Only the living can fear

The taste of fear is open, pure and red —
a lump of meat, it’s poppies lost and flown
from cries in mud, in trenches darkly bled.

We harvested our fear from fields we’d sown
with honey dripping from our leader’s’ tongue.
The scent of fear is blood and broken bones.

We fought with fear tears and bled from cried with broken lungs,
we bulwarked, starved, believed it’s more than right,
to maim our foes, the newborns and their youngs.

The sound of fear is sweat of starlit nights,
we waited as the forest grew inside,
it spread with rotting hands and ropes wound tight

around our necks the night we lost our pride
when life was soiled and all we knew had died.

Royal Irish Rifles ration party Somme July 1916

This is a rework of a sonnet I wrote a while ago, I have chosen to use the Terza Rima rhymescheme with a rather subtle volta in the last couplet. I have watched so many documentaries on WWI and the horrors of the trenches so it sometimes feels like I have been and died in Verdun or Somme. The subject of war might be unusual for a sonnet, but in my view the form can be used for many topics beside passion and love.

Tonight we write sonnets at dVerse. The prompt will be used towards an upcoming book of forms, so if you want to have your poems published this is a great opportunity.
January 3, 2018

46 responses to “Only the living can fear

  1. engulfed horror you have conveyed so well. will the sonnets this afternoon be on any topic? also, not sure what the process is for publishing but i’m interested in learning more

      • 🙂 ok. When I read your poem today, I can’t help but think of what my dad went through in WW2. He never talked about it much and only told me one story but not sure if the story was to give me a fear-free idea of what it was like for him as an infantryman.

  2. I remember the original sonnet, Björn, which I admired then. I see that you have chosen the terza rima, as has Mish; I’m not disappointed that I didn’t try one now. Your rewrite is a definite success. I like the progression from the taste of fear, to the harvesting of and fighting with fear, and ending with the sound of fear – great use of sensual imagery!

    While reading, your words conjured van Gogh images in my mind, especially the lines:

    ‘a lump of meat, it’s poppies lost and flown
    from cries in mud, in trenches darkly bled’


    ‘The sound of fear is sweat of starlit nights,
    we waited as the forest grew inside’.

  3. I love the opening:

    “The taste of fear is open, pure and red —
    a lump of meat, it’s poppies”

    Are you familiar with Poppy, the … voice artist? She doesn’t sing, but she makes these weird and unique videos. I don’t know why I watch them, but I can’t stop. 🙂

  4. Strong and touching… I especially like how fear is described, with raw senses, the taste, smell and sound of it. A great sonnet with an unusual theme but successful none the less 🙂

  5. I needed to read this first! The meter is key, I believe and that I have not mastered, or even begun. I like the strength in the voice of this sonnet, expressing the despair and angst of horrific times. The sprinkle of alliteration is wonderful.

  6. This was excellent Bjorn. It is obvious you are adept at poetry of form, and I admire that. I will never be comfortable with form, very uncomfortable to get my mind to think in structure – but this was fun. Thanks for hosting this week… 🙂

  7. The problem, you know, is getting little. We are all equipped, though, when admitting being treated like beasts and children of Satan, one is on a terrible path. “Stand up” is not the remedy, “förbannad” is.

  8. I think war is a good subject for this form. I like your use of repetition, and also the way you evoke the senses–taste of fear, smell of fear, etc. It’s very effective. Somehow I knew it was about WWI even before I read your note–and of course that war has its own poetry as well. It was the first war to use new ways of killing, and when it ended, people hoped it would be the last big war.
    I really like this rhyme. I can see why you do, too. (Though I would quibble over youngs–I’d probably make it lung and young.)

  9. A powerful diatribe and perfect illustration of the form. I do so agree that the sonnet can be about anything we wish. Today I chose Global Warming. I can’t help but write a modern sonnet. I do like the form after seeing you use it so often and so effectively.

  10. watching those documentaries can really jar the senses, your sonnet was very emotional to read, every man has a tale that will never be told

  11. I would love to hear this, to know more about where you would pause and accent – it’s powerful and subtle all at once. (and hello, I’m new to d’verse.)

  12. Fascinating theme. Loved expressions like “harvested our fears from fields” , “maim our foes”, “life was soiled”.
    I’m not sure if your terza rima demands repeat words, but “fear” and “blood” and “bled” felt used to often. Loved the rhyme pattern and your word choices.

    • The repetition of fear is a purely intentional as a poetic device… but there might be one place I see I would like to remove it… blood I can only see used once (but I have used bled twice which might be possible to change) … bones… but I will take a stab at see if it can be further improved.

  13. The taste of fear and war wreacking havoc on the lives of young men and women. A sad theme written in wonderful rhyming scheme of the sonnet.

  14. Bjorn, I always thought you had a way with words when it comes to a sonnet. I remember reading many of your earlier work. In this one the fear is real and felt by the reader.

  15. We taste the fear with the images you evoke, “all we knew had died.” it is amazing how we have accommodated to feel that war is a matter of course, mere “politics by other means,” when it is the total nihilistic destruction of every human faculty. If only… I wish we could taste life rather than fear, and that poppies could just be beautiful again, we do have to defend ourselves from the monsters we have become. I admire your writing so much. I had printed out your lovely sonnet (more the Shakespearian rhyme scheme I believe), “Loneliness is not a void.” I revisited that one in the little group of sonnets I had printed out. You also employed such strong imagery in that one as well, I felt right along with the rich smells of summer, winter, farm, and city, how loneliness follows us everywhere… and the volta and resolution are so crisp in that one as well. I am learning a lot from you, thank you!

  16. I like the edits you’ve already made to this sonnet – and I applaud your great determination to use this form to delve into the topic of war. It certainly doesn’t make for an easy bed-fellow, but you’ve used such concrete images, the mud, the blood, poppies, etc. to bring us into the horrors ….

    I’m no expert when it comes to sonnets, and I like the repetition of “fears” but by the forth time, I grow a bit weary of it; I don’t know how it could be replaced, or changed, because fear is an encompassing word – but for me, specifically, what makes this sonnet start to sing, is the balance you’ve created between the details, and the “generalized” statements, like following our leaders – so the specifics with the necessary open-ended phrases, working together …. to complete the image. I like this sonnet, but to be honest, and this is often how I feel about sonnets, they kind of end up sounding a bit “clunky” (even my own attempts at them) … so maybe when working them closer to form and meter, they end up becoming “blocky” …. but I do really think your attempt is above and beyond – and clearly, the subject is one close to your heart – and is definitely worthy of your determination to work with it in the form you love so much.

    A most excellent effort. (and I hope I’m not out of line for my “honesty”)

  17. The use of repetition is effective but you also take that abstract word and make it visceral with your images like “lump of meat” and “cries in mud” and “rotting hands”. I also enjoyed your wordplay with soiled. A really powerful sonnet.

  18. I just had a discussion with a friend today about how fear is being used to control people. It certainly makes it hard to be rational. I agree that the repetition is very effective in your poem. (K)

  19. This is chock full of lush yet fearful images of being in the horrid trenches of war. The image of poppies set it up well. There is beauty in your telling of it, but no glory in war itself that I can see, especially when newborns and the young are killed.

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