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Pagett, M.P. -- Rudyard Kipling

This week's theme: the summer heat
(Poem #1894) Pagett, M.P.
   The toad beneath the harrow knows
   Exactly where each tooth-point goes.
   The butterfly upon the road
   Preaches contentment to that toad.

 Pagett, M.P., was a liar, and a fluent liar therewith --
 He spoke of the heat of India as the "Asian Solar Myth";
 Came on a four months' visit, to "study the East," in November,
 And I got him to sign an agreement vowing to stay till September.

 March came in with the koil. Pagett was cool and gay,
 Called me a "bloated Brahmin," talked of my "princely pay."
 March went out with the roses. "Where is your heat?" said he.
 "Coming," said I to Pagett, "Skittles!" said Pagett, M.P.

 April began with the punkah, coolies, and prickly-heat, --
 Pagett was dear to mosquitoes, sandflies found him a treat.
 He grew speckled and mumpy -- hammered, I grieve to say,
 Aryan brothers who fanned him, in an illiberal way.

 May set in with a dust-storm, -- Pagett went down with the sun.
 All the delights of the season tickled him one by one.
 Imprimis -- ten day's "liver" -- due to his drinking beer;
 Later, a dose of fever -- slight, but he called it severe.

 Dysent'ry touched him in June, after the Chota Bursat --
 Lowered his portly person -- made him yearn to depart.
 He didn't call me a "Brahmin," or "bloated," or "overpaid,"
 But seemed to think it a wonder that any one stayed.

 July was a trifle unhealthy, -- Pagett was ill with fear.
 'Called it the "Cholera Morbus," hinted that life was dear.
 He babbled of "Eastern Exile," and mentioned his home with tears;
 But I haven't seen my children for close upon seven years.

 We reached a hundred and twenty once in the Court at noon,
 (I've mentioned Pagett was portly) Pagett, went off in a swoon.
 That was an end to the business; Pagett, the perjured, fled
 With a practical, working knowledge of "Solar Myths" in his head.

 And I laughed as I drove from the station, but the mirth died out on my lips
 As I thought of the fools like Pagett who write of their "Eastern trips,"
 And the sneers of the traveled idiots who duly misgovern the land,
 And I prayed to the Lord to deliver another one into my hand.
-- Rudyard Kipling
 koil (usu. koel): Indian songbird
 punkah: fan
 Chota Bursat: the early rains

Kipling was never one to suffer fools lightly, and his intolerance has taken
the form of numerous highly satisfying poems and caricatures. Today's poem,
the predictable-as-a-train-wreck account of a pompous politician's visit to
a land notably lacking in the comforts of home, is typical - Kipling had a
deep and informed love for India, and was often openly contemptuous of those
who did not measure up to its rigours. (The theme is not uncommon - Robert
Service was later to write even more extreme poems along the same lines,
about the men who did not measure up to his beloved Yukon.)

This is Frontier poetry in the grand tradition, the division lines drawn
clearly between the Men of the Frontier and the effete pen-pushers back home
who would presume to govern them. And what shines through every line of the
poem is an unimstakable ring of authenticity, the pervasive feeling that
Kipling knows what he is talking about, and perhaps even that he has earned
the right to his mockery.

And yes, it really does get that hot over here :)



The short story to which the poem is attached:

[broken link]


Thanks again to Bronson Stocker for suggesting this week's theme.
Contributions happily accepted till the theme winds up.

A Reminiscence of Cricket -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Guest poem sent in by Shamanth
(Poem #1893) A Reminiscence of Cricket
 Once in my heyday of cricket,
 One day I shall ever recall!
 I captured that glorious wicket,
 The greatest, the grandest of all.

 Before me he stands like a vision,
 Bearded and burly and brown,
 A smile of good humoured derision
 As he waits for the first to come down.

 A statue from Thebes or from Knossos,
 A Hercules shrouded in white,
 Assyrian bull-like colossus,
 He stands in his might.

 With the beard of a Goth or a Vandal,
 His bat hanging ready and free,
 His great hairy hands on the handle,
 And his menacing eyes upon me.

 And I - I had tricks for the rabbits,
 The feeble of mind or eye,
 I could see all the duffer's bad habits
 And where his ruin might lie.

 The capture of such might elate one,
 But it seemed like one horrible jest
 That I should serve tosh to the great one,
 Who had broken the hearts of the best.

 Well, here goes! Good Lord, what a rotter!
 Such a sitter as never was dreamt;
 It was clay in the hands of the potter,
 But he tapped it with quiet contempt.

 The second was better - a leetle;
 It was low, but was nearly long-hop;
 As the housemaid comes down on the beetle
 So down came the bat with a chop.

 He was sizing me up with some wonder,
 My broken-kneed action and ways;
 I could see the grim menace from under
 The striped peak that shaded his gaze.

 The third was a gift or it looked it-
 A foot off the wicket or so;
 His huge figure swooped as he hooked it,
 His great body swung to the blow.

 Still when my dreams are night-marish,
 I picture that terrible smite,
 It was meant for a neighboring parish,
 Or any place out of sight.

 But - yes, there's a but to the story -
 The blade swished a trifle too low;
 Oh wonder, and vision of glory!
 It was up like a shaft from a bow.

 Up, up like a towering game bird,
 Up, up to a speck in the blue,
 And then coming down like the same bird,
 Dead straight on the line that it flew.

 Good Lord, it was mine! Such a soarer
 Would call for a safe pair of hands;
 None safer than Derbyshire Storer,
 And there, face uplifted, he stands

 Wicket keep Storer, the knowing,
 Wary and steady of nerve,
 Watching it falling and growing
 Marking the pace and curve.

 I stood with my two eyes fixed on it,
 Paralysed, helpless, inert;
 There was 'plunk' as the gloves shut upon it,
 And he cuddled it up to his shirt.

 Out - beyond question or wrangle!
 Homeward he lurched to his lunch!
 His bat was tucked up at an angle,
 His great shoulders curved to a hunch.

 Walking he rumbled and grumbled,
 Scolding himself and not me;
 One glove was off, and he fumbled,
 Twisting the other hand free

 Did I give Storer the credit
 The thanks he so splendidly earned?
 It was mere empty talk if I said it,
 For Grace had already returned.
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I've been proud of having known this poem since I stumbled across it in an
unexpected corner of an obscure cricket anthology back in college, primarily
because this is one of those pieces that everyone has heard of but hardly
anyone has read, because it's not easy to come by. Its significance is much
like that of a precious antique, which in a way is its shortcoming, for it
takes a while to look beyond the historical significance - the fact that
Conan Doyle wrote this about his only first class wicket - of WG Grace, and
appreciate it for its rhythm, its poetic beauty.

I've read it very often since then, and looking back I see I've loved it
primarily because of the allure of an amateur lifestyle that it portrays -
an age where you could study medicine, play first class cricket, referee
boxing bouts and marathons, and still produce brilliant literature, when you
could live without sacrificing any dimension of your life, without putting
your head down to specialize in any one field, when you did something simply
because you loved it without having to forfeit other aspects of your life
that you loved just as much. It makes you long for a lifestyle with such

This reminded me of a prose piece by Arthur Mailey, "Conquering my Hero" (I
think; not sure if I remember the title right), on how he got Victor Trumper
out in a club cricket match - which I loved for giving a close up, personal
view of what's otherwise an ordinary club game, in much the same way as this
poem, even though the tone of the other piece is altogether different.

The tone of the poem too indicates that you could do something for fun,
without taking yourself too seriously, which sounds incredible in an age of
almost totally professionalized sport (and life). The rhythm of the lines,
the self-deprecatory tone, the short-story-ish flow, and the almost
microscopic focus on a single over of the game - all make this a lovable



Bill Frindall of BBC Sports had some more detail about the historic wicket,
in response to a reader who asked "I once heard that a famous author took a
single wicket, that of W.G. Grace, and wrote a poem about it. Who was it? My
best guess is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.":

  And a very good guess too, Lavanya. It was indeed the creator of Sherlock
  Holmes, Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, who played in ten first-class
  matches, mainly for the MCC, between 1900 and 1907.

  A lower-order right-handed batsman and occasional slow bowler, he scored
  231 runs, average 19.25, in 18 innings with a top score of 43. His only
  first-class wicket came against London County at Crystal Palace on 25
  August 1900 when he had WG caught by the wicket-keeper off a skier for

A Ballade of Suicide -- G K Chesterton

(Poem #1892) A Ballade of Suicide
 The gallows in my garden, people say,
 Is new and neat and adequately tall.
 I tie the noose on in a knowing way
 As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
 But just as all the neighbors - on the wall -
 Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
 The strangest whim has seized me . . . After all
 I think I will not hang myself to-day.

 To-morrow is the time I get my pay -
 My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall -
 I see a little cloud all pink and gray -
 Perhaps the rector's mother will not call -
 I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
 That mushrooms could be cooked another way -
 I never read the works of Juvenal -
 I think I will not hang myself to-day.

 The world will have another washing day;
 The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
 And H. G. Wells has found that children play,
 And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall;
 Rationalists are growing rational -
 And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
 So secret that the very sky seems small -
 I think I will not hang myself to-day.


 Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
 The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
 Even to-day your royal head may fall -
 I think I will not hang myself to-day.
-- G K Chesterton
  The ballade (ba-LAHD, from the French) is a verse form consisting of three
  stanzas of 8 or 10 lines, each with the same metre, rhyme sounds and last
  line. A shorter concluding stanza (an envoi) is usually addressed to a

It's not that great a shock to discover a Chesterton poem I haven't read
before - the man was a prolific poet (and writer) after all. Discovering
today's poem did surprise me, though - it's easily good enough, and easily
memorable enough that it should have been one of his popular poems, and
definitely one of his more anthologised ones.

One of the things that I find most noticeable about Chesterton's writing,
both his poetry and his prose, is how 'easy' it is, without any apparent
compromises. Chesterton has the rare talent of being able to write about
weighty matters, utilise a full and complex vocabulary, and nonetheless lead
the reader along effortlessly and indeed almost unnoticingly. Today's poem
illustrates this nicely - there is a surface lightness that bears the
narrative along, counterbalanced by an undercurrent of greyly philosophical
reflection that makes the superficially humorous phrasing "I think I will
not hang myself today" more sincere than flippant.

The repeated rhymes are used to very good effect, lending a cohesion to the
poem that allows the lines themselves to flit from topic to topic without
sounding disconnected. This, in turn, gives the narrator's stream of
consciousness a surprising density, so that the individual glimpses add up
very quickly to a picture of the man and his concerns. And then there's the
startlingly beautiful image in the last two lines:

  And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
  So secret that the very sky seems small -

one that marks a sudden exaltation in tone from the banality of the earlier
verses, and prepares the way for the stern foreboding of the envoi.

Altogether, a marvellous poem and one I'm pleased to be doing my part to



Wikipedia on the ballade:

And on Chesterton:

The Poems of our Climate -- Wallace Stevens

Guest poem sent in by Janice
(Poem #1891) The Poems of our Climate

 Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
 Pink and white carnations. The light
 In the room more like a snowy air,
 Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
 At the end of winter when afternoons return.
 Pink and white carnations - one desires
 So much more than that. The day itself
 Is simplified: a bowl of white,
 Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
 With nothing more than the carnations there.


 Say even that this complete simplicity
 Stripped one of all one's torments, concealed
 The evilly compounded, vital I
 And made it fresh in a world of white,
 A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
 Still one would want more, one would need more,
 More than a world of white and snowy scents.


 There would still remain the never-resting mind,
 So that one would want to escape, come back
 To what had been so long composed.
 The imperfect is our paradise.
 Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
 Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
 Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.
-- Wallace Stevens
I like this poem for its seemingly flawless finish....and how the last
line quietly unravels it. The image of the bowl and carnations is a
metaphor for the poem...beautiful, delicate, perfect. Stevens manages
to take that simple picture and make it so much more...conveying that
that perfection and 'world of clear water, brilliant-edged' is not
enough, there still remains the 'never-resting mind' that longs for
escape, since (and this has to be my favourite line!) 'The imperfect
is our paradise'. It does bring connotations of the Fall in Eden (or
is that just me?!). Our delight lies then in the flawed and the
stubborn...perhaps the most vital characteristics of what makes us


[And speaking of climate, Bronson Stocker has suggested a theme in tribute
to the recent heat wave that has been gripping large swathes of the world -
an excellent idea, say I. The theme will kick off on Monday - contributions
welcomed as usual. -martin]

A Modest Wit -- Selleck Osborn

(Poem #1890) A Modest Wit
 A supercilious nabob of the East -
 Haughty, being great - purse-proud, being rich -
 A governor, or general, at the least,
 I have forgotten which -

 Had in his family a humble youth,
 Who went from England in his patron's suit,
 An unassuming boy, in truth
 A lad of decent parts, and good repute.

 This youth had sense and spirit;
 But yet with all his sense,
 Excessive diffidence
 Obscured his merit.

 One day, at table, flushed with pride and wine,
 His Honor, proudly free, severely merry,
 Conceived it would be vastly fine
 To crack a joke upon his secretary.

 "Young man," he said, "by what art, craft, or trade,
 Did your good father gain a livelihood?" -
 "He was a saddler, sir," Modestus said,
 "And in his time was reckoned good."

 "A saddler, eh! and taught you Greek,
 Instead of teaching you to sew!
 Pray, why did not your father make
 A saddler, sir, of you?"

 Each parasite, then, as in duty bound,
 The joke applauded, and the laugh went round.
 At length Modestus, bowing low,
 Said (craving pardon, if too free he made),
 "Sir, by your leave, I fain would know
 Your father's trade!"

 "My father's trade! by heaven, that's too bad!
 My father's trade?  Why, blockhead, are you mad?
 My father, sir, did never stoop so low -
 He was a gentleman, I'd have you know."

 "Excuse the liberty I take,"
 Modestus said, with archness on his brow,
 "Pray, why did not your father make
 A gentleman of you?"
-- Selleck Osborn
I have always enjoyed "anecdotal" poems like today's - short, pointed
stories that are all the more charming for being put into verse. (Perhaps
the best example is Leigh Hunt's "The Glove and the Lions", one of the few
such to attain wide acclaim.) Today's poem, I'll admit, is not even
particularly brilliant verse, just good enough to add to rather than detract
from the story being told, and to lend the punchline a little extra fillip.

Even at their most trivial, though, I think poems like this are not only fun
but important - important because they directly address the fact that one of
the purposes of poetry is to *entertain*. This is not to turn my nose up at
any of the other roles poetry fulfils - it is just that, far more so than
with prose, pure entertainment often seems to take a back seat to art,
emotion, cleverness, or even humour (which is not precisely the same
thing as entertainment). "A Modest Wit" has nothing particulary quotable or
polished, and indeed the language has not aged too well, but it amused me
and brightened up a dull moment, and in doing that I would say that it has
fulfilled its purpose admirably.


  Selleck Osborn, American journalist and poet (1783 - 1826)

A Grievance -- J K Stephen

(Poem #1889) A Grievance
  After Byron

 Dear Mr. Editor: I wish to say -
 If you will not be angry at my, writing it -
 But I've been used, since childhood's happy day,
 When I have thought of something, to inditing it;
 I seldom think of things; and, by the way,
 Although this meter may not be exciting, it
 Enables one to be extremely terse,
 Which is not what one always is in verse.

 I used to know a man, - such things befall
 The observant wayfarer through Fate's domain -
 He was a man, take him for all in all,
 We shall not look upon his like again;
 I know that statement's not original;
 What statement is, since Shakespeare? or, since Cain,
 What murder?  I believe 'twas Shakespeare said it, or
 Perhaps it may have been your Fighting Editor.

 Though why an Editor should fight, or why
 A Fighter should abase himself to edit,
 Are problems far too difficult and high
 For me to solve with any sort of credit.
 Some greatly more accomplished man than I
 Must tackle them: let's say then Shakespeare said it;
 And, if he did not, Lewis Morris may
 (Or even if he did).  Some other day,

 When I have nothing pressing to impart,
 I should not mind dilating on this matter.
 I feel its import both in head and heart,
 And always did, - especially the latter.
 I could discuss it in the busy mart
 Or on the lonely housetop; hold! this chatter
 Diverts me from my purpose.  To the point:
 The time, as Hamlet said, is out of joint,

 And perhaps I was born to set it right, -
 A fact I greet with perfect equanimity.
 I do not put it down to "cursed spite,"
 I don't see any cause for cursing in it.  I
 Have always taken very great delight
 In such pursuits since first I read divinity.
 Whoever will may write a nation's songs
 As long as I'm allowed to right its wrongs.

 What's Eton but a nursery of wrong-righters,
 A mighty mother of effective men;
 A training ground for amateur reciters,
 A sharpener of the sword as of the pen;
 A factory of orators and fighters,
 A forcing-house of genius?  Now and then
 The world at large shrinks back, abashed and beaten,
 Unable to endure the glare of Eton.

 I think I said I knew a man: what then?
 I don't suppose such knowledge is forbid.
 We nearly all do, more or less, know men, -
 Or think we do; nor will a man get rid
 Of that delusion while he wields a pen.
 But who this man was, what, if aught, he did,
 Nor why I mentioned him, I do not know,
 Nor what I "wished to say" a while ago.
-- J K Stephen
Most famous poets have attracted their share of parodies, and Byron was no
exception, but seldom have I seen a parody as perfect as today's. The
language, the tone, the metre, the sentiments, the construction, are all
spot on. Moreover, the mockery is subtle enough that there are very few
places one can point to and say "Byron would not have written that", though
the cumulative effect is unmistakably parodic. All in all a superbly
impressive piece of work, even for as consistently good a parodist as Stephen.



Byron's "Don Juan", an excellent example of the style today's poem parodies:
  [broken link]


More of Stephen's work:

Who is in Charge of the Clattering Train? -- Anonymous

Guest poem submitted by Bill Whiteford:
(Poem #1888) Who is in Charge of the Clattering Train?
 Who is in charge of the clattering train?
 The axles creak and the couplings strain,
 And the pace is hot, and the points are near,
 And Sleep has deadened the driver's ear;
 And the signals flash through the night in vain,
 For Death is in charge of the clattering train.
-- Anonymous
I don't know the title (though I would guess it's the whole first line).
It appears to be anonymously written. You may have heard the Churchill
character quoting this verse in the TV drama "The Gathering Storm". It
was apparently one of Winston's favourites, having been committed to
memory by him from the pages of Punch when he was about nine.

I quite like the train-like rhythm of the lines, and the way the poem
crashes into the last line. It is, of course, a kind of Victorian
melodrama in six lines. The whole thing sometimes springs to mind when,
at work, colleagues phone up and ask who is in charge.

Bill Whiteford.

[Thomas adds]

Project Gutenberg reveals that today's poem forms merely an extract --
the first two and last four lines -- of a much longer poem titled "Death
and His Brother Sleep", which appeared in Volume 99 of Punch magazine,
published October 4, 1890. The poem was attributed to "Queen Mab", and
was written in response to a rail accident at Eastleigh; it appeared in
Punch prefaced by the following lines:

  Major Marindin, in his Report to the Board of Trade
  on the railway collision at Eastleigh, attributes it
  to the engine-driver and stoker having "failed to
  keep a proper look-out." His opinion is, that both
  men were "asleep, or nearly so," owing to having
  been on duty for sixteen hours and a-half. "He
  expresses himself in very strong terms on the great
  danger to the public of working engine-drivers and
  firemen for too great a number of hours."

        -- Daily Chronicle

"Queen Mab" is also the title of a poem by Shelley, which begins:

     How wonderful is Death,
     Death, and his brother Sleep!
  One, pale as yonder waning moon
     With lips of lurid blue;
     The other, rosy as the morn
  When throned on ocean's wave
        It blushes o'er the world;
  Yet both so passing wonderful!

Clearly today's poet took both title and pseudonym from Shelley's
earlier work.

The full text of "Death and His Brother Sleep" can be found here: (HTML) (plain text) (pic)

It's interesting to note how the emphasis of the two pieces -- the
lengthy Punch original, and today's pithier (I'm tempted to say
"punchier") extract -- is completely different. Speaking for myself, I
much prefer the short version, but readers are encouraged to read them
both and make up their own minds.


The Lord Chancellor's Song -- W S Gilbert

(Poem #1887) The Lord Chancellor's Song
    Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest:
    Love, hopeless love, my ardent soul encumbers:
    Love, nightmare-like, lies heavy on my chest,
    And weaves itself into my midnight slumbers!

 When you're lying awake with a dismal headache,
   and repose is taboo'd by anxiety,
 I conceive you may use any language you choose
   to indulge in, without impropriety;
 For your brain is on fire -- the bedclothes conspire
   of usual slumber to plunder you:
 First your counterpane goes, and uncovers your toes,
   and your sheet slips demurely from under you;

 Then the blanketing tickles -- you feel like mixed pickles --
   so terribly sharp is the pricking,
 And you're hot, and you're cross, and you tumble and toss
   till there's nothing --twixt you and the ticking.
 Then the bedclothes all creep to the ground in a heap,
   and you pick 'em all up in a tangle;
 Next your pillow resigns and politely declines to remain at its usual angle!

 Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze,
   with hot eye-balls and head ever aching.
 But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams
   that you'd very much better be waking;
 For you dream you are crossing the Channel, and tossing
   about in a steamer from Harwich --
 Which is something between a large bathing machine
   and a very small second-class carriage --

 And you're giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat)
   to a party of friends and relations --
 They're a ravenous horde -- and they all came on board
   at Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.
 And bound on that journey you find your attorney
   (who started that morning from Devon);
 He's a bit undersized, and you don't feel surprised
   when he tells you he's only eleven.

 Well, you're driving like mad with this singular lad
   (by the by, the ship's now a four-wheeler),
 And you're playing round games, and he calls you bad names
   when you tell him that "ties pay the dealer";
 But this you can't stand, so you throw up your hand,
   and you find you're as cold as an icicle,
 In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks),
   crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle:

 And he and the crew are on bicycles too --
   which they've somehow or other invested in --
 And he's telling the tars all the particulars
   of a company he's interested in --
 It's a scheme of devices, to get at low prices
   all goods from cough mixtures to cables
 (Which tickled the sailors), by treating retailers
   as though they were all vegetables --

 You get a good spadesman to plant a small tradesman
   (first take off his boots with a boot-tree),
 And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot,
   and they'll blossom and bud like a fruit-tree --
 From the greengrocer tree you get grapes and green pea,
   cauliflower, pineapple, and cranberries,
 While the pastrycook plant cherry brandy will grant,
   apple puffs, and three corners, and Banburys --

 The shares are a penny, and ever so many
   are taken by Rothschild and Baring,
 And just as a few are allotted to you,
   you awake with a shudder despairing --

 You're a regular wreck, with a crick in your neck, and no wonder you snore,
 for your head's on the floor, and you've needles and pins from your soles
 to your shins, and your flesh is a-creep, for your left leg's asleep, and
 you've cramp in your toes, and a fly on your nose, and some fluff in your
 lung, and a feverish tongue, and a thirst that's intense, and a general
 sense that you haven't been sleeping in clover;

 But the darkness has passed, and it's daylight at last, and the night has
 been long -- ditto, ditto my song -- and thank goodness they're both of
 them over!

 [Lord Chancellor falls exhausted on a seat.]
-- W S Gilbert
Note: From Iolanthe. I've split the (long!) lines into two; you can see the
song in its original formatting here:

No canon of patter songs would be complete without this masterpiece of
Gilbert and Sullivan's, one of the most widely recognised of the genre, and,
to my mind, one of the finest. Gilbert was, of course, a master of carefully
crafted and logically worked out nonsense; here, he takes the license
afforded by a dreamscape and abandons even the semblance of plausibility,
shifting into a surreal (but oddly coherent) stream-of-consciousness song
that, like many of the duo's best pieces, transcends the operetta within
which it occurs.

What I really like about this song is the nigh-perfect way in which it
conveys a sense of stumbling headlong through the shifting narrative of the
dream, culminating in the breathless, helter-skelter rush of the last two
passages. This is already evident in the lyrics, but it attains its full
effect when married to Sullivan's music; the final product is both instantly
captivating and utterly memorable.



Everything Iolanthe:

What Any Lover Learns -- Archibald MacLeish

Guest poem submitted by Sanket:
(Poem #1886) What Any Lover Learns
Water is heavy silver over stone.
Water is heavy silver over stone's
Refusal. It does not fall. It fills. It flows
Every crevice, every fault of the stone,
Every hollow. River does not run.
River presses its heavy silver self
Down into stone and stone refuses.

                                    What runs,
Swirling and leaping into sun, is stone's
Refusal of the river, not the river.
-- Archibald MacLeish
Archibald MacLeish, American poet, playwright and speech-writer for F.
D. Roosevelt, wrote in his Ars Poetica, "A poem should not mean / But
be". This poem is calm and insightful, like a dispassionate observation.
It is interestingly titled "What Any Lover Learns".

The motion described happens not by the water but by the bedrock.


Boy at the Window -- Richard Wilbur

Guest poem submitted by Steve Chernicoff:
(Poem #1885) Boy at the Window
 Seeing the snowman standing all alone
 In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
 The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
 A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
 His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
 The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
 Returns him such a god-forsaken stare
 As outcast Adam gave to Paradise.

 The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
 Having no wish to go inside and die.
 Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
 Though frozen water is his element,
 He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
 A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
 For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
 Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.
-- Richard Wilbur
Apropos of Martin's submission of "A Barred Owl" (Minstrels Poem #1849),
here's another by Richard Wilbur that I like. It deals with the same
themes Martin mentioned in his comments on the other poem, the
"domestication" of a child's fear and the "stark sense of the violence
that lurks in the mundane." Wilbur's image of the mutual pity between
boy and snowman is quite moving.

One thing I particularly like about Wilbur is his formal discipline. In
an age when most poets can't be bothered with such niceties as rhyme and
meter, Wilbur's poems are as rigorously and precisely structured as
anything from a Milton, Keats, or Tennyson. An exemplary illustration of
Robert Frost's definition of freedom as "moving easy in harness."


A Southern Girl -- Samuel Minturn Peck

(Poem #1884) A Southern Girl
 Her dimpled cheeks are pale;
 She's a lily of the vale,
       Not a rose.
 In a muslin or a lawn
 She is fairer than the dawn
       To her beaux.

 Her boots are slim and neat, --
 She is vain about her feet,
       It is said.
 She amputates her r's,
 But her eyes are like the stars

 On a balcony at night,
 With a fleecy cloud of white
       Round her hair --
 Her grace, ah, who could paint?
 She would fascinate a saint,
       I declare.

 'Tis a matter of regret,
 She's a bit of a coquette,
       Whom I sing:
 On her cruel path she goes
 With a half a dozen beaux
       To her string.

 But let all that pass by,
 As her maiden moments fly,
 When she marries, on my life,
 She will make the dearest wife
       In the world.
-- Samuel Minturn Peck
Note: lawn: A light cotton or linen fabric of very fine weave.
  [Middle English laun, after Laon, a city of northern France.]

This is a delightfully lighthearted poem, one that kept me smiling
throughout at its sheer, brazen refusal to take either itself or its
subject seriously. Furthermore (apart from the wonderful "half a dozen beaux
to her string" pun, and the reference to "amputated" 'r's) the humour seems
to lie almost entirely in the tone of the poem - no mean feat, considering
how many works of this sort either slip into a more heavy-handed sort of
mockery, or go the more "explicit humour" route.

Note, also, the wonderfully lilting rhythm of the poem - something that drew
me in from the first verse, even before I noticed Peck's gentle humour.
Again, it takes an excellent ear and a very deft touch to keep the poem from
being annoyingly sing-song. All in all, it was just enjoyable to read a poem
clearly written for the sheer fun of writing poetry, but written nonetheless
with excellent attention paid to style and detail.


  There is a brief biography here:
    [broken link]

To Raja Rao -- Czeslaw Milosz

Guest poem submitted by Prashant Paul:
(Poem #1883) To Raja Rao
 Raja, I wish I knew
 the cause of that malady.

 For years I could not accept
 the place I was in.
 I felt I should be somewhere else.

 A city, trees, human voices
 lacked the quality of presence.
 I would live by the hope of moving on.

 Somewhere else there was a city of real presence,
 of real trees and voices and friendship and love.

 Link, if you wish, my peculiar case
 (on the border of schizophrenia)
 to the messianic hope
 of my civilization.

 Ill at ease in the tyranny, ill at ease in the republic,
 in the one I longed for freedom, in the other for the end of
 Building in my mind a permanent polis
 forever deprived of aimless bustle.

 I learned at last to say: this is my home,
 here, before the glowing coal of ocean sunsets,
 on the shore which faces the shores of your Asia,
 in a great republic, moderately corrupt.

 Raja, this did not cure me
 of my guilt and shame.
 A shame of failing to be
 what I should have been.

 The image of myself
 grows gigantic on the wall
 and against it
 my miserable shadow.

 That's how I came to believe
 in Original Sin
 which is nothing but the first
 victory of the ego.

 Tormented by my ego, deluded by it
 I give you, as you see, a ready argument.

 I hear you saying that liberation is possible
 and that Socratic wisdom
 is identical with your guru's.

 No, Raja, I must start from what I am.
 I am those monsters which visit my dreams
 and reveal to me my hidden essence.

 If I am sick, there is no proof whatsoever
 that man is a healthy creature.

 Greece had to lose, her pure consciousness
 had to make our agony only more acute.

 We needed God loving us in our weakness
 and not in the glory of beatitude.

 No help, Raja, my part is agony,
 struggle, abjection, self-love, and self-hate,
 prayer for the Kingdom
 and reading Pascal.
-- Czeslaw Milosz
        (Berkeley, 1969 )

I stumbled upon this poem(and Milosz) when searching for the writer Raja
Rao. By far one of the most brilliant that I have read, and it brings
forth the best of Milosz. (Raja Rao was a great Indian writer, and with
R. K. Narayan and Mulk Raj Anand considered one of the trinity of Indian
writers in english.)

To me some of the elements of the poem come from the time Milosz spent
his time at Berkeley away from his native place Poland, like the first
part. But the poem is also an accurate description of the struggle with
the present, and the hope for a change that changes everything. Two
striking ideas -- original sin and "...I must start from where I am...",
I really love the way they are written here.

An absolutely amazing poem in my book.


Hyacinths -- Muslih-uh-Din Sa'di

Guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1882) Hyacinths
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store
Two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy Soul.
-- Muslih-uh-Din Sa'di
        (alt. Moslih Eddin Saadi)
        from "Gulistan" (The Garden of Roses), 13th century Persian.

Wandering through the Saturday produce and plant market yesterday (one
of the many delights of living in Australia) and wondering yet again how
these people make a living at this - clearly they're in it for the
entertainment and the social contact, judging from the number of times
it's "Oh, take another on the house" - I got into a conversation with
one of the stallholders who was flogging both pentas (a useful thing to
plant in these days of drought) and hyacinths.

So I of course wondered if he knew this primary school verse, which I
proceeded to recite. (Always a somewhat iffy sort of overture with
Australians: they react either with delight or alarm - some sort of
lunatic on our hands?) He didn't; neither did my companion. Can it be
that I never trotted it out for our children when they were young enough
to be receptive to instead of embarrassed by this sort of thing? But it
scored me a couple of free plants. (And reciting Constantine Kavafy's
"Ithaka" had previously got me rather a lot of olives from Greek guy who
hails from Ithaca. Perhaps I should take down my shingle and make a
living as a minstrel.)

Tracking down the provenance of this well-known verse isn't easy. Google
brings up innumerable plant nursery websites but very little in the way
of literary exegesis. It develops that it's from "The Garden of Roses,"
by the 13th century Persian Sufi poet Sa'di. But where does the
translation come from? Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

Mac Robb.
Brisbane, Australia.

Moslih Eddin (Muslih-un-Din) Saadi (Sa'di), Gulistan (Garden of Roses)