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Auld Lang Syne -- Robert Burns

Guest poem sent in by Mark Penney
(Poem #1585) Auld Lang Syne
 Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
 And never brought to mind?
 Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
 And auld lang syne!

 Chorus.-For auld lang syne, my dear,
 For auld lang syne.
 We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
 For auld lang syne.

 And surely ye'll be your pint stowp!
 And surely I'll be mine!
 And we'll tak a cup o'kindness yet,
 For auld lang syne.
 For auld, &c.

 We twa hae run about the braes,
 And pou'd the gowans fine;
 But we've wander'd mony a weary fit,
 Sin' auld lang syne.
 For auld, &c.

 We twa hae paidl'd in the burn,
 Frae morning sun till dine;
 But seas between us braid hae roar'd

 Sin’ auld lang syne.
 For auld, &c.

 And there's a hand, my trusty fere!
 And gie's a hand o’ thine!
 And we'll tak a right gude-willie waught,
 For auld lang syne.
 For auld, &c.
-- Robert Burns
     (to a traditional Scottish tune)

I was looking through the archives, and was surprised not to find this.  In
honor of the season, you too can sing the third verse while everyone else at
the party stares at you like the geek that you are!

Yes, it's by the poet Robert Burns (well sort of, maybe--see below), best
known for the one about the mouse.  There is a good selection of his other
work in the archives.

Authorship and text are both problematic.  As to authorship, Burns claimed
to his publisher that he was transcribing an old traditional Scottish song.
However, no documentation of this older song has ever been found.  (There
are, however, older but much-different songs that contain a few of the lines
above, which were probably known to Burns.)  At minimum, we're fairly
certain that Burns wrote the two stanzas that begin "We twa", since he later
acknowledged having written both of them.  Some but not all authorities
think he wrote most of the rest as well.

As to text, there’s no agreement whatever on the order of the stanzas (I've
found three different versions with three different orderings).  Moreover,
Burns submitted several manuscripts to his publisher with slight variations
in the words; older versions had "jo" in place of "dear" in the chorus, for

The tune we know is a very old Scottish tune, which far predates Burns.

Seventy percent or so of the Scottish dialect in this poem is easy to figure
out if you simply recite in a very thick accent and listen to what you're
saying (it's phonetic, mostly).  About half the rest can be found in a
decent dictionary.  As for the remainder: a pint-stowp is a tankard, a gowan
is a daisy, "fit" here means "foot", and a gude-willie waught (lit.,
"good-will-y draft") is a friendly beer.

Final remark: I love the fact that everyone sings it with at least a few
apparently incorrect words.


Vegan Delight -- Benjamin Zephaniah

Guest poem sent in by Arvind Natarajan
(Poem #1584) Vegan Delight
 Ackees, chapatties
 Dumplins an nan,
 Channa an rotis
 Onion uttapam,
 Masala dosa
 Green callaloo
 Bhel an samosa
 Corn an aloo.

 Yam an cassava
 Pepperpot stew,
 Rotlo an guava
 Rice an tofu,
 Puri, paratha
 Sesame casserole,
 Brown eggless pasta
 An brown bread rolls.

 Soya milked muesli
 Soya bean curd,
 Soya sweet sweeties
 Soya's de word,
 Soya bean margarine
 Soya bean sauce
 What can mek medicine?
 Soya of course.

 Soya meks yoghurt
 Soya ice-cream,
 Or soya sorbet
 Soya reigns supreme,
 Soya sticks liquoriced
 Soya salads
 Try any soya dish
 Soya is bad.

 Plantain an tabouli
 Cornmeal pudding
 Onion bhajee
 Wid plenty cumin,
 Breadfruit an coconuts
 Molasses tea
 Dairy free omelettes
 Very chilli.

 Ginger bread, nut roast
 Sorrell, paw paw,
 Cocoa an rye toast
 I tek dem on tour,
 Drinking cool maubi
 Meks me feel sweet,
 What was dat question now?
 What do we eat?
-- Benjamin Zephaniah
Found that Minstrels didn't list any Zephaniahs.  Watched the HARDtalk
program with this outspoken poet when he refused the offer of OBE (in Nov
2003), by publishing an article in 'The Guardian'.

Far from his political outcries, the above is a typical children's poem with
nice rhyming all along.  What interested me is how much the Indian food has
integrated into the British staple diet. (even onion uttappams! soon chutney
& sambar will accompany it) No wonder then that Chicken Tikka Masala ranks
as the No. 1 dish of England. [In particular, good *vegetarian* food is far
more likely than not to be Indian - martin]

And two paragraphs for soya - makes one wonder why is he is so obsessed with

From 'The Guardian' article :

    Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when I hear that
    word "empire"; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years
    of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my
    forefathers brutalised.

The full article at :
[broken link],12887,1094009,00.html



Zephaniah's home page:


See also the similar "Bleezer's Ice Cream" [Poem #1055]

Go and play in the middle -- John Hegley

Guest poem sent in by Steve Axbey
(Poem #1583) Go and play in the middle
 my Mum used to watch out of the window
 these boys who played football
 on the green in front of the bungalow
 she used to stand well back
 so she couldn't be seen
 and when the ball hit the wall of our garden
 she said to my Dad
 it's hit our wall again Bob
 go out and tell them
 and my Dad would go out and tell them
 maybe eight or nine times in a day
 to go and play in the middle
 and immediately he had told them
 my Mum would be on the watch
 for the next time he would need sending out
 and sometimes it was only a few moments
 after he had come back in
-- John Hegley
In the bright and innocent days of 'alternative comedy' John Hegley was
known as an 'alternative poet' and for a while he was on TV quite regularly
here in the UK.  Rarely seen on the box now, he still tours the country
performing in his one-man shows and is a regular at the Edinburgh festival -
catch him if you can.

This poem is a very early one of his - not sure why I chose this particular
one amongst many others, for some reason it just made me laugh the most when
I was re-reading the book this evening.  But I don't think it's a bad choice
- it's pretty representative: his Dad, his Bungalow and his childhood in
Luton feature regularly in his poems - he's not just kept in touch with his
roots, he's positively milked them :-)

And I know he wouldn't mind me saying that - typical of Hegley, he's even
written an poem poking fun at the way he writes poems poking fun at his
roots. Here it is [assuming that Martin and Abraham don't notice me
smuggling, deftly, a second poem into my submission] [we've done it
ourselves! - martin]

(a poem about the town of my upbringing and the conflict between my working
class origins and the middle class status conferred upon me by a university

    I remember Luton
    as I'm swallowing my crout'n

[two poems eh? how on earth is Sitaram going to fit that into his index?]
[the index is large, it contains multitudes - martin]

To really appreciate his poems you have to hear John read them himself -
there's a brief sound bite on his website [broken link] ,
where there's a also a biog, merchandise etc. If you'd like to hear him he's
actually on tour in the UK at the moment (winter 2004), details on the site.

Stephen Axbey


Reiterating the link to Hegley's site: [broken link]

And go reread Poem #1407 while you're at it :)

The Photograph -- Constantine Cavafy

Guest poem sent in by Ian Shields
(Poem #1582) The Photograph
 In this obscene photograph secretly sold
 the policeman mustn't see) around the corner,
 in this whorish photograph,
 how did such a dream-like face
 make its way; How did you get in here?

 Who knows what a degrading, vulgar life you lead;
 how horrible the surroundings must have been
 when you posed to have the picture taken;
 what a cheap soul you must have.
 But in spite of all this, and even more, you remain for me
 the dream-like face, the figure
 shaped for and dedicated to Hellenic love—
 that's how you remain for me
 and how my poetry speaks of you.
-- Constantine Cavafy
     (Konstantinos P. Kabaphes, 1863-1933)
     translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and George Savidis

This is a distressing poem. Cavafy lived and died in the Hellenic community
of Alexandria, Egypt. His English translators note that in the original he
uses a subtle combination of classical and Demotic (vernacular) Greek that
has no equivalent in the English language. Despite this barrier, I find that
all of his various translators convey a deep, stark voice that is remarkably
powerful. His work is represented on your website (poems 217, 296, and 522)
and for further information and work by Cavafy, see

Cavafy wrote a number of erotic poems, all directed at men; thus, I assume
that individual portrayed in the photograph described in this poem is a boy
or young man. I am a psychologist who deals exclusively with incarcerated 16
and 17-year olds. Each of them is brought to me because he has done terrible
things. Some, in fact many of them, have also had terrible things done to
them; this sometimes explains (but never excuses) their behaviour. In the
course of my career I suppose hundreds of them have disclosed to me, in the
depths of therapy, that they have been sexually abused. Some have explained
that the evil men who did these things to them have "commemorated" the event
with photographs and videos that are being distributed on the internet. The
knowledge that similarly evil men continue to "enjoy" their abuse adds to
the horror.

Cavafy depicts a "similarly evil" man in his poem. His narrator describes
the "dream-like face" of the young man depicted in the photograph and
speculates on his "cheap soul". Yet it is the narrator's own cheap soul that
nauseates the reader.

Picasso once said that art is more than pretty pictures to put up on the
wall. Thus, art can be ugly. What is it that makes Cavafy's ugly words art?
For me, paradoxically, it is because his words are so distressing. To quote
another poet, (William Wordsworth in Elegiac Stanzas) "A deep distress hath
humanised my soul".

-Ian Shields

Little Tree -- e e cummings

Guest poem sent in by Sasha Nyary
(Poem #1581) Little Tree
 little tree
 little silent Christmas tree
 you are so little
 you are more like a flower

 who found you in the green forest
 and were you very sorry to come away?
 see   i will comfort you
 because you smell so sweetly

 i will kiss your cool bark
 and hug you safe and tight
 just as your mother would,
 only don't be afraid

 look   the spangles
 that sleep all the year in a dark box
 dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
 the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

 put up your little arms
 and i'll give them all to you to hold
 every finger shall have its ring
 and there won't a single place dark or unhappy

 then when you're quite dressed
 you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
 and how they'll stare!
 oh but you'll be very proud

 and my little sister and i will take hands
 and looking up at our beautiful tree
 we'll dance and sing
 "Noel Noel"
-- e e cummings
I didn't see this in the archives and thought I'd suggest it in honor of the
season. I first read this poem in a lovely picture book that my six-year-old
daughter owns. I like the strong images and the personification of this
lonely, scared little tree that is adopted into the family and celebrated.
Of course what is unspoken is that it's going out in the trash on December 26!
But the tree doesn't have to know that.

Sasha Nyary

A Ritual to Read to Each Other -- William Stafford

Guest poem sent in by Chip Adams
(Poem #1580) A Ritual to Read to Each Other
 If you don't know the kind of person I am
 and I don't know the kind of person you are
 a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
 and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

 For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
 a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
 sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
 storming out to play through the broken dyke.

 And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
 but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
 I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
 to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

 And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
 a remote important region in all who talk:
 though we could fool each other, we should consider--
 lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

 For it is important that awake people be awake,
 or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
 the signals we give--yes, no, or maybe--
 should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
-- William Stafford
This a poem that pretty clearly speaks for itself, at least in its plea that
we listen very carefully to each other and take the time to be clear in what
we communicate.  I find that as a schoolteacher my biggest task is simply to
listen to my students--to listen hard and long; they need this more than
almost anything.  (One student's observation: "Our lives have been molded by
neglect.") And as a husband, a father, and a citizen, I think that the
message is crucially important.

And the rhyme scheme of the poem is cool.

- Chip Adams


About William Stafford:
parent page:

Biography: [broken link]

Heaven -- Rupert Brooke

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1579) Heaven
 Fish (fly-replete, in depth of June,
 Dawdling away their wat'ry noon)
 Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
 Each secret fishy hope or fear.
 Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
 But is there anything Beyond?
 This life cannot be All, they swear,
 For how unpleasant, if it were!
 One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
 Shall come of Water and of Mud;
 And, sure, the reverent eye must see
 A Purpose in Liquidity.
 We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
 The future is not Wholly Dry.
 Mud unto mud! -- Death eddies near --
 Not here the appointed End, not here!
 But somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
 Is wetter water, slimier slime!
 And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
 Who swam ere rivers were begun,
 Immense, of fishy form and mind,
 Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
 And under that Almighty Fin,
 The littlest fish may enter in.
 Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
 Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
 But more than mundane weeds are there,
 And mud, celestially fair;
 Fat caterpillars drift around,
 And Paradisal grubs are found;
 Unfading moths, immortal flies,
 And the worm that never dies.
 And in that Heaven of all their wish,
 There shall be no more land, say fish.
-- Rupert Brooke
This poem by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) is based on a simple idea, and not an
original one at that -- it is an idea that goes back at least to the ancient
Greek philosopher Xenophanes (c.570 - c.475 BC), who suggested that horses
(if they could draw) would draw the gods like horses, and cattle like

It is however a wonderful articulation of the idea -- perhaps germinated in
idle summer reverie on a punt at Grantchester.

William Grey

[Martin adds]

Brooke is one of my favourite 'comfort poets' (by analogy with comfort food) -
I know that I can always pick up one of his poems and be guaranteed a
pleasurable experience. Today's poem is a great example.

The Cherry Tree Carol -- Traditional

Guest poem sent in by Vivian
(Poem #1578) The Cherry Tree Carol
 When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he,
 He married Virgin Mary, the queen of Galilee,
 He married Virgin Mary, the queen of Galilee.

 Joseph and Mary walked through an orchard green,
 There were berries and cherries as thick as might be seen
 There were berries and cherries as thick as might be seen

 And Mary spoke to Joseph, so meek and so mild,
 "Joseph gather me some cherries, for I am with child,
 Joseph gather me some cherries, for I am with child."

 And Joseph flew in anger, in anger flew he,
 "Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee,
 Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee."

 Then up spoke baby Jesus from in Mary's womb,
 "Bend down the tallest tree that my mother might have some,
 Bend down the tallest tree that my mother might have some."

 And bent down the tallest branch, till it touched Mary's hand,
 Cried she, "Oh look thou Joseph I have cherries by command,"
 Cried she, "Oh look thou Joseph I have cherries by command."
-- Traditional
   (English folk ballad)

One needn't be Christian to love this -- I love it because of the human
immediacy of a miracle in the prosaic setting of an uncomfortable journey
and because of the speaking parts for the exasperated Joseph, for the
pregnant Mary with her craving for fruit and for the unborn but imperious
baby Jesus. It derives from the Pseudo-Matthew gospel, and in medieval times
was dramatized in folk plays and mystery pageants. From "British Ballads and
Folk Songs from the Joan Baez  Songbook." Baez sings it on  the disc "Joan
Baez, Volume 2," and the melody is haunting.

- Vivian Eden

The Owl -- Edward Thomas

Guest poem sent in by David Mckay
(Poem #1577) The Owl
 Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
 Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
 Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
 Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

 Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
 Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
 All of the night was quite barred out except
 An owl's cry, a most melancholy cry

 Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
 No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
 But one telling me plain what I escaped
 And others could not, that night, as in I went.

 And salted was my food, and my repose,
 Salted and sobered, too, by the bird's voice
 Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
 Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.
-- Edward Thomas
Here's a holiday poem of sorts. There are a few poems by Edward Thomas on
the website, but not this one. I once read "The Owl" in an anthology and
then lost track of it for years, but every once in a while one of its
well-turned lines would come back to haunt me: "An owl's cry, a most
melancholy cry".

Reading the poem again, I was especially taken with the rich, ambiguous
image of the owl's cry "salting" the narrator's food and repose. Throughout,
the economy of language is exceptional -- consider the phrase "soldiers and
poor", which says all that needs to be said and no more.

Best regards,
David McKay

I Had a Hippopotamus -- Patrick Barrington

(Poem #1576) I Had a Hippopotamus
 I had a hippopotamus; I kept him in a shed
 And fed him upon vitamins and vegetable bread.
 I made him my companion on many cheery walks,
 And had his portrait done by a celebrity in chalks.

 His charming eccentricities were known on every side.
 The creature's popularity was wonderfully wide.
 He frolicked with the Rector in a dozen friendly tussles,
 Who could not but remark on his hippopotamuscles.

 If he should be affected by depression or the dumps
 By hippopotameasles or hippopotamumps
 I never knew a particle of peace 'till it was plain
 He was hippopotamasticating properly again.

 I had a hippopotamus, I loved him as a friend
 But beautiful relationships are bound to end.
 Time takes, alas! our joys from us and robs us of our blisses.
 My hippopotamus turned out to be a hippopotamissus.

 My housekeeper regarded him with jaundice in her eye.
 She did not want a colony of hippopotami.
 She borrowed a machine gun from her soldier-nephew, Percy
 And showed my hippopotamus no hippopotamercy.

 My house now lacks the glamour that the charming creature gave.
 The garage where I kept him is as silent as a grave.
 No longer he displays among the motor-tires and spanners
 His hippopotamastery of hippopotamanners.

 No longer now he gambols in the orchard in the Spring;
 No longer do I lead him through the village on a string;
 No longer in the mornings does the neighborhood rejoice
 To his hippopotamusically-modulated voice.

 I had a hippopotamus, but nothing upon the earth
 Is constant in its happiness or lasting in its mirth.
 No life that's joyful can be strong enough to smother
 My sorrow for what might have been a hippopotamother.
-- Patrick Barrington
Many thanks to Prabhash Gokaran , who went through
our hippo theme [Poem #844 onwards] and wanted to know why the funniest one
of the lot was not included. Well, the simple answer is that at the time I
had never read it before - and, with a little prodding from Prabhash, I'm
delighted to finally add it to the collection.

Of course, one of the first things I was struck by was the similarity of the
opening lines to "The Diplomatic Platypus" [Poem #1028] by the same poet,
but apart from this and a similarity of metre, "Hippopotamus" is a different
sort of silliness from "Platypus". Indeed, it leans more towards the
"children's poem" end of the spectrum, with its plethora of hippopotamorped
words and delightfully contrived rhymes, and the sheer delicious
ruthlessness of
  She borrowed a machine gun from her soldier-nephew, Percy
  And showed my hippopotamus no hippopotamercy.

One thing that jarred slightly was the broken metre in the lines
   Who could not but remark on his hippopotamuscles.
   My hippopotamus turned out to be a hippopotamissus.

Could someone with a print copy confirm that these are indeed accurate?



The other poem this reminded me (tangentially) of was "I Had a Little Pony":
[broken link]

We've run one other poem of Barrington's, Poem #1028

And what is surely the motherlode of hippo poems on the net:

A Good Poem -- Tukaram

Guest poem sent in by Arunasri Nishtala
(Poem #1575) A Good Poem
 A good poem is like finding a hole
      in the palace
      never know what you
-- Tukaram
        (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

 The poem above is written by Tukaram (c. 1608-1649), a Marathi uplifting
poet. I have never read the original (I am not a Maharashrian), and I do not
know how good the translation is, I must confess. Nevertheless, I liked it
and thought I'd share it with you.

 I chose to send this poem because it has an interesting fundamental
definition of poetry. Secondly I guess I want to motivate you guys into
putting effort into Indian and other language poetry translations. It
certainly will increase verity on the abstract beauty of thoughts. (Yes,
translations can sometime be not well done, I understand)

Arunasri Nishtala

[Martin adds]

Arunasri raises a rather interesting point - should a translation of a poem
be judged more on its accuracy or on its poetic merits? If it turned out
that today's poem was indeed *not* a faithful translation of Tukaram's
original (and if any Marathi speaker knows the original, do write in!) would
it affect its value as a poem in its own right? And more fundamentally, is
poetry even 'translatable', or is the translator inevitably creating a new
work of art, in collaboration with but not identifiable with the original?



Biography of Tukaram:
And a somewhat blurby one of Ladinsky: [broken link]

Not Marble, nor the Gilded Monuments (Sonnet LV) -- William Shakespeare

Yesterday's parody made me realise that we hadn't yet run the original...
(Poem #1574) Not Marble, nor the Gilded Monuments (Sonnet LV)
 Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
 Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rime;
 But you shall shine more bright in these contents
 Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.
 When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
 And broils root out the work of masonry,
 Nor Mars his sword nor war’s quick fire shall burn
 The living record of your memory.
 ’Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
 Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
 Even in the eyes of all posterity
 That wear this world out to the ending doom.
   So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
   You live in this, and dwell in lovers’ eyes.
-- William Shakespeare
This is a love poem with a twist. Or, at least, it is *nominally* a love
poem. What it really is is a poem that is, in the most literal sense, full
of itself - an extended boast about Shakespeare's skill at writing poetry.
Now don't get me wrong, I love this sonnet, and would even rank it among
the Bard's best. It is indeed a monumental tribute to Shakespeare's poetry
that the sonnet rings true, that it doesn't grate on the ear the way
less-worthy bragging is wont to do. But stripped of the beauty of the words,
what it is essentially saying is "You will be immortal because I am a great
poet, and this is a great poem".

On a somewhat tangential note, one thing that never fails to impress me when
reading Shakespeare's sonnets is how many ever-fresh variations he manages
to ring up on a bare handful of themes. "Age cannot wither her, nor custom
stale / Her infinite variety", wrote Shakespeare of Cleopatra, and I can
think of no more fitting epitaph for the man himself.


 We've run plenty of Shakespeare (one might even get the idea he's a
 somewhat popular poet):
[broken link]

 For another parody of a trite sentiment in poetic clothing, see A. D. Hope's
 "His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell" [Poem #1568]

Strugnell's Sonnets (iv) -- Wendy Cope

(Poem #1573) Strugnell's Sonnets (iv)
 Not only marble, but the plastic toys
 From cornflake packets will outlive this rhyme
 I can't immortalize you, love - our joys
 Will lie unnoticed in the vault of time.
 When Mrs. Thatcher has been cast in bronze
 And her administration is a page
 In some O-Level text-book, when the dons
 Have analysed the story of our age,
 When travel firms sell tours of outer space
 When aeroplanes take off without a sound
 And Tulse Hill has become a trendy place
 And upper Norwood's on the underground
 Your beauty and my name will be forgotten -
 My love is true, but all my verse is rotten
-- Wendy Cope
(from "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis)

Notes: Parody of Shakespeare's Sonnet LV, "Nor Marble nor the Gilded
  Monuments". Strugnell is Cope's fictional creation, a 'rimer' whose
  tragedy it is to fall under the obvious influence of one great poet after

One of my happier poetry purchases over the last year was Cope's delightful
volume, "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis". It's rare that I will sit and read
a single-poet collection through in one sitting, but Cope kept me entranced
all the way to the end, and laughing out loud as often as not.

Today's poem was definitely one of the laugh-out-loud ones, particuarly for
the superb image in the opening two lines. Many great poets have turned
their hands towards parody, but this particular form of bathos is something
Cope handles better than anyone I've seen. (For another great Strugnellian
juxtaposition of the high poetic and the utterly commonplace, see Poem #587
and its "incandescent football in the East"). After that, the poem sadly
degenerates a bit, with Strugnell amply establishing his credentials as a
Bad Poet, but lacking that touch of inspired unselfconsciousness that makes
the Strugnell/Cope poems so funny. But the ending makes up for all that,
with its utterly memorable lament - "my love is true, but all my verse is
rotten" (incidentally, a dig at yet another Shakespearean sonnet). Pure


  Sonnet LV:
  Sonnet CXXX: Poem #44

  More on "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis" after Poem #693, and more on Cope
  after Poem #1323

Said Hanrahan -- John O'Brien

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1572) Said Hanrahan
 "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   In accents most forlorn,
 Outside the church, ere Mass began,
   One frosty Sunday morn.

 The congregation stood about,
   Coat-collars to the ears,
 And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
   As it had done for years.

 "It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke;
   "Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
 For never since the banks went broke
   Has seasons been so bad."

 "It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil,
   With which astute remark
 He squatted down upon his heel
   And chewed a piece of bark.

 And so around the chorus ran
   "It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
 "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "Before the year is out."

 "The crops are done; ye'll have your work
   To save one bag of grain;
  From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke
   They're singin' out for rain.

 "They're singin' out for rain," he said,
   "And all the tanks are dry."
 The congregation scratched its head,
   And gazed around the sky.

 "There won't be grass, in any case,
   Enough to feed an ass;
 There's not a blade on Casey's place
   As I came down to Mass."

 "If rain don't come this month," said Dan,
   And cleared his throat to speak --
 "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "If rain don't come this week."

 A heavy silence seemed to steal
   On all at this remark;
 And each man squatted on his heel,
   And chewed a piece of bark.

 "We want an inch of rain, we do,"
   O'Neil observed at last;
 But Croke "maintained" we wanted two
   To put the danger past.

 "If we don't get three inches, man,
   Or four to break this drought,
 We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "Before the year is out."

 In God's good time down came the rain;
   And all the afternoon
 On iron roof and window-pane
   It drummed a homely tune.

 And through the night it pattered still,
   And lightsome, gladsome elves
 On dripping spout and window-sill
   Kept talking to themselves.

 It pelted, pelted all day long,
   A-singing at its work,
 Till every heart took up the song
   Way out to Back-o'-Bourke.

 And every creek a banker ran,
   And dams filled overtop;
 "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "If this rain doesn't stop."

 And stop it did, in God's good time;
   And spring came in to fold
 A mantle o'er the hills sublime
   Of green and pink and gold.

 And days went by on dancing feet,
   With harvest-hopes immense,
 And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
   Nid-nodding o'er the fence.

 And, oh, the smiles on every face,
   As happy lad and lass
 Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place
   Went riding down to Mass.

 While round the church in clothes genteel
   Discoursed the men of mark,
 And each man squatted on his heel,
   And chewed his piece of bark.

 "There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
   There will, without a doubt;
 We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "Before the year is out."
-- John O'Brien
  John O'Brien was the nom de plume of Patrick Joseph Hartigan (1878-1952),
  born in Yass, New South Wales. He was a Roman Catholic priest in the Goulburn
  diocese and later parish priest at Narrandera -- also rural towns in New
  South Wales.

Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson are better (indeed the best) known names in the
Australian bush ballad tradition. Paterson ('Clancy of the Overflow', Poem
#566; 'The Man from Snowy River') and Lawson ('The Great Grey Plain', Poem
'Sweeney') however celebrate (or in Lawson's case lament -- see 'Past
Carin' ', Poem #1569) the Australian bush in a very different vein. Paterson
Lawson are city voices dreaming about, or meditating on, the bush while
detached from it living in the city. O'Brien, in comparison, is gentler and
indeed tenderly affectionate toward Australia's harsh brown land and its
seasonal cycles. O'Brien's poems are deeply and lovingly embedded in the
farming life of the Irish community in rural Australia, of which he was a part.

'Said Hanrahan' paints a wonderful portrait of Australian-Irish bush culture,
together with its church, the land, the climate and the seasons which
constitute its core. Hanrahan (a quintessentially Irish name) expresses
unconquerable Irish pessimism about the prospects down on the farm. (Hanrahan
has a point however: the lush growth from spring rain can indeed dry out into
fuel which poses a serious fire risk in summer.)

'Said Hanrahan', I think, is readily accessible to non-Australians but here are
a couple of notes:
'rooned' is Australian-Irish pronunciation of 'ruined';
'never since the banks went broke' refers to the turbulent 1890s which were bad
drought years and also when (in the absence of a central bank) nearly all the
land banks and building societies and 12 of the 22 trading banks went broke,
following the collapse of an intense property boom.
'Back-o'-Bourke' is an Australian colloquialism for being just about anywhere
in the vast and sparsely populated heartland of bush Australia;
'every creek a banker ran' means that the rivers overflowed.

'Said Hanrahan' was published in Around the Boree Log and Other Verses (1921).

William Grey

Surprised by joy -- William Wordsworth

Guest poem sent in by Aseem

To Catherine Wordsworth 1808 - 1812:
(Poem #1571) Surprised by joy
 Surprised by joy - impatient as the Wind
 I turned to share the transport - Oh! with whom
 But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
 That spot which no vicissitude can find?
 Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind -
 But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
 Even for the least division of an hour,
 Have I been so beguiled as to be blind,
 To my most grevious loss! - That thought's return
 Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
 Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn
 Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
 That neither present time, nor years unborn
 Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
-- William Wordsworth
I don't like Wordsworth. Over the years I've tried very hard to like
him, tried convincing myself that there was some deep and mystical and
moving beauty to his work, worked very hard at trying to discover the
poet of whom Browning (who I love) once wrote: "We who had loved him,
worshipped him, honoured him / Lived in his mild and magnificient eye /
Learnt his great language, heard his clear accents / Made him our
pattern to live and to die". And I STILL don't like Wordsworth.[1]

The one exception to that rule is this poem. Not that I think it's a
brilliant poem or anything - there are lines in it that still make me
wince when I read them (who describes a tomb as "that spot which no
VICISSITUDE can find"? Outside of gawky english lit undergrads that
is). But despite the number of failings I see in it there's something
about it that's so heartfelt, so achingly honest that it (yes, I
confess it) moves me. The starting line is pure genius, of course, the
image of someone turning with a joke on his lips so vivid and the let
down in the second line ("Oh! with whom") so sudden that you feel the
hurt of it deep, deep inside you. And the sixth, seventh and eighth
lines are superb as well - blending so realistically their tones of
sorrow, wonder and accusation. And the defeat and sadness at the end
make such a beautiful contrast with the exuberance of the starting.
This is a wonderfully dramatic poem, but the very awkwardness of some
of its lines lend it a genuineness that a more polished rendition would
have destroyed. This is not a great poet expressing some mighty vision,
this is a mourning father, speaking simply and plainly about his loss.

The other reason I love this poem is because it speaks of a feeling
that i can relate to - the half-guilty, half-surprised sensation of
remembering something serious and sad just when you were most enjoying
yourself. It's a feeling I can relate to well as I type this, because
looking through the Minstrels archive I realised just now that the 8th
of December (two days ago) was Agha Shahid Ali's third death
anniversary, and I completely forgot. So in a way this poem is a way of
making up for having forgotten. It's not a particularly good way, but I
think it's one that would have amused Shahid.


[1]These labours of mine have not been entirely in vain, of course. As
a child of eight I remember being convinced that 'Daffodils' was kind
of cute. On sundry vacations in the countryside I've even managed to
read all of 'Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey' with mild
interest. And once, on a drunken dare I even got through most of 'The
World is too much with us'.

[Martin adds]

I was struck by Aseem's uneasy relationship with the poet Wordsworth because
it so closely mirrors the way I feel about his contemporary Shelley. I
wonder if it is the mark of a great poet to produce this kind of
polarisation in attitudes, and if the more mediocre poets evoke not an
enduring distaste but at most a bored indifference.

Jewish Wedding in Bombay -- Nissim Ezekiel

Guest poem sent in by Arvind Natarajan
(Poem #1570) Jewish Wedding in Bombay
 Her mother shed a tear or two but wasn't really
 crying. It was the thing to do, so she did it
 enjoying every moment. The bride laughed when I
 sympathized, and said don't be silly.

 Her brothrs had a shoe of mine and made me pay
 to get it back. The game delighted all the neighbours'
 children, who never stopped staring at me, the reluctant
 bridegroom of the day.

 There was no dowry because they knew I was 'modern'
 and claimed to be modern too. Her father asked me how
 much jewellery I expected him to give away with his daughter.
 When I said I did't know, he laughed it off.

 There was no brass band outside the synagogue
 but I remember a chanting procession or two, some rituals,
 lots of skull-caps, felt hats, decorated shawls
 and grape juice from a common glass for bride and

 I remember the breaking of the glass and the congregation
 clapping which signified that we were well and truly married
 according to the Mosaic Law.

 Well that's about all. I don't think there was much
 that struck me as solemn or beautiful. Mostly, we were
 amused, and so were the others. Who knows how much belief
 we had?

 Even the most orthodox it was said ate beef because it
 was cheaper, and some even risked their souls by
 relishing pork.
 The Sabbath was for betting and swearing and drinking.

 Nothing extravagant, mind you, all in a low key
 and very decently kept in check. My father used to say,
 these orthodox chaps certainly know how to draw the line
 in their own crude way. He himself had drifted into the liberal
 creed but without much conviction, taking us all with him.
 My mother was very proud of being 'progressive'.

 Anyway as I was saying, there was that clapping and later
 we went to the photographic studio of Lobo and Fernandes,
 world-famous specialists in wedding portraits. Still later,
 we lay on a floor-matress in the kitchen of my wife's
 family apartment and though it was part midnight she
 kept saying let's do it darling let's do it darling
 so we did it.

 More than ten years passed before she told me that
 she remembered being very disappointed. Is that all
 there is to it? She had wondered. Back from London
 eighteen months earlier, I was horribly out of practice.

 During our first serious marriage quarrel she said Why did
 you take my virginity from me? I would gladly have
 returned it, but not one of the books I had read
 instructed me how.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
The poem starts with the setting of an Indian jewish wedding, then drifts into
the community's ways of living (how Indianised it has become) and finally ends
with looking back in life. Asked once how he could have written this poem,
Ezekiel retorted with, "Who is the 'we' in the poem?"

I liked Ezekiel's poking humor, "some even risked their souls by relishing
pork", "the photographic studio of Lobo and Fernandes, world-famous specialists

in wedding portraits" in particular.

Ezekiel is a legend and is considered the father of modern Indian poetry. Found
the above one in the Sahitya Akademi's journal which published an article and
some of his poems in rememberance of his death.


Marriage -- Gregory Corso

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1569) Marriage
 Should I get married? Should I be good?
 Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?
 Don't take her to movies but to cemeteries
 tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
 then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
 and she going just so far and I understanding why
 not getting angry saying You must feel! It's beautiful to feel!
 Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
 and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky -

 When she introduces me to her parents
 back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
 should I sit with my knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
 and not ask Where's the bathroom?
 How else to feel other than I am,
 often thinking Flash Gordon soap -
 O how terrible it must be for a young man
 seated before a family and the family thinking
 We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
 After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?

 Should I tell them? Would they like me then?
 Say All right get married, we're losing a daughter
 but we're gaining a son -
 And should I then ask Where's the bathroom?

 O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends
 and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
 just wait to get at the drinks and food -
 And the priest! he looking at me as if I masturbated
 asking me Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?
 And I trembling what to say say Pie Glue!
 I kiss the bride all those corny men slapping me on the back
 She's all yours, boy! Ha-ha-ha!
 And in their eyes you could see some obscene honeymoon going on -
 Then all that absurd rice and clanky cans and shoes
 Niagara Falls! Hordes of us! Husbands! Wives! Flowers! Chocolates!
 All streaming into cozy hotels
 All going to do the same thing tonight
 The indifferent clerk he knowing what was going to happen
 The lobby zombies they knowing what
 The whistling elevator man he knowing
 Everybody knowing! I'd almost be inclined not to do anything!
 Stay up all night! Stare that hotel clerk in the eye!
 Screaming: I deny honeymoon! I deny honeymoon!
 running rampant into those almost climactic suites
 yelling Radio belly! Cat shovel!
 O I'd live in Niagara forever! in a dark cave beneath the Falls
 I'd sit there the Mad Honeymooner
 devising ways to break marriages, a scourge of bigamy
 a saint of divorce -

 But I should get married I should be good
 How nice it'd be to come home to her
 and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
 aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
 and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
 and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
 saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
 God what a husband I'd make! Yes, I should get married!
 So much to do! Like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
 and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
 Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
 like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
 like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
 grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
 And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
 When are you going to stop people killing whales!
 And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
 Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust -

 Yet if I should get married and it's Connecticut and snow
 and she gives birth to a child and I am sleepless, worn,
 up for nights, head bowed against a quiet window, the past behind me,
 finding myself in the most common of situations a trembling man
 knowledged with responsibility not twig-smear nor Roman coin soup-
 O what would that be like!
 Surely I'd give it for a nipple a rubber Tacitus
 For a rattle a bag of broken Bach records
 Tack Della Francesca all over its crib
 Sew the Greek alphabet on its bib
 And build for its playpen a roofless Parthenon

 No, I doubt I'd be that kind of father
 Not rural not snow no quiet window
 but hot smelly tight New York City
 seven flights up, roaches and rats in the walls
 a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes Get a job!
 And five nose running brats in love with Batman
 And the neighbors all toothless and dry haired
 like those hag masses of the 18th century
 all wanting to come in and watch TV
 The landlord wants his rent
 Grocery store Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus
 impossible to lie back and dream Telephone snow, ghost parking -
 No! I should not get married! I should never get married!
 But - imagine if I were married to a beautiful sophisticated woman
 tall and pale wearing an elegant black dress and long black gloves
 holding a cigarette holder in one hand and a highball in the other
 and we lived high up in a penthouse with a huge window
 from which we could see all of New York and even farther on clearer days
 No, can't imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream -

 O but what about love? I forget love
 not that I am incapable of love
 It's just that I see love as odd as wearing shoes -
 I never wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother
 And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible
 And there's maybe a girl now but she's already married
 And I don't like men and -
 But there's got to be somebody!
 Because what if I'm 60 years old and not married,
 all alone in a furnished room with pee stains on my underwear
 and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!

 Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
 then marriage would be possible -
 Like SHE in her lonely alien gaud waiting her Egyptian lover
 so i wait-bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life.
-- Gregory Corso
One of my all-time favourite poems. Every time I get invited to a friend's
wedding (and that happens with distressing regularity now) I pull out a copy of
this poem and read it. It's not just that it's a wildly funny poem (though it
is that too -  I still can't keep myself from laughing out loud every time I
read it) or one that, unlike many other beat poems, doesn't take itself too
seriously. It's the balance of it - the combination of a faux yet visionary
ecstacy ("Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust") with
snatches of quiet, understated yearning ("But there's got to be somebody!");
the juxtaposition of these simple yet vivid everyday scenes with some truly
startling imagery ("telephone snow, ghost parking", "take her not to movies,
but to cemeteries"); the vicious lampooning of stereotypes interspersed with
lines of true poetry ("woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky"
or "I see love as odd as wearing shoes"); the emergence of almost universal
themes from amidst some fairly contextual references.

It would have been easy for Corso to go too far here - he could easily have
made this just another juvenile rant against marriage. Instead he pulls of a
real masterpiece of a poem.



  [broken link]

Some more Corso poems:

A tribute by Robert Creeley:

Past Carin’ -- Henry Lawson

Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea
(Poem #1568) Past Carin’
 Now up and down the siding brown
     The great black crows are flyin’,
 And down below the spur, I know,
     Another ‘milker’s’ dyin’;
 The crops have withered from the ground,
     The tank’s clay bed is glarin’,
 But from my heart no tear nor sound,
     For I have gone past carin’—
             Past worryin’ or carin’,
             Past feelin’ aught or carin’;
             But from my heart no tear nor sound,
             For I have gone past carin’.
 Through Death and Trouble, turn about,
     Through hopeless desolation,
 Through flood and fever, fire and drought,
     And slavery and starvation;
 Through childbirth, sickness, hurt, and blight,
     And nervousness an’ scarin’,
 Through bein’ left alone at night,
     I’ve got to be past carin’.
             Past botherin’ or carin’,
             Past feelin’ and past carin’;
             Through city cheats and neighbours’ spite,
             I’ve come to be past carin’.
 Our first child took, in days like these,
     A cruel week in dyin’,
 All day upon her father’s knees,
     Or on my poor breast lyin’;
 The tears we shed—the prayers we said
     Were awful, wild—despairin’!
 I’ve pulled three through, and buried two
     Since then—and I’m past carin’.
             I’ve grown to be past carin’,
             Past worryin’ and wearin’;
             I’ve pulled three through and buried two
             Since then, and I’m past carin’.

 ’Twas ten years first, then came the worst,
     All for a dusty clearin’,
 I thought, I thought my heart would burst
     When first my man went shearin’;
 He’s drovin’ in the great North-west,
     I don’t know how he’s farin’;
 For I, the one that loved him best,
     Have grown to be past carin’.
             I’ve grown to be past carin’
             Past lookin’ for or carin’;
             The girl that waited long ago,
             Has lived to be past carin’.

 My eyes are dry, I cannot cry,
     I’ve got no heart for breakin’,
 But where it was in days gone by,
     A dull and empty achin’.
 My last boy ran away from me,
     I know my temper’s wearin’,
 But now I only wish to be
     Beyond all signs of carin’.
             Past wearyin’ or carin’,
             Past feelin’ and despairin’;
             And now I only wish to be
             Beyond all signs of carin’.
-- Henry Lawson
To join A D Hope today and Eric Bogle's lovely "Now I'm Easy" a few weeks
ago, here is another Australian poem. Unlike Bogle's old man, the speaker
here is far from "easy" as she looks back on her hard life.

Henry Lawson's reputation as a short-story writer has outlasted his fame as
a poet, at least among the academics. But today's poem is like a short
story in its own right, and anyway people who have never read a short story
still read his poetry. You can get a sense of his own bleak outlook as well
as his love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with the outback in this poem.
I don't know if it is great poetry, but where else can you find such
unremitting bleakness so sympathetically portrayed? The strong, determined
woman finally beaten by her lot.

I'm surprised that you have only two of Lawson's poems in your collection.
If you want to find out what Australia was like 100 years ago, it would be
hard to beat Lawson. The fact that he was what we might today call "a
loser" has in no way changed the affection in which he was then, and still
is, held by Australians.

Frank O'Shea

His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell -- A D Hope

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1567) His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell
 Since you have world enough and time
 Sir, to admonish me in rhyme,
 Pray Mr Marvell, can it be
 You think to have persuaded me?
 Then let me say: you want the art
 To woo, much less to win my heart.
 The verse was splendid, all admit,
 And, sir, you have a pretty wit.
 All that indeed your poem lacked
 Was logic, modesty, and tact,
 Slight faults and ones to which I own,
 Your sex is generally prone;
 But though you lose your labour, I
 Shall not refuse you a reply:

 First, for the language you employ:
 A term I deprecate is "coy";
 The ill-bred miss, the bird-brained Jill,
 May simper and be coy at will;
 A lady, sir, as you will find,
 Keeps counsel, or she speaks her mind,
 Means what she says and scorns to fence
 And palter with feigned innocence.

 The ambiguous "mistress" next you set
 Beside this graceless epithet.
 "Coy mistress", sir? Who gave you leave
 To wear my heart upon your sleeve?
 Or to imply, as sure you do,
 I had no other choice than you
 And must remain upon the shelf
 Unless I should bestir myself?
 Shall I be moved to love you, pray,
 By hints that I must soon decay?
 No woman's won by being told
 How quickly she is growing old;
 Nor will such ploys, when all is said,
 Serve to stampede us into bed.

 When from pure blackmail, next you move
 To bribe or lure me into love,
 No less inept, my rhyming friend,
 Snared by the means, you miss your end.
 "Times winged chariot", and the rest
 As poetry may pass the test;
 Readers will quote those lines, I trust,
 Till you and I and they are dust;
 But I, your destined prey, must look
 Less at the bait than at the hook,
 Nor, when I do, can fail to see
 Just what it is you offer me:
 Love on the run, a rough embrace
 Snatched in the fury of the chase,
 The grave before us and the wheels
 Of Time's grim chariot at our heels,
 While we, like "am'rous birds of prey",
 Tear at each other by the way.

 To say the least, the scene you paint
 Is, what you call my honour, quaint!
 And on this point what prompted you
 So crudely, and in public too,
 To canvass and , indeed, make free
 With my entire anatomy?
 Poets have licence, I confess,
 To speak of ladies in undress;
 Thighs, hearts, brows, breasts are well enough,
 In verses this is common stuff;
 But -- well I ask: to draw attention
 To worms in -- what I blush to mention,
 And prate of dust upon it too!
 Sir, was this any way to woo?

 Now therefore, while male self-regard
 Sits on your cheek, my hopeful bard,
 May I suggest, before we part,
 The best way to a woman's heart
 Is to be modest, candid, true;
 Tell her you love and show you do;
 Neither cajole nor condescend
 And base the lover on the friend;
 Don't bustle her or fuss or snatch:
 A suitor looking at his watch
 Is not a posture that persuades
 Willing, much less reluctant maids.

 Remember that she will be stirred
 More by the spirit than the word;
 For truth and tenderness do more
 Than coruscating metaphor.
 Had you addressed me in such terms
 And prattled less of graves and worms,
 I might, who knows, have warmed to you;
 But, as things stand, must bid adieu
 (Though I am grateful for the rhyme)
 And wish you better luck next time.
-- A D Hope

An effective rejoinder to a great poem requires a poet of greatness, and one
who appreciates and respects the genius under attack. No poet was able to do
this more effectively than Australian poet A.D. Hope (1907-2000). In his
introduction to this rejoinder Hope commented:

  This most famous of all Marvell's poems is deservedly so. Yet it is a
  brilliant tour de force in which the poet's imaginative language triumphs
  over the fact that his arguments to the lady are a set of worn-out clichés,
  which were never very persuasive even when they were new -- but the lady can
  best speak for herself.

Marvell's most famous poem was an early contribution to Wondering Minstrels
(Poem #158). 'His Coy Mistress to Mr Marvell' was published in Hope's Book of
Answers (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1978), which includes a number of gems --
though none more brilliant than this Marvell parody. (It includes a fine parody
of Gerard Manley "Hop-skip-jump-kins" -- which I may submit at some future
time.) The power of Hope's language, and the range of genres which he
commanded, were immense. He is a poet of considerable stature not just within
Australia, but globally.


Untitled -- Vikram Seth

Guest poem sent in by Vikas Kedia
(Poem #1566) Untitled
 Dark night, and silent, calm, and lovely,
 That stills the efforts of our lives,
 Rare, excellent-kind, and behovely
 No matter how the poet strives
 To weave with epithets and clauses
 Your soundless web, he falters, pauses,
 And your enchantment slips between
 His hands, as if it's never been.
 Of all times most inbued with beauty,
 You lend us by your spell relief
 From ineradicable grief
 (If for a spell), and pain, and duty.
 We sleep, and nightly are made whole
 In all our fretted mind and soul.
-- Vikram Seth
        (from "The Golden Gate")

I had never thought I would be able to appreciate a novel written completely in
verse. But after having read a couple of poems by Seth on Minstrels, I decided
to take up the challenge. And now in last couple of days I have spent
innumerable precious hours (precious because I am in middle of end terms)
devouring it.

Unputdownable has become a cliched word in recent times due to unjudicious use
on the cover of paperback fictions, yet it seems as if the word was meant for
this book. I have found it to be a surprisingly light read, very contemporary
(even though written in the 80's) and at places even profound as this sonnet
illustrates. Being an aspiring computer scientist and student of logic,
I revel in paradoxes. Therefore the paradox in this verse, of a poet trying to
express the enchantment of the night by admitting his inadequacy to do so,
appeals to me in more than poetic sense.

Loneliness seems to be a recurring theme in the writings of Seth, if I can make
that judgement from the poems I have read on Minstrels and this book. But this
book is written in a lighter and humorous vein as compared to poems like "All
You who Sleep Tonight". Word play, alliteration, puns abound. Couple of gems
I have so far come across are "Monday's mundane", "Cultural and haughty and
hortycultural". This book has turned out to be an excellent introduction to the
art of verse for a novice like me.


Maintrunk Country Roadsong -- Sam Hunt

Guest poem sent in by Benjamin Withy
(Poem #1565) Maintrunk Country Roadsong
 Driving south and travelling
 not much over fifty,
 I hit a possum ... 'Little
 man,' I muttered chopping
 down to second gear,
 'I never meant you any harm.'

 My friend with me, he himself
 a man who loves such nights,
 bright headlight nights, said
 'Possums? just a bloody pest,
 they're better dead!'
 He's right of course.

 So settling back, foot down hard,
 Ohakune, Tangiwai -
 as often blinded by
 the single headlight of
 a passing goods train as by
 any passing car -

 Let the Midnight Special shine
 its ever-loving light on me:
 they run a prison farm
 somewhere round these parts;
 men always on the run.
 These men know such searchlight nights:

 those wide shining
 eyes of that young possum
 full-beam back on mine,
 watching me run over him ...
 'Little man,
 I never meant you any harm.'
-- Sam Hunt
Note: The lines "Let the Midnight Special shine/its ever-loving light on me:"
are in italics.

Sam Hunt is a New Zealand poet and raconteur, and in this poem he captures the
essence of driving down the middle of the country at night, the road running
parallel to the railroad.

The imagery of the moon, the headlights, searchlights and the possums eyes ties
together the narrative. When he recites his poetry he uses a style that tends
to lurch from word to word, the pauses not where you'd have thought, but it
suits the words he writes. His poems convey something of the country, fresh,
new, and still rough around the edges.



Biography and Assessment

Acquainted with the Night -- Robert Frost

Guest poem submitted by Srihari Sukumaran:
(Poem #1564) Acquainted with the Night
 I have been one acquainted with the night.
 I have walked out in rain -- and back in rain.
 I have outwalked the furthest city light.

 I have looked down the saddest city lane.
 I have passed by the watchman on his beat
 And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

 I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
 When far away an interrupted cry
 Came over houses from another street,

 But not to call me back or say good-bye;
 And further still at an unearthly height,
 O luminary clock against the sky

 Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
 I have been one acquainted with the night.
-- Robert Frost
When I saw the list of Robert Frost's poems in Minstrels with yesterday's
poem (Poem # 1552 -- now more than a day old -- ed.) I realised that one of
my favourite Frost poems is not on Minstrels. Hence this contribution.

The first thing I liked about this poem when I read it (as is the case with
most of Frost's poems) is its rhythm and sound. There is a very regular
'beat' about it. The rhyme scheme is 'aba bcb cdc dad aa' (which Google
tells me is the terza rima).

Unusually for a Frost poem, this one is set in a city, which probably makes
it not very surprising that the theme is loneliness and homelessness. A
sense of loneliness permeates the entire poem -- especially the second,
third and fourth verses. Even time seems indifferent to the speaker -- the
"luminary clock against the sky [the moon?] / Proclaimed the time was
neither wrong nor right".

The poem begins and ends with "I have been one acquainted...". At the first
occurrence there is, I think, a feeling of 'energy' or 'endeavour' -
something positive conveyed in the second and third lines. But the end of
the poem the overwhelming feeling one gets is that of loneliness and even


Ps. I hope the above makes sense; I haven't written some thing like this in
over 10 years.

Visits to St. Elizabeth's -- Elizabeth Bishop

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1563) Visits to St. Elizabeth's
 This is the house of Bedlam.

 This is the man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 The is the time
 of the tragic man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a wristwatch
 telling the time
 of the talkative man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a sailor
 wearing the watch
 that tells the time
 of the honored man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is the roadstead all of board
 reached by the sailor
 wearing the watch
 that tells the time
 of the old, brave man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 These are the years and the walls of the ward,
 the winds and clouds of the sea of board
 sailed by the sailor
 wearing the watch
 that tells the time
 of the cranky man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
 that dances weeping down the ward
 over the creaking sea of board
 beyond the sailor
 winding his watch
 that tells the time
 of the cruel man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a world of books gone flat.
 This is a Jew in a newsapaper hat
 that dances weeping down the ward
 over the creaking sea of board
 of the batty sailor
 that winds his watch
 that tells the time
 of the busy man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is a boy that pats the floor
 to see if the world is there, is flat,
 for the widowed Jew in the newspaper hat
 that dances weeping down the ward
 waltzing the length of a weaving board
 by the silent sailor
 that hears his watch
 that ticks the time
 of the tedious man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 These are the years and the walls and the door
 that shut on a boy that pats the floor
 to feel if the world is there and flat.
 This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
 that dances joyfully down the ward
 into the parting seas of board
 past the starting sailor
 that shakes his watch
 that tells the time
 of the poet, the man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.

 This is the soldier home from the war.
 These are the years and the walls and the door
 that shut on a boy that pats the floor
 to see if the world is round of flat.
 This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
 that dances carefully down the ward,
 walking the plank of a coffin board
 with the crazy sailor
 that shows his watch
 that tells the time
 of the wretched man
 that lies in the house of Bedlam.
-- Elizabeth Bishop

I've never been a big fan of Bishop. She has an incredible eye for images
(describing a baby rabbit fleeing a fire as 'a handful of intangible ash /
with fixed, ignited eyes' -- "The Armadillo") and an almost unmatched
ability to sketch a scene or a sensation so that it's visible / tangible
(consider 'We stand as still as stones to watch / the leaves and ripples /
while light and nervous water hold / their interview' -- "Quai D'Orleans" or
'Hear nothing but a train that goes by, must go by, like tension' -- "Four
Poems") but for me her poems often fail to come together into a coherent
whole. They remain beautiful yet insubstantial, like a loose nosegay of
impressions that withers easily and is forgotten.

The only exceptions to this are poems where Bishop starts off with a conceit
or a clever idea (see for instance, the incredible Gentleman of Shallott or
The Man Moth, which features on Minstrels as Poem #1395). Here Bishop is at
her best - combining an easy playfulness with touches of exquisite yearning
to create poems that are so solipsistic you don't know how seriously to take
them. "Visits to St. Elizabeth's" is an excellent example of this - a poem
of ceaseless and inspired variation that combines some truly heartbreaking
images ('This is a boy that pats the floor / to see if the world is there,
is flat') with a structure that comes out of a children's rhyme. What makes
this poem stunning is the the deftness with which Bishop pulls off that
structure (just try running This is the house that Jack built upto twelve
lines and see how quickly it becomes tedious) making each new stanza more
exhilarating than the last. Minor variations in the lines from stanza to
stanza create the illusion of revelation - each repetition promises more
clues to the poems true meaning, but it is a meaning never quite grasped.
The overall effect is that of an exquisite piece of baroque music - some
Bach variation - that tempts and teases and leaves you gasping for more
while at the same time convinced that there's something you've missed.


The Young Fools -- Paul Verlaine

Guest poem submitted by Aditi Balasubramaniam:
(Poem #1562) The Young Fools
 High-heels struggling with a full-length dress
 So that, between the wind and the terrain,
 At times a glimmering ankle would be seen,
 And gone too soon. We liked that foolishness.

 Sometimes a jealous insect's sting
 Bothered the necks of beauties beneath the branches.
 White napes revealed in sudden flashes
 Were a feast for young eyes wild gazing.

 Evening fell, ambiguous autumn evening,
 The women who hung dreaming on our arms
 Whispered, in low voices, words that had such charms
 That our souls were left quivering and singing.
-- Paul Verlaine
        Translated by A.S. Kline

Paul Verlaine was one of the Parnassian poets of 19th century France and was
known, among other things, for the very Bohemian life he led. I love the way
this poem reflects that. I have included the original poem:

 "Les Ingénus"

 Les hauts talons luttaient avec les longues jupes,
 En sorte que, selon le terrain et le vent,
 Parfois luisaient des bas de jambes, trop souvent
 Interceptés ! - et nous aimions ce jeu de dupes.

 Parfois aussi le dard d'un insecte jaloux
 Inquiétait le col des belles sous les branches,
 Et c'étaient des éclairs soudains de nuques blanches,
 Et ce régal comblait nos jeunes yeux de fous.

 Le soir tombait, un soir équivoque d'automne :
 Les belles, se pendant rêveuses à nos bras,
 Dirent alors des mots si spécieux, tout bas,
 Que notre âme, depuis ce temps, tremble et s'étonne.

        -- Paul Verlaine

More on Verlaine is to be found at


People -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Guest poem submitted by Rama Rao:
(Poem #1561) People
 No people are uninteresting.
 Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

 Nothing in them is not particular,
 and planet is dissimilar from planet.

 And if a man lived in obscurity
 making his friends in that obscurity
 obscurity is not uninteresting.

 To each his world is private,
 and in that world one excellent minute.

 And in that world one tragic minute.
 These are private.

 In any man who dies there dies with him
 his first snow and kiss and fight.
 It goes with him.

 There are left books and bridges
 and painted canvas and machinery.
 Whose fate is to survive.

 But what has gone is also not nothing:
 by the rule of the game something has gone.
 Not people die but worlds die in them.
-- Yevgeny Yevtushenko
In this world of heroic biographies there are relatively few homages to the
"average" man. After Thomas Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard", the only
other one I have come across is this fine poem by Yevtushenko. The last line
sums it up: "worlds die in them ."  Yevtushenko is already in the Minstrels'
collection. His "Courage" is another of my favourites.

Rama Rao.

Elegy to a Calf (Lamento pastorello) -- Sarah Binks

Guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1560) Elegy to a Calf (Lamento pastorello)
 Oh calf, that gambolled by my door
 Who made me rich who now am poor,
 That licked my hand with milk bespread,
 Oh calf, calf, art dead, art dead?

 Oh calf, I sit and languish, calf,
 With somber face, I cannot laugh,
 Can I forget thy playful bunts?
 Oh calf, calf, that loved me once?

 With mildewed optics, deathlike, still,
 My nights are damp, my days are chill,
 I weep again with doleful sniff,
 Oh calf, calf, so dead, so stiff.
-- Sarah Binks
        (actually Paul Hiebert, 1892-1987)

I see that Minstrels is back up and running again after a long hiatus so the
long-noted deficiency, viz., the lack of Sarah Binks, the Sweet Songstress
of Saskatchewan, I now remedy. Indeed, the Minstrels have lately featured
Joni Mitchell, née Joan Anderson of Saskatoon (and indeed my local Borders
here in Brisbane, Australia, is touting a CD by kd lang titled "Hymns of the
49th" -- ie parallel), so prairie poesy is perhaps again waxing great in the
counsels of the just.

The late Paul Hiebert, a professor of chemistry at the University of
Manitoba, was a staunch Mennonite and his published writings include a
certain number of devotional Christian tracts which, in latter-day devoutly
secular Canada haven't reach a very wide audience. His gentle teasing in
"Sarah Binks" (1947) of the Great Plains inclination to literary effusion,
on the other hand, was well known and vastly appreciated west of the Great
Lakes; and when Peter Gzowski began a series of conversations with Professor
Hiebert on national radio the Wheat Pool Medal, the maritime imagery of
Wascana Lake and the disputatious footnotes regarding "Miss Iguana
Binks-Barkingwell of St. Olaf's-Down-the-Drain, Hants, Hurts, Harts,
England, who claims to be a distant kinswoman of Sarah Binks" came to
national prominence in Canada.

Prairie folk have a not wholly undeserved reputation for being somewhat
po-faced and humourless: when I taught undergraduate English at the
University of Regina I quickly learned not to make facetious remarks about
people from small prairie towns to school teachers upgrading their
qualifications at summer school -- not till I had established my bona fides
as a prairie farmer myself. But (as my international literary friends
observe) they do write prodigiously -- it must be the long, cold winters --
and among a huge quantity of tares there is, be it said, a substantial
amount of wheat.

Mac Robb
Brisbane, Australia


Bad poems on the Minstrels:
Poem #343, The Tay Bridge Disaster  -- William McGonagall
Poem #399, The Indian Serenade  -- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Poem #948, Grand Rapids Cricket Club -- Julia A. Moore

and elsewhere:

Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night -- Walt Whitman

Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney :
(Poem #1559) Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night
 Vigil strange I kept on the field one night;
 When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day,
 One look I but gave which your dear eyes return'd with a
        look I shall never forget,
 One touch of your hand to mine O boy, reach'd up as you
        lay on the ground,
 Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested
 Till late in the night reliev'd to the place at last
        again I made my way,
 Found you in death so cold dear comrade, found your body
        son of responding kisses, (never again on earth
 Bared your face in the starlight, curious the scene, cool
        blew the moderate night-wind,
 Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me
        the battle-field spreading,
 Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet there in the fragrant
        silent night,
 But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh, long,
        long I gazed,
 Then on the earth partially reclining sat by your side
        leaning my chin in my hands,
 Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours with you
        dearest comrade -- not a tear, not a word,
 Vigil of silence, love and death, vigil for you my son
        and my soldier,
 As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward
 Vigil final for you brave boy, (I could not save you,
        swift was your death,
 I faithfully loved you and cared for you living, I think
        we shall surely meet again,)
 Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the
        dawn appear'd,
 My comrade I wrapt in his blanket, envelop'd well his
 Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head
        and carefully under feet,
 And there and then and bathed by the rising sun, my son
        in his grave, in his rude-dug grave I deposited,
 Ending my vigil strange with that, vigil of night and
        battle-field dim,
 Vigil for boy of responding kisses, (never again on earth
 Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget,
        how as day brighten'd,
 I rose from the chill ground and folded my soldier well
        in his blanket,
 And buried him where he fell.
-- Walt Whitman
      This is one of Whitman's tremendous Civil War poems, which were
collected at the time as Drum Taps.  Drum Taps, like virtually all of
Whitman's poetry, eventually was absorbed into the amorphous blob that is
Leaves of Grass, in this case the fourth edition.  One of many remarkable
things about these poems is that they aren't preachy; that is, they don't
overtly take a stand on war in general or the Civil War in particular, they
merely describe.  Whitman's views on the war are left for you to infer.
(Compare this to Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon.)  The whole of Drum Taps
is much more than the sum of its parts, as all this description has an
undeniably powerful cumulative effect.  But "Vigil Strange," one of the
best, can easily stand on its own as a representative of the rest.

      As with all of Whitman's good poems, free verse does not mean
structureless verse.  "Vigil Strange" begins and ends with a short line,
bookending the description in between.  The lines that begin with "vigil"
and an inversion ("Vigil strange," "Vigil wondrous" and "Vigil final") in
effect divide this poem into three sections -- in plot terms, roughly that's
the battle, the vigil, and the burial.

      The speaker of the poem, by the way, is obviously not Whitman, who was
a non-combatant during the war. (He was a nurse; his non-fictional war
memoirs comprise the interesting part of his prose work Specimen Days.)

      The relationship between the speaker and the dead soldier is
complicated and ambiguous (another Whitman signature).  It's not altogether
clear that they are, biologically speaking, father and son, for there are
too many other choices, in particular suggested by the undeniable hints of
eroticism.  At the very least, we can say that the boy (for obviously he was
quite young) represented many things to the speaker, who chooses a variety
of words to describe the relationship-"my son," "my comrade," and most
interestingly, "my soldier," as if the boy was the speaker's protector.
Mirroring this, the speaker's reaction to the death goes through phases:
near indifference in the face of the "even-contested battle," followed by
the deepest sorrow of the all-night vigil, finally followed by stoic
acceptance:  the burial is of "my soldier," not "my son."  At the final
analysis, the altogether personal reaction to a death just retreats into the
fabric of the war, the "battle-field spreading," and at daybreak the speaker
must reluctantly bury his comrade/son/soldier where he fell, and become once
again a soldier himself.

      Interesting how the night fits into things: The imagery of night and
stars is intertwined with the speaker's grieving: the dead boy's face is
first seen "in the starlight," as "cool blew the moderate night-wind."  Time
during the vigil is marked only by the revolution of the stars in the
firmament.  By contrast, "bathed by the rising sun," the speaker abandons
grieving and turns to the practical matter of burial.  It is only at night,
when not fighting, that the speaker can allow himself the luxury of human
emotions; during the day he is a soldier who cannot grieve.

      I've read this poem probably twenty times, and it never fails to
affect me.

Mark Penney.