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Spring Giddiness -- Jalaluddin Rumi

(Poem #472) Spring Giddiness
 Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
 and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
 and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
 Let the beauty we love be what we do.
 There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

 The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
 Don't go back to sleep.
 You must ask for what you really want.
 Don't go back to sleep.
 People are going back and forth across the doorsill
 where the two worlds touch.
 The door is round and open.
 Don't go back to sleep.

 I would love to kiss you.
 The price of kissing is your life.
 Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
 What a bargain, let's buy it.

 Daylight, full of small dancing particles
 and the one great turning, our souls
 are dancing with you, without feet, they dance.
 Can you see them when I whisper in your ear?

 All day and night, music,
 a quiet, bright
 reedsong. If it
 fades, we fade.
-- Jalaluddin Rumi
(Excerpted from The Essential Rumi, translations by Coleman Barks with John
Moyne, 1995. )

I just got hold of 'A Meeting by the River', the collaboration between Ry Cooder
and Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. Yes, it won a Grammy, but don't let that mislead you
- the album is actually very very good. Cooder is, of course, a brilliantly
eclectic guitarist; in this recording he infuses Bhatt's liquid tones with a
wonderful Southern style (Cajun and Latin and bluesy all at the same time). My
favourite track is 'Ganges Delta Blues' - the title says it all.

Anyway. The point of this digression is to mention that one of the inspirations
for this particular collaboration was a common love for the poetry of Rumi; the
first verse above features on the album cover, and every piece seems imbued with
an air of Persian mysticism...


[Minstrels Links]

Other wonderful Persian/Urdu poets to have featured on the Minstrels are Hafiz
and Faiz; check out
'My Sweet Crushed Angel': poem #447
and 'A Prison Evening': poem #118

The latter, submitted by Vikram Doctor, has a very nice
essay on the language and emotion of Urdu poetry; herewith, an extract:

"Urdu poetry fascinates me. It is so packed with emotion. Urdu poets always seem
to feel things with such intensity - love, longing, melancholy. Its all
supercharged to the extent that just a bit more and it would be over the top.
But the best poetry seems to contain it just in time, so it works, quivering
with intensity and drenched in beautiful images."

        -- Vikram Doctor

[from EB]

Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi

also called Mawlana
born c. Sept. 30, 1207, Balkh, Ghurid empire [now in Afghanistan]
died Dec. 17, 1273

... the greatest Sufi mystic and poet in the Persian language, famous for his
lyrics and for his didactic epic Masnavi-ye Ma'navi ("Spiritual Couplets"),
which widely influenced Muslim mystical thought and literature. After Rumi's
death, his disciples were organized as the Mawlawiyah order, called in the West
the Whirling Dervishes...

 ... his experience of love, longing, and loss turned Rumi into a poet. His
mystical poems - about 30,000 verses and a large number of roba'iyat
("quatrains") - reflect the different stages of his love, until, as his son
writes, "he found Shams in himself, radiant like the moon." The complete
identification of lover and beloved is expressed by his inserting the name of
Shams instead of his own pen name at the end of most of his lyrical poems. The
Divan-e Shams (The collected Poetry of Shams) is a true translation of his
experiences into poetry; its language, however, never becomes lost in lofty
spiritual heights or nebulous speculation. The fresh language, propelled by its
strong rhythms, sometimes assumes forms close to popular verses. There would
seem to be cause for the belief, expressed by chroniclers, that most of this
poetry was composed in a state of ecstasy, induced by the music of the flute or
the drum, the hammering of the goldsmiths, or the sound of the water mill in
Meram, where Rumi used to go with his disciples to enjoy nature. He found in
nature the reflection of the radiant beauty of the Sun of Religion and felt
flowers and birds partaking in his love. He often accompanied his verses by a
whirling dance.

        -- EB

This world lives -- Ilam Peruvaluti

Guest poem submitted by Sudha Shastri
(Poem #471) This world lives
 This world lives
 Some men
 do not eat alone,
 not even when they get
 the sweet ambrosia of the gods;

 they've no anger in them,
 they fear evils other men fear
 but never sleep over them;

 give their lives for honor,
 will not touch a gift of whole worlds
 if tainted;

 there's no faintness in their hearts
 and they do not strive
 for themselves.

 Because such men are,
 this world is.
-- Ilam Peruvaluti
This is a poem from the Sangam Tamil written by a poet called Ilam Peruvaluti
(Puranuru 182 - must confess I do not know what exactly this means ) and
translated by A. K. Ramanujan.

I am unsure about what to comment on. Obviously there is adherence to metre of a
sort which the translator has tried to follow. No doubt it is all very expressly
laid down in the Tamil.

Sudha Shastri.

[thomas adds]

Ramanujan has featured on the Minstrels before: check out 'A River', at
poem #382, and 'Extended Family', at poem #434.

As several of you have pointed out, the Minstrels could do with more examples of
poetry written in languages other than English. Sadly, neither Martin nor myself
is terribly conversant with such poetry; however, we have managed to cover a
fair amount thereof, thanks to the mechanism of guest submissions.
Some of my especial favourites are:
'Banalata Sen', by Jibanananda Das, poem #446
'The Winter River', a haiku by Buson, poem #277
'A Prison Evening', by Faiz, poem #118
Fitzgerald's translation of 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam', two separate
extracts, poem #162 and poem #342.
'Romance Sonambulo', by Federico Garcia Lorca, poem #210
'The Midnightmouse', by Christian Morgenstern, poem #252
'Coda', by Octavio Paz, poem #442
'Madhushala', by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, poem #72

Also, sort by poet and look for 'Anon' - we've covered snatches of verse in
tongues ranging from Hebrew to Welsh to Serbian to Navajo...

The next incarnation of the website (webmaster Sitaram, are you listening?) will
(we hope) include a 'search by theme' feature; translated poetry will be one of
those themes.


[Brittanica on Sangam Literature]

 ... the earliest writings in the Tamil language. The writings are thought to
have been produced in three cankams, or literary academies, in Madurai, India,
from the 1st to the 4th century AD. The Tolkappiyam, a book of grammar and
rhetoric, and eight anthologies (Ettuttokai) of secular poetry were compiled:
Kuruntokai, Narrinai, Akananuru, Ainkurunuru, Kalittakai, Purananuru,
Patirruppattu, and Paripatal. These secular writings are possibly unique in
early Indian literature, which is almost entirely religious. The poems are
concerned with two main topics, love and the praise of kings and their deeds.
Many of them, especially on the latter subject, display great freshness and
vigour and are singularly free from the literary conceits of much of the other
early and medieval literatures of India. Since they are almost entirely secular,
these poems are also free from the complex mythical allusions that are such an
outstanding feature of most Indian art forms. There are, nonetheless, some
instances of religious works in cankam poetry. Pattupattu ("The Ten Long Poems")
contains the earliest Indian poem of personal devotion to a god, and Paripatal
contains poems about Vishnu, Siva, and Murugan.

        -- EB

(I remember studying about Sangam poetry in the 9th grade, but this is the first
time I've actually read an example - t.)

The Comforters -- Dora Sigerson Shorter

Guest poem submitted by P. G. Murthy:
(Poem #470) The Comforters
When I crept over the hill, broken with tears,
When I crouched down on the grass, dumb in despair,
I heard the soft croon of the wind bend to my ears,
I felt the light kiss of the wind touching my hair.

When I stood lone on the height, my sorrow did speak,
As I went down the hill, I cried and I cried,
The soft little hands of the rain stroking my cheek,
The kind little feet of the rain ran by my side.

When I went to thy grave, broken with tears,
When I crouched down in the grass, dumb in despair,
I heard the soft croon of the wind soft in my ears,
I felt the kind lips of the wind touching my hair.

When I stood lone by thy cross, sorrow did speak,
When I went down the long hill, I cried and I cried,
The soft little hands of the rain stroked my pale cheek,
The kind little feet of the rain ran by my side.
-- Dora Sigerson Shorter
Death joins hands with sorrow seeking comfort in loneliness and nature. The
anguish of needless death is present all around us even after centuries of
culture, religion and the thin veneer of civilisation. Therein is the quiet
relevance of this simple poem.

The Comforters was written by Irish poet Dora Sigerson Shorter during the first
World War. It is believed that her death was hastened by the sufferings of the
war and the large numbers of the young and the innocent who laid down their
precious lives. In suffering and sorrow one tends to be with one self and turns
to nature. The poet has not relied on any pathetic fallacy but has gracefully
summoned the wind and the rain, two ancient agents of nature, to her assistance.
The soft wind and the gentle rain caress the face of the grieving soul  coming
alive, as it were, as friends in mourning. They act not as irritants but soothe
the lady in distress in sympathy with her: 'The kind little feet of the rain ran
by my side'.

This is a simple poem with a musical rhythm that is soothing to the ear.

P. G. Murthy

Chard Whitlow -- Henry Reed

(Poem #468) Chard Whitlow
(Mr. Eliot's Sunday Evening Postscript)

As we get older we do not get any younger.
Seasons return, and to-day I am fifty-five,
And this time last year I was fifty-four
And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.
And I cannot say I should like (to speak for myself)
To see my time over again - if you can call it time:
Fidgeting uneasily under a draughty stair,
Or counting sleepless nights in the crowded tube.

There are certain precautions - though none of them very reliable -
Against the blast from bombs and the flying splinter,
But not against the blast from heaven, vento dei venti,
The wind within a wind unable to speak for wind;
And the frigid burnings of purgatory will not be touched
By any emollient.
                                I think you will find this put,
Better than I could ever hope to express it,
In the words of Kharma: 'It is, we believe,
Idle to hope that the simple stirrup-pump
Will extinguish hell.'
                                Oh, listeners,
And you especially who have turned off the wireless,
And sit in Stoke or Basingstoke listening appreciatively to
        the silence,
(Which is also the silence of hell) pray, not for your skins,
        but for your souls.

And pray for me also under the draughty stair.
As we get older we do not get any younger.
And pray for Kharma under the holy mountain.
-- Henry Reed
Reed doesn't parody any particular poem, but he 'cleverly manages
to summon echoes from almost all Eliot's work' [1]. Some

 - from 'Little Gidding':
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from...

 - from 'Gerontion'
                Vacant shuttles
Weave the wind. I have no ghosts,
An old man in a droughty house
Under a windy knob...

 - from 'Ash Wednesday'
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;

 - from 'Choruses from 'The Rock''
I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told:
We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor
To Hindhead, or Maidenhead.
If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers.

In addition there are little touches like the title (reminiscent of
Eliot's fondness for proper nouns in _his_ titles) and the subtitle (a
take on 'Mr Eliot's Sunday Morning Service', a rather impenetrable
early poem whose main claim to fame is that it starts with the word
'poliphyloprogenitive' - I kid you not). Not to mention the Latin and
(pseudo-)Sanskrit words, the rather abstruse religious concerns,
the philosophical speculations...

... indeed, every single line recalls one or the other of Eliot's
original verses; Reed captures the tone of voice to perfection. And
this is _precisely_ what makes the poem so sidesplittingly funny:
phrases like 'the simple stirrup-pump' deflate the whole with
enviable finesse and utter ruthlessness. Beautiful.


[1] Kenneth Baker, in his footnote to this poem, in 'Unauthorized
Versions' - which, as has been mentioned several times before in
this forum, is an utterly _brilliant_ anthology (Faber and Faber,
1990). The rest of his footnote follows:

"[this poem] won a competition in the New Statesman. Eliot
himself commented: "In fact one is apt to think one could parody
oneself much better [than most]. As a matter of fact some critics
have said that I have [already] done so. But there is one [parody]
which deserves the success it has had, Henry Reed's 'Chard


Henry Reed is, of course, a celebrated poet in his own right - this
poem by him thus merrily contradicts my comments (made a long
time ago on the Minstrels, but I don't remember exactly when) that
parodists and poets were a non-intersecting set. Oh well.

Towards Freedom -- Orhan Veli

Guest poem submitted by Zeynep Dilli:
(Poem #469) Towards Freedom
'Ere the day dawns, while yet white are the seas, set out you will;
With the lust of holding the oars filling your palms,
The contentment of doing something filling you, go you will,
Go you will, as the waves stir;
Fish will be meeting you, you'll be glad;
As you pull the nets, the sea, in each scale will meet your hand.

When the souls of seagulls go quiet in their rock-tombs,
Suddenly, a turmoil will rise on the horizon;
Think you they are jellyfish? Think you they are birds?
Think you they are holidays, feasts? Celebrations, gatherings?
Wedding bells, headpieces, veils, ornaments?

Hey! What the hell are you waiting for, cast yourself into the sea!
They're waiting for you back there? Nevermind...
Don't you see that freedom is everywhere,
Be the sails, be the oars, be the tiller, be the fish, be the water,
Go... go... go--as far as you can go...
-- Orhan Veli
This is my attempt at translating a poem by Orhan Veli, who was one of the three
poets that lead the "new wave" of Turkish poetry in the 1940's, in a school
named "Strange". (The translation is probably not the best I could have done,
but it's towards the end of the semester and I'm tired. Deal. ;-) )

The tradition of poetry in the Ottoman Empire leaned towards very heavy,
"sticky" language and lots of idealizations, not to mention a very precise meter
structure. Besides that was the folk poetry, which was considerably simpler,
usually perpetuated through folk songs, with the simple meter and rhyming that

After the Turkish Revolution and the establishment of the Republic in 1923,
following the reforms in language that aimed at minimizing the effect of Arabic
and Persian cultures, the first renovators in poetry leaned towards folk poetry,
with its basic meter and rhyming schemes. One notable exception is Nazim Hikmet
Ran, a much-politically controversial poet, that I hope to submit a poem of one
of these days. Poetry as art came back to its own as the decades progressed,
with several schools emerging. _Strange_, with its departure from mainstream
poetry with freedom in form and rhyme, plus its incorporation of everyday
things  into poetry, like callouses and plastic combs that were never mentioned
before, is my favourite. The name of that school comes from a volume of poetry
by Orhan Veli.

Zeynep Dilli.


For another poem translated by a listmember, check out Sameer Siruguri's version
of Harivansh Rai Bachchan's 'Madhushala (The Tavern)', at poem #72.

These grad students have _way_ too much time on their hands... sort of like
options traders, I suppose <grin>.


Like Snow -- Robert Graves

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #467) Like Snow
 She, then, like snow in a dark night,
 Fell secretly. And the world waked
 With dazzling of the drowsy eye,
 So that some muttered 'Too much light',
 And drew the curtains close.
 Like snow, warmer than fingers feared,
 And to soil friendly;
 Holding the histories of the night
 In yet unmelted tracks.
-- Robert Graves
What I love about this poem is the way the syllables fall so gently, almost
drifting into place, and the way (almost miraculous) in which Graves manages to
carry through the metaphor - conjuring up the image of a woman  with soft
fingers and half thawed eyes. I'm not sure that I really understand what Graves
is saying here; I only know that it sounds right and so incredibly fragile that
I'm almost  afraid to breathe while I'm reading it.


Rhapsody on a Windy Night -- T S Eliot

(Poem #466) Rhapsody on a Windy Night
 Twelve o'clock.
 Along the reaches of the street
 Held in a lunar synthesis,
 Whispering lunar incantations
 Dissolve the floors of memory
 And all its clear relations,
 Its divisions and precisions,
 Every street lamp that I pass
 Beats like a fatalistic drum,
 And through the spaces of the dark
 Midnight shakes the memory
 As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

 Half-past one,
 The street lamp sputtered,
 The street lamp muttered,
 The street lamp said, "Regard that woman
 Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door
 Which opens on her like a grin.
 You see the border of her dress
 Is torn and stained with sand,
 And you see the corner of her eye
 Twists like a crooked pin."

 The memory throws up high and dry
 A crowd of twisted things;
 A twisted branch upon the beach
 Eaten smooth, and polished
 As if the world gave up
 The secret of its skeleton,
 Stiff and white.
 A broken spring in a factory yard,
 Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
 Hard and curled and ready to snap.

 Half-past two,
 The street lamp said,
 "Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
 Slips out its tongue
 And devours a morsel of rancid butter."
 So the hand of a child, automatic,
 Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.
 I could see nothing behind that child's eye.
 I have seen eyes in the street
 Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
 And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
 An old crab with barnacles on his back,
 Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

 Half-past three,
 The lamp sputtered,
 The lamp muttered in the dark.

 The lamp hummed:
 "Regard the moon,
 La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
 She winks a feeble eye,
 She smiles into corners.
 She smoothes the hair of the grass.
 The moon has lost her memory.
 A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
 Her hand twists a paper rose,
 That smells of dust and old Cologne,
 She is alone
 With all the old nocturnal smells
 That cross and cross across her brain."
 The reminiscence comes
 Of sunless dry geraniums
 And dust in crevices,
 Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
 And female smells in shuttered rooms,
 And cigarettes in corridors
 And cocktail smells in bars."

 The lamp said,
 "Four o'clock,
 Here is the number on the door.
 You have the key,
 The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
 The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
 Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life."

 The last twist of the knife.
-- T S Eliot
This is not by any means a 'pretty' poem; in themes that recur through many
of his poems, Eliot explores the darker side of the city and of life. Or,
perhaps, 'seedier' is a better word; the poem seems to probe and catalogue
the myriad cracks in the veneer of the city, thrown into relief against the
backdrop of a gaslit night. In some sense, it is diametrically opposite to
the previous two poems, finding a very different kind of poetry in the urban

As in the Preludes, Eliot displays a keen eye for detail; the little nuances
of sight, sound and smell that accost the narrator on his drifting path
through night and memory, the omnipresent streetlights ticking off the hours
in a sputtering but inexorable progression, the fluid boundaries of light
and dark, the lonely, tired incursions of life, the stale, brittle note of
civilisation all combine into a tapestry of pointlessness.

Some thoughts on the theme as a whole... firstly, it is noteworthy that all
three poems directly involved the time of day. Noteworthy but not really
surprising; the character of City can vary dramatically with the ebb and
flow of the day. Also, light and/or darkness feature prominently - again
unsurprising, since the ability to banish the dark is one of the key
features of civilisation (or at least, of an 'artificial' environment, of
which a city is surely the canonical example).

  `The moon holds no grudges,' from Jules Laforgue's "Complainte de cette
  Bonne Lune": "-- Là, voyons, mam'zell la Lune, / Ne gardons pas ainsi
  (Poésies complètes, ed. Pascal Pia [Le Livre de Poche, 1970]: 44).

  Put your shoes at the door: for the staff to clean before morning.


  And re the title, here are some of the meanings of 'rhapsody':
  1. An epic poem or part of one, e.g. a book of the Iliad or Odyssey,
     suitable for recitation at one time.
  3b. A literary work consisting of miscellaneous or disconnected pieces,
     etc.; a written composition having no fixed form or plan. Obs.
  4. An exalted or exaggeratedly enthusiastic expression of sentiment or
     feeling; an effusion (e.g. a speech, letter, poem) marked by
     extravagance of idea and expression, but without connected thought or
     sound argument.
        -- OED2


  An interesting essay comparing some of Eliot's poems
  [broken link]

  But is it Art?
  and search for 'rhapsody'

  See also Trevor Nunn's 'Memory', from the Lloyd Webber musical 'Cats',
  which was adapted mainly from 'Rhapsody' (although it drew on a few other
  Eliot poems as well).
    [broken link]
  and the slightly different Broadway version:

  And finally, for a biography of Eliot, see the notes to Prelude I
  poem #107

Offtopic afterthought:

  For a rather different kind of underside to the city, read Neil Gaiman's


The Sun Rising -- John Donne

(Poem #465) The Sun Rising
         Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
         Why dost thou thus,
 Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
 Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
         Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
         Late schoolboys, and sour prentices,
     Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
     Call country ants to harvest offices,
 Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
 Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

         Thy beams, so reverend and strong
         Why shouldst thou think?
 I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
 But that I would not lose her sight so long:
         If her eyes have not blinded thine,
         Look, and tomorrow late, tell me
     Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
     Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
 Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
 And thou shalt hear: "All here in one bed lay."

         She is all states, and all princes I,
         Nothing else is.
 Princes do but play us; compar'd to this,
 All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
         Thou, sun, art half as happy 's we,
         In that the world's contracted thus;
     Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
     To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
 Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
 This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.
-- John Donne
It's difficult not to be dazzled by Donne's wit and imagery; unfortunately, at
times it seems equally difficult to get over his lack of, well, 'poeticness',
for want of a better word. At times he seems to consciously ignore conventional
measures of rhyme and metre and poetic beauty, concentrating instead on shocking
his readers with unexpected turns of phrase and outrageous conceits. His
language is direct and conversational, his verse full of dissonance and
colloquialism. Not for him the gods and goddesses of Petrarch or even Spenser's
nymphs; his poetry is, instead, 'a dazzling battery of language and argument
drawn from science, law and trade, court and city' (EB).

Samuel Johnson puts it best: Donne's ideas and intellect are worthy of true
respect, but 'for not keeping number' he deserves to be hanged <grin>. On the
other hand, no less a personage than Tagore describes Donne as the greatest
lyric poet in the English tongue, so opinion is certainly divided on the issue.
Personally I like his verse [1], but I'm willing to admit that at times the
ideas overshadow the poetry.

A more serious charge often laid against Donne is that he lacks depth - that he
runs out of inspiration after the first few lines of any poem, and relies on
mere wit to propel him forward. Again, this accusation is not without truth, but
it's not as damning as it appears at first blush - "his use of difficult
argument, complex metaphor and allegory [may be] a device to control and
discipline his wildly romantic heart - he treads over-carefully like a drunk who
does not trust his own tottering footsteps."  [1]

It should also be remembered that Donne's poems are as much about intellect as
they are about emotion; to blame him (as the Romantics did) for pursuing the
former at the expense of the latter is missing the point entirely. And as Eliot
pointed out three centuries later, Donne and the Metaphysicals were the last
group of poets able to unify these two strains into a single poetic

Anyway. It looks like I got a wee bit carried away with the litt critic thing;
enough already - I'll just leave you now to enjoy the poem.


[1] Read 'Go and Catch a Falling Star', a beautiful guest poem with some very
insightful comments from Anustup Dutta, at poem #384 .


"both th' Indias of spice and mine" refers to the East and West Indies, home to
exotic spices and rich mines, respectively.

"alchemy" refers here to counterfeit gold; the subject itself was one of Donne's
favourite sources of metaphor and symbolism. See his 'Valediction: Forbidding
Mourning' at poem #330 for the
most famous example.


An explication of the poem can be found at
[broken link]
. I found it rather simplistic, but it makes for a good introduction.

There's an essay on 'The Lover as Logician' at
[broken link] which I quite liked; here's an

In "The Sun Rising," Donne follows in the aubade tradition of the song to the
rising sun. (Cf. Romeo's "But soft! What light through yon window breaks?/ It is
the East, and Juliet is the sun.") He rebukes the  sun for waking him and his
beloved. Echoing sentiments in  Shakespeare's Sonnet 73, he frees love from
temporal demands: "Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,/ Nor hours,
months days, which are the rage of time." In the same fashion that he will mock
Death in the most famous of his Holy Sonnets, he demeans the sun, saying that he
could shut the sun's beams out at any time by closing his eyes, but he would
thereby lose sight of her. Using the Petrarchan conceit that Shakespeare mocks
in the opening line of Sonnet 130, Donne tells the sun that if her eyes "have
not blinded thine," it should report the next day where the richness of the
world lay—in the spice-and-gold rich Indies or in their bedroom. "She is all
states, all princes, I./ Nothing else is." All the world's pageantry and honor
is but a imperfect imitation of their exalted state, made  so by love, which has
made them "an everywhere," a microcosm of all that is of value in the world.

        -- [broken link]

Also not to be missed is Brittanica on the Metaphysicals and on Donne in
particular; extracts can be found at poem #330.


Brittanica describes Donne as 'the first London poet' - which I suppose is a
connection of sorts with Martin's theme for this week.

Michael Schmidt, in his _highly_ recommended study 'The Lives of the Poets',
says this about Donne:

"Robert Graves describes his verbal jugglery thus: 'Donne is adept at keeping
the ball in flight, but he deceives us by sometimes changing them in mid-air'. A
juggler who changes balls in mid-air was bound to appeal to Eliot and the

The phrase 'verbal jugglery'  reminds me irresistibly of Peter Schaeffer's
gorgeously complex poem 'Juggler, Magician, Fool: A Pantoume', archived at
poem #195.

Come to think of it, that poem could have been made for Donne - both as a direct
tribute to the man and his poetry, and as an exercise in self-reference,
ingenuity and wit. Read it!

Central Park at Dusk -- Sara Teasdale

(Poem #464) Central Park at Dusk
 Buildings above the leafless trees
 Loom high as castles in a dream,

 While one by one the lamps come out
 To thread the twilight with a gleam.

 There is no sign of leaf or bud,
 A hush is over everything--

 Silent as women wait for love,
 The world is waiting for the spring.
-- Sara Teasdale
A quietly beautiful little poem, and one that is deceptive in its simplicity
- the uncomplicated and unstartling progression of images and explicit
comparisons mask its economy and precision (I almost hesitate to use so
clinical a word), the subtle, seamless blending of each image into a
continuous whole.

The imagery from the start is reassuringly familiar, imbued with the soft,
dreamlike atmosphere of dusk. Teasdale makes explicit use of common,
evovcative symbols - 'castles in a dream', the lamps lighting one by one,
the twilight itself - to draw the reader into a sense of calm, so that by
the time she says 'a hush is over everything', we share in that hush, making
the conclusion - the one startlingly original note in the poem - doubly


This week's theme: poem #462

Teasdale biography: poem #113


p.s. 'thread the twilight with a gleam' - beautiful phrase, that.

Disobedience -- A A Milne

(Poem #463) Disobedience
          James James
          Morrison  Morrison
          Weatherby George Dupree
          Took great
          Care of his Mother,
          Though he was only three.
          James James
          Said to his Mother,
          "Mother", he said, said he;
     "You must never go down to the end of the town,
      if you don't go down with me."

          James James
          Morrison's Mother
          Put on a golden gown,
          James James
          Morrison's Mother
          Drove to the end of the town.
          James James
          Morrison's Mother
          Said to herself, said she:
     "I can get right down to the end of the town and be
       back in time for tea"

          King John
          Put up a notice,
          "LOST or STOLEN or STRAYED!
          JAMES JAMES
          LAST SEEN

          James James
          Morrison Morrison
          (Commonly known as Jim)
          Told his
          Other relations
          Not to go blaming _him_.
          James James
          Said to his Mother,
          "Mother", he said, said he:
     "You must never go down to the end of the town with-
       out consulting me."

          James James
          Morrison's Mother
          Hasn't been heard of since.
          King John
          Said he was sorry,
          So did the Queen and Prince.
          King John
          (Somebody told me)
          Said to a man he knew:
     "If people go down to the end of the town, well,
       what can anyone do?"

(Now then, very softly)

          J. J.
          M. M.
          W. G. Du P.
          Took great
          C/o his M*****
          Though he was only 3.
          J. J.
          Said to his M*****
          "M*****", he said, said he:
-- A A Milne
Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet... Woozles, Jagulars and Heffalumps...   Honey...
Kanga and Roo, not to mention Tigger... are you feeling nostalgic yet? Milne's
tales of the Hundred Acre Wood need no introduction -  nor, for that matter,
contradiction <grin>. Seriously, though, I cannot imagine a childhood lived
without Edward Bear and his many friends, and I'm sure the same holds true for
people all over the world and of every generation.

Equally enchanting are Milne's books of light verse - 'When We Were Very Young',
and 'Now We Are Six'. The ballad of James James and his errant mother was my
favourite poem from the former; I'm told that when _I_ was very young, I used to
recite the entire thing at breakneck speed and earsplitting volume -
_especially_ the last stanza.

Ah, fond memories. And the truly wonderful thing is that I still get every bit
as much enjoyment from Milne today as I did back then. Sigh.


PS. Many thanks to my mother for suggesting I run this poem on the Minstrels,
and for typing it out for me (since I don't have a copy near at hand, more's the


  b. Jan. 18, 1882, London, Eng.
  d. Jan. 31, 1956, Hartfield, Sussex

in full ALAN ALEXANDER MILNE, English humorist, the originator of the immensely
popular stories of Christopher Robin and his toy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh.

Milne attended Westminster School, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge. In
1906 he joined the staff of Punch, writing humorous verse and whimsical essays
in a style that quickly dated. He achieved considerable success with a series of
light comedies such as Mr. Pim Passes By (1921) and Michael and Mary (1930).
Milne also wrote one memorable detective novel, The Red House Mystery (1922);
and a children's play, Make-Believe (1918), before stumbling upon his true
literary métier with some verses written for his son Christopher Robin. These
grew into the collections When We Were Very Young (1924) and Now We Are Six
(1927). These remain classics of light verse for children.

His most popular works were the two sets of stories about the adventures of
Christopher Robin and his toy animals--Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit,
Owl, and Eeyore--as told in Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner
(1928). Ernest Shepard's illustrations added to the books' charm. In 1929 Milne
adapted another children's classic, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame,
for the stage as Toad of Toad Hall. A decade later he wrote his autobiography,
It's Too Late Now.

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 -- William Wordsworth

This week's theme: songs of the city
(Poem #462) Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
 Earth has not anything to show more fair:
 Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
 A sight so touching in its majesty:
 This City now doth, like a garment, wear
 The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
 Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
 Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
 All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
 Never did sun more beautifully steep
 In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
 Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
 The river glideth at his own sweet will:
 Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
 And all that mighty heart is lying still!
-- William Wordsworth
Today's poem makes an interesting contrast with the (presumably written in
the same year) "London 1802" - the 'fen of stagnant waters' is nowhere in
evidence, replaced instead by a sight 'touching in its majesty'.

The city dweller in me notes that Wordsworth has exhibited his usual
facility at both observation and description. The 'silent, bare' beauty of
the morning, the city steeped in the early morning sun, the deep sense of
calm, are as real, and as worthy of the poet's pen, as any babbling brook or
forest glade.

He also does a beautiful job of blending the images of the city and his own
reactions to them into one organic whole[1], shifting voices effortlessly
while never losing the central theme. And the last line is simply exquisite.

[1] see my criticism of 'The Simplon Pass', poem #441


  Dorothy Wordsworth in her Journal July 31, 1802, described the scene as
  she and her brother left London, early in the morning, for their
  month-long visit to Calais: "It was a beautiful morning. The city, St.
  Paul's, with the river, and a multitude of little boats, made a most
  beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not
  overhung by their cloud of smoke, and they were spread out endlessly, yet
  the sun shone so brightly, with such a fierce light; that there was
  something like the purity of one of nature's own grand spectacles."


[From the poem, I'd guess that it had rained the night before - m.]


  We've run a number of Wordsworth's poems in the past - see the index at

  And for previous poems that fit into the theme, or are just interesting to
  read alongside, see
  poem #5
  poem #119
  poem #154
  poem #319
  poem #361
  poem #382

  And doubtless many others


Couplets -- Thomas Lynch

Guest poem submitted by Steve Axbey:

The last poem I submitted (1) was an old favourite of mine, this one I read only
this morning but was very taken with...
(Poem #461) Couplets
Two girls found dead. My sons go to the morgue.
Two cots, thick rubber gloves, two body bags.

Too long stuffed in a culvert, raped and stabbed,
too decomposed to recognise. Too sad.

Two local ne'er-do-wells no doubt abused
too much as children themselves, stand mute.

Two caskets in a room, two families undone.
Two ministers. Two homilies. My sons

too busy with flowers and townspeople
to contemplate the problem of evil,

to shake their fists at God, regard instead
two funerals - the living and the dead

to be transported in their separate griefs -
two hearses to be washed, two limousines.

Today the wakes and paperwork details.
Tomorrow a burning and a burial.

Two girls found dead of known brutalities
together forever, precious memories

too sweet, too savage, too beautiful and bad
to keep at bay by ritual or words.

Two boys about their father's business learn
to number, comfort, witness and keep track.
-- Thomas Lynch
 From 'Still Life in Milford' (Cape Poetry, £8).

Why do I like this poem?

I found it very moving, and I found it very shocking - even though we are all
used to reading about crimes such as these, this is different - why? Because
there are two of them, of course. Which is (one of) the point(s) of the poem.

It's also a clever poem (I like clever poems).  The line-beginnings are great, I

The last couplet really makes the poem memorable: Lynch is an undertaker, of
course, and the resonant phrase (about their father's business) is very
powerful, but it's also very abrupt, a new piece of information that brings the
earlier couplets into context.

The poem was in The Times which quoted it beside a review of Lynch's latest

An important undertaking
By Thomas Lynch
Jonathan Cape, £10
ISBN 0 224 06606 4

Here's a link to the review:
[broken link]
but I have to say it's terribly badly written - almost incomprehensible I
[ the review, I mean, I haven't read the book :-) ]

Steve Axbey.

[1] poem #360

Round and Round -- Vikram Seth

Guest poem submitted by Abhijit Padte:
(Poem #460) Round and Round
After a long and wretched flight
That stretched from daylight into night,
Where babies wept and tempers shattered
And the plane lurched and whiskey splattered
Over my plastic food, I came
To claim my bags from Baggage Claim

Around, the carousel went around
The anxious travelers sought and found
Their bags, intact or gently battered,
But to my foolish eyes what mattered
Was a brave suitcase, red and small,
That circled round, not mine at all.

I knew that bag. It must be hers.
We hadnt met in seven years!
And as the metal plates squealed and clattered
My happy memories chimed and chattered.
An old man pulled it off the Claim.
My bags appeared: I did the same.
-- Vikram Seth
This poem is from Vikram Seth's volume of poems 'All You who Sleep Tonight',
published in 1990. Vikram Seth is better known for his narrative poem the
'Golden Gate'.

I like this poem for its simplicity and particularly for its depiction of how a
simple thing as a familiar bag can evoke a spate of emotions emanating from a
network of memories all tied up to some attachments in the past. In some sense
we all feel that we are through with the past and yet some simple event can
trigger of an overwhelming sense of reliving those moments. The human psyche has
a remarkable ability to retain the emotional contents of events long forgotten.

What also come through is the sense of tremendous expectations raised and
lowered with a deftness by the poet in the span of the last two lines.

Abhijit Padte.

Two Figures in Dense Violet Light -- Wallace Stevens

Guest poem submitted by Cristina Gazzieri:
(Poem #459) Two Figures in Dense Violet Light
I had as lief be embraced by the portier of the hotel
As to get no more from the moonlight
Than your moist hand.

Be the voice of the night and Florida in my ear.
Use dasky words and dusky images.
Darken your speech.

Speak, even, as if I did not hear you speaking,
But spoke for you perfectly in my thoughts,
Conceiving words,

As the night conceives the sea-sound in silence,
And out of the droning sibilants makes
A serenade.

Say, puerile, that the buzzards crouch on the ridge-pole
and sleep with one eye watching the stars fall
Beyond Key West.

Say that the palms are clear in the total blue.
Are clear and are obscure; that it is night;
That the moon shines.
-- Wallace Stevens
As in a series of other poems by Stevens, this work is based on the suggestion
of a tangle of visual and auditory images. The main evocative picture is that of
a Florida night with its palms outlined by moonlight in a paradoxical silence of
sea sounds where a few more natural elements (the buzzards, falling stars)
contribute to the exotic, wild beauty of the scene. At least two themes develop
from this central scene. The first a theme of seduction, in which the poet
laments the detached attitude of his woman and encourages her to speak a truer
language; true to herself, even if not necessarily clearer, but personal,
creative, like a "serenade". The second theme - poetic creation - emerges from
the references to linguistic conception "Conceiving words" and to the lyrical
song, the "serenade". As often happens with Stevens the almost unique object of
his poetry seems to be poetry itself. He wrote: "Poetry becomes the subject
itself of the poem" and then again "the poem is the cry of the occasion/ Part of
the res itself and not about it". The poetry he advocates is, like his own,
"obscure" but "clear", sel referential and pleasantly dusky, apparently puerile
in its primary references, resounding with natural elements.

I particularly like the ironic, almost comic incipit, so different in tone from
the intensity of the rest of the poem.


The Chariot -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem submitted by Mukund Rangamani:
(Poem #458) The Chariot
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible.
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.
-- Emily Dickinson
This is one of the few poems which has imho done justice to the
concept of Death. The poem itself is pretty simple, but the imagery
conjured is quite nice. I especially like the rather abrupt way in
which the poem begins, rather beautifully capturing the phase
transition which seperates death from life. The rest deals with the
passage of time after death in a manner that seems to immortalise
the theme.


He Fell Among Thieves -- Sir Henry Newbolt

(Poem #456) He Fell Among Thieves
 'Ye have robb'd,' said he, 'ye have slaughter'd and made an end,
 Take your ill-got plunder, and bury the dead:

 What will ye more of your guest and sometime friend?'
 'Blood for our blood,' they said.

 He laugh'd: 'If one may settle the score for five,
 I am ready; but let the reckoning stand til day:

 I have loved the sunlight as dearly as any alive.'
 'You shall die at dawn,' said they.

 He flung his empty revolver down the slope,
 He climb'd alone to the Eastward edge of the trees;

 All night long in a dream untroubled of hope
 He brooded, clasping his knees.

 He did not hear the monotonous roar that fills
 The ravine where the Yassin river sullenly flows;

 He did not see the starlight on the Laspur hills,
 Or the far Afghan snows.

 He saw the April noon on his books aglow,
 The wistaria trailing in at the window wide;

 He heard his father's voice from the terrace below
 Calling him down to ride.

 He saw the gray little church across the park,
 The mounds that hid the loved and honour'd dead;

 The Norman arch, the chancel softly dark,
 The brasses black and red.

 He saw the School Close, sunny and green,
 The runner beside him, the stand by the parapet wall,

 The distant tape, and the crowd roaring between,
 His own name over all.

 He saw the dark wainscot and timber'd roof,
 The long tables, and the faces merry and keen;

 The College Eight and their trainer dining aloof,
 The Dons on the daïs serene.

 He watch'd the liner's stem ploughing the foam,
 He felt her trembling speed and the thrash of her screw;

 He heard the passengers' voices talking of home,
 He saw the flag she flew.

 And now it was dawn. He rose strong on his feet,
 And strode to his ruin'd camp below the wood;

 He drank the breath of the morning cool and sweet:
 His murderers round him stood.

 Light on the Laspur hills was broadening fast,
 The blood-red snow-peaks chill'd to dazzling white;

 He turn'd, and saw the golden circle at last,
 Cut by the Eastern height.

 'O glorious Life, Who dwellest in earth and sun,
 I have lived, I praise and adore Thee.' A sword swept.

 Over the pass the voices one by one
 Faded, and the hill slept.
-- Sir Henry Newbolt
As a poet, Newbolt is very reminiscent of Kipling - he addresses many of the
same subjects, in a similar tone, and if he is not quite as overt a minstrel
of the Empire, its mindset nonetheless permeates his works. Of course, he
was far more minor a poet than Kipling was, and he can get annoying at
times, but he did also write a number of good poems (and one great one,
'Ireland, Ireland')

Today's poem is characteristic of that period - the protagonist laughing
lightly at his murderers, the code of honour that holds both the 'blood for
blood' and the willingness to let the victim live till dawn as natural, were
very much a part of the English view of 'things as they should be'. Also
very characteristic are the scenes that pass through his mind as he lives
his last night, and the fatalistic courage of a 'dream untroubled of hope'
(lovely phrase, too).

Without any overt appeal to the emotions, Newbolt does, I think, manage to
evoke a sense of sadness and of loss; the technique is by no means a new one
but he handles it effectively and without appearing cliched. All in all, one
of the good ones.


What prompted the 'Kipling' line of thought is the fact that today's poem
makes a very interesting companion to Kipling's "Heriot's Ford"


We've run one Newbolt poem in the past, the aforementioned 'Ireland,
Ireland': poem #41

Another vaguely related poem is Longfellow's 'The Slave's Dream',
[broken link]

- martin

The End of the World -- Archibald MacLeish

Guest poem submitted by Carolyn and Frank:
(Poem #457) The End of the World
Quite unexpectedly, as Vasserot
The armless ambidextrian was lighting
A match between his great and second toe,
And Ralph the lion was engaged in biting
The neck of Madame Sossman while the drum
Pointed, and Teeny was about to cough
In waltz-time swinging Jocko by the thumb
Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.
-- Archibald MacLeish
It is much easier to recognize a great poem (you just wait for the hair
on the back of your neck to rise) than it is to explain why  you think
it is a great poem, but here goes.

To begin with, MacLeish pulls you in with the first two words -- "Quite
unexpectedly" -- and you rush ahead to the details of a circus
performance. Vivid details pointing up a series of events as they are
about to happen. You can visualize it all. Then those two words again,
followed by  "the top blew off"

The next line is amazing.  With repetition and pauses he builds suspense
until you feel that you are one of those "white faces" with "dazed eyes"
looking up. Again a series of marvelous images but in direct contrast to
the specific ones in the first eight lines. Phrases such as starless
dark, sudden blackness and vast wings across the cancelled skies
prepare you for that completely satisfying last line.

I have always thought that MacLeish was one of our great 20th century
poets. This poem I like almost as much as my all-time favorite, 'You',
by Andrew Marvell..  He gives to the reader comforting little lines you
can repeat to yourself when you need assurance of the beautiful in life.
And he is never trite or sentimental - what more could you ask for?

Carolyn Bunch.


Carolyn (in comments added to poem 188) just happened to be looking for
the poem that I'd like to submit for the Minstrels collection. It's more
about the end of the world as experienced at a circus than a poem about
circus performers and their audience. I never really analyzed this poem
beyond recognizing the extreme contrast between the light-heartedness of
a circus performance and the seriousness of the world's end. A juxtapose
of comedy and tragedy -- Enjoy!


The Coming War -- Sam Walter Foss

(Poem #455) The Coming War
  "There will be a war in Europe,
  Thrones will be rent and overturned,"

  ("Go and fetch a pail of water," said his wife).

  "Nations shall go down in slaughter,
  Ancient capitals be burned,"

  ("Hurry up and split the kindlings," said his wife).

  "Cities wrapped in conflagration!
  Nation decimating nation!
  Chaos crashing through creation!"

  ("Go along and feed the chickens," said his wife).

  "And the war shall reach to Asia,
  And the Orient be rent,"

  ("When you going to pay the grocer?" says his wife).

  "And the myrmidons of thunder
  Shake the trembling continent,"

  ("Hurry up and beat them carpets," said his wife).

  "Million myriads invading,
  Rapine, rioting, and raiding,
  Conquest, carnage, cannonading!"

  ("Wish you'd come and stir this puddin'," said his wife).

  "Oh, it breaks my heart, this conflict
  Of the Slav and Celt and Dane,"

  ("Bob has stubbed his rubber boots on," said his wife).

  "Oh, the draggled Russian banners!
  Oh, the chivalry of Spain!"

  ("We have got no more molasses," said his wife).

  "See the marshalled millions led on
  With no bloodless sod to tread on,
  Gog and Magog! Armageddon!"

  ("Hurry up and get a yeast cake," said his wife).

  "Oh, the grapple of the nations,
  It is coming, woe is me!"

  ("Did you know we're out of flour?" said his wife).

  "Oh, the many-centuried empires
  Overwhelmed in slaughter's sea!"

  ("Wish you'd go and put the cat out," said his wife).

  "Death and dreadful dissolution
  Wreak their awful execution,
  Carnage, anarchy, confusion!"

  ("Let me have two cents for needles," said his wife.

  "All my love goes out to Europe,
  And my heart is torn and sad,"

  ("How can I keep house on nothing?" said his wife).

  "O, the carnival of carnage,
  O, the battle, malestrom mad!"

  ("Wish you'd battle for a living," said his wife).

  "Down in smoke and blood and thunder,
  While the stars look on in wonder,
  Must these empires all go under?"

  ("Where're we going to get our dinner?" said his wife).
-- Sam Walter Foss

  Gog and Magog: the nations represented in the Apocalypse as the forces of
  Satan at Armageddon -- Chambers

Today's poem is ample proof that there is still humour to be found in
stereotypes. There is nothing new in the subject matter - the man with a
rather bombastic opinion of world affairs, his wife who exhibits a complete
disinterest in affairs of state, and strives in vain to make him pay some
attention to the here and now, have been portrayed in countless comic
sketches, of varying quality.

What makes 'The Coming War' one of the good ones is Foss's wonderful feel
for language - he captures the inflated tone of the husband's remarks
beautifully (incidentally parodying a number of poems on the subject as
well). Practically every line cries out to be quoted, and every one of them
makes me smile.

On the technical side, note the use of long words and punctuation to convey
'weight' - reading the poem aloud draws one naturally into a 'declamatory'
style, with frequent pauses and exaggerated emphases (influenced heavily by
the content, of course - as I have pointed out before, these 'formal'
effects do not exist independently of the text, but merely reinforce it.)


   A poet, journalist, and humorist, Sam Walter Foss is best known
   for his inspirational poem, The House By the Side of the Road. Sam was
   born into a rural New England farm family June 19, 1858. When Sam was
   four years old his mother died, and young Sam had to mature quickly
   and do his share of chores. He graduated from Portsmouth (New
   Hampshire) High School, and obtained a bachelor's degree from Brown
   University in 1882. As owner and editor of the Lynn, Massachsetts
   Saturday Union newspaper, Mr. Foss produced a humor column once a
   week. He became skilled at cranking out his popular homespun verse and
   his poetry was soon being published across the country. In 1891 moved
   to Boston where he wrote first for the Yankee Blade and later the
   Boston Globe. Sam Foss was also a regular contributor to the Christian
   Science Monitor until his death in 1911.


['popular homespun verse' is a lovely summation of Foss's work. Didn't
particularly care for 'House by the Side of the Road' myself, though - m.]

- martin

If I have made, my lady, intricate -- e e cummings

Guest poem submitted by Sonya Bhagat:
(Poem #454) If I have made, my lady, intricate
If I have made, my lady, intricate
imperfect various things chiefly which wrong
your eyes (frailer than most deep dreams are frail)
songs less firm than your body's whitest song
upon my mind - if I have failed to snare
the glance too shy - if through my singing slips
the very skilful strangeness of your smile
the keen primeval silence of your hair

- let the world say "his most wise music stole
nothing from death" -
                    you will only create
(who are so perfectly alive) my shame:
lady whose profound and fragile lips
the sweet small clumsy feet of April came

into the ragged meadow of my soul.
-- e e cummings
After "somewhere i have never travelled... not even the rain has such small
hands" he comes very close to expressing the inexpressible, conjuring sights,
sounds and sensations akin to what it must feel to hold spun strands of gold or
crystal. One is afraid to read it lest it be dented even slightly.


[thomas adds]

It's true. Rarely have I come across a poem as delicate as this (and as
delicately beautiful). cummings rocks.

Keeping Things Whole -- Mark Strand

Guest poem submitted by Terry Smith:
(Poem #453) Keeping Things Whole
 In a field
 I am the absence
 of field.
 This is
 always the case.
 Wherever I am
 I am what is missing.

 When I walk
 I part the air
 and always
 the air moves in
 to fill the spaces
 where my body's been.

 We all have reasons
 for moving.
 I move
 to keep things whole.
-- Mark Strand
This sparse, philosophical free verse poem is from Mark Strand's 1964 "Sleeping
With One Eye Open".  Strand teaches at the University of Chicago, and is the
Poet Laureate of the U.S. (though born a Canadian... another import we've
acquired and made our own)

I can turn the opening 3 lines around and around in my head for ages at a time,
playing with the meanings, exploring the depth of the idea.  These and the last
2 lines of that stanza are practically koans, and worthy of meditation.

The second stanza seems just a short explanation for the sake of those with too
little time for navel gazing, but the last stanza locks the poem's appeal to a
drifter like me.

A friend of mine was showing me Strand's 'Eating Poetry' in a compilation, and I
opened to this one and fell in love with his talent at expressing such grand
thoughts in so few beautiful words.

I wish to leave the world -- José Martí

Guest poem submitted by Movin Miranda:
(Poem #452) I wish to leave the world
 I wish to leave the world
 By its natural door;
 In my tomb of green leaves
 They are to carry me to die.
 Do not put me in the dark
 To die like a a traitor;
 I am good, and like a good thing
 I will die with my face to the sun
-- José Martí
I have chosen the poem not so much for its merit (can't say how much of it is
lost in translation) but because the poet's life fascinates me. It is very
unusual for a poet to be actually a guerrilla fighter and then be a hero to both
the extreme-right and to the leftists.

In Jose Marti's case both the Castro regime and its right-wing opponents based
in Miami have claimed José Martí as their own. Quizzards and music lovers will
recognise José Martí as the one who wrote the popular song "Guantanamera".
Actually the song is based on one of his poems. More trivia: the anti-Castro
stations Radio Marti and TV Marti, Havana's main airport and El Salvador's
leftist guerrilla outfit (the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front) are all named
for this Cuban patriot. Wonder why there is no Hollywood movie based on his
life, as yet.



José Martí (1853-1895)

Cuban poet, essayist and journalist, who became symbol of Cuba's struggle for
independence from Spain and who promoted better understanding among American

Martí was born in Havanna. He studied at the Instituto de Havana (1866-69), and
worked on the underground periodicals El Diablo Cojuelo and La Patria Libre. In
1869 Martí was arrested for subversion and sentenced to six years' hard labour.
He went into exile to Spain, where he studied at the University of Madrid (1873)
and University of Saragosa, receiving degree in law in 1873, and a year later
degree in philosophy and letters.  In 1875 Martí moved to Mexico and wrote for
Revista Universal. He taught then literature and philosphy at the University of
Guatemala and returned to Cuba where he worked in a law office. In 1879 he was
again deported to Spain.

Because of his political activities, Martí was unwelcome to many countries. In
1881 he moved to New York City, where he worked as an editor, journalist or
foreign correspondent for several magazines, including the New York Sun, El
Partido Liberal, La Opinión Nacional, La Nación, La República, El Economista
Americano, and La Opinión Pública. Martí also served as consul for Uruguay,
Paraguay, and Argentina, and was a Spanish teacher at Central High School.

Except for travels, Martí remained in the U.S. until the year of his death. He
published the periodical La patria, which followed events in Cuba, and launched
a crusade for independence of his birth country from Spain. In 1894 he founded
the Cuban revolutionary Party and tried to lead a company of revolutionaries
from the U.S. to Cuba. The plan failed but next year he succeeded in reaching
Cuba, and died in a skirmish at Dos Rios on May 19, 1895. Popular song
Guantanamera is based on Marti's poem. His style is still considered a model of
Spanish prose. Martí's collected writings in 73 volumes appeared in 1936-53.
Main body of Martí's prose was journalistic in nature, targeted for quick
publication in newspapers and magazines. In his essays he always reaffirmed his
anticolonialist and antiracists beliefs. During the last fifteen years of his
life, Martí sent regular contributions to important Spanish American newspapers
and displayed his his essays a new style, which had deep influence on the
literary prose of every Spanish-speaking nation.


Leda and the Swan -- William Butler Yeats

(Poem #451) Leda and the Swan
 A sudden blow:
                The great wings beating still
 Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
 By the dark webs, her nape caught in the bill,
 He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
 How can those terrified vague fingers push
 The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
 And how can body, laid in that white rush,
 But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
 A shudder in the loins engenders there
 The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
 And Agamemnon dead.
                        Being so caught up,
 So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
 Did she put on his knowledge with his power
 Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
-- William Butler Yeats
In the course of my researches (read: web-surfing), I found this extract which
sums up my feelings for this poem:

"The poem is artful, canonical, and compelling; yet ultimately it is also a poem
about rape, a poem that uses the image of rape as a central figure for
inspiration, for poetry, and for history. As a poet, I find the poem to be
beautifully crafted; as a modernist scholar, I think it is a historically
important part of the modernist canon; yet as a feminist critic, I find it
troublesome and potentially repugnant to some readers.

        -- Ed Madden, [broken link]

It's true: although I would be the first to admit the power of this great and
complex sonnet, I can't read 'Leda and the Swan' without being profoundly
disturbed by it...


[Historical note]

The swan is an incarnation of Zeus; the offspring of his union with Leda were
the twins Castor and Pollux, and the beautiful Helen of Troy. Notice how there's
only one proper noun used in the entire poem, yet the sonnet as a whole evokes
the grand sweep of history and myth quite brilliantly - 'the fury and the mire
of human veins'.


The web has no shortage of commentaries on Yeats in general and this poem in
particular. Two which I liked are at [broken link] and
[broken link]; the former is a contextual (I hope I'm
using the word correctly) reading, the latter a feminist one.

Auntie's Skirts -- Robert Louis Stevenson

(Poem #450) Auntie's Skirts
  Whenever Auntie moves around,
  Her dresses make a curious sound,
  They trail behind her up the floor,
  And trundle after through the door.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
        (From 'A Child's Garden of Verses')

What childrens' poet has at some time or the other not succumbed to the
temptation to rhyme 'floor' and 'door'? :) Not that there's anything wrong
with that, of course - indeed, I consider this one of the 'successful' poems
in Stevenson's wildly diverse 'A Child's Garden of Verses'. True, it
presents no deep insight, no stunning revelation. However, it possesses that
rare and welcome quality of working on two entirely separate levels.

Firstly, it is clearly a childrens' poem. Is it a good childrens' poem? Yes
- the meter and rhyme fall very naturally into the sort of singsong chant
that the Very Young delight in repeating ad nauseum. Also the central image
*is* insightful from a child's perspective - I can imagine one reading the
poem and then keeping an eye out the next time he saw an aunt of his,
wondering if her dresses did indeed make a curious sound, or trail behind
her on the floor.

However, there is also a certain underscored pointlessness that appeals to
me on a far more 'sophisticated' level. The very lack of humour, imagery,
comparison, elaboration, surprise, and all the other techniques we expect in
a short poem - the sheer "take it or leave it" presentation of a single
fact, dissociated even from event-specificity by the enclosing 'whenever',
is a stylistic technique verging on imagism, and one that it not easy to get
right. Whatever one might say about Stevenson, there is no denying that he
had a wonderful feel for style and language.


Here are the other three Stevenson poems we've run in the past:
poem #20, poem #84, and poem #290.


Helen -- H D

This week's theme: the Trojan War.
(Poem #449) Helen
 All Greece hates
 the still eyes in the white face,
 the lustre as of olives
 where she stands,
 and the white hands.

 All Greece reviles
 the wan face when she smiles,
 hating it deeper still
 when it grows wan and white,
 remembering past enchantments
 and past ills.

 Greece sees unmoved,
 God's daughter, born of love,
 the beauty of cool feet
 and slenderest knees,
 could love indeed the maid,
 only if she were laid,
 white ash amid funereal cypresses.
-- H D
Sometimes I think the true tragedy of the Iliad is not that of Hector,
an honourable man ensnared (by his own loyalty) on the wrong
side, but that of Helen - caught up in a conflict not of her own
making, both sides treating her as a pawn or a prize to be won, all
because of her (unasked-for) beauty...

Any number of poems have been written about the aforementioned
beauty (see the links section below, and, indeed, the remaining
poems for this week); HD, though, presents another perspective on
the matter. And like a good Imagist poem should, this poem
suggests far more than it says - it provokes pity as much as it
does awe, and it does both in a beautifully understated manner.


[Note on Construction]

This is not a completely irregular poem; there are rhymes, half-
rhymes and assonances, internal resonances, the glimmerings of a
stress pattern... through these, HD maintains a 'poetic' (no other
word fits) lightness and ease of expression, while steering clear of
the strict prosody which constrained most of her contemporaries.
And this lightness is (despite the seriousness of the poem)
perfectly suited to describing the greatest beauty of antiquity...
form and content meet once again.

Notice also the harshness of the first line of each stanza - 'All
Greece hates', 'All Greece reviles', 'Greece sees unmoved' - these
set the tone for the entire poem, and ensure that the descriptions
of Helen's beauty in the ensuing lines evoke pity rather than desire
or admiration. Again, skilfully done.


The definitive poetic description of Helen of Troy is surely Marlowe's
"Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships" speech from Dr
Faustus; you can read it at poem #75

Keats' sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" is another
famous evocation of time, distance and beauty (and a host of other
things beside; no amount of prose can do justice to the sheer
perfection of this poem); you can read it at poem #12

Yet another utterly wonderful poem on the same subject is
Tennyson's "Ulysses", which is archived at poem #121.
Tennyson's stock has gone down considerably since the 19th
century, but there's no question that for the sheer music of his
verse he has few rivals. And "Ulysses" is one of my favourite
poems, think what I may of Tennyson.

[Note on the Trojan War]

At first blush this would seem a remarkably abstruse theme - one
unlikely to supply even a single title, let alone three or four. But
such is Homer's place at the wellspring of Western culture that
there's no shortage of poems celebrating (or otherwise) this
seminal event. Enjoy!

To The Immortal Memory of the Halibut, On Which I Dined This Day, Monday, April 26, 1784 -- William Cowper

(Poem #448) To The Immortal Memory of the Halibut, On Which I Dined This Day, Monday, April 26, 1784
  Where hast thou floated, in what seas pursu'd
  Thy pastime? When wast thou an egg new spawn'd,
  Lost in the immensity of ocean's waste?
  Roar as they might, the overbearing winds
  That rock'd the deep, thy cradle, thou wast safe--
  And in thy minikin and embryo state,
  Attach'd to the firm leaf of some salt weed,
  Didst outlive tempests, such as wrung and rack'd
  The joints of many a stout and gallant bark,
  And whelm'd them in the unexplor'd abyss.
  Indebted to no magnet and no chart,
  Nor under guidance of the polar fire,
  Thou wast a voyager on many coasts,
  Grazing at large in meadows submarine,
  Where flat Batavia just emerging peeps
  Above the brine,--where Caledonia's rocks
  Beat back the surge,--and where Hibernia shoots
  Her wondrous causeway far into the main.
  --Wherever thou hast fed, thou little thought'st,
  And I not more, that I should feed on thee.
  Peace, therefore, and good health, and much good fish,
  To him who sent thee! and success, as oft
  As it descends into the billowy gulf,
  To the same drag that caught thee!--Fare thee well!
  Thy lot thy brethern of the slimy fin
  Would envy, could they know that thou wast doom'd
  To feed a bard, and to be prais'd in verse.
-- William Cowper
A wonderfully tongue-in-cheek poem, from the title[1] all the way down to
the final two lines. Cowper does a wonderful job of poking fun at some of
the cliches of nature/sea poetry, while simultaneously managing to produce a
pretty good set of verses (by no means a contradiction - images don't get to
be cliches for no reason).

And don't miss the play on 'doom'[2] in the penultimate line.

[1] curiously enough, not even the longest-titled poem we've had so far -
see the titled-in-all-earnest rival to Shelley's 'Ozymandias', poem #284

[2] not quite a pun, but a definite sense of the word being used in both its
neutral (i.e. simply 'fated') and adverse senses.


Who could forget Norman Gale's immortal "MOST ANGLERS ARE VERY HUMANE" -
Daily Paper'? poem #284

And for a rather different piece of interplay between cliches and food, see
'Caliban at Sunset', poem #408


  Cowper, William
   b. Nov. 26, 1731, Great Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, Eng.
   d. April 25, 1800, East Dereham, Norfolk one of the most widely read
   English poets of his day, whose most characteristic work, as in The Task
   or the melodious short lyric "The Poplar Trees," brought a new directness
   to 18th-century nature poetry.

   Cowper wrote of the joys and sorrows of everyday life and was content to
   describe hedgerows, ditches, rivers, haystacks, and hares. In his
   sympathy with such phenomena, his concern for the poor and downtrodden,
   and his comparative simplicity of language, he may be seen as one in
   revolt against much 18th-century verse and as a forerunner of Robert
   Burns, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. While he is often
   gently humorous in his verse, the tragedy that was never far below the
   surface of his mind is revealed in "The Castaway."

   After the death of his mother when he was six, Cowper (pronounced
   "Cooper"), the son of an Anglican clergyman, was sent to a local boarding
   school. He then moved to Westminster School, in London, and in 1750 began
   to study law. He was called to the bar in 1754 and took chambers in
   London's Middle Temple in 1757. During his student days he fell in love
   with his cousin, Theodora Cowper, and for a while the two were engaged.
   But Cowper was beginning to show signs of the mental instability that
   plagued him throughout his life. His father had died in 1756, leaving
   little wealth, and Cowper's family used its influence to obtain two
   administrative posts for him in the House of Lords, which entailed a
   formal examination. This prospect so disturbed him that he attempted
   suicide and was confined for 18 months in an asylum, troubled by
   religious doubts and fears and persistently dreaming of his predestined

   Religion, however, also provided the comfort of Cowper's convalescence,
   which he spent at Huntingdon, lodging with the Reverend Morley Unwin, his
   wife Mary, and their small family. Pious Calvinists, the Unwins supported
   the evangelical revival, then a powerful force in English society. In
   1767 Morley Unwin was killed in a riding accident, and his family, with
   Cowper, took up residence at Olney, in Buckinghamshire. The curate there,
   John Newton, a leader of the revival, encouraged Cowper in a life of
   practical evangelism; however, the poet proved too frail, and his doubt
   and melancholy returned. Cowper collaborated with Newton on a book of
   religious verse, eventually published as Olney Hymns (1779).

   In 1773 thoughts of marriage with Mary Unwin were ended by Cowper's
   relapse into near madness. When he recovered the following year, his
   religious fervour was gone. Newton departed for London in 1780, and
   Cowper again turned to writing poetry; Mrs. Unwin suggested the theme for
   "The Progress of Error," six moral satires. Other works, such as
   "Conversation" and "Retirement," reflected his comparative cheerfulness
   at this time.

   Cowper was friendly with Lady Austen, a widow living nearby, who told him
   a story that he made into a ballad, "The Journey of John Gilpin," which
   was sung all over London after it was printed in 1783. She also playfully
   suggested that he write about a sofa--an idea that grew into The Task.
   This long discursive poem, written "to recommend rural ease and leisure,"
   was an immediate success on its publication in 1785. Cowper then moved to
   Weston, a neighbouring village, and began translating Homer. His health
   suffered under the strain, however, and there were occasional periods of
   mental illness. His health continued to deteriorate, and in 1795 he moved
   with Mary Unwin to live near a cousin in Norfolk, finally settling at
   East Dereham. Mrs. Unwin, a permanent invalid since 1792, died in
   December 1796, and Cowper sank into despair from which he never emerged.

   Robert Southey edited his writings in 15 volumes between 1835 and 1837.
   Cowper is also considered one of the best letter writers in English, and
   some of his hymns, such as "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" and "Oh! For a
   Closer Walk with God," have become part of the folk heritage of
   Protestant England. The Letters and Prose Writings, in two volumes,
   edited by James King and Charles Ryskamp, was published in 1979-80.

        -- EB

- martin