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Crossing the Frontier -- A D Hope

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1807) Crossing the Frontier
 Crossing the frontier they were stopped in time,
 Told, quite politely, they would have to wait:
 Passports in order, nothing to declare
 And surely holding hands was not a crime
 Until they saw how, ranged across the gate,
 All their most formidable friends were there.

 Wearing his conscience like a crucifix,
 Her father, rampant, nursed the Family Shame;
 And, armed with their old-fashioned dinner-gong,
 His aunt, who even when they both were six,
 Had just to glance towards a childish game
 To make them feel that they were doing wrong.

 And both their mothers, simply weeping floods,
 Her head-mistress, his boss, the parish priest,
 And the bank manager who cashed their cheques;
 The man who sold him his first rubber-goods;
 Dog Fido, from whose love-life, shameless beast,
 She first observed the basic facts of sex.

 They looked as though they had stood there for hours;
 For years -- perhaps for ever. In the trees
 Two furtive birds stopped courting and flew off;
 While in the grass beside the road the flowers
 Kept up their guilty traffic with the bees.
 Nobody stirred. Nobody risked a cough.

 Nobody spoke. The minutes ticked away;
 The dog scratched idly. Then, as parson bent
 And whispered to a guard who hurried in,
 The customs-house loudspeakers with a bray
 Of raucous and triumphant argument
 Broke out the wedding march from Lohengrin.

 He switched the engine off: "We must turn back."
 She heard his voice break, though he had to shout
 Against a din that made their senses reel,
 And felt his hand, so tense in hers, go slack.
 But suddenly she laughed and said: "Get out!
 Change seats! Be quick!" and slid behind the wheel.

 And drove the car straight at them with a harsh,
 Dry crunch that showered both with scraps and chips,
 Drove through them; barriers rising let them pass
 Drove through and on and on, with Dad's moustache
 Beside her twitching still round waxen lips
 And Mother's tears still streaming down the glass.
-- A D Hope
This is submitted as a juxtaposition and contrast with Seamus Heaney [1].
Both Hope and Heaney use the frontier metaphor, but each uses it to explore
very different themes. Heaney's concern is the struggle of the writer in
what is experienced as a hostile environment. (I read Heaney's menacing
antagonists as his readers and critics.) Hope is writing about pre-marital
sex, an issue of not much concern today, but one which was more problematic
for an earlier generation. (In particular before the advent of reliable oral
contraceptives.  The poem is dated 1963.)  In Hope's case the menacing
antagonists at the frontier are conventional morality and its upholders
(parents, head-mistress, the parish priest). Interestingly in Hope's poem
the decisive move to break the shackles of conventional morality is taken by
the woman. (John Taber remarked earlier on Hope's characteristically
positive treatment of women in his comment on [2]. This is further support
for Taber's claim.)

The poem was published in [3].

William Grey

[1] Poem #1807, 'From the Frontier of Writing, Seamus Heaney
[2] Poem #1568, 'His Coy Mistress to Mr Marvell', A.D. Hope
[3] A.D. Hope, 'Collected Poems (1930-1965)'. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1966.

From the Frontier of Writing -- Seamus Heaney

Guest poem submitted by Janice:
(Poem #1806) From the Frontier of Writing
 The tightness and the nilness round that space
 when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
 its make and number and, as one bends his face

 towards your window, you catch sight of more
 on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
 down cradled guns that hold you under cover

 and everything is pure interrogation
 until a rifle motions and you move
 with guarded unconcerned acceleration --

 a little emptier, a little spent
 as always by that quiver in the self,
 subjugated, yes, and obedient.

 So you drive on to the frontier of writing
 where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
 the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating

 data about you, waiting for the squawk
 of clearance; the marksman training down
 out of the sun upon you like a hawk.

 And suddenly you're through, arraigned yet freed,
 as if you'd passed from behind a waterfall
 on the black current of a tarmac road

 past armor-plated vehicles, out between
 the posted soldiers flowing and receding
 like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.
-- Seamus Heaney
Another favourite of mine. Exquisity Heaney: compact, compressed,
beautifully simple yet spiralling with meaning upon meaning. Here an
unfortunately commonplace event - a road check - is compared to the act of
writing, or perhaps the struggle of the act of writing. Again fraught with
tension, "pure interrogation", the poem captures the mood, the silent
watchfulness of a politically unstable area. There are various
interpretations of this poem and I personally find it difficult to pinpoint
what the Frontier of Writing is -- is it a space (mental or physical), an
idea or the act of writing itself? When I reach the last few lines however,
it doesn't even seem to matter -- "out between / the posted soldiers flowing
and receding / like tree shadows into the polished windscreen". It is an
image that is startling and stays with me.

Hope you enjoy it!

True Love at Last -- D H Lawrence

Guest poem sent in by Sarah Korah
(Poem #1805) True Love at Last
 The handsome and self-absorbed young man
 looked at the lovely and self-absorbed girl
 and thrilled.

 The lovely and self-absorbed girl
 looked back at the handsome and self-absorbed young man
 and thrilled.

 And in that thrill he felt:
 Her self-absorption is even as strong as mine.
 I must see if I can't break through it
 And absorb her in me.

 And in that thrill she felt:
 His self-absorption is even stronger than mine!
 What fun, stronger than mine!
 I must see if I can't absorb this Samson of self-absorption.

 So they simply adored one another
 and in the end
 they were both nervous wrecks, because
 in self-absorption and self-interest they were equally matched.
-- D H Lawrence
Here comes D.H.Lawrence's take on true love... in the land of the self
obsessed :) This quirky, irreverent counterpoint to True Love makes the case
that there is something essentially selfless about love; or it is not the
real thing.

Sarah Korah

[Martin adds]

In a lighter - or, at least, friendler - vein, I was reminded of Lawrence's
playfully romantic "Intimates" [Poem #110] - it is interesting to note the
superficial similarity of theme, but wide disparity of intent, between the
two poems.


Wislawa Szymborska's beautiful True Love poem can be read at

Minstrels has more D.H.Lawrence poems at

Elegy -- Machine Head

Guest poem sent in by "Toby Gray"
(Poem #1804) Elegy
 Elegies are to be sung
 Winds of Armageddon come
 Ignorance within your bliss
 Soon you will atone for this
 In your carcinogenic haze
 Baneful of a newer age
 Flowers of a different scent
 Poisons of the earths lament

 A requiem
 Earth belong not to you
 Belong all we to her

 Take another deeper breath
 Inhale invisible death
 Pollution fills the land and sky
 Forever you justify
 Take a deeper look and see
 Nothing's left to future seeds
 Icicles melt in the blood
 Ashes where there once was wood

 A requiem
 Earth belong not to you
 Belong all we to her

 Pain of life has pulled you under
 Left you there to bleed and wonder
 Open heart is torn asunder
 Wrong the wrongs that you've been suffered
 "Kill" we scream in roaring thunder
 Destroy all, leave all things plundered

 Acid rain cries her pain
 Full bloom, a world gone insane
 Her anger the flower
 Plays God with all of our lives

 A requiem
 Earth belong not to you
 Belong all we to her
-- Machine Head
    (from the album Through the Ashes of Empires)

This is my favourite poem (well, song lyrics actually). It may not be a
masterpiece of pattern and structure, but sometimes simplicity has a power
all its own (although it's obviously better with the music to back it up).
The line "Ashes where there once was wood" never fails to move me with a
combination of anger and sadness, but the main reason I like it so much is
"Earth belong not to you, belong all we to her". I'm eternally amazed by how
many people find this simple concept so difficult to grasp.



Wikipedia page:

Power and Glory -- Phil Ochs

Chiming in on the American patriotism theme:
(Poem #1803) Power and Glory
 Come and take a walk with me through this green and growing land
 Walk through the meadows and the mountains and the sand
 Walk through the valleys and the rivers and the plains
 Walk through the sun and walk through the rain

   This is a land full of power and glory
   Beauty that words cannot recall
   Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
   Her glory shall rest on us all

 From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
 Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
 Texas and Ohio and the California shore
 Tell me, who could ask for more

 Yet she's only as rich as the poorest of her poor
 Only as free as the padlocked prison door
 Only as strong as our love for this land
 Only as tall as we stand
-- Phil Ochs
Ever since I first discovered Phil Ochs, I have been mystified at his
relative obscurity and lack of popularity. Personally, at his best he's
every bit as good as his contemporary Bob Dylan (and a lot more pleasant to
listen to!), and seems to inspire an intensity of appreciation in his fans -
myself included - that many more popular singers would be hard-pressed to

Today's song, while not really among his best lyrically, is nonetheless
nicely representative of his style. Ochs's songs were informed by his
journalism background; indeed, he described himself as a "singing
journalist", a description that Dylan echoed rather more disparagingly with
his "You're not a folksinger, you're a journalist". Either way, the
assessment was accurate, and even his less topical songs, like today's, have
a refreshing clarity and directness to them.

This is, predictably enough, a much better song in performance - it still
suffers a bit from inconsistency of quality, but the first and last verses
are both catchy and memorable, and lyrics that seem flat and trite on the
printed page acquire a vibrant energy with music added. While it might not
have been the song I'd have selected if asked for a Phil Ochs piece at
random, it's usually the first song I think of on the current theme, and
definitely worth a listen.



Wikipedia on Ochs:

Some retrospectives:

Collections of Ochs links:
  [broken link]

Let America be America Again -- Langston Hughes

Guest poem sent in by Ruthie Coffman
(Poem #1802) Let America be America Again
 Let America be America again.
 Let it be the dream it used to be.
 Let it be the pioneer on the plain
 Seeking a home where he himself is free.

 ( America never was America to me.)

 Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
 Let it be that great strong land of love
 Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
 That any man be crushed by one above.

 (It never was America to me.)

 O, let my land be a land where Liberty
 Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
 But opportunity is real, and life is free,
 Equality is in the air we breathe.

 (There's never been equality for me,
 Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

 Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
 And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

 I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
 I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
 I am the red man driven from the land,
 I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
 And finding only the same old stupid plan
 Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

 I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
 Tangled in that ancient endless chain
 Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
 Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
 Of work the men! Of take the pay!
 Of owning everything for one's own greed!

 I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
 I am the worker sold to the machine.
 I am the Negro, servant to you all.
 I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
 Hungry yet today despite the dream.
 Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
 I am the man who never got ahead,
 The poorest worker bartered through the years.

 Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
 In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
 Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
 That even yet its mighty daring sings
 In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
 That's made America the land it has become.
 O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
 In search of what I meant to be my home--
 For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
 And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
 And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
 To build a "homeland of the free."

 The free?

 Who said the free? Not me?
 Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
 The millions shot down when we strike?
 The millions who have nothing for our pay?
 For all the dreams we've dreamed
 And all the songs we've sung
 And all the hopes we've held
 And all the flags we've hung,
 The millions who have nothing for our pay--
 Except the dream that's almost dead today.

 O, let America be America again--
 The land that never has been yet--
 And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
 The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
 Who made America,
 Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
 Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
 Must bring back our mighty dream again.

 Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
 The steel of freedom does not stain.
 From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
 We must take back our land again,

 O, yes,
 I say it plain,
 America never was America to me,
 And yet I swear this oath--
 America will be!

 Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
 The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
 We, the people, must redeem
 The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
 The mountains and the endless plain--
 All, all the stretch of these great green states--
 And make America again!
-- Langston Hughes
I thought of this poem almost immediately after reading the submission (and
commentary) of Bob Dylan's "God on Our Side", which made me sad, angry, and
unsure of how to respond. I think this poem by Hughes does it best. Like
Dylan, he is exposing and exploring an American myth - this time, the one
concerning equality of opportunity.

Perhaps with less irony and sophistication (if you read it after Dylan's
song its numerous exclamation points, dashes, and dramatic metaphors seem
slightly overbearing), Hughes allows a conversation to expose the
inequalities and ironies locked into American history. But in some ways his
poem attempts greater coherence than Dylan's, because he uses the myth as a
stepping stone towards new demands.

This is where the poem, for me, becomes a response to the "indoctrination"
of US history. If it is true that US history is cloaked in a mantle of
untruths about "democracy," and "God," - and as a student who grew up here
and learned American history I could say both a yes and no to that - then,
well, why not use those myths to demand a better performance? This is
Hughes' conclusion, and something that is constructive -- more of a call to
action than a lament. In that, perhaps Hughes is hopelessly optimistic and
naïve, or maybe just a bit braver than your average social/political critic.


[Martin adds]

Ruthie's comments on sophistication and the lack thereof reminded me of the
observation that a 'sophisticated' poem can be, at best, good - to be
*great* a poem has to overreach itself, to abandon the safety of restraint
and sophistication and take the risk of falling on its face. Hughes's poem
is undeniably dramatic, but not overly or dissonantly so - the overcharged
emotion definitely lends it wings rather than tripping it up. And I
definitely agree with Ruthie about the bravery necessary to risk looking
foolishly optimistic - I'll take that over sophisticated cynicism any day.

With God on our Side -- Bob Dylan

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1801) With God on our Side
 Oh my name it is nothin'
 My age it means less
 The country I come from
 Is called the Midwest
 I's taught and brought up there
 The laws to abide
 And that land that I live in
 Has God on its side.

 Oh the history books tell it
 They tell it so well
 The cavalries charged
 The Indians fell
 The cavalries charged
 The Indians died
 Oh the country was young
 With God on its side.

 Oh the Spanish-American
 War had its day
 And the Civil War too
 Was soon laid away
 And the names of the heroes
 I's made to memorize
 With guns in their hands
 And God on their side.

 Oh the First World War, boys
 It closed out its fate
 The reason for fighting
 I never got straight
 But I learned to accept it
 Accept it with pride
 For you don't count the dead
 When God's on your side.

 When the Second World War
 Came to an end
 We forgave the Germans
 And we were friends
 Though they murdered six million
 In the ovens they fried
 The Germans now too
 Have God on their side.

 I've learned to hate Russians
 All through my whole life
 If another war starts
 It's them we must fight
 To hate them and fear them
 To run and to hide
 And accept it all bravely
 With God on my side.

 But now we got weapons
 Of the chemical dust
 If fire them we're forced to
 Then fire them we must
 One push of the button
 And a shot the world wide
 And you never ask questions
 When God's on your side.

 In a many dark hour
 I've been thinkin' about this
 That Jesus Christ
 Was betrayed by a kiss
 But I can't think for you
 You'll have to decide
 Whether Judas Iscariot
 Had God on his side.

 So now as I'm leavin'
 I'm weary as Hell
 The confusion I'm feelin'
 Ain't no tongue can tell
 The words fill my head
 And fall to the floor
 If God's on our side
 He'll stop the next war.
-- Bob Dylan
     (from the album The Times they are a-changin')

Reading the Star Spangled Banner [Poem #1730] on Minstrels made me think of
another song - one that does more justice, IMHO, to the 'glorious' history
of the United States. It's a song that's probably more chillingly apt today
than it was in 1963, when it was first written, if only because of the
increasing frequency with which religion is being invoked to justify acts of
mindless violence against other human beings. I, personally have no use for
religion, but I see how it can be a powerful force to unite and motivate
great masses of people - that it should be used for this purpose by evil,
power hungry men is at once one of the greatest ironies and one of the
greatest tragedies of our time.

'With God on our Side' is a wonderful illustration of the way that a
lifetime of indoctrination can make otherwise decent, clear-thinking people
support the most henious crimes against humanity in the name of some
imagined God. Dylan attacks the propaganda of God with conscious irony,
exposing again and again the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of much of the
history that a nation prides itself on. Going sequentially through war after
war in US History [1], Dylan, shows us the terrible pointlessness and waste
of war, forcing you to ask the question: Was it worth it? There are some
truly memorable lines here, and the conscious caricatures of the
justifications given for war would be hilarious if they were not both
incredibly tragic and frighteningly close to the truth (if there's one point
that both sides of the Iraq conflict would agree on, it's that "You don't
count the dead / When God's on your side").

I admit this isn't by any means one of Dylan's greatest poems - without his
flat, matter of fact delivery of the lines it may barely be a poem at all -
but as we struggle to come to terms with the bombings in London and the
continuing carnage in Iraq, I feel these are lines that are useful to
remember. There may be many things that you can believe in to justify the
West's intercession in Iraq (though I'm not sure I know what these might
be), but God cannot and should not be one of them. As the democracies of the
West prepare to face a determined assault from an enemy whose key weapon is
a religious fanaticism, it would be tempting to follow the path of their
opponents and sacrifice human life in the name of God, but that temptation
is precisely what they must guard against. God, in the final analysis, is
the one thing we should not trust in, because it is the one weapon and the
one justification that both sides will always have equal access to.
Besides, as Dylan so eloquently puts it "If God's on our side / he'll stop
the next war".


[1] The one glaring ommission is of course, the war in Vietnam, which took
place largely after this song was written. Incidentally, the Star Spangled
banner makes interesting reading in the light of that war, with some of the
lines serving as a wonderful paean ("And where is that band who so
vauntingly swore / That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion / A home
and a country should leave us no more?" "Thus be it ever, when freemen shall
stand / Between their loved homes and the war's desolation / Blest with
victory and peace") to the eventual victory of the VietCong. Another apt
reminder of why it's dangerous to believe your own propaganda.

The Doctor -- A P Herbert

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1800) The Doctor
 The doctor took my shirt away;
 He did it for the best;
 He said, "It's very cold today,"
 And took away my vest;
 Then, having nothing more to say,
 He hit me in the chest.
 Oh, he did clout my ribs about
 Till I was bruised and red,
 Then stood and listened to my spine
 To see if I was dead,
 And when I shouted "Ninety-nine!"
 He simply shook his head.
 He rather thought that rain would fall,
 He made me hop about the hall,
 And savagely he said,
 "There's nothing wrong with you at all
 You'd better go to bed!

 "Oh you must eat no scrap of meat,
 No rabbit, bird, or fish;
 Apart from that have what you please,
 But no potato, bread, or cheese;
 Not butter, alcohol, or peas;
 Not sausage, egg, and ratafias
 A very starchy dish;
 Have any other foods but these
 But at and after every meal,
 And twice an hour between,
 Take this -- and this -- and this -- and THIS
 In water and quinine,
 And wash it down with liquorice
 And nitro-glycerine.

 "You must not smoke, or read a book,
 You must not eat or drink;
 You must not bicycle or run,
 You must not talk to anyone;
 It's better not to think.
 A daily bath I don't advise;
 It's dangerous to snore;
 But let your life be otherwise
 As active as before.
 And don't imagine you are ill,
 I beg you not to mope;
 There's nothing wrong with you -- but still,
 While there is life, there's hope."

 I woke and screamed a hideous scream
 As greedy children do
 Who eat too much vanilla cream
 For I was having 'flu;
 And it was just an awful dream
 But, all the same, it's true.
-- A P Herbert
Sir Alan Patrick Herbert, 1890-1971, was a regular contributor of comic
verse (over his initials "A.P.H.") to the English magazine 'Punch'. He is a
distinguished member of a great tradition of English comic poets, which
includes such luminaries as Edward Lear (1812-1888), Lewis Carroll
(1832-1898), and Herbert's contemporary Patrick Barrington (1909-1990).  The
only poem of Herbert on Minstrels to date is 'To the Lady Behind Me at the
Theatre'[1]. He merits more extensive representation.

As well as comic verse, Herbert was a novelist, librettist of successful
comic operas, author of children's books, and he served as a member of the
House of Commons for Oxford University from 1935 until 1950. He was largely
responsible for the passage of the bill (1937) which reformed the
then-archaic divorce law of England. For more details see his autobiography[2].

William Grey

[1] Poem #732, To the Lady Behind Me at the Theatre --  A.P. Herbert
[2] A.P.H.: His Life and Times (1970) -- A.P. Herbert