Raining in Eden– A Reader’s Critique

Stretching a Little Too Far…

One of my readers sent me a long and detailed treatment of the weaknesses
in this poem, and I thought it might be helpful to others struggling with
sonnets (which, I admit, drive me bonkers). This kind of detailed
critique is such a compliment — and a gift. (Reprinted
by permission):

My comments in italics.

Mary Anne:

I love your sonnet! I’ve always loved sonnets to begin with, and
especially sonnets that stretch the rules of the form, where the syntax
bursts out of the seams of the poem, i.e. Hopkins “As kingfishers catch
fire dragonflies draw flame.” (see end)

I love the way you use two three-line stanzas to wrap up the end
rather than the Shakesperean couplet. It breaks up the rhyme scheme,
makes the effect more subtle. In fact I generally like the way the rhyme
scheme works in this poem, winding and unwinding around itself. (With
the possible exception of “sears” which seemed a bit forced to me. I KNOW
you can pick verbs that are dead on, you almost always do, but one that
rhymes with “fears”? That’s a lot tougher.)

I agree that ‘sears’ is a bit forced. I wanted ‘tears’ later, and was
thus forced to a rather awkward set of rhymes. Perhaps I should have
given up ‘tears’, or not placed it at the end of a line, rather than
stretch the rhyme so awkwardly. I tried to apologize for it, a bit, in
the subtitle (A Stretched Sonnet), but it’s certainly possible that people
could read that as referring to the last words, rather than to a general
stretched quality throughout. And in any case, apologies aren’t really as
good as doing it right from the start.

Some things I’m unsure of:

The self referential nature of the poem. “This poem has been haunting
me for days / it seems.” I like this as a first line, and then again I
don’t. At first glance it seems to me like one of those lines I cut in my
own writing, something I would attribute to neurons in the brain just
starting to fire up. But after second thought . . . .well, I’m still
pondering. The jury’s still out on that question yet.

The first line is important to me — it implies something about the
narrator’s unwillingness to speak — why has she been haunted? What has
kept her from such an innocuous task as writing poetry? I like
the tension it implies.

Let me, if you don’t mind, jump in with my editor’s scalpel and start
slicing a little bit. A word of warning: I may find things that might
cause more damage than good. Please feel free to ignore my advice.

Nurse, where’s that anesthetic?

A Stretched Sonnet

This poem has been haunting me for days.

Since that steamy afternoon. Are they fears

that kept me silent? Perhaps. Something tears

through me. (Her face above your chest.) It says

(“it seems” is filler, gotta fill the syllable count with better than
that. Adding “steamy” was the best suggestion I had (I was thinking of
preserving primarily the sound–the assonance of seems with steam) but

I agree, looking over it, that ‘it seems’ is filler. I have a bad
tendency to that kind of filler, the slightly archaic, slightly formal
language. I should be especially careful of it when writing sonnets —
it’s too easy to fall into it, and it’s cheating.

sure you can do better. “Tears” and “fears,” an off rhyme, draws less
attention than “sears”. But you’re after that burning aren’t you? You
want to foreshadow the last word, “fire.” My problem is that something

Hmm…tears and fears may well be better — but I resist using ‘tears’
twice in the poem. Perhaps I shouldn’t, though — if I can’t come up with
anything better. If I did want to foreshadow ‘fire’, which is certainly
plausible, I’m afraid it was an unconscious, rather than a deliberate

that “sears through me” seems slightly cliched to me. That, and the
process of searing something is burning the outside to seal in the juices,
not something that you do all the way through.

But what IS that “something”? Maybe we could replace “something”
with a word that rhymes with fears?)

shhh… it’s better to be safe. My dears,

I need your help. My hands are cold. The way —

so dark and steep, the paths so cloaked in grey;

and is this rain (the falling of her tears)?

(“My dears,”? “My dears” sounds great in your cyber journal. There’s
something about the off-hand way you say it, or “munchkins,” that makes
me enjoy being one of your munchkins, but in the context of this poem I
don’t think “dears” is quite the word. And given the fact I’m having such
a hard time with virtually every word you’ve found to rhyme with “fears”,
you might try a different vowel to rhyme, which means rethinking the word
fears, and retracing this particular thread through the poem. Oh God,
neither one of us want to be unravelling things like this. . . .Nurse,
more anesthetic!

I agree that ‘my dears’ is just a bit off — but I’m fond of it
regardless, so I’d probably leave it in. Maybe. This is probably where
the artist needs to be more strict with herself.

“My hands are cold. The ways–

so dark and steep, the paths so cloaked in grays”

Now how did we get from three lovers in the garden to one lost lover on
steep, mountainlike passes? I’m intrigued. Something’s going on here
that I’m not quite catching.

Finally, I’m puzzled by the parentheses. The parenthetical images are too
important. They are crucial for me to make sense out of the poem. I just
don’t see them as extraneous (parenthetical) information.)

We bent over you. Our hands might have brushed

and the contact left me trembling, weak

with the urge to raise my hand, the fierce desire

to touch her face. I would not have rushed

but lingered, savoring the curve of cheek —

and what would she have done? Would it be rain,

or fire?

(Ah!! Now HERE, THIS is poetry! The rhyme falls naturally, the lines
spill across the breaks and flow like water to the last question mark.)

Now that the anesthetic is surely wearing off, let me back away a little
bit to see if I’m making sense of the poem….

This poem is about two women sharing a man? And one woman, the speaker,
wanting, but not quite daring, to explore the other woman the way she
explores her lover. Did I get it right?

That’s certainly a plausible explanation. 🙂

If I DID get it right, the jury has come back with a verdict on that first
line. The words, “This poem” have got to go. “This poem” needs to be
replaced with whatever that searing “something” is. The poem hasn’t been
haunting the speaker for days, that other woman has, that trembling desire
maybe, but not the poem. The poem is our entry point into that

Hmm…I don’t know. Part of it is that the desire to write her poetry
has been haunting the narrator for days — and she’s afraid to. Maybe
there’s a better way of getting that across.

The title. Raining in Eden. Are we talking about Adam and Eve in the
garden, here? And if so which woman is Eve? And who’s the other woman?
Lilith? (I have a vague memory of a story out of the Kabballah.
Something about Eve having a sister, Lilith, but the rest of the story is
gone for me, so if this is the direction your poem is taking, best ignore
my input. I don’t know the story well enough to offer good commentary.)

Ah, and this may well be misleading. I think a good part of what I
had in mind was the last stanza of a Dickinson poem:

“Rowing in Eden–

Ah, the Sea!

Might I but moor–Tonight–

In Thee!”

The other part involved sitting in a cafe in Salt Lake City as I read
this, outside Temple Square, while the rain came pouring down, watching
the many priests in their dark suits crossing the street. For that,
‘raining in Heaven’ might well have been more of my thought, but I wanted
the Dickinson resonance (for her poem has a similar theme) and Eden sounds
better than Heaven in any case…

In the end, this poem leaves a lot of questions for me. The good
questions. The questions that keep drawing me to your writing.

And your commentary makes me feel like I ought to be more careful in
my writing, to do my critics justice. 🙂

Thoughtfully yours,


The Hopkins poem referenced above (perhaps a reward for getting
through the above):

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.