The dictionary says a poem is a literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm. It’s almost like a song and we often can remember passages of poems but we find it more difficult to remember stirring prose.
I cannot say that I am a great lover of poetry. I prefer narrative and I only read poetry occasionally. However, through my life, two poems struck deep chords with me. They share a theme of enduring love, but are vastly different in the way they stir the emotion.
Both are epic poems – long, in other words – with a narrative story. But I hope the reader will take the time to go through each one. It can be a moving experience.
My longest running favorite poem is called The Stone by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson. I first discovered The Stone in a poetry book I was forced to read in the 8th grade. The Stone wasn’t part of the required reading, but when I stumbled upon it, I knew it was something I wanted to keep.
For many years, I carried a printed copy in my wallet. In contemporary times, I have the poem stored on my cell phone. Even though I’ve read it hundreds of time, I still pull it up on my screen when I need a little inner reflection.
"And will you cut a stone for him, To set above his head? And will you cut a stone for him-- A stone for him?" she said. Three days before, a splintered rock Had struck her lover dead-- Had struck him in the quarry dead, Where, careless of a warning call, He loitered, while the shot was fired-- A lively stripling, brave and tall, And sure of all his heart desired . . . A flash, a shock, A rumbling fall . . . And, broken 'neath the broken rock, A lifeless heap, with face of clay, And still as any stone he lay, With eyes that saw the end of all. I went to break the news to her: And I could hear my own heart beat With dread of what my lips might say; But some poor fool had sped before; And, flinging wide her father's door, Had blurted out the news to her, Had struck her lover dead for her, Had struck the girl's heart dead in her, Had struck life, lifeless, at a word, And dropped it at her feet: Then hurried on his witless way, Scarce knowing she had heard. And when I came, she stood alone-- A woman, turned to stone: And, though no word at all she said, I knew that all was known. Because her heart was dead, She did not sigh nor moan. His mother wept: She could not weep. Her lover slept: She could not sleep. Three days, three nights, She did not stir: Three days, three nights, Were one to her, Who never closed her eyes From sunset to sunrise, From dawn to evenfall-- Her tearless, staring eyes, That, seeing naught, saw all. The fourth night when I came from work, I found her at my door. "And will you cut a stone for him?" She said: and spoke no more: But followed me, as I went in, And sank upon a chair; And fixed her grey eyes on my face, With still, unseeing stare. And, as she waited patiently, I could not bear to feel Those still, grey eyes that followed me, Those eyes that plucked the heart from me, Those eyes that sucked the breath from me And curdled the warm blood in me, Those eyes that cut me to the bone, And cut my marrow like cold steel. And so I rose and sought a stone; And cut it smooth and square: And, as I worked, she sat and watched, Beside me, in her chair. Night after night, by candlelight, I cut her lover's name: Night after night, so still and white, And like a ghost she came; And sat beside me, in her chair, And watched with eyes aflame. She eyed each stroke, And hardly stirred: She never spoke A single word: And not a sound or murmur broke The quiet, save the mallet stroke. With still eyes ever on my hands, With eyes that seemed to burn my hands, My wincing, overwearied hands, She watched, with bloodless lips apart, And silent, indrawn breath: And every stroke my chisel cut, Death cut still deeper in her heart: The two of us were chiselling, Together, I and Death. And when at length my job was done, And I had laid the mallet by, As if, at last, her peace were won, She breathed his name and, with a sigh, Passed slowly through the open door; And never crossed my threshold more. Next night I labored late, alone, To cut her name upon the stone.
I came upon this poem in the late 1990s. It appears in many places on the Internet, but no one seems to know who wrote it. It has become my tradition to post this on my Facebook page every Valentines Day.
If you’ve never seen it before, I hope you enjoy it. And if you have seen it, I hope it stirs the same feelings as the first time you read it.
Red roses were her favorite; Her name was also Rose; And every year he sent them, Tied with pretty bows. The year he died, The roses were delivered to her door. The card said, “Be my Valentine” Like all the years before. Each year he sent her roses, And the note would always say, “I love you even more this year, Than last year on this day.” “My love for you will always grow With every passing year.” She thought this was the last time That the roses would appear. He must have ordered roses In advance before this day. Her loving husband did not know That he would pass away. He always liked to do things early, Way before the time. Then if he got too busy, Everything would work out fine. She trimmed the stems and placed them In a very special vase, Then sat it beside the portrait Of his warm and smiling face. She would sit for hours In her husband's favorite chair, While staring at his picture And the roses sitting there. A year went by and it was hard To live without her mate, With the loneliness and solitude, That had become her fate. Then, the very hour, As on the Valentines Day before, The doorbell rang and there were roses Sitting by her door. She brought the roses in And just looked at them in shock, Then went to get the telephone book, To call the florist shop. The owner answered and she asked If he could explain. Why would someone do this to her, Causing her such pain? I know your husband passed away More than a year ago. The owner said, I knew you’d call And that you'd want to know. The flowers you received today, Were paid for in advance. Your husband always planned ahead, He left nothing to chance. There's a standing order That I have on file here. He has paid well in advance; You'll get roses every year. And there's one other thing That he wanted you to know. He wrote a very special card - He did this years ago. Then, should I ever find That he’s no longer here, That's the card that should be sent To you the following year. She thanked him and hung up the phone, Her tears now flowing hard. Her fingers were shaking, As she slowly reached to get the card. Inside the card, she saw that he Had written her a note. She stared in total silence For this is what he wrote. “My dearest love, it’s been a year Since I have been gone. I hope it hasn't been too hard For you to overcome. I know it must be lonely And the pain is very real. For if it were the other way, I know how I would feel. The love we shared made everything So beautiful in life. I love you more than words can say, You were the perfect wife. You were my friend and lover, You fulfilled my every need. I know it's only been a year, But please try not to grieve. I want you to be happy, Even when you shed your tears. That is why the roses Will be sent to you for years. When you get those roses, Think of all the happiness That we had together, And how both of us were blessed. I have always loved you And I know I always will. But, my love, you must go on. You have some living still. Please, try to find some happiness While living out your days. I know won’t be easy, But I hope you find some ways. The roses will come every year, And they will only stop If your door is not answered, When the florist stops to knock. He will come five times that day In case you have gone out. But after his last visit, He will know without a doubt, To take the roses to the place Where I've instructed him And place roses where we are - Together - once again.
As this point, many people may not have dry eyes. That’s ok – I usually don’t either. I hope you enjoyed these works as much as I do.
Do you have a favorite poem – one that has spoken to you year after year? If so, feel free to post it – or a link to it – in the comments section below.