Poets Online Archive

Refrain

 

I was rereading Jane Kenyon's two collections - Let Evening Come and Otherwise - and it occurred to me that much of what I like in the two title poems comes from the simple refrains found within them. The refrain, which colors subtly in meaning each time it is used, leaves so much for the reader to discover. And it gives a kind of form without formality, especially when read aloud. I hope you will read both read both Kenyon poems poems aloud to yourself or to someone with you, and listen for that quality.

We asked readers to try using the structure of her poem "Let Evening Come" - six , three line stanzas with a refrain that begins in the title and occurs at least three times in the poem.

REFRAIN : A phrase or line, generally pertinent to the central topic, which is repeated verbatim, usually at regular intervals throughout a poem, most often at the end of a stanza, as in "Let Evening Come." Occasionally a single word is used as a refrain, as in "Otherwise". Sometimes a refrain is written with progressive variations, in which case it may be termed incremental repetition (also true of "Let Evening Come." ) as defined on the Glossary of Poetic Terms web site.


When You Lie Down with a Lonely Man

When you lie down with a lonely man, he cracks open.
Honestly, it's a wonder he survives
his brief cicada-hood,

his first breaths in the country of Love.
He is glossy, and sticks
to everything he touches.

When you lie down with a lonely man,
he begins to sing an old, old song.
He mourns the shell.

He can't keep himself still.
You look for him in the corners of the room.
Where is that sound coming from?

This man is plague-hungry,
drunk on the idea of the wheat-wide field.
Will the world be enough for him?

One morning you awake and the sky is filled with wings.
When you lie down with a lonely man,
he becomes the sound of his song.
 

Mary DeBow



Release Me Now

Loosen the knots that tie my head
to my shoulders.  From the pain
of rusting joints and aching teeth,

release me now.  Cover my sorrow
with cotton batting; make my path
soft and silent across the landscape.

Free me for an hour from the lists
of everything I should have done
but didn't; let me forget it all.

From the effort to hold onto
another, a mother, a child,
a mortal who will leave me lonely,

from dread of loss, release me now.
Let me let them go, let me know
that breath will last until the last,

and that is enough.  From ignorance
of the solace that God gives with
every burden, release me now.
 

Margaret Valentine



October, Six, Three

Heliotrope, digitalis, the heart.
Blonde, her hair, the guitar, grained fine.
The object is the adequate symbol.

Two halves of October, the wind blows,
the wolf chases the rabbit,
the cat's delight at the window,

the copper bracelet on her wrist.
The object is the adequate symbol.
In my dream she falls away from me

into the air like a peregrine without wings.
I awaken to the smell of bread baking.
An organ plays in the late afternoon.

Kilimanjaro seen from space.
Mercury moving in a glass tube.
After she leaves me,

I finish her cup of tea
just to taste her mouth.
The object is the adequate symbol.

Charles Michaels



Things Are Never What They Seem

Orion rises in the east
armed and ready for the kill
while the little dog yaps seriously at his heels -
                               or seems to.

The hunter comes from the east
where all treasures originate.  Gold
and silk, spices and stars start there -
                               or seem to.

I count down the hours
of the night as they complete
what seems to be their arched chase across the sky -

Orion, Taurus, and their little dog too.
I never see them sink below Earth's curve.
Like the oldest of soldiers they just fade away.
                               Or do they only seem to?

For there they are the next night
rising once again to the occasion.  While
I stay stuck in one place and watch them race -
                               or at least I seem to.

Gretchen Fletcher



A Twilight Zone Moment

Between the last moments of daylight
and the early moments of dusk there
lies a twilight zone moment.

When two people connect via words,
bits n' pieces of ideas, to whole
systems- lies a space we long for.

Frequent visits to this venue make
for intrigue and a sense of a Zen
way of a twilight zone moment.

An Aha, a chill for feeling close or
even meshed with time and space simultaneously,
and the spirit of being alive with all.

You have felt the moments. In verita'!
Another sense not yet numbered or measured
in any standard form; weaves moments of twilight zone us.
 

Jane Conforti



When I Die

You will not grieve for me
because you'll be with me,
along with everything beneath the sky

and in the earth beneath my feet,
and in the cry of every child, and sweet
wild thought I hold to when I die.

Odors too will cling
and sounds that others sing
will smother grief and lonely sigh,

because there will be nothing left:
no one to weep, to feel bereft.
All will be with me, when I die.

There was nothing at the start
until I felt my beating heart
that drew upon itself the tie

that I am all there is at last;
and that includes the NOW and PAST
becoming ONE - when I die.

Catherine M. LeGault



Confession

The votive candle in its red glass cup
consumes the wax, leaving a soft skin,
a charred center of sorrow or guilt.

Bless me father, the dead won't speak-
being happy to be done with this world,
but enjoy listening to us speak.

Bless me father, for I have sinned.
The things I wrote in the night were lies.
The things I said in the dark were lies

so that you would think me human.
Bless me father, it has been many years
since my last confession.

You told me the words to say,
the acts of contrition to perform,
the gestures I make to bless me.

Father, I threw the stone into the well,
as you told me, and I waited for the sound
but it never came.

Lianna Wright


The Inner Ear Listens to Us

We are filled with riches
that can take us to exotic lands.
The inner ear is a maze.

Navigating with crystals,
channeling our balance,
the inner ear listens to us.

After we spin around and around,
after we're no longer moving,
its canals are busy.

Even after we've stopped talking,
stopped giving directions,
the inner ear listens to us.

This is why we become dizzy
and feel like we are still in motion:
waves lap at its shores.

We have to be patient,
we have to be willing to fall down
as the inner ear listens to us.

Susan Kaye


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