To the Death-Flirt

Here’s a sonnet of a different sort. If you can, tell me what you think of its diction.

<i>To the Death-Flirt</i>

Wist! wist! – thy song hath fled the silent night,
And heaving moans are heard from nursling sods:
“Whither fled the tenderly spoken wight,
Who darkling crooned the airs of demigods?”
Away! draughts of Lethe spur thee along,
Where faraway wilt thou carol the skies,
And ballad to the nightingale thy song,
While the dusky breezes feed thy surmíse.
Far from the languishing ears of our dole
Singeth thy fair voice, pilfered from us young;
An if the bells of night thy doom did toll,
Ere the songs of gods flowed full from thy tongue,
Another darkling voice will croon for thee
The murmurs of beauty thou bor’st for me.

Your poem is very interesting: I like its very quiet and secretive diction. Unless you purposely made the poem not perfectly iambic in order to connote a disquiet of sorts, however, you may want to alter some of your words, as a few parts seemed a little awkward to me.

I just have a few comments about your diction:

  1. ‘Wist! wist!’: Is this supposed to be onomatopoetic? I am just curious. Otherwise, ‘wist’ is the past tense of the old verb ‘to wit’. Or did you want to use an imperative? If so, a verb like ‘hark’ or ‘hear’ would befit the poem more nicely. If you wanted to use the imperative of ‘to wit’, then it would be simply ‘wit’, not ‘wist’.
  2. ‘Singest thy fair voice’: I am guessing that you mean ‘singeth’ here; the ending -est is for the second person singular with ‘thou’.
  3. ‘An if’: ‘An’ is an old word which has a similar meaning as ‘if’. Did you mean this or did you mean ‘and’?

Thank you. I’m glad you like it. I meant my diction to imitate that of John Keats (who is the subject of the poem), particularly in his Odes.

I can answer your first and third comments on the diction. The second, though, was a mistake and oversight on my part, and I’m grateful you caught it for me. As for “Wist! wist!”, I employed it for a few reasons: “Wistful” changed from “thoughtful” to a sort of “nostalgic” over time, so I figured “wist” would be a fair and more pleasant sounding variant for “wistfulness”. Second, the onomatopoetic value appealed: “wist” reminds me of wishing, wanting, and willing. Finally, I hoped the original meaning of “wist” would bring undertones of, “You knew! You knew!”

“An if” is a construction that actually makes sense, and is found in Shakespeare (“So, now go tell, an if thy tongue can speak”). “An” was originally just a form of “and”, that evolved to become conditional, so “an if” just becomes an extra-strong conditional.

I overlooked the more modern meaning of the morpheme ‘wist’ in wistful.

Yes, I knew of that linguistic development, but I was unsure exactly what you were trying to do, although this clears it up. My edition of Shakespeare has modernised it to ‘and if’.

One more thing: in ‘thou bore’st’, I am guessing that you perhaps meant to cut out the e.