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Poem for the End of the Century

Barbara Ehrentreu

On the Threshold

When you are in your twenty-first year
and I in my fifty-fifth,
may you walk in my footsteps
until they disappear and you
follow an untrodden path
to your future.

When glass shards and bits of metal
lie before you as you inch toward
the blinding light, continue onward
heedless of the cost or your wounds.

Do not be enticed by others
whom you meet along the way
the businessman, his suitcased life
a blur as he passes you,
the teacher who offers you Shakespeare
and Aristotle for tea,
the pessimist who warns you of danger
yet hangs around to party

Nor should you ignore the strains of their songs.
Be sponge, not rock.
Let their words seep into you
and join with your ideas
until they merge into a ballad.

You will need courage.
The trip will not be easy.
I hope you find someone
who will help you smooth
the rough spots on your journey,
someone who will bind your wounds,
who will be your home.

No longer needing my shelter,
you will stand on the threshold,
wary of the danger, hopeful
of the wonders yet to come
in the golden orb
of your future.

May, 1998

Barbara Ehrentreu's questions:

My questions are, in the line "Let your words seep into you/ and join with your ideas/until they merge into a ballad." Can you get from this that I am talking about her taking from others, but having love and hope? I originally had the words love and hope, but now feel that they probably don't need to be there. Also, this is a poem to be given to my daughter on her 21st birthday, which will coincide with the beginning of the millenium, 2000. Does it come across in the 1st stanza that I am talking about the time when I will no longer be around when I write, "...may you walk in my footsteps/until they disappear and you follow an untrodden path"?

Hi Barbara, This is my first attempt at online anything. Intrigued by your title, I read your poem and loved it. I especially loved the way the images and emotions interplayed and continued to build. I don't know how to re-open to your poem so I can't make specific comments as this is based on one reading only and on memory. I had some problems with the shards at the beginning, feared that the poem would be pretentious which it was not. I also had probs with the sponge image--it seemed to not leave space for her--and left her too vulnerable, but perhaps that was your intention. And when I figure out how to re-read the poem, I may feel differently. These are just some of my original reactions. But the strongest reaction is the way I loved the poem's momentum or rhythm based on its inner truth (not on metrics,etc.). Thank you for this poem and for a delightful introduction to the cyberspace world of poetry!
Pesha Joyce Gertler
Seattle, WA USA - Sat Dec 29 23:11:07 2001
I really liked this poem. It was simply, yet elegantly stated. I agree with the other reader--what a wonderful gift to give.
USA - Fri Jul 20 15:15:12 2001
A lovely poetry. As a mother I think I'd like to tell my daughter the same things you just wrote. What I can't undertand is the second stanza. The "sponge/ rock" metaphor is very effective. Keep on writing. I like to write mother/daughter poetry, too.
m. k. kraus
Aston, Pa USA - Sun Oct 17 12:50:02 1999
I am a grandmother. I live giving this kind of advice. Were I to give this to my granddaughter now 16, both my daughters and granddaughter would say to me why are you focussing on the negative? Why does my golden orb only appear so briefly at the end? The sad thing is that I would be itching to give this to my sweet Marie.
Joyce Heon
USA - Sat Jun 19 17:37:05 1999
What a wonderful idea Barbara, writing a poem in celebration of both the millenium and your daughter's 21st birthday, an age that is supposed to launch her formally into adulthood.

My answer to your first question is yes. Your words "be sponge, not rock" are great! That alone implies soaking up experience, and not being so hard it bounces off. You suggest she live, learn, love, and hope. Excellent message.

Your question about the first stanza is harder to respond to. Upon first reading it, I thought it sad, as it suggested an early death for you. I read it again..and again, and finally decided you meant walk in your footsteps as long as you last. I know this is silly, but I have to mention, it took a bit of reading to get this. Actually, it may just be my problem with interpretation, as to me, there's a time when children walk in their own footsteps, and I plan on living forever LOL.. so I'm anxious for them to make their own tracks. You see.. its my interpretation problem! That's what's so unique about poetry.

This was a wonderful read. We have daughters around the same age so I can relate to this very well.
Pt Roberts, Wa USA - Wed Jun 9 17:38:59 1999
Actually, I thought it was pretty obvious you were talking about the time you would no longer be around in your first stanza. But I suppose one could read it not as you not being around, but as you stepping aside and letting her go on on her own. That guy sure is proud of his book.
Ralyks Iksgor
Fairfax, VA USA - Fri Jun 4 11:33:03 1999
unbeleivable amount of sycophantic replies which dont answer your question

no- you do not convey that in the first stanza - the first stanza doesn't do the rest justice

email me for a more strict analysis of your poem and the chance to criticise mine

reveiws of my last novel are at, click book search and enter author = mark fyfe , title = ASHER

ps. never be deterred :)
mark fyfe
UK - Fri Apr 9 06:44:05 1999
Barbara, it seems as though you and your daughter are both "on the threshold." Although I like the image of the golden orb at the end, I felt it should somehow tie in with the image of the glass shards and bits of metal from the second stanza, to bring the poem "full circle." You tell her, "Do not be enticed,"Be sponge, not rock," etc., so "Find someone who will help..." I think would work better than "I hope you will find someone..." I think there are words than can be clipped and re-arranged for a more concise piece, for instance, something like

"the businessman
a blur as he passes,
the mentor
who pours Aristotle and Shakespeare
for tea,
the pessimist
life of the party
who warns of danger...."

Anyway, keep on writing, girlfriend!
Patty Mooney
San Diego, CA USA - Thu Feb 18 23:07:33 1999
Hey I really liked the images in your poem. I'm confused-are you going to be around for your daughters 21st birthday? To me it sounds like you are just talking about the passing of time not a life. What made you start working on it now and why a poem? Actually it sounds like you are saying good-bye to your daughter. There are so many things in this poem I need to think about it more.
whitby, on. canada - Mon Feb 8 07:23:23 1999
The line "Let your words seep..." is one of my favorite lines of the poem. I think it puts across what you want it to. In the first stanza, "may you walk in my footsteps..." I see that you are there, trying to give your daughter a path, but that eventually from your path your daughter will find her own way. It frustrated me, though, when you tell your daughter to have courage in one line and then for five lines following tell her that she needs a partner. The reference to what I assume was a car accident is mentioned beautifully, but a little confusingly, and forgotten. Overall, I found it to be a beautiful, touching work.
Debra Guckenheimer
Jerusalem, Israel - Wed Nov 18 01:49:06 1998
Barbara: A lovely poem, as so many have already said. Your question about the line "Let your...until they merge.." does not its self speak directly about "love and hope" but the middle of the warning: You have warned her to recognize danger in the "wrong" men just before, yet you remind her to have an empathy for their humanity, and never close herself off from them entirely, as people. You also give her permission to grow her ideas from all sources, from whence might come the art and poetry of a a full life. As Sheila said, the entire poem conveys love and hope to your daughter, but not those particular lines I believe, and rightly so. The last line of that stanza "merge into a ballad" I particularly loved, as it asked your daughter to create her own truths out of life-experience to pass on as you are here doing for her. Way to go! BTW, in your question about this, you mis-quoted yourself and asked about the line "let your words" and isolated, at least, I like this alot - kids don't listen to themselves, and the way you mis-quoted yourself, i imagined admonishing a young woman to listen to what she said, and allow her own words to not only take root but to substantiate her ideas, to grow into ideology and mean something... Cheryl Higgins (thanks for your suggestions re: Lonesome Sound. I lost my e-address for a while, couldn't respond, will soon..)
Cheryl L. Higgins
CT USA - Wed Nov 4 04:14:38 1998
This is just to say thank you to all of the readers who commented on my poem here. All of your comments have given me a warm glow that I can keep and save. Thank you so much for reading my work and for your generous and sometimes very insightful words.

This is for Amy who wrote me such a lovely comment. I wanted to respond to you in private, but you didn't leave me your email address. Please let me know where I can reach you, so I can express how I feel about what you said.

Again thank you to all you wonderful people who took the time to both read my poem and to express your comments to me. There is no better food for a writer than words like yours. Barbara Ehrentreu
Barbara Ehrentreu
Bedford Hills, NY USA - Sat Oct 31 23:16:32 1998
That is a BEAUTIFUL poem. I'm 16, and i know if my mom gave that to me, that would be the best gift I ever got. A personalized poem that comes deep within the heart is such a fantastic gift. I know she will love it, congratulations!!!
USA - Thu Oct 29 16:32:06 1998
Dear Barbara, Thank you for your beautiful words. Your daughter is privileged to have a mother like you. I thought "On the Threshold" opened up a healthy way to let your daughter know she will always have you with her because your wisdom will be passed onto her. I relate to your poem because I believe when my mom walks her last journey, she will be leaving me her mantle of wisdom. I am impressed by your choice of words in the second stanza ". . .continue onward heedless of the cost or your wounds." There is a lot of power in those words. Your daughter needs to know her journey will not be easy, but there is always light, we just need to look for it. Please continue writing. I would enjoy reading more of your poetry. Please feel free to e-mail me. I am a good listener. Miigwech(Thank you)
Sue Bushey
Virginia, MN USA - Fri Oct 9 20:01:45 1998
Your poem beautifully outlines the growth and maturation of yourself and your daughter, her companionship with you, her struggle in solitude, the maintenance of her integrity in the presence of influence, the gift of companionship and the final awarness in appreciation of beauty. In spite of some difficult critique, your poem reveals its beauty through this vision and the growth of feeling it provides to you and your daughter. The voice of your poem struggles to catch-up to that feeling, the outline wavers as the visions succeed each other in snapshots of experience(perhaps your attempt to reach past your death and influence your daughter) however, this appears to be a poem about your daughter's integrity, a revelation for her to see and become intimate with, "on the threshold," of its fullfillment. The last stanza: "no longer needing my shelter/you will stand on the threshold,/wary of the danger, hopeful" --I believe -- holds all the beauty you struggle to express through out the poem, and the core to begin fresh, as what better time spent then molding the vision of your daughter's impending womanhood in your belly, and onto the paper. You have given birth to a wonderful poem. Prost
USA - Wed Oct 7 08:51:23 1998
Dear Barbara, I thought your poem had a constant theme of love and hope thoughout and it gave me the impression that you were encouraging your daughter to extract these messages from others when you are no longer their to guide her. One weakness I discovered while reading it was that it was not clear to me by the word "disappear" that you had intended the reader to translate that your daughter would be picking up from where you left off after you died. Shedding some light on the frailties of the human condition I would expect that to walk in someone elses footsteps would be a very difficult task. I am more of the opinion that we are all on our own spiritual journey.
Dolores Lonergan
Fountain Hills, AZ USA - Sat Sep 26 11:23:05 1998
Barbara... I had thought once or twice about trying to publish my poetry. Then I read comments to other's poetry and I become wary. Wondering, "will it be good enough?" Then I think, "good enough for whom?" Then I realize why I started writing poetry to begin with. For me. I am happy when someone likes my writings, and I am a little miffed when someone does not. That is why I don't think I could ever submit any of my writings to something like this. I'm not sure I would be appreciative of the critiques. (I am chuckling to myself as I write this, knowing how true it is). I did enjoy your poem, although I am partial to the "rhymie" (spelling) kind. I like the flow of a good rhyme. Anyway, I commend you for having the courage to submit your art. Good luck to you in the future.
MN USA - Wed Sep 2 17:48:08 1998
Hello, Barbara. I enjoyed reading your poem. I especially like the line from the first stanza, "may you walk in my footsteps/until they disappear..." What beautiful imagery to express death. Stanza 2 seems too harsh; I don't understand what "the blinding light" is. In the last stanza, I interpreted "threshold" as referring to the "golden orb" but the threshold imagery is not appropriate for an orb.
Kathryn Tarbell
USA - Fri Aug 14 22:04:15 1998
I appreciated your effort to leave your daughter a bit of wisdom. I think you did a nice job. My only comment would be that, after warning her about some less desireable individuals, instead of advising her to merge their thoughts with hers, you might have had her filter them first. Something like, " Let their words seep into you and, filtered, join with your ideas. Good luck to you. Keep writing.
Rick Scarberry
USA - Sat Aug 1 04:47:54 1998
dear barbara, i decided to make a comment about a poem on the list. i chose "on the threshold," because the title caught attention that made me inquire upon the subject. beforehand, i never read the poem fully, it seemed too long for me. length is fine in a poem, i chose not to read the poem. anyway, i liked the title. maybe next time i will read the poem.
Stephen Michael Kirtley
MWC, Okla USA - Sun Jul 5 16:34:51 1998
At first glanse of your poem, it had know meaning to me untill read your quistions for the poem. I could see the hole story of a mother see there child grown and starting on there own path in life.

My feelings on poetry is. If your going write it, write it. Don't hold your self to what others say poetry is. Poetry is the emotion of the soul it is the voice of the soul. Keep that in mind and make your own poetry.
IA USA - Sun May 31 18:02:21 1998

this is an honest response from a bewildered would be poet half a world away. If this is the recognised standard of good work I might as well give up now. Many of us when feeling over emotional or inspired pour our thoughts onto paper, some of this with real imagery and real power of words or evocation gets saves when the rest goes in the bin. some of the saved work gets critically polished ordered without losing anything and polished and polished as a final. Some of the final works are good enough to show other people. All I see here with my blinded eyes and cotton wool brain is papers resurrected from the bin and divided up into various lines to look like poetry and a variety of people dissecting that which requires dissecting and reading meanings into everything right or wrong. I am obviously missing some vast point about the technical aspects of beauty and vision. Please tear my poetry to bits. I have sent some to Albany. We live on different planets!
Terry Howe
norway - Sun May 31 08:43:55 1998
Barbara: I like this poem very much.

I have a couple of thoughts: Line 1 & 2 of Stanza 1. How’s about

“When you are twenty-one / (and I am fifty-five) “

= = = = = =

In lines 4, 5, & 6, Stanza 1, how’s about

“until you can no longer see them / and you walk a path of your own making / into your future.” (Implying the onset of the child’s autonomy).

= = = = = =

In line 1, Stanza 4, it seems to me the logical form would be

“But do not ignore the strains . . . etc.” I’m brought up short by the “Nor should you . . . “. although, as the poet, you have a right to use “nor” any old way you choose.

= = = = = =

I simply love Stanza 3. It’s the most polished piece of your piece.

Many thanks for sharing this. It strikes a chord with me. Pacem. Maggie Morley
Maggie Morley
Kensington, CA USA - Wed May 27 19:09:17 1998
When reading this I wanted to know why your "footsteps" will "disappear". If literally, then say why. If figuratively, then the emphasis changes to turning 21, which is a milestone not unlike the next millenium. Either way, it's a different poem, but right now it's a bit confusing. One way or another, I think the connection needs to be more emphatic. And then it becomes more confusing when you bring up the coming of age piece about no longer needing your "shelter". But I like the wisdom of your advise and the guidance in your voice.
will jens
jersey city, ny USA - Tue May 26 11:27:58 1998
Barbara, Nice poem. As to your question, yes it is clear that the daughter will have to walk "alone" without the speaker's help, advice. I like the image of the sponge, it is effective. It reminds me some lines from " Ulysses" by Tennyson. " I am a part of all that I have met;/ Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough/ Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades/ for ever and forever when I move.../
She'll have to follow untrodden paths and all experiences both positive and negative will make her grow. The fact she has opportunity to walk in her mother's footsteps will help the addressee better discern what is positive and worth being absorbed as a part of herself.
Paula Grenside
Oderzo, Italy - Sat May 23 23:34:59 1998
As to the question about the untrodden path, yes it is understood that the person you are speaking to will no longer have you around to lead the way. In this respect I would change the wording just a little-- instead of her following an untrodden path, maybe you should say she would forge a new path, or something along that way... Nice poem, On the sponge-- good ! maybe add something about squeezing out (rejecting) some of the things that people will try to "sell" to her, which is also a part of growing up. Knowing which ideas blend with "you" and so you absorb them-- others you should let go by the wayside, they are not for you.
Sheila Ferguson
Winter Haven, Fl USA - Sat May 23 18:38:34 1998