by doubling it:

    From Florence, and what Florence hides ( x / x / x / x / )

    This makes it fit in perfectly with all the other odd-numbered lines in the poem.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      I appreciate and accept the suggestion. I also agree that the repetition of the word, Florence, significantly strengthens the image.

      Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    James, though I don’t know whether all of the propositions raised in the poem are true propositions, you have nonetheless instilled in many of us scribblers a deep sense of obligation. Sometimes I wish I were a calimaro, which can spill ink practically at will.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      C.B.

      At times my calamaro overflows
      I don’t know why.
      And yet, it seems, at other times it goes
      Completely dry.

      But every time the ink runs dry,
      I then
      Pick up a pencil and I try
      Again.
      Until the newborn poem comes in view.
      But how this works I’ve not a clue.
      Do you?

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Yes, I think I do. It’s because your soul is imbued with the cardinal virtue of fortitude.

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    James, if ever there was a reason to write poetry – this is it, the closing stanza especially.

    Reply
  6. Margaret Coats

    James, your “Ars Poetica,” declaring that poetry captures what lies behind the mystery of history, very effectively (and rightly) lets poetry itself remain a mystery. I like the historical structure, starting with early epics, proceeding to not name Dante while you mention his work–and name Virgil while not mentioning his. Then come the sonneteers whose line still continues, and McCrae and others who address war and violence, especially in our own time. When you end with beautiful notions of what poetry accomplishes, I recognize you as literary theorist. And when I see that these accomplishments are to benefit posterity, I have to identify you as a Renaissance man. Such a characteristic of thinkers in that period to concern themselves with posterity! If an ideal is necessary, I like this one better than self-expression. Well done poem that puts you in the company of so many others who have had taken the trouble and the care to convey their opinions on the art.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Margaret,

      “Literary theorist” & “Renaissance man” are major epithets for the author of a nine-stanza poem! Perhaps I can use the quotes on the back of some future book of poetry–with your name attached to them so as to not give the impression that I am self-aggrandizing!

      Seriously, though, I do appreciate your affirming and complimentary comments.

      Reply
  7. Peter Hartley

    James – thank you for telling me why I, why we, write poetry, and for putting it so succinctly for us. A truly splendid apologia for the sonneteer and as usual, when I have read one of your offerings, I have to admit I could not have put it better myself though I would take twice as long going about it.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Peter,

      I may be quicker on the draw, but your poetry has more firepower–especially when it has to do with vocabulary!

      Thanks for the cheery comment.

      Reply
  8. David Watt

    James, your poetry invariably provides pause for reflection and expresses truths with clarity and economy. This poem is no exception.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thank you, David. Your compliment is also expressed with clarity and economy! I’m glad you found something true to reflect on.

      Reply
  9. Roy E. Peterson

    As a political scientists and historian your penultimate verse rang true:

    “To capture for posterity
    The beauty, truth and other unseen things
    __That lie behind the mystery
    Of history in ways so that it sings.”

    There is more to politics and history than meets the eye of the reader. It would be an amazing feat to match traditional historical writings with the perceptions and promulgations of the the poets of that time and age.

    Reply

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