I Write Half
— W.R. Gilmour (Twitter: @Poetreay, IG: @Wrgilmourwriter, FB: W.R.Gilmour-Writer)
In Search of New Beginnings
Welcome to this first installment of what will ideally become a long-term Kentstead Media series on the subject of poetry. If you have been following me at my other KM blog, How To Be a Truthspeaker, you will recognize this blog’s title refers to one of my favorite literary quotes, from Paul Valéry: “I write half the poem, the reader writes the other half”, which I have discussed at length here and here.
To begin this series, I hope you’ll indulge a few goals. Through this blog, I hope to:
- Entertain and uplift you, and reveal the beauty inherent in the craft of poetry, without “murdering to dissect” (more on this in a minute).
- Share some of my own poetry, and other great poems that I have encountered.
- Educate and inspire you to explore and develop your own poetic talents.
In The Tables Turned, one of my favorite poems by William Wordsworth, the poet describes the human tendency to ruin whatever we examine too closely: “Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; / Our meddling intellect / Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:– / We murder to dissect.” (lines 25-28, emphasis added). In this blog series, we’ll be talking about the tools and intricacies of poetry, but it’s that temptation to damage as we examine that I want to resist. Going forward, our focus will be on explication rather than evisceration.
Future posts in the series will be much more streamlined, with a shared poem or two and a bit of explanation, but this inaugural entry will set the stage for those that follow. So, with these goals in mind, let’s begin by discussing a question: Why does Kentstead Media even need a blog that is specific to poetry? I already maintain a writing tips blog at Kentstead Media about How to Be a Truthspeaker, so why do we need to get specific about poetry?
In response, I call my first witness, the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In 1827, Coleridge said, “I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; — poetry = the best words in the best order.”
I don’t think Coleridge was taking a swipe at prose and declaring it inferior, as much as he was describing an essential difference in focus between prose and poetry. To explain the reason for this poetry blog series, we need to talk a little about the differences between various literary genres, and Coleridge’s definitions are just the beginning.
I could talk for a long time about the distinctions between poetry and other genres, but while that might address my 3rd goal, it could possibly violate my 1st goal in the process, so let’s keep it simple here. (For a little more in-depth look at this topic, check out my upcoming HTBAT post regarding Poetic Prose & Prosaic Poetry.) Suffice it to say that the distinction between prose and poetry is actually a pretty thin one at times. That’s why poetry is a worthy topic of attention for all writers — if poetry can, at least partly, be described as best-ordered prose that has been elevated through the use of “best words”, then, as a wordsmith, the enhancement tools of poetry should never be out of arm’s reach, no matter what projects you may be working on.
Now, with that assignment to produce “the best words in the best order” (no pressure there!), on we go to this post’s poetic offering (and commentary):
Repentance (WRGilmour, 1988/2020)
I walked along the well worn path
Beside the iron rod,
But then my feet did wander where
Far many more had trod.
“I’m lost!” I cried, my heart was still,
“There is no hope for me!”
But then I heard a gentle voice
I sought but did not see.
“I’m here,” the voice had said to me,
But yet I could not view
The speaker of the loving words
That tried to pull me through.
“Oh, I am doomed!” my soul did cry,
But now with less conviction,
“I have no chance to mend my ways,
There is no way to fix them.”
“But no,” the voice then calmly said,
“With love and earnest prayer,
Your sins can be forgiven full,
Have faith, I’ll soon be there.”
A hazy form, I now could view,
But still I did not see
Quite well the face of he who’d come
To save in time of need.
“Please help,” I cried, “I feel so scared,”
I know I’ve lost my way!
My sins I’ll forsake, my heart I will break,
I’ll start life anew from this day.”
And then the figure left the fog.
I heard His sweet voice say,
“Your sins are forgiven, your debt has been paid.
Come, follow. I’ll show you the way.”
I followed Him out of the mist and the fog;
Now I cling to the iron rod.
I learned that day, though feet may stray,
All still may yet see God.
I originally wrote this poem in September, 1988, before I had even graduated from high school, and what you’ve just read is actually an updated 2020 version. In fact, in the process of transcribing the poem for this post, I found further changes that I would choose to make with my 32 more years of experience since then, but I resisted for now. I will return to it again later. (Let that be another mini-lesson: Depending on who you ask, it was either Aristotle or Paul Valéry who said, “An artist never finishes his work, he merely abandons it.”)
Naturally, the theme of the poem is repentance. The setting of the “story” presented is the same as that of several art pieces also available through Kentstead Media: Lehi’s Dream of The Tree of Life. In writing the poem, you’ll notice a fairly regular rhythm to the lines, and a rhyming pattern in the second and fourth lines of each stanza. The beauty of the beat pattern is that, even though it is deliberate, it also follows a common iambic pattern of alternating stressed and unstressed syllables that feels comfortable to read and speak. The rhymes also assist with memory and help the story come alive in your imagination.
The story of the poem is not terribly original, though, is it? Others have covered this ground before, and you probably saw the payoff coming a mile away: The speaker slackens in his obedience, leaves the path he knows he should follow, and finds himself in need of rescue. Salvation and redemption of his error comes through a savior who seeks him out and brings him home. But just because the story is familiar, does that make it any less real or meaningful? I know it’s my story, and I’m betting it’s yours as well. It’s all our story. Whether (like me) you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or hold to another faith, or hold to no religion at all, we all stray from the “paths of righteousness” from time to time and relax our grip upon whatever truths or principles we strive to follow. We all walk “beside the iron rod” of the truth sometimes, instead of gripping it tightly as we should. We all make mistakes, and we all need help sometimes, whether it be from clergy or friends or addiction recovery partners or God. The message intended in this poem is to remind us all that dawn follows the darkness and there is always a way back. It is such a comforting truth to know that it is never too late to begin becoming who we should be.
I will finish with my traditional parting salutation from my other Kentstead blog. It’s an Anglo Saxon word taken from the last line of the Old English translation of The Lord’s Prayer, and it means, “truly” or “amen”: Sothlice!
Read from the beginning!