Category Archives: Poetism Commentaries

Poetism Commentary: “Means To The End”

The poem in question: Means To The End

About the time this poem was written, my family took a trip to Oregon, via motor home.  I don’t recall if it was the primary purpose, but we visited some extended family there.  We also drove through the redwood forest in northern California, where I bought some “happy rocks,” which are little tiny rocks with smiley faces drawn on them.

It was a long drive (I know approximately how long, given that last fall I made a similar drive with my wife and children), but it was nice to have a bit of room to move around in rather than just being crammed into our minivan.  As I recall, the old LDS movie Saturday’s Warrior was watched over and over during the drive by my sisters, along with My Girl.  I read some books, and I think wrote this poem during or shortly after the trip.

The reason the subject matter was on my mind, I think, is that a shortly before we left, our bishop stopped by for an impromptu interview regarding whether I should be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood.  In another six months I would be 19 years old and eligible to serve a mission for the LDS church.  We had a brief discussion and the bishop told me he would consider things while our family was gone.

Throughout my life, I have often had a difficult time fully relating to things that I could not tangibly experience, though the written word helped me out a lot, in that it was both easy to ingest emotion and to filter out things I didn’t really want to experience.  So one of the ways I tried to experience a deeper closeness to the Lord was to write about him from a fictional spectator’s point of view.

The title Means To The End is a mixed bag.  It evokes the common phrase “the ends justify the means,” which does not generally carry positive connotations.  I suppose I was trying to turn that around somehow.  I’m not sure how appropriate it is, but I stand by it.

A man who has been traveling for a while sees Jesus ahead on the road, and looking for some walking company (but not necessarily anything else) speeds up a little to catch him.  The first thing out of Jesus’ mouth is that He’d like to be friends.  For me, that is the fundamental characteristic of Jesus.  Regardless of all the other godly characteristics He may possess, the personal relationship is first and foremost.

The man is a little taken aback by this statement; I just met you and that’s the first thing you say to me?  But he’s drawn in by a kind smile.  He’s not a sucker; I like to think that when Jesus smiles, you just feel that good.  Within just a short amount of time, Christ has been betrayed and is on trial.  Despite not knowing Jesus personally for long, the man already knows “no horm could this man ever do.”

Then the scene switches to the Crucifixion.  Despite the reworking (and somewhat recontextualizing) of the famous words, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” I think the heart of the matter is actually in the middle of the last stanza:

I caught His gaze and saw the passion hidden deep within
And in that moment, He quelled all my fears.

Again, despite the overarching reach of Jesus to be a savior for everyone, the focus for this person is, well, personal. Even though this moment is terrible, he is individually reassured.  And that’s what I think Jesus is all about.  It is also in this final stanza that the capitalization of pronouns referring to Jesus commences.  It’s at this moment of true, personal connection that he becomes Him.

Now, a few words about a different, apparently earlier version of the text.  I have one that changes three lines.  The first is inconsequential: the last line of the second stanza,”This man would serve them better dead” became “The man would serve them better dead.”

The second is also relatively of little note: near the end of the first stanza, “We set off again, and as we walked…” became “We walked again, and as we walked….”  I think the final version flows better.

The third change is the most interesting to me.  The lines

I scurried to catch up to him, and so he looked at me
And straightway said he’d like to be my friend.

originally read:

I scurried to catch up to him, and so he looked at me
And told me that he’d like to be my friend.

The change to use of the word straightway was deliberate.  The word is used several times in the King James Version of the New Testament, and I take its meaning to be that of suggesting immediacy.  The reference I always connect with use of the word is Mark 1:18, where Jesus tells some of the apostles who are fishermen to follow Him, and “straightway they… followed him.”  The use in my poem reinforces to me the priority of Jesus to establish a personal friendship with each of us.

Finally, two years later, while serving as a missionary in France, I used this poem as a basis for one I wrote in French to share with members of the Church there.  I debated whether to give the text its own blog entry, but I think maybe it fits here.  I am pretty proud of the job I did of translation, especially the use of the passé simple tense, which is generally reserved for literary or other written texts.  It is not something generally learned in high school French class or as part of missionary language training (but is used in The Book of Mormon and the Bible), so I had to struggle to get it right.

Mon Plus Beau Cadeau

Je rencontrai un homme l’autre jour qui me dit de le suivre.
D’abord, je m’en méfiai, mais il sourit.
J’oubliai toute pensée que ce fût un homme méchant
et sus que par lui je serais nourri.
Il me parla des chose si simples, des choses si évidentes;
je crus que n’importe qui pouvait les faire.
Moi, je n’eus pas l’idée en tête qu’il pût être contredit,
mais, tristement, j’appris le contraire.

Il y en eut certains qui le haïrent, certains qui voulurent le trahir.
Sans preuve de culpabilité ils voulurent voir son sang versé.
Je savais, tout au fond de moi, qu’il n’avait enfreint aucune loi,
mais ils crièrent toujours plus fort: «Il faut que l’homme soit mis à mort!»

Il survécut une nuit d’enfer avant d’être même plus tourmenté.
Sans se dérober, il prit la coupe qui lui fut confiée.

Je regardai son agonie, monté sur sa croix,
versant mes larmes sur cet homme de bien.
Puis je vis la passion qui était dans son regard
et tout à coup, je ne craignis plus rien.
Ses lèvres s’ouvrirent et j’entendis les mots qu’il chuchota:
«Tu vois, O Père, combien j’aime ceux-ci.
Me voici, Fils Bien-Aimé, qui meurs pour tes enfants,
celui qui prie d’épargner ses brebis.»

Quel amour me remplit le cœur en entendant ces mots précieux:
il mourut pour que moi, je vive, en sa presence toujours aux cieux.

The rough English translation of the above text is:

My Most Beautiful Gift

I met a man the other day who told me to follow him.
I didn’t trust him at first, but he smiled.
I abandoned all thought that this was a wicked man
and knew that I would be nourished by him.
He spoke to me of things so simple, so obvious;
I thought anyone could do them.
I couldn’t imagine that he could be contradicted,
but, sadly, I learned otherwise.

There where certain people who hated him, who wanted to betray him.
Without proof of guilt they wanted to see his blood spilled.
I knew, deep down, that he had broken no law,
But they cried louder, “This man must be put to death!”

He survived a night of hell before being tormented even more.
Without shrinking away, he took the cup that was given him.

I watched his agony, mounted on his cross,
spilling my tears over this good man.
Then I saw the passion in his gaze
and suddenly I feared nothing.
His lips opened, and I heard the words he whispered:
“You see, O Father, how much I love these.
Behold me, Beloved Son, who dies for your children,
he who prays to spare his sheep.”

What love filled my heart in hearing these precious words;
he died that I might live in his presence forever in heaven.

Poetism Commentary: “Stormy Weather”

The poem in question: Stormy Weather

An alternative title for this poem would be “Letter to the Devil.”  In LDS theology the Book of Mormon offers some insights to Satan’s workings in 2 Nephi 26:22 and 2 Nephi 28:21-23.  Basically the idea is that the devil will attempt to be our friend, slowly putting a “flaxen cord” around us so we don’t realize we are under his control, until one day it’s too late, we’re bound by his “awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance,” and he gleefully abandons us and moves on to the task of ensnaring the next poor soul.

I tried to capture this idea in my poem, and I like the subtle progression the speaker makes in realizing that he is becoming more and more trapped.  It starts out somewhat light-hearted: “we… played our game together,” progresses to “let’s go tonight,” and arrives at the conclusion that “we dug my grave together,” all while not quite making the full logical connection that this relationship is not a good one, because he keeps coming back to it.  I think this is something that everyone struggles with on some level.

The last stanza is also based in LDS theology, but it is also a bit overly-negative by my reading today.  While Mormons believe that eventually Satan will be cast down forever, the phrase “your demise will be my finest hour” seems displaced from the spirit in which the triumph will take place.  That spirit is not one of boastfulness, but of relief and gratitude toward the delivering power.  I don’t think I conveyed that sentiment, but I also think that I was 18 when I wrote this and overcoming Satan’s ceaseless attacks was constantly on my mind.

As for the style of this poem, I generally enjoy it.  I think I did a pretty good job with the rhyming pattern, and I think the meter generally flows pretty well.  Similar to something I mentioned many years ago in a different commentary, the repeated use of the line “then came stormy weather” probably had some influence from Paul Simon’s “Hearts and Bones.”

Poetism Commentary: “réparation de l’amour”

The poem in question: is here.

This is the second of two poems I wrote for assignments in a BYU French class.  This one is more serious in nature, but I still giggle every time I read it, because I thought I was so clever, and I’m still wise/immature enough to think I was clever.  We were studying some different French poetry and themes and the assignment was to write a poem of our own using one of the themes.  I remember three of the themes being love, nature, and death, and it seems there was at least one more, but I can’t for the life of me remember what it is.  At any rate, I decided to try to use all the themes together, and I think the result is morbidly splendid, not to mention the foreign-language writing being not too shabby.  Like the last poem, I got an A-, probably for minor grammar errors (which are corrected in this text).

This is called “réparation de l’amour” (“reparation of love”).

Depuis que tue es partie
je sais que tu me regardes due ciel
j’entends ta voix sur le vent
et ta presénce m’enveloppe avec
chaque souffle que je prends.

La forêt de notre enfance
a changé aussi—
trop pour te décrire tout

Ton esprit me touche
chaque fois que je pense à toi.
Tes yeux me regardent
avec une innocence aveugle.

Et quand je me souviens
du dernier jour
je veux mettre la même corde
autour de mon cou
et te trouver où je t’ai envoyée.

And the rough English translation:

Since you left
I know that you watch me from heaven
I hear your voice on the wind
and your presence envelops me with
each breath that I take.

The forest of our childhood
has changed also—
too much to describe it all

Your spirit touches me
each time that I think of you.
Your eyes watch me
with a blind innocence.

And when I remember
the last day
I want to put the same rope
around my neck
and find you where I sent you.

Update 6/27/2016: Here is an image of the paper I originally turned in for my assignment.

reparation de l'amour

Poetism Commentary: “Le Singe et Son Thon”

The poem in question: is here.

Several weeks ago I was going through some boxes in my closet and found two poems that I wrote for assignments in a French class at BYU.  This is the sillier of the two; the other will be the subject of my next commentary.  This is called “Le Singe et Son Thon” (“The Monkey and His Tuna”).

Il y avait une tortue qui voulait du thon,
a demandé d’un singe s’il en aurait un peu.
Le singe a dit, Quoi?  Le demander à moi?
Allez ailleurs, attendez dans une queue!
La tortue a pleuré, elle a mendié,
Donnez-moi due thon, j’en ai besoin!
Le singe a gloussé, gloussé, et gloussé,
a dit, C’est ton problème, pas le mien!
La tortue a crié, Pourquoi être vilain?
Est-ce que vous ne m’aimez pas?
Le singe a dit, non, mais j’ai une leçon
que je vous enseigne maintenant:
Le thon sera bon
la semaine prochaine
mais cette semaine-ci
il faut que tu te baignes.
En réalisant qu’elle se sentait mauvais,
la tortue a promis un bain,
seulement si le singe lui promet du pain—
le thon—avec un peu de lait.

And a rough translation:

There was a turtle who wanted some tuna,
and asked a monkey if he had any.
The monkey said, What? Ask me?
Go somewhere else, wait in a line!
The turtle cried and begged,
Give me tuna, I need some!
The monkey chuckled, chuckled, and chuckled,
said, That’s your problem, not mine!
The turtle yelled, Why be mean?
Don’t you love me?
The monkey said, no, but I have a lesson
to teach you now:
Tuna will be good
next week
but this week
you need to bathe.
Realizing he smelled bad,
the turtle promised a bath,
only if the monkey would promise him bread—
tuna—with a bit of milk.

While it’s silly, I’m impressed with myself that I managed to create the rhyming scheme in a foreign language.  And I got an A-, I think for some minor grammar errors (which I’ve corrected in the above text).

Update 6/27/2016: Here is an image of the paper I originally turned in for my assignment.

Le Singe et Son Thon

Poetism Commentary: “a new beginning”

The poem in question: a new beginning

I wrote this poem for an assignment in my freshman English class at BYU.  I don’t remember what the assignment was, specifically.

As with many others, this poem is about inner demons and what ifs, but with a much more hopeful tone, kind of like From now on.  I may have mentioned this before, but I always found it much easier to write well (what I considered well, anyway) about bleaker subjects than happy ones, and in bleaker tones, so poem this was something of a breakthrough for me.  Not only is it hopeful in tone, but I think it’s also decently written.  Double whammy!

I don’t have the original copy, but I can tell from some erase marks in my notebook and an old web print out that the last stanza originally read differently.  The original version—likely what I turned in for my assignment—is:

effortless though it may be
I cannot be brought down
I’ve been relinquished of myself
and set out toward what I’ve found

In fact, all of the copies I have, except the one now on my web site, have that last line.  I do like “and set out toward higher ground” much better though.  In fact, I really like the message of the last stanza.