You came to me as rain breaks on the desert
when every flower springs to life at once.
But joys? Mere wan illusions to the expert:
the Bedouin has learned how not to want.
You came to me as riches to a miser
when all is gold, or so his heart believes,
until he dies much thinner and much wiser,
his gleaming bones hauled off by chortling thieves.
You gave your heart too soon, too dear, too vastly;
I could not take it in; it was too much.
I pledged to meet your price, but promised rashly.
I died of thirst, of your bright Midas touch.
I dreamed you gave me water of your lips,
then sealed my tomb with golden hieroglyphs.
Michael R. Burch writes:
Published by The Lyric, Black Medina, Dusure Abueaoa (Tokelau), Shabestaneh (Iran), The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Kritya (India), Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, Freshet, Captivating Poetry (Anthology), Strange Road, Shot Glass Journal (the first stanza as “Dry Hump”), Better Than Starbucks, The Chained Muse, Famous Poets and Poems, Poetry Life & Times and Sonnetto Poesia (Canada)
The last time I checked, Google reported that “Water and Gold” appeared on 1,500 web pages. That’s a lot of cutting and pasting and suggests a number of readers have liked the poem enough to share it.
I’m a fan of nature shows and the opening lines were inspired by a nature show about the sudden flowering of deserts after any kind of rainfall. But deserts also produce mirages and it occurred to me that Bedouins would realize that the rain might be an illusion and that in any case the flowering would be unlikely to last. Love affairs can be like that.
None of the poem was planned and I didn’t know how it would end until I wrote the closing couplet. I came up with the title “Water and Gold” after the fact. The first image brought to mind other desert images: of mirages, Bedouins and pyramids. Midas with his “golden touch” just popped into my mind. I write most of my poems “organically” with no planning. My method is to “open myself to words” and I often have no idea how a poem will end when I begin.
Surprisingly, many such poems of mine end up telling coherent stories with unusual twists at the end. I’m not sure how that happens but I think not imposing too much of my myself on a poem probably helps.
I have never liked picky “rules” about sonnets and other poetic forms. I always do as I please and any sonnet can be shorter or longer than 14 lines, but 14 lines seemed to suit this poem.
There are different versions of the poem with line three being one of the following:
But joy is an illusion to the expert:
But joys are wan illusions to the expert:
But joys? Mere wan illusions to the expert:
But joys are mere mirages to the expert:
But joys are heat mirages to the expert:
But joys are heat’s mirages to the expert:
Which one do you prefer? Please let me know in the comments, because I continue to waffle.
These are comments that have been made about the poem over the years…
I was especially moved by your beautiful poems “Water and Gold” and “Memory.” The music of “Water and Gold” is admirable, and the variations very strong. – Terese Coe, poet and translator
I have been reading more of your work: “Distances” and “Water and Gold” are some magical pieces, and “Something” is a tug too deep. – Rafia Bilkis, poet
I was going through your poems again to see which ones would be published in issue one [of New Lyre]. I LOVE “Will there be starlight” and “Regret”. SO DREAMY. Love it, love it. “Lady’s Favor” and “Water and Gold” are some of my other favorites. – David B. Gosselin, poet and editor
David Gosselin later led off the first issue of The New Lyre with five of my poems: “Distances,” “Will There Be Starlight,” “Water and Gold,” “Lady’s Favor” and “Regret.”
It’s a great sonnet!—Joyce Wilson, poet and editor of Poetry Porch and Sonnet Scroll
A really brilliant piece of writing. I’m not surprised it has been published so widely. Thank you for sharing. I for one am enriched from the experience of reading it. – Griffonner, poet
Marie Stella, a student in the Philippines, chose “Water and Gold” for analysis and criticism.
Robert L. Smith mentioned “Water and Gold” in a review of one of my books:
Michael R. Burch’s Violets For Beth is an exceptional collection, compromised mostly of formalist poems that seem so fluid and natural that it’s easy to forget they are rhymed and metered. Mr. Burch’s technical virtuosity is not what makes this collection memorable, however. These poems, all of them, possess an extraordinary emotional depth and tenderness, and resonate in the heart as well as in the mind. Consider the sonnet “Water and Gold,” one of my favorite pieces in a cornucopia of gems. The poem is flawless from start to finish, but its exquisite concluding couplet is positively breathtaking:
“I dreamed you gave me water of your lips,
Then sealed my tomb with golden hieroglyphs.”
There are no subpar poems anywhere here, and more than a few would truly be worthy of Yeats or Rilke in their prime. Other favorites of mine include “Redolence” and the gorgeous “Infinity.” Mike Burch is a true poet in the very best sense of the word, and this haunting little book is a treasure to be read, reread, and savored for generations to come.
Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth and two outrageously spoiled puppies. Burch’s poems, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories, epigrams, quotes, puns, jokes and letters have appeared more than 7,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post and hundreds of literary journals, websites and blogs. Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper, and, according to Google’s rankings, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. Burch’s poetry has been taught in high schools and universities, translated into fifteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, set to music by twenty composers, recited or otherwise employed in more than forty YouTube videos, and used to provide book titles to two other authors. To read the best poems of Mike Burch in his own opinion, with his comments, please click here: Michael R. Burch Best Poems.
Photo: “Gold and Blue Water Reflection” by Stanley Zimny (Thank You for 52 Million views) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.