Selections from Sonnets by Degree


We only cut a circle by degree,
A compass cannot draw the crucial part,
And like the words of love, geometry
Implies a place more perfect than our art.
What figures can I draw, what measures get
Concessions on your part? A hole is here.
Inside the darkness weighs. I can't forget,
And yet you stay away, it's been a year.
But then I get a Christmas card your wife
Has signed for you, and send one back to say
Some silly thing to let you know my life
Runs on. Just once a year we dare to play
As if no words were said beyond degree,
As if the past need no apology.


We lose at love but learn our destiny.
Eventually the lover dies or leaves—
By gross or gram we lose our property
And shrink to bone, attacked by worms and thieves.
But I was full of life and sought you out
Not at the end of time, but in my prime.
I did not know an end, I did not doubt
From innocence, my innocence a crime.
I guessed the odds were great, and heard about
The risks that lovers had to take, but still,
It seemed to me that you, without a doubt,
Would match my youth, reflect my novice will,
To answer "yes," and turn for my embrace,
Drawn close by mutual, magnetic grace.

Contact Robert Klein Engler by email to be sent the full sonnet sequence of fifteen poems


Propelled by fatal force and gravity
I search the sequence of my days and ask
Myself what price I'd pay for victory,
What treasure would accomplish such a task.
Sometimes I read, sometimes I drink alone,
And weigh the gold and poems I'd gladly use
To get you here. And once I let the phone
Keep ringing off the hook, but I refuse
To answer if for fear it might be you.
What would I say, what liquor could prevail
To prove I love the way I love and do
No less than that. I've tried, to no avail,
To hold the mask of actor on your stage,
And turn to play my craft upon this page.


Each life is given orbit by degree,
Some high, some low, some fast or slowly go.
What motive has bright heav'n we disagree,
Each like a moon turned to its earth below.
We only cut a circle by degree,
To estimate the best we can a curve.
We lose at love but learn our destiny
By instruments that mock what they observe.
A distance from the point of truth we spin,
Propelled by fatal force and gravity,
Between the light of grace and surd of sin
To fall and yet be held in circuitry,
A satellite between the sun and earth,
We go by grace, assured our life has worth.

by Robert Klein Engler

Robert Klein Engler lives in Chicago and New Orleans. Born on the southwest side of Chicago, he taught many years at the City Colleges of Chicago. After resolving a Chicago Commission on Human Relations complaint against them, which he wrote about in his book A WINTER OF WORDS, he went on to become an adjunct professor at Roosevelt University. Robert holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana and the University of Chicago Divinity School. He has received 2 Illinois Arts Council awards for his poetry.

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