Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dirty Hands


In my lap, still and silent
Dirty hands, a sinner's grasp;
Will I leave them there, defying,
As you call me to my task?

At my side, busy, flying,
Able hands used for good work;
In my mind, pride overtaking,
Duties now I never shirk.

Lips do tremble, eyes are opened,
Glancing at my sin-marred hands;
Much like Uzzah's fatal choice,
Did I forget the filth of man?

Glancing up I see before me
Blood-stained hands, a sinless Ram.
Open arms, He welcomes, calling,
"Come rest in me, my little lamb."

On the plow now, tightly holding,
Tear-stained hands my tasks employ.
Jesus at my side does guide me;
Tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy.

In my lap, still and silent,
Dirty hands, a sinner's clasp:
Folded praying, day's task done.
'Tis God's work in me lights my path.

11 comments:

Jessica said...

Wow...great poem, Susan! Did you write it?

Susan said...

guilty ;)

Anna Naomi said...

Wonderful poem, Susan! It's very well thought out!

Jessie said...

Very good Susan! I like it : )

Adrian C. Keister said...

You (very politely) asked for some criticism, and as it turns out I have a little time tonight. So here goes.

Overall: every line has either seven or eight syllables, with a pretty even mix between the two. Non-metered, though there are portions with a certain rhythm. Only second and fourth lines rhyme.

I like this poem. Because you're not so worried about rhyme, making minor changes is going to be a lot easier.

There is much grace here, and yet because they are dirty hands, the law shows up as well. Nice balance.

First stanza: I can understand no punctuation between the first and second lines; do you want no punctuation between the second and third? I could imagine either a colon or semicolon there. The idea of this stanza would also support a comma after the third line, I think.

Second stanza: sounds a bit like stream-of-consiousness. Have you been reading Ulysses by James Joyce? I would examine the punctuation carefully, and see what you want to say. The thought seems to me to be this: in the first stanza, you are rebelling by being idle even when you are called. In the second stanza, you over-react, getting proud in your task. If this is so, then keep that in mind as you punctuate. Here is one option, it seems to me: just add a comma after "flying", and a semicolon after "works". Perhaps "works" could be made singular? Rhymes better with "shirk." You might also consider switching the order of "now" and "I" in the last line.

Third stanza: You might consider switching the phrase "lips do tremble" with "Eyes are opened," since the second line has to do with this newly-rediscovered sight. After all, your lips are not glancing at your hands! Try this on for size:

Lips do tremble, eyes are opened,
Glancing at my sin-marred hands,
Much like Uzzah's fatal choice;
Did I forget the filth of man?

This avoids the awkward "Have I forgot..."

Fourth stanza: a word does not rhyme with itself!! Kinda like 1 is not a prime number. "Wide out-stretched" is a bit awkward; consider "Stretched-out wide..." instead. Even then, you're leaving out words.

How about this:

Glancing up I see before me
Blood-stained hands: a sinless Lamb,
Stretched-out wide, welcoming, saying,
"Come rest in me, my little ram."

The substitution of "ram" makes sense to me, because of the latest thing you were doing: "ramming around," trying to do what you needed to be saved. Of course, the gender doesn't match up with the writer, but ladies are covenantally included, right? ;-)] It's up to you, but certainly "lamb" doesn't rhyme with "lamb." Now, rules can certainly be bent or broken here, it's not a moral issue. But you need to know what the rule is before you're allowed to break it! ;-)]

Fifth stanza: how am I to parse the totality of lines 1, 2, and 3? More punctuation is needed, I think. Punctuation in poetry is your friend: it costs you nothing and gains clarity. It's easy to manipulate to your desired ends. So use it!

Does the "tightly holding" refer to your hands holding the plow, or Jesus holding your hands?

How about this:

On the plow now, tightly holding
Tear-stained hands, my tasks employ
Jesus at my side; He guides me,
Tears of pain turned to tears of joy.

The only problem with this is the dangling modifier. The tasks are tightly holding tear-stained hands? I don't think you should have just "my tasks employ" as a separate phrase. It doesn't make good grammatical sense.

Here's another option:

On the plow now, tightly holding,
Tear-stained hands my tasks employ,
Jesus at my side does guides me,
Tears of pain turned to tears of joy.

You see, here's a little trick to writing poetry: read it as prose to see if it makes sense. And when you read it this way, pause only when there's punctuation and see if it makes sense. As a matter of fact, poetry reading (out loud) is not so different from prose reading as some would have you believe. Reading poetry in a sing-song sort of super-emphasis of the rhythm is an abomination:

"LIS-ten my CHILD-ren and YOU shall HEAR of the MID-night RIDE of PAUL re-VERE." With that particular poem, you can get this interesting horsey-ridey kinda rhythm, but that's not what Longfellow had in mind, I think.

Stanza 5: "grasp" and "path" is an assonance, but not a rhyme. Just so you know. Consider eliminating "is" from the third line. Maybe you could add a semicolon or colon at the end of the third line? You could probably also use a comma after the second line. I think you might also consider eliminating the comma in the last line.

Another great poem! As you can see, I like your thoughts here, and don't intend changing them at all. If anything, I only hope to see if I can help you express the thoughts you do have just a bit better, perhaps. I like how you have "hands" in every stanza. Moreover, the climax of the poem, which seems to me the fourth stanza, is the only stanza which has Christ's hands instead of yours. The fourth stanza is approximately 1/phi of the distance from the beginning to the end. I don't know whether you did that on purpose or not, but it's a great effect. Did you know that classical playwrights used the golden ratio for the placement of the climax? So your poem has this climbing up to the peak, and then climbing down, which is a very pleasing shape. Most interesting poem, I deem.

In Christ.

Susan said...

Okay, I admittedly was a bit sloppy with punctuation in this poem :). I purposely loosened up on meter and rhyme (sometimes substituting assonance), and I guess I slipped on punctuation as well :). Thanks for pointing that out.

I just realized that "clasp" would perhaps fit the first and sixth stanzas more than "grasp." What do you think? I wrestled with that word in the writing, but I never could find a good replacement, though I felt grasp didn't quite fit.

No, I haven't read any James Joyce.

For some reason the last line of the second stanza just sounds better to me with "now" and "I" in the current order :), so I'm going to keep it "as is." I did change "works" to "work." Good point.

I very-much liked your rewording suggestions on stanza three. Nice! I did change your punctuation, though, because line three and line four are supposed to be one thought, not lines one through three. My eyes are open and I glance at my sin-marred hands. Then I wonder that I forgot the filth of man, like Uzzah did.

For the fourth stanza, hmm, yes, wide out-stretched is sort of weird. I could change it to "arms wide open." What do you think? Or is that too many syllables? "welcoming, saying" seemed like too much "ing" :). Maybe it's just me, though.

Right, right, I *know* I'm not supposed to have a word rhyme with itself. I wrestled with that. But I also liked the parallel of Christ-as-Lamb and Me-as-lamb. So, I don't know. Ram is a nice substitute, so I'll have to think on that. I normally think of rams as sacrificial, though, I guess because of the ram sacrificed in place of Isaac, and the second "lamb" was supposed to be a non-sacrificial lamb. What about changing the second line to "blood-stained hands, a sinless Ram"?

Yes, the fifth stanza was a mess of non-punctuation! Yai. It *does* look like I'm holding my tear-stained hands :). I'll take your second option. Very nice.

For stanza 6, do you consider assonance-rather-than-rhyme (which I had noticed) to be too different from the previous stanzas? I think I fixed the punctuation(?).

I did know that the golden ratio (my favorite number :-D) was used for climaxes, but I must admit it was not intentional here. Nice observation, though :).

Thank you muchly. I appreciate all the time you spent with your observations and suggestions :).

Adrian C. Keister said...

I don't know whether clasp or grasp would be better. The former indicates a bit more loosely held thing; perhaps the thing (or person) held wants to be held. The latter indicates a seizing, perhaps by violence. Which are you intending to convey?

Now that I look at it, "Duties now I never shirk" doesn't seem unnatural, except for the lack of period at the end. *ahem*

Ah, I see what you're getting at in stanza 3. Very good.

How about simply "Stretched out wide?" I think changing the second line to Ram works as well. You could do either. If you did the fourth line, you'd be banking on the rambunctious nature of rams, perhaps also the independent nature of them. However, I'm not nearly as sure of the real nature of rams except as an idiom (ramming around), whereas I am sure of the Isaac story. So my advice may be suspect there.

As for stanza 6 and its assonance, I don't know. It'd be nice, of course, to have a good rhyme there, but I'm not sure if any good words that would communicate what you want rhyme with "grasp." Perhaps you could change the end of the second line to rhyme with path? There's a lot more rhymes for "path" than "grasp." How about "wrath?" Maybe that's not what your after. You could change the whole line as follows:

"Dirty hands, in aftermath,"

I have sometimes found my works to be better even than I knew when I wrote them. Of course, sometimes they're worse. ;-)]

You're welcome, as always. :-)]

In Christ.

Susan said...

Hmmm. Thank you for pointing out the differences between "clasp" and "grasp." I think I like grasp for the first stanze, since it is a stubborn (strong-willed) refusal to work. I changed grasp to clasp in the final stanze, though, to paint a better picture of prayer - a looser folding of the hands.

Back to wide out-stretched. None of my suggestions or yours so far have included a mention of arms. That's sort of implied, but I'd like to bring in the arms being opened, now that I think about it. Otherwise, what is being "wide stretched"? His entire body? Hmm. "Arms wide open" is too many syllables. "Arms stretched wide," perhaps?

I'm not satisfied with any of my brainstorms for rhyming stanza six, so I think I'll leave it, at least for now. I think assonance is a nice effect, though I would prefer a rhyme. But assonance does have a softer blend than rhyming.

Adrian C. Keister said...

How about simply "arms open"?

I don't have terribly many more ideas: you've got a good thing here. So I'm going to TIOC, I think, if you're amenable.

In Christ.

Susan said...

The three syllables in "arms open" does work better than "arms wide open." I opted for "open arms" for the number of syllables you suggested, but for a slightly different effect.

Anyway, thank you much. Yes, we can TIOC.

Susan said...

Hmm, well at least I'll make that change if Blogger ever lets me. Grr.