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Topography -- Sharon Olds

Guest poem sent in by David Grabill
(Poem #1961) Topography
 After you flew across the country we
 got in bed, laid our bodies
 delicately together, like maps laid
 face to face, East to West, my
 San Francisco against your New York, your
 Fire Island against my Sonoma, my
 New Orleans deep in your Texas, your Idaho
 bright on my Great Lakes, my Kansas
 burning against your Kansas your Kansas
 burning against my Kansas, your Eastern
 Standard Time pressing into my
 Pacific Time, my Mountain Time
 beating against your Central Time, your
 sun rising swiftly from the right my
 sun rising swiftly from the left your
 moon rising slowly from the left my
 moon rising slowly from the right until
 all four bodies of the sky
 burn above us, sealing us together,
 all our cities twin cities,
 all our states united, one
 nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
-- Sharon Olds
             (published in "The Gold )

Here's another poem on a flying theme that a friend gave me before I took a
long flight a few years back.  Sharon Olds is a master of transforming
mundane airplane flights like this and common garden slugs [Poem #1003],
into sensual feasts. This one's an outrageous mix of metaphors that kept me
smiling for a thousand miles or more on that flight, and continues to
enchant every time I reread it.

David Grabill

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharon_Olds

The Day Flies Off Without Me -- John Stammers

Guest poem sent in by Hemant Mohapatra
(Poem #1960) The Day Flies Off Without Me
 The planes bound for all points everywhere
 etch lines on my office window. From the top floor
 London recedes in all directions, and beyond:
 the world with its teeming hearts.

 I am still, you move, I am a point of reference on a map;
 I am at zero meridian as you consume the longitudes.
 The pact we made to read our farewells exactly
 at two in the afternoon with you in the air
 holds me like a heavy winter coat.

 Your unopened letter is in my pocket, beating.
-- John Stammers
I love the quiet strength of this powerful piece. It speaks volumes about an
unrequited love in a way that is neither sappy, nor reflective. It just "is"
and seems to convey "This is how it is, and that is so". Every once in a
while, a poet creates something so heartfelt that all his/her other poems
pale in comparison. This is one of those pieces. 'nuff said.

Hemant

[Links]

Biography:
  [broken link] http://uk.poetryinternationalweb.org/piw_cms/cms/cms_module/index.php?obj_id=6964

Day Flight -- Jack Davis

Guest poem sent in by Cornelius O'Brien
(Poem #1959) Day Flight
 I closed my eyes as I sat in the jet
 And asked the hostess if she would let
 Me take on board a patch of sky
 And a dash of the blue-green sea.

 Far down below my country gleamed
 In thin dry rivers and blue-white lakes
 And most I longed for, there as I dreamed,
 A square of the desert, stark and red,
 To mould a pillow for a sleepy head
 And a cloak to cover me.
-- Jack Davis
Les Murray's strong poem while he was musing aboard an airliner reminded me
of another Australian poet - Jack Davis - and his lovely poem DAY FLIGHT.
You can almost hear the mighty beating heart of Australia in his lines.
Only an Aboriginal poet could have written this one.  He doesn't own the
land.  The land owns him.

Con O'Brien (Cornelius)

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Davis_(playwright)

The International Terminal -- Les Murray

Guest poem sent in by Steve Forsythe
(Poem #1958) The International Terminal
 Some comb oil, some blow air,
 some shave trenchlines in their hair
 but the common joint thump, the heart's spondee
 kicks off in its rose-lit inner sea
 like an echo, at first, of the one above
 it on the dodgy ladder of love --
 and my mate who's driving says I never
 found one yet worth staying with forever.
 In this our poems do not align.
 Surely most are if you are, answers mine,
 and I am living proof of it,
 I gloom, missing you from the cornering outset --
 And hearts beat mostly as if they weren't there,
 Rocking horse to rocking chair,
 most audible dubbed on the tracks of movies
 or as we approach where our special groove is
 or our special fear. The autumn-vast
 parking-lot-bitumen overcast
 now switches on pumpkin-flower lights
 all over dark green garden sites
 and a wall of car-bodies, stacked by blokes,
 obscures suburban signs and smokes.
 Like coughs, cries, all such unlearned effects
 the heartbeat has no dialects
 but what this or anything may mean
 depends on what poem we're living in.
 Now a jet engine, huge child of a gun,
 shudders with haze and begins to run.
 Over Mount Fuji and the North Pole
 I'm bound for Europe in a reading role
 and a poem long ago that was coming for me
 had Fuji-san as its axle-tree.
 Cities shower and rattle over the gates
 as I enter that limbo between states
 but I think of the heart swarmed around by poems
 like an egg besieged by chromosomes
 and how out of that our world is bred
 through the back of a mirror, with clouds in its head
 --and airborne, with a bang, this five-hundred-seat
 theatre folds up its ponderous feet.
-- Les Murray
Here is another poem on a different aspect of flight - it is almost the
opposite of Walcott's poem [Poem #1957]: anticipation vs. completion, the
anxiety of departure vs. the expansive consciouness of Walcott's being in
flight, almost formal vs. free-flowing verse. It captures well all the
emotions evoked by the beginning of a long journey. The depiction of the
actual takeoff ("Now a jet engine...") brilliantly evokes the final physical
and mental rush.

Steve Forsythe

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Murray

Official site:
  http://www.lesmurray.org/

The Dead Wingman -- Randall Jarrell

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1957) The Dead Wingman
 Seen on the sea, no sign; no sign, no sign
 In the black firs and terraces of hills
 Ragged in mist. The cone narrows, snow
 Glares from the bleak walls of a crater. No.
 Again the houses jerk like paper, turn,
 And the surf streams by: a port of toys
 Is starred with its fires and faces; but no sign.

 In the level light, over the fiery shores,
 The plane circles stubbornly: the eyes distending
 With hatred and misery and longing, stare
 Over the blackening ocean for a corpse.
 The fires are guttering; the dials fall,
 A long dry shudder climbs along his spine,
 His fingers tremble; but his hard unchanging stare
 Moves unacceptingly: I have a friend.

 The fires are grey; no star, no sign
 Winks from the breathing darkness of the carrier
 Where the pilot circles for his wingman; where,
 Gliding above the cities' shells, a stubborn eye
 Among the embers of the nations, achingly
 Tracing the circles of that worn, unchanging No -
 The lives' long war, lost war - the pilot sleeps.
-- Randall Jarrell
I was planning to send in this poem for the flight theme anyway, and a
comment on a recent post made me even more determined.

William Pritchard, in his introduction to Randall Jarrell's Selected Poems
(FSG 1990) bemoans the fact that one poem, the justly celebrated 'Death of
the Ball Turret Gunner' has eclipsed all of Jarrell's other accomplishments
as a poet. The truth is that, coming out of World War II, Jarrell wrote a
number of poems about flying in the war - poems like 'The Dead Wingman', 'A
Pilot from the Carrier', 'Losses' and 'A Front'. These are not poems about
the 'lonely impulse of delight', rather they are poems about isolation,
about the helplessness of suffering; the people in them having more in
common with the disillusioned crew of Heller's Catch 22 than with Yeats'
Airman. There is no balance. There is only death.

Cut off from earthly contact in the desolation of the air, the pilot in his
plane becomes a metaphor for the soul trapped in its body. There is no
question of anything or anyone bidding the pilot to fight because the pilot
has no real choice; the sky is his only reality, and the anguish he feels
surveying the world below him is thus an existential one. The plane, like
the war (for these are, in every sense of the word, war poems) is a
death-dealing machine, one that man is strapped into, an Ixionan wheel, a
negative womb ('A Pilot from the Carrier' opens with the line "Strapped at
the centre of the blazing wheel")

'The Dead Wingman' is my favourite of these poems - in part because of the
incredible way in which Jarrell captures the physical experience of a
circling plane ("Again the houses jerk like paper, turn, / And the surf
streams by"), in part because of the perfection with which Jarrell connects
the failing of hope to external manifestations ("The fires are guttering;
the dials fall") and in part because of the way the poem, starting so
restlessly ("Seen on the sea, no sign; no sign, no sign") ends on a note of
weary, circling resignation. This is a greasy, metallic and yet deeply
moving poem. And it takes a talent like Jarrell's to keep a poem like this
aloft.

Aseem

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_Jarrell

l(a -- e e cummings

Guest poem sent in by Pranesh Prakash , in yet
another take on the flight theme:
(Poem #1956) l(a
l(a

 le
 af
 fa

 ll

 s)
 one
 l

 iness

-- e e cummings
Comments:

This is a poem I immediately thought of when I saw the theme "flight".  It
is about the flight of a leaf as it is falling down from a tree.  When read
together without the line-breaks, it turns out to be

  l(a leaf falls)oneliness.

It links up the falling of a lone leaf (note the emphasis on "1" (the
numeral one) in the first line, as also the "one" in l"one"liness) to the
emotion of loneliness.

The most beautiful part of this poem is the way it is structured, which to
me seems to resemble the passage of a leaf through various points of time
from the half-horizontal "l(a" of the leaf on the tree, to the side-view of
"ll" when it is in mid-air to the final full-horizontal of "iness".

If you don't see that leaf falling, perhaps instead you see a large "L" in
the shape of the poem, or perhaps a large "1" (with a line underneath: think
of 1 in "Courier" instead of in "Arial".)  The imagery that Cummings manages
to evoke by saying so little is just beautiful.  And this is actually a poem
where the reason for abrupt and seemingly random line-breaks is clear
(though with different clarity to each person) after some thought, and goes
on to be really appreciated.  The poem is all the more beautiful for the way
the words are broken up.

Pranesh

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._E._Cummings

Here's an excellent essay on Cummings's use of typography and line breaks as
a poetic element:
  http://www.cyberessays.com/English/104.htm

And, since it appears to be a perennial misconception, an explanation of why
it is not "e. e. cummings":
  http://www.gvsu.edu/english/cummings/caps.htm

The Swing -- Robert Louis Stevenson

Guest poem sent in by Dale Rosenberg
(Poem #1955) The Swing
 How do you like to go up in a swing,
   Up in the air so blue?
 Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
   Ever a child can do!

 Up in the air and over the wall,
   Till I can see so wide,
 Rivers and trees and cattle and all
   Over the countryside--

 Till I look down on the garden green,
   Down on the roof so brown--
 Up in the air I go flying again,
   Up in the air and down!
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
My first thought for the "poems about flying" theme was Randall Jarell's
devastating "Death of a Ball Turret Gunner."  I see Minstrels has already
printed it. so I went for the complete opposite in emotional impact.

"The Swing" was the first poem I learned about flying.  It just captures for
me so perfectly the lovely feeling of soaring which children have on swings.
I remember being quite small and my mother reciting it to me as she pushed
me higher and higher.  I did the same with my own kids.  So many of RLS's
poems in A Child's Garden of Verses sound so fresh and real today.  I think
that since his subject matter is often universal, the poems don't seem dated
in the way that some children's verse can.

Dale

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Louis_Stevenson

A Child's Garden of Verses:
  http://www.bartleby.com/188/

I Need Air -- Alan Lerner

Guest poem sent in by Zenobia Driver :
(Poem #1954) I Need Air
 I could see it wasn't worth
 Spending time with them on earth.
 There were fewer in the sky.
 I decided I would fly.
 I need air...

 Where only stars get in my hair:
 And only eagles stop and stare.
 I need air.

 Oh, the work is mad
 And I've had my share.
 I need air.
 I need air.
 I need air...

 There's not a sign of life down there.
 Just hats and grown-ups everywhere.
 I need air.

 Lots of cosy sky
 That God and I can share.
 I need air.
 I need air.
-- Alan Lerner
     (from the musical 'The Little Prince', based on the book by
      Antoine St. Exupery)

I guess this describes the pilot who is not one of the gang, a loner, who
flies to get away from it all. A nice poem to read on days when everyone
around is getting on your nerves.

  I could see it wasn't worth
  Spending time with them on earth.
  There were fewer in the sky.
  I decided I would fly.

As good a reason to fly as any!

Loved the cheekiness in the lines:
  There's not a sign of life down there.
  Just hats and grown-ups everywhere.

Yes, I feel like this quite often.

Zen

[Martin adds]

It's surprising how many flying poems and songs have their essence captured
by Yeats's immortal line "a lonely impulse of delight". Today's is no
exception.

martin

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Jay_Lerner

The Little Prince [I really need to see this! - martin]:
  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071762/maindetails

from Midsummer -- Derek Walcott

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1953) from Midsummer
 The jet bores like a silverfish through volumes of cloud -
 clouds that will keep no record of where we have passed,
 nor the sea's mirror, nor the coral busy with its own
 culture; they aren't doors of dissolving stone,
 but pages in a damp culture that come apart.
 So a hole in their parchment opens, and suddenly, in a vast
 dereliction of sunlight, there's that island known
 to the traveller Trollope, and the fellow traveller Froude,
 for making nothing. Not even a people. The jet's shadow
 ripples over green jungles as steadily as a minnow
 through seaweed. Our sunlight is shared by Rome
 and your white paper, Joseph. Here, as everywhere else,
 it is the same age. In cities, in settlements of mud,
 light has never had epochs. Near the rusty harbor
 around Port of Spain bright suburbs fade into words -
 Maraval, Diego Martin - the highways long as regrets,
 and steeples so tiny you couldn't hear their bells,
 nor the sharp exclamation of whitewashed minarets
 from green villages. The lowering window resounds
 over pages of earth, the canefields set in stanzas.
 Skimming over an ocher swamp like a fast cloud of egrets
 are nouns that find their branches as simply as birds.
 It comes too fast, this shelving sense of home -
 canes rushing the wing, a fence; a world that still stands as
 the trundling tires keep shaking and shaking the heart.
-- Derek Walcott
When I saw that you were running a flying theme, this was the first poem I
thought of. It is a poem that evokes so perfectly, for me, the experience of
being on a flight - the familiar cycle of staring out of the window, reading
the newspaper for a bit, thinking about distance and the world, looking down
again, seeing the tiny signs of human civilisation get closer and closer as
the flight descends and we come in to land. Walcott describes all of that in
lines at once ponderous and lyrical - that air of something restlessly
inventive but also classically ode-like that he renders so effortlessly.

There are several phrases in here that are permanently inscribed in my head
("The jet's shadow / ripples over green jungles as steadily as a minnow /
through seaweed") and the last eight lines are sheer genius. I could go on
and on about the clever, clever way that Walcott weaves the metaphor of a
book together with the experience of flight, but I'm not going to. Instead,
I'm going to suggest that you read the last lines of this poem again, and
experience once more that sensation of coming closer and closer to the
earth, the acceleration you feel an illusion, your heart waiting for that
final thwack of the wheels that will tell you that you're finally back.

Aseem

[Links]

Biography:
  http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1992/walcott-bio.html
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Walcott

Nice essay on Walcott and his work:
  http://www.english.emory.edu/Bahri/Walcott.html

A Newer Kingdom -- Anonymous

Guest poem sent in by Cornelius 0Brien
(Poem #1952) A Newer Kingdom
 The men who billow down the sea in ships
 Have earned these ages tributes justly high;
 But now is newly told on peoples's lips
 Of men in airy craft who seek the sky.
 Flung freely through their newer kingdom won,
 Clean wings describe the geometric arc,
 And hurtle down the starlight to the dark
 Or gambol with the spear-shafts of the sun.
 A newer kingdom and a newer race -
 They spurn with pride the lowly creed of earth,
 And glory in the boundlessness of space,
 Where worlds through aeons past have leapt to birth.
 Though mortal span is told in numbered weeks
 They brush eternity with youthful cheeks.
-- Anonymous
Notes: I found this sonnet in the published memoirs of Gordon Fox. Gordon,
uncle of my wife Rosie, was a bomber pilot in World War Two. His memoirs,
written in diary form, were published privately about a year after his death
in September, 2001. His eldest son Kennedy Fox very kindly sent us a copy.
This sonnet ("A Newer Kingdom" is my name for it) was found by Gordon in an
anthology of air force poems. Kennedy says that neither he nor his father
had any idea who wrote the poem.

It is beautifully crafted, and to my heart and mind does what all good poems
do - draws pictures with words and stirs emotions in the reader or listener.
Yeats' "An Irish Airman Foresees his Death" could be a blood relative of
this lovely sonnet. I am also reminded of Wilfred Owen, although I cannot
really say why.

Cornelius

Impressions of a Pilot -- Gary Claude Stoker

This week, a guest theme run by Zenobia Driver :
poems about flying.
(Poem #1951) Impressions of a Pilot
 Flight is freedom in its purest form,
 To dance with the clouds which follow a storm;
 To roll and glide, to wheel and spin,
 To feel the joy that swells within.

 To leave the earth with its troubles and fly,
 And know the warmth of a clear spring sky;
 Then back to earth at the end of the day,
 Released from the tensions which melted away.

 Should my end come while I am in flight,
 Whether brightest day or darkest night;
 Spare me no pity and shrug off the pain,
 Secure in the knowledge that I'd do it again.

 For each of us is created to die,
 And within me I know,
 I was born to fly.
-- Gary Claude Stoker
Some time ago, I was reading 'On Wings of Fire' by Dr. Abdul Kalam, and came
across a reference to a poem about Darius Greene. While trying to track down
that poem, I came across lots of other poems about flying and realized that
this was one topic that was not sufficiently represented in the poems we
read in school, college etc, or on the minstrels.

(A notable exception to this being 'An Irish Airman Foresees His Death' by
W.B.Yeats, which is reproduced and quoted everywhere, but that is not about
flying alone and it has only one reference to the 'lonely impulse of
delight' that 'drove to this tumult in the clouds'.)

So here are some poems that describe the joy of flying, the reasons for
flying, the irreverent attitude of fighter pilots and of course, the story
of Darius Greene. For those who want to read more quotes, poems etc about
flying, http://www.skygod.com/quotes/misc.html is one good site.

I thought I would start with a poem that describes the sensation of flying.
I loved the first paragraph - I can feel a plane rolling and spinning and
dancing with the clouds as I say the lines. Also loved the analogy of flight
as freedom.

The last paragraph was great too - wouldn't it be marvellous if you knew
exactly why you were on this earth, and you knew that you were doing exactly
that and you absolutely loved it?

Zenobia

[Martin adds]

As usual, contributions to the theme are welcome - send them in!

A Deep-Sworn Vow -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by Kamalika Chowdhury
(Poem #1950) A Deep-Sworn Vow
 Others because you did not keep
 That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
 Yet always when I look death in the face,
 When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
 Or when I grow excited with wine,
 Suddenly I meet your face.
-- William Butler Yeats
This poem - taken from The Wild Swans at Coole (1919) - showcases the
maturity of Yeats' later work, and his distinctive brand of genius. With a
master conjurer's dexterity, Yeats tells a story in a six simple lines that
become breathtaking when put together.

Trying to express my thoughts on this poem leaves me feeling absolutely
inadequate, but I cannot let it go without a salute. So here it is.

The call of these few compelling lines is powerful and intimate, utterly
human and almost sacred. The reader is directly drawn into a deep
relationship with the narrator, yet one that is infused with the guilt of
having broken "that deep-sworn vow". But before one can fully assimilate the
impact, one is quietly brought face-to-face with the inescapable truth of
the final line. The inherent loneliness in this poem is ignored - it does
not rave or rant, or cry out. It simply is. The two aspects of this
relationship are not meant to be reconciled.

And because its soul-searing intensity must have came from the poet's
innermost being, I like to think that he remains immortal in this poem.

Kamalika

The Dove -- Leonard Cohen

Guest poem sent in by Laurie Edwards
(Poem #1949) The Dove
 I saw the dove come down, the dove with the
 green twig, the childish dove out of the storm and
 flood. It came towards me in the style of the Holy Spirit
 descending. I had been sitting in a cafe for twenty-five
 years waiting for this vision. It hovered over the great
 quarrel. I surrendered to the iron laws of the moral universe which
 make a boredom out of everything desired. Do not surrender,
 said the dove. I have come to make a nest in your shoe. I
 want your step to be light.
-- Leonard Cohen
 From "Death of a Lady's Man" (1978)

I love this poem -- when I first encountered it, it provided some encouragement
to not surrender and allow everything desired to become "a boredom."

I think it's interesting that although Leonard Cohen was a poet before he was a
songwriter, some believe that he has only written song lyrics (cf Poem #624,
Gift).  It's certainly lucky, I think, that he did turn his creativity to
music, so that his gift became more widely known than it might otherwise have
been.

I've also alway wondered about the Catholic icons and images that twine through
his lyrics/poetry (as in The Dove, above), given that Cohen is a Jewish name.
He was born in Montreal in 1934, and is now a committed Buddhist, having been
ordained as a Buddhist monk and given the (ironic?  appropriate?) name Jikan
(Silent One).

Laurie D. Edwards

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Cohen

Official Cohen website:
  http://www.leonardcohen.com/

The Grammar Lesson -- Steve Kowit

       
(Poem #1948) The Grammar Lesson
 A noun's a thing. A verb's the thing it does.
 An adjective is what describes the noun.
 In "The can of beets is filled with purple fuzz"

 *of* and *with* are prepositions. *The's*
 an article, a *can's* a noun,
 a noun's a thing. A verb's the thing it does.

 A can *can* roll - or not. What isn't was
 or might be, *might* meaning not yet known.
 "Our can of beets *is* filled with purple fuzz"

 is present tense. While words like our and us
 are pronouns - i.e. *it* is moldy, *they* are icky brown.
 A noun's a thing; a verb's the thing it does.

 Is is a helping verb. It helps because
 *filled* isn't a full verb. *Can's* what *our* owns
 in "Our can of beets is filled with purple fuzz."

 See? There's almost nothing to it. Just
 memorize these rules...or write them down!
 A noun's a thing, a verb's the thing it does.
 The can of beets is filled with purple fuzz.
-- Steve Kowit
What always fascinates me about villanelles is the various ways poets deal
with the repetition inherent in the form. The one inescapable thing is that
this repetition *does* have to be dealt with, and that it is often a major
force in the shaping of the poem - pronouncements about form not dictating
content notwithstanding.

Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" is without doubt the
most celebrated example of the English villanelle, and with reason - it is,
to my mind, a perfect study in how to make the form work to reinforce the
content and tone, with never a hint of awkwardness or constraint. Along
other axes, humorous poets have used the structure of the villanelle to poke
fun at itself, experimentalists have seen how much they can bend the form
without it breaking, and, of course, countless poets have simply ignored the
fact that the form does and should influence the content, and repeated the
end lines mechanically and without regard to their contribution to the flow
and progress of the poem.

Today's poem caught my eye for yet another clever take on making the
repetition work for the theme - in the context of a grammar lesson,
repeating a sentence again and again with minor changes rung upon it makes
perfect sense - is, indeed, almost inevitable. I love the way Kowit makes it
seem that the villanelle form itself fell out of the requirements of the
subject, rather than the other way around.

In the grand scheme of things I'd say this poem falls somewhere between
'serious' and 'intellectual exercise' (with a dash of humour in the unexpected
image of "this can of beets is filled with purple fuzz") - not by any means an
immortal poem, but a very well crafted one, and definitely worth reading.

martin

[Links]

Biography:
  http://www.flagstaffcentral.com/bookfest2000/Authors/kowit.html

Kowit on deliberately difficult poetry [long but brilliant essay]:
  [broken link] http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/dept/press/kowit.html

Spring is like a perhaps hand -- e e cummings

Guest poem sent in by Michael Andrews
(Poem #1947) Spring is like a perhaps hand
 Spring is like a perhaps hand
 (which comes carefully
 out of Nowhere)arranging
 a window,into which people look(while
 people stare
 arranging and changing placing
 carefully there a strange
 thing and a known thing here)and

 changing everything carefully

 spring is like a perhaps
 Hand in a window
 (carefully to
 and from moving New and
 Old things,while
 people stare carefully
 moving a perhaps
 fraction of flower here placing
 an inch of air there)and

 without breaking anything.
-- e e cummings
We have this neighbor who loves to garden.  Her whole front yard is planted
with bulbs and other herbaceous perennials but, for the most part, the plot
is brown in winter.  But starting in late February, as I drive past her
house, I see her stooped over the earth from time to time.

This E. E. Cummings poem so reminds me of what takes place in her garden plot
as I drive by her house each day when I leave the development.  These are
delicate changes in her little plot, none dramatic, but a plant is up one
day, flowering the next without any dramatic fanfare; a bed is barren one
day but covered with small green shoots the next.  The neighbor's hand,
arranging and rearrranging the plants for the year, in small increments,
mostly unseen (she works out of her home, is not in the garden most times I
pass, but leaves evidence of her work - a peach basket here, gardening stool
there, a pile of weeds... gone the next day) is captured precisely in this
poem.

She moves new things and old in and out of garden spots.  Not all at once,
but you notice slight movements in plant blooming.  Changes are slight but
quick.  "How did that clump get there?" I ask one day.  The clump is in
blossom the next!

'a fraction of flower here placing an inch of air there) and without
breaking anything.'

Cummings captures the joy of incremental, but inexorable growth that happens
each Spring in this small poem.  I like to think my neighbor Ruth is
Spring's hand in the window...

Enjoy!

Mike Andrews

I Fear Thy Kisses, Gentle Maiden -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Guest poem sent in by Anagha Bhat
(Poem #1946) I Fear Thy Kisses, Gentle Maiden
 I fear thy kisses, gentle maiden;
 Thou needest not fear mine;
 My spirit is too deeply laden
 Ever to burden thine.

 I fear thy mien, thy tone, thy motion;
 Thou needest not fear mine;
 Innocent is the heart's devotion
 With which I worship thine.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Today, I came to ministrels looking for one of my favourit-est-est poems
ever, and was shocked to not find it there. Had to dig out my paperback
book... in this day and age... *sigh*

The reason I love this poem is that I love the knight-in-shining-armour
spirit of the poet. A perfect gentleman, and every woman's dream man! That's
on the surface... Lemme not go deeper!

Anagha

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Bysshe_Shelley

Simplify Me When I'm Dead -- Keith Douglas

Guest poem sent in by Swati Chaudhary
(Poem #1945) Simplify Me When I'm Dead
 Remember me when I am dead
 Simplify me when I am dead.

 As the process of earth
 strip off the colour and the skin
 take the brown hair and the blue eye

 and leave me simpler than at birth,
 when hairless I came howling in
 as the moon came in the cold sky.

 Of my skeleton perhaps
 so stripped, a learned man may say
 "He was of such a type and intelligence," no more.

 Thus when in a year collapse
 particular memories, you may
 deduce from the long pain I bore

 the opinion I held, who was my foe
 and what I left, even my appearance
 but incidents will be no guide.

 Time's wrong way telescope will show
 a minute man the years hence
 and by distance simplified.

 Through the lens see if I seem
 substance or nothing: of the world
 deserving mention or charitable oblivion

 not by momentary spleen
 or love into decision hurled
 leisurely arrive at an opinion.

 Remember me when I am dead
 and simplify me when I am dead.
-- Keith Douglas
Here's a poem that I first read in high school and which spurred my
consequent obsession with poetry. The reason I really like Keith Douglas is
because of his rawness of emotion. It is almost as if his poems document the
very moment when a truth must have become evident to him. It is possible
that this is so because all we have are his early works -- lacking the
maturity or perhaps, the practice that comes with age, due to his untimely
death.

best
swati chaudhary

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keith_Douglas

Call Me by My True Names -- Thich Nhat Hanh

Guest poem sent in by Rachael Shaw
(Poem #1944) Call Me by My True Names
 Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
 because even today I still arrive.

 Look deeply: I arrive in every second
 to be a bud on a spring branch,
 to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
 learning to sing in my new nest,
 to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
 to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

 I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
 in order to fear and to hope.
 The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
 death of all that are alive.

 I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
 and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
 to eat the mayfly.

 I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
 and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
 feeds itself on the frog.

 I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
 my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
 and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

 I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
 who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
 and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

 I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
 and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
 dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

 My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
 My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

 Please call me by my true names,
 so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
 so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

 Please call me by my true names,
 so I can wake up,
 and so the door of my heart can be left open,
 the door of compassion.
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk. His lifelong efforts to generate
peace moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize
in 1967. He is the author of over 75 books.

This poem was sent to me by a friend recently when I was becoming frustrated
with someone's judgmental approach to a client of mine that was due to be
executed. Hanh's poem is essentially about understanding. It is about not
judging one for their crime but rather seeing what got them to that point.
Working with prisoners on death row, one learns that the prisoners come from
neglect, abuse and poverty. Hanh explains that if raised under these
circumstances, one may end up like this also.

I interpret this poem as encouraging the practice of deep empathy for those we
have trouble understanding. Hahn is urging us to treat everyone kindly and look
at all living beings with eyes of compassion.

Rachael Shaw

[Links]
  Information on Thich Nhat Hanh
    http://www.seaox.com/thich.html

  Publisher of Thich Nhat Hanh books
    http://www.parallax.org/

Dead Man's Chest -- Robert Louis Stevenson

       
(Poem #1943) Dead Man's Chest
 Fifteen men on the dead man's chest--
   Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
 Drink and the devil had done for the rest--
   Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
Given that "poetry included in works of fiction" is a genre that both Thomas
and I rate very highly, it is surprising that this little scrap of verse has
not been run before. Written as part of Stevenson's classic (and brilliant -
if you haven't read it yet, do so!) "Treasure Island", it has become the
canonical pirate song, with a fame and popularity that almost eclipses that
of the book itself.

Wikipedia has a bit of research on the song that is worth quoting in full:

  In the novel Treasure Island, the full song is not reported. The chorus
  is given in full.

  The book records only one other phrase from the song, near its end:
  "But one man of her crew alive, What put to sea with seventy-five."

  According to research done by Skip Henderson there is an actual
  "legend" behind the song. The legend, which was possibly devised by
  Stevenson himself, says that the rhyme tells the tale of a time when
  Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard, marooned a shipload of
  mutineers on Dead Man's Chest Island, a barren rock in Deadman's Bay
  on Peter Island near Tortola. The island has high cliffs, no trees,
  sparse vegetation and no fresh water. The men were equipped with only
  a single cutlass and a bottle of rum each. The intent was, one would
  assume, that the men would either starve or kill each other in a
  drunken brawl. A month later Teach returned to find that despite the
  blazing Caribbean sun and lack of supplies, fifteen men had survived.
  The shanty tells in part what became of the rest.

The richness and attention to detail involved in constructing an entire
iceberg to push four lines of verse to the surface are reminiscent of
Tolkien, and they give the song a similar appeal, making it both an
integral and organic part of the book and an excellent piece of verse in
its own right.

martin

[Links]

The complete text of Treasure Island:
  http://www.literatureproject.com/treasure-island/

Wikipedia entry:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Man's_Chest

An expansion of Stevenson's fragment:
  http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/45732-Young-Ewing-Allison-Derelict

A Daydream -- Emily Bronte

Guest poem sent in by Neha Khanna
(Poem #1942) A Daydream
 On a sunny brae alone I lay
 One summer afternoon;
 It was the marriage-time of May,
 With her young lover, June.

 From her mother's heart seemed loath to part
 That queen of bridal charms,
 But her father smiled on the fairest child
 He ever held in his arms.

 The trees did wave their plumy crests,
 The glad birds carolled clear;
 And I, of all the wedding guests,
 Was only sullen there!

 There was not one, but wished to shun
 My aspect void of cheer;
 The very gray rocks, looking on,
 Asked, "What do you here?"

 And I could utter no reply;
 In sooth, I did not know
 Why I had brought a clouded eye
 To greet the general glow.

 So, resting on a heathy bank,
 I took my heart to me;
 And we together sadly sank
 Into a reverie.

 We thought, "When winter comes again,
 Where will these bright things be?
 All vanished, like a vision vain,
 An unreal mockery!

 "The birds that now so blithely sing,
 Through deserts, frozen dry,
 Poor spectres of the perished spring,
 In famished troops will fly.

 "And why should we be glad at all?
 The leaf is hardly green,
 Before a token of its fall
 Is on the surface seen!"

 Now, whether it were really so,
 I never could be sure;
 But as in fit of peevish woe,
 I stretched me on the moor,

 A thousand thousand gleaming fires
 Seemed kindling in the air;
 A thousand thousand silvery lyres
 Resounded far and near:

 Methought, the very breath I breathed
 Was full of sparks divine,
 And all my heather-couch was wreathed
 By that celestial shine!

 And, while the wide earth echoing rung
 To that strange minstrelsy
 The little glittering spirits sung,
 Or seemed to sing, to me:

 "O mortal! mortal! let them die;
 Let time and tears destroy,
 That we may overflow the sky
 With universal joy!

 "Let grief distract the sufferer's breast,
 And night obscure his way;
 They hasten him to endless rest,
 And everlasting day.

 "To thee the world is like a tomb,
 A desert's naked shore;
 To us, in unimagined bloom,
 It brightens more and more!

 "And, could we lift the veil, and give
 One brief glimpse to thine eye,
 Thou wouldst rejoice for those that live,
 BECAUSE they live to die."

 The music ceased; the noonday dream,
 Like dream of night, withdrew;
 But Fancy, still, will sometimes deem
 Her fond creation true.
-- Emily Bronte
Note: brae (n., Scots): a hillside

The most interesting bit in this poem, for me, is in these lines -

  "Now, whether it were really so,
  I never could be sure;"

I wonder, why does the poet say this when the entire "May marrying June"
sequence would appear fantastic enough to most of us? Is the section above
these lines to be taken as 'factual reporting', and the section from these
lines onwards as a 'fancy'?

  "But Fancy, still, will sometimes deem
  Her fond creation true."

Other than that, I find that the language is simple; the rhyming makes it very
hummable. The descriptions are very vivid, as if she stood there and she saw a
wedding. It is as if she is pointing towards the greens in spring and telling
you their history (like someone would point at an ancient palace and say "here
is where that king lived"). And then she turns towards you with her eyes wide
and tells you something you are never going to believe (and that someone then
turns to you and says "no one really knows - but people still hear sounds on
moonlit nights...").

Neha

The Return -- Ezra Pound

Guest poem sent in by Ray Williams
(Poem #1941) The Return
 See, they return; ah, see the tentative
 Movements, and the slow feet,
 The trouble in the pace and the uncertain
 Wavering!

 See, they return, one, and by one,
 With fear, as half-awakened;
 As if the snow should hesitate
 And murmur in the wind,
 and turn half back;
 These were the 'Wing'd-with-Awe',
 Inviolable,

 Gods of the wing├ęd shoe!
 With them the silver hounds,
 sniffing the trace of air!

 Haie! Haie!
 These were the swift to harry;
 These the keen-scented;
 These were the souls of blood.

 Slow on the leash,
 pallid the leash-men!
-- Ezra Pound
Many years ago, when I was preparing for my matriculation at high school, we
had an anthology of poems to study. Several have stuck with me through my
life for one or other reason. One such is The Return by Ezra Pound. It came
to mind the other day when Rumsfeld walked off the stage after announcing
his intention to resign.

I can't remember what analysis we did of the poem, and I'm not sure that I
could give any erudite comments on the style. I simply find the rather
plain language much more telling of the emotion than in other poems about the
horror of war. Just a simple vignette of warriors returning.

Ray Williams

[Links]

Biography:
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezra_Pound