Two Poems — One Explained; a Second Challenges Explanations

John J. Hohn, Writer

I have been writing poetry since I was a boy in elementary school. There have been times where poetry came easily, flowed right out of the daily events in my life. At other times, I felt as though I was hammering words into place, pounding the lines into shape in the hopes that I would have an acceptable piece when I finished.

The poems that flow, almost immediately, usually occur at a time when my feelings are running very high on a subject. That’s not to say that all the poems that come easily are good, but they seem to present themselves as nearly completed pieces. “For She is Younger” is a poem that came to me in that magical way.


For She is Younger

I am as strong today
As you will ever know me —
My stride resolute as I encircle
All I can of joy
And wiser, more gentle, I may become
As you watch me glide
Down the inexorable corridor
That dims into fragility,
Until confusion mounts my high bed
And invades the flesh.

And for my turn,
I will see your rise
In your expanse of years,
In the rigors women know,
A generation bred and nurtured,
Care overtaking early hours–
The hollyhocks beside the Saturday door–
Afternoons ripening into hurried rituals.

Things being as they are,
Those honored rings of yours
Will one day clink against my stone.
Though not my choosing,
I won’t be gleaning
Among the abundant rows
Of your autumn years.

All that I remember in writing it was that it came in a rush. It was all on the paper in front of me before I had time to second-guess anything. I tend to trust poems that are spontaneous as this one was. Not that they are polished and in finished form, but the piece erupted from my subconscious as a unified and complete statement.

I had watched my father die very slowly as he suffered a series of small strokes. I saw his awareness of life and those around him fade away until he was breathing but no longer among us. I don’t want to depart in the same way he did. Yet my wife Melinda is nearly 10 years younger than I. While I have promised her that I will not be the first to go, nature and aging being what they are makes that, hands down, a most difficult promise to keep.

Shorter Compositions

This poem represents my convictions about composing poetry as well as any I have written. I believe in shorter compositions. I have written much longer ones, but longer poems tend to be an series of short stanzas held together by a common theme. The short poem will focus on one experience and the author strives to recreate that in the reader.

In the poem above, the first several lines speak to the poet’s confidence and vigor at the time that he is writing. But like all of us, he knows the road in time ahead. His physical capabilities will diminish, despite his best intentions. They may be compensated somewhat by a growing capacity for understanding, patience and gentleness, but the strident athlete must give way slowly to the fragility, and hopefully the wisdom, of advanced age.

Given this fate, the poet acknowledges the joys that will be his watching his mate rise to the fullness of her years, celebrates her achievements in the day-to-day way of things, and testifies to his trust in her faithfulness through the years.

While it is awkward commenting on my own work, I nevertheless had to be satisfied that the poem reads well. The tempo and cadence reinforce the bittersweet message. In composing it, I made one major change. The last line in the firs stanza reads “And invades the flesh.” When it first hit the page, that line read “And invades the flesh from which vigor fled.” It was a couplet “Fled” rhymed with “bed” and the effect created was one of finality. But the abruptness of the rhyme was out of place. An unexpected departure from life is not what the poet feared but a slow overtaking of his spirit and his strength as in contrast with the opening line. Rhyme can be seductive. It sounds like poetry. But it can work against the flow of the poem and be a disservice to the poet’s intention.

In the second stanza the poet celebrates his expectations of what it will be like to be the partner to a younger energetic woman coming into the fullness of her years. Finding extraordinary pleasure in ordinary things is the key to happiness. The daily rituals. The coming and going in the home. The commonplace is to be acknowledged and enjoyed. Everyone has the equivalent of “The hollyhocks beside the Saturday door” in his or her childhood. The poet tosses the line into the mix because of the whimsy in it as there should be whimsy in everyday life for it to be full and joyful. Saturday was the first day of the weekend. No school. No church. And the hollyhocks are again a’blooming. A ripening into something beautiful as life itself should be.

But to Conclude


What makes a good poem
May not make a good life.
The beginning of a poem
May launch a thought
That echoes back
Only as the lines end.
As years pass,
On the other hand,
No foreshadowing creeps in
About how things will wind down—
At least not in what I may imagine,
As the robins sing,
Nor is there any promise
That I can see
Years later
What was intended
In the ease of age.

These have been my thoughts
As I gaze from my study window
Toward the Blue Ridge
And watch the wind
Tumble down the valley
And roll up to my door.

Perhaps in verse
One should not think too much
For once reason and experience
Sweep belief and myth away,
A certain terror finds the room to settle in.
Far better to tap
Into what comes freely
Forsaking any thought
As to how things might turn out
And resolve to let
The moment be, please,
Just as it is.

-John J. Hohn,  July, 2013

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