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Unread 01-12-2021, 12:59 AM
S.R. Little Stone's Avatar
S.R. Little Stone S.R. Little Stone is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2020
Location: Staunton, VA
Posts: 37
Default Sermon on the Virtual Mount

Revised 1/12/21

The Virtual Mount

Come to me in costume, come
oh priest, oh thief, oh you who donned
your scarlet. Sit and hear the hum
of dragonflies above the pond
within this grove of aspens gold
and white, whose bluebirds sing the day
to gentle rest. Come to me, bold
as iron knives or meek as clay.

Come hear the song of our defeat
as zephyrs slither over the hills
through rows of regimented wheat
and numbly against lifeless mills.
Stars like brushstrokes overhead
begin to blot the deepening blue
for faithful junkies seeking cred:
another Like, another View.

Come to me and hear my song,
come feel it like a stranger's heartbeat
in your chest, come weak, come strong
and know our splendid failure starkly.
All we weave is an illusion:
we were playing long ago
and we, believing we were human
sold each other for this show.



Punctuation: Several commas removed.
Title: Was "Sermon on the Virtual Mount"
S2L7: "for" was "those"
S3L5: was "All you see is an illusion"
S3L8: was "Gave our lives to join a show."

Last edited by S.R. Little Stone; 01-26-2021 at 08:22 PM.
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Unread 01-12-2021, 01:42 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
Join Date: Nov 2003
Location: Lazio, Italy
Posts: 5,308

I really like this, Little Stone. The writing is strong and the poem is thematically ambitious. I will need to absorb it more before I can decide how I feel about this in more detail, but for now, I do wonder about the title, which seems like a red herring. Also, I do like off-rhymes but I'd try to avoid shifting to them only twice and in the last stanza.

Very good to see your work!

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Unread 01-12-2021, 08:03 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 2,835


Hi S.R., Yes, good to see your work.

To Andrew's point about the late off-rhymes of the last stanza, I think it works. It shows the brokenness of the human condition.

Until I give this more time to soak in I'll comment on my reactions to the imagery and overall magnetic poetic language that streams within it.
This positively radiates with religiosity ("Oh come to me" and the title) and language that drips clear drops of blood sweat and tears and of longing.

I sometimes never make much of an effort to understand the intended meaning/reality of a poem, opting to go my own way, attracted by the images that create such magnetically charged free-association. I shape it into my own creation that sometimes exposes my own ignorance; just because it is rich enough to allow me to be transported into my own world of knowing what the poem is creating in my mind alone. The two (my imagination and reality) are always connected but often tangled.

Some thoughts...
  • There is a divine-like quality to the speaker's voice that I find remarkable. The language/phrasing/word choice are alternately calming and bleak — in a word, scarlet.
  • The rhyming and rhythm is music to my hear.
  • I think you’ve deftly planted one foot in the biblical past and one in the ether of the present. The speaker stands in a timeless searching for leadership out of our confusion.
  • I think it might help to render the voice timeless if you de-capitalized the lines if they don't grammatically warrant its — But I don't think you will. It is pretty clear from your crits thus far that you are classical in your poetic thoughts and hence your style. I think, though, that the two can co-exist and that you should consider adhering to traditional punctuation in place of classical poetic punctuation.
  • In S2L5: I don't think you need the comma after brushstrokes (the line is gorgeous, btw).
  • I like the confluence of archaic, modern and classical language/phrasing. You do it seamlessly.
  • S2 may be over-punctuated. You could eliminate the end-commas in L1 and 2 and L5 and 6, to my ear at least.
  • S3L3: A period vs. comma after chest feels right. It doesn't detract from the rhythm of things. I think it may accentuate it.
  • Like Andrew, I don't care much for the title. It does, seemingly, telegraph. The quotation marks also seem odd. Do you intend the title to be in air quotes? I can’t recall ever seeing a title in quotes...

Are you saying our mistake is in thinking we are human? We are not humans but gods.? Probably not, but that thought occurred to me as I read the final stanza and I like it. The thought that gods could be so prolifically divined; that gods would be so abundant yet so underserving. I don’t know where to go with that... I like that... But it's just a tangential thought and likely not anything you've intentionally wanted to say here.

It's an impressive poem on many accounts. There is a great musicality to it. Thanks for the great read. Looking forward to hearing other responses.

Last edited by Jim Moonan; 01-12-2021 at 08:20 AM.
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Unread 01-12-2021, 09:29 AM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
Join Date: Jun 2001
Location: New York
Posts: 15,233

This is wonderful. What a strong debut!

I can't think of any useful comment beyond expressing my admiration, except maybe (and only maybe) you'd consider ending on "this show" instead of "a show"?

I'm fine with the title, but I wouldn't put quotes around it.
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Unread 01-12-2021, 09:57 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 6,930

Lovely! But I'm frustrated by the fact that I can't see how it has anything whatsoever to do with the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 11:28, maybe. But I think it would be better to omit any specific Biblical reference, and just let the poem speak for itself in its recognizably Biblical-sounding cadence.
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Unread 01-12-2021, 11:48 AM
S.R. Little Stone's Avatar
S.R. Little Stone S.R. Little Stone is offline
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Thanks everyone for the close reading and supportive responses! I want to jump in with a little context that I think it important to the meaning of this poem, since the meaning/message are my top priority. Hopefully this won't spoil anyone's experience of the poem.

The title (which I'll probably end up changing) is meant to indicate that this poem is set in a Virtual Reality world, with a Jesus character as the speaker. In VR, players are able to inhabit non-human characters as well, hence the stars being called "faithful junkies" who are seeking "another like, another view" (in the social media sense of Likes and Views).

Andrew -- Thanks for your response. I'd be interested to hear your further thoughts on the title & theme, given the explanation above. I've never been great with titles and am always open to suggestion.

Jim -- Thank you for your close reading and words of praise. It's reassuring to hear that the voice came off as "divine-like," as the speaker is literally meant to be a pseudo-Jesus. Yes, I will decapitalize the line starts. Old habit, though UM exorcised many classical impulses out of me. The other punctuation comments are appreciated. Another old habit, of just putting a comma wherever I take a breath. You're interpretation matches my intention. I would say gods (without ego), or undefinable infinite beings.

Roger -- Thanks! I've been feeling uncertain of the last line too. I think "this show" might do it. Or maybe "Sold each other for this show." Let me know if you have other thoughts on it.

Julie -- I think I may end up changing the title. If you come back to this, I'd be interested in knowing how the context (of the VR Jesus speaker) affects your thoughts on the title. There is some thematic echoing of 'birds of the trees and lilies of the valley' but maybe it's not enough. Thanks for your input!
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Unread 01-12-2021, 02:15 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 6,930

The lily of the valley is in the Song of Solomon. Do you mean "birds of the air" and "lilies of the field"? Those are in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6:26-34?

Being incorrigibly literal, I find the flora and fauna in the poem too specifically North American for me to conclude, "Oh, yes, the narrator must be a Jesus figure." That's not a criticism--I think the poem works anyway, with the reader picturing any sort of Pied Piper or siren who lures people to join them in a happy place from which they won't easily return. Just sayin'.
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Unread 01-12-2021, 03:35 PM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
Posts: 5,751

This is extremely well-done. For some reason, I might make it "A Mount" rather than "The Mount" without dimming the allusion.
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Unread 01-12-2021, 11:30 PM
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Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
Join Date: Sep 2016
Location: Seattle
Posts: 2,606

The craft of this is hard to knock—old-fashioned, maybe, but not fusty, and it suits the tone. I'd quibble with "the" in S2L2 (a metrical hiccup).

The didactic quality of it does less for me, personally. (If the sermonizer is meant to be satirized, I didn't catch it.) The poem expresses the view but doesn't make it convincing (more nuance to this below). I tend to shut off when I feel lectured at, rather than invited to think.

About the argument of the poem, I have a base confusion. The images of stanzas 1-2 appear at first to stand in contrast to the "virtual mount": our indoor, online life. The speaker seems to be inviting folks outside. But when I get to the end and hunt for the referents of "all you see" and "this show", I have nowhere to turn but to these images. So it seems that the dragonflies and birds and such are what we have sold each other for. There's something interesting there (if it's really what you mean—I am not sure), but then it's underdeveloped: why is it illusion and show? Perhaps I meant to think of the contrast between our virtual representations of these, vs. the things themselves? I'm running into the issue, however, that while I can think my way to a coherent interpretation along these lines, I don't feel it in the poem.

Or perhaps I am meant to read "all you see" and "this show" as referring to what the title hints at: our twitter and facebook feeds and the like. Then the poem because less adventurous in concept, but clearer in its train of thought (if not its grammar).

In either case, the poem is best, for me, when it luxuriates in the rich and well-chosen images. The closing lines give the moral flatly and imagelessly, and I find them uncompelling.

Hope this is useful. By the by, I appreciated the poem you sent me privately. A deft bit of blank verse!
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Unread 01-13-2021, 11:39 AM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Location: Brooklyn, NY USA
Posts: 5,156

Images, good. Meaning, not so clear. A problem, since not all references give enough closure. I can write hermetic stuff; however, this is fractionally hermetic for me. So, I might not reread. I get pleasure from things more consistently one or the other. Nothing wrong with initial caps. Didn’t even twitch at them in first version.
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