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Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to Anybody -- Adrian Mitchell

 From the irresistible-followup-dept.:
(Poem #623) Ten Ways to Avoid Lending Your Wheelbarrow to Anybody

 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 I didn't lay down my life in World War II
 so that you could borrow my wheelbarrow.


 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 Unfortunately Lord Goodman is using it.


 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 It is too mighty a conveyance to be wielded
 by any mortal save myself.


 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 My wheelbarrow is reserved for religious ceremonies.


 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 I would sooner be broken on its wheel
 and buried in its barrow.


 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 I am dying of schizophrenia
 and all you can talk about is wheelbarrows.


 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 Do you think I'm made of wheelbarrows?


 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 It is full of blood.


 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 Only if I can fuck your wife in it.


 May I borrow your wheelbarrow?
 What is a wheelbarrow?
-- Adrian Mitchell
 From 'The Apeman Cometh', 1975.

[Martin's commentary]

Another brilliant poem from Mitchell. Thomas has called Mitchell his
favourite contemporary poet, and while I wouldn't go that far, there's no
denying that his is an unusually refreshing voice, blending humour and
cynicism with a power that prevents the former two from lapsing into

That same power raises what could have been merely a mildly amusing parody
of Stevens' Blackbird poem into a biting look at the hundred and one
convoluted ways people have of saying 'no'. The poem is hilarious as much
for its perceptiveness in cataloguing these turndowns as for the deft way
each is exaggerated to precisely the right extent. IMHO, one of Mitchell's
funniest works, and one that suffers not at all for being 'merely' a parody
of a more famous poem.

In fact, I'd hesitate to call this a parody, in that it doesn't draw upon
the original for anything other than the idea, and that having read the
original is unnecessary to appreciate it. It's more a poem *inspired* by
'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird' - knowing the original will give
the reader a brief thrill of recognition, but add nothing else to the poem.

[My own commentary]

What, you want more? <g>

Actually, Martin's already covered most of what I wanted to say about this
poem. So I'll content myself with a few quick notes.

Firstly: No, I wouldn't call it a parody either. In fact, I'm pretty sure
the generic construct "n ways of doing x" was in currency well before
Stevens' magnificent poem; Mitchell's title is no more evidence of parody
than, say, Paul Simon's "50 ways to leave your lover". (That said, I would
be happy to be proven wrong).

Secondly: I must betray a certain curiosity as to who Martin's favourite
contemporary poet is. Spill the beans, do.

Thirdly and lastly: 'dying of schizophrenia' - ah, immortal phrase.


Kenneth Koch, "Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams":
poem #278

A previous irresistible followup - Harold Monro, "Overheard on a Salmarsh":
poem #594. I'm sure there are more IFs elsewhere on the Minstrels, but
this was the only one I could remember offhand.

While we're on the ways-and-means theme, check out Edwin Brock's "Five Ways
to Kill a Man": poem #105

Other Mitchell poems:
poem #397
poem #337
poem #211
poem #95
poem #28


The Ice-Cart -- Wilfred Gibson

(Poem #622) The Ice-Cart
 Perched on my city office-stool,
 I watched with envy, while a cool
 And lucky carter handled ice. . . .
 And I was wandering in a trice,
 Far from the grey and grimy heat
 Of that intolerable street,
 O'er a sapphire berg and emerald floe,
 Beneath the still, cold ruby glow
 Of everlasting Polar night,
 Bewildered by the queer half-light,
 Until I stumbled, unawares,
 Upon a creek where big white bears
 Plunged headlong down with flourished heels
 And floundered after shining seals
 Through shivering seas of blinding blue.
 And as I watched them, ere I knew,
 I'd stripped, and I was swimming too,
 Among the seal-pack, young and hale,
 And thrusting on with threshing tail,
 With twist and twirl and sudden leap
 Through crackling ice and salty deep --
 Diving and doubling with my kind,
 Until, at last, we left behind
 Those big, white, blundering bulks of death,
 And lay, at length, with panting breath
 Upon a far untravelled floe,
 Beneath a gentle drift of snow --
 Snow drifting gently, fine and white,
 Out of the endless Polar night,
 Falling and falling evermore
 Upon that far untravelled shore,
 Till I was buried fathoms deep
 Beneath the cold white drifting sleep --
 Sleep drifting deep,
 Deep drifting sleep. . . .

 The carter cracked a sudden whip:
 I clutched my stool with startled grip.
 Awakening to the grimy heat
 Of that intolerable street.
-- Wilfred Gibson
I like today's poem for the vivid trip through the poet's imagination - the
images are glowingly detailed, and move easily from scene to scene, the
whole capturing the feel of an extended reverie admirably. The varying pace
is handled nicely too - the crystalline images setting the scene, the burst
of activity, the drifting snow, all slide effortlessly into each other,
until the vision is abruptly shattered and the narrator is returned to the
'grimy heat' of his surroundings.


b. Oct. 2, 1878, Hexham, Northumberland, Eng.
d. May 26, 1962, Virginia Water, Surrey

 British poet who drew his inspiration from the workaday life of ordinary
 provincial English families.

 Gibson was educated privately, served briefly in World War I, and
 thereafter devoted his life to poetry. A period in London in 1912 brought
 him into contact with Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, John
 Drinkwater, and other Georgian poets, with whom he founded the short-lived
 poetry magazine New Numbers. In 1917 he made a long lecture tour of the
 United States. His first poem had appeared in The Spectator in 1897, but it
 was with his realistic presentation of the lives of country folk in
 Stonefolds and On the Threshold (both 1907) that he first exploited the
 themes of contemporary life which distinguished his major works.

          -- EB


For a vision of an altogether different sort, poem #30
Ice, poem #145


Thirteen Blackbirds Looking at a Man -- R S Thomas

(Poem #621) Thirteen Blackbirds Looking at a Man
 It is calm.
 It is as though
 we lived in a garden
 that had not yet arrived
 at the knowledge of
 good and evil.
 But there is a man in it.

 There will be
 rain falling vertically
 from an indifferent
 sky. There will stare out
 from behind its
 bars the face of the man
 who is not enjoying it.

 Nothing higher
 than a blackberry
 bush. As the sun comes up
 fresh, what is the darkness
 stretching from horizon
 to horizon? It is the shadow
 here of the forked man.

 We have eaten
 the blackberries and spat out
 the seeds, but they lie
 glittering like the eyes of a man.

 After we have stopped
 singing, the garden is disturbed
 by echoes. It is
 the man whistling, expecting
 everything to come to him.

 We wipe our beaks
 on the branches
 wasting the dawn's
 jewellery to get rid
 of the taste of a man.

 which is not the case
 with a man, our
 bills give us no trouble.

 Who said the
 number was unlucky?
 It was a man, who,
 trying to pass us,
 had his licence endorsed
 thirteen times.

 In the cool
 of the day the garden
 seems given over
 to blackbirds. Yet
 we know also that somewhere
 there is a man in hiding.

 To us there are
 eggs and there are
 blackbirds. But there is the man,
 too, trying without feathers
 to incubate a solution.

 We spread our
 wings, reticulating
 our air space. A man stands
 under us and worries
 at his ability to do the same.

 When night comes
 like a visitor
 from outer space
 we stop our ears
 lest we should hear tell
 of the man in the moon.

 Summer is
 at an end. The migrants
 depart. When they return
 in spring to the garden,
 will there be a man among them?
-- R S Thomas
This is not one of R. S. Thomas' more famous poems, and for good reason - it
is, quite simply, not one of his better ones. Imitation might be the
sincerest form of flattery, but I can't help but think a poet loses a
certain something when he moves away from his own style, no matter how
compelling the reasons for that move.

That said, this is not a _bad_ poem per se. Thomas eschews Wallace Stevens'
Imagistic suggestiveness for a more overt style; the fragments of today's
poem seem to have a more explicit theme - innocence, fall, redemption - than
those of yesterday's. It doesn't fully succeed in its aims, but 'tis enough,
'twill serve.



Yesterday's poem - Wallace Stevens' famous "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a
Blackbird": poem #620

Another very famous blackbird poem - Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven": poem #85

Mike Keith's amazingly ingenious version thereof:

Other poems by R. S. Thomas:
poem #152
poem #187
poem #392
poem #554

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird -- Wallace Stevens

(Poem #620) Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
 Among twenty snowy mountains,
 The only moving thing
 Was the eye of the blackbird.

 I was of three minds,
 Like a tree
 In which there are three blackbirds.

 The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
 It was a small part of the pantomime.

 A man and a woman
 Are one.
 A man and a woman and a blackbird
 Are one.

 I do not know which to prefer,
 The beauty of inflections
 Or the beauty of innuendoes,
 The blackbird whistling
 Or just after.

 Icicles filled the long window
 With barbaric glass.
 The shadow of the blackbird
 Crossed it, to and fro.
 The mood
 Traced in the shadow
 An indecipherable cause.

 O thin men of Haddam,
 Why do you imagine golden birds?
 Do you not see how the blackbird
 Walks around the feet
 Of the women about you?

 I know noble accents
 And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
 But I know, too,
 That the blackbird is involved
 In what I know.

 When the blackbird flew out of sight,
 It marked the edge
 Of one of many circles.

 At the sight of blackbirds
 Flying in a green light,
 Even the bawds of euphony
 Would cry out sharply.

 He rode over Connecticut
 In a glass coach.
 Once, a fear pierced him,
 In that he mistook
 The shadow of his equipage
 For blackbirds.

 The river is moving.
 The blackbird must be flying.

 It was evening all afternoon.
 It was snowing
 And it was going to snow.
 The blackbird sat
 In the cedar-limbs.
-- Wallace Stevens
Wallace Stevens stands self-confessed as a philosophical poet; his poems are
(usually) more analytical than descriptive, seeking answers to profound
questions about reality and the mind's relation thereto. This in itself is
not a bad thing - the world needs logic as much as it does romance.
Unfortunately, there is such a thing as going too far, and I have to confess
myself unmoved by most of Stevens' later work. I just find it a wee bit
_too_ detached, too dense and serious and controlled for my taste [1].

But his _earlier_ work - ah, that's a different matter altogether. The
'youthful' [2] exuberance evident in his first collection of poems, 1923's
"Harmonium", lends his early verse a vitality (and a strong sense of the
unexpected) that I feel is somewhat lacking in his later output.

"Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" is an excellent example of
Wallace's willingness to experiment in those days. The poem is simple enough
- a series of Imagistic fragments, each one exploring a different thought
that arises in the poet's mind as he looks out upon a blackbird - but for
its time it was revolutionary. Ezra Pound and H[ilda] D[oolittle] may have
introduced haiku-like minimalism into English poetry, but Stevens was the
first to show that such minimalism could both show _and_ tell [3] at the
same time [4].


[1] Note that I do not say "too dry": Stevens has written some of the most
astonishingly lush, rich verse this side of Dylan Thomas, and the technical
virtuosity he invariably exhibits is nothing short of masterly.

[2] Stevens was 44 when the collection was published, but many of the poems
in it were written well before that.

[3] A reference to Pound's famous mantra, "show, don't tell".

[4] Ironically enough, I can think of few poets as dissimilar (in their
overall poetic output) as Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. I'm a Pound fan,


Given his current stature (at least in critical circles), Wallace Stevens is
relatively under-represented on the Minstrels. Nonetheless, do check out
Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock, Poem #154
The Emperor of Ice-Cream, Poem #180
The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad, Poem #373
Two Figures in Dense Violet Light, Poem #459
all of which can be found in the Minstrels archive,


b. Oct. 2, 1879, Reading, Pa., U.S.
d. Aug. 2, 1955, Hartford, Conn.

American poet whose work explores the interaction of reality and what man
can make of reality in his mind. It was not until late in life that Stevens
was read at all widely or recognized as a major poet by more than a few.

Stevens attended Harvard for three years, worked briefly for the New York
Herald Tribune, and then won a degree (1904) at the New York Law School and
practiced law in New York City. His first published poems, aside from
college verse, appeared in 1914 in Poetry, and thereafter he was a frequent
contributor to the literary magazines. In 1916 he joined an insurance firm
in Hartford, Conn., rising in 1934 to vice president, a position he held
until his death.

Harmonium (1923), his first book, sold fewer than 100 copies but received
some favourable critical notices; it was reissued in 1931 and in 1947. In it
he introduced the imagination-reality theme that occupied his creative
lifetime, making his work so unified that he considered three decades later
calling his collected poems "The Whole of Harmonium."

He displayed his most dazzling verbal brilliance in his first book; he later
tended to relinquish surface lustre for philosophical rigour. In Harmonium
appeared such poems as "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle," "Sunday Morning," "Peter
Quince at the Clavier," and Stevens' own favourites, "Domination of Black"
and "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"; all were frequently republished in
anthologies. Harmonium also contained "Sea Surface Full of Clouds," in which
waves are described in terms of such unlikely equivalents as umbrellas,
French phrases, and varieties of chocolate, and "The Comedian as the Letter
C," in which he examines the relation of the poet, or man of imagination, to

In the 1930s and early '40s, this theme was to reappear, although not to the
exclusion of others, in Stevens' Ideas of Order (1935), The Man with the
Blue Guitar (1937), and Parts of a World (1942). Transport to Summer (1947)
incorporated two long sequences that had appeared earlier: "Notes Towards a
Supreme Fiction" and "Esthétique du Mal" ("Aesthetic of Evil"), in which he
argues that beauty is inextricably linked with evil. The Auroras of Autumn
(1950) was followed by his Collected Poems (1954), which earned him the
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. A volume of critical essays, The Necessary Angel,
appeared in 1951.

After Stevens' death, Samuel French Morse edited Opus Posthumous (1957),
including poems, plays, and prose omitted from the earlier collection.

     -- EB

Also, check out the Criterion review of Stevens' Collected Poems and Prose,
[broken link],5744,328472,00.html?query=wallace%20stevens

somewhere i have never travelled -- e e cummings

A most unusual occurrence: a guest poem suggested (independently) by no less
than three different readers - Devyani Saltzman, Raj Palaniswamyand Erin Cheatham. Reading the
poem, it's not hard to see why...
(Poem #619) somewhere i have never travelled
 somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
 any experience, your eyes have their silence:
 in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
 or which i cannot touch because they are too near

 your slightest look easily will unclose me
 though i have closed myself as fingers,
 you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
 (touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

 or if your wish be to close me, i and
 my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
 as when the heart of this flower imagines
 the snow carefully everywhere descending;

 nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
 the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
 compels me with the colour of its countries,
 rendering death and forever with each breathing

 (i do not know what it is about you that closes
 and opens; only something in me understands
 the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
 nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
-- e e cummings

I don't know anything about the story behind this poem, but I feel it's one
of the most beautiful love poems I've ever read. Whenever I read it, I'm
constantly blown away by the tenderness expressed through his use of
language. It's almost as if one can feel the lightness of the caress between
these two people. One of my favourite lines has just this effect:
        "you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
        (touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose"
The poem almost 'breathes', for all its detail and the analogy of the rose,
there is so much room to imagine between the lines. However many times I
read it the poem takes on new tones and meanings. It's limitless.


The More Loving One -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Neha Kumar:
(Poem #618) The More Loving One
 Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
 That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
 But on earth indifference is the least
 We have to dread from man or beast.

 How should we like it were stars to burn
 With a passion for us we could not return?
 If equal affection cannot be,
 Let the more loving one be me.

 Admirer as I think I am
 Of stars that do not give a damn,
 I cannot, now I see them, say
 I missed one terribly all day.

 Were all stars to disappear or die,
 I should learn to look at an empty sky
 And feel its total dark sublime,
 Though this might take me a little time.
-- W H Auden
There's a certain satisfaction in being able to confront this situation, and
still go on -- to find a meaning in our lives that comes, not from the outer
universe, but from within ourselves. The poet would much rather be "the more
loving one" than the one to show indifference to those that love. Perhaps it
is the notion of being able to govern one's own emotions independently of
others' towards us that leads him to feel this way. And yet, there is a
comfort in knowing that, regardless of the absence of mutual love and
admiration, everything in nature approaches that point of equilibrium where
indifference is matched by indifference, love by love.

In the first stanza, the predominant theme is of indifference. We know the
stars to be incapable of feeling or expressing any kind of emotion towards
us, but that indifference is insignificant if compared to the several
concerns that plague us in our relationships with other creatures of the
earth. And yet, as he says in the next stanza, what if the stars did love us
passionately and we were unable to reciprocate? It is the failiarity of the
poet with the pain of unrequited love that leads him to desire being "the
more loving one". After all, we rarely wish for others to be afflicted with
the same pain and anguish we ourselves recognize to be unbearable.

Perhaps the last two stanzas are a means of consolation for the poet, as he
realizes (or wishes himself to realize) the fact that however deeply he
might admire and love the stars that care little about him, were he to lose
them, time would play its role as the great healer and he would eventually
learn to go on living without them.

I think the imagery of the stars is especially beautiful in that it serves
to emphasize the notion of distance/separation that characterizes unrequited
love. No matter how much love he may feel, the poet realizes that he could
never quite lessen this separation and acquire the love of the one he loves,
and thus resigns himself to wait indefinitely for time to heal his wounds.


The Cake That Drifts In Water -- Ho Xuan Huong

Guest poem submitted by Laura Germine:
(Poem #617) The Cake That Drifts In Water
 My body is both white and round.
 In water I may sink or swim.
 The hand the kneads me may be rough,
 But I still shall keep my true-red heart.
-- Ho Xuan Huong
A female Vietnamese poet of the late 18th century, Ho Xuan Huong has been
referred to as the Asian Sappho because of the sexual themes and uniqueness
of her poetry. Living in a Confucian society during a period in which women
did not enjoy great freedom or status, Ho Xuan Huong was nevertheless
recognized during her time and continues to be well-known in Vietnam today.

Her poetry can often be read in a variety of ways. Often, there is one layer
of meaning which refers to nature. This layer, however, barely conceals the
sexual undertones common to almost all her poems. This poem for instance, is
superficially describing a Vietnamese dessert. It is not difficult to see,
however, that the poem is also her assertion that no matter how much her
body is mistreated by men, she still is able to keep herself and her
integrity intact. The dessert the poem is referring yo, by the way, can be
said to bear some similarity to female breasts.

For those of you who are Vietnamese, here is the original, and much less
mangled version: (forgive me that I can't put the accents in)

 Banh Troi Nuoc

 Than em vua trang lai vua tron
 Bay noi ba chim voi nuoc non
 Ran nat mac dau tay ke nan
 Ma em van giu tam long son

     -- Ho Xuan Huong

Laura Germine.

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota -- James Wright

Guest poem sent in by Ron Pullins
(Poem #616) Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
 Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly
 Asleep on the black trunk,
 Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
 Down the ravine behind the empty house,
 The cowbells follow one another
 Into the distances of the afternoon.
 To my right,
 In a field of sunlight between two pines,
 The droppings of last year's horses
 Blaze up into golden stones.
 I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
 A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
 I have wasted my life.
-- James Wright
When I was in college in the midwest, I was fortunate to stumble into a
course taught by a visiting professor, David Ignatow, who -- as a poet
himself -- felt the absence of recognition for those who were alive and
writing the best poetry there was. It was all too easy to read the dead
poets who had of course no way to contradict all the meaning we imputed to
them. Consequently we students were required to find and read deeply of a
living poet. I was fortunate to find James Wright, known but not widely
known at the time, hiding out as he was mostly in Minnesota.

Wright's poetry, like his life, always seemed to me to be ominously cast. He
always perceived the detail, and rejoiced in it, but the details also
carried -- as they do in this portrait of a lazy afternoon in a hammock in
Minnesota -- all the forebodings of death and decay. This poem in particular
leads to its devasting and quite unforgettable last line.

Yet what struck me most -- and maybe it was my youth that buoyed me so --
was the gloriousness of it. The poem is so strong up to that final line,
that how could you not be swept along to see that only in stopping, pausing,
wasting your life, could you be allowed to see the bronze butterfly, hear
the cowbells, yearn for home. In such a way Wright's poem, for me, became
this bittersweet but deeply felt affirmation for living, relishing that
short interval we have before we head back home.

- Ron Pulins


  James Wright

  James Arlington Wright was born in Martins Ferry, Ohio, on December 13,
  1927. His father worked for fifty years at a glass factory, and his mother
  left school at fourteen to work in a laundry; neither attended school
  beyond the eighth grade. While in high school in 1943 Wright suffered a
  nervous breakdown and missed a year of school. When he graduated in 1946,
  a year late, he joined the army and was stationed in Japan during the
  American occupation. He then attended Kenyon College on the G.I. Bill, and
  studied under John Crowe Ransom. He graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa
  in 1952, then married another Martins Ferry native, Liberty Kardules. The
  two traveled to Austria, where, on a Fulbright Fellowship, Wright studied
  the works of Theodor Storm and Georg Trakl at the University of Vienna. He
  returned to the U.S. and earned master's and doctoral degrees at the
  University of Washington, studying with Theodore Roethke and Stanley
  Kunitz. He went on to teach at The University of Minnesota, Macalester
  College, and New York City's Hunter College.

  The poverty and human suffering Wright witnessed as a child profoundly
  influenced his writing and he used his poetry as a mode to discuss his
  political and social concerns. He modeled his work after Thomas Hardy and
  Robert Frost, whose engagement with profound human issues and emotions he
  admired. The subjects of Wright's earlier books, The Green Wall (winner of
  the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, 1957) and Saint Judas (1959),
  include men and women who have lost love or have been marginalized from
  society for such reasons as poverty and sexual orientation, and they
  invite the reader to step in and experience the pain of their isolation.
  Wright possessed the ability to reinvent his writing style at will, moving
  easily from stage to stage. His earlier work adheres to conventional
  systems of meter and stanza, while his later work exhibits more open,
  looser forms, as with The Branch Will Not Break (1963). James Wright was
  elected a fellow of The Academy of American Poets in 1971, and the
  following year his Collected Poems received the Pulitzer Prize in poetry.
  He died in New York City in 1980.

        -- [broken link]

The Philosopher's Drinking Song -- Monty Python

And now for something completely different... It's
(Poem #615) The Philosopher's Drinking Song
 Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
      who was very rarely stable.
 Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
      who could think you under the table.
 David Hume could out consume
      Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,
 And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
      who was just as sloshed as Schlegel.

 There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya
     'bout the raisin' of the wrist.
 Socrates himself was permanently pissed.

 John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
     after half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.
 Plato, they say, could stick it away,
      'alf a crate of whiskey every day!
 Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle,
      and Hobbes was fond of his Dram.
 And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart:
      "I drink, therefore I am."

 Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed;
 A lovely little thinker, but a bugger when he's pissed.
-- Monty Python
What, you haven't heard this before? Quick - run out and beg, borrow or
steal a recording of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and give the Bruces a
listen. You won't be disappointed.


PS. Did you know that according to the Guiness Book of Records, the single
concept with the largest number of different words/phrases to describe it is
'the condition of being inebriated'?

[Irrelevant Details]

Composer: Eric Idle.
Author: Eric Idle.
First heard on Monty Python's Flying Circus.
The Second Series (aired from Sep. 15, 1970 to Dec. 22, 1970).
Episode 22: How To Recognize Different Parts Of The Body.
Recorded 25 September 1970, Aired 24 November 1970.

[On Monty Python]

Monty Python's Flying Circus" premiered in October of 1969 and those who
fell under its spell were destined never to view parrots, hedgehogs, Spam,
or the everyday act of walking in the same way again.

C'mon, Python loyalists, con-FESS. You can't go into the cheese section of a
supermarket without smiling and perhaps looking about for Greek musicians,
now can you? Or see the plaid flannel shirts favored by lumberjacks and not
want to burst into the chorus of a certain song? Doubtful, because that's
just the kind of effect Python has had on people.

The cast of the Flying Circus came together in what can best be described as
a chain reaction. It started when John Cleese and Graham Chapman approached
the Michael Palin/Terry Jones team about doing a project together. The
latter agreed and suggested bringing in Eric Idle, who in turn recruited
Terry Gilliam.

The first episode of Python went out late on a Sunday evening in a time
period usually occupied by a program devoted to religious discussion. So
imagine the shock of those who turned in expecting to see that only to be
confronted with Picasso doing a painting while riding a bicycle, the deaths
of famous historical figures judged in the manner of the Olympics, and the
story of a joke soooooo funny that anyone who heard it literally died

So the Python series began and would continue for the next five years,
during which time the Pythons broke most of the rules about what television
and comedy should be. From ex-Goon Spike Milligan came the idea that
sketches didn't necessarily need a beginning, middle, and end. This, along
with the advantage of having Gilliam's animations to connect disparate
sketches, took the emphasis away from the punch-line and allowed the
free-flowing stream of consciousness which would become the Python

The final program was transmitted on December 5, 1974, and Python as a
series was history. Yet in a sense they were just beginning. Though he had
bailed out of the fourth (and final) series, John Cleese was happy to work
with his partners when they decided to bring their supreme adeptness at
being silly to the big screen in a series of films that began with "And Now
For Something Completely Different" and ended with "The Meaning Of Life",
which won the prestigious Jury Award at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.

What made Python click? At its best, this partnership was something akin to
a good marriage, where one partner's strength compensates for the other's
weakness, and the result is a harmonious whole. In this case, the verbal
strength and logic of Cleese, Chapman, and Idle was perfectly complemented
by the imaginative visual flair of Jones, Palin, and especially Gilliam.
Though they have all gone on to do successful solo projects, there was an
energy at work here which will never be duplicated.

-- Michelle Street,


The Philosopher's Drinking Song appears in the sketch starring 'The Bruces';
you can read the entire sketch here:

You can listen to the Bruces singing this song (at machine-gun speed, and in
good Aussie accents to boot) here:
and here:
[broken link]

There've been quite a few poems about the pleasures of alcohol on the
Minstrels; see, for example:

Belloc's "Pelagian Drinking Song": poem #78

Baudelaire's "Enivrez-vous" ("Get Drunk!"): poem #581

Harivanshrai Bachchan's "The Tavern": poem #72

Rumi's poem of the same name: poem #513

The immortal Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: poem #162

Of course, there's always the danger, while drinking, of having the same
fate befall you as David O'Bruadair; see his marvellous "A Glass of Beer":
poem #185

And finally: all the names mentioned in today's, errm, poem, are of bona
fide honest-to-goodness real McCoy philosophers; to find out more about
their work, I can't do better than to recommend the Encyclopaedia

The pennycandystore beyond the El -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Thanks to Sonya Bhagat for introducing me to today's poem
(Poem #614) The pennycandystore beyond the El
 The pennycandystore beyond the El
 is where I first
                 fell in love
                             with unreality
 Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom
 of that september afternoon
 A cat upon the counter moved among
                           the licorice sticks
                and tootsie rolls
        and Oh Boy Gum

 Outside the leaves were falling as they died

 A wind had blown away the sun

 A girl ran in
 Her hair was rainy
 Her breasts were breathless in the little room

 Outside the leaves were falling
                      and they cried
                                   Too soon!  too soon!
-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Note: The El was the New York City '9th Avenue Elevated' railway line

Today's poem touches upon another of my favourite themes - the magic
unreality that childhood can imbue the world with. The pennycandystore (and
don't you just love the way it's runtogetherasoneword?) takes on the aspect
of an enchanted cave, a little enclave of magic, wonder and, of course,
candy offering a retreat from the grey September day.

The contrasting images are nicely drawn - the glowing jellybeans and the cat
atop the counter within, and without, the rain, the sunlessness, and the
'leaves falling as they died'. And as a distinct chord, there's the fact
that the half-light, the rainy autumnal setting has a magic all its own - a
slightly more personal reading of the poem, perhaps, but one borne out by
phrases like 'a wind had blown away the sun', and the girl whose hair was
'rainy'. It's mostly the connotations of the words - 'wet' is damp, sodden,
unattractive. 'Rainy' is little drops of water sparkling even in the
semi-gloom of the afternoon, complementing the image of the flushed,
'breathless' girl.

Of course, the symbolism in the last verse is a gloomy reminder that all
this is evanescent, that childhood passes too soon. But, as the girl running
into the candy store seems to proclaim, for the moment, it doesn't really
matter, does it?


Levi Asher's 'Literary Kicks' site has an excellent biography and assessment
of Ferlinghetti. Quoting a bit I particularly liked

  Ferlinghetti is still active today as a poet and as the proprietor of City
  Lights. I hope I won't seem politically incorrect for saying this, but
  after immersing myself in the writings of the guilt-obsessed asexual Jack
  Kerouac, the ridiculously horny Allen Ginsberg and the just plain sordid
  William S. Burroughs ... it's nice to read a few poems by a guy who can
  get excited about a little penny candy store under the El or a pretty
  woman letting a stocking drop to the floor.

I'd strongly encourage you to go read the full thing, and explore the rest
of the site while you're at it.


For a beautiful page on the El, complete with pictures, see
[broken link]

Penny candy seems to be a dying tradition, albeint one being revived by
nostalgists. See for example.

Let me recommend once again the Literary Kicks site,
a vibrant paean to the Beat generation, and Asher's other project, a
self-styled 'web album' entitled 'Queensboro Ballads' which no lover of NYC
should miss, at

The first poem today's called to mind was Millay's 'The Unexplorer',
poem #49

Not far behind it was Heaney's 'Song', poem #61

And, on the New York front, 'Teasdale's Central Park at Dusk', poem #464


In Westminster Abbey -- John Betjeman

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #613) In Westminster Abbey
 Let me take this other glove off
   As the vox humana swells,
 And the beauteous fields of Eden
   Bask beneath the Abbey bells.
 Here, where England's statesmen lie,
 Listen to a lady's cry.

 Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans.
   Spare their women for Thy Sake,
 And if that is not too easy
   We will pardon Thy Mistake.
 But, gracious Lord, whate'er shall be,
 Don't let anyone bomb me.

 Keep our Empire undismembered
   Guide our Forces by Thy Hand,
 Gallant blacks from far Jamaica,
   Honduras and Togoland;
 Protect them Lord in all their fights,
 And, even more, protect the whites.

 Think of what our Nation stands for,
   Books from Boots and country lanes,
 Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
   Democracy and proper drains.
 Lord, put beneath Thy special care
 One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

 Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
   I have done no major crime;
 Now I'll come to Evening Service
   Whensoever I have the time.
 So, Lord, reserve for me a crown.
 And do not let my shares go down.

 I will labour for Thy Kingdom,
   Help our lads to win the war,
 Send white flowers to the cowards
   Join the Women's Army Corps,
 Then wash the Steps around Thy Throne
 In the Eternal Safety Zone.

 Now I feel a little better,
   What a treat to hear Thy word,
 Where the bones of leading statesmen,
   Have so often been interr'd.
 And now, dear Lord, I cannot wait
 Because I have a luncheon date.
-- John Betjeman
I don't want to run down patriotism, or the giving of charity - both are
always needed. But I have my suspicions - to the point of rather retching -
at the quick and easy way patriotism is quickly taken up by people, and just
as quickly dropped (except where required for electoral purposes). About
Betjeman no info at hand, and I know there's tons, about his Poet
Laureateship, and his public image and more, but am too lazy to go rooting
for it at the moment.


PS. Bio: poem #543 - t.

Love Letter -- Sylvia Plath

Guest poem submitted by Anustup Datta:
(Poem #612) Love Letter
 Not easy to state the change you made.
 If I'm alive now, then I was dead,
 Though, like a stone, unbothered by it,
 Staying put according to habit.
 You didn't just tow me an inch, no-
 Nor leave me to set my small bald eye
 Skyward again, without hope, of course,
 Of apprehending blueness, or stars.

 That wasn't it. I slept, say: a snake
 Masked among black rocks as a black rock
 In the white hiatus of winter-
 Like my neighbors, taking no pleasure
 In the million perfectly-chiseled
 Cheeks alighting each moment to melt
 My cheeks of basalt. They turned to tears,
 Angels weeping over dull natures,

 But didn't convince me. Those tears froze.
 Each dead head had a visor of ice.
 And I slept on like a bent finger.
 The first thing I was was sheer air
 And the locked drops rising in dew
 Limpid as spirits. Many stones lay
 Dense and expressionless round about.
 I didn't know what to make of it.
 I shone, mice-scaled, and unfolded
 To pour myself out like a fluid
 Among bird feet and the stems of plants.

 I wasn't fooled. I knew you at once.
 Tree and stone glittered, without shadows.
 My finger-length grew lucent as glass.
 I started to bud like a March twig:
 An arm and a leg, and arm, a leg.
 From stone to cloud, so I ascended.
 Now I resemble a sort of god
 Floating through the air in my soul-shift
 Pure as a pane of ice. It's a gift.
-- Sylvia Plath
A very different sort of love poem, but great reading nevertheless. I like
the beautiful matter-of-fact way in which Plath attempts to describe the
tumultuous love of her life - as though she were a dispassionate observer
looking at the wondrous changes in herself from the outside. It is as though
her love is so intense that it would sweep away all her reason (and rhyme)
if she gave way to it. Hence the documentary style carefully repressing
emotion, which shines through doubly reinforced because of this very
restraint. The last sentence is magical:

        Now I resemble a sort of god
        Floating through the air in my soul-shift
        Pure as a pane of ice. It's a gift.


The Lights of London -- Louise Imogen Guiney

(Poem #610) The Lights of London
 The evenfall, so slow on hills, hath shot
 Far down into the valley's cold extreme,
 Untimely midnight; spire and roof and stream
 Like fleeing spectres, shudder and are not.
 The Hampstead hollies, from their sylvan plot
 Yet cloudless, lean to watch as in a dream,
 From chaos climb with many a sudden gleam,
 London, one moment fallen and forgot.

 Her booths begin to flare; and gases bright
 Prick door and window; all her streets obscure
 Sparkle and swarm with nothing true or sure,
 Full as a marsh of mist and winking light;
 Heaven thickens over, Heaven that cannot cure
 Her tear by day, her fevered smile by night.
-- Louise Imogen Guiney
Note: From 'London: Twelve Sonnets'

Guiney's 'London: Twelve Sonnets' is (predictably enough) a series of a
dozen sonnets that present various snapshots of the city. Sadly, the
collection fails to synthesise into a unified whole; indeed, the various
poems end up sounding rather similar when read together, and are better off
considered in isolation.

Which is not to say that they aren't good poems - some of them are, some are
not. They just don't complement each other very well. Today's, for instance,
is one of the better ones - a nice depiction of evenfall over the city,
capturing both the smoothness and the suddenness of the transition into
night. The imagery is well-done but unremarkable; it is the last two lines
that bring the poem together. The image of the city wearing a 'fevered
smile' contrasts oddly with the 'marsh of mist and winking light' that the
rest of the poem has been building up, but in a constructive rather than a
dissonant sense, the twin faces melding into a richer, more complex picture.
(Ironically enough, just the thing that, on a larger scale, the various poems
failed to do).


Guiney, Louise Imogen

Louise Imogen Guiney.

  b. Jan. 7, 1861, Roxbury [now in Boston], Mass., U.S.
  d. Nov. 2, 1920, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, Eng.
  American poet and essayist, a popular and respected figure in the
  Boston literary circle of her day.

  Guiney was educated at Elmhurst, a convent school in Providence, Rhode
  Island. To help support her family she began contributing to various
  newspapers and magazines. Her poems, collected in Songs at the Start
  (1884) and The White Sail and Other Poems (1887), and her essays,
  collected in Goose Quill Papers (1885), soon attracted the attention of
  the Boston literary establishment, and the verse in A Roadside Harp
  (1893) and the essays in Monsieur Henri (1892), A Little English
  Gallery (1894), and Patrins (1897) brought her to the centre of
  aesthetic life in Boston. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Thomas Bailey Aldrich,
  Thomas W. Higginson, and Edmund Clarence Stedman were among her friends
  and patrons, and on visits to England in the 1890s she met Edmund
  Gosse, W.B. Yeats, and others. A walking tour of England with her
  friend Alice Brown in 1895 led to their collaboration on Robert Louis
  Stevenson--a Study (1895). Her own models in literature were chiefly
  William Hazlitt and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

  When, toward the end of the 1890s, her health and her muse both deserted
  her, Guiney turned to scholarship, concentrating mainly on the Cavalier
  poets (a group of mid-17th-century English gentlemen poets). From 1901 she
  lived happily in England. Her later books include England and Yesterday
  (1898), Martyr's Idyll and Shorter Poems (1899), Hurrell Froude (1904),
  Robert Emmet--His Rebellion and His Romance (1904), The Blessed Edmund
  Campion (1908), and Happy Ending (1909, revised 1927), her collected
  verse. Her unfinished anthology of Catholic poets from Sir Thomas More to
  Alexander Pope, prepared in collaboration with Geoffrey Bliss, was
  published as Recusant Poets in 1939.

        -- EB


Read all twelve sonnets at
('Fog' was the other one I liked).

Look up the related 'Songs of the City' theme:
poem #462
poem #464
poem #466


Winter -- William Shakespeare

(Poem #611) Winter
 When icicles hang by the wall
   And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
 And Tom bears logs into the hall
   And milk comes frozen home in pail,
 When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
   Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
      Tu-who, a merry note,
   While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

 When all aloud the wind doth blow
   And coughing drowns the parson's saw
 And birds sit brooding in the snow
   And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
 When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
   Then nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
      Tu-who, a merry note,
 While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
-- William Shakespeare
 From "Love's Labours Lost", Act V, Scene ii.

 The weather has suddenly taken a turn for the colder here in Tokyo; also,
just yesterday I was watching the Elizabethan series of Blackadder [1]. The
combination made the choice of today's poem irresistible...


[1] "For many people under 35, their most vivid glimpses of Britain's
illustrious history have been through the Blackadder chronicles which
brightened television screens from 1983 to 1989. Their constantly reborn
protagonist, Edmund Blackadder, flounced through a bloody Middle Ages, a
campy Elizabethan court, even camper Regency revels, and the rat-infested
trenches of the Great War, armed with only his repulsive servant Baldrick,
and a fine line in complex insults [2]."
     -- [broken link]

[2] For example: "you would bore the leggings off a village idiot" and "he's
got a brain the size of a weasel's wedding tackle"; a complete set of
Blackadder transcripts is available at
[broken link]

Winged Man -- Stephen Vincent Benet

(Poem #609) Winged Man
 The moon, a sweeping scimitar, dipped in the stormy straits,
 The dawn, a crimson cataract, burst through the eastern gates,
 The cliffs were robed in scarlet, the sands were cinnabar,
 Where first two men spread wings for flight and dared the hawk afar.

 There stands the cunning workman, the crafty past all praise,
 The man who chained the Minotaur, the man who built the Maze.
 His young son is beside him and the boy's face is a light,
 A light of dawn and wonder and of valor infinite.

 Their great vans beat the cloven air, like eagles they mount up,
 Motes in the wine of morning, specks in a crystal cup,
 And lest his wings should melt apace old Daedalus flies low,
 But Icarus beats up, beats up, he goes where lightnings go.

 He cares no more for warnings, he rushes through the sky,
 Braving the crags of ether, daring the gods on high,
 Black 'gainst the crimson sunset, golden o'er cloudy snows,
 With all Adventure in his heart the first winged man arose.

 Dropping gold, dropping gold, where the mists of morning rolled,
 On he kept his way undaunted, though his breaths were stabs of cold,
 Through the mystery of dawning that no mortal may behold.

 Now he shouts, now he sings in the rapture of his wings,
 And his great heart burns intenser with the strength of his desire,
 As he circles like a swallow, wheeling, flaming, gyre on gyre.

 Gazing straight at the sun, half his pilgrimage is done,
 And he staggers for a moment, hurries on, reels backward, swerves
 In a rain of scattered feathers as he falls in broken curves.

 Icarus, Icarus, though the end is piteous,
 Yet forever, yea, forever we shall see thee rising thus,
 See the first supernal glory, not the ruin hideous.

 You were Man, you who ran farther than our eyes can scan,
 Man absurd, gigantic, eager for impossible Romance,
 Overthrowing all Hell's legions with one warped and broken lance.

 On the highest steeps of Space he will have his dwelling-place,
 In those far, terrific regions where the cold comes down like Death
 Gleams the red glint of his pinions, smokes the vapor of his breath.

 Floating downward, very clear, still the echoes reach the ear
 Of a little tune he whistles and a little song he sings,
 Mounting, mounting still, triumphant, on his torn and broken wings!
-- Stephen Vincent Benet
I was delighted to discover today's poem - Icarus has always seemed to me
one of the most intensely poetic figures in Greek myth, but I'd yet to read
a poem that came close to doing the story justice. Today's is a beautiful
exception, though - soaring, sweeping, extravagant, and with a verse form
that keeps perfect pace with the content (one of the things I have against
some of the other poems I've seen - if ever a subject should not be tackled
in free verse, this is it).

Some of the effects are truly beautiful - images like 'Motes in the wine of
morning, specks in a crystal cup', the almost musical repetition of
'dropping gold, dropping gold', the unexpectedly triumphant ending. I also
loved the way the form shifted from four lines to three in mid-poem, picking
up the pace as Icarus breaks away to catch and sing the sun in flight.

The first verse, incidentally, is very reminiscent of Noyes' 'The
Highwayman'. The latter was published in 1907; 'Winged Man' was published in
'Young Adventure' [1918] so it's reasonable to assume Benet was influenced
by Noyes.


Benét, Stephen Vincent

  1898-43, American writer; b. Bethlehem, Pa. He is known for his vivid
  literary treatments of American folklore and history. Benét is famous for
  John Brown's Body (1928; Pulitzer), a long narrative ballad of the Civil
  War, several volumes of verse, including Heaven and Earth (1920) and The
  Burning City (1936), and masterful short stories, particularly The Devil
  and Daniel Webster.



Benet's book 'Young Adventure' is online in its entirety at the Poets'
Corner: [broken link]

Here are some other poems that go well with today's:

John McGee's sublime 'High Flight', poem #276

Hopkins' 'The Windhover', poem #35

and Whitman's 'Dalliance of the Eagles', poem #268

Tennyson's 'Eagle', for that matter, poem #15

and the entire series of poems on death in the flames:
poem #34, poem #36, and poem #38.


I really am surprised by the paucity of good poems on Icarus; I suspect that
I am just unfamiliar with most of them. If you have any favourites to
recommend, please do write in.


The Spider's Web -- E B White

Guest poem submitted by Emily Cowan:
(Poem #608) The Spider's Web
 The spider, dropping down from twig,
 Unfolds a plan of her devising,
 A thin premeditated rig
 To use in rising.

 And all that journey down through space,
 In cool descent and loyal hearted,
 She spins a ladder to the place
 From where she started.

 Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
 In spider's web a truth discerning,
 Attach one silken thread to you
 For my returning.
-- E B White
Original title: "Natural History"

Years ago, on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac (a daily radio broadcast
of history, culture & poetry), I heard him read "The Spider", by E.B. White.
I'm pretty sure it was called "The Spider"; it may have been called "The
Web". It's about a spider's web that causes the author to think about
attachment and love. It is a beautiful poem and is actually a love poem, I
believe. Either that, or a poem about an obsession. I was trying to get over
an obsessive love affair at the time and so found it very personally
meaningful. But long after getting over that person, I've remembered the
beauty and simple eloquence of the poem. I'd love to see it here.

[I managed to found the poem on the web (nice little serendipitous pun
there), and sent it to Emily - t.]

Yep, that's the one.  Not quite as stunning now as when I heard it, probably
because I'm not broken-hearted anymore, but beautiful anyway. I like it
because it illustrates how we draw so many parallels between our lives and
nature. It's such a human trait to read personal and spiritual meaning into
nature, who is just going along taking care of her own business.

White also attributes all kinds of human thinking and feeling to this tiny
insect: planning (organization), forethought, loyalty. Shows us what's on
his mind, really. I wonder how he is going forth like a spider? Perhaps to
procure the day's sustenance? Or some other, longer journey, that requires
an attachment during his absence? Who is he reassuring with this thread?
Himself or his beloved? Poetically, I especially like the way the last line
of each verse is significantly shorter than the others; I think it makes the
line ring in a much more pronounced, yet quiet, way. Less is more.



Obviously, Donne's great Valediction, which uses a different conceit to
express much the same basic idea: poem #330

Ballad of the Canal -- Phoebe Cary

(Poem #607) Ballad of the Canal
 We were crowded in the cabin,
   Not a soul had room to sleep;
 It was midnight on the waters,
   And the banks were very steep.

 'Tis a fearful thing when sleeping
   To be startled by the shock,
 And to hear the rattling trumpet
   Thunder, "Coming to a lock!"

 So we shuddered there in silence,
   For the stoutest berth was shook,
 While the wooden gates were opened
   And the mate talked with the cook.

 And as thus we lay in darkness,
   Each one wishing we were there,
 "We are through!" the captain shouted,
   And he sat upon a chair.

 And his little daughter whispered,
   Thinking that he ought to know,
 "Isn't travelling by canal-boats
   Just as safe as it is slow?"

 Then he kissed the little maiden,
   And with better cheer we spoke,
 And we trotted into Pittsburg,
   When the morn looked through the smoke.
-- Phoebe Cary
Note: A parody of James T. Field's "Ballad of the Tempest" (see links)

There are some poems that just cry out for parodies. Now this is not in
itself a bad thing - in fact we ran an entire theme on oft-parodied poems,
where what made them so was their well-earned distinctiveness. However,
there are others which have shot to fame on the basis of a weak
sentimentality or blatant sanctimoniousness, and which no right-thinking
person should be content to leave unskewered <g>.

Well, Field's "Ballad of the Tempest" was just such a poem, and, luckily for
posterity, Phoebe Cary was just such a right-thinking person. Today's poem
is not all that funny if you read it on its own; in conjunction with the
original, I found it hilarious. (My favourite line was the wonderfully
deadpan 'and the banks were very steep').


Here's a joint biography of Cary and her sister Alice
[broken link]


Field's original:
[broken link]

It is unlikely to appear on Minstrels any time soon.

The complete works of Cary online

Cary's most famous poem is probably 'The Leak in the Dike',

We've run a number of parodies on Minstrels, and two parody themes - the
aforementioned 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


God's Grandeur -- Gerard Manley Hopkins

(Poem #606) God's Grandeur
 The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
 It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
 It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
 Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
 Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
 And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
 And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
 Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

 And for all this, nature is never spent;
 There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
 And though the last lights off the black West went
 Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --
 Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
 World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins
In a way it's telling that after an initial flurry [1], it's been over a
year since we last visited Gerard Manley Hopkins. Telling, because it serves
to highlight the incredibly small size of his poetic output - just 48
completed poems, mainly sonnets, yet their influence on 20th century poetry
and prosody has been immense.


[1] 'Inversnaid' was only the third poem ever to be run on the Minstrels.


"God's Grandeur" is in the sonnet form, with an _abbaabba/cdcdcd_ rhyme
scheme. The metre, though, is anything but conventional - stresses jostle
each other for auditory space over a backdrop of smooth uncounted syllables,
in Hopkins' trademark 'sprung rhythm'; heavy alliteration and the use of
strong internal rhymes add to the disjoint, yet undeniably musical effect of
the whole.

Of course, technical experimentation alone does not a poet make; what I
especially like about Hopkins' verse is the way the (admittedly unusual)
form always reinforces the content. For example, in the brilliant line
"Generations have trod, have trod, have trod", you can almost _feel_ the
passage of time in the pounding syllables, the heavy weight of years of
progress - "all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil / And wears
man's smudge and shares man's smell". The final resolution - "the Holy Ghost
over the bent / World broods with warm breast" - is equally effective in its
evocation of peace and beauty.

Oh, and I must also mention my favourite image in the poem - "shining from
shook foil" - I think the phrase is absolutely gorgeous.


Other Hopkins poems:
 poem #3
 poem #35
 poem #59
 poem #134
 poem #260


 b. July 28, 1844, Stratford, Essex, Eng.
 d. June 8, 1889, Dublin

English poet and Jesuit priest, one of the most individual of Victorian
writers. His work was not published in collected form until 1918, but it
influenced many leading 20th-century poets.

Hopkins was the eldest of the nine children of Manley Hopkins, an Anglican,
who had been British consul general in Hawaii and had himself published
verse. Hopkins won the poetry prize at the Highgate grammar school and in
1863 was awarded a grant to study at Balliol College, Oxford, where he
continued writing poetry while studying classics. In 1866, in the prevailing
atmosphere of the Oxford Movement, which renewed interest in the
relationships between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism, he was received
into the Roman Catholic Church by John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman. The
following year, he left Oxford with such a distinguished academic record
that Benjamin Jowett, then a Balliol lecturer and later master of the
college, called him "the star of Balliol." Hopkins decided to become a
priest. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1868 and burned his youthful
verses, determining "to write no more, as not belonging to my profession."

Until 1875, however, he kept a journal recording his vivid responses to
nature as well as his expression of a philosophy for which he later found
support in Duns Scotus, the medieval Franciscan thinker. Hopkins' philosophy
emphasized the individuality of every natural thing, which he called
"inscape." To Hopkins, each sensuous impression had its own elusive
"selfness"; each scene was to him a "sweet especial scene."

In 1874 Hopkins went to St. Beuno's College in North Wales to study
theology. There he learned Welsh, and, under the impact of the language
itself as well as that of the poetry and encouraged by his superior, he
began to write poetry again. Moved by the death of five Franciscan nuns in a
shipwreck in 1875, he broke his seven-year silence to write the long poem
"The Wreck of the Deutschland," in which he succeeded in realizing "the echo
of a new rhythm" that had long been haunting his ear. It was rejected,
however, by the Jesuit magazine The Month. He also wrote a series of sonnets
strikingly original in their richness of language and use of rhythm,
including the remarkable "The Windhover," one of the most frequently
analyzed poems in the language. He continued to write poetry, but it was
read only in manuscript by his friends and fellow poets, Robert Bridges
(later poet laureate), Coventry Patmore, and the Rev. Richard Watson Dixon.
Their appreciation of the strangeness of the poems (for the times) was
imperfect, but they were, nevertheless, encouraging.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1877, Hopkins served as missioner, occasional
preacher, and parish priest in various Jesuit churches and institutions in
London, Oxford, Liverpool, and Glasgow and taught classics at Stonyhurst
College, Lancashire. He was appointed professor of Greek literature at
University College, Dublin, in 1884. But Hopkins was not happy in Ireland;
he found the environment uncongenial, and he was overworked and in poor
health. From 1885 he wrote another series of sonnets, beginning with
"Carrion Comfort." They show a sense of desolation produced partly by a
sense of spiritual aridity and partly by a feeling of artistic frustration.
These poems, known as the "terrible sonnets," reveal strong tensions between
his delight in the sensuous world and his urge to express it and his equally
powerful sense of religious vocation.

While in Dublin, Hopkins developed another of his talents, musical
composition; the little he composed shows the same daring originality as
does his poetry. His skill in drawing, too, allowed him to illustrate his
journal with meticulously observed details of flowers, trees, and waves.

His friends continually urged him to publish his poems, but Hopkins
resisted; all that he saw in print in his lifetime were some immature verses
and original Latin poems, in which he took particular pleasure.

Hopkins died of typhoid fever and was buried in the Glasnevin Cemetery,
Dublin. Among his unfinished works was a commentary on the Spiritual
Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order.

        -- EB


After Hopkins' death, Robert Bridges began to publish a few of the Jesuit's
most mature poems in anthologies, hoping to prepare the way for wider
acceptance of his style. By 1918, Bridges, then poet laureate, judged the
time opportune for the first collected edition. It appeared but sold slowly.
Not until 1930 was a second edition issued, and thereafter Hopkins' work was
recognized as among the most original, powerful, and influential literary
accomplishments of his century; it had a marked influence on such leading
20th-century poets as T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender,
and C. Day Lewis.

Hopkins sought a stronger "rhetoric of verse." His exploitation of the
verbal subtleties and music of English, of the use of echo, alliteration,
and repetition, and a highly compressed syntax were all in the interest of
projecting deep personal experiences, including his sense of God's mystery,
grandeur, and mercy, and his joy in "all things counter, original, spare,
strange," as he wrote in "Pied Beauty." He called the energizing prosodic
element of his verse "sprung rhythm," in which each foot may consist of one
stressed syllable and any number of unstressed syllables, instead of the
regular number of syllables used in traditional metre. The result is a
muscular verse, flexible, intense, vibrant, and organic, that combines
accuracy of observation, imaginative daring, deep feeling, and intellectual

        -- EB

Saddest Poem -- Pablo Neruda

Guest poem sent in by Suchitra
(Poem #605) Saddest Poem
 I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

 Write, for instance: "The night is full of stars,
 and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance."

 The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

 I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
 I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

 On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
 I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

 She loved me, sometimes I loved her.
 How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?

 I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
 To think I don't have her. To feel that I've lost her.

 To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
 And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

 What does it matter that my love couldn't keep her.
 The night is full of stars and she is not with me.

 That's all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.
 My soul is lost without her.

 As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.
 My heart searches for her and she is not with me.

 The same night that whitens the same trees.
 We, we who were, we are the same no longer.

 I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.
 My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.

 Someone else's. She will be someone else's. As she once
 belonged to my kisses.
 Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.

 I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
 Love is so short and oblivion so long.

 Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
 my soul is lost without her.

 Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
 and this may be the last poem I write for her.
-- Pablo Neruda
I've always liked sad poems since they are almost always beautiful. But the
first time  I was moved to tears was by this poem that I stumbled across on
the internet. I think the poem is both simple and powerful. I also like the
poet's admission of perhaps, trying to write a sad poem. He repeats this a
few times initially - you expect him to keep this up - but then his
description of his love, and his emotion seems to overtake him.

I also like the poem's candid approach to love. It is a poet's misery over
the loss of the feeling of  love, rather than of his lover - as in the lines
"I no longer love her true, but how much I loved her". Also small touches of
irony like "She loved me, sometimes I loved her". But best of all, I love
the last line (the saddest line of all?) - for (I imagine) what can be
worse for a romantic poet than to stop writing about his lost love?


Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)  - Original name Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto.
Winner of the  Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971 "for a poetry that with
the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and

Chilean poet, diplomat, and Marxist, Neruda is the most widely read of the
Spanish American poets. Neruda first gained international fame in 1924 as an
writer with VEINTE POEMAS DE AMOR Y UNA CANCÍON, which is his most widely
read work. From the 1940s his works reflected the political struggle of
peasants and workers and socio-historical developments in South America, but
he also wrote love poems. Neruda's Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
(1924) have sold over a million copies since it first appeared.

"Poetry is a deep inner calling in man; from it came liturgy, the psalms,
and also the content of religions." (from Memoirs, 1974)

"He was once referred as the Picasso of poetry, alluding to his protean
ability to be always in the vanguard of change. And he himself has often
alluded to his personal struggle with his own tradition, to his constant
need to search for a new system in each book." (Rene de Costa in The Poetry
of Pablo Neruda, 1979)

[Links to other poems]

[broken link]


Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare -- Edna St Vincent Millay

Thanks to Sunil Iyengar for suggesting today's poem
(Poem #604) Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare
 Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
 Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
 And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
 To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
 At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
 In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
 Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
 From dusty bondage into luminous air.
 O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
 When first the shaft into his vision shone
 Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
 Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
 Who, though once only and then but far away,
 Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
I'm afraid that this is not one of my favourite Millay poems - much as I
usually love her work, I feel that she has failed to do the subject justice
(or, perhaps, that the matter doesn't really suit her style; either way, it
lacks the feel of her really great pieces).

However, it does fit very neatly into the theme, and is worth a read, if as
much for its symbolism as for the actual poem. The comparison of
mathematical insight to a divine revelation, for instance, is a rather
standard image, but one that springs naturally to mind, for reasons not too
hard to see - most of the universe can be explained using a judicious
combination of mathematics and religion :).

Also very interesting is the parallel drawn between the transcendence into
beauty and the transition from sound to light. Mathematics seems to have
associated with it a certain abstract purity that finds its closest
reflection in our images of space and light, or perhaps light comes closest
to the geometric ideal of a straight line (one of the cornerstones of
practically all mathematics, and certainly one of the key tools in its
development). And of course, there is the obvious reference back to the
light/revelation image,

The basic form is Petrarchan, with a slightly unusual rhyme scheme in the
sestet (though see - the sestet had a
pretty flexible rhyme scheme). Notable is the fairly heavy use of
alliteration, which adds to the poem's somewhat 'weighty' feel.

As an afterthought, this heaviness is probably my main objection to the poem
- Millay has tried to capture both the majesty and the ethereal nature of
mathematics, but has associated with the former a weight that is quite at
variance with the latter.


Euclid is probably one of the most famous, and certainly one of the most
influential mathematicians of all time; his 'Elements', a massive
compilation of the mathematical knowledge of time time revolutionised the
field, setting the standard for rigour that even now characterises

  Almost from the time of its writing and lasting almost to the present, the
  Elements has exerted a continuous and major influence on human affairs. It
  was the primary source of geometric reasoning, theorems, and methods at
  least until the advent of non-Euclidean geometry in the 19th century. It
  is sometimes said that, next to the Bible, the Elements may be the most
  translated, published, and studied of all the books produced in the
  Western world. Euclid may not have been a first-class mathematician. He
  certainly was, however, a first-class teacher of mathematics, inasmuch as
  his textbook has remained in use practically unchanged for more than 2,000
        -- EB

I could go on about Euclid for several pages; however, inasmuch as this is a
poetry list I'll leave you to explore the several excellent books and
webpages about him and his work yourselves <g>.


Here's a biography of Millay: poem #34

And two of Euclid:
[broken link]

And here is one of his more celebrated theorems - 'beauty bare' indeed!
[broken link]


Marriages Are Made -- Eunice deSouza

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian

Here's yet another of my favorites ... with a (longish) commentary below. My
colleague Deepa Balakrishnan re-introduced me to Eunice deSouza's poetry
(after a gap of at least six years) with a poem on the cat theme (which I
sent y'all some weeks back).  Stumbled on another poem, which I'd like to
share with y'alll.
(Poem #603) Marriages Are Made
 My cousin Elena
 is to be married
 The formalities
 have been completed:
 her family history examined
 for T.B. and madness
 her father declared solvent
 her eyes examined for squints
 her teeth for cavities
 her stools for the possible
 non-Brahmin worm.
 She's not quite tall enough
 and not quite full enough
 (children will take care of that)
 Her complexion it was decided
 would compensate, being just about
 the right shade
 of rightness
 to do justice to
 Francisco X. Noronha Prabhu
 good son of Mother Church.
-- Eunice deSouza
Wonderfully biting sarcasm and a sharp eye for the 'marriage market' of
conservative (or rather stick in the mud, male chauvinistic) India - where
prospective brides are examined like cattle being brought into a market.

The poem is characteristic deSouza - a plain tale told without any
unnecessary conceits and embellishments, letting well chosen, hard hitting
words speak for themselves.  Yes - speak for themselves - for this poem
(like all deSouza's poems) is best enjoyed when read aloud.

If Keats' poetry is like a fine, old, mellow wine, Eunice deSouza's poetry
is like a good single malt - sharp, biting, harsh to the taste - but
equally enjoyable.

Ms.deSouza has been Head of the Department of English in St.Xaviers
College, Bombay for over 25 years - and is also a leading theater /
literary critic.

Most of her poems have a strong sense of individuality and feminism, and
Several of them (such as this one) are also 'catholic poems' - which take
us on a deeply cynical tour around her Goan / Roman Catholic community, as
also the conservatism of Pune, where she was brought up after she lost her
father at the age of three.

These two short poems she wrote speak far louder than any commentary ..

Don't Look for my life in these poems

        Poems can have order, sanity
        aesthetic distance from debris.
        All I've learnt from pain
        I always knew,
        but could not do.


My Students ...
        My students think it funny
        that Daruwallas and de Souzas
        should write poetry.
        Poetry is faery lands forlorn.
        Women writers Miss Austen.
        Only foreign men air their crotches

Daruwalla of course being Keki Daruwalla - a retired (and high ranking)
police officer I think, and another of India's best contemporary poets.

Finally, here's a stanza from her poem  'deSouza Prabhu' - which gives us
a little more insight into her (of course, keeping that 'Don't look for my
life in these poems' caveat above)

<[broken link]>

        I heard it said
        my parents wanted a boy
        I've done my best to qualify.
        I hid the bloodstains
        on my clothes
        and let my breasts sag.
        Words the weapon
        to crucify.

Suresh Ramasubramanian + +

Deep Sorriness Atonement Song -- Glyn Maxwell

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #602) Deep Sorriness Atonement Song
        (for missed appointment, BBC North, Manchester)

 The man who sold Manhattan for a halfway decent bangle,
 He had talks with Adolf Hitler and could see it from his angle,
 And he could have signed the Quarrymen but didn't think they'd make it
 So he bought a cake on Pudding Lane and thought "Oh well I'll bake it"

    But his chances they were slim
    And his brothers they were Grimm,
    And he's sorry, very sorry,
    But I'm sorrier than him.

 And the drunken plastic surgeon who said "I know, let's enlarge 'em!"
 And the bloke who told the Light Brigade "Oh what the hell, let's charge
 The magician with an early evening gig on the Titanic
 And the Mayor who told the people of Atlantis not to panic,

    And the Dong about his nose
    And the Pobble re his toes,
    They're all sorry very sorry
    But I'm sorrier than those.

 And don't forget the Bible, with the Sodomites and Judas,
 And Onan who discovered something nothing was as rude as,
 And anyone who reckoned it was City's year for Wembley.
 And the kid who called Napoleon a shortarse in assembly,

    And the man who always smiles
    Cause he knows I have his files,
    They're all sorry, really sorry,
    But I'm sorrier by miles.

 And Robert Falcon Scott who lost the race to the Norwegian,
 And anyone who's ever split a pint with a Glaswegian,
 Or told a Finn a joke or spent an hour with a Swiss-German,
 Or got a mermaid in the sack and found it was a merman,

    Or him who smelt a rat,
    And got curious as a cat,
    They're all sorry, deeply sorry,
    But I'm sorrier than that.

 All the people who were rubbish when we needed them to do it,
 Whose wires crossed, whose spirit failed, who ballsed it up or blew it,
 All notches of nul points and all who have a problem Houston,
 At least they weren't in Kensington when they should have been at Euston.

    For I didn't build the Wall
    And I didn't cause the Fall
    But I'm sorry, Lord, I'm sorry,
    I'm the sorriest of all.
-- Glyn Maxwell
There are irritating sorts of people who don't read poetry because they ask
what use its for. Of course, just answering this is stupid, since usefulness
is hardly the point. Nonetheless, I'm still happy to note that I have often
found poetry useful. There are many situations where I've screwed up,
offended someone, need to make amends, and just saying sorry alone never
seems enough. Adding a poem, like the one above, is an easy way of making
the apology a bit different and making the person you've offended laugh and
be more forgiving.

Gyn Maxwell is a young British poet. I don't actually much like his work,
but this was an exception.


[thomas adds]

I'll type in some notes - just as soon as I stop laughing...


'The man who sold Manhattan for a halfway decent bangle': In 1626 Peter
Minuit, the first director general of New Netherland province, is said to
have purchased the island from the local Indians (the Manhattan, a tribe of
the Wappinger Confederacy) with trinkets and cloth valued at 60 guilders,
then worth about 1 1/2 pounds (0.7 kg) of silver
        -- EB,

'He had talks with Adolf Hitler and could see it from his angle': Probably a
reference to Neville Chamberlain, who returned from negotiations with Hitler
in Munich and famously declared "I believe it is peace for our time". It

'And he could have signed the Quarrymen but didn't think they'd make it':
'The Quarrymen' was one of the early names of the greatest rock group of all
time, the Beatles. Manager Brian Epstein sent demo tapes to literally dozens
of recording companies before landing a contract with EMI/Parlophone.

'So he bought a cake on Pudding Lane and thought "Oh well I'll bake it"':
The Great Fire of London, in 1666, started in a bakery on Pudding Lane. (It
ended on Pie Lane, but that's a different matter altogether).

'And the bloke who told the Light Brigade "Oh what the hell, let's charge
'em"': The ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalized by Tennyson;
see poem #355

'The magician with an early evening gig on the Titanic': One can safely
assume that the performance sank without a trace.

'And the Mayor who told the people of Atlantis not to panic': Famous last

'And the Dong about his nose / And the Pobble re his toes': The Dong with
the Luminous Nose, and the Pobble who has no Toes are characters from the
mysterious, twilit world of Edward Lear's imagination. See poem #297 for
the latter (we haven't run the former yet).

'And don't forget the Bible, with the Sodomites and Judas,
And Onan who discovered something nothing was as rude as'
Sodomy: copulation with a member of the same sex or with an animal
Onanism: masturbation
Judas: one who betrays under the guise of friendship
        -- Merriam Webster,

'And anyone who reckoned it was City's year for Wembley': Manchester City
have never won the F. A. Cup.

'And the kid who called Napoleon a shortarse in assembly': The widespread
notion of Napoleon's shortness lies in the inaccurate translation of old
French feet ("pieds de roi") to English. The French measure of five foot two
(5' 2"), recorded at his autopsy, actually translates into five feet six and
one half inches (5' 6.5") in English measure, which was about the average
height of the Frenchman of his day. It's also probable that the grenadiers
of his Imperial Guard, with whom he "hung out," were very tall men, therefor
creating the illusion that Napoleon was very short.

'And Robert Falcon Scott who lost the race to the Norwegian': Roald Amundsen
reached the South Pole about a month before Scott's doomed expedition.

'And anyone who's ever split a pint with a Glaswegian': Glaswegians are
notorious for their tightfistedness...
'Or told a Finn a joke': ... Finns for their lack of humour...
'or spent an hour with a Swiss-German': ... and Germans for their

'All notches of nul points': I'm not sure exactly what this is a reference
to, but Vikram says it might have something to do with the Eurovision song
contest. (Songs that get booed even on Eurovision - ooh, horrendous thought

'and all who have a problem Houston': Astronaut Jack Swigert, command module
pilot of the unsuccessful Apollo 13 mission, reported the first signs of
trouble with this marvellous piece of understatement: "Houston, we've had a
problem here". A vivid account of the subsequent rescue can bo found here:

'they should have been at Euston': Euston station, point of departure for
trains from London to Manchester.


Here's a nicely written review of Maxwell's latest collection of poems:
[broken link]
The Maxwell-specific stuff starts only in the eighth paragraph; the
preceding material is all about 'the crisis of modern poetry'. Very
interesting - read it!

[Random Ramblings]

The subtitle, 'for missed appointment, BBC North, Manchester, reminds me of
a Muir and Norden classic [1] - the time Frank and Denis were going to a BBC
audition and got hopelessely lost: "Muir in Surrey, Den in Ongar".

[1] Frank Muir and Denis Norden used to run this BBC radio show called 'My
Word', in which they would each improvise outrageous stories culminating in
a punchline which was always an atrocious pun. Sidesplittingly funny.