Juvenilia: Early Poems

Juvenilia: Early Poems

A Poem by Michael R. Burch

Juvenilia: Early Poems by Michael R. Burch

Juvenilia: Early Poems

I have put together a timeline of my earliest poems. Somewhere between the ages of 11 and 13, I began to jot down a few poems, then from age 13 to 15, I became a serious poet. Several of my early poems have been published by literary journals, so I like to think I displayed talent at an early age, but you can be the judge …

Age 11-13:

Bible Libel
by Michael R. Burch

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.

I read the Bible from cover to cover at age eleven, ten chapters per day, at the suggestion of my parents. The so-called "word of God" left me aghast. How could anyone possibly claim the biblical god Yahweh/Jehovah was good, wise, loving, just, etc.? I came up with this epigram to express my conclusions. But I'm not sure when I came up with it: I will guess sometime between ages eleven to thirteen, but it could have been a bit later. I never submitted the poem for formal publication, to my recollection, but I have used it extensively in online discussions, so it is "out there." According to Google, this epigram appears on around 1,250 web pages. Not too shabby for such an early effort.

Ironic Vacation

by Michael R. Burch


Seeing Mozart’s baby grand piano.

Standing in the presence of sheer incalculable genius.

Grabbing my childish pen to write a poem & challenge the Immortals.

Next stop, the catacombs!

This is a poem I wrote about a vacation my family took to Salzburg when I was a boy, age 11 or perhaps a bit older. 

by Michael R. Burch

Happiness is like a bubble:
What’s fine now will soon be trouble …

“Happiness” was the first longish poem I wrote, probably around age thirteen. I won’t bore you with the whole thing, but I think the meter and rhyme was not too bad for such an early effort. 

by Michael R. Burch

WHEN you were my playmate and I was yours,
we spent endless hours with simple toys,
and the sorrows and cares of our indentured days
were uncomprehended ... far, far away ...
for the temptations and trials we had yet to face
were lost in the shadows of an unventured maze.

Then simple pleasures were easy to find
and if they cost us a little, we didn't mind;
for even a penny in a pocket back then
was one penny too many, a penny to spend.

Then feelings were feelings and love was just love,
not a strange, complex mystery to be understood;
while "sin" and "damnation" meant little to us,
since forbidden cookies were our only lusts!

Then we never worried about what we had,
and we were both surewhat was good, what was bad.

And we sometimes quarreled, but we didn't hate;
we seldom gave thought to the uncertainties of fate.

Hell, we seldom thought about the next day,
when tomorrow seemed hiddenadventures away.

Though sometimes we dreamed of adventures past,
and wondered, at times, why things couldn't last.

Still, we never worried about getting by,
and we didn't know that we were to die ...
when we spent endless hours with simple toys,
and I was your playmate, and we were boys.

This is probably the poem that "made" me, because my high school English teacher would later call it "beautiful" and I took that to mean I was surely the Second Coming of Percy Bysshe Shelley! "Playmates" is the second longish poem I remember writing; I believe I was around 13 or 14 at the time. It was originally published by The Lyric.

by Michael R. Burch

The hazy, smoke-filled skies of summer I remember well;
farewell was on my mind, and the thoughts that I can't tell
rang bells within (the din was in) my mind, and I can't say
if what we had was good or bad, or where it is today.
The endless days of summer's haze I still recall today;
she spoke and smoky skies stood still as summer slipped away ...

This poem appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976. It also appeared in my college literary journal, Homespun, in 1977. It has since been published by The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Fullosia Press and Better Than Starbucks, and translated into Romanian and published by Petru Dimofte. I had The Summer of '42 in mind when I wrote the poem. Ironically, I didn't see the movie until many years later, but something about its advertisement touched me. Am I the only poet who wrote a love poem for Jennifer O'Neil after seeing her fleeting image in a blurb? At least in that respect, I may be unique! In any case, the movie came out in 1971 or 1972, so I was probably around 13 or 14 when I wrote the poem. I think it's interesting that I was able to write a "rhyme rich" poem at such a young age. In six lines the poem has 26 rhymes and near rhymes: smoke-spoke-smoky, well-farewell-tell-bells-still-recall-still, summer-remember-summer-summer, within-din-in, say-today-days-haze-today-away, had-good-bad.

Age 14-15:

Leave Taking
by Michael R. Burch

Brilliant leaves abandon battered limbs
to waltz upon ecstatic winds
until they die.

But the barren and embittered trees,
lament the frolic of the leaves
and curse the bleak November sky ...

Now, as I watch the leaves' high flight
before the fading autumn light,
I think that, perhaps, at last I may

have learned what it means to say

Like "Death" this poem is the parings of a longer poem. Most of my poems end up being sonnet-length or shorter. I think the sounds here are pretty good for a young poet "testing his wings." This poem started out as a stanza in a much longer poem, "Jessamyn's Song," that dates to around age 14 or 15.

Have I been too long at the fair?
by Michael R. Burch

Have I been too long at the fair?
The summer has faded,
the leaves have turned brown;
the Ferris wheel teeters ...
not up, yet not down.
Have I been too long at the fair?

This is one of my earliest poems, written around age 15 when we were living with my grandfather in his house on Chilton Street, within walking distance of the Nashville fairgrounds. I remember walking to the fairgrounds, stopping at a Dairy Queen along the way, and swimming at a public pool. But I believe the Ferris wheel only operated during the state fair. So my “educated guess” is that this poem was written during the 1973 state fair, or shortly thereafter. I remember watching people hanging suspended in mid-air, waiting for carnies to deposit them safely on terra firma again.

by Michael R. Burch

|Now it is winterthe coldest night.

And as the light of the streetlamp casts strange shadows to the ground,
I have lost what I once found
in your arms.

Now it is winterthe coldest night.

And as the light of my headboard fails to penetrate dark panes,
I have remade all my chains
and am bound.

This poem appeared in my high school journal, the Lantern, in 1976. I seem to remember writing it around age 14 or 15. It was originally titled "Why Did I Go?"

Am I
by Michael R. Burch

Am I inconsequential;
do I matter not at all?
Am I just a snowflake,
to sparkle, then to fall?

Am I only chaff?
Of what use am I?
Am I just a flame,
to flicker, then to die?

Am I inadvertent?
For what reason am I here?
Am I just a ripple
in a pool that once was clear?

Am I insignificant?
Will time pass me by?
Am I just a flower,
to live one day, then die?

Am I unimportant?
Do I matter either way?
Or am I just an echo
soon to fade away?

This seems like a pretty well-crafted poem for a teenage poet just getting started. I believe I was around 14 or 15 when I wrote it. The title is a reversal of the biblical "I Am."

by Michael R. Burch

where have you gone?
What turned out so short,
had seemed like so long.

where have you flown?
What seemed like mere days
were years come and gone.

see what you've done:
for now I am old,
when once I was young.

do you even know why
your days, minutes, seconds
preternaturally fly?

This is a companion piece to "Am I." It appeared in my high school project notebook "Poems" along with "Playmates," so I was probably around 14 or 15 when I wrote it.

Age 16-18:

Elegy for a little girl, lost
by Michael R. Burch

... qui laetificat juventutem meam ...
She was the joy of my youth,
and now she is gone
... . requiescat in pace ...
May she rest in peace
... . amen ...

I was touched by this Latin prayer, which I discovered in a novel I read as a teenager. I later decided to incorporate it into a poem, which I started in high school and revised as an adult. From what I now understand, “ad deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” means “to the God who gives joy to my youth,” but I am sticking with my original interpretation: a lament for a little girl at her funeral. The phrase can be traced back to Saint Jerome's translation of Psalm 42 in the Latin Vulgate Bible (circa 385 AD). I can’t remember exactly when I read the novel or wrote the poem, but I believe it was around my junior year of high school, age 17 or thereabouts. This was my first translation. I revised the poem slightly in 2001 after realizing I had “misremembered” one of the words in the Latin prayer.

by Michael R. Burch

Black waters,
deep and dark and still ...
all men have passed this way,
or will.

I believe this was my second epigram, after "Bible Libel." I don't remember exactly when I wrote "Styx," perhaps around 1976 at age 18, but I do remember it being part of a longer poem originally titled "Death." The first four lines seemed better than the rest of the poem, so I opted for the better part of valor: discretion. Years later I submitted the epigrammatic version of the poem to Harvey Stanbrough, the founder and editor of The Raintown Review, and he responded: "When I find a submission like yours in the stack of generally mind-numbing pages, I feel both thrilled and honored. I hope you'll let me see more of your work in the near future. The poems I accepted are the excellent epigraph, 'Death,' and 'Rant: The Harvest of Roses,' an excellent exercise in dactylic rhythm. I know how difficult it is to write well AND maintain a dactylic meter throughout, and you handled it well." I remember being somewhat perplexed, because I wrote poetry purely by ear and had no idea what "dactylic meter" was. (Still don't.) Here's the other poem Harvey mentioned:

The Harvest of Roses
by Michael R. Burch

I have not come for the harvest of roses
the poets' mad visions,
their railing at rhyme ...
for I have discerned what their writing discloses:
weak words wanting meaning,
beat torsioning time.

Nor have I come for the reaping of gossamer
images weak,
too forced not to fail;
gathered by poets who worship their luster,
they shimmer, impendent,
resplendently pale.

"The Harvest of Roses" is not quite as early as most of the poems on this page. I'm not sure how old I was when I wrote it, but I remember having become disenchanted with poetry journals that were full of "concrete imagery" which I found mostly unmoving. I was also fed up with the bizarre idea that meter and rhyme were somehow "bad." While "torsioning" is one of my rare coinages, I think it works here. In any case, this early poem was published by The Raintown Review.

―for the children of the Holocaust and the Nakba

by Michael R. Burch

Something inescapable is lost
lost like a pale vapor curling up into shafts of moonlight,
vanishing in a gust of wind toward an expanse of stars
immeasurable and void.

Something uncapturable is gone
gone with the spent leaves and illuminations of autumn,
scattered into a haze with the faint rustle of parched grass
and remembrance.

Something unforgettable is past
blown from a glimmer into nothingness, or less,
which finality has swept into a corner, where it lies
in dust and cobwebs and silence.

This was the first poem that I wrote that didn't rhyme. I believe I wrote it around age 18. The poem came to me "from blue nothing" (to borrow a phrase from my friend the Maltese poet Joe Ruggier). Years later, I dedicated the poem to the children of the Holocaust and the Nakba. It has been published by There is Something in the Autumn (anthology), The Eclectic Muse (Canada), Setu (India), FreeXpression (Australia), Life and Legends, Poetry Super Highway, Poet’s Corner, Promosaik (Germany), Better Than Starbucks and The Chained Muse; it has also been used in numerous Holocaust projects; translated into Romanian by Petru Dimofte; translated into Turkish by Nurgül Yayman; turned into a YouTube video by Lillian Y. Wong; and used by Windsor Jewish Community Centre during a candle-lighting ceremony.

by Michael R. Burch

Here the hills are old and rolling
carefully in their old age;
on the horizon youthful mountains
bathe themselves in windblown fountains ...

By dying leaves and falling raindrops,
I have traced time's starts and stops,
and I have known the years to pass
almost unnoticed, whispering through treetops ...

For here the valleys fill with sunlight
to the brim, then empty again,
and it seems that only I notice
how the years flood out, and in ...

This is an early poem that made me feel like a real poet. I remember writing it in the break room of the McDonald's where I worked as a high school student. I believe that was in 1975, at age 17. "Observance" was originally published by Nebo as "Reckoning." It was later published by Tucumcari Literary Review, Piedmont Literary Review, Verses, Romantics Quarterly, the anthology There is Something in the Autumn and Poetry Life & Times. "Infinity," which started out as "Dream of Infinity," has been published by TC Broadsheet Verses (my first paying gig, a whopping ten bucks!), Penny Dreadful, the Net Poetry and Art Competition, Songs of Innocence, Poetry Life & Times, Mindful of Poetry and Better Than Starbucks.

by Michael R. Burch

Have you tasted the bitterness of tears of despair?
Have you watched the sun sink through such pale, balmless air
that your heart sought its shell like a crab on a beach,
then scuttled inside to be safe, out of reach?

Might I lift you tonight from earth’s wreckage and damage
on these waves gently rising to pay the moon homage?
Or better, perhaps, let me say that I, too,
have dreamed of infinity ... windswept and blue.

This is one of the first poems that made me feel like a "real" poet. I remember reading the poem and asking myself, "Did I really write that?" Many years later, I'm still glad that I wrote it, and it still makes me feel like a real poet. This is another poem that was longer and got "pared down" to its best lines. I believe I wrote it around 1976, at age 18.

hymn to Apollo

by Michael R. Burch

something of sunshine attracted my i

as it lazed on the afternoon sky,


splashed on the easel of god ...


i thought,

could this elfin stuff be,

to, phantomlike,


through tall trees

on fall days, such as these?


and the breeze

whispered a dirge

to the vanishing light;

enchoired with the evening, it sang;

its voice



chanting “Night!” ...

till all the bright light



This poem appeared in my high school literary journal, the Lantern. I believe I wrote it around age 16. 

The Communion of Sighs
by Michael R. Burch

There was a moment
without the sound of trumpets or a shining light,
but with only silence and darkness and a cool mist
felt more than seen.
I was eighteen,
my heart pounding wildly within me like a fist.
Expectation hung like a cry in the night,
and your eyes shone like the corona of a comet.

There was an instant ...
without words, but with a deeper communion,
as clothing first, then inhibitions fell;
liquidly our lips met
�"feverish, wet�"
forgotten, the tales of heaven and hell,
in the immediacy of our fumbling union ...
when the rest of the world became distant.

Then the only light was the moon on the rise,
and the only sound, the communion of sighs.

This is one of my early poems but I can’t remember exactly when I wrote it. Due to the romantic style, I believe it was probably written during my first two years in college, making me 18 or 19 at the time.

These Hallowed Halls

by Michael R. Burch

a young Romantic Poet mourns the passing of an age ...


A final stereo fades into silence

and now there is seldom a murmur

to trouble the slumber

of these ancient halls.

I stand by a window where others have watched

the passage of time alone,

not untouched,

and I am as they were�"


and the days

stretch out ahead,

a bewildering maze.


Ah, faithless lover�"

that I had never touched your breast,

nor felt the stirrings of my heart,

which until that moment had peacefully slept.

For now I have known the exhilaration

of a heart that has leapt from the pinnacle of love,

and the result of every infatuation�"

the long freefall to earth, as the moon glides above.


A solitary clock chimes the hour

from far above the campus,

but my peers,

returning from their dances,

heed it not.

And so it is

that we seldom gauge Time’s speed

because He moves so unobtrusively

about His task.

Still, when at last

we reckon His mark upon our lives,

we may well be surprised

at His thoroughness.


Ungentle maiden�"

when Time has etched His little lines

so carelessly across your brow,

perhaps I will love you less than now.

And when cruel Time has stolen

your youth, as He certainly shall in course,

perhaps you will wish you had taken me

along with my broken heart,

even as He will take you with yours.


A measureless rhythm rules the night�"

few have heard it,

but I have shared it,

and its secret is mine.

To put it into words

is as to extract the sweetness from honey

and must be done as gently

as a butterfly cleans its wings.

But when it is captured, it is gone again;

its usefulness is only

that it lulls to sleep.


So sleep, my love, to the cadence of night,

to the moans of the moonlit hills

that groan as I do, yet somehow sleep

through the nightjar’s cryptic trills.

But I will not sleep this night, nor any ...

how can I, when my dreams

are always of your perfect face

ringed in whorls of fretted lace,

and a tear upon your pillowcase?


If I had been born when knights roamed the earth

and mad kings ruled strange lands,

I might have turned to the ministry,

to the solitude of a monastery.

But there are no monks or hermits today�"

theirs is a lost occupation

carried on, if at all,

merely for sake of tradition.

For today man abhors solitude�"

he craves companions, song and drink,

seldom seeking a quiet moment,

to sit alone by himself, to think.


And so I cannot shut myself

off from the rest of the world,

to spend my days in philosophy

and my nights in tears of self-sympathy.

No, I must continue as best I can,

and learn to keep my thoughts away

from those glorious, uproarious moments of youth,

centuries past though lost but a day.


Yes, I must discipline myself

and adjust to these lackluster days

when men display no chivalry

and romance is the "old-fashioned" way.


A single stereo flares into song

and the first faint light of morning

has pierced the sky's black awning

once again.


This is a sacred place,

for those who leave,

leave better than they came.

But those who stay, while they are here,

add, with their sleepless nights and tears,

quaint sprigs of ivy to the walls

of these hallowed halls.

I wrote this poem as a college freshman, age 18, watching my peers return to their dorms from a hard night of partying ...

An Illusion
by Michael R. Burch

The sky was as hushed as the breath of a bee
and the world was bathed in shades of palest gold
when I awoke.

She came to me with the sound of falling leaves
and the scent of new-mown grass;
I held out my arms to her and she passed

into oblivion ...

This little dream-poem appeared in my high school literary journal, the Lantern, so I was no older than 18 when I wrote it, probably younger. I will guess around age 16.


by Michael R. Burch



a bitter

ache to bear ...

once starlight


in your hair ...

a shining there

as brief

as rare.


Regret ...

a pain

I chose to bear ...


the torrent

of your hair ...

and show me

once again�"

how rare.

I believe I wrote this poem around age 19. I may have been thinking about Rapunzel.


by Michael R. Burch

Poetry, I found you

where at last they chained and bound you;

with devices all around you

to torture and confound you,

I found you�"shivering, bare.

They had shorn your raven hair

and taken both your eyes

which, once cerulean as Gogh's skies,

had leapt at dawn to wild surmise

of what was waiting there.

Your back was bent with untold care;

there savage brands had left cruel scars

as though the wounds of countless wars;

your bones were broken with the force

with which they'd lashed your flesh so fair.

You once were loveliest of all.

So many nights you held in thrall

a scrawny lad who heard your call

from where dawn’s milling showers fall�"

pale meteors through sapphire air.

I learned the eagerness of youth

to temper for a lover’s touch;

I felt you, tremulant, reprove

each time I fumbled over-much.

Your merest word became my prayer.

You took me gently by the hand

and led my steps from child to man;

now I look back, remember when

you shone, and cannot understand

why now, tonight, you bear their brand.


I will take and cradle you in my arms,

remindful of the gentle charms

you showed me once, of yore;

and I will lead you from your cell tonight

back into that incandescent light

which flows out of the core

of a sun whose robes you wore.

And I will wash your feet with tears

for all those blissful years ...

my love, whom I adore.

I consider "Poetry" to be my Ars Poetica. I believe I wrote the first version in my late teens, probably around age 19.

Each Color a Scar

by Michael R. Burch

What she left here,

upon my cheek,

is a tear.

She did not speak,

but her intention

was clear,

and I was meek,

far too meek, and, I fear,

too sincere.

What she can never take

from my heart

is its ache;

for now we, apart,

are like leaves

without weight,

scattered afar

by love, or by hate,

each color a scar.

I believe I wrote this poem around age 20-21.

All My Children

by Michael R. Burch

It is May now, gentle May,

and the sun shines pleasantly

upon the blousy flowers

of this backyard cemet'ry,

upon my children as they sleep.

Oh, there is Hank in the daisies now,

with a mound of earth for a pillow;

his face as hard as his monument,

but his voice as soft as the wind through the willows.

And there is Meg beside the spring

that sings her endless sleep.

Though it’s often said of stiller waters,

sometimes quicksilver streams run deep.

And there is Frankie, little Frankie,

tucked in safe at last,

a child who weakened and died too soon,

but whose heart was always steadfast.

And there is Mary by the bushes

where she hid so well,

her face as dark as their berries,

yet her eyes far darker still.

And Andy ... there is Andy,

sleeping in the clover,

a child who never saw the sun

so soon his life was over.

And Em'ly, oh my Em'ly ...

the prettiest of all ...

now she's put aside her dreams

of lovers dark and tall

for dreams dreamed not at all.

It is May now, merry May

and the sun shines pleasantly

upon these ardent gardens,

on the graves of all my children ...

But they never did depart;

they still live within my heart.

I believe I wrote this poem around age 15-16.

Keywords/Tags: juvenilia, early poems, early poetry, early writing, write, young, youth, youthful, teen, teenage, poets, poems, poetry, poems, verse, writing

© 2020 Michael R. Burch

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Added on December 25, 2020
Last Updated on December 26, 2020
Tags: Juvenilia, early poems, youth, youthful, young, teen, poetry, poems, verse, writing