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John Anderson My Jo -- Robert Burns

continuing the Scottish theme...
(Poem #19) John Anderson My Jo
John Anderson my jo, John,
    When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
    Your bonny brow was brent;
But now your brow is bled, John,
    Your locks are like the straw,
But blessings on your frosty pow,
    John Anderson my jo!

John Anderson my jo, John,
    We clamb the hill thegither
And monie a cantie day, John,
    We've had wi' ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
    And hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
    John Anderson my jo!
-- Robert Burns
Glossary of Scots words:

jo - joy, sweetheart (a favourite of Scrabble players :-))
acquent - acquainted
brent - smooth
beld - bald
pow - head
cantie - cheerful
maun - must

Not many Englishmen remember the Bard's birthday (the 23rd of April, if
you *must* know), but any Scotsman worth his haggis will tell you that
Robert Burns was born on the 25th of January - Burns Day. Indeed, Burns'
reputation as a national poet has just gone up and up, ever since he
dazzled Edinburgh society at the age of 26 with the publication of
'Highland Ballads' (a collection of his own verse and his adaptations of
traditional Scottish lyrics (over 200 of them!) collected painstakingly
over the years).

Burns was one of the forerunners of the Romantic movement, a fact that's
very evident in his verse - his use of dialect (some of which, to be
frank, would be as untelligible to his original Edinburgh audience as it
is to us today), his glorification of sensuality, his love of food and
drink and song, of toasting and carousing, his passion for all things
Scottish... yet through it all he remains a wonderfully lyrical poet.
His phrases reverberate in your head lng after the *content* of his
poems is forgotten.


Bagpipe Music -- Louis MacNeice

The second of our guest poems, sent in by Anustup Datta
(Poem #18) Bagpipe Music
   It's no go the merrygoround, it's no go the rickshaw,
   All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
   Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
   Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with head of bison.

   John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
   Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
   Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whiskey,
   Kept its bones for dumbbells to use when he was fifty.

   It's no go the Yogi-man, it's no go Blavatsky,
   All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

   Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
   Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
   It's no go your maidenheads, it's no go your culture,
   All we want is a Dunlop tire and the devil mend the puncture.

   The Laird o' Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
   Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
   Mrs. Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
   Said to the midwife "Take it away; I'm through with overproduction."

   It's no go the gossip column, it's no go the Ceilidh,(1)
   All we want is a mother's help and a sugar-stick for the baby.

   Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn't count the damage,
   Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
   His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish, (2)
   Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

   It's no go the Herring Board, it's no go the Bible,
   All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

   It's no go the picture palace, it's no go the stadium,
   It's no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
   It's no go the Government grants, it's no go the elections,
   Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

   It's no go my honey love, it's no go my poppet;
   Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
   The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever,
   But if you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather.
-- Louis MacNeice

     (1) Caelidh : pronounced 'kaley', Gaelic term for a round of
     gossiping visits.

     (2) cran : a measure for the quantity of just-caught herrings.


     This poem is by Louis MacNeice (1907-1963), one of the great
     modern Scottish poets. It is set in in Scotland in the 1930's,
     they years of the Depression, years which led up to the Munich
     crisis if 1938 and the outbreak of WWII in 1939. The poem found
     an honoured place in a wonderful recent anthology of "Poetry to
     be Read Aloud".

     I really love the poem's vigorous meter and its wonderful sound
     - you can actually hear the bagpipes playing in the background.
     Definitely a poem to read aloud. In a weird way, one is reminded
     of the poetry of Philip Larkin, of whom more later.


The Way Through the Woods -- Rudyard Kipling

(Poem #17) The Way Through the Woods
They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate.
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods . . . .
But there is no road through the woods.
-- Rudyard Kipling
This is a totally uncharacteristic example of Kipling's work - it is imbued
with a delicate wistfulness and a misty twilit atmosphere very much at
variance with the drive and energy of such better known poems as 'East and
West', 'If' or 'Danny Deever'. It is nonetheless a lovely piece, and would
rank among my favourite Kipling poems if I ever felt myself able to make a

Biographical Note:

  Much of his childhood was unhappy. Kipling was taken to England by his
  parents at the age of six and was left for five years at a foster home at
  Southsea ... He then went on to the United Services College at Westward
  Ho, north Devon, a new, inexpensive, and inferior boarding school. It
  haunted Kipling for the rest of his life--but always as the glorious place
  celebrated in Stalky & Co. (1899) and related stories: an unruly paradise
  in which the highest goals of English education are met amid a tumult of
  teasing, bullying, and beating.

  Kipling returned to India in 1882 and worked for seven years as a
  journalist. His parents, although not officially important, belonged to
  the highest Anglo-Indian society, and Rudyard thus had opportunities for
  exploring the whole range of that life. All the while he had remained
  keenly observant of the thronging spectacle of native India, which had
  engaged his interest and affection from earliest childhood. He was quickly
  filling the journals he worked for with prose sketches and light verse.

  When Kipling returned to England in 1889, his reputation had preceded him,
  and within a year he was acclaimed as one of the most brilliant prose
  writers of his time. His fame was redoubled upon the publication of the
  verse collection 'Barrack-Room Ballads' in 1892. Not since the English
  poet Lord Byron had such a reputation been achieved so rapidly. When the
  poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson died in 1892, it may be said that
  Kipling took his place in popular estimation.
        -- excerpts from the Encyclopaedia Britannica


  Kipling's poems and stories were extraordinarily popular in the late 19th
  and early 20th century, but after World War I his reputation as a serious
  writer suffered through his being widely viewed as a jingoistic
  imperialist. As a poet he scarcely ranks high, although his rehabilitation
  was attempted by so distinguished a critic as T.S. Eliot. His verse is
  indeed vigorous, and in dealing with the lives and colloquial speech of
  common soldiers and sailors it broke new ground. But balladry, music-hall
  song, and popular hymnology provide its unassuming basis; and even at its
  most serious--as in "Recessional" (1897) and similar pieces in which
  Kipling addressed himself to his fellow countrymen in times of crisis--the
  effect is rhetorical rather than imaginative.
          -- Encyclopaedia Britannica

  1907 Nobel Laureate in Literature ...

  ... in consideration of the power of observation, originality of
  imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which
  characterize the creations of this world-famous author.

  (from The Nobel Prize Internet Archive, which gave no source.
  <> )


p.s. No, this is not by any means the first and last this list shall see of

Full Fathom Five -- William Shakespeare

(Poem #16) Full Fathom Five
Full fathom five thy father lies;
    Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
    Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them - ding-dong, bell.
-- William Shakespeare
from 'The Tempest'.

Most people are familiar with Shakespeare as a great playwright,
unquestionably the greatest who ever lived. What's not so commonly
realized, though, is that he was also a wonderful poet, not just of
words of sounds, but of meanings and ideas. In addition to the sonnets,
he filled his plays with lyrical songs (like today's poem) and marvelous
flights of imagery; the Bard's language is every bit as beautiful as his
insights are deep.

'The Tempest' was Shakespeare's last play (unless you count 'Henry
VIII', which has recently been added to the canon), and it marks a
departure in style and content from the great tragedies. Sadly, I
haven't studied the play in detail... I just enjoy the words as they
are, without delving into their deeper levels of significance.

One final digression: many people think Shakespeare is hopelessly
archaic and/or completely inaccessible. This is simply not true. I
myself had the enormous good fortune of studying 'Macbeth' exhaustively
while in high school, and it was one of the most rewarding explorations
of my life. You should all try to spend some time with the Bard, using a
good annotated edition of his plays - believe me, it'll be worth it.


The Eagle (a fragment) -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

(Poem #15) The Eagle (a fragment)
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
For sheer concentrated imagery this poem is hard to beat - I especially like
lines 2 and 3. Tennyson is reported to have said that while people have
written better poetry than he has, no one has written poetry that *sounds*
better, and I'm inclined to agree with him - for other lovely examples, read
'The Brook', 'Break, break, break' and 'The Lady of Shallott'. (The latter
two may be found online at
<> ; if
anyone knows where to find an online copy of the former do let me know.)

I have, incidentally, seen at least one version in which line 1 reads
'hooked hands', suggesting that Tennyson revised the poem at some time.
'Crooked' is by far the more accepted version, though.

Biographical Notes:

 Relevant extracts from
 <[broken link]>

  Since Tennyson was always sensitive to criticism, the mixed reception of his
  1832 Poems hurt him greatly. Critics in those days delighted in the
  harshness of their reviews: the Quarterly Review was known as the "Hang,
  draw, and quarterly." John Wilson Croker's harsh criticisms of some of the
  poems in our anthology kept Tennyson from publishing again for another nine
  The success of his 1842 Poems made Tennyson a popular poet, and in 1845 he
  received a Civil List (government) pension of £200 a year, which helped
  relieve his financial difficulties; the success of "The Princess" and In
  Memoriam and his appointment in 1850 as Poet Laureate finally established
  him as the most popular poet of the Victorian era.

  By now Tennyson, only 41, had written some of his greatest poetry, but he
  continued to write and to gain in popularity.

  [Prince Albert's] admiration for Tennyson's poetry helped solidify his
  position as the national poet, and Tennyson returned the favor by dedicating
  "The Idylls of the King" to his memory. Queen Victoria later summoned him to
  court several times, and at her insistence he accepted his title, having
  declined it when offered by both Disraeli and Gladstone.
  Tennyson suffered from extreme short-sightedness--without a monocle he could
  not even see to eat--which gave him considerable difficulty writing and
  reading, and this disability in part accounts for his manner of creating
  poetry: Tennyson composed much of his poetry in his head, occasionally
  working on individual poems for many years. During his undergraduate days at
  Cambridge he often did not bother to write down his compositions, although
  the Apostles continually prodded him to do so. (We owe the first version of
  "The Lotos-Eaters" to Arthur Hallam, who transcribed it while Tennyson
  declaimed it at a meeting of the Apostles.)


   We still look to the earlier masters for supreme excellence in particular
   directions: to Wordsworth for sublime philosophy, to Coleridge for ethereal
   magic, to Byron for passion, to Shelley for lyric intensity, to Keats for
   richness. Tennyson does not excel each of these in his own special field,
   but he is often nearer to the particular man in his particular mastery than
   anyone else can be said to be, and he has in addition his own special field
   of supremacy. What this is cannot be easily defined; it consists, perhaps,
   in the beauty of the atmosphere which Tennyson contrives to cast around his
   work, molding it in the blue mystery of twilight, in the opaline haze of
   sunset: this atmosphere, suffused over his poetry with inestimable skill
   and with a tact rarely at fault, produces an almost unfailing illusion or
   mirage of loveliness.

   -- Edmond Gosse, "Tennyson," in the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia


Prologue -- Dylan Thomas

(Poem #14) Prologue
This day winding down now
At God speeded summer's end
In the torrent salmon sun,
In my seashaken house
On a breakneck of rocks
Tangled with chirrup and fruit,
Froth, flute, fin, and quill
At a wood's dancing hoof,
By scummed, starfish sands
With their fishwife cross
Gulls, pipers, cockles, and snails,
Out there, crow black, men
Tackled with clouds, who kneel
To the sunset nets,
Geese nearly in heaven, boys
Stabbing, and herons, and shells
That speak seven seas,
Eternal waters away
From the cities of nine
Days' night whose towers will catch
In the religious wind
Like stalks of tall, dry straw,
At poor peace I sing
To you strangers (though song
Is a burning and crested act,
The fire of birds in
The world's turning wood,
For my swan, splay sounds),
Out of these seathumbed leaves
That will fly and fall
Like leaves of trees and as soon
Crumble and undie
Into the dogdayed night.
Seaward the salmon, sucked sun slips,
And the dumb swans drub blue
My dabbed bay's dusk, as I hack
This rumpus of shapes
For you to know
How I, a spining man,
Glory also this star, bird
Roared, sea born, man torn, blood blest.
Hark: I trumpet the place,
From fish to jumping hill! Look:
I build my bellowing ark
To the best of my love
As the flood begins,
Out of the fountainhead
Of fear, rage read, manalive,
Molten and mountainous to stream
Over the wound asleep
Sheep white hollow farms

To Wales in my arms.
Hoo, there, in castle keep,
You king singsong owls, who moonbeam
The flickering runs and dive
The dingle furred deer dead!
Huloo, on plumbed bryns,
O my ruffled ring dove
in the hooting, nearly dark
With Welsh and reverent rook,
Coo rooning the woods' praise,
who moons her blue notes from her nest
Down to the curlew herd!
Ho, hullaballoing clan
Agape, with woe
In your beaks, on the gabbing capes!
Heigh, on horseback hill, jack
Whisking hare! who
Hears, there, this fox light, my flood ship's
Clangour as I hew and smite
(A clash of anvils for my
Hubbub and fiddle, this tune
On a toungued puffball)
But animals thick as theives
On God's rough tumbling grounds
(Hail to His beasthood!).
Beasts who sleep good and thin,
Hist, in hogback woods! The haystacked
Hollow farms in a throng
Of waters cluck and cling,
And barnroofs cockcrow war!
O kingdom of neighbors finned
Felled and quilled, flash to my patch
Work ark and the moonshine
Drinking Noah of the bay,
With pelt, and scale, and fleece:
Only the drowned deep bells
Of sheep and churches noise
Poor peace as the sun sets
And dark shoals every holy field.
We will ride out alone then,
Under the stars of Wales,
Cry, multitudes of arks! Across
The water lidded lands,
Manned with their loves they'll move
Like wooden islands, hill to hill.
Hulloo, my prowed dove with a flute!
Ahoy, old, sea-legged fox,
Tom tit and Dai mouse!
My ark sings in the sun
At God speeded summer's end
And the flood flowers now.
-- Dylan Thomas
This was Thomas' own prologue to his 'Collected Poems' (1952).

Dylan Thomas was in love with words. He loved their sound and their
texture, and his poems, though often dense and impenetrable in content,
were never anything less than beautiful in their intricate soundscapes.
He has often been accused of deliberate obscurity, due to his technique
of using words more for their connotations and rhythmic/melodic
properties than for their 'meanings'; nevertheless, he remains one of
the most popular poets of this century.

I don't think I've ever read a better poetic description of the
countryside than that in 'Prologue'. Thomas had a keen awareness of his
role as a modern-day bard; indeed, many of his poems resound with the
quality of 'hwyl', a style of high-flown rhetoric much used in
traditional Celtic ballads and epics. 'Prologue' displays this quality
in buckets, and underlying it all is Thomas' deep and abiding love for
his Wales.

"One: I am a Welshman;
Two: I am a drunkard;
Three: I am a lover of the human race, especially of women."
    - Dylan Thomas

Biographical Note:

Dylan Marlais Thomas was born in the Welsh seaport of Swansea on October
27, 1914. One of the best-known British poets of the mid-20th century,
he is remembered for his highly original, obscure poems, his amusing
prose tales and plays, and his turbulent, well-publicized personal life.

His most popular works include the radio play "Under Milk Wood"
(posthumously published, 1954) and the sketch "A Child's Christmas in
Wales" (1955), but his more ambitious work consists of the complex poems
in which he expressed a deeply romantic vision.

Beginning in 1949, Thomas visited the United States several times,
touring college campuses to read his poetry. Widely known for his
powerful poetry readings over BBC radio, he became a popular, if
controversial, figure. He died at the age of 39 on November 9, 1953 in
New York City after a period of depression and heavy drinking.


The Highwayman -- Alfred Noyes

(Poem #13) The Highwayman
  The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
  The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
  The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
  And the highwayman came riding--
  The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.

  He'd a French cocked hat on his forehead, and a bunch of lace at his chin;
  He'd a coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of fine doe-skin.
  They fitted with never a wrinkle; his boots were up to his thigh!
  And he rode with a jeweled twinkle--
  His rapier hilt a-twinkle--
  His pistol butts a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.

  Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
  He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred,
  He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
  But the landlord's black-eyed daughter--
  Bess, the landlord's daughter--
  Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

  Dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
  Where Tim, the ostler listened--his face was white and peaked--
  His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
  But he loved the landlord's daughter--
  The landlord's black-eyed daughter;
  Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say:

  "One kiss, my bonny sweetheart; I'm after a prize tonight,
  But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light.
  Yet if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
  Then look for me by moonlight,
  Watch for me by moonlight,
  I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."

  He stood upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
  But she loosened her hair in the casement! His face burnt like a brand
  As the sweet black waves of perfume came tumbling o'er his breast,
  Then he kissed its waves in the moonlight
  (O sweet black waves in the moonlight!),
  And he tugged at his reins in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

  He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon.
  And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
  When the road was a gypsy's ribbon over the purple moor,
  The redcoat troops came marching--
  King George's men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

  They said no word to the landlord; they drank his ale instead,
  But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed.
  Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets by their side;
  There was Death at every window,
  And Hell at one dark window,
  For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

  They had bound her up at attention, with many a sniggering jest!
  They had tied a rifle beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
  "Now keep good watch!" and they kissed her. She heard the dead man say,
  "Look for me by moonlight,
  Watch for me by moonlight,
  I'll come to thee by moonlight, though Hell should bar the way."

  She twisted her hands behind her, but all the knots held good!
  She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
  They stretched and strained in the darkness,
                                        and the hours crawled by like years,
  Till, on the stroke of midnight,
  Cold on the stroke of midnight,
  The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

  The tip of one finger touched it, she strove no more for the rest;
  Up, she stood up at attention, with the barrel beneath her breast.
  She would not risk their hearing, she would not strive again,
  For the road lay bare in the moonlight,
  Blank and bare in the moonlight,
  And the blood in her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love's refrain.

  Tlot tlot, tlot tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hooves, ringing clear;
  Tlot tlot, tlot tlot, in the distance! Were they deaf that they did not hear?
  Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
  The highwayman came riding--
  The redcoats looked to their priming! She stood up straight and still.

  Tlot tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot tlot, in the echoing night!
  Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
  Her eyes grew wide for a moment, she drew one last deep breath,
  Then her finger moved in the moonlight--
  Her musket shattered the moonlight--
  Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him--with her death.

  He turned, he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
  Bowed, with her head o'er the casement, drenched in her own red blood!
  Not till the dawn did he hear it, and his face grew grey to hear
  How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
  The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
  Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

  Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
  With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
  Blood-red were his spurs in the golden noon, wine-red was his velvet coat
  When they shot him down in the highway,
  Down like a dog in the highway,
  And he lay in his blood in the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

  And still on a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
  When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
  When the road is a gypsy's ribbon looping the purple moor,
  The highwayman comes riding--
  The highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

  Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard,
  He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred,
  He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
  But the landlord's black-eyed daughter--
  Bess, the landlord's daughter--
  Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
-- Alfred Noyes
This is a poem I can rarely glance at without reading all the way through,
and can rarely read without a shiver. It is also, IMHO, one of Noyes' most
perfect poems, in terms of effortless, compelling rhythm and simple, yet
wonderfully lyrical phrases. Loreena McKennitt has a hauntingly beautiful
version on her album 'The Book of Secrets'.

Biographical Notes:

  English poet, a traditionalist remembered chiefly for his lyrical verse.

  Noyes' first volume of poems, The Loom of Years (1902), published
  while he was still at the University of Oxford, was followed by others
  that showed patriotic fervour and a love for the sea. He taught modern
  English literature at Princeton University in the United States from 1914
  to 1923. Of Noyes's later works, the most notable is the epic trilogy The
  Torch-Bearers (1922-30), which took as its theme the progress of
  science through the ages. His autobiography, Two Worlds for Memory,
  appeared in 1953.
        -- Encyclopaedia Britannica


  Alfred Noyes was born at Staffordshire, September 16, 1880. He is one of
  the few contemporary poets who have been fortunate enough to write a kind
  of poetry that is not only saleable but popular with many classes of
  What is most appealing about his best verse is its ease and heartiness;
  this singer's gift lies in the almost personal bond established between
  the poet and his public. People have such a good time reading his
  vivacious lines because Noyes had such a good time writing them.
        -- Louis Untermeyer, Modern British Poetry

And, in contradistinction

  His first book, The Loom of Years (1902), was published when he was only
  22 years old, and Poems (1904) intensified the promise of his first
  publication. Swinburne, grown old and living in retirement, was so struck
  with Noyes's talent that he had the young poet out to read to him.
  Unfortunately, Noyes has not developed his gifts as deeply as his admirers
  have hoped. His poetry, extremely straightforward and rhythmical, has
  often degenerated into cheap sentimentalities and cheaper tirades; it has
  frequently attempted to express programs and profundities far beyond
  Noyes's power.
        -- ibid.

  [See <> for the whole
   essay, which is longish]


On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer -- John Keats

the first 'famous' poem that i'm sending...
(Poem #12) On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
    Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold.
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
    He star'd at the Pacific - and all his men
    Look'd at each other with a wild surmise -
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
-- John Keats
from 'Poems', 1817

This is easily one of the two most beautifully evocative poems I've ever
read, the other one being Coleridge's 'Kublai Khan' . It's no
coincidence that both poems were written within a few years of each
other, by poets who would come to symbolize their time: the Romantic
Revolution of the early 18th century occasioned a paradigm shift in the
theory of poetic expression, and the Romantic poets (Byron, Shelley,
Keats, Coleridge and Wordsworth, among others) consciously strove to
express their innermost feelings through their verse. And although I
don't care much for the Romantics per se, I have to admit that I'm
deeply moved by the best of their verse.

Coming back to today's poem... Keats was (even among the Romantics)
acknowledged to be the master of the evocative phrase; much of his
poetry is as pure as music. Not for him the metaphysics of Shelley, the
lushness of Byron, the down-to-earth genius of Wordsworth, or the
flights of fancy of Coleridge: Keats was a poet in the purest sense of
the word - a minstrel of the emotions.

'On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer' - well, I think that every
single phrase of this poem is as close to perfection as it's possible to
get. The very last line is simply sublime. I can say no more.


PS. One of these days I'll write and send an essay on various movements
in the history of poetry - ie, the metaphysical poets, the romantics,
the imagists, the beats... just give me time, give me time.

In Flanders Fields -- John McCrae

The first of our guest poems, sent in by Sameer Siruguri
(Poem #11) In Flanders Fields
   In Flanders fields the poppies blow
   Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
   Scarce heard amid the guns below.

   We are the Dead. Short days ago
   We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
   In Flanders Fields.

   Take up our quarrel with the foe:
   To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
   We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
   In Flanders Fields.
-- John McCrae
I like the marching rhythm of this poem - short, insistent and conveying a
mixture of inspiration and command. The imagery of the poppies in the field
(esp. in the last stanza) is really beautiful, echoing the contrast between the
exhuberance of Nature and the solemnity of Death, which the soldiers on the
lush fields in Ypres must have felt very strongly.  I suggested this poem about
a week ago and have since seen "Saving Private Ryan", and that has increased
the poignancy of it somewhat for me.

Excerpts from:

"In Flanders Fields" was first published in England's "Punch" magazine in
December, 1915. Within months, this poem came to symbolize the sacrifices of
all who were fighting in the First World War.
In April 1915, John McCrae was in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in the area
traditionally called Flanders. Some of the heaviest fighting of the First World
War took place there during that was known as the Second Battle of Ypres
[considered a turning point for the Allies in WW1].
Before he died, John McCrae had the satisfaction of knowing that his poem had
been a success. Soon after its publication, it became the most popular poem on
the First World War. It was translated into many languages and used on
billboards advertising the sale of the first Victory Loan Bonds in Canada in
1917. Designed to raise $150,000,000, the campaign raised $400,000,000.
In part because of the poem's popularity, the poppy was adopted as the Flower
of Remembrance for the war dead of Britain, France, the United States, Canada
and other Commonwealth countries.


On His Seventy-fifth Birthday -- Walter Savage Landor

(Poem #10) On His Seventy-fifth Birthday
  I strove with none, for none was worth my strife;
  Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
  I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;
  It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
-- Walter Savage Landor
Alternatively titled 'Dying Speech of an Old Philosopher', and one of
Landor's best known works. Landor has written a number of short,
epigrammatic poems, of which this is my favourite - for some other nice
examples see <[broken link]>
I don't care too much for his longer poems, though - they lack the
concentrated beauty of the short ones, and tend to lose me early on.

Biographical Note:
  Educated at Rugby School and at the University of Oxford, both of which he
  left after disagreement with school officials, Landor spent a lifetime
  quarreling with his father, neighbours, wife, and any authorities at hand
  who offended him. [casts a particularly ironic light on the poem - m.]
  Paradoxically, though, he won the friendship of literary men from Robert
  Southey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Charles Lamb among the Romantics to
  Charles Dickens and Robert Browning. A proficient classicist from boyhood,
  he wrote many of his English works originally in Latin. He wrote lyrics,
  plays, and heroic poems, but Imaginary Conversations, 2 vol. (1824; vol.
  3, 1828; and thereafter sporadically to 1853), was his great work.

  Of writers who might be called surviving classicists, the most notable is
  Walter Savage Landor, whose detached, lapidary style is seen at its
  best in some brief lyrics and in a series of erudite Imaginary
  Conversations, which began to appear in 1824.

                        -- Encyclopaedia Britannica

And finally, a second opinion:

  Walter Savage Landor

  Upon the work of Walter Landor
  I am unfit to write with candor.
  If you can read it, well and good;
  But as for me, I never could.
          -- Dorothy Parker


La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl) -- T S Eliot

Funny that Martin should bring up the Pre-Raphaelites, 'cos my next
choice is a poem which... well, read on.
(Poem #9) La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair -
Lean on a garden urn -
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair -
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained suprise -
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.

So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and a shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight, and the noon's repose.
-- T S Eliot
from 'Prufrock and Other Observations', 1917.

The image in the first stanza reminds me irresistibly of the
Brotherhood; to know exactly why, visit for a brief review of the
Pre-Raphaelites (and several pictures which capture their aesthetic

From the second stanza onwards we move into familiar Eliotesque terrain
- the explorations of time, faith, love and other Big Things. Despite
these metaphysical excursions, the poem remains free of allusion and
cross-referencing to a remarkable extent (for Eliot), and is still airy
and light in tenor.

For me, though, the whole impact of the poem hinges on the first verse,
which I think is simply beautiful.


Song -- Christina Rosetti

(Poem #8) Song
  When I am dead, my dearest,
    Sing no sad songs for me;
  Plant thou no roses at my head,
    Nor shady cypress tree:
  Be the green grass above me
    With showers and dewdrops wet;
  And if thou wilt, remember,
    And if thou wilt, forget.

  I shall not see the shadows,
    I shall not feel the rain;
  I shall not hear the nightingale
    Sing on, as if in pain:
  And dreaming through the twilight
    That doth not rise nor set,
  Haply I may remember,
    And haply may forget.
-- Christina Rosetti
A lovely if somewhat sentimental poem. Not perhaps as famous as 'Goblin
Market', it is nonetheless a nice example of Rosetti's style - somewhat
melancholy, and permeated by the twilit boundary between life and death,
waking and sleep. It is interesting to contrast her poems with those of
Thomas Hardy, who took a similar but far harsher view of death and oblivion.

Biographical Note: Christina Rosetti, like her more famous brother Dante
Gabriel Rosetti, belonged to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Her 'Goblin
Market' was the first major success of the Brotherhood, and one she never
quite equaled.

  Perhaps she realized that she was unable to write anything better than
  "Goblin Market," or perhaps her "failure" to surpass herself is explained by
  her turn away from poetry to children's stories and religious materials.
                        -- David Cody, on The Victorian Web

See <[broken link]>


Scarborough Fair -- Anonymous

(Poem #7) Scarborough Fair
Are you going to Scarborough fair?
    (Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
Remember me to one who lives there;
She once was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
    (Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
Without no seams, nor needlework;
Then she'll be a true love of mine.

Tell her to find me an acre of land
    (Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
Between the salt water and the sea strand;
Then she'll be a true love of mine.

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
    (Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
And gather it all with a rope made of heather;
Then she'll be a true love of mine.

Are you going to Scarborough fair?
    (Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
Remember me to one who lives there;
She once was a true love of mine.
-- Anonymous
The ballad form is one of my favourites, and this poem is an excellent
example of one. The use of a refrain (in the second and fourth lines of
each stanza) is typical of the genre, as is the poignancy of the lyrics.

Of course, the fact that Simon & Garfunkel have recorded a truly sublime
acoustic version of this song helps :-).


Ode -- Arthur O'Shaughnessy

(Poem #6) Ode
    We are the music-makers,
    And we are the dreamers of dreams,
    Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
    And sitting by desolate streams.
    World-losers and world-forsakers,
    Upon whom the pale moon gleams;
    Yet we are the movers and shakers,
    Of the world forever, it seems.

    With wonderful deathless ditties
    We build up the world's great cities,
    And out of a fabulous story
    We fashion an empire's glory:
    One man with a dream, at pleasure,
    Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
    And three with a new song's measure
    Can trample an empire down.

    We, in the ages lying
    In the buried past of the earth,
    Built Nineveh with our sighing,
    And Babel itself with our mirth;
    And o'erthrew them with prophesying
    To the old of the new world's worth;
    For each age is a dream that is dying,
    Or one that is coming to birth.
-- Arthur O'Shaughnessy
Another of my favourites - this is truly a poem that sings. The first two
lines, in particular, I rank among the most beautiful I've come across.

A brief biographical note:

The Irish-English singer, Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy, was born in
London in 1844. He was connected, for a while, with the British Museum,
and was transferred later to the Department of Natural History. His first
literary success, Epic of Women (1870), promised a brilliant future for
the young poet, a promise strengthened by his Music and Moonlight (1874).
Always delicate in health, his hopes were dashed by periods of illness and
an early death in London in 1881.

[Ode] is not only O'Shaughnessy's best, but is, because of its perfect
blending of music and message, one of the immortal classics of our verse.

                        -- Louis Untermeyer (ed.), 'Modern British Poetry'

Chicago -- Carl Sandburg

(Poem #5) Chicago
        Hog Butcher for the World,
        Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
        Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
        Stormy, husky, brawling,
        City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
        have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
        luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
        is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
        kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
        faces of women and children I have seen the marks
        of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
        sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
        and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
        so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
        job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
        little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
        as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
                Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
        white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
        man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
        never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
        and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
        Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
        Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
        Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.
-- Carl Sandburg
from 'the chicago poems', published 1916.

this poem was submitted as an entry for a poetry competition organized
by the chicago town hall in 1910; it won first prize, and sandburg's
career as a poet had begun.

i like it for its rhythm and energy. the contrast with european poetry
of the same period is remarkable. this is a poem that breathes fire.

sandburg's poetic style is an excellent example of the vigorous american
tradition of free verse, starting with whitman and moving on through
ginsberg and dylan. forceful poems like 'chicago' were like a breath of
fresh air to pound and eliot (the architects of the poetic revolution of
the 1920s), inspiring them to break the shackles of victorian prosody
and cut through the insipidity of the georgians with their own distinct


The Road Goes Ever On -- J R R Tolkien

(Poem #4) The Road Goes Ever On
The Road goes ever on and on
    Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
    And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
    Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
    And whither then? I cannot say.
-- J R R Tolkien
from The Lord of the Rings, 1954.

While Tolkien needs no introduction, I feel that his poetry deserves a
wider audience than Middle Earth fan(atic)s. The poem above is surely
one of his best known, and IMHO one of his best.

In the book, it is referred to as the 'walking song', written by Bilbo
and quoted by Frodo. Two other verses can be found, one in the Hobbit
and one at the end of the LotR. There was a wonderful piece of prose
accompanying it, comparing the Road to a river, with every path a
tributary, and every doorstep a spring, which I'd love to have typed in,
but I don't have the book with me.


Inversnaid -- Gerard Manley Hopkins

(Poem #3) Inversnaid
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins
taken from the complete works, published posthumously in 1910 (edited by
robert bridges).

gerard manley hopkins was a jesuit priest and scholar, and his poetic
themes centre around faith, doubt and reason. i like this particular
poem, though, for its sheer lyrical beauty.

hopkins' study of welsh led him to the creation of 'sprung rhythm'
(where metre depends only on the stressed syllables and ignores the
unstressed) and counterpoint. this (and his other structural
innovations) placed him far ahead of his time; indeed, many consider
hopkins to be the father of modern verse.

you can read more about hopkins at
[broken link]


The Listeners -- Walter de la Mare

(Poem #2) The Listeners
'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest's ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
'Is there anybody there?' he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:-
'Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,' he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.
-- Walter de la Mare
One of my all time favourite poems; it recently came second in a poll
some British newspaper (I forget which) ran to determine the ten
best-loved poems. Take a guess at the first (mail me and I'll collate
answers - it would be interesting to see if junta get it).

The imagery finds a nice echo, incidentally, in Loreena McKennit's
'Mummer's Dance', including what is IMHO one of the most beautifully
evocative lines I've heard in a song:

  Who will go down to those shady groves, and summon the shadows there?


PS. The best loved poem: two people guessed 'If', one 'The Road Not Taken',
and Jose got the right one, specifically 'Daffodils'. Personally it would
not even make my top 10 list, but as Jose says, it is indeed a ubiquitous
poem, and most people have studied and enjoyed it at some stage in their


The Song of Wandering Aengus -- William Butler Yeats

(Poem #1) The Song of Wandering Aengus
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
-- William Butler Yeats