The Secrets of Life

The riptide pulled and weighed us down,
swimming in our shoals.
It bent us in our will to win,
oh weary, sorry souls.

Oh tiresome, terrifying days
when scholars moved to preach
that all of Christendom was ours,
but always out of reach.

Oh weary, sorry souls, I cried
for all of us, who’re driven,
wherein unconscious mind, so tuned,
lays bare the ego given.

Always, it seems, beyond our reach,
genetics never fail
to teach us how we must survive,
not how to trim the sail.

Ego’s given winds may blow,
but odysseys must end.
For quests beyond our human bounds,
Inferno may portend.

Just when this sea of troubles weighed
too much on mortal coil,
the magic of encircling arms
became the perfect foil.

So I reset the sails for home,
embracing Vesta’s heart;
discovered Marais’ secret strength:
in concert, ne’er apart.

© 2013 John Anstie

Read a short commentary on this poem.

[This is my contribution to the ever popular dVerse Poets’ Pub OpenLink Night, where you can find dozens of fine poets offering the work for your appraisal]

About PoetJanstie

“Life is short and art long, the crisis fleeting, experience penniless and decision difficult” ~ Hippocrates. As a young man, John enjoyed being fit and sporting. It was then as much his recreational therapy as a cappella harmony singing, music, walking in the hills and writing is now. Playing Rugby Union for over twenty years, encouraged in the early days by a school that was run on the same lines as Gordonstoun, giving shape and discipline to a sometimes precarious early life. This fitness was enhanced by working part time jobs in farming, as a leather factory packer and security guard, but probably not helped, for a short time, by selling ice cream! His professional working life was spent as a Metallurgical Engineer, Marketing Manager, Export Sales Manager, Implementation Manager and Managing Director of his own company. Thirty five years spent, apparently in a creative desert, raising a family, pursuing a career and helping to pay the bills, probably enriched his experience, because his renaissance, on retirement, realised a hidden creative talent as a writer of prose and poetry. He also enjoys music, with a piano and a forty-nine year old Yamaha FG140 acoustic guitar. He sings bass in three a cappella harmony groups: as a founding member of a mixed voice chamber choir, Fox Valley Voices and a mixed barbershop quartet. He is also a member of one of the top barbershop choruses in the UK, Hallmark of Harmony (the Sheffield Barbershop Harmony Club), who, for the eighth time in 40 years, became UK Champions in 2019. He is also a would be (once upon a time or 'has been') photographer with drawers full of his own history, and an occasional, but lapsed 'film' maker. In his other life, he doubles as a Husband, Father, Grandfather, Brother, Uncle, Cousin, Friend and Family man. What he writes is sometimes autobiographical, often political, sometimes dark and frequently pins his colours to the mast of climate change and how humans are trashing the Earth. In 2013, he published an anthology of the poetry (including his own) of an international group of poets, who met on Twitter in 2011. He produced, edited and steered the product of this work, "Petrichor Rising", to publication by Aquillrelle. His sort of strapline sort of reads: “ iWrite iSing iDance iVolunteer ”
This entry was posted in Ballad, experience, family, Fear, Heroes, Hope, Love, poem, poetry, wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to The Secrets of Life

  1. Pingback: The Secrets of Life … Of Family, Friends, Community and More | INTO THE BARDO, A BLOGAZINE

  2. A wonderful exposition in poetic voice about life. A great start to my day, John.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. apshilling says:

    Just when this sea of troubles weighed
    too much on mortal coil,
    the magic of encircling arms
    became the perfect foil.

    A very soothing read here John. The metre is tidal and gentle
    and appears balanced
    which transfers to this reader and boosts
    the even experience . . .

    V.much in opposistion to my own writing and perhaps ‘philosophy’
    but/or perhaps because of this i really enjoyed the read and comment 🙂


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Thank you for the kind comment. Interesting that you feel it is in ‘opposition’ to your own philosophy. I confess that, as open as it is to interpretation (as any poem should be, in my view), that would have been the last of my intentions. Herein lies the magic of words… and poetry 🙂


  4. This certainly possess a wonderful lyricism. I picked up on some of the references, and enjoyed the rhythm of the piece.


  5. 1emeraldcity says:

    What a beautiftully wrought poem here, John. That penultimate stanza resonates for me…for no matter what …genetics, history, human experience tells me it is “encircling arms” and love that gives us the balance we need…if one calls love balance. When we mount that crazy carousel horse called life…there is that brass ring to reach for and take…I love this poem! Thank you for sharing! {{hugs}}


  6. marousia says:

    Superb John – love the sustained metaphor and references to other literature – the rhyming works so naturally – not an easy thing to achieve 🙂 THank you for taking me on a philosophical and lyrical adventure – I feel refreshed after reading this – your poem is a sanctuary for the soul


  7. I feel like I’ve been on a journey as I read your poem today. Perhaps, I feel the wind as if I were sailing…I’m not sure why but this is what came to my mind. My favorite lines were:
    “Oh weary, sorry souls, I cried
    for all of us, who’re driven..”
    I have felt this weariness before & known where it has driven me. Thanks for this poetic experience today. Loved your commentary too!


  8. “Always, it seems, beyond our reach,
    genetics never fail
    to teach us how we must survive,
    not how to trim the sail.”

    Loved your use of metaphor in this piece. Your poem, though not long, has an epic quality to the words. My favorite excerpt, the stanza above. So true. Survival may be somewhat instinctive, but it is through “living” that we come to understand the true secrets of life, how to “trim the sail,” as it were. Well penned, John.


  9. claudia says:

    the ballad form works really well…so musical…and some nice wisdom you packed into this as well…enjoyed..
    p.s. mary left me a not that she commented on your poem and asks you to check the spamfolder…


  10. Beth Winter says:

    First, I love the ballad measure. It tempts the reader to the next line and the next, like walking by your side and sharing secrets.

    Sometimes we have to simply stop and take time with the things that matter, the laughter of a child, the sharing of an hour with someone who cares, even the quiet of an evening alone. Beautiful work, John.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Beth, thank you again for your kind comments, which I always appreciate from you. I have been absent without leave for a while and this kind of response to my first poem in some time, makes me feel so welcome.

      Yes I am slightly hooked on the ballad, not least because it could be put to song, if only I can start picking up my guitar again to get musical 🙂


  11. eden baylee says:

    If we could only abolish our insignificant actions, our lives would be better — More time sharing and being happy with those we love, less time being angry and petty. A simple formula, but hard to observe every day.

    Life has certainly sped up for me. As a child, I couldn’t wait for all the unknowns of adulthood. As an adult, I wish things could slow down.

    Thanks for reminding me to take time to enjoy the mystery a little longer.



    • PoetJanstie says:

      Eden, yes, I do hope it has had a little effect on that aspiration that, even in my, albeit early, retirement, I am still having to focus on carefully, to try and achieve some degree of contentment and time to relax, whilst at the same time achieving some of my goals, which, as you well know, still takes focus, energy and application to do. I always admire your energy and, as ever, your patronage of my poetry. Thank you.


  12. Laurie Kolp says:

    Laying bare the ego… powerful words!


  13. Other Mary says:

    I think for most, we need to venture out to ‘discover’ the treasures of home and family…that seems to be a timeless theme. I like your treatment here in the ballad. I really like the lines, ‘genetics never fail/ to teach us how we must survive,/ not how to trim the sail.’ And if you do put it to music I hope to get the opportunity to hear it.


  14. Jamie Dedes says:

    Indeed the secrets of life: avoid discontent and embrace others. Well done. Very well done.


      • Jamie Dedes says:

        Have a bit of leisure today, John, and able to give this another – most pleasurable – read: the ballad so skillfully constructed, the lyric cadence, the weight of the character expressed. Draws smiles from the heart.

        FYI: I happened upon your YouTube video on behalf of Joshua. Kind of you. Concerned for the boy. Pray he’s okay.

        Also, I was popping around to find the blog you mentioned on Facebook – the one about a dog. Didn’t find it, but I did find your blogspot and enjoyed the intro to this poem. Bravo!


  15. brian miller says:

    smiles…you def make the words dance…wonderful cadence to this….and i love the truth you bring out….as we try so hard to face life alone, it is in concert and together that we oft make our way….well played sir…


    • PoetJanstie says:

      As ever, Brian, thank you for your positive and kind comment. I seem to have developed a consistent liking for the Ballad form of poetry. It is perhaps because I promised myself that I’ll pick up my guitar and turn them into songs at some point 🙂


  16. MarinaSofia says:

    Another strand that speaks to me in this poem is about the danger of never being content, of believing that there is always something better, something brighter just beyond the horizon, if only we could reach it…


    • PoetJanstie says:

      We do need to keep reaching out to better our lives, but you’re right, sometimes we need to come home, feel the glow of the fire that is our family, in whatever form that may be, and… yes, learn to be not just content but grateful.


  17. Craig says:

    John, you make a compelling and lovely, lyrically crafted case for returning to the hearth, to be a part of that special home, amongst kith and kin, where our role in the superorganism of the family, work and friends home is comfortably established, fixed and unvarying. But I wonder if the survival and ‘thrival’ of society also depends on people (or sometimes in our lives, us) out-casting themselves courageously (even foolishly) from their assigned roles, out onto the wild, unknown sea to find lands unknown or even undreamed off – even if it means being consumed in the inferno in the end. And even if there is a tiger in the boat (who likes Pi)


    • PoetJanstie says:

      Of course there is that need, Craig, I agree. It is adventurers who have carved a better world for us in the past. Nowadays that adventure may not be made by intrepid sailors in timber ships powered by wind on heavy canvas, but rather by those who discover the roots of our survival, the source of our future sustenance and the means by which we can create a more harmonious world (he said, with his rose coloured specs on).

      But there are many threads in this poem, the seeds for which lay in the importance of family and community, yes, but also the importance of taking stock, getting back to the basics of life, so that we may readjust our sights, which have been somewhat distorted by materialism and greed rather than need; a view that isn’t new. I feel that great writers, poets, philosophers and playwrights will have also recognised all of this and given it light in all of those famous, classical and mythological tales of yore…

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, friend.


    • PoetJanstie says:

      I think maybe the notion that the family is fixed and unvarying, taken for granted, is one that we might fall foul of. It’s a balance I guess, but one thing’s for sure and that is that, without family, we are nothing.


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