.

Panic

What is this feeling that sometimes afflicts
Us with awful intensity and fear?
A feeling close to panic, very near
To dread, to terror; something that constricts
The breathing, chokes the throat and lungs, inflicts
Its toll in sleepless nights and days of sheer
And utter misery, when fiends appear
Before us though our reason contradicts

Their presence here. From hell they come, where do
They go? They tell us that we’ll not behold
Belovèd ones again, though we bestrew
The way with lilies, rubies and white gold:
For only hope and prayer avail us then
And God alone can tell us if and when.

.

.

So Much Unsaid

So much unsaid, although we knew how too
Few hours she lingered on this earth, to show
I cared for her. How could I let her go
Nor beg her to return as she withdrew
From me? Affection with affliction grew
Till she, too weak, no longer could bestow
Her kindness. Still her love would overflow
But I, too blind to both, I barely knew.

So beautiful in death. Her mind lives on
Though she can no more hear nor speak nor see.
Too late for reassurance now she’s gone,
To give the little that she asked of me.
In memory must I maintain her trust
And soon may mine be mingled with her dust.

.

.

December

Two years ago it didn’t seem as cold
As this. But then her heart was warm, and she
Would make this house a happy place to be.
Where once the rhododendron would unfold
The garden weeds exert their stranglehold.
The lawn is sodden wet, the rowan tree
Has shed its showy berries. Here we see
Its boughs are bare, so barren to behold.

The dying and the dead surround me here
Till in the spring the flowers reappear
In all their glory as they do each year
To bring us happiness and bring us cheer.
But still I mourn in this December chill
For she will not come back, nor ever will.

.

.

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


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31 Responses

  1. Paul Freeman

    Three very affecting sonnets, Peter, that convey a lot of emotion and express a lot of love.

    The second sonnet could have been written for my father who cared for my stepmother in her dying days but eventually did get over her passing, though she was always with him in spirit.

    Thanks for the reads.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Paul – Thank you sincerely for your kind words of appreciation, and I hope that you WILL be able to think of these lines as having been written for your father, as they must apply to most of the bereft. I imagine for us all there must be questions, words of encouragement, of admiration and support that we all wish we had conveyed to loved ones and didn’t, for one reason or another, till we found it was too late.

      Reply
  2. Jeff Eardley

    Peter, my two favourite poets on consecutive days is the best Christmas present of all. Thank you for reminding us that amidst the holly and tinsel, there are memories of loved ones that will never leave us. I am thoroughly intrigued by the artwork today and I must find out more. Thank you again for all your work which lingers, long after the first reading and can I take this opportunity to wish you the best for this slightly worrying Christmas.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Jeff – To be honoured with the mantle of being your favourite poet alongside Susan! I shall wear it with enormous pride and with very great ostentation. And as she and I are so completely different in the nature of our respective outputs it points very much to the catholicity of your own (exceedingly good?) taste. And may I return the compliment by saying that your poetry is the best antidote of all that I have read for black moods, or for any time I want a good laugh (and I mean that, seriously). A very very happy Christmas to you too, and keep ’em coming.

      Reply
      • Jeff Eardley

        Peter, having done a swot on the artwork, and where it is located, I think we ought to arrange a “heist” undertaken by the Jarvis Bryants. The Fort Worth gallery must have access via the underground pipe work which a trained, retired Texan plumber could easily negotiate.

      • Mike Bryant

        That sounds perfect! I’ve already downloaded the floor plan and the alarm schematics. That was all free on the internet! Now, I am a trained plumber, but NOT trained in Art Heistery. However, I have just signed up for an online class which I will complete in only six months. The way I figure it, three thousand dollars is a small price to pay, especially since we are splitting it three ways! I’ll be sending each of you instructions to take care of each of your thirds by PayPal.
        It’s a pleasure doing business with you gentlemen! Don’t tell Susan… she doesn’t know that I put it on the credit card… shhhhhh

      • Peter Hartley

        Jeff and Mike. Right. Here’s the game plan. I shall stand outside the front door wrapped in a sousaphone, playing Colonel Bogey in C sharp to divert attention. Jeff, you will be wearing the same lab-coat and high-vis jacket you wore to nab the Crown Jewels last May. You can get anywhere in a lab-coat. Hammer frantically on the door and tell them you’ve come to read the water meter. Meanwhile Mike, you will pumble under the building using a hydraulic torque wrench and a ball-cock floatability adjuster, and when you’ve pumbled far enough, emerge in the National Cowgirl Museum shop to rendezvous with Jeff who will by now have grabbed the painting and… You did tell me it was in the NCM in Fort Worth didn’t you? As ever your credit card details and PIN number are safe with me.

  3. Brian Yapko

    Peter, these three related sonnets are beautiful — I related personally to each one. And though they ache with grief and regret, they also shine with a deep abiding love which underlies the pain. There are deep lessons here — to express love while we can, to accept that grief is the consequence of love. I understand well the panic that you describe but cannot let it overwhelm me. I believe that death’s sting is fleeting and that we will see our loved ones again. But as you say, “God alone can tell us if and when.” Thank you for a sad but rewarding read.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Brian – Thank you so much for this extremely thoughtful comment in which you have covered all, and more than, I was trying to get across in my poems. When we see our beloved ones die it is such a test of faith to believe that despite our torments in this world it is possible to be happy in the next: it can seem as though our whole lives are no more than a build-up to this one great, sometimes excruciating, finale. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s last words were reported to have been, “I am so happy!” but it must be very few of us who would be able to say this. For most of us it is an agonising, uncomfortable or, at best, a neutral experience. The lesson, “To express love while we can,” as you say, is so important, and what an immense pity it is that we can never know just how important that love was till they are gone.

      Reply
      • Clifton Anderson

        The last idea here is a key one. It reminds me of an old song the chorus of which goes something like this:

        Give me the roses while I live,
        Ere I must travel on,
        Useless the flowers that you give
        After the soul is gone.

      • Peter Hartley

        Clifton – Thank you very much for this quotation. I have not heard the song but I have always felt that flowers at a grave, though well-intentioned, are seldom greatly appreciated by the deceased and it is always reassuring, in any case, to find the thoughts of another accord with one’s own.

  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree with the comments above; these are deeply moving, especially the final couplets of “So Much Unsaid” and “December”.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Cynthia – Thank you very much for your comment on these three little poems. The next ones (that I am hoping Evan will publish just after Christmas) I hope you will find a touch less miserable because even I need to cheer myself up a bit now and again in these COVID-ridden times.

      Reply
  5. James A. Tweedie

    Peter,

    In the second and third poems you eloquently express grief without explicit reference to it. How we ache to resolve the pain of loss! Even to the point of seeking to follow and join the loss so as to be released from it! At such times the resolution of the matter chosen by Romeo and Juliet can seem both reasonable and attractive–to “soon . . . be mingled with her dust.”

    As always, your verse has touched my heart.

    Reply
    • Cheryl Corey

      I especially like “December” – the way that you contrast the cold weather and the woman’s warm heart in the opening stanza; and when you speak of the December chill in the last two lines, it brings the poem full circle.

      Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        Cheryl – Thank you for this kind comment, and even more satisfying than producing circularity in a poem like this is to know that it has been spotted and appreciated.

    • Peter Hartley

      James – Many thanks for your comment and I am glad to note that you have picked out numbers two and three over the first, whose only slightly clever device is keeping you utterly rapt with anticipation till the second line of the sestet before telling you exactly what I am panicking about! The second and third are definitely better, as poems, than this, although it’s a pity sometimes, isn’t it, that in these miserable ones I never seem to be able to offer any happy resolution to the misery! Your comments and insights are always most welcome.

      Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Peter, I always love to read your poetry and these three delicately crafted sonnets are no exception. Each one speaks to me with a beauty and an honesty that rises from the words and sneaks into my heart stirring memories of my own.

    In “Panic” you manage to capture the sheer horror of that debilitating emotion. I like the mention of the lilies, rubies and white gold – a touch of symbolism soothing the sorrow… but, of course…only God has the answers. “Panic” is a masterly poem.

    “So Much Unsaid” reminds me of me the words my Mr. Darcy (swoon) of an English Master told me in my callow youth. It was about literature, but I believe it can be applied to those tough, silent times in life. Always listen for the words that go unsaid… those that linger between the lines… those that rise above the printed piece on silent wings. Often, in the moments of silence, when hearts entwine, and words are absent… the most is said.

    I love the conversational, lyrical feel and appeal of “December”. You capture the warmth and wonder of love and loss, and that comparison to the changing seasons made me think the poem was treading the path of hope and Spring-like new beginnings… and then, that punch in the gut. Unlike the Spring flowers; “… she will not come back, nor ever will.” I especially like the “showy berries”. I love the way that sounds. But, the musicality of language does nothing to alleviate the pain of the closing couplet… the measure of a very fine poem, indeed. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Susan – Thank you for reading these three poems so thoroughly and so very thoughtfully. If one person reads my poetry in such depth and with such complete understanding as you and several others have done, it makes it all worthwhile. As I think Joe Salemi said somewhere in the great load of comments generated under your name yesterday, true poets don’t write for mass audiences but for discerning ones. It doesn’t really matter too much in the end if no-one outside SCP reads our work because one day, when so-called free and blank verse are wholly discredited for what they really are, the same day that elephant dung and pickled sharks are debunked as pictorial art, the day the entire content of Tate Modern is defenestrated and the “music” of John Cage floccinaucinihilipilificated for what it truly is (I’ve never had a chance to use that word in a plausible context before) formal poetry, the poetry of Chaucer and Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden and Keats will once again come into its own. That day can’t come soon enough. How can we, in barely a hundred years, have become, apparently, so talentless? And yet the skills are still there. When York Minster nearly burned down some years ago stone masons could be found to restore the delicate tracery, the roof bosses and the gargoyles. When the Ghent Altarpiece of Van Eyck was badly damaged in one corner somebody was found who could replace the missing passages as competently, seemingly, as Van Eyck himself. And in the SCP there are still those who can write poetry.

      Reply
  7. Martin Rizley

    Peter, These are extremely well-written and moving poems of lament, with some very memorable lines, such as “Affection with affliction grew Till she, too weak, no longer could bestow Her kindness.” You have expressed with great poignancy universal feelings of grief and loss, welling up from your own experience. And your closing couplets, are not only elegant in their simplicity, but also, as Susan pointed regarding the last poem, “gut punching.”

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Martin – thank you for your appreciation of these three little poems and your comment. I was the only person present in the room when Dina died and I was myself suffering from severe hallucinations at the time owing to the medication I was on for Parkinson’s disease. It meant that I was unable to give her the comfort that she needed as she was dying. The poetry I write about her is cathartic.

      Reply
      • Martin Rizley

        Catharsis, I believe, is the source of much great poetry. When the world we have known is crumbling before our eyes, or in the aftermath of some great change, there is something wonderfully calming and stabilizing about giving creative expression to our feelings through the structured medium of poetry. What is true of poets is also true of composers and other artists. To create is to impose order on chaos, something that we see illustrated in Genesis 1 when, after bringing forth the raw materials of the universe, God gives shape, structure and beauty to a world that was previously “without form and void.”

      • Peter Hartley

        Martin – it has certainly helped me, this written creative expression of feeling, my only fear being to lapse into the pitfall of self-pity. Feelings of that nature I quickly try to turn into contemplation of her own suffering and stalwart resignation, both of which were so much greater than mine.

  8. David Watt

    Peter, your three sonnets are beautiful, as many others have already said.
    I thought that ‘December’ was particularly powerful and universal.
    The closing couplet of ‘So Much Unsaid’ had great emotional impact for me.

    Reply
    • Peter H`artley

      David – thank you for the praise and encouragement which I greatly value. It is the sharpness of my memories that makes it just as easy to write today as it was two years ago.

      Reply
  9. Margaret Coats

    Peter, I like all of these very much because of how beautifully they flow and how well they end, even if “Panic” does have a few odd enjambments (which work, even though they add an unexpected rush to the rhythm). In reading “lilies, rubies, and white gold,” I got the feeling that “white gold” might mean poetry. You have already strewn the way leading to the beloved with exquisite flowers and jewels, so it seems pointless to speak of money here. And since all these lovely things are unavailing, “white gold” being third of three is probably the most valuable one, measured by inspiration and labor.

    You must know you made a little slip in your reply to Susan above, by throwing out blank verse along with free verse, as there is a great deal of fine blank verse in the poetry of Shakespeare and Milton, and of others whom you probably want to bring back. I suggest we call the rubbish “free” and/or “empty,” showing it is devoid of both form and content. Discerning audiences (thanks to Dr. Salemi for the term) are eager to discern both, and in fact are usually glad to find so much that the poems repay more than one reading. I think I’ve read these poems of yours before, yet find them very much worth reading again, especially in the presentation of this group of three.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Margaret, thank you for the appreciative remarks and thank you also for the correction regarding blank verse. I think of free and blank verse as one and the same thing (which makes you wonder why I have differentiated between them in the offending passage) although I know I was taught at school that there is a difference. I don’t think that you can have seen any of the three poems before as I feel sure they were all composed within the past month or so, but I have certainly written many others with similar themes.

      Reply
      • Margaret Coats

        Except for “Panic,” the themes and even some of the words expressing them are becoming your trademarks. One example is how Dina would “bestow her kindness.” And I will admit I have not seen a month poem like “December” before, with the pretty winter image of rowan berries.

        To be clear and simple about blank verse, it is written in iambic pentameter, and therefore has the most easily recognizable metric form in English, but it does not rhyme. Free verse, on the other hand, is free from meter and rhyme, and often from logic, reason, and even meaning, which is why I can easily call it “empty.”

  10. Peter Hartley

    Margaret – You speak of my trademark themes, and I am pleased to have thereby assumed an identity that is particularly my own. At the same time I am happy to be able to tell you, though, that you could never in a million years guess the subjects of any of my next three submissions to SCP (I really can promise you that!) and I do hope that they will score a hit with you on the grounds of their unpredictability alone. Thank you for the elucidation in your second paragraph. As soon as I read your comment I reminded myself of what I was taught and should have remembered from my schooldays, but it is useful that you have spelt it out just in case there is anybody else in SCP who would benefit from the reminder.

    Reply
  11. Norma Pain

    Thank you for these beautiful, sad poems Peter. These are very much appreciated I am sure, by all who have known loss of a loved one.

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      Thank you, Norma, and I really do hope they strike a chord with those who have lost their nearest and dearest.

      Reply

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