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  • By Jeffrey Essmann

Three Stages Squared

After Christina Rossetti’s "Three Stages"


I fastened all my wishes on a star, Although the physics that it satisfied Presumed the light of stars already died Still shimmered from afar. And yet I wished and desperately hoped, As even emptied light seemed bright enough And wishes made of stronger, surer stuff Were quite beyond my scope. For I’d a blindness black and cold embraced That only wasted wishing seemed to warm And saved my sight from gazing at the swarm Of things I wouldn’t face.


And yet the real is adamant, the truth Insistent on its cold and coldest facts, While age’s creeping dignity retracts The reveries of youth. Embarrassment alone I thought could raze The edifice of folly I had built, But called in also bulldozers of guilt To clear it all away. There from its remnant stones a lonely place I formed where I my numbered heartbeats plumbed And first discerned a song that faintly hummed With which I might keep pace.

3. Yet life renewed need not be life enjoyed And while I set my shoulder to the stone, The barest of life’s energies alone I had at first employed.

But life, like truth, will out and as the spring By green and tender sweetness quick revives The wintered world, so too to human lives Its freshing spirit brings.

Yet faced with freshness something in me shies: I don’t quite trust the path is really clear, And careful though I’ll grow I’ve still the fear Of never growing wise.

Jeffrey Essman's poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, print and online, among them Dappled Things, America Magazine, the St. Austin Review, U.S. Catholic, Pensive, the Society of Classical Poets, and various venues of the Benedictine monastery where he serves as an oblate. He is also editor of the Catholic Poetry Room page on the Integrated Catholic Life website.


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