Selected Sonnets

by Richard Packham

For what they may be worth, here are some of my sonnets. Most of these were written a long time ago.

Enslaved we are to what is past,
The victims of our own mistakes,
Held fast as long as life shall last,
When Death the chains of suffering breaks.
By struggling we enmesh us more,
By hoping, we increase despair,
By asking God what's yet in store
We only learn there's No One there.
We flee to momentary joys,
The here and now, with "come what may!"
And drink and dance and make a noise
And curse at dawn the coming day.
And yet, some people manage well
To feel at home in such a hell.

I have felt them quiver in the night
Beneath my weight, I've heard their moan and sigh,
I've tasted mouth and breast and tearful eye
And smelled their moist desire and girlish fright
And quickened breath and madness to unite,
To draw me in; I've known their joyous cry
And throbbed with them and felt them come and try
To come again with frenzied scratch and bite.
Still others I shall know, if gods ordain,
Some different from the ones that I have known,
And some like former arms in which I've lain;
Eternal Woman, drawing toward the Throne.
Could such a night but dull for once the pain
Of being countless days and nights alone!

Who are you then, and who am I,
Or who do we two hope to be,
That we should here together lie,
I cling to you, and you to me?
Will either of us ever know
Less loneliness in such embrace
If, after momentary glow,
I know I'll soon forget your face?
Does body's warmth or passion's groan
Let either see the other's soul,
Or make us no more two alone,
But one, each being half a whole?
   No matter--though I know you not,
   You're here, right now, and all I've got.

Elena Perdida

When sleep at last has closed my tear-drenched eyes
And driven from my mind the lonely day
And put me back beneath the cloudless skies
With you, before you left and went away,
I scarcely can hold back a joyous cry
To see you once again and hear your voice
Say, "Darling, I shall love you till I die!"
And I, deserving not your mercy's choice,
In gratitude kneel down and bathe with tears
Your savior-feet, and swear to you my life
For your forgiveness and the wasted years,
And then you smile and kiss me as my wife.
   This happy dream comes often, only I
   Awake at dawn, and sob, and want to die.

New Year

Though in the night the old year breathed its last,
Borne to its grave with siren and with bell
To take its place with relics of the past
And be forgotten, though remembered well,
Time is not dead--the dawn breaks on the new
Too soon, too soon, before we've mourned what's gone
Or braced ourselves for what we now must do;
The tyrant's dead, the tyranny lives on.
This night, though, is not just a new year's birth--
I feel the waking of my long-dead heart,
Awareness of a long-forgotten worth,
A hopeful future, not the suff'rer's part.
   And you've done this, have armed me to rebel:
   What I'll yet do, through you, just gods can tell!

You must not think my love for you is such
As had inspired the sonnets of the Bard,
Or that it has transformed my life so much
That I find easy now what once was hard--
My heart's afraid to grow too warm again,
My mind too cautious still to think it could,
My memory's still vivid with the pain
Of having loved once much more than I should.
And still, I call it love--no other name
Expresses quite the hope and secret light
Which fill my every moment since you came,
As promise that the day will follow night.
This love is not yet full, but being so,
Just think how far and long it still can grow!

(another version>

You must not think my love for you is such
As had inspired the sonnets of the Bard,
Or that it has transformed my life so much
That I find easy now what once was hard--
My heart's afraid to grow too warm again,
My mind too cautious still to think it could,
My memory's still vivid with the pain
Of having loved once much more than I should.
As sun does not burst forth in sudden day,
One does not learn at once to play the flute,
And tarnish only slowly rubs away,
So lasting love but slowly sinks it root.
But somewhat I do love you, you must know,
And from this seed who knows what yet may grow?

I cannot say that I shall love you thus
Forever, undiminished through the years--
Expecting Fate to be so kind to us
Would be too much; I know there will be tears
Of disappointment, anger and despair
Before too long, and that might be the end,
And if it must end thus, then I shall bear
What must be borne, nor shall I then pretend
I have not had to bear like hurts before
And shall again. But should love still survive
These first few tests that Fate may have in store,
Then I shall know it cannot help but thrive.
   Whatever come, no matter when or how,
   You must know this:   I love you here and now.

What more can I request from you than this,
That you might let me love you for a while
And now and then bestow on me a kiss,
Accompanied occasionally by a smile?
And even that is more than I've deserved--
You ought to love a better man than I,
One able more to serve than to be served,
One more to be relied on than rely;
And yet I shall not tell the gods they're wrong
In blessing me so much beyond my due;
And should they see their slip before too long,
They still can't take my memories of you.
   And meanwhile, I rejoice and am content
   And question not the blessings heaven sent.

Lingua Pacis Sancta

In silent night, mid fragrance warm and sweet,
In secret, holy darkness, we, alone,
Reborn into a world at last complete,
Create with love a language of our own,
To tell each other what cannot be said
With ordinary words, what is expressed
By touch, by look and kiss, what can't be read
In Bibles, books or poems, but only guessed,
As we recite love's liturgy aright
At last, as neither one before has sung,
As priestess, priest, in life's most holy rite
Exchanging unspoke vows with silent tongue.
The gods themselves cannot converse more sweetly,
Nor could we, Love, have heaven more completely.


I cannot believe I knew you not before,
In some lost paradise of long ago--
To know you now is but again to know
One long familiar on some other shore,
To greet at last a friend long waited for,
Who wandered lost and lonely here below,
Like me, a searcher, driven by the glow
Of love once known, which Fate might yet restore.
Now you are here, and we have met again,
And recognized each other with a start,
And felt again the love that we knew then,
Aeons ago, before we had to part
To learn what priceless love we would have, when
At last Fate reunite us, heart to heart.


Were I to stand upon Olympus' peak
Or kneel within St. Peter's holy walls
Or hear in Herod's Temple Jesus speak
Or kiss the Ka'aba while the muezzin calls,
I'd still feel no more close to heaven's bliss
Than when I kneel and humbly worship thee,
Upon thy altar place my pilgrim's kiss,
And pledge myself and ask thy grace on me--
My soul sings then its sacramental vow,
Thy words restore and teach me to adore,
I feel thy healing hands upon my brow,
And enter, cleansed, thy temple's inmost door.
   In thy sweet service such a joy is mine
   That gods themselves could not feel more divine.

Can you not love me just for this alone:
For what I am, no more, no less, and not
For what I might in time become, or what
Bright virtues in our first sweet meetings shone
Which merely seemed mine, but were not my own,
But rather your own hope that what you sought
Was found in me, nor love me not
For mercy's sake, which can but faults condone.
I am not wholly what you'd have me be--
I am myself, with faults you much despise,
And yet, whatever good in me you see,
Love me for that--to all else shut your eyes,
Or love that too, because that, too, is me,
Who loves you wholly, in whom no fault lies.

Again the day is done, the sun has set
Behind the towered hills across the bay,
The ships move through the Gate and then away,
Sky's red by city lights is soon offset,
And sandy beach with lapping waves is wet
As drivers honk and hurry on their way,
All anxious to be home to end the day,
Its cares with love familiar to forget.
The night is here, the wind grows violent,
And still I look across toward the west
To where she is, without me quite content,
While I am here, unable still to rest,
To think, to work, or even to prevent
My needing so to lie upon her breast.

Were you my all, from whom all else depend,
The center of my every thought and deed,
The satisfier of my every need,
My life's own blood, without which all would end,
My refuge in distress, my constant friend,
My comfort in despair, my living creed,
Eraser of my past, my future's seed,
My life's fulfillment, both its start and end,
Were you all this, I then would be your slave,
Dependent on the sustenance you gave,
Your mercy then were food, your presence, breath,
To have you then were life, to lose you, death.
   But you are not, and if someday you're gone,
   I shall survive, to suffer, living on.

I know that it is foolish, once you're gone,
To think of you and wish that you were here;
What's done is done, and life must still go on,
And day must follow day, and month and year--
The groceries must be bought, the checks be sent,
The car needs washing, and the tap still leaks,
I worry where my last month's salary went,
Tomorrow night Professor Müller speaks.
I still have no idea where God can be,
Or why he would have made the world this way,
I wonder still what must be wrong with me
That I should dread the dawn of every day.
"Life must go on," they say, "it's worth the pain."
But you are gone, and all else then is vain.

Blue frost upon red heart, an icy tear
Where once the yellow honey-drop of joy
Had made the tongue to laugh for half a year
And cheek to redden, first just playing coy,
Then flushed with passion's precious, short embrace,
That fiery symbol of our dual vow
To fling the future back in fate's own face
Together ever, and especially now.
But now the darkness smothers us with sleep
While winter's cold extinguishes our fire,
And you've forgotten promises to keep,
And ice begins to deaden my desire.
Against this night in vain I seek defence,
But, what is worse, it's of no consequence.

Each night to die and dream a little while
Is sweet, and better far than lying wake
In chilly rooms which seldom see a smile,
Alone with ghosts as only fear can make;
These lands I visit, dreaming in my bed,
These friends I meet in darkness' drunken sleep,
Are lovelier lands and truer friends, though dead,
Than those I waking know but cannot keep.
"I shall return," I cry--I shall return!
With you alone I know I shall be free,
With you I glimpse that peace for which I yearn,
With you I bask beside the sunlit sea!
   And dying thus each night a little bit
   I'll soon perhaps have died the whole of it.

When I count up the years I now have passed
And see that I have not so far to go
As I have so far come, however slow
My steps have been, and yet however fast
The time has fled, to leave me here at last
Surprised almost, as though I did not know
That life is just a momentary glow
In Emptiness eternal, dark and vast,--
It's then I think of you, my darling own,
Who made my hours want to last eternally,
Who filled my darkness with your loving light,
And made me know that I am not alone,
And learn, through you, Life's greatest mystery:
There is no need to fear the coming night.

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©  2000 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included


Poems are made by fools like me...     - Joyce Kilmer

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