Pearls – Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Michael R. Burch  (born February 19, 1958) is an American computer company executive, poet, columnist, essayist and editor who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the originator and editor  of  The HyperTexts a literary website which has been online for two decades and, according to Google Analytics, has received more than eight million page views since 2010. He has also been very active in the poetry movements known as New Formalism and Neo-Romanticism. He is an editor and publisher of Holocaust, Hiroshima, Trail of Tears, Darfur and Nakba poetry. He has translated poetry from Old English and other languages into modern English. Poets he has translated include Basho, Bertolt Brecht, Robert Burns, William Dunbar, Allama Iqbal, Ono no Komachi, Takaha Shugyo, Miklos Radnoti, Rainer Maria Rilke, Renee Vivien and Sappho. His work has appeared in such publications as Light Quarterly, The Lyric, The Chariton Review, The Chimaera, Able Muse, Lucid Rhythms, Writer’s Digest—The Year’s Best Writing, The Neovictorian/Cochlea, The Best of the Eclectic Muse and Iambs & Trochees.

Michael Burch is also a peace activist, the author of the Burch-Elberry Peace Initiative, a proposal for peace through justice in Israel and Palestine. He was one of the featured speakers at a Freedom Walk for Palestinians held on October 10, 2009 in Nashville.




Pearls are small, hard, durable and, at times, valuable, like the brief poems of Michael R. Burch. His epigrams show a mastery of concision, balance, brevity and wit. He can use rhyme deftly and humorously, even in a title such as “Nun Fun Undone”. Adding rhyme to the haiku form, which he sometimes employs, may antagonise the purists; but it works. He is not afraid of emotional honesty as in the brief poem below for his wife, Beth. In a post on The Hypertexts site  he amusingly recounts how he was banned for life from the Eratosphere site  for such honesty.

He has also translated a wide variety of short poems. While he calls these “loose translations” they do not deviate far from more exact translators. His versions of Sappho, for example, appeal to me more than the, perhaps, more accurate but, also, more austere versions of Anne Carson. As he explains in a note on the Athenian Epitaphs, “These are epitaphs (a form of epigram) translated from inscriptions on ancient Greek tombstones. I use the term ‘after’ in my translations because these are loose translations rather than ultra-literal translations.”  He has translated widely from the Japanese and has introduced me to the ninth century Japanese poetry of  Ono no Komachi who wrote tanka (also known as waka).


Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

Epitaph for a Palestinian Child

―for the children of Gaza

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.


Piercing the Shell

If we strip away all the accouterments of war,
perhaps we’ll discover what the heart is for.


Autumn Conundrum

It’s not that every leaf must finally fall,
it’s just that we can never catch them all.



Love is either wholly folly,
or fully holy.


If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.


Nun Fun Undone

are not for excesses!


don’t forget …

don’t forget to remember
that Space is curved
(like your Heart)
and that even Light is bent
by your Gravity.


Saving Graces

for the Religious Right

Life’s saving graces are love, pleasure, laughter …
(wisdom, it seems, is for the Hereafter.)


The Whole of Wit

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.


Love has the value
of gold, if it’s true;
if not, of rue.


A snake in the grass
lies, hissing


Dark-bosomed clouds
pregnant with heavy thunder …
the water breaks


Late autumn; now all
the golden leaves turn black underfoot:


blesses my knuckle
with affectionate dew


Dry leaf flung awry:
bright butterfly,



& disarming,
but mostly alarming
since all my resolve


Duet, Minor Key

Without the drama of cymbals
or the fanfare and snares of drums,
I present my case
stripped of its fine veneer:
behold, thy instrument.

Play, for the night is long.


Midnight Stairclimber

is at first great sweaty recreation,
then—long, long after the sex dies—
the source of endless exercise.


Warming Her Pearls

for Beth

Warming her pearls, her breasts
gleam like constellations.
Her belly is a bit rotund . . .
she might have stepped out of a Rubens.


The Poem of Poems

This is my Poem of Poems, for you.
Every word ineluctably true:
I love you.



fragment 11

You ignite and inflame me …
You melt me.


fragment 22

That enticing girl’s clinging dresses
leave me trembling, overcome by happiness,
as once, when I saw the Goddess in my prayers
eclipsing Cyprus.


fragment 42

Eros harrows my heart:
wild winds whipping desolate mountains,
uprooting oaks.


fragment 52

The moon has long since set;
the Pleiades are gone;
now half the night is spent,
yet here I lie—alone.


fragment 58



 fragment 155

A short revealing frock?
It’s just my luck
your lips were made to mock!


More of his translations of Sappho are available on the Sappho page on this briefpoems blog and on the Sappho page of The Hypertexts.



after Plato

Mariner, do not ask whose tomb this may be,
but go with good fortune: I wish you a kinder sea.


after Glaucus

Does my soul abide in heaven, or hell?
Only the sea gulls in their high, lonely circuits may tell.


after Simonides

These men earned a crown of imperishable glory,
nor did the maelstrom of death obscure their story.


after Leonidas of Tarentum

Stranger, flee!
But may Fortune grant you all the prosperity
she denied me.


after Diotimus

Stripped of her stripling, if asked, she’d confess:
“I am now less than nothingness.”


More of his translations of these ancient Greek epitaphs  are available on the Athenian Epitaphs page of The Hypertexts.



As I slept in isolation
my desired beloved appeared to me;
therefore, dreams have become my reality
and consolation.


Submit to you —
is that what you advise?
The way the ripples do
whenever ill winds arise?


I had thought to pluck
the flower of forgetfulness
only to find it
already blossoming in his heart.


Though I visit him
continually in my dreams,
the sum of all such ethereal trysts
is still less than one actual, solid glimpse.


the end that awaits me —
to think that before autumn yields
I’ll be a pale mist
shrouding these rice fields.


More of his translations of these tanka are available on the Ono no Komachi page of The Hypertexts.



The butterfly
perfuming its wings
fans the orchid


An ancient pond,
the frog leaps:
the silver plop and gurgle of water


The first soft snow:
leaves of the awed jonquil
bow low


The first chill rain:
poor monkey, you too could use
a woven cape of straw


This snowy morning:
cries of the crow I despise
(ah, but so beautiful!)


The cicada’s cry
contains no hint to foretell
how soon it must die.


High-altitude rose petals
the melody of a waterfall.


More of his translations of Matsuo Basho are available on the Basho page of The Hypertexts.



After the French of Patrick Blanche

One apple, alone
in the abandoned orchard
reddens for winter


After the Japanese of Hisajo Sugita

This day of chrysanthemums
I shake and comb my wet hair,
as their petals shed rain


After the Japanese of Issa

Petals I amass
with such tenderness
prick me to the quick.


After the Japanese of Chiyo-ni

Ah butterfly,
what dreams do you ply
with your beautiful wings?


After the Japanese of Yosa Buson

White plum blossoms –
though the hour is late,
a glimpse of dawn

(this is believed to be Buson’s death poem; he is said to have died before dawn)


After the Japanese of Kajiwara Hashin

No sky,
no land:
just snow eternally falling …


After the Japanese of Hashimoto Takako

The frozen moon,
the frozen lake:
two oval mirrors reflecting each other.


after  the Japanese of Takaha Shugyo

Wild geese pass
leaving the emptiness of heaven


Our life here on earth:
to what shall we compare it?
It is not like a rowboat
departing at daybreak,
leaving no trace of us in its wake?

More of his translations of Takaha Shugyo are available on the Takaha Shugyo page on this briefpoems blog.


More of his translations of haiku are available on the Haiku:Best of the Masters page of The Hypertexts.

All poems © Michael R. Burch. Reprinted by permission of the author.



The HyperTexts site curated by Michael R. Burch.

An interview with Judy Jones and selected poems.

A recent (January 2017) interview with Michael R. Burch

An interview on Poet’s Corner.

18 poems by Michael R. Burch on the PoemHunter site.

A larger selection of poems on the Michael R. Burch site.



One thought on “Pearls – Brief Poems by Michael R. Burch

  1. Pingback: Wild Geese – Brief Poems by Takaha Shugyo | Brief Poems

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