How much of our time do we spend waiting for things to happen? How much do we spend hanging in the pauses between events, the gaps in our lives?
I wait for the kettle to boil. It’s not quite enough time to use for anything else. I curse the microwave at lunchtime – the three minutes it takes to heat up a bowl of soup is the longest three minutes in all eternity. I sit in a traffic jam, waiting my turn to go through the lights. I sit in the waiting room, waiting for my name to be called.
Some of these waits are good, filled with anticipation: waiting for the coffee to brew, waiting for the cake to bake. Some are not so good: waiting for my work computer to boot up, waiting for the dentist to pop his head round the door…
Tonight, I want you to write a poem of anticipation. Maybe you’re hoping for something wonderful, maybe you’re afraid of retribution, maybe you’re just desperate to get off the bus.
Here are two poems to get your poetic juices flowing. The first is by Wilfred Owen, and both my children quote it at me endlessly – it’s an exam piece for them. The second is one of those poems that just about everybody seems to know. They are both by English poets, both written about 1917, in the middle of the first world war. They’re both about moments of waiting, but have a dramatically different feel to them.
BY WILFRED OWEN
Our brains ache, in the merciless iced east winds that knive us . . .
Wearied we keep awake because the night is silent . . .
Low drooping flares confuse our memory of the salient . . .
Worried by silence, sentries whisper, curious, nervous,
But nothing happens.
Watching, we hear the mad gusts tugging on the wire,
Like twitching agonies of men among its brambles.
Northward, incessantly, the flickering gunnery rumbles,
Far off, like a dull rumour of some other war.
What are we doing here?
The poignant misery of dawn begins to grow . . .
We only know war lasts, rain soaks, and clouds sag stormy.
Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army
Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey,
But nothing happens.
Sudden successive flights of bullets streak the silence.
Less deadly than the air that shudders black with snow,
With sidelong flowing flakes that flock, pause, and renew,
We watch them wandering up and down the wind’s nonchalance,
But nothing happens.
Pale flakes with fingering stealth come feeling for our faces—
We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams, and stare, snow-dazed,
Deep into grassier ditches. So we drowse, sun-dozed,
Littered with blossoms trickling where the blackbird fusses.
—Is it that we are dying?
Slowly our ghosts drag home: glimpsing the sunk fires, glozed
With crusted dark-red jewels; crickets jingle there;
For hours the innocent mice rejoice: the house is theirs;
Shutters and doors, all closed: on us the doors are closed,—
We turn back to our dying.
Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God’s invincible spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
For love of God seems dying.
Tonight, this frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands, and puckering foreheads crisp.
The burying-party, picks and shovels in shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
But nothing happens.
Adlestrop – by Edward Thomas
Yes, I remember Adlestrop —
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop — only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Once you’ve written your poem, you know what to do. Link it up to Mr Linky, and then don’t wait too long before you explore your fellow poets’ work!
Björn Rudberg (brudberg) said:
Good evening… this was worth waiting for… I only need some water tonight.
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Evening all! Thank you hosting and for a great prompt, Sarah. I’m back to normal for a while and, although I really didn’t want to leave my daughter and grandson, I like taking part in the prompt on the night. I had to write my poem quickly after catching up on prompts I’d missed, so I will read and comment as many as possible this evening and then come back in the morning when I have caught my breath.
Welcome home, Kim! It’s good to have you back, even though I’m sure those emotions are very mixed.
Luckily, Ellen Face messages me with Lucas most days but he changed so much since I last saw him, and I know he’ll have changed even more by November, when I next visit.
They change so quickly at that age.
Hello Sarah and All. It’s another sunny and 70F afternoon. Good prompt and if you have any Magners behind the bar, I’ll have a glass please.
Welcome, everyone! Your drinks are ready and I’m waiting on tables tonight.
One Magners coming up.
Thank you so much, Sarah. Cheers!
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Laura Bloomsbury said:
I may have stepped out of the boundaries here as I’ve anthropomorphised my waiters – even so it was a great word to work with – thank you Sarah
There are no boundaries, Laura, it’s all about inspiring tonight. Thank you for a great poem.
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Rob Kistner said:
Thank you for hosting Sarah. We spend a great deal of time waiting for life to happen.
We do. And there’s something to be said for attending to those moments.
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Thanks, everyone, for your contributions. I’m off to bed now, I’ll be doing the rounds in the morning. Don’t wait up for me!
Just got back from a 5 mile walk. I’m gonna wait until I can move again before writing something. 😉
Hope you’re feeling rested now.
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Linda Lee Lyberg said:
Hi Sarah and all- This is an excellent prompt. Thanks for hosting Sarah!
Thanks, Linda, and thanks for joining in.
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Hope you might take a tlook at this: https://fmmewritespoems.wordpress.com/2019/07/29/poetry-call/
Good Evening – posting late but, I will be around for a bit and back tomorrow.
Please delete my first link. Thank you!
Ha! I didn’t think I knew how, but I worked it out! Every day’s a school day!
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Ali Grimshaw said:
Thank you for hosting Sarah. This is a great prompt. So many ways to respond and with anticipation, I look forward to what others have shared. It’s morning here in Germany and I need another cup of coffee.
Take your time, Ali, we can wait! It’s been interesting seeing where people take this one.
Ali Grimshaw said:
I’ve just shared mine. Now I am on to reading others with second cup of Joe in my hand. Then off to the Farmer’s market but I will return later. Cheerio!
Have a great day!
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I knew what I was going to write as soon as I saw this prompt, based on a memoir I wrote about moving into my new house, after I lost the old one in a divorce. This was came out sad, but I love the prompt, and will go for another one less dire!
Ah. Found one in the archive that just fit the prompt so perfectly I used it. Still planning to write an upbeat one, but I’ll leave it off the linky (“don’t be greedy”)
Be as greedy as you like 😊
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I posted 20 minutes too late. You can read mine at: http://purplepeninportland.com/2019/09/19/redolent-scent/
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Indeed, life is oftentimes about waiting for the next moment, but we should learn to embrace the present more.
Thanks so much for posting such beautiful poems. I needed this today.
Thank you. I’m glad it connected for you.