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To a Young Poet -- R S Thomas

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1726) To a Young Poet
 For the first twenty years you are still growing
 Bodily that is: as a poet, of course,
 You are not born yet. It's the next ten
 You cut your teeth on to emerge smirking
 For your brash courtship of the muse.
 You will take seriously those first affairs
 With young poems, but no attachments
 Formed then but come to shame you,
 When love has changed to a grave service
 Of a cold queen.

 From forty on
 You learn from the sharp cuts and jags
 Of poems that have come to pieces
 In your crude hands how to assemble
 With more skill the arbitrary parts
 Of ode or sonnet, while time fosters
 A new impulse to conceal your wounds
 From her and from a bold public,
 Given to pry.

 You are old now
 As years reckon, but in that slower
 World of the poet you are just coming
 To sad manhood, knowing the smile
 On her proud face is not for you.
-- R S Thomas
I've always been an admirer of R.S. Thomas's poetry. He has a voice that is
at once gentle and precise - the voice of a country vicar who understands
sorrow and offers, if not hope, than at least consolation. But there is also
a hardness to the voice, a tough, sinewy sort of wisdom blended with an ear
both polished and exact. The result is poems that possess few things to
startle us with,  but impress with their very simplicity - the ring of plain
truth married to fine, high speech.

This poem is an excellent example. As a description of the difficult craft
of poetry - its triumphs and failures, its enthusiasms and disappointments -
it is perhaps unmatched. Thomas captures so perfectly the simple fact that
anyone who's ever seriously tried writing poetry has experienced - that
poems you thought were brilliant when you were twenty now seem foolish,
almost embarassing, and that you have to write for years and years before
you can turn out even one true poem, and even then it's never good enough.
But Thomas also manages, through his careful phrasing ("poems that have come
to pieces / in your crude hands"), to convey the intense labour it takes to
write a poem, the sense of wrestling with parts of a complex machine,
without blueprint or instructions, hoping that the cogs will somehow come

And finally, Thomas expresses so well the sense of resignation that comes
with knowing that you're never going to be as good a poet as you thought you
could be. Keats writes somewhere "'Tis a gentle luxury to weep / That I have
not the cloudy winds to keep / Fresh for the opening of the morning's eye" -
it's the same note of acceptance mixed with a sense of self-irony that
brings this poem to a close.

A young lady who fancies herself a poet recently sent me a set of her own
poems, asking me for feedback. While the poem I initially reached for in
reply was another R. S. Thomas masterpiece (one I couldn't find on the web,
though. Something about - I quote from sketchy memory - "thank you for
sending me your poems / But they are no good / I understand why you wrote
them / But why send them to me? / Why not bury them, as the cat its faeces?"
Full text anyone?), this is the one I would eventually settle on. As advice
to anyone seriously considering writing poetry, I can't think of anything


Fisher v. Lowe -- Michigan Court of Appeals

Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney:
(Poem #1725) Fisher v. Lowe
 A wayward Chevy struck a tree
 Whose owner sued defendants three.
 He sued car's owner, driver, too,
 And insurer for what was due
 For his oak tree that now may bear
 A lasting need for tender care.
 The Oakland County Circuit Court,
 John N. O'Brian, J., set forth
 The judgment that defendants sought,
 And quickly an appeal was brought.
 Court of Appeals, J.  H. Gillis, J.,
 Gave thought and then had this to say:
 1) There is no liability,
 Since No-Fault grants immunity,
 2) No jurisdiction can be found
 Where process service is unsound;
 And thus the judgment, as it's termed
 Is due to be, and is

 [1] AUTOMOBILES k251.13
 Defendant's Chevy struck a tree,
 There was no liability.
 The No-Fault Act comes into play,
 As owner and the driver say.
 Barred by the act's immunity,
 No suit in tort will aid the tree.
 Although the oak's in disarray,
 No court can make defendants pay.

 [2] PROCESS k4
 No jurisdiction could be found,
 Where process service is unsound.
 In personam jurisdiction
 Was not even legal fiction
 Where plaintiff failed to well comply
 With rules of court that did apply.

   * * *

 J. H. GILLIS, Judge.
 We thought that we would never see
 A suit to compensate a tree.
 A suit whose claim in tort is prest,
 Upon a mangled tree's behest;
 A tree whose battered trunk was prest
 Against a Chevy's crumpled crest;
 A tree that faces each new day
 With bark and limb in disarray;
 A tree that may forever bear
 A lasting need for tender care.
 Flora lovers though we three,
 We must affirm the court's decree.

-- Michigan Court of Appeals
 333 N.W. 2d 67 (Mich. App. 1983) (footnotes (in prose) omitted).

 Yes, this is an honest-to-goodness Michigan appellate court decision.  It's
still valid (though uninteresting) law, too.

 It's not the only time a judge has been inspired by a funny or silly or (in
this case) wildly frivolous lawsuit to launch into verse.  After a few
years, the starchy style you're pretty much forced to accept as a jurist
really begins to drag on some people, I guess.  But this one's a rarity, for
the following reasons:  (1) Usually, any poetry is written by the dissent,
with the majority opinion written in boring prose.  (2) For some reason,
this time the verse was infectious:  Thanks to Gillis's opinion (offered
unanimously by the three-judge panel), the author of the syllabus (the first
bit) and the headnotes (the little blurb summary bits with the numbers) were
also inspired to rhyme.  Lastly, (3) it's one of the two examples I know of
where not only is the opinion in verse, it is also a direct parody of a
specific poem.  (There's also "In Re Love," 61 B.R. 558 (Bankr. S. D. Fla.
1986),  which is a very good parody of The Raven, but that doesn't really
count since it's not real law.  The opinion is the judge denying his own sua
sponte motion-in English instead of legalese, that means it's a pointless
activity for the sole purpose of producing an opinion with no possible legal

 Ah, poetic justice.


The Talking Back of Miss Valentine Jones: Poem # one -- June Jordan

Guest poem submitted by Nisha Susan:
(Poem #1724) The Talking Back of Miss Valentine Jones: Poem # one
 well I wanted to braid my hair
 bathe and bedeck my
 self so fine
 so fully aforethought for
 your pleasure
 I wanted to travel and read
 and runaround fantastic
 into war and peace:
 I wanted to
 and be conquered
 I wanted to pickup the phone
 and find you asking me
 if I might possibly be alone
 some night
 (so I could answer cool
 as the jewels I would wear
 on bareskin for you
 digmedaddy delectation:)
 you comin ova?"
 But I had to remember to write down
 margarine on the list
 and shoepolish and a can of
 sliced pineapple in casea company
 and a quarta skim milk cause Teresa's
 gaining weight and don' nobody groove on
 that much
 and next I hadta sort for darks and lights before
 the laundry hit the water which I had
 to kinda keep an eye on be-
 cause if the big hose jumps the sink again that
 Mrs. Thompson gointa come upstairs
 and brain me with a mop don' smell too
 nice even though she hang
 it headfirst out the winda
 and I had to check
 on William like to
 burn hisself to death with fever
 boy so thin be
 callin all day "Momma! Sing to me?"
 "Ma! Am I gone die?" and me not
 wake enough to sit beside him longer than
 to wipeaway the sweat or change the sheets/
 his shirt and feed him orange
 juice before I fall out of sleep and
 Sweet My Jesus ain but one can
 and we not thru the afternoon
 and now
 you (temporarily) shownup with a thing
 you says' a poem and you
 call it
 "Will The Real Miss Black America Standup?"

                       guilty po' mouth
                       about duty beauties of my
                       boozeup doozies about
                       never mind
                       cause love is blind

 I can't use it

 and the very next bodacious Blackman
 call me queen
 because my life ain shit
 because (in any case) he ain been here to share it
 with me
 (dish for dish and do for do and
 dream for dream)
 I'm gone scream him out my house
 cause what I wanted was
 to braid my hair/bathe and bedeck my
 self so fully be-
 cause what I wanted was
 your love
 not pity
 cause what I wanted was
 your love
 your love
-- June Jordan
Here's a poem which does not fit into the current theme but I send it
because it is a pure unalloyed delight. It was my first June Jordan poem and
now I am scouring the countryside for more.

Alice Walker called her the universal poet. But more exciting is the
description of the unnamed copywriter on the Random House site, "There
aren't any streets or postal holidays named for June Jordan, but she's
cherished by and collaborated with her own share of landmarks: she has
planned a new Harlem with R. Buckminster Fuller, sipped coffee with Malcolm
X, gotten teaching advice from Toni Cade Bambara, co-starred in a film with
Angela Davis, and written an opera with John Adams and Peter Sellars. But no
June Jordan Day. Yet."

More poems at:

More on June:
[broken link]


warty bliggens the toad -- Don Marquis

Guest poem submitted by Martin Davis:
(Poem #1723) warty bliggens the toad
 i met a toad
 the other day by the name
 of warty bliggens
 he was sitting under
 a toadstool
 feeling contented
 he explained that when the cosmos
 was created
 that toadstool was especially planned for his personal
 shelter from sun and rain
 thought out and prepared
 for him

 do not tell me
 said warty bliggens
 that there is not a purpose
 in the universe
 the thought is blasphemy

 a little more
 conversation revealed
 that warty bliggens
 considers himself to be
 the centre of the said
 the earth exists
 to grow toadstools for him
 to sit under
 the sun to give him light
 by day and the moon
 and wheeling constellations
 to make beautiful
 the night for the sake of
 warty bliggens

 to what act of yours
 do you impute
 this interest on the part
 of the creator
 of the universe
 i asked him
 why is it that you
 are so greatly favoured

 ask rather
 said warty bliggens
 what the universe has done to deserve me

 if i were a
 human being i would
 not laugh
 too complacently
 at poor warty bliggens
 for similar
 have only too often
 lodged in the crinkles
 of the human cerebrum

-- Don Marquis
        From "archy and mehitabel", 1927.

I really enjoyed Saturday's grook.  It's great when something makes you
laugh out loud.  It put me immediately in mind of 'warty bliggens the toad'
by Don Marquis, which isn't on the Minstrels site yet, so I reproduce it
here in case Piet Hein triggers a rush of similar thoughts.

Back in the mists of time (the 70s) when I used to teach 11 year olds, we
always used to have fun with this poem.  It's like the tale of the Sunday
School teacher who is telling her group the parable Christ told of the
Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18: 9-14).

 'Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other
was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this:
"God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners,
unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a
week. I give tithes of all that I get." But the tax collector, standing far
away, wouldn't even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying,
"God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his
house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will
be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.'

And then the teacher says to the children, "Now then, boys and girls, put
your hands together and let's all thank God that we're not like that smug

Martin Davis.

Untitled -- Piet Hein

(Poem #1722) Untitled
(for Expo 67)

 We travel where ever mankind reigns
 and find good men in all the worlds domains
 and recognize them as a kind of Danes.
-- Piet Hein
Today's grook is not as polished or clever as most of Hein's work, but I
think it is all the funnier for that. This is the humour of the utterly
simple, a thoroughly timeworn idea whose sole claim to funniness is that it
rhymes and scans. On the surface, not the world's greatest grook, yet Hein
has nailed the sentiment and tone so precisely, and with such perfect timing,
that it made me laugh out loud where many of his cleverer poems merely raised
a smile of appreciation.


The Lost Mistress -- Robert Browning

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul :
(Poem #1721) The Lost Mistress
 All's over, then: does truth sound bitter
 As one at first believes?
 Hark, 'tis the sparrows' good-night twitter
 About your cottage eaves!

 And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly,
 I noticed that today;
 One day more bursts them open fully
 -You know the red turns grey.

 Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest?
 May I take your hand in mine?
 Mere friends are we,-well, friends the merest
 Keep much that I resign:

 For each glance of that eye so bright and black,
 Though I keep with heart's endeavour,-
 Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back,
 Though it stay in my soul for ever!-

 -Yet I will but say what mere friends say,
 Or only a thought stronger;
 I will hold your hand but as long as all may,
 Or so very little longer!
-- Robert Browning
For sheer dramatic brilliance, there are few poets to match Browning. He has
an unparalleled ability to create an image, a scene, which is not simply
vivid and moving, but also somehow psychologically accurate. At their best,
his poems have this lived-in quality, so that they feel not like visions
from some higher plane but rather like things that could happen to you;
that, in fact, may already have happened.

Today's poem is an excellent example. There are no high thoughts here, no
particularly startling word play, no evocation of wondrous images. It's a
simple enough poem, the language plain, the tone conversational. And yet it
manages to capture and convey such a range of emotions.

To begin with, there's the sheer breadth of action and information that
these simple lines convey. Browning gives us only a few scattered musings,
yet (as in all his greatest poems, see My Last Duchess, Poem #104 or
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, Poem #635) these are enough to lay before
us the entire history of the romance and its possible future.

What makes this poem truly brilliant, though is the way in which Browning's
simple lines manage to convey a number of different emotional states. That
abrupt first line conveys the sense of shock, the feeling of having come
upon the end of the relationship so abruptly, and what follows is the numbed
aftermath of that explosion, in which the lover re-adjusts his shattered
senses to the smallness and the silence of the world around him and is
amazed to find that, despite everything, the world goes on. This knowledge
is what gives him the courage to broach (in the third stanza) the
possibility of continued interaction, yet no sooner has he brought this up
than the heart within him rebels at the notion of love being so easily
changed to friendship, so that the next stanza gives us an unforgettable
struggle between longing and restraint, between timidity and scorn, between
the desire to survive and the desire to be annhilated. Finally, in the last
stanza, the lover comes to terms with this contradiction between the
ephemeral and the eternal, arriving at an almost pitiful compromise,
ensuring that he will be forever both included and excluded.

Overall, then, this is a simple, beautiful poem about coming to terms with
the transitory nature of relationships on the one hand and the longevity of
the feelings that go with them on the other.


The Song of Steel -- Charles Buxton Going

(Poem #1720) The Song of Steel
 Yea, art thou lord, O Man, since Tubal Cain
 Brought me into being, white and torn with pain--
 Wrung me, in fierce, hot agony of birth,
 Writhing from out of the womb of mother earth.

 Art thou, then, king, and did I make thee lord,
 Clothe thee in mail and gird thee with the sword,
 Give thee the plough, the ax, the whirring wheel--
 To every subtle craft its tools of steel?

 Look! We have slain the forests, thou and I--
 Soiled the bright streams and murked the very sky;
 Crushed the glad hills and shocked the quiet stars
 With roaring factories and clanging cars!

 Thou builder of machines, who dost not see!
 That which thou mad'st to drive, is driving thee--
 Ravening, tireless, pitiless its strain
 For thy last ounce of work from hand and brain.

 Are thy sons princes? Hard-wrung serfs! They give
 Toil's utmost dregs for the bare chance to live;
 They dig and delve and strive with sweat-cursed brow
 In forge and shop. Master? Nay! Thrall art thou!

 Fool! Serving, I have slaved thee. Master Fool!
 To forge the sword, nor know the sword should rule;
 To make the engine, blind that it must lead
 Fast and yet faster on the race of greed.

 I, Steel, am King--thy king in more than name!
 Lo, I am Moloch, crowned and throned in flame,
 Holding thee slave by lust of thy desire--
 Calling thy first-born to me through the fire!
-- Charles Buxton Going
  Tubal-Cain, or Tubalcain, (Tuval Kayin in Hebrew), is a figure in the
  Book of Genesis, who functions as a culture hero who is credited with
  the invention of blacksmithing and ironworking. His name means "thou
  wilt be brought of Cain", suggesting he is a descendant of Cain.

I really enjoyed discovering today's poem, all the more so since it is a
style of poetry that has fallen out of fashion. The trouble with grand,
dramatic poems like this is that they are all too easy to get wrong, and one
slip can leave them ridiculous rather than stirring. Indeed, one of the
easiest targets to parody in deliberate bad poetry is the misuse of lines
like "Lo, I am Moloch, crowned and throned in flame" in a poem in which they
are clearly inappropriate.

Which makes it all the more a pleasure to see a poem that gets it right,
one in which the overly intense tone and imagery are precisely right for
what the poet wishes to convey. This is not a subtle poem, but it doesn't
need to be - Going clearly wants to deliver a Message, and he does so
unapologetically. And the interesting thing is, despite the poem's slightly
dated feel, the subject matter is as relevant as ever.


Antenna-forest -- Rolf Jacobsen

Guest poem submitted by Lars Marius Garshol:
(Poem #1719) Antenna-forest
 Up on the city's roofs there are large fields.
 That's where silence crept up to
 when there was no room for it on the streets.
 Now the forest comes in its turn.
 It needs to be where silence lives.
 Tree upon tree in strange groves.
 They don't do very well, because the floor is too hard.
 So they make a sparse forest, one branch toward the east,
 and one toward the west. Until it looks like crosses. A forest
 of crosses. And the wind asks
 - Who's resting here
 in these deep graves?
-- Rolf Jacobsen
        translated from the Norwegian by Roger Greenwald.

I've thought about submitting a guest poem for a long time, but never really
felt that there was much need, since other people cover so much interesting
stuff. Today, however, it struck me that there is at least one interesting
poem I know of that is probably much too obscure for anyone else to submit.

It's by Rolf Jacobsen, perhaps *the* major Norwegian poet of the latter half
of the 20th century. This translation is from "North in the World", a
selection translated to English by Roger Greenwald.  Unfortunately, it's not
nearly as good in English, although I could do nothing to improve the
translation myself.

It sounds like there's a narrator speaking the poem; some wry, melancholy
character, grieving for all the things we city dwellers have lost, and
perhaps also those of us who are ourselves lost in the city. The use of
man-made structures as metaphors for natural things like trees and forests
just reinforces the point.

I also like the simple, colloquial style, where the lines almost shine with
poetic beauty in a way that makes you wonder where the beauty in phrases you
could have said yourself comes from. (This is the part that doesn't come
across as well in English, sadly.) The style reminds me of Robert Frost, but
not so dressed-up, perhaps.

Lars Marius Garshol

Prologue to "Rhymes to be Traded for Bread" -- Vachel Lindsay

(Poem #1718) Prologue to "Rhymes to be Traded for Bread"
 Even the shrewd and bitter,
 Gnarled by the old world's greed,
 Cherished the stranger softly
 Seeing his utter need.
 Shelter and patient hearing,
 These were their gifts to him,
 To the minstrel chanting, begging,
 As the sunset-fire grew dim.
 The rich said "you are welcome."
 Yea, even the rich were good.
 How strange that in their feasting
 His songs were understood!
 The doors of the poor were open,
 The poor who had wandered too,
 Who slept with never a roof-tree
 Under the wind and dew.
 The minds of the poor were open,
 There dark mistrust was dead:
 They loved his wizard stories,
 They bought his rhymes with bread.

 Those were his days of glory,
 Of faith in his fellow-men.
 Therefore to-day the singer
 Turns beggar once again.
-- Vachel Lindsay
Commenting on Stevenson's "The Vagabond" [Poem #780], a less-than-charmed
reader said

  I think the poem stinks! It is the tale of a totally selfish bum!  It
  speaks of an existence that leads no where, with no purpose........not
  even a desire for love!  Pure trash IMO. Perhaps value can be salvaged by
  making it the example of 'what not to

Well, I don't agree with him, but nor can I deny that it is a perfectly
valid reading of the poem. However, I was also reminded of today's poem,
which sings of a much more "human" aspect of the joys of the road, of the
kindness extended to a stranger and the appreciation of the wandering
minstrel's art.

Lindsay's poetry is very reminiscent of Kipling's, both for his appreciation
of the rhythmic aspects of poetry and for the nature and diversity of the
subjects he tackled. (And, in passing, for the accusations of racism
levelled against him by a more enlightened generation; accusations that are
often founded in little more than his being a product of his times, and for
having had the temerity to outlast them.) Unlike with Kipling, I can't read
too much of Lindsay in one sitting, but in short doses I find him both
pleasurable and thought provoking. Today's quietly restrained poem is an
excellent example of both aspects.


The Joys of the Road -- Bliss Carman

(Poem #1717) The Joys of the Road
 Now the joys of the road are chiefly these:
 A crimson touch on the hard-wood trees;

 A vagrant's morning wide and blue,
 In early fall, when the wind walks too;

 A shadowy highway cool and brown,
 Alluring up and enticing down

 From rippled water to dappled swamp,
 From purple glory to scarlet pomp;

 The outward eye, the quiet will,
 And the striding heart from hill to hill;

 The tempter apple over the fence;
 The cobweb bloom on the yellow quince;

 The palish asters along the wood,--
 A lyric touch of solitude;

 An open hand, an easy shoe,
 And a hope to make the day go through,--

 Another to sleep with, and a third
 To wake me up at the voice of a bird;

 A scrap of gossip at the ferry;
 A comrade neither glum nor merry,

 Who never defers and never demands,
 But, smiling, takes the world in his hands,--

 Seeing it good as when God first saw
 And gave it the weight of his will for law.

 And oh, the joy that is never won,
 But follows and follows the journeying sun,

 By marsh and tide, by meadow and stream,
 A will-o'-the-wind, a light-o'-dream,

 The racy smell of the forest loam,
 When the stealthy sad-heart leaves go home;

 The broad gold wake of the afternoon;
 The silent fleck of the cold new moon;

 The sound of the hollow sea's release
 From stormy tumult to starry peace;

 With only another league to wend;
 And two brown arms at the journey's end!

 These are the joys of the open road--
 For him who travels without a load.
-- Bliss Carman
I was rather surprised not to find any of Carman's poems in the archive - I
distinctly remembered earmarking him, along with Lampman and Pratt, for the
long-ago Canadian theme, though now that I go back and check, I see that I
omitted him for lack of familiarity. Today's long-overdue poem should
finally address this omission.

Moving on to the poem itself, I enjoyed it for its easy, meandering flow
through the quiet pleasures of the open road. I couldn't help contrasting it
with Stevenson's "From a Railway Carriage" [Poem #84], which uses a similar
pattern of cascading couplets - read the two poems side by side for a
fascinating look at how the latter evokes a sense of tumbling haste and the
former unhurried leisure with what is superficially a very similar form. A
better companion piece to today's poem is perhaps Robert Francis's "Silent
Poem" [Poem #323], a poem with a different focus but a very similar sense of
quiet backroad beauty.

And finally, a nice piece of trivia for all you Wodehouse fans - the poet
Ralston McTodd (of "pale parabola of joy" fame) was, apparently, a
caricature of Carman:
        It seems more than likely that P.G. Wodehouse had Carman in mind (and
  perhaps Robert Service and Wilson MacDonald as well) when he created the
  Ralston McTodd of Leave It to Psmith (1924); the author of "Songs Squalor"
  and other volumes, McTodd is a "powerful young singer of Saskatoon," a
  "gloomy looking young man with long and disordered hair," whose "wonderful
  poems . . . are, of course, known the whole world over" (so at least says
  one of his admirers).




Some brief but enthusiastic assessments:

  'In his time, he was arguably Canada's best known poet, and was dubbed by
  some the "unofficial poet laureate of Canada."'

  A recent reading of the published verse of Bliss Carman, has convinced
  me that he must soon be more widely recognized as a poet of preëminent
  genius. He is greater than some of more extended fame for the reason
  that his poetry expresses a nobler and more comprehensive philosophy of
  life and being. Bliss Carman has achieved more greatly than many others
  of this generation, because he has realized more fully than they that
  the Infinite Poet is constantly and eternally seeking media for
  expression, and that the function of a finite poet is to steadily
  improve the instrument, to keep it expectantly in tune, and to record
  the masterpieces.

Untitled -- Dag Hammarskjöld

Guest poem submitted by Dave Fortin:
(Poem #1716) Untitled
 The mine-detector
 Weaves its old patter
 Without end.

 Words without import
 Are lobbed to and fro
 Between us.

 Forgotten intrigues
 With their spider's web
 Snare our hands.

 Choked by its clown's mask
 And quite dry, my mind
 Is crumbling.
-- Dag Hammarskjöld
        (translated by Leif Sjöberg and W. H. Auden)

I saw this referenced by Arthur Schlessinger in his Kennedy biography, A
Thousand Days.  Hammarskjöld was the UN Secretary General at the height of
the Cold War, seeing first hand the back and forth of a period where Time
itself almost came to an end.  After his tragic death trying to negotiate a
peace in The Congo, his journal of poetry and thoughts, entitled Markings,
was discovered in his home.  It was translated into English by Leif Sjöberg
and W. H. Auden.  THis poem struck me as an insight into the mind of the
negotiator, who has to put up with old intrigues and has to act as a mine
sweeper when attempting to work his way through argument and counter
argument, all the while putting on a "clown's face".

For more on this remarkable and largely forgotten man, see his biography on
the Nobel Prize website at

Dave Fortin.

A Dream Within a Dream -- Edgar Allan Poe

Guest poem sent in by Jennifer McWhorter
(Poem #1715) A Dream Within a Dream
 Take this kiss upon the brow!
 And, in parting from you now,
 Thus much let me avow --
 You are not wrong, who deem
 That my days have been a dream;
 Yet if hope has flown away
 In a night, or in a day,
 In a vision, or in none,
 Is it therefore the less gone?
 All that we see or seem
 Is but a dream within a dream.

 I stand amid the roar
 Of a surf-tormented shore,
 And I hold within my hand
 Grains of the golden sand --
 How few! yet how they creep
 Through my fingers to the deep,
 While I weep -- while I weep!
 O God! can I not grasp
 Them with a tighter clasp?
 O God! can I not save
 One from the pitiless wave?
 Is all that we see or seem
 But a dream within a dream?.
-- Edgar Allan Poe
I'm rather astounded that Minstrels doesn't have this one already.  I love
this poem's sense of sad futility, the desire to save the moments of one's
life from slipping away before the dream of living is ended. The questions
raised cause me to look deep inside myself and ask "So, what's the purpose?
Is it real?"

I think many people have experienced that sensation of the time slipping
away from them, and wanting to slow it down, stop it. Unable to do so, we
stand there and let it slide through our fingers, losing precious moments
forever, unable to stop time's march.

And the question remains: Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a
dream? Nobody knows, everybody wonders. Maybe we find out when all of those
grains of sand have ended for each of us. Maybe not. It will be interesting
to find out.


Geetanjali -- Rabindranath Tagore

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul, an excerpt from:
(Poem #1714) Geetanjali
  Obstinate are the trammels, but my heart aches when I try to break them.
  Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed.
  I am certain that priceless wealth is in thee, and that thou art my best
friend, but I have not the heart to sweep away the tinsel that fills my room

  The shroud that covers me is a shroud of dust and death; I hate it, yet
hug it in love.
  My debts are large, my failures great, my shame secret and heavy; yet when
I come to ask for my good, I quake in fear lest my prayer be granted.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
It's been a while since we did a Tagore poem (the last one was in Jan 2004),
so figured would send in one of my personal favourites.

I'm not as a general rule a big Tagore fan. Maybe it's because as a true
city person I find all his bucolic charm difficult to relate to. Maybe it's
because I'm too cynical to approach simple beauty with anything but active
suspicion. Whatever the reason, I've always found him somewhat long-winded,
cloying and repetitive. I can open Geetanjali at random and read a poem or
two and be moved by them, but every time I've tried reading the whole thing
through I end up with a vaguely queasy feeling in my stomach - like eating
too many rosogullas.

This poem is the one exception - it's a poem that I'm haunted by, a poem
whose very words have become almost a habit of thought (if we were still
running the 'poems you remember' theme, this one would qualify). Part of why
I like it is the abruptness of it - the lines here are short, the rhythm a
brisk point-counterpoint. Tagore doesn't go on and on, he deals instead in a
desperate precision that pierces straight to the heart. There is a sense (as
in all of Tagore's best work) of every word being carefully selected. As a
result, it is an intensely honest and heartfelt poem. If the real beauty of
Tagore is in his simplicity, then I can think of few better examples.

But for all the simplicity of the language, it is also an extremely
difficult poem, because the mental state it describes - a sort of shrinking
away from hope and expectation - is a fundamentally complex, if a scarily
real one.  And that perhaps, is why it is my favourite Tagore poem - because
instead of expressing simple devotion or childish wonder (or muttering high
sounding platitudes - witness 'Where the mind is without fear', Poem #177),
Tagore gives us a portrait of a real state of mind, so that (for once) I
find myself truly able to relate to his work.


The Old Woman -- Joseph Campbell

Guest poem sent in by P. G. Murthy
(Poem #1713) The Old Woman
 As a white candle
 In a holy place,
 So is the beauty
 Of an aged face.

 As the spent radiance
 Of the winter sun,
 So is a woman
 With her travail done,

 Her brood gone from her,
 And her thoughts as still
 As the waters
 Under a ruined mill.
-- Joseph Campbell
I am entranced by the quiet simplicity of this short poem by Joseph
Campbell, an Irish Poet. The lines move with easy grace tracing the sad
universal tale of a woman and her sacrifice as she moves along life to "the
beauty of an aged face" before reaching the lonely furrowed, faded



We've run one Joseph Campbell poem before [Poem #338]. There's a short
biographical note attached there.

In an Artist's Studio -- Christina Rossetti

(Poem #1712) In an Artist's Studio
 One face looks out from all his canvasses,
   One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans;
   We found her hidden just behind those screens,
 That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
 A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
   A nameless girl in freshest summer greens,
   A saint, an angel;--every canvass means
 The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
 He feeds upon her face by day and night,
   And she with true kind eyes looks back on him
 Fair as the moon and joyfull as the light;
   Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
 Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
   Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
-- Christina Rossetti
Note: 'canvass' is an archaic spelling, but appears (as far as I can tell
from online reproductions of the poem) to be the one Rossetti used.

On first reading this poem, it struck me as a rather Shakespearean sonnet,
in spirit if not in form. A common sentiment, a nice but unsurprising poem
written around it. However, a second reading drew me to focus on the lines

    Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
  Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;

and I have to wonder - was she wan with waiting for the artist to look up
from his dreams and his canvas, and see her as she was? Rossetti seems to be
taking the common "forever see your beloved as they were" cliche and
subjecting it to a long, hard look, in a poem that is far less romantic than it



Rhymes (?) -- Henry S Leigh

(Poem #1711) Rhymes (?)
 My life -- to Discontent a prey --
     Is in the sere and yellow leaf.
 'Tis vain for happiness to pray:
     No solace brings my heart relief.
 My pulse is weak, my spirit low;
     I cannot think, I cannot write.
 I strive to spin a verse -- but lo!
     My rhymes are very rarely right.

 I sit within my lowly cell,
     And strive to court the comic Muse;
 But how can Poesy excel,
     With such a row from yonder mews?
 In accents passionately high
     The carter chides the stubborn horse;
 And shouts a 'Gee!' or yells a 'Hi!'
     In tones objectionably hoarse.

 In vain for Poesy I wait;
     No comic Muse my call obeys.
 My brains are loaded with a weight
     That mocks the laurels and the bays.
 I wish my brains could only be
     Inspired with industry anew;
 And labour like the busy bee,
     In strains no Genius ever knew.

 Although I strive with all my might,
     Alas, my efforts all are vain!
 I've no afflatus -- not a mite;
     I cannot work the comic vein.
 The Tragic Muse may hear my pleas,
     And waft me to a purer clime.
 Melpomene! assist me, please,
     To somewhat higher heights to climb.
-- Henry S Leigh
As Calverley noted in "Lovers and a Reflection", "Rhymes are so scarce in
this world of ours" - and, oft and anon, the hard-worked poet's natural
frustration with the state of affairs spills over into verse. Here Leigh
takes a simple idea and spins it into a neat bit of self-referential verse -
so neat, in fact, that his use of homophones in place of proper rhymes is
not instantly obvious. (The abab rather than aabb rhyme scheme helps

On the flip side, while self referential poetry is a rich and oft-tapped
source of comic verse, the effect is far likelier to be mild amusement than
hilarity, and the poem itself is seldom memorable. Calverley's "Lovers and
a Reflection" is an exception, I'll admit, but more due to its quotability
than its funniness; today's poem, on the other hand, is irretrievably Minor.
Still, that is no real fault, especially in a piece of light verse like
today's - I derived a moment of amusement from reading it, and Leigh
doubtless derived an equal satisfaction from its composition.


  Leigh, Henry Sambrooke (1837-1883), English poet.

  If anyone has a more extensive biography, please write in.

Madeira, M'Dear -- Michael Flanders

(Poem #1710) Madeira, M'Dear
 She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice
 She was fair, she was sweet seventeen
 He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice
 He was base, he was bad, he was mean
 He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat
 To view his collection of stamps
 And he said as he hastened to put out the cat
 The wine, his cigar and the lamps

 "Have some madeira, m'dear
 You really have nothing to fear
 I'm not trying to tempt you, that wouldn't be right
 You shouldn't drink spirits at this time of night
 Have some madeira, m'dear
 It's very much nicer than beer
 I don't care for sherry, one cannot drink stout
 And port is a wine I can well do without
 It's simply a case of 'chacun a son gout'
 Have some madeira, m'dear"

 Unaware of the wiles of the snake in the grass
 And the fate of the maiden who topes
 She lowered her standards by raising her glass
 Her courage, her eyes and his hopes
 She sipped it, she drank it, she drained it, she did
 He quietly refilled it again
 And he said as he secretly carved one more notch
 On the butt of his gold-handled cane

 "Have some madeira, m'dear,
 I've got a small cask of it here
 And once it's been opened, you know it won't keep
 Do finish it up, it will help you to sleep
 Have some madeira, m'dear,
 It's really an excellent year
 Now if it were gin, you'd be wrong to say yes
 The evil gin does would be hard to assess
 (Besides it's inclined to affect me prowess)
 Have some madeira, m'dear"

 Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said
 With her antepenultimate breath
 "Oh my child, should you look on the wine that is red
 Be prepared for a fate worse than death!"
 She let go her glass with a shrill little cry
 Crash! tinkle! it fell to the floor
 When he asked, "What in Heaven?" she made no reply
 Up her mind, and a dash for the door

 "Have some madeira, m'dear",
 Rang out down the hall loud and clear
 A tremulous cry that was filled with despair
 As she fought to take breath in the cool midnight air
 "Have some madeira, m'dear"
 The words seemed to ring in her ear
 Until the next morning, she woke up in bed
 With a smile on her lips and an ache in her head
 And a beard in her ear 'ole that tickled and said
 "Have some madeira, m'dear"
-- Michael Flanders
We've run a couple of Flanders and Swann pieces before, but neither of them
highlighted one of my favourite things about the duo's songs - the sheer,
unabashed *cleverness* of the lyrics. Like Gilbert before him (and Lehrer
after him), Flanders was adept at leaving the listener simultaneously
entertained by the humour and consciously impressed by the ingenious
crafting of the words. (This is a chancy thing to do in more serious verse,
where cleverness can be distracting and hence detrimental to the central
thrust, but with humour it works very well indeed.)

Today's song has the double bonus of being a particularly neat piece of
extended wordplay, and of working well even divorced from the music. (Some
of my other favourites, like "Misalliance", end up sounding a bit flat when
I try to read them as pure 'poetry'.) It is also, I believe, one of Flanders
and Swann's best-known works, possibly partly due to the Limeliters' having
covered it and brought it to a fresh audience. Needless to say, the music
does add a whole new dimension to it, and I highly recommend getting hold of
the three-CD "The Complete Flanders and Swann" (which isn't, but is well
worth having anyway).

Parenthetically, the figure of speech used in constructions like "he
hastened to put out the cat / The wine, his cigar and the lamps" is 'zeugma'
(I won't go into the fine shades of distinction between zeugma and syllepsis,
but it's worth looking up). Pope was fond of it too, for example in the
following from The Rape of the Lock:

  Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey
  Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea.

"Madeira M'dear" is, unsurprisingly, often cited in discussions of zeugma;
it remains the best example of the form I've encountered.



A biography of Flanders:

And of Swann (whose genius is sadly unapparent on the printed page)

More on zeugmas (zeugma? zeugmata?)

Cuckoo Song -- Anonymous

Guest poem submitted by Bill Whiteford :
(Poem #1709) Cuckoo Song
 Sumer is icumen in,
   Lhude sing cuccu!
 Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
   And springth the wude nu-
           Sing cuccu!

 Awe bleteth after lomb,
   Lhouth after calve cu;
 Bulluc sterteth, bucke verteth,
   Murie sing cuccu!

 Cuccu, cuccu, well singes thu, cuccu:
   Ne swike thu naver nu;
 Sing cuccu, nu, sing cuccu,
   Sing cuccu, sing cuccu, nu!
-- Anonymous
GLOSS:  lhude] loud.  awe] ewe.  lhouth] loweth.  sterteth] leaps.  swike]

I stumbled across this the other day, while trying to find out more about
cuckoos; why they sing, that sort of thing. I now realise it's the origin of
the phrase most usually rendered as "summer is a-comin' in", which is
interesting.  What I like about it is that the anonymous author (or more
likely, authors) was hearing the same noise that I am, some 800 years later.

Here in Scotland the cuckoos call most insistently in the month of May.
Since they sing as long as there's daylight, that's a long time this far
north. The minstrels who would have passed this around would tap into the
same feelings we have when we we're outdoors now at this time: it's nice to
hear the cuckoo song  ("well sings thu, cuccu") but they don't half go on
("ne swike thu naver nu")! Hope it's not too obscure.

Bill Whiteford.

[Links and Stuff]

Here's the Columbia Encyclopedia on today's poem:

"Sumer Is Icumen In", an English rota or round composed c.1250. It is the
earliest extant example of canon, of six part music, and of ground bass.
Four tenor voices are in canon and two bass voices sing the pes, or ground,
also in canon. The secular text is in Wessex dialect, and in the same
manuscript source, from Reading Abbey in England, is a Latin text to adapt
the tune for church use. The attribution to the monk John of Fornsete, who
kept the records of Reading Abbey, is no longer credited.

For a picture of the original illuminated manuscript, follow this link:
The above website also includes a translation into "modern" English, notes,
a full glossary, and a lengthy bibliography. Plus instructions on how to
sing the song karaoke-style, from the original manuscript.

Richard Thompson opened his "1000 Years of Popular Music" tour with a
version of this song; see