Late Autumn Twilight

The still earth beckons sweetly.  I must go.
The dry reeds on the creek have gathered round.
The waters, in suspense, have ceased to flow.
Along the bank, no creature makes a sound.

The sky is lit up brightly, baby blue.
Pink clouds have come from miles around to greet me.
I must not keep them waiting long in queue,
For soon, the light of evening will fade fleetly.

The earth grows softer as the sun now sets,
Releasing tension through the cool drafts blowing—
No time for disappointments or regrets.
The crisp air calls to me. I must get going!



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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24 Responses

  1. Allegra Silberstein

    Thanks for sharing your heart warming poem on this chilly day even here in sunny California.

    • Martin Rizely

      I am glad you found the poem heart-warming. It´s amazing how words can have a warming effect even where the sun´s beams fail to take the chill off the morning breeze!

  2. Anna J. Arredondo

    Very nice. I especially like how the closing line mirrors the opening line.

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    These are lovely quatrains, but they come across as a kind of swan-song, a meditation on the approach of death. This disturbing element is an effective counterpoint to the natural beauty that is described.

    • Martin Rizley

      Dr. Salemi,
      Thanks for your feedback. In looking again at my poem, I can see how it can it can easily be read as hinting at the subject of human mortality– “the still earth beckoning” can be seen on more than one level as symbolic of the grave, for example. The “disappointments and regrets” referred to in the last line could be seen as a reference to the “dying regrets” of someone drawing near to the end of his life. The interesting thing, however, is that this poem originated as a recent “reworking” of certain poetic thoughts that I wrote in youth when I was still in high school. I had the custom at that time of going in the evening and sitting on a pipe that crossed over a creek near our house, where I would soak up the beauty of the natural world around me, meditate, and pray. I had a very keen sense of God´s presence manifested through the beauty of the creation, so I wrote these thoughts as an expression of my desire to “commune with nature” one particularly beautiful evening in the late fall. On a conscious level, I did not think at the time of any association with my own mortality or connect the fleeting character of the evening with the fleeting character of my life on earth– I was too young for such thoughts at the age, although reading the revised poem now, at the age of 61, I can see clearly how those associations can be made.
      Here is the poem in its original “free verse” form which I wrote when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old:

      The still earth beckons–
      I must go.
      The dry reeds on the creek
      Gather along the bank;
      The water has stopped flowing in anticipation–
      I must not disappoint them.
      The sky is lit up baby blue;
      Pink clouds have travelled
      A great distance to see me–
      I must greet them.
      The earth has softened,
      Its tension released in cool drafts,
      The crisp air calls–
      I must answer.

      I have been slowly reviewing a number of “free verse” poem that I wrote as a youth, to see if they can be recast as formal poems, with rhyme and meter. It is an enjoyable process to cultivate new plants, as it were, from old seeds.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    This, Martin, might be the loveliest lyric poem I have ever read. And Salemi is right: the intimations of death are quintessentially autumnal. You know, don’t you?, that this short form really suits your talents. By hook or by crook, by perspiration, inspiration or deliberation, you have managed to pack into three stanzas as much information (though much of it is subliminal) as you normally put into, say, twenty stanzas.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you so much for the encouraging critique, C. B. If you read my comments to Dr. Salemi above, you will see that the poem has an unusual origin, dating back quite a few years to my youth, but as you point out, intimations of death are “essentially autumnal” so the fall imagery in the poem seems to take on a deeper significance for those of us who are past sixty.

  5. Cheryl Corey

    Martin, I was captivated from the open and found myself returning for several re-reads. I like the way that you injected some feminine rhymes — “greet me” and “fleetly” are impressive. There’s a simplicity of language, but with your careful phrasing, you create a work of art. I think it’s exquisite.

    • Martin Rizley

      Cheryl, I really appreciate your comments and the time you took to read and re-read the poem. I like to use feminine rhymes at the end of lines, from time to time, for the sake of variation; I am glad that is not considered “against the rules” when writing lines in iambic pentameter!

  6. Norma Pain

    A lovely descriptive poem Martin, and a beautiful picture to set it off. Thank you.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you for your feedback, Norma. Yes, the picture goes perfectly with the poem, including the colors of the sky.

  7. Paul Freeman

    ‘The waters, in suspense, have ceased to flow.’ My favourite line.

    A very visual poem. The feel of winter coldness crowding in is palpable.

    Thanks for the read, Martin.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Martin, I love this poem. The linguistic pictures you paint of nature are tangible… your words breathe. For me, your poem speaks of that thin veil between Heaven and Earth where I’ve often caught glimpses of the divine at times when my heart cried out for a dose of hope. I’ve always thought of Nature as a gift from our Creator… a gift that manages to put life (and death) into perspective.

    I’m intrigued to hear you mention this poem was adapted from a free verse poem you wrote in your youth. I have adapted a couple of my free verse efforts, and I’ve loved the process… and, I think my poems have benefited from it, just as yours has. It’s perfect.

    • Martin Rizley

      I share your feelings about Nature as a gift of God, for being the direct handiwork of God, it gives such powerful testimony to His attributes and imparts such a palpable sense of His divine presence..”The heavens are telling the glory of God and the earth shows forth His handiwork.” Your words about the poem speaking of the “thin veil between heaven and earth” greatly encouraged me, because they express what I feel and want to convey in my poems, the sort of awe-filled joy in the natural world that Christian poets like William Cowper have often expressed. I leave with you these beautiful lines taken from Book VI of Cowper’s monumental work “The Task” that also speak of that “thin veil”:
      “The Lord of all, himself through all diffused,
      Sustains, and is the life of all that lives. . .
      One spirit–His
      Who wore the platted thorns with bleeding brows–
      Rules universal nature. Not a flower
      But shows some touch, in freckle, streak, or stain,
      Of his unrivalled pencil. He inspires
      Their balmy odours, and imparts their hues,
      And bathes their eyes with nectar, and includes,
      In grains as countless as the sea-side sands,
      The forms with which he sprinkles all the earth.
      Happy who walks with him! whom what he finds
      Of flavour or of scent in fruit or flower,
      Or what he views of beautiful or grand
      In nature, from the broad majestic oak
      To the green blade that twinkles in the sun,
      Prompts with remembrance of a present God!
      His presence, who made all so fair, perceived,
      Makes all still fairer. As with him no scene
      Is dreary, so with him all seasons please.”

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        Martin, just to say thank you very much for your beautiful and inspiring reply. Your words have lifted my spirits.

  9. Stephen Dickey

    I am catching upon poems I have missed.
    For me, one measure of a poem’s virtue is how easily one can memorize it and recall it. Your poem scores very high on my little test—it was very easy to memorize and now I carry it around with me.
    It is with some hesitation that I would suggest changing “get going” to “be going,” based on my reading of the poem and the path of the language and thought therein. A small point, FWIW.
    Thanks for a great poem.

    • Martin Rizley

      Hi Stephen,
      Thank you for feedback. What an honor that someone is memorizing one of my poems! That is about the highest complement a poet can receive. And by all means, feel free, if you share the poem with others, to change “get going” to “be going.” To tell you the truth, I went back and forth debating which of those two phrases to use, and settled on one with a measure of uncertainty. The fact you have commented on that makes me think now that perhaps “be going” would be the better reading.

      • Stephen Dickey

        I have been wanting to respond and lay out some thoughts about why I think “be” is better. There are two things going on here—one is an issue of register, and the other involves my interpretation of the poem and some things I have noticed in it.
        As for register, in this poem you don’t shy away from using rather formal English (“for the evening light”, “I must go”). Nothing wrong with that, but I think that “I must get going” is a little inconsistent in that regard (colloquial “get” doesn’t combine very well with “must”, at least in my spoken English), and unless you were going for that clash, which I don’t think you were based on the rest of the poem, it is not optimal.
        More importantly, I think there are things going on in the poem that make “I must be going” the phrase. The first verse of the poem is very static—it consists of a series of states (“have gathered”, “in suspense”, “have ceased”, and the lack of sound), including the laconic “I must go”; even what the still earth does is presented rather statively—“beckons” (not “is beckoning”).
        The second verse begins the same way but then shifts gears—the pink clouds have come to do something, which is impending, and they then become more agentive and are waiting to do it. The verse closely with another future-tense statement about what is about to happen.
        Along with this shift from a static present to things that are about to happen, we get the first progressive “keep them waiting”, which expresses the simultaneity of two subjects doing different things. We see more of this in the third verse whether with the progressive or not (“the earth grows softer as the sun now sets”, “releasing tensions in the cool drafts blowing”). The shift away from the initial stasis is reinforced by “no time for disappointments..” and the final line, which replaces “still earth” with “crisp air”—which at least for me implies an initial perception—and also replaces a generic “beckons” with the more dynamic “calls to me”. In this stanza we also get two progressives in quick sequence (“releasing” and “blowing”). On the whole my impression is that the poem follows a trajectory from stasis to a whirling dynamic. This brings us to the final phrase, and I think “must be going” reflects the whirling dynamic and puts us in medias res, i.e., the speaker’s part in it, existentially. In contrast, with “get going” there’s less or no being in the midst of everything, but simply completing the onset of the motion, more like for an errand or something.
        I could be overthinking this and maybe my interpretation departs from yours significantly. FWIW.

      • Martin Rizley

        Stephen, Thanks for your giving me further feedback on the poem! As I said earlier, I was not entirely satisfied with “get going” for the first reason you mentioned–namely, because “get going” sounds more informal than the English used in the rest of the poem. It sounds colloquial, even, since the expression “get going” is probably used more in American than British English. However, I ran across a quote clarifying its meaning that explains why I think I ended up choosing that expression: “To “get going” means to take concrete actions to prepare to leave. It can also mean “to hurry up.” I think that was the shade of meaning I was trying to convey at the end of the poem– that I must not delay in “going forth” to greet the evening.

        At the beginning of the poem, I am standing at a certain distinace from the beautiful sights that I observe– the dry reeds, the waters of the creek, the blue sky, the pink clouds. Perhaps I am looking at them through an open window, or from a porch or the doorway of a house. I feel their presence calling me, and as I see the sun sinking and feel the evening wind blowing freely, I realize that the twilight will soon give way to night. If I fail to seize the opportunity to “go forth” into nature during these closing moments of the day, the “visitors” who have “travelled a long way to see me” will be disappointed and I myself will feel regret. When I say “no time for disappointments or regrets” that is what I am saying– that such a lovely evening is too precious to waste, the opportunity afforded to immerse myself fully in the beauty of the natural world is too wonderful to forfeit through delay or inaction. That would only lead to disappointment and regret. I think that I settled on “get going” for this reason, because it conveys the idea of not dawdling or delaying in going forth into the countryside while the light still shines. I agree that “get going” sounds a bit informal or colloquial, however, which is why I might be persuaded to change it.
        Thanks for your thoughtful reflections on the poem.

  10. Alena Casey

    It was interesting to read your original free verse attempt in comparison with the final. As someone who has often drafted and written in free verse form, I’m impressed at how well you carried not only your original images but many of the same phrases over into the formal version. I may have to study this effort of yours and revisit some of my sketches. Thank you for sharing them both!

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you for your comment, Alena. I have been revisting my early poems lately, in preparation for possibly publishing a book of poetry some day. As I look back at those early efforts, some of which were written in free verse form, I find that there are some poems I wouldn´t want to touch, because they seem to have already a certain musicality, poetic flow, or state so exactly what I wanted to say, that I don´t think they would gain anything by recasting them as formal poetry with meter and rhyme. But others, I think, can definitely be improved by rewriting them and giving them metrical form. I find it a very pleasant, challenging and often nostalgic task to revisit and refresh thoughts that were written down long ago.


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