A Poesy on the Borders of Poetry

February 24, 2004 | 3 comments

A Poesy on the Borders of Poetry for a Year on the Verge of Spring:

Spring has started to crack through here in Indiana. The sun’s come through the clouds, the snow melts, and we can see patches of green grass that have survived the winter.

In honor of spring, I give you a poem I wrote a few years back, inspired by a spiritual moment I had while hacking and cursing the dandelions. As you will see, hack is the mot juste.

The earth is God’s, and all that’s green therein.
Prayed Zenos therefore not while in his fields
to ward from him temptation unto sin.
Blessed he God’s works, his work, and their joint yields.

No grains. Mere grass for me. I heave the dan-
delions up and pray. I thank that Man
was made to pull and weeds to grow, that I
and they in this are pleasing to His eye.

Hoe up, hoe down! The loam to heaven flies’
Ah, grass! Ah, weed! how beautiful and wise
Ah, earth! Oh, sky! is He who hears my cries.
The silence of the labored land replies:

Praise God above from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him His works, ye creatures here below.

I’m generally pleased with the poem, especially the last six lines or so with its unexpected ascent into the Doxology. I feel like I’ve taken my one talent and gotten a six-percent, after tax, compounded yield. Given some time, my one talent will be two.

The poem suffers mightily from doing too much in too little space. The rhyme and rhythm of the sonnet form are strangeness enough without me trying to force in two fairly strange ideas: one, the God-service and the pleasingness of both Nature thriving and Man disliking the results and fighting to reshape. Two, the beauty and high spirituality of suburban drudge lawn maintenance. Both would do better with more exposition. Odd ideas need to be eased in lest the oddness overwhelms the content, or, worse yet, lest a body not even be able to tell what the content is.

On top of that, the first stanza does little or nothing towards the rest of the poem, so I end up trying to fit two unusual sentiments into an already structured 8-10 lines.


3 Responses to A Poesy on the Borders of Poetry

  1. Kristine on February 24, 2004 at 10:58 pm

    Adam, you’re too hard on your poem; it’s actually quite lovely. I especially like “that I/and they in this are pleasing…” The “in this” in a slightly unexpected place rescues a phrase that might have sounded a little hackneyed and makes it into an elegant line.

    I also really like the interruption of “how beautiful and wise.” One wonders uneasily for a second if you are going to try to impute wisdom to dandelions–it’s both a nicely timed surprise and a bit of a relief when the reader gets to “He.”

    You’re right about making the first two quatrains work too hard with dissimilar ideas–I had to go back and read and think for a second to figure out what Zenos had to do with it. But that’s not so bad; thinking isn’t such an awful thing to have to do :)

  2. Matt Evans on February 25, 2004 at 5:11 pm

    I don’t know anything about poetry Adam, but I liked the language and the substance of this one.

  3. William Morris on February 25, 2004 at 6:40 pm


    I think your criticism of the poem is spot on. The descent into Doxology is great. And I do like both the ideas of man fighting to reshape Nature and the whole lawn thing.

    The first stanza is, as you say, problematic. I esp. stumble over “to ward from him temptation unto sin.” There’s something off there with the rhythm/meter as well as the syntax that doesn’t work for me.

    The “No grains. Mere grass for me” line is great. I [but this is just me] would look to go backwards from there. What could come before that would make this pivot really work well? And I especially love the imagery of heaving up dandelions and praying. I think in all, the praise for God and the beauty aspects are there in enough force, but the suburban drudge isn’t. There needs to be a little more sweat and labor and weediness to it.

    Thanks for sharing. I very much enjoy the themes you are working with in this sonnet.

    Sidenote: for the record, I think the word ‘loam’ should be banned from poetry. ;-)


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