Near the end


His health was hardened
in the cold Best Parlours
he had to sit in
when he first came
to the parish.
Enthusiasm and new ideas
tried to survive
the unwanted cheap
ports and sherries
he forced on
a rebellious stomach,
but pliable thinking stiffened
into orthodoxy
and the drink became
a necessity.
He lived then by rote,
parroted sermons
and did his duty.

Now he takes up little space
between soiled sheets,
the beak-like nose
and lipless mouth
the profile of death,
his skin as yellow and dusty,
greasy and foxed
as a forgotten Bible
on a forgotten shelf
in a damp parlour.
He draws in air
in broken, stuttering gasps
that disturb the peace
of the whispering wimples
around him, praying
for his end.

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Nice imagery, but I have a hard time following it somewhat, as I keep thinking the flow of the sentence will be different in each next line that it really is. (I’m not sure if I’m saying what I think as well as I would like to though.)

For example, lay this line out like a simple sentence: His health was hardened in the cold Best Parlours he had to sit in when he first came to the parish.

To me, that is an awkward sentence, and it doesn’t flow nicely, and mainly because there are no pauses where the line breaks are in the poem. And would you really say that like that to anyone? You're telling us a story, so be sure to say it in your voice. Consider some variations:

Hardened by the cold parlours in which he sat when first coming to the parish, his health and body…..

Sitting it the cold, damp parlours, his health had hardened like the stone walls of the parish….

His health, as hard and cold as the parish parlour in which he sat for years…


I can’t really write it out because it isn’t my vision, but do you see where I am going with that?

Here is the first sentence of your second stanza:

Now he takes up little space between soiled sheets, the beak-like nose and lipless mouth
the profile of death, his skin as yellow and dusty, greasy and foxed as a forgotten Bible on a forgotten shelf in a damp parlour.


Wow, that’s a lot to take in. And does anyone talk like that? Simplify here, and add some punctuation. Take for example this stanza from a poem I posted here:

Make me a grave where’er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;
Make it among earth’s humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.


Now again written out as a regular sentence: Make me a grave where’er you will, in a lowly plain, or a lofty hill; make it among earth’s humblest graves, but not in a land where men are slaves.

That is a perfectly reasonable and well-written sentence. It just happens to be broken down into four lines, and though more formal and more beautiful that normal speech, it is still a perfectly constructed sentence.

I know that there is a lot of leeway in poetry, but I tend to like the more formal pieces, like this one. I don’t sense that you are really experimenting with style or language here. Your content and imagery is pretty down to earth. Considering that, I would suggest you concentrate more on constructing sound sentences before breaking it into lines and stanzas.

Also, consider altering sentence structure.

Drawing in air in broken gasps…

Not

He draws in air
in broken, stuttering gasps


Why put he, when we know who you are talking about? And broken and stuttering are the same thing, and are redundant. Consider: ..in painful gasps, or an adverb that modifies stuttering in some way.
Thanks. Some very good points. I'll let them ferment for a while and then begin again. I think if might help if I began to read aloud. Then the faults would show up.
I like this, there are some lovely lines "but pliable thinking stiffened
into orthodoxy." I can really picture this old man, for me its a really sad poem and I can feel the emotion of a lost and wasted life.
Yes, in spite of my criticisms, I do think the imagery comes across fairly well.

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