A Novice Speaks to a Guardian

Tell me,
Oh honoured one,
The secret of the Way,
Of how to live, to reach the place
Of light!


The Guardian’s Reply

Kid, train
And work hard; doubt
The self; gain all you lack
To meet the best and worst; and learn
To fall.


Editor’s Note: a cinquain is a blank verse poem written in iambs with one foot, two feet, three feet, four feet, and one foot of meter in each of its respective five lines.



Tiree MacGregor began publishing verse with The Epigrammatist in the early 1990s. Since then his poems have occasionally appeared in print and online journals. He taught university English for many years in three Canadian provinces and now works as a freelance editor. Born in Scotland, he lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

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6 Responses

  1. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Tiree, the cinquain appears to be the perfect form for getting across a succinct and powerful message. I like your use of two cinquains to create a question and an answer, and I love the answer. Today’s society dictates that every child should be overflowing with high self-esteem to the point that no one is allowed to win a medal on his/her own merit in case they offend those who lag behind. It’s hard work, self-doubt, and life’s knocks that make one successful… and your poems build up to grand advice beautifully. Thank you!

    • Tiree MacGregor

      Dear Susan,

      I don’t know as there could there be anyone kinder and more generous than you. Thank you.

  2. Monika Cooper

    The voice of the novice is grandiose and ardent in contrast to the grunted advice of the guardian. Is he the young person’s “legal guardian,” a guardian in the Platonic sense, or one of the watchers who are vigilant over the world because someone has to be? “What do they do when you’re not watching them?” one character in a book I read (but hardly understood) once asked another. “Triumph and disaster,” “the best and worst” can either one throw a person off balance. It must be because of how easy that balance is to lose that the one of the first lessons in martial arts is often, as the last word of your poem-pair has it, how to fall.

    • Tiree MacGregor

      I think of these as companion poems, but I like “poem-pair.” Like all short forms — the haiku, the epigram — the cinquain has obvious limitations. This poem-pair, in its modest way, is meant to stimulate thought, the contrasting voices (the naive, the experienced) to contribute to the humour.

      • Monika Cooper

        I love short forms and proverbs and these certainly got me to both think and smile. Thank you.

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