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The Truth of Woman -- Sir Walter Scott

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #415) The Truth of Woman
 Woman's faith, and woman's trust -
 Write the characters in the dust;
 Stamp them on the running stream,
 Print them on the moon's pale beam,
 And each evanescent letter
 Shall be clearer, firmer, better,
 And more permanent, I ween,
 Than the thing those letters mean.

 I have strain'd the spider's thread
 'Gainst the promise of a maid;
 I have weigh'd a grain of sand
 'Gainst her plight of heart and hand;
 I told my true love of the token,
 How her faith proved light, and her word was broken:
 Again her word and truth she plight,
 And I believed them again ere night.
-- Sir Walter Scott
[from "The Betrothed" - 1825]

Scott has a well deserved reputation for writing novels and poems full of
romance, humor and swashbuckling action.  This is one of the few poems (and I've
read them all) in which I've seen him write in such a bitter vein.

Love is blind, they say (who ~are~ "they", by the way?). Scott sounds more like
Auden in one of his blacker moods here (and Auden typically sounds like a
cuckold whining for sympathy - though it is a beautiful whine, I must say).

Scott is, by the way, my favorite author ~and~ poet - even P.G.Wodehouse would
be hard pressed to match his talent for gentle humour and his deft phrasing.
Try reading Scott's note on the "Stirrup Cup" in "Waverly" for an idea of what I


Epitaph on a pessimist -- Thomas Hardy

Guest poem submitted by Smitha Rao:
(Poem #414) Epitaph on a pessimist
 I'm Smith of Stoke aged sixty odd
 I've lived without a dame all my life
 And wish to God
 My dad had done the same.
-- Thomas Hardy
Just loved this piece of terse verse. It very deftly manages to portray an
incurable die-hard pessimist. (Also because I'm in love with Hardy).

        -- Smitha Rao

Admired Miranda! -- William Shakespeare

Guest poem submitted by Kashyap Deorah:
(Poem #413) Admired Miranda!
 Admired Miranda!
 Indeed the top of admiration! worth
 What's dearest to the world! Full many a lady
 I have eyed with best regard and many a time
 The harmony of their tongues hath into bondage
 Brought my too diligent ear: for several virtues
 Have I liked several women; never any
 With so fun soul, but some defect in her
 Did quarrel with the noblest grace she owed
 And put it to the foil: but you, O you,
 So perfect and so peerless, are created
 Of every creature's best!
-- William Shakespeare
I was going through the minstrels archive sometime back and saw a whole lot of
Tempest lying there (forgive the pun). Just remembered that there were some
lines that were missing from the collection. As in, when someone mentions The
Tempest to me, those lines just strike me each time. Here they are. I mean, if
ever some lover tried to flatter his beloved with words, he would be well
advised to take a peep at these lines first.


There is a motionless tree -- Octavio Paz

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #412) There is a motionless tree
There is a motionless tree
there is another that moves forward
                a river of trees
pounds at my chest
                The green swell
of good fortune

You are dressed in red
                you are
the seal of the burning year
carnal firebrand
                star of fruit
I eat the sun in you

                The hour rests
on a chasm of clarities

The birds are a handful of shadows
their beaks build the night
their wings sustain the day

Rooted at the light's peak
between stability and vertigo
                you are
        the diaphanous balance.
-- Octavio Paz
Can't really do analysis but:

What I really love about Paz is the breathless dizziness of his writing - the
way images seem to break from the poem like sudden birds of feeling from lines
tangled like branches, and the way a single line can draw you in, involve you
leave you with this terrible longing to hold on to something you never quite
had. I picked this particular poem 'cos I think it's a good example, but really,
there's so much in Paz that is this brilliant.

Aseem Kaul.

The Tables Turned -- William Wordsworth

(Poem #411) The Tables Turned
  Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
  Or surely you'll grow double:
  Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
  Why all this toil and trouble?

  The sun above the mountain's head,
  A freshening lustre mellow
  Through all the long green fields has spread,
  His first sweet evening yellow.

  Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
  Come, hear the woodland linnet,
  How sweet his music! on my life,
  There's more of wisdom in it.

  And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
  He, too, is no mean preacher:
  Come forth into the light of things,
  Let Nature be your teacher.

  She has a world of ready wealth,
  Our minds and hearts to bless--
  Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
  Truth breathed by cheerfulness.

  One impulse from a vernal wood
  May teach you more of man,
  Of moral evil and of good,
  Than all the sages can.

  Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
  Our meddling intellect
  Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
  We murder to dissect.

  Enough of Science and of Art;
  Close up those barren leaves;
  Come forth, and bring with you a heart
  That watches and receives.
-- William Wordsworth
Yes, another one of these. There is a discernible attitude, among some poets,
that book learning (and science in particular) is somehow 'unnatural' and
'unpoetic', and that by its pursuit the human race is abandoning its
collective spirituality, so to speak, and moving away from nature.

This has spawned a whole brood of fallacies and misrepresentations, from
Rousseau's unfoundedly praised 'noble savage' to Whitman's unjustly reviled
'learned astronomer'.[1]

But enough of the rant - what about the poem? Well, even considered apart
from its viewpoint, it's not that great a poem. The tone is sententious, the
form correct but dull. And if he was trying to present nature as infinitely
more attractive than books - well, let's just say I've seen it done better.
In fact, the only reason I'm running this at all is that my irritation at
the attitude displayed occasionally calls for an outlet, and the poem made a
good excuse :)

(Though in Wordsworth's defence the friend he addressed the poem to
apparently had an equally one-sided attachment to books - see Notes.)

[1] imho, the only place this *has* been done well is in Oscar Wilde's "The
Nightingale and the Rose"


  In the "Advertisement" to the volume, Wordsworth wrote: "The lines
  entitled Expostulation and Reply and those which follow [The Tables
  Turned], arose out of conversation with a friend who was somewhat
  unreasonably attached to modern books of moral philosophy." The friend was
  probably William Hazlitt who visited Coleridge and Wordsworth in Somerset
  in the spring of 1798. See Hazlitt's essay "My First Acquaintance with
    -- from


For Whitman's poem, and a fine rant by Thomas on the same topic, see poem #54
For a biography of Wordsworth (and a far nicer poem of his), see poem #63

- martin

The Negro Speaks of Rivers -- Langston Hughes

(Poem #410) The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
        of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went
        down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy bosom turn
        all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
-- Langston Hughes
A theme which anywhere else would have sounded pretentious (even a touch racist,
in the title) is here imbued with a quiet dignity... I especially like the
wonderful 'richness' of its tone.



 Hughes, (James Mercer) Langston

        b. Feb. 1, 1902, Joplin, Mo., U.S.
        d. May 22, 1967, New York City

Black poet and writer who became, through numerous translations, one of the
foremost interpreters to the world of the black experience in the United States.
Hughes's parents separated soon after his birth, and young Hughes was raised by
his mother and grandmother. After his grandmother's death, he and his mother
moved to half a dozen cities before reaching Cleveland, where they settled. His
poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," written the summer after his graduation from
high school in Cleveland, was published in  Crisis (1921) and brought him
considerable attention.

After attending Columbia University (1921-22), he explored Harlem, forming a
permanent attachment to what he called the "great dark city." He worked as a
steward on a freighter bound for Africa. Back from seafaring and sojourning in
Europe, he won an Opportunity magazine poetry prize in 1925. He received the
Witter Bynner Undergraduate Poetry Award in 1926.

While working as a busboy in a hotel in Washington, D.C., Hughes put three of
his own poems beside the plate of Vachel Lindsay in the dining room. The next
day, newspapers around the country reported that  Lindsay had discovered a Negro
busboy poet. A scholarship to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania followed, and
before Hughes received his degree in 1929, his first two books had been

The Weary Blues (1926) was warmly received. Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927) was
criticized harshly for its title and for its frankness, but Hughes himself felt
it represented a step forward. A few months after graduation Not Without
Laughter (1930), his first prose work, had a cordial reception. In the '30s his
poetry became preoccupied with political militancy; he travelled widely in the
Soviet Union, Haiti, and Japan and served as a newspaper correspondent (1937) in
the Spanish Civil War. He published a collection of short stories, The Ways of
White Folks (1934), and The Big Sea (1940), his autobiography up to the age of

Hughes wrote A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956), and the
anthologies The Poetry of the Negro (1949) and The Book of Negro Folklore (1958;
with Arna Bontemps). He also wrote numerous works for the stage, including the
lyrics for Street Scene, an opera with music by Kurt Weill. A posthumous book of
poems, The Panther and the Lash (1967), reflected the black anger and militancy
of the 1960s. Hughes translated the poetry of Federico García Lorca and Gabriela
Mistral. He was also widely known for his comic character Jesse B. Semple,
familiarly called Simple, who appeared in Hughes's columns in the Chicago
Defender and the New York Post and later in book form and on the stage. The
Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, ed. by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel,
appeared in 1994.

        -- EB


There's an essay on Langston Hughes and the 'Harlem Renaissance' at the
Smithsonian, [broken link]

[On Rivers]

The Nile, the Amazon, the Ganges, the Mississippi, the Congo, the Yangtze, the
Amur, the Don, the Volga, the Tiber, the Tigris and the Euphrates... rivers have
long been the source from which our civilization springs. And they're celebrated
in our culture as well, from Horatius at the Bridge to Steamboat Willie. I leave
you with this quick quiz - identify the poems from which these river quotes are

1. 'At sixteen you departed,
    You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
    And you have been gone five months.'
2. 'Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song!' (two possible answers!)
3. 'Oh, Tiber! Father Tiber!
        To whom the Romans pray,
    A Roman's life, a Roman's arms,
        Take thou in charge this day!'
4. 'From the Gate of Kings the North Wind rides, and past the roaring falls;
    And clear and cold about the tower its loud horn calls.'
5. 'I chatter, chatter, as I flow
        To join the brimming river,
    For men may come and men may go,
        But I go on for ever.. '

Answers the next time I run a river poem (i.e, tomorrow, if I can find one).

Poeta Fit, Non Nascitur -- Lewis Carroll

(Poem #409) Poeta Fit, Non Nascitur
  "How shall I be a poet?
  How shall I write in rhyme?
  You told me once 'the very wish
  Partook of the sublime.'
  The tell me how! Don't put me off
  With your 'another time'!"

  The old man smiled to see him,
  To hear his sudden sally;
  He liked the lad to speak his mind
  And thought "There's no hum-drum in him,
  Nor any shilly-shally."

  "And would you be a poet
  Before you've been to school?
  Ah, well! I hardly thought you
  So absolute a fool.
  First learn to be spasmodic --
  A very simple rule.

  "For first you write a sentence,
  And then you chop it small;
  Then mix the bits, and sort them out
  Just as they chance to fall:
  The order of the phrases makes
  No difference at all.

  'Then, if you'd be impressive,
  Remember what I say,
  That abstract qualities begin
  With capitals alway:
  The True, the Good, the Beautiful --
  Those are the things that pay!

  "Next, when we are describing
  A shape, or sound, or tint;
  Don't state the matter plainly,
  But put it in a hint;
  And learn to look at all things
  With a sort of mental squint."

  "For instance, if I wished, Sir,
  Of mutton-pies to tell,
  Should I say 'dreams of fleecy flocks
  Pent in a wheaten cell'?"
  "Why, yes," the old man said: "that phrase
  Would answer very well.

  "Then fourthly, there are epithets
  That suit with any word --
  As well as Harvey's Reading Sauce
  With fish, or flesh, or bird --
  Of these, 'wild,' 'lonely,' 'weary,' 'strange,'
  Are much to be preferred."

  "And will it do, O will it do
  To take them in a lump --
  As 'the wild man went his weary way
  To a strange and lonely pump'?"
  "Nay, nay! You must not hastily
  To such conclusions jump.

  "Such epithets, like pepper,
  Give zest to what you write;
  And, if you strew them sparely,
  They whet the appetite:
  But if you lay them on too thick,
  You spoil the matter quite!

  "Last, as to the arrangement:
  Your reader, you should show him,
  Must take what information he
  Can get, and look for no im
  mature disclosure of the drift
  And purpose of your poem.

  "Therefore to test his patience --
  How much he can endure --
  Mention no places, names, or dates,
  And evermore be sure
  Throughout the poem to be found
  Consistently obscure.

  "First fix upon the limit
  To which it shall extend:
  Then fill it up with 'Padding'
  (Beg some of any friend)
  You place towards the end."

  "And what is a Sensation,
  Grandfather, tell me, pray?
  I think I never heard the word
  So used before to-day:
  Be kind enough to mention one
  'Exempli gratiâ'"

  And the old man, looking sadly
  Across the garden-lawn,
  Where here and there a dew-drop
  Yet glittered in the dawn,
  Said "Go to the Adelphi,
  And see the 'Colleen Bawn.'

  "The word is due to Boucicault --
  The theory is his,
  Where Life becomes a Spasm,
  And History a Whiz:
  If that is not Sensation,
  I don't know what it is,

  "Now try your hand, ere Fancy
  Have lost its present glow --"
  "And then," his grandson added,
  "We'll publish it, you know:
  Green cloth -- gold-lettered at the back --
  In duodecimo!"

  Then proudly smiled that old man
  To see the eager lad
  Rush madly for his pen and ink
  And for his blotting-pad --
  But, when he thought of *publishing*,
  His face grew stern and sad.
-- Lewis Carroll
The popularity of the Alice poems and The Hunting of the Snark has tended to
shadow the rest of Carroll's poetic output - indeed, apart from some
acrostics and puzzles in verse, this is the first other example I've seen.
And while it may lack the air of sheer inspired nonsense that characterises
the aforementioned works, it is in all other respects vintage Carroll - note
in particular the echoes of 'Father William' and 'The Walrus and the

Somewhat unusual (at least, I don't recall noticing it in his other work) is
the somewhat Gilbertish use of tricks with the rhyming words - the split of
'immature', the use of Latin, the straining of words like
'enthusiastically'. Also somewhat unusual was the rather weak ending -
superficially similar to that of Walrus or 'Hunting of the Snark', but
packing far less of a punch. Still, that doesn't detract much from the poem
as a whole, which was for the most part quite wickedly accurate.


 The title means "A poet is made, not born" (Latin).

 spasmodic: tending towards emotional fits.

 exempli gratia: "An example, if you please" (Latin). [whence 'e.g.' - m.]

 The Adelphi is a London theatre; and The Coleen Bawn; or the Brides of
 Garryowen (1860) is a play by Boucicault, i.e., Dionysius Lardner

 duodecimo: twelvemo, that is, a book made up of twelve-page gatherings cut
 from single sheets.

        -- Representative Poetry Online


We've run a few Carroll poems in the past - see the archive for the complete

A biography can be found at poem #265

And for a poem similar in theme if not in execution, see Bierce's 'Rimer',
poem #320

- martin

Caliban at Sunset -- P G Wodehouse

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:

Was re-reading "Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit" and ran across this poem by Percy
Gorringe (the "bloke with side whiskers" who loves Florence Craye).  He is
talking with Bertie at Brinkley Manor (Aunt Dahlia's place) and they are
watching a particularly fruity sunset, which Bertie describes as "being aflame
with glorious technicolour"  ....
(Poem #408) Caliban at Sunset
 I stood with a man
 Watching the sun go down.
 The air was full of murmurous summer scents
 And a brave breeze sang like a bugle
 From a sky that smouldered in the west,
 A sky of crimson, amethyst, gold and sepia
 And blue as blue were the eyes of Helen
 When she sat
 Gazing from some high tower in Ilium
 Upon the Grecian tents darkling below.
 And he,
 This man who stood beside me,
 Gaped like some dull, half-witted animal
 And said,
 "I say,
 Doesn't that sunset remind you
 Of a slice
 Of underdone roast beef?"
-- P G Wodehouse
What a lovely anticlimax - Wodehouse does it really well, using just the sort of
stuff a mediocre poet would write, with all the typical conceits (florid
"poetic" language, classical allusions, attempts to describe a sunset ...) and
then bringing in the bit about the sky being like "underdone roast beef", which
is in really good, simple English, unlike the rest of the poem.

Kind of reminds me of Wordsworth's poem "Peter Bell" - something about a guy who
sees only "a flower" where others see a beautiful blue primrose.  I've often
seen "Peter Bell" contrasted with "Daffodils", btw.


Solomon and the Witch -- William Butler Yeats

 Guest poem submitted by Cristina Gazzieri:
(Poem #407) Solomon and the Witch
 And thus declared the Arab lady:
 "Last night where under the wild moon
 On grassy mattress I had lain me,
        Within my arms great Solomon,
 I suddenly cried out in a strange tongue
 Not his, not mine."
                        And he that knew
 All sounds by bird or angel sung
 Answered: "A crested cockerel crew
 Upon a blossoming apple bough
 Three hundred years before the Fall,
 And never crew again till now,
 And would not now but that he thought,
 Chance being at one with Choice at last,
 All that the brigand apple brought
 And this foul world were dead at last.
 He that crowed out eternity
 Thought to have crowed it in again.
 A lover with a spider's eye
 Will found out some appropriate pain,
 Aye, though all passion's in the glance,
 For every nerve: lover tests lover
 With cruelties of Choice and Chance;
 And when at last the murder's over
 Maybe the bride-bed brings despair,
 For each an imagined image brings
 And finds a real image there;
 Yet the world ends when these two things,
 Though several, are a single light,
 When oil and wick are burned in one;
 Therefore a blessed moon last night
 Gave Sheba to her Solomon."
 "Yet the world stays":
                        "If that be so,
 Your cockerel found us in the wrong
 Although it thought it worth a crow.
 Maybe an image is too strong
 Or maybe is not strong enough"

 "The night has fallen; not a sound
 In the forbidden sacred grove,
 Unless a petal hit the ground,
 Nor any human sight within it
 But the crushed grass where we have lain;
 And the moon is wilder every minute.
 Oh, Solomon! Let us try again."
-- William Butler Yeats
Love poetry is an extremely insidious genre. So many great love poems have been
written that it is difficult to equal Shakespeare or Petrarch in elegance,
refinement and conceit, while, on the contrary, the risk of writing
oversentimental, banal or cloying verses is always present . For these reasons,
Reiner Maria Rilke warned a young poet who had addressed him for advice not to
write love poems.

For these reasons, and for the crisis that love, as well as other traditional
values underwent, great poets in the first half of our century preferred to
exercise their skill on other subjects. Yet, even in the tormented years between
the two wars there was a great poet who felt strong enough to write about love,
achieving results of incredible distinction, of grace and taste and, at the same
time, modern in the use of the verse and images. "Solomon and the Witch", for
example can still appeal to the ear of even the most demanding reader, for the
number of poetic elements and the measure and balance with which they are used
in the poem, as well as for the theme which is inevitably dear to all men of the
twentieth century.

One of the elements of great appeal of the poem lies in the choice of the
protagonists; they are Solomon and the queen of Sheba. These two very great
people, representative of two ancient and influential civilisations, who looked
for each other and met and paid tribute one to the greatness of the other,
inevitably evoke the almost mythical respect that history and literature have
had for them, so it is much the more surprising to read that the "Arab lady",
lying within the arms of "great Solomon" should, unexpectedly and abruptly feel
that she does not belong to him, he does not belong to her, and that she should
feel the urge to cry, "in a strange tongue", in words alien to the situation and
her previous mood, "not his, not mine". Before the sixth verse, Yeats has
secured the interest of the modern reader who knows the way in which one can
feel estranged from the person he loves and is also charmed by the idea that
this feeling might be older than he thought, and that not even "great Solomon"
and the queen of Sheba were shielded against it.

Another successful device of the poem is to be found in the dialogic structure
that allows the two protagonists to speak their language, to reveal their
personality and temper. Solomon's speech, which covers the central part of the
poem, is full of biblical reminiscences (The Fall, The apple tree...), of rich
alliterations (a crested cockerel crew; the bride-bed brings despair;.....), of
sharp puns (each an imagined image brings, and finds a real image there.....),
of metaphors (a lover with a spider's eye; when oil and wick are burned in one).
Solomon is the great ruler with a proverbial wisdom and he can make a cynical
analysis of the nature of love. Through the metaphor of the spider he suggests
that seduction and courtship are a tarantula-like process in which each lover
slowly demolishes the personality of the other until an "imagined image" is
finally superimposed. Yet, after the moment of courtship and seduction, when the
superimposed image fades and lovers have to confront themselves with the real
image of their partners "the bride-bed brings despair". "Choice" proves an
illusion and "Chance" seems to mean blind, bleak destiny. It is not possible to
read these lines without linking them to Sheba's cry: "Not his, not mine". The
consideration on the impossibility of a real and enduring communion between two
lovers might seem banal, yet, the banality of the consideration is made
acceptable and does not seem crass thanks to the powerful, resounding language
of Solomon, who, in spite of his awareness of the misery of human love cannot
but end his speech on a tender note: "Therefore a blessed moon last night gave
Sheba to her Solomon".

Comparing Solomon's voice with Sheba's words, Sheba's language is simpler. She
never uses images or references to holy texts and her tone is much more
colloquial and less resonant. She talks the language a lover can attribute to
his woman, not learned, not cultivated, but strongly evocative. All the quality
of Sheba's speech is in the carefully connoted lexical choice, the queen
mentions the "wild moon", "the grassy mattress", and especially in the final
dialogic sequence her language is deliberately addressed only to lyricism. Her
simple words describe a magic natural setting, a "forbidden sacred grove" a
place of the soul which the queen has preserved silent and holy. Sheba concludes
the poem with a sentence of startling freshness and spontaneity especially if
compared with the cynical words of the king: "Oh, Solomon! Let us try again."

The meter of the poem and the rhyme pattern exploit a device that has found
place in poetic tradition since Romanticism. The poem is written on a basically
tetrametric scheme with slight but frequent variations; and the rhyme, though
often present in thepoem, does not follow any regular pattern. The effect when
reading the poem is one of a slightly evasive rhythm, of a project and a
regularity which cannot fully satisfy the ear, close to perfection, but not
really so, like the love of Sheba and Solomon .

What remains after going over the poem several times is not only the pleasure of
the texture of lines and references but also the suggestion of the bewitching
power of love, so strongly denied and yet not eluded by Solomon, so vividly
evoked by Sheba.


Song -- Anna Wickham

Guest poem submitted by Mallika Chellappa:
(Poem #406) Song
I will pluck from my tree a cherry-blossom wand,
And carry it in my merciless hand,
So I will drive you, so bewitch your eyes,
With a beautiful thing that can never grow wise.

Light are the petals that fall from the bough,
And lighter the love that I offer you now;
In a spring day shall the tale be told
Of the beautiful things that will never grow old.

The blossoms shall fall in the night wind,
And I will leave you so, to be kind:
Eternal in beauty, are short-lived flowers,
Eternal in beauty, these exquisite hours.

I will pluck from my tree a cherry-blossom wand,
And carry it in my merciless hand,
So I will drive you, so bewitch your eyes,
With a beautiful thing that shall never grow wise.
-- Anna Wickham
This was a poem in my father's "Anthology of Modern Verse" which I was
introduced to before age ten. The poems in that volume are all gems, and this is
no exception.

This poem tells of the tyranny of beauty (at least to me) and since I read it at
the same time as "The Glove and the Lions", and while learning proverbs ('None
but the Brave deserve the Fair'), I have an enduring belief that beauty causes
us to do illogical things.



Leigh Hunt's "The Glove and the Lions" is archived at poem #275 The
reader comments to that poem include a transcription of the Grateful Dead's
"Terrapin Station", which retells the same story from a slightly different

Altarwise by Owl-Light (Stanzas I - IV) -- Dylan Thomas

(Poem #405) Altarwise by Owl-Light (Stanzas I - IV)
  Altarwise by owl-light in the half-way house
  The gentleman lay graveward with his furies;
  Abaddon in the hangnail cracked from Adam,
  And, from his fork, a dog among the fairies,
  The atlas-eater with a jaw for news,
  Bit out the mandrake with to-morrows scream.
  Then, penny-eyed, that gentlemen of wounds,
  Old cock from nowheres and the heaven's egg,
  With bones unbuttoned to the half-way winds,
  Hatched from the windy salvage on one leg,
  Scraped at my cradle in a walking word
  That night of time under the Christward shelter:
  I am the long world's gentlemen, he said,
  And share my bed with Capricorn and Cancer.

  Death is all metaphors, shape in one history;
  The child that sucketh long is shooting up,
  The planet-ducted pelican of circles
  Weans on an artery the genders strip;
  Child of the short spark in a shapeless country
  Soon sets alight a long stick from the cradle;
  The horizontal cross-bones of Abaddon,
  You by the cavern over the black stairs,
  Rung bone and blade, the verticals of Adam,
  And, manned by midnight, Jacob to the stars.
  Hairs of your head, then said the hollow agent,
  Are but the roots of nettles and feathers
  Over the groundowrks thrusting through a pavement
  And hemlock-headed in the wood of weathers.

  First there was the lamb on knocking knees
  And three dead seasons on a climbing grave
  That Adam's wether in the flock of horns,
  Butt of the tree-tailed worm that mounted Eve,
  Horned down with skullfoot and the skull of toes
  On thunderous pavements in the garden of time;
  Rip of the vaults, I took my marrow-ladle
  Out of the wrinkled undertaker's van,
  And, Rip Van Winkle from a timeless cradle,
  Dipped me breast-deep in the descending bone;
  The black ram, shuffling of the year, old winter,
  Alone alive among his mutton fold,
  We rung our weathering changes on the ladder,
  Said the antipodes, and twice spring chimed.

  What is the metre of the dictionary?
  The size of genesis? the short spark's gender?
  Shade without shape? the shape of the Pharaohs echo?
  (My shape of age nagging the wounded whisper.)
  Which sixth of wind blew out the burning gentry?
  (Questions are hunchbacks to the poker marrow.)
  What of a bamboo man amomg your acres?
  Corset the boneyards for a crooked boy?
  Button your bodice on a hump of splinters,
  My camel's eyes will needle through the shroud.
  Loves reflection of the mushroom features,
  Still snapped by night in the bread-sided field,
  Once close-up smiling in the wall of pictures,
  Arc-lamped thrown back upon the cutting flood.
-- Dylan Thomas
Do I like this poem? Definitely. Do I understand it? Most certainly not - I
have not the slightest idea what Thomas was trying to say here, but he's
said it extremely well. The sheer *density* of it, the kaleidoscopic
tapestry of images, the cascade of words and syllables, is stunning. To call
it amphigouri would perhaps be to do Thomas an injustice (see the Note
below), but it is certainly enjoyable as such - every line magnificently
vibrant, and none the less diminished for the lack of an immediately
apparent whole.


This poem...

 "represents an important stage in the poet's development, and it has been
 the subject of literary controversy ever since its publication in Twenty
 Five poems. The starting point of the controversy was Edith Sitwells review
 of the book and the subsequent correspondence in the Sunday Times
 (September 1936). In the review, which is warmly eulogistic, Edith Sitwell
 speaks of  'Altarwise by owl-light' as 'nothing short of magnificent in
 spite of the difficulty". This last phrase was seized upon by others and
 interpreted as an allegation of obscurity, in the ordinary sense of the
 word. Earlier in the same review, however, Edith Sitwell had made clear
 what she meant by 'difficulty' : it was, she wrote, 'largely the result of
 intense concentration of each phase, packed with meaning, of the fusion
 (not confusion) of two profound thoughts'.

     Dylan Thomas: The Poems edited and introduced by Daniel Jones J M Dent
     Everyman Classics 1985 pg 262

The poem is, incidentally, in the form of a sequence of sonnets.


There've been a lot of Thomas's poems on Minstrels - see the poet index
[broken link]

For a biography, see poem #14

For an unabashed example of amphigouri, see Swinburne's lovely self-parody,
Nephelidia: poem #99

And finally the aptly titled No comment: . Recommended :)

-- martin

Daddy -- Sylvia Plath

I was tempted to write "404: Poem Not Found", but I restrained myself...
(Poem #404) Daddy
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time---
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one grey toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Tarot pack and my Tarot pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of *you*,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You---

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two---
The vampire who said he was you
and drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat, black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always *knew* it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
-- Sylvia Plath
Reams have been written about Sylvia Plath and her relationship with Ted Hughes;
here's the final paragraph of an interesting essay I found on the web:

"By analyzing "Daddy" in terms of the vampire metaphor we see how the poem
attacks the speaker's husband on a symbolic level while condemning her father on
a literal level.  Although Heather Cam points out that "Otto Plath and Ted
Hughes . . . are no more a Nazi Daddy nor `a man in black with a Meinkampf look'
than Plath is a gipsy Tarot mistress who feels herself to be Jewish" (431), the
vampire metaphor corresponds exactly with the poet's situation at the time she
wrote the poem.  While she had once loved her husband, she was suddenly forced
to realize that he was capable of treating her horribly.  In writing "Daddy" she
seems to have realized the degree to which her feelings of abandonment following
her father's death, which was out of Otto Plath's control, set up the
devastation she felt following Hughes' departure, which was his conscious
action.  It is only natural that she would find an image which would link the
two men but condemn only Hughes for his abandonment of his family.  Seeing
Hughes as a monster, Plath wrote "Daddy" in an attempt to overcome her feelings
for him while exorcizing the memory of her father's equally painful though
unintentional abandonment.  Despite the mixing of father and husband in the
antagonist of "Daddy" it is  obvious which man Sylvia Plath is addressing with
the poem's last line, written during the breakup of her
marriage and three months before her suicide: "Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm
through" (80). "

        -- from

Reading Plath's poetry is always a gut-wrenching experience [1], but it's
rewarding, too, in its own way. 'Graphically macabre, hallucinatory in their
imagery, but full of ironic wit, technical brilliance, and tremendous emotional
power'[3], 'poetry of this order is a murderous art'[4].

Today's offering is all the above and more. As a poem it's astonishingly vivid
and powerful: the single, insistent rhyme, the almost hysterical repetitions of
phrase, the multiple layers of meaning and metaphor, and above all, the passion
driving each and every word - all of these combine to make it an emotional


[1] which is possibly why she hasn't featured on this list as extensively as
some 'lighter' [2] poets.
[2] word used in both senses.
[3] The Academy of American Poets,
[4] I don't remember who said this, but it was somebody famous.


There's a Plath bio accompanying 'Winter Landscape, with Rocks', at
poem #53

For sheer power, there are few poems that can compare with 'Ariel' (which,
despite my normal indifference to Plath, is one of my favourite poems ever),
at poem #129 (though one of our readers wrote in to say that it 'blurred
the line between poetry and madness' - which may be true, but which doesn't
detract from the experience in any way)

A milder poem than either of the above is 'Child', at poem #366

A Lame Beggar -- John Donne

(Poem #403) A Lame Beggar
 I am unable, yonder beggar cries,
 To stand, or move; if he say true, he lies.
-- John Donne
A humorous, if unsympathetic couplet - the surface meaning is, of course, a
play on 'lies', but I feel the poem is, in a deeper sense, an attack on
those who blithely disregard logic in their quest for a good emotional
appeal. To say nothing of those who respond uncritically to such appeals. In
other words, a poem wholly in line with my views on the subject <g>.

The other reason I like it is something I've had occasion to mention before
- you or I might have noticed the opportunity for a pun, and even commented
on the incongruity, but only a poet would have thought to immortalised it in
verse[1]. And quite apart[2] from its poetic merits, such 'incidental' verse
is a highly attractive art form - a combination of perceptiveness and
craftsmanship that highlights the sheer pleasure of writing. No, this is
hardly one of Donne's masterpieces, but it is nonetheless a poem well worth

[1] duh
[2] well, not *quite* apart, but 'poetry' is not the primary standard I
judge it on


Here's a biography of Donne, and a bit on the metaphysical poets as a bonus:
poem #330

I considered digging up a list of other such incidental poems on Minstrels,
but there are a lot of them and I'm tired :) And I won't include a list of
other metaphysical poems, since I don't think this one quite qualifies.

-- martin

Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man -- Ogden Nash

(Poem #402) Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man
It is common knowledge to every schoolboy and even every Bachelor of Arts,
That all sin is divided into two parts.
One kind of sin is called a sin of commission, and that is very important,
And it is what you are doing when you are doing something you ortant,
And the other kind of sin is just the opposite and is called a sin of omission
        and is equally bad in the eyes of all right-thinking people, from
        Billy Sunday to Buddha,
And it consists of not having done something you shuddha.
I might as well give you my opinion of these two kinds of sin as long as,
        in a way, against each other we are pitting them,
And that is, don't bother your head about the sins of commission because
        however sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn't be
        committing them.
It is the sin of omission, the second kind of sin,
That lays eggs under your skin.
The way you really get painfully bitten
Is by the insurance you haven't taken out and the checks you haven't added up
        the stubs of and the appointments you haven't kept and the bills you
        haven't paid and the letters you haven't written.
Also, about sins of omission there is one particularly painful lack of beauty,
Namely, it isn't as though it had been a riotous red-letter day or night every
        time you neglected to do your duty;
You didn't get a wicked forbidden thrill
Every time you let a policy lapse or forget to pay a bill;
You didn't slap the lads in the tavern on the back and loudly cry Whee,
Let's all fail to write just one more letter before we go home, and this round
        of unwritten letters is on me.
No, you never get any fun
Out of things you haven't done,
But they are the things that I do not like to be amid,
Because the suitable things you didn't do give you a lot more trouble than the
        unsuitable things you did.
The moral is that it is probably better not to sin at all, but if some kind of
        sin you must be pursuing,
Well, remember to do it by doing rather than by not doing.
-- Ogden Nash
... there's not a whole lot I could profitably say about this poem (except that
(obviously) I like it), so I won't.


PS. But I will leave you with this


We've been talking of parodies lately, so...

        This is either a fine piece of verse in the true tradition of Nash,
        Or trash.

... written by none other than our very own Martin DeMello. Who'd have thunk it?

To a Cat -- Jorge Luis Borges

Guest poem submitted by Nivedita Magar:
(Poem #401) To a Cat
Mirrors are not more wrapt in silences
nor the arriving dawn more secretive ;
you, in the moonlight, are that panther figure
which we can only spy at from a distance.
By the mysterious functioning of some
divine decree, we seek you out in vain ;
remoter than the Ganges or the sunset,
yours is the solitude, yours is the secret.
Your back allows the tentative caress
my hand extends. And you have condescended,
since that forever, now oblivion,
to take love from a flattering human hand.
you live in other time, lord of your realm -
a world as closed and separate as dream.
-- Jorge Luis Borges
I love Borges. And I've always wanted to send a poem by him in, I couldn't
decide which one though. Also I can't think what 'comments' to put down for any
of his poems. For me a perfect poem is one that can stand by itself and doesn't
need any comments. In which case, I think of any analysis like a Post Mortem
procedure - a desecration!!!

This poem is so perfect there's little I'd want to add to it. 'To a Cat' was my
introduction to Borges. I stumbled upon it just after my cat died of a neural
disease. It has always baffled me how some bits of poetry *find* you, like this
poem did.

Borges like Blake seems so intimately 'to speak one's condition' that I always
thought of him as my private possession. It therefore came as a surprise to
realise how enormously popular he is...



        b. Aug. 24, 1899, Buenos Aires, Arg.
        d. June 14, 1986, Geneva, Switz.

Argentine poet, essayist, and short-story writer whose works have become
classics of 20th-century world literature.

Borges was reared in the then-shabby district of Palermo, the setting of some of
his works. His family, which had been notable in Argentine history, included
British ancestry, and he learned English before Spanish. The first books that he
read--from the library of his father, a man of wide-ranging intellect who taught
at an English school--included The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the novels of
H.G. Wells, The Thousand and One Nights, and Don Quixote, all in English. Under
the constant stimulus and example of his father, the young Borges from his
earliest years recognized that he was destined for a literary career.

In 1914, on the eve of World War I, Borges was taken by his family to Geneva,
where he learned French and German and received his B.A. from the Collège de
Genève. Leaving there in 1919, the family spent a year in Majorca and a year in
Spain, where Borges joined the young writers of the Ultraist movement, a group
that rebelled against what it considered the decadence of the established
writers of the Generation of '98.

Returning to Buenos Aires in 1921, Borges rediscovered his native city and began
to sing of its beauty in poems that imaginatively reconstructed its past and
present. His first published book was a volume of poems, Fervor de Buenos Aires,
poemas (1923; "Fervour of Buenos Aires, Poems"). He is also credited with
establishing the Ultraist movement in South America, though he later repudiated
it. This period of his career, which included the authorship of several volumes
of essays and poems and the founding of three literary journals, ended with a
biography, Evaristo Carriego (1930).

During his next phase, Borges gradually overcame his shyness in creating pure
fiction. At first he preferred to retell the lives of more or less infamous men,
as in the sketches of his Historia universal de la infamia (1935; A Universal
History of Infamy). To earn his living, in 1938 he took a major post at a Buenos
Aires library named for one of his ancestors. He remained there for nine unhappy

In 1938, the year his father died, Borges suffered a severe head wound and
subsequent blood poisoning, which left him near death, bereft of speech, and
fearing for his sanity. This experience appears to have freed in him the deepest
forces of creation. In the next eight years he produced his best fantastic
stories, those later collected in the series of Ficciones ("Fictions") and the
volume of English translations entitled The Aleph and Other Stories, 1933-69.
During this time, he and another writer, Adolfo Bioy Casares, jointly wrote
detective stories under the pseudonym H. Bustos Domecq (combining ancestral
names of the two writers' families), which were published in 1942 as Seis
problemas para Don Isidro Parodi (Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi). The works
of this period revealed for the first time Borges' entire dreamworld, an
ironical or paradoxical version of the real one, with its own language and
systems of symbols.

When the dictatorship of Juan Perón came to power in 1946, Borges was dismissed
from his library position for having expressed support of the Allies in World
War II. With the help of friends, he earned his way by lecturing, editing, and
writing. A 1952 collection of essays, Otras inquisiciones (1937-1952) (Other
Inquisitions, 1937-1952), revealed him at his analytical best. When Perón was
deposed in 1955, Borges became director of the national library, an honorific
position, and also professor of English and American literature at the
University of Buenos Aires. By this time, Borges suffered from total blindness,
a hereditary affliction that had also attacked his father and had progressively
diminished his own eyesight from the 1920s onward. It had forced him to abandon
the writing of long texts and to begin dictating to his mother or to secretaries
or friends.

The works that date from this late period, such as El hacedor (1960; "The Doer,"
Eng. trans. Dreamtigers) and El libro de los seres imaginarios (1967; The Book
of Imaginary Beings), almost erase the distinctions between the genres of prose
and poetry. Later collections of stories included El informe de Brodie (1970;
Dr. Brodie's Report), which dealt with revenge, murder, and horror, and El libro
de arena (1975; The Book of Sand), both of which are allegories combining the
simplicity of a folk storyteller with the complex vision of a man who has
explored the labyrinths of his own being to its core.


After 1961, when he and Samuel Beckett shared the prestigious Formentor Prize,
Borges' tales and poems were increasingly acclaimed as classics of 20th-century
world literature. Prior to that time, Borges was little known, even in his
native Buenos Aires, except to other writers, many of whom regarded him merely
as a craftsman of ingenious techniques and tricks. By the time of his death, the
nightmare world of his "fictions" had come to be compared with the world of
Franz Kafka and to be praised for concentrating common language into its most
enduring form. Through his work, Latin-American literature emerged from the
academic realm into the realm of generally educated readers throughout the
Western world.


Couldn't resist adding the final word: I love post-modernist prose in general
and Borges in particular. Here's a _lovely_ site which talks about both:

[broken link]


Elegy -- Ambrose Bierce

Elegy, n. A composition in verse, in which, without employing any of the
methods of humor, the writer aims to produce in the reader's mind the
dampest kind of dejection. The most famous English example begins somewhat
like this:
(Poem #400) Elegy
 The cur foretells the knell of parting day;
     The loafing herd winds slowly o'er the lea;
 The wise man homewards plods; I only stay
     To fiddle-faddle in a minor key.
-- Ambrose Bierce
Parody and humorous verse are closely related endeavours, and it is little
surprise that Bierce has turned his hand to both. We've already seen some
wonderful examples of the latter (see links), and as today's poem - a
marvellous parody of Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" -
demonstrates, Bierce is just as accomplished a parodist as he is a humorist.

The point of a really good parody is to capture the feel of the original,
and to follow it as closely as possible while sending it up at every turn,
and Bierce has done this admirably - indeed, he has followed not just the
form but the *sound* of Gray's elegy; a lovely piece of wordplay in its own


Gray's poem can be found at; since the parodied
portion is just the first verse, I've quoted it below:

     The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
         The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
     The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
         And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

We've run a few of Bierce's poems in the past:
  'With a Book': poem #148
  'Rimer': poem #320

We've also run a couple of themes on parodies;
a set of oft-parodied poems: poem #85, poem #88, poem #90.

and a set of poems run specifically for their parodies:
poem #376, poem #378, poem #380.

And, of course, a number of other humorous poems, too many to list

- martin

The Indian Serenade -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

And now for something completely different...
(Poem #399) The Indian Serenade
I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Hath led me -- who knows how? --
To thy chamber window, Sweet!

The wandering airs they faint
On the dark, the silent stream --
The champak odors fail
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The nightingale's complaint,
It dies upon her heart;
As I must on thine,
Oh, beloved as thou art!

O lift me from the grass!
I die! I faint! I fail!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale.
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast;--
Oh! press it to thine own again,
Where it will break at last.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
I really dislike this poem.

I don't care much for Percy Shelley at the best of times - I find his philosophy
irritatingly vague, his verse overly melodramatic, and his politics utterly
naive. The second complaint is the most telling - it's hard to take a poet
seriously if he tries to cultivate his image at the expense of his art. Of
course, Shelley has written some good poems ('Ozymandias' springs to mind), but
he's also written some shockers. In that respect he reminds of Belloc's Jemima:
'When she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad she was
DREADFUL'. And today's poem is one of the dreadful ones.

Hmm, how do I loathe it? Let me count the ways:

The verse is trite. Technically sound, but utterly unmemorable - the last thing
I'd expect from a self-professed champion of individual expression and poetic
inspiration. The gratuitous insertion of 'local colour' in the form of the
champak and the nightingale makes me wince. As do the frequent apostrophes - "Oh
beloved as thou art!", "Oh lift me from the grass!", "Oh press it to thine own
again" - which sound like a bad actor hamming it up for the pits.

The sentiments are... well, sentimental. Verses like this one:
        "My cheek is cold and white, alas!
         My heart beats loud and fast; --
         Oh! press it to thine own again,
         Where it will break at last. "
seem to embody the worst excesses of Romanticism - specifically, the
substitution of indiscriminate tearjerking for genuine emotion. And it's not as
if any of it were true, is it?

Most of all, though, I'm irritated by the sheer melodrama of the whole thing.
It's as if Shelley were consciously playing to the galleries of his reading
public (a reading public completely sold on the entire phenomenon of the
Romantic Image), shamelessly tugging at their heartstrings. This one line says
it all:
        "I die! I faint! I fail!"



PS. To be taken with a pinch of salt <grin>. But boy, that was fun - maybe I
should run poems I dislike more often... what do you say?

The Night Piece, To Julia -- Robert Herrick

(Poem #398) The Night Piece, To Julia
 Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee,
  The shooting stars attend thee;
      And the elves also,
      Whose little eyes glow
  Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.

 No Will-o'-th'-Wisp mis-light thee,
 Nor snake or slow-worm bite thee;
      But on, on thy way,
      Not making a stay,
 Since ghost there's none to affright thee.

 Let not the dark thee cumber;
 What though the moon does slumber?
      The stars of the night
      Will lend thee their light,
 Like tapers clear without number.

 Then Julia let me woo thee,
 Thus, thus to come unto me;
      And when I shall meet
      Thy silv'ry feet,
 My soul I'll pour into thee.
-- Robert Herrick
Another of those wonderfully musical poems the rhythm of which sticks in my
mind long after the words have faded. In fact, the poem as a whole is
notable not so much as a love poem, as for the wonderful way the background
is woven - the soft rhythm, the gentle images of a night punctuated by a
million living points of light, are evocative without being overdrawn.

And if someone can tell me why he wants to meet her silv'ry feet (of all
things) do write in :)

Biography and Assessment:

Herrick, Robert

  (baptized Aug. 24, 1591, London, Eng.--d. October 1674, Dean Prior,
  Devonshire), English cleric and poet, the most original of the "sons of
  Ben [Jonson]," who revived the spirit of the ancient classic lyric. He is
  best remembered for the line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may."

  During the time that he was apprenticed to his uncle, Sir William Herrick,
  a prosperous and influential goldsmith, he cultivated the society of the
  London wits. In 1613 he went to the University of Cambridge, graduating in
  1617. He took his M.A. in 1620 and was ordained in 1623. Herrick returned
  to London for a time, keeping in touch with court society and enlarging
  his acquaintance with Ben Jonson and other writers and musicians. In 1627
  he went as a chaplain to the Duke of Buckingham on the military expedition
  to the Île de Ré to relieve La Rochelle from the French Protestants. He
  was presented with the living of Dean Prior (1629), where he remained for
  the rest of his life, except when, because of his Royalist sympathies, he
  was deprived of his post from 1646 until after the Restoration (1660).

  Herrick became well known as a poet about 1620-30; many manuscript
  commonplace books from that time contain his poems. The only book that
  Herrick published was Hesperides (1648), which included His Noble Numbers,
  a collection of poems on religious subjects with its own title page dated
  1647 but not previously printed. Hesperides contained about 1,400 poems,
  mostly very short, many of them being brief epigrams. His work appeared
  after that in miscellanies and songbooks; the 17th-century English
  composer Henry Lawes and others set some of his songs.

  Herrick wrote elegies, satires, epigrams, love songs to imaginary
  mistresses, marriage songs, complimentary verse to friends and patrons,
  and celebrations of rustic and ecclesiastical festivals. The appeal of his
  poetry lies in its truth to human sentiments and its perfection of form
  and style. Frequently light, worldy, and hedonistic, and making few
  pretensions to intellectual profundity, it yet covers a wide range of
  subjects and emotions, ranging from lyrics inspired by rural life to
  wistful evocations of life and love's evanescence and fleeting beauty.
  Herrick's lyrics are notable for their technical mastery and the interplay
  of thought, rhythm, and imagery that they display. As a poet Herrick was
  steeped in the classical tradition; he was also influenced by English
  folklore and lyrics, by Italian madrigals, by the Bible and patristic
  literature, and by contemporary English writers, notably Ben Jonson and
  Robert Burton.

        -- EB


We've run one Herrick poem on Minstrels: Delight in Disorder poem #332

For a larger selection of his works, see two of my favourite poetry sites:
  [broken link]

- martin

Ancestors -- Adrian Mitchell

My Favourite Contemporary Poet (tm) makes another appearance:
(Poem #397) Ancestors
We had an island.
Oh we were a stomping old tribe on an island.
Red faces, hairy bodies.
Happy to be hairy
Happy to be hairy
When the breezes tickled
The hairs of our bodies
Happy to be hairy
Happy to be hairy
Next best thing to having feathers --
That was our national anthem.
Right. Hairy tribe,
Hairy red story-telling, song-singing, dragon-fighting, fire-drinking tribe

Used to get invaded every other weekend.
Romans, Vikings, Celts -- fire and sword --
Pushed us back but they never broke us down.
In between invasions we grew spuds and barley,
Took our animals wherever there was a river and some grass.

When the snows came, we moved south
When the rivers dried, we moved west
When the invaders came, we burnt our crops, moved.

Until one day we were surrounded by warriors.
The same old fire and sword, but used efficiently.
They slaughtered our warriors, lined up the rest of us
And there were speeches
About law and order, and firm but fair government.

And this is what they did,
This is government.
You take an island and cut it carefully
With the razorblade called law and order
Into a jigsaw of pieces.
The big, rich-coloured pieces
Go to the big, rich men.
The smaller, paler pieces,
(Five beds two recep barn mooring rights five acres)
Go to the small, rich men.
And nothing at all
Goes to those who have nothing at all.

Absurd? The many nothing-at-alls
Wouldn't stand back and see their island
Slashed into ten thousand pieces.
They didn't stand back, our hairy ancestors.
Some of them spoke out. Some fought back.
They were slashed down by the giant razorblade.

And now, and now the rich seldom have to kill
To defend the land they stole from all the tribe --
Wire fences. Guard Dogs Loose on these Premises.
                        No Trespassing.
Bailiffs. Security Guards. Police. Magistrates' Courts.
                        Judges. Prisons --
Grey prisons where the brain and the flesh turn grey
As the green English years stroll by outside the walls.
So who needs fire and the sword?
The tribe has been tamed
And our island
Our daft green stony gentle rough amazing haven
Entirely surrounded by fish
Has been stolen from the tribe.
It was robbery with most bloody violence.
And that was history, history is about the dead.
Then is our tribe dead? Is our tribe dead?
Is the tribe dead?
-- Adrian Mitchell
from 'The Apeman Cometh', 1975.

This couplet:

"Pushed us back but they never broke us down.
In between invasions we grew spuds and barley."

is why I like Adrian Mitchell so much. He can make powerful, moving social
statemnts (it's not hard to picture him with a guitar and a harmonica, a la
Dylan) while retaining a light touch and a brilliantly earthy sense of humour
("Happy to be hairy" - Yeah!)... and to tell the truth I like him in both
guises, both prophet of the coming revolution and irreverent jungle bard.

Which is not to say that today's poem is without failings. The main one, I
think, is the change in tone between the light-hearted first half [1] and the
somewhat strident soap-box fare of the second - it seemed rather abrupt to me.
But it's all redeemed by the final repetition - "Is our tribe dead?" - which I
find heartbreakingly poignant in its sense of bewilderment and loss... it sends
a shiver down my spine.


[1] which, in its bawdy good humour, is very reminiscent of 'The Oxford Hysteria
of English Poetry' - see link below.


There's quite a bit of Mitchell on the Minstrels (as I said, he's my favourite
contemporary poet). Check out

'Nostalgia - Now Threepence Off' - a must-read for lovers of children's
literature everywhere: poem #95

'To Whom It May Concern' - a scathing denunciatian of the Vietnam War, at
poem #28

'Jimmy Giuffre Plays 'The Easy Way'' - as laid-back a poem as you'll find this
side of J. J. Cale: poem #337

and of course the uproariously funny 'Oxford Hysteria of English Poetry', which
taught me everything I needed to know about Literature with a capital L:
poem #211

For a poem which attempts (and, I think, pulls off) a complete change of tone
midstream, read Theodore Roethke's 'The Meadow Mouse', at poem #267


The tribe's 'national anthem' was published as a standalone poem in the same
anthology, as

'The Apeman's Hairy Body Song'

Happy to be hairy
Happy to be hairy
When the breezes tickle
The hairs of my body

Happy to be hairy
Happy to be hairy
Next best thing
To having feathers

        -- Adrian Mitchell

I Hear a River Thro' the Valley Wander -- Trumbull Stickney

(Poem #396) I Hear a River Thro' the Valley Wander
 I hear a river thro' the valley wander
 Whose water runs, the song alone remaining.
 A rainbow stands and summer passes under.
-- Trumbull Stickney
An exquisite little poem that needs no explanation. The juxtaposition of
images is especially nice - the river and the summer reinforcing both on the
metaphor and the image level - as is the pleasing regularity of the verse
(something imagists[1], for instance, often neglect).

[1] not to imply that imagist verse is 'free', just that metre is rarely
used as a device. Kreymborg's 'Whitman'[2] is a beautiful counterexample.

[2] poem #245


  Notes on Life and Works

  Joseph Trumbull Stickney was born in Geneva on June 20, 1874, and grew up
  (to a height of six feet four inches) as his parents travelled widely ...
  Wiesbaden, Florence, Nice, London, and New York. After being educated by
  his father Austin at home in Latin and Greek, Trumbull entered Harvard
  University in 1891. He graduated magna cum laude in June 1895.

  The following eight years were spent studying for the degree of Doctorat
  ès Lettres at the Sorbonne in Paris. For this he wrote two theses, one on
  the letters of Ermolao Barbaro, a 15th-century ambassador to Rome, and the
  other on aphorisms in Greek verse. His Dramatic Verses was published in
  Boston in 1902, dedicated from Paris to his friend "Bay" (George) Lodge,
  who would co-edit Stickney's collected poems in 1905.

  In 1903 his second thesis was published as Les Sentences dans la Poésie
  Grècque: this won him the first Sorbonne Doctorat awarded to an American.
  Stickney then took on a position as instructor in Greek at Harvard in 1903
  and travelled abroad in Greece from April to June that year. A brain tumor
  caused headaches and partial blindness from early in 1904 and led to his
  death in Boston on Oct. 11. He is buried in Hartford, Connecticut. For his
  biography, see Homage to Trumbull Stickney: Poems, edited by James Reeves
  and Seán Haldane (London: Heinemann, 1968), pp. 1-16 (New York Public
  Library shelfmark D-18-2147).

        -- Representative Poetry Online


Variations on a Fragment by Trumbull Stickney (John Hollander): Not a parody
(for those of you who remember the Williams variations[3]), but a nice set of
variations on the theme.
  [broken link]

Random association: The last line reminds me of AE's stars 'dancing over the
mountains' - see poem #350

[3] getting further and further off topic, but... poem #278

- martin

Naming of Parts -- Henry Reed

(Poem #395) Naming of Parts
"Vixi duellis nuper idoneus
Et militavi non sine glori"

Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
   And today we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
   Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easily
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
   Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
   They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
   For today we have naming of parts.
-- Henry Reed
 From 'Lessons of the War'
 Dedicated to Alan Mitchell.

I remember reading a not terribly distinguished parody of this poem when I was
in school; many years later, when I discovered the original, I was surprised to
see how very good it was. Indeed, it's one of the more celebrated poems of the
last half-century (though the years have not been particularly kind to Henry
Reed: these days we see him more as a failed Modernist than as a revolutionary
Romantic), and it's not hard to see why: the tone of voice, the choice of phrase
and the repetitive patterning are all instantly recognizable.

That said, though, it _is_ a poem that simply cries out for a parody, isn't it?



Here's a link to an essay on 'The Imagery of Genesis in Henry Reed's 'The Naming
of Parts'': [broken link] . It's an
interesting enough piece, though it suffers somewhat from an overly pretentious
and (imho) juvenile style. An extract should suffice to show what I mean:

"Guns and gardens, soldiers and bees: the poem relates the unrelated in order to
draw a clear dichotomy between the forces of life and the forces of death.
However, the poem goes further than merely contrasting opposites. The  structure
and language of the poem combine to demonstrate how one should become the other.
The eschatological hope expressed by the harmonious image of this Eden begs and
demands a transformation or conversion into communion with the natural order.
The poem demonstrates that war is contrary to nature."

Poem -- Ernest Dowson

Guest poem submitted by Ravi S Mundoli:
(Poem #394) Poem
  "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae"

Last night, ah, yesternight, betwixt her lips and mine
There fell thy shadow, Cynara! thy breath was shed
Upon my soul between the kisses and the wine;
And I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was grey:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
-- Ernest Dowson
(Translation of the subtitle: 'I am not as I was under the reign of the good

Not being someone who knows too much about such things as structure, composition
etc. (unlike other worthies here)  I will gallantly refrain from spouting forth.
This poem affects me. The imagery (mad music, strong wine, riotous roses, pale
lilies, grey dawn, bought red mouth) generates a heady chaos in my head. And the
last three lines in every stanza serve very well to reinforce the general
feeling of heartbrokenness and despair. An explanation of the poet's life
(below) will be useful in understanding it.

I keep seeing Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's paintings in my head when I read this
poem. His life, at one point, was at a stage when he could have written
something like this. If you ever lay your hands on it, read "Moulin Rouge". Its
a novel based on the life of Toulouse-Lautrec. Come to think of it, even Philip
Carey from Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" would have probably empathized
with the thing.


All said and done, with Martin and Thomas acting as censors, I thought if one
thing could clinch the weblication of this poem, it would be trivia.

1. "Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae" is a quote from Horace. I have
not been able to (i.e. not bothered to) find any reference to Cynarae
elsewhere.  If someone knows more, please post.

2. Margaret Mitchell lifted stuff from the first line of the third stanza.

[About the poem]

Living for a while in the East End of London where his father owned a dry dock,
Ernest Dowson fell in love with the daughter of a restaurant keeper. It was a
platonic love, and the girl could not understand either Dowson's reticent
idealism nor the poem he wrote to her. Its title was a line which Dowson had
taken from Horace. This classic of sentimental decadence was wasted on his
"Cynarae"; she ran off and married one of her father's waiters.

- (Men and Women: The Poetry of Love: American Heritage Press 1970)


Ernest Dowson was born at Belmont Hill in Kent in 1867. His great-uncle was
Alfred Domett (Browning's "Waring"), who was at one time Prime Minister of New
Zealand. Dowson, practically an invalid all his life, was reckless with himself
and, as disease weakened him more and more, hid himself in miserable
surroundings; for almost two years he lived in sordid supper-houses known as
"cabmen's shelters." He literally drank himself to death.

Dowson was a prominent member of the aesthetic movement, a group of English
poets and painters of the 1890s formed as a reaction against Victorianism. His
delicate and fantastic poetry was an attempt to escape from a reality too big
and brutal for him. His passionate lyric, 'I have been faithful to thee, Cynara!
in my fashion', a triumph of despair and disillusion, is an outburst in which
Dowson epitomized himself. "One of the greatest lyrical poem of our time",
writes Arthur Symons, "in it he has for once said everything, and he has said it
to an intoxicating and perhaps immortal music".

Dowson died obscure in 1900, one of the finest of modern minor poets. His life
was the tragedy of a weak nature buffeted by a strong and merciless environment.

[broken link]

Villanelle (minimalist): One Drunken Night -- Peter Schaeffer

(Poem #393) Villanelle (minimalist): One Drunken Night
 I think
 she'll pour
 my drink.

 I wink
 at more,
 I think,

 than minx
 who pours
 my drink.

 I sink
 to floor,
 and think

 she stinks!
 I roar,
 "My drink,

 you fink!"
 I snore,
 and think
 I drink.
-- Peter Schaeffer
What is a villanelle? "Seven-syllable lines using two rhymes, distributed in
(normally) five tercets and a final quatrain with line repetitions", saith
the Britannica, which also calls it a "rigorous and somewhat monotonous
form". Rigorous it may be, but half the beauty of a villanelle lies in the
poet's efforts to conform without lapsing into monotony. Indeed, by its very
nature the villanelle seems to cry out for some sort of wordplay or other -
it is hard to write an entirely 'serious' poem under the constraints[1].

The most usual form of wordplay is simply the setting up of the repeated
lines so that the word meanings shift and change. Schaeffer takes a slightly
different approach here - rather than trying to write so 'naturally' as to
distract attention from the rigid form, he embraces it for humorous effect.
For instance, in 'The Art of the Villanelle' (see links) he explicitly
comments on the repetition - "Attend this line, which you'll have heard.../
until you're sick of every word."[2]

Today's poem, on the other hand, uses a different technique - it strips the
villanelle of its usual trappings, simultaneously poking fun at both the
villanelle and at minimalist verse. (See also the last verse for an example
of villanelle-induced wordplay).

[1] making it all the more impressive when managed - as in Dylan Thomas's
classic poem (see links)

[2] see my comment on self-referential humorous verse, poem #194


Just over half a minstrels ago, we ran Schaeffer's mindbogglingly good
'Juggler, Magician, Fool - A Pantoum': poem #195

The canonical example of the English villanelle is surely Dylan Thomas's 'Do
Not Go Gentle into That Good Night': poem #38

which includes, as a bonus, another of Schaeffer's villanelles, 'The Art of
the Villanelle'

And for some lovely pieces of minimalist verse, see Pound's 'In a station of
the Metro': poem #319

and Corman's untitled poem: poem #348

- martin

Good -- R S Thomas

(Poem #392) Good
The old man comes out on the hill
and looks down to recall earlier days
in the valley. He sees the stream shine,
the church stand, hears the litter of
children's voices. A chill in the flesh
tells him that death is not far off
now: it is the shadow under the great boughs
of life. His garden has herbs growing.
The kestrel goes by with fresh prey
in its claws. The wind scatters the scent
of wild beans. The tractor operates
on the earth's body. His grandson is there
ploughing; his young wife fetches him
cakes and tea and a dark smile. It is well.
-- R S Thomas
'Granitic' is not a word I use very often while describing poetry (it sounds far
too pretentious, if you ask me), but if ever a poet deserved to be called a
hewer of stony verse, R. S. Thomas does. Indeed, rarely do you hear a poet speak
with a voice as strong and self-assured as that of this humble Welsh clergyman.
This is in  large part due to the simplicity of his themes and the directness of
his language - there's no room for ornamentation in either. But it also betokens
the care with which Thomas selects and arranges his words - witness today's
wonderfully constructed poem, in which not a single image or phrase seems out of
place. It takes craftsmanship of the highest order to be able to create a whole
as unified and perfect as this, and it's all the better for being well nigh

The poem itself is quiet and restrained (though no less moving for all that); in
its air of dignified acceptance, it achieves a slow grandeur denied to most
evocations of death and the passing of time. And although at first glance its
message may seem unduly harsh, I find the poem as a whole profoundly calm and
serene - at peace with the world and all that is in it.



George Macbeth has this to say about R. S. Thomas:

"... R[onald] S[tuart] Thomas was born in Wales in 1913, a year before his more
famous namesake Dylan Thomas. He lived his life as a clergyman, often in the
remote country parishes whose landscape and people he has celebrated in his
poems. Thomas' poetry seems at first sight a grim and forbidding body of work to
appreach. His tone of voice is invariably severe, his rhythm slow and heavy and
his subject matter Man scratching a pitiful livelihood from a bare and
inhospitable land. Thomas' poetry is narrow in range, but it seems sure to last
for its depth and its honesty."

and this about today's poem:

"A quiet poem about old age. There is a note of acceptance in some of Thomas'
[later] work which is a refreshing change from the harshness of his earlier
pieces. The image of death as 'the shadow under the great boughs of life' is
particularly resonant, with its hint of a real (if limited) immortality."

        -- George Macbeth, Poetry 1900-1975

[Minstrels Links]

'Poetry for Supper' offers two diametrically opposite views of the poetic
process - the one, that it is somehow 'inspired' and innately unfathomable; the
other, that it requires careful labour and skilled workmanship. As you've no
doubt guessed by now, I tend towards the latter (as, I think, does R. S. T.);
you can decide for yourself at poem #187

'The Ancients of the World' shows Thomas in the guise of storyteller and
mythmaker; it's a wonderfully evocative three stanzas' worth of bardic breath,
at poem #152

[Biography and Assessment]

  b. March 29, 1913, Cardiff, Glamorgan [now South Glamorgan], Wales

Welsh clergyman and poet whose lucid, austere verse expresses an undeviating
affirmation of the values of the common man. Thomas was educated in Wales and
ordained in the Church of Wales (1936), in which he held several appointments,
including vicar of St. Hywyn (Aberdaron) with St. Mary (Bodferi) from 1967, as
well as rector of Rhiw with Llanfaelrhys from 1973.

He published his first volume of poetry in 1946 and gradually developed his
unadorned style with each new collection. His early poems, most notably those
found in Stones of the Field (1946) and Song at the Year's Turning Point: Poems, contained a harshly critical but increasingly compassionate
view of the Welsh people and their stark homeland. In Thomas' later volumes,
starting with Poetry for Supper (1958), the subjects of his poetry remained the
same, yet his questions became more specific, his irony more bitter, and his
compassion deeper. In such later works as The Way of It (1977), Frequencies
(1978), Between Here and Now (1981), and Later Poems, Thomas
was not without hope when he described with mournful derision the cultural decay
affecting his parishioners, his country, and the modern world.

        -- EB