Tag Archives: life

Poem: ‘Ticking Away’

You have hopes. You don’t expect
that they’ll ever come to pass
but you drink, think and reflect
as you look into the glass…
And you wonder what will happen
while your life just ticks away:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of play.

Science’s prognostications,
things you’d pick up in a flash:
soon they’ll start rejuvenations
if you only had the cash…
Cash cuts those who’d live forever
from the rest as with a knife:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of life.

But you don’t like thoughts of dying
so you hope you’ve got a soul;
and though preachers are caught lying
Heaven seems attainable…
But there’s got to be a Heaven
or prayer’s just a waste of breath:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… towards death.

Though you think that you’re so clever,
you’ve got goals but not the How.
Play the lottery for ever
it must pay off – why not now?
But you never do the homework
so at question time you’re stuck:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… out of luck.

That affair you never had
with the person down the street
for you’re really not that bad
and besides, you rarely meet…
But it sits there like a present
that’s unopened on a shelf:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of self.

So there’s all the other options
for the things you’d like to do:
travel, study, home, adoptions,
building family anew,
but you’re aging while you’re thinking
and the chances go on by:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… till you die.

*****

On this funereal day I take happy morbid pleasure in remembering that we are all mortal. Let’s keep on ticking as long as we can! ‘Ticking Away’ was published in the most recent edition of David Stephenson’s ‘Pulsebeat Poetry Journal‘, a recent and welcome addition to the growing cadre of formal-friendly magazines. It’s a nonce form, shaped in the writing of it; the lines rhyming ABABCDD, and the metre being a rapid patter broken by the ticking in the last line of the stanza.

You could say it’s mostly written in incomplete trochaic tetrameter, the form of Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,

But I prefer to read it with the rapid beat of W.S. Gilbert’s

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

which, technically, you could read as iambic octosyllable

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

but not all of those stressed syllables have equal weight. Gilbert’s lyrics are patter, built on highly stressed, semi-stressed and unstressed syllables. English poetry is flexible and chaotic, and its analysis can be contradictory, because the poetry is a fusion of casual Anglo-Saxon verse which counts stresses but not syllables, and formal French verse which counts syllables but not stresses. This mirrors the creation of English itself which is a fusion of various Germanic and Romance languages… with a dash of Celtic grammar thrown in. (Where do you think the pointless auxiliary verb “do” comes from in the phrase “Where do you think”, rather than a more straightforward “Whence think you”? Answer: Celtic.) But the educated literati of the past few hundred years learned all their analysis of grammar and poetry from the French who in turn were drawing on the Greeks and Romans. And some of that thinking is irrelevant to Germanic and Celtic structures.

TLDR: Write what feels natural, enjoyable and memorable. Personally, I’m always glad to remember I don’t have to write everything in iambic pentameter…

Photo: “Self portrait – Ticking away” by MattysFlicks is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Sonnet: “What Will You Be When You Grow Up?”

Historically, this never was a thing.
You did what you were born to do, were told,
Fitting yourself into your parent’s mold,
A farmer’s son a farmer, king’s son a king,
A girl to be a mother and a wife.
But then came education, travel, choice,
Awareness of the wishes you could voice,
Countries, careers, sex partners — it’s your life!
And though just who you are you cannot know,
Nor what you want, yet all is your decision.
You’ll make mistakes, find failures and derision,
But life is long: so have another go . . .
Retry, and then try something else; take; give.
Do what you love. You die, regardless. Live!

This sonnet is a mirror of the short poem I posted most recently – and I’m happy to see that my outlook has a certain consistency, even over a 50 year period.

The sonnet has just been published in the formal verse section of the current Better Than Starbucks – thanks, Vera Ignatowitsch!

Photo: “career choices” by Jerome T is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Remember’

Remember the whole world’s in your range,
When all your strength is gone.
If you can’t accept, then rearrange;
Can’t rearrange, move on.

I wrote this little poem when I was a very unsettled and directionless 20-year-old, and I lived by its tenets for several years, constantly changing jobs, countries and relationships. Eventually I slowed down, only changing jobs, countries and relationships once every few decades. But I still hold to the principle that you have no obligation to stay in an unsatisfactory situation, that you should actively try to identify what makes you happiest at the deepest level and then change your life in that direction. And sometimes random change is an appropriate if temporary solution.

This poem was finally published, decades later, in The Asses of Parnassus.

Photo: “File:Banksy Hitchhiker to Anywhere Archway 2005.jpg” by User:Justinc is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘We Know We Will Be Dead’

We know we will be dead, who are alive.
But should some element of us survive –
fragment of consciousness or memory –
what value could it have? What should it be
that the whole universe might benefit?
The atom matters – what’s not made of it?
And we’re not large – not like a conscious star
(if time will let us all evolve that far).
You’re not much different in real magnitude
from an ant crushed for going for your food,
a gnat rubbed out, its tiny consciousness
a dot… but does it build the universe?
If that gnat can’t, I don’t see how you can:
there’s not much difference between gnat and man.

Does a poem of 14 lines, rhymed in pairs, count as a sonnet? Perhaps, but it doesn’t feel quite right. Petrarchan and Shakespearian sonnet structures, with more complex structures of rhyme, produce a much greater impact with the final line–a sense of revelation, inevitability, an impression of absolute truth–purely by the successful rounding out of the pattern. I like this poem’s ending couplet… but it would be stronger if the previous 12 lines were better structured.

‘We Know We Will Be Dead’ was published in the most recent Allegro, edited by British poet Sally Long.

Hubble’s colourful view of the Universe” by Hubble Space Telescope / ESA is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘Voyage’

Some watch the widening, receding wake
On life’s long voyage. Others at the bow
Scan ahead, wondering what route we take.
(But Past and Future point to one end, Now.)
When disembarked, what will your story be?
“I looked back, couldn’t tell where we’d begun…”
“I tried to look ahead, but couldn’t see…”
“I read lots.” “Slept.” “I made friends.” “I made none.”
“Sunsets were nice.” “The food was just so-so.”
“I helped someone.” “I tried, but got in fights.”
What’s next?
Aboard Earth round the sun all go,
Each spinning whirl hundreds of days and nights,
Through scores of rounds. How’d we get here? Don’t know.
Then each, some unknown -day and -where, alights.

This poem was originally accepted for Contemporary Sonnet but, as far as I understand, when Charlie Southerland took over from the previous editor all the online passwords had been lost, and the magazine folded. So the poem went to Verse-Virtual instead. Given that its subject matter is the unpredictability of life, such changes for the poem’s own voyage are quite in keeping.

Ship’s wake” by Dany_Sternfeld is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Short poem: ‘My Life Twists’

My life twists
Dangling in the mists
A spider in the earliest hint of dawn.
My mind roams
Lost in a thousand homes,
Amnesiac messenger still trying to warn.

Sometimes a poem is just a mood. This is one such. It was first published some years ago in the now defunct Candelabrum. And, yes, it rhymes better in English than in American…

“Unidentified Spider on a Thread DSC_0197” by NDomer73 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Poem: ‘Friendly Advice’

“Listen, old feller-me-lad,” he said
With a rugger-player’s laugh
(Not that he was big and brawny,
Only about scrum-half)
“You can muck about till you’re blinking dead
Without a career or a wife,
But (I know that it sounds damn corny)
You’re wasting your bloody life!

“Look, Slater Walker would snap you up!
Anyone can see you’re no fool.
Or why not go round to the Honkers and Shankers?
You’ve been to a decent school.
But before you do, go and have a haircut
You can’t go through life as a clown.
Get a good job! You’ll only thank us
For helping you settle down.

“Work with a Bank, and go overseas,
That’s where you’ll get the best pay.
Look at us: Jill and I are content,
With our two kids, and one on the way.
We’ve enough for a car, and boarding-school fees,
And her clothes, and my drinking and smoking;
And the Bank pays us our large flat’s rent,
And we’ve got our own place in Woking.

“So we’ve got our means, and we’ve got our ends,
And we’re happy through and through;
But you, you do nothing, although you’re clever,
And we worry a bit about you.
Now look, we like you, we’re speaking as friends:
Settle down! Get a job and a wife!
You can’t go on mucking about for ever –
You’re wasting your bloody life!”

In my gap year between school and university I worked in the local Barclays Bank in my home town of Governor’s Harbour. My subsequent university career only lasted a matter of months and I began wandering between countries, but my former boss at Barclays had friendly advice for getting me back on track. His Englishness is there in the poem, which dates itself with references to the once-mighty Slater Walker investment house and with the nickname of the Hongkong & Shanghai Bank before it became HSBC. It was a while ago… if Tim Clark is back in Woking with his wife Jill, they must be in their 90s by now.

The scansion of the poem is a little casual, but there are alternating 4 and 3 feet to a line. The rhyme scheme is tighter, ABCBADCD in each verse. I think it works well as a piece of casual one-sided discussion. First published in Lighten-Up Online – thanks, Jerome Betts!

Photo: “Bored at Work” by D Street is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Poem: ‘Buffoon’

You resent all my fun,
Complain I’m a buffoon.
Let me play in the sun,
The dark comes all too soon.

Originally published with The Asses of Parnassus – always a good place for pithy poems.

Picture: “end of the buffoon” by Ozan Ozan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sonnet: “From the Sudden Sun”

Life bioengineers its seamless rounds
with green leaves scarleting in fierce blue skies,
falling from sudden sun or winds that rise
with violin-sad sighing, dying, sounds.
Toddlers in pointlessly expensive clothes
with pregnant women breadily approach
some non-migrating geese which with reproach
lift in unfrantic flight to lake’s repose.
Despite such fertile life, the living leaves
blaze with the imminence of winter’s touch
and dead leaves blow beyond the groundsman’s clutch
in a wind chilled for one who disbelieves
that life entails the sudden cutting short
of your expression flowering in mid

Another of my existential sonnets, first published by Bewildering Stories (thanks, Don Webb). And, again, Don gave it a crisper title than my original “The Interplay of Life and Death in Fall”. I wrote this in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, watching the Canada geese at a small lake behind an upscale not-really-rural office building. Fall is, like every season, intensely evocative of human life.

I admit the ending involves a cheap trick–but leaving off the last word is designed to drive home the thought of mortality, and the missing rhyme is a perfect one… at least with an English accent, if not an American one…