Tuesday poem: A Riddle of the Soul

A Riddle of the Soul
M. K. Joseph

I cannot give

Unless I have

I cannot have

Unless I save

Unless I have

I cannot save

Unless I give

I cannot have.

Unless I live

I cannot be

Unless I am

I cannot seem

I cannot be

Unless I seem

I cannot live

Unless I am.

I cannot be

Unless I give

I cannot have

Unless I die

Unless I grieve

I cannot love

Unless I die

I cannot live.

This week the main poem on the Tuesday Poem blog is by C.K. Stead, and last week Mary McCullum also posted a poem by Allan Curnow. I’m delighted to add to the generational coincidence of poets with this one by M. K. Joseph, who taught in the English Department at Auckland University (with Carl Stead) when I was a student there. (Ken Smithyman, another significant poet of those times, was my Standard Four teacher at Takapuna Primary. Hopeless at teaching maths, but terrific at introducing us to a wide range of poetry that’s stayed with me ever since.)

I’ve posted poems by other important New Zealand poets of that generation in recent years – Rex Fairburn’s To An Expatriate and R.A.K. Mason’s Song of Allegiance still resonate in my life.

‘A Riddle of the Soul’, though, is new to me, and the structure seems intriguingly reminiscent of the modern ferlew (see the one I posted here). M. K. Joseph was an acclaimed novelist as well as a poet, and an academic with, as I recall, a special interest in Byron. And also a fine teacher.

For more Tuesday poems go to the main hub site, where there is a poem posted each week. Further poems can be found on the blogs of the Tuesday poet members in the sidebar.

4 Responses to “Tuesday poem: A Riddle of the Soul”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    Wow, the structured conciseness really hits you – the repeated ‘cannot’ and ‘unless’. It reminds me of Gertrude Stein. I don’t know M. K. Joseph’s poetry, Belinda, but I love this – I’m going to have to furrow some out.

  2. admin Says:

    I’m so glad you liked it, Elizabeth. It is a clever structure, isn’t it? And very effective in this poem.

  3. Michelle Elvy Says:

    I don’t usually like these kinds of poems — they start off sounding like a prayer or a pleading for something. But this quietly build into something else entirely. Glad I stopped by!

  4. admin Says:

    I know just what you mean: there’s often a not-so-hidden agenda. And I’m very glad you stopped by too! Thanks!

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