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I've Got a Little List -- W S Gilbert

(Poem #135) I've Got a Little List

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
     I've got a little list--I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
     And who never would be missed--who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs--
All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs--
All children who are up in dates, and floor you with 'em flat--
All persons who in shaking hands, shake hands with you like _that_--
And all third persons who on spoiling tete-a-tetes insist--
     They'd none of 'em be missed--they'd none of 'em be missed!

CHORUS.   He's got 'em on the list--he's got 'em on the list;
               And they'll none of 'em be missed--they'll none of
                    'em be missed.

There's the banjo serenader, and the others of his race,
     And the piano-organist--I've got him on the list!
And the people who eat peppermint and puff it in your face,
     They never would be missed--they never would be missed!
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
And the lady from the provinces, who dresses like a guy,
And who "doesn't think she waltzes, but would rather like to
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist--
     I don't think she'd be missed--I'm sure she'd not he missed!

CHORUS.   He's got her on the list--he's got her on the list;
               And I don't think she'll be missed--I'm sure
                    she'll not be missed!

And that Nisi Prius nuisance, who just now is rather rife,
     The Judicial humorist--I've got him on the list!
All funny fellows, comic men, and clowns of private life--
     They'd none of 'em be missed--they'd none of 'em be missed.
And apologetic statesmen of a compromising kind,
Such as--What d'ye call him--Thing'em-bob, and
And 'St--'st--'st--and What's-his-name, and also You-know-who--
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you.
But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list,
     For they'd none of 'em be missed--they'd none of 'em be

CHORUS.   You may put 'em on the list--you may put 'em on the list;
               And they'll none of 'em be missed--they'll none of
                    'em be missed!
-- W S Gilbert
                   from The Mikado

Background: The singer is the Lord High Executioner; in a speech immediately
preceding the song, he says "If I should ever be called upon to act
professionally, I am happy to think that there will be no difficulty in
finding plenty of people whose loss will be a distinct gain to society at


  piano-organist - A piano organ is similar to a barrel organ, a sort of
  street piano. (Sullivan's mother was a woman of Italian background who met
  her husband while accompanying an organ grinder and his monkey through the
  streets of London. Now aren't you glad you read these program notes?)

  Nisi Prius nuisance - Nisi Prius is a legal term used to refer to cases that
  were tried in the Assize court though technically they should have been
  civil cases. Nisi Prius literally means "unless before," the implication is
  "unless heard before."

     - from <>

This little piece from the Mikado shows Gilbert at his satirical best, as he
skewers, with pinpoint accuracy, the 'society offenders who might well be
underground, and who never will be missed'. If you get a chance, do listen
to the opera - the music's lovely too. (For those of you with decent
soundcards, see below)


  The most popular Gilbert and Sullivan opera, and arguably the most popular
  opera ever written. This opera has delighted audiences for more than a
  century, and spawned a number of imitations. But none were nearly as good
  as the original, which represented both Gilbert and Sullivan at the height
  of their creative geniuses.
      -- from <[broken link]>

I couldn't have put it better myself - the Mikado is a truly mindblowing
piece of work.

Biography etc: see poem #88

Music: <[broken link]>

And, of course the inevitable parody site,
<[broken link]>


Pied Beauty -- Gerard Manley Hopkins

(Poem #134) Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things,
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow,
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls, finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced, fold, fallow and plough,
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange,
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise him.
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins
A passionate Christianity made a poet out of Gerard Manley Hopkins;
without its influence, it is doubtful that he would have been moved to
such eloquence or such depth of feeling; yet with it to spark his genius
into flame, he crafted a number of brilliantly original, startlingly
beautiful poems.

His belief in an omnipotent Creator enabled him to see an especial
beauty in the world of Nature - the unpredictable, untamed patterns of
the wilderness combining to form a whole far greater than the sum of its
parts, glorious and 'true'. But what sets his verse apart from the
hordes (I use the word advisedly :-)) of Victorian nature poets was his
ability to merge form and content to such a degree of utter perfection -
his poetry _sounds_ right; his word-paintings leap off the printed page
without traversing the intervening bridge of ordinary 'meaning'.

Consider the structure of today's poem - there's a riot of assonance and
alliteration, but it's combined with a an unusually high
consonant-density; there's a strong underlying rhythm in the pattern of
the stresses, but it's never plodding or weighty (indeed, the variations
in the unstressed syllables ensure that the verse is kept flexible and
'clean'); the rhymes, though strictly enforced, are kept from becoming
monotonous by an unusual (abcabcdbcdc) rhyme scheme... All these combine
to create a wonderfully sonorous soundscape, the rising and falling
cadences like water in a mountain stream, trickling over rocks and
through rapids, in swirls and eddies and falls, neither smooth nor
unbroken, yet flowing, flowing like 'skies of couple-colour'. And the
overall effect is to sound what 'dappled' is to light. Perfect.


For a brief bio, read the commentary at poem #35

'Sprung Rhythm' is Gerard Manley Hopkins' term for a complex and very
technically involved system of metrics which he derived partly from his
knowledge of Welsh poetry. It is opposed specifically to "running" or
"common" rhythm, and provides for feet of lengths varying from one
syllable to four, with either "rising" or "falling" rhythm.
    -- from the Victorian Web,
[broken link]

Song, from Pippa Passes -- Robert Browning

(Poem #133) Song, from Pippa Passes
 The year's at the spring,
 And day's at the morn;
 Morning's at seven;
 The hill-side's dew-pearled;
 The lark's on the wing;
 The snail's on the thorn;
 God's in his Heaven -
 All's right with the world!
-- Robert Browning
Another of Browning's simple but beautiful lyrics. The language is
uncomplicated, simple descriptive statements unadorned by comparison and
unveiled in allusion, yet dense with imagery and wonderfully evocative.
Browning had a marvellous facility for turning cliched images into poetry,
and for finding what is unmistakably the right way to phrase them - as
witnessed by the way this little fragment has enriched the language.

See also the somewhat similar 'Home Thoughts from Abroad', poem #65

Dulce Et Decorum Est -- Wilfred Owen

I tend to dislike topicality, but now is as good a time as any...
(Poem #132) Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! --- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime ---
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,---
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
-- Wilfred Owen
[The title is from a line of Horace - "It is sweet and honourable to die
for one's country."]

If ever proof were needed that the 19th century was truly over, it came
in the shape of the First World War. The horrors of that conflagration
scarred the English psyche to an extent that marked the end of an era -
no more would sentimental Victorian poets talk about death and honour in
the same breath. More than anything else, the conflict that decimated a
generation of young Europeans opened the public's eyes to the sheer
inhumanity of large-scale trench warfare, the pointlessness of it all.

Owen's genius was his ability to celebrate the ordinary without
profaning it; he had a deep and abiding sympathy for his fellow
soldiers, while his own undisputed courage in action and sense of duty
gave him the moral authority to denounce the war (and War, for that
matter) for what it was - a sickness, a corruption, a festering evil of
which no good could possibly come.

Yes, I know that the language I use is strong, but then, so is Owen's
verse. He does not hold back or disguise his horror at what he saw -
        " ... the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores... "
- and this, too, is an aspect of his greatness; by using the natural
rhythms of speech, by soiling his hands with solid, everyday words, he
cuts closer to the heart of experience than did any of the genteel
Victorians. This is what gives him his power; this is what makes his
poetry real.

Oh, and the second syllable of the third line is pretty good, too :-).



Wilfred Owen was born in 1893 and died in action in 1918. He was a man
of great sensitivy, and an intellectual, plunged against his will into
the holocaust of an atrocious war. He responded to the war, which
horrified and disgusted him, in a way which was never simple. In one
letter he wrote 'My senses are charred', but there is certainly no
evidence in his surviving poetry that they were numbed.


... Owen came to see the war, not as a disease to be cured by purely
political action, nor as a crusade against evil, but as a major tragedy
to which the only appropriate response was compassion. 'The poetry is in
the Pity', he wrote in the much-quoted introduction he had prepared for
his first book of poems...

... In his best poems, he writes not only about war, but about war as a
metaphor for the human condition. This give his best work a far-reaching
gravity and moral force which will never date and which makes his poems
applicable to any situation in which people must suffer and die.

[Today's poem]

... As so often, Owen seems in this poem to have taken over some of the
vocabulary and imagery of late 19th century poetry and injected a new
realism into it, [reminding] us that some of the public horror of the
First World War had already been experienced and predicted by the
agonies and breakdowns aof decadent poets from Baudelaire onwards...

    -- from 'Poetry 1990 to 1975', George Macbeth


  The English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) mixed several poems
or fragments of poems by Owen (" Anthem for Doomed Youth", " The Next
War", " Sonnet (On seeing a piece of our heavy artillery brought into
action)", " Futility", " The Parable of the Old Man and the Young", "
The End", " At a Calvary near the Ancre" and " Strange Meeting") with
liturgical texts from the "Missa pro defunctis" in his War Requiem,
composed in 1962 at the occasion of the re-opening of the cathedral of
Coventry, bombed during the second World War.

[Post Scriptum]

"Grey highrise buildings...
When I unmask the forger
I will wring his neck."

(though I must admit the spoof post was one of the best laughs I've had
in ages - simply hilarious... and I was most flattered by the comparison
to Mr Toad).

The 14-year old Haiku Wizard.

A Martian Sends A Postcard Home -- Craig Raine

Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor
(Poem #131) A Martian Sends A Postcard Home
Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings -

they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on ground:

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.

Model T is a room with the lock inside -
a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly. Adults go to a punishment room

with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt
and everyone's pain has a different smell.

At night when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves -
in colour, with their eyelids shut.
-- Craig Raine
A poem I like because of its way of startling us into new ways of looking at
things - which is something I feel is very basic to poetry. Startling
similes is Craig Raine's specialty, and this poem in particular displays his
skill to such virtuoso effect that it lead to a new school of so-called
"Martian" poetry. But I think that Raine is participating in a very ancient
poetic ancient tradition. If you look at the poem as a series of riddles to
be deciphered by the reader, then that takes us back centuries to the riddle
poems in Anglo Saxon literature. Anyway, have fun decoding the images.

Biographical details:

  Born 1944 in Co.Durham. Educated at Oxford. Has worked as a lecturer at
  Oxford and as a freelance writer. Edited Quarto 1979-80. Lives in Oxford.
  Publications include The Onion, Memory (1978), A Martian Sends A Postcard
  Home (1979) and A Free Translation (1981).


  ....Where Heaney, Harrison and Dunn have extended the boundaries of their
  work gradually over the years, Raine asserted his freedom immediately and
  with spectral confidence. The same is true of Christopher Reid, whose
  first book, like Raine's, was published in the late 1970s and instantly
  identified as 'Martian'. Although two substantially different poetic
  personalities, Raine and Reid share a delight in outrageous simile and
  like to twist and mix language in order to revive the ordinary. Both refer
  a great deal to children for this is one way of viewing the commonplace
  with wonder and innocence. In many respects their work seems to fit
  Dr.Johnson's description of Metaphysical poetry - 'heterogeneous ideas...
  yoked by violence together." To put it another way: they have demonstrated
  that if a poem draws a line round an incident or area of experience,
  observations which fall within its circumference seek each other out and
  establish relationships. though such connections and relationships are
  artfully arranged, it would be wrong to think that the Martians ingenuity
  prevents them from expressing emotion: their way of looking is also a way
  of feeling. It is a point which other poets have begun to recognize and
  explains why Raine and Reid have proved so influential in a comparatively
  short time. What might, a few years ago, have looked far fetched and
  fanciful now appears as part of a new confidence in the poetic

        -- from The Penguin Book Of Contemporary British Poetry

Vikram Doctor

The Lost Leader -- Robert Browning

Sorry about the 'Arz kiya hai.....' post, people - it was, as you've
doubtless deduced, someone forging Thomas's address. Anyway, on with the
(Poem #130) The Lost Leader
 Just for a handful of silver he left us,
   Just for a riband to stick in his coat--
 Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
   Lost all the others she lets us devote;
 They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,
   So much was theirs who so little allowed:
 How all our copper had gone for his service!
   Rags--were they purple, his heart had been proud!
 We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,
   Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
 Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
   Made him our pattern to live and to die!
 Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
   Burns, Shelley, were with us,--they watch from their graves!
 He alone breaks from the van and the free-men,
   --He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!

 We shall march prospering,--not thro' his presence;
   Songs may inspirit us,--not from his lyre;
 Deeds will be done,--while he boasts his quiescence,
   Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire:
 Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more,
   One task more declined, one more foot-path untrod,
 One more devils'-triumph and sorrow for angels,
   One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
 Life's night begins: let him never come back to us!
   There would be doubt, hesitation and pain,
 Forced praise on our part--the glimmer of twilight,
   Never glad confident morning again!
 Best fight on well, for we taught him--strike gallantly,
   Menace our heart ere we master his own;
 Then let him receive the new knowledge and wait us,
   Pardoned in heaven, the first by the throne!
-- Robert Browning
Note: The Dover Thrift Edition offers the note, presumably from the editor,
  Shane Weller, that the poem refers to "William Wordsworth, who, a
  political radical in his early years, became increasingly conservative and
  was named Poet Laureate in 1843."

This is a wonderfully declaimable poem - flowing rhythms, strong masculine
rhymes, a predominantly triple metre, and just enough variation to prevent
monotony. Browning's verse has an energy reminiscent of Kipling's - like the
latter, he attempted to capture the somewhat irregular rhythms of speech,
and integrate them smoothly with the demands of metrical poetry. With, IMHO,
considerable success - his poetry is a joy both to read and to recite.


  It is generally accepted that the quality of [Wordsworth's] verse fell off
  as he grew more distant from the sources of his inspiration and as his
  Anglican and Tory sentiments hardened into orthodoxy. Today many readers
  discern two Wordsworths, the young Romantic revolutionary and the aging
  Tory humanist, risen into what John Keats called the "Egotistical
  Sublime." Little of Wordsworth's later verse matches the best of his
  earlier years.

        -- EB


- The theme can be carried another step: see

- There have been other poems in tribute to poets on Minstrels ere this -
  Auden's "In memory of W.B.Yeats" poem #50 and what is surely the
  greatest of the lot, Keat's sublime "On First Looking into Chapman's
  Homer", poem #12


Ariel -- Sylvia Plath

(Poem #129) Ariel
Stasis in darkness.
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.

God's lioness,
How one we grow,
Pivot of heels and knees! ---The furrow

Splits and passes, sister to
The brown arc
Of the neck I cannot catch,

Berries cast dark
Hooks ---

Black sweet blood mouthfuls,
Something else

Hauls me through air ---
Thighs, hair;
Flakes from my heels.

Godiva, I unpeel ---
Dead hands, dead stringencies.

And now I
Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.
The child's cry

Melts in the wall.
And I
Am the arrow,

The dew that flies,
Suicidal, at one with the drive
Into the red

Eye, the cauldron of morning.
-- Sylvia Plath
I haven't the slightest idea what this poem is about. But I think it's
absolutely brilliant. The sheer unadulterated _power_ of the words is
simply stunning.



Sylvia Plath was born in Boston in 1932. She grew up in a comfortably
middle-class style and attended Smith College. She suffered a breakdown
at the end of her junior year of college, but recovered well enough to
return and excel during her senior year, receiving various prizes and
graduating summa cum laude. In 1955, having been awarded a Fulbright
scholarship, she began two years at Cambridge University. There she met
and married the British poet Ted Hughes and settled in England, bearing
two children. Her first book of poems, The Colossus (1960), demonstrated
her precocious talent, but was far more conventional than the work that
followed. Having studied with Robert Lowell in 1959 and been influenced
by the "confessional" style of his collection Life Studies, she embarked
on the new work that made her posthumous reputation as a major poet. A
terrifying record of her encroaching mental illness, the poems that were
collected after her suicide (at age 31) in 1963 in the volumes Ariel,
Crossing the Water, and Winter Trees are graphically macabre,
hallucinatory in their imagery, but full of ironic wit, technical
brilliance, and tremendous emotional power.

    -- the Academy of American Poets

London, 1802 -- William Wordsworth

Another milestone - the poem numbers move into eight bits <g>.
(Poem #128) London, 1802
 Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
 England hath need of thee: she is a fen
 Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
 Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
 Have forfeited their ancient English dower
 Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
 Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
 And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
 Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart:
 Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
 Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
 So didst thou travel on life's common way,
 In cheerful godliness; and yet the heart
 The lowliest duties on herself did lay.
-- William Wordsworth
A nice but unremarkable poem - it's a pretty standard sonnet (albeit with a
mildly unusual rhyme scheme), dividing clearly into an octet and a sestet.
It also seems a lot more 'constructed' than a lot of Wordsworth's poems,
probably because the theme is a trifle more abstract than his usual stuff.
There isn't really a lot to be said about this poem, which is mostly
self-explanatory - compare the last three lines, though, to Milton's 'On His
Blindness' poem #106

Not-quite-biography-and-assessment dept.:

  It is probably safe to say that by the late 20th century he stood in
  critical estimation where Coleridge and Arnold had originally placed him,
  next to John Milton--who stands, of course, next to William Shakespeare.

        -- EB, a somewhat fortuitous quote


  In 1802, during the short-lived Peace of Amiens, Wordsworth returned
  briefly to France, where at Calais he met his daughter and made his peace
  with Annette [1]. -- EB

  [1] ..he returned in 1791 to France, where he formed a passionate
  attachment to a Frenchwoman, Annette Vallon. But before their child was
  born in December 1792, Wordsworth had to return to England and was cut off
  there by the outbreak of war between England and France. He was not to see
  his daughter Caroline until she was nine.

  Amiens, Treaty of

  (March 27, 1802), an agreement signed at Amiens, Fr., by Britain, France,
  Spain, and the Batavian Republic (the Netherlands), achieving a peace in
  Europe for 14 months during the Napoleonic Wars. It ignored some questions
  that divided Britain and France, such as the fate of the Belgian
  provinces, Savoy, and Switzerland and the trade relations between Britain
  and the French-controlled European continent.
          -- EB again

No idea if any of this has any connection to the poem, but that was what
Wordsworth and England were going through in 1802.


On Shakespear -- John Milton

This week's theme: a series of poems in tribute to other poets.
(Poem #127) On Shakespear
What needs my Shakespear for his honour'd Bones,
The labour of an age in piled Stones,
Or that his hallow'd reliques should be hid
Under a Star-ypointing Pyramid?
Dear son of memory, great heir of Fame,
What need'st thou such weak witnes of thy name?
Thou in our wonder and astonishment
Hast built thy self a live-long Monument.
For whilst toth' shame of slow-endeavouring art,
Thy easie numbers flow, and that each heart
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalu'd Book,
Those Delphick lines with deep impression took
Then thou our fancy of it self bereaving,
Dost make us Marble with too much conceaving;
And so Sepulcher'd in such pomp dost lie,
That Kings for such a Tomb would wish to die.
-- John Milton
This is one of Milton's earlier works (1630), and the language is slightly
more archaic than, say 'On His Blindness' (1655), but still understandable.
The verse also seems, IMO, a lot less mature - it is interesting to compare
this to 'On His Blindness' and note Milton's development as a poet. Also
interesting is the comparison of his sentiments with those expressed in
several of the Bard's sonnets - Shakespeare, as noted earlier, frequently
returned to the theme of time, and the immortality conferred by poetry. The
entire poem, in fact, seems deliberately influenced by Shakespeare (for
example, the opening couplet, with it's stones/bones rhyme, might be a
reference to Shakespeare's epitaph[1]).


[1] "Good Friends, for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the bones enclosed here!
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones."

Our revels now are ended -- William Shakespeare

It's been some time since we visited the Bard...
(Poem #126) Our revels now are ended
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
-- William Shakespeare
from 'The Tempest', Act IV, Scene i.

Have I mentioned before that Shakespeare was a genius?

In previous mails I had talked (briefly) about his poetic skills ('Full
Fathom Five', Minstrels Poem #16) and his rhetorical construction
('Pardon me, thou... ', Minstrels Poem #48). Today I'd like to highlight
another of his many talents - an uncanny ability to venture into highly
metaphysical territory without seeming awkward or strained. He does so
often enough for it to be noticeable, yet never enough to seem jarring
or out of place; indeed, it is this very skill of Shakespeare's which
raises his dramatic verse above the level of mere stagecraft and into
the realms of poetry. (Not that his verse was ever 'mere' anything - his
plays, as plays, stand alone, while his poetry - the sheer beauty of his
language - is beyond compare).

Time (and its effect on human affairs) always held a fascination for old
Willy (witness any number of Sonnets, most of Lear and the second half
of Macbeth), and some of his finest flights of poetic fancy have been
inspired by it. Some critics have read in this preoccupation a sort of
morbid pessimism, but I cannot agree with this diagnosis. As far as I'm
concerned, the man was just exploring the human condition to an extent
far ahead of his time... the fact that great poetry was distilled out of
his quest for 'meaning' is just an added bonus.


Lochinvar -- Sir Walter Scott

Guest poem sent in by Pavithra Krishnan
(Poem #125) Lochinvar
 O, young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
 Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;
 And save his good broadsword, he weapons had none,
 He rode all unarm'd, and he rode all alone.
 So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,
 There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.

 He staid not for brake, and he stopp'd not for stone,
 He swam the Eske river where ford there was none;
 But ere he alighted at Netherby gate,
 The bride had consented, the gallant came late:
 For a laggard in love, and a dastard in war,
 Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar.

 So boldly he entered the Netherby Hall,
 Among bride's-men, and kinsmen, and brothers, and all:
 Then spoke the bride's father, his hand on his sword,
 (For the poor craven bridegroom said never a word,)
 "O come ye in peace here, or come ye in war,
 Or to dance at our bridal, young Lord Lochinvar?"--

 "I long woo'd your daughter, my suit you denied;--
 Love swells like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide--
 And now am I come, with this lost love of mine,
 To lead but one measure, drink one cup of wine.
 There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far,
 That would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar."

 The bride kiss'd the goblet; the knight took it up,
 He quaff'd off the wine, and he threw down the cup.
 She look'd down to blush, and she look'd up to sigh,
 With a smile on her lips, and a tear in her eye.
 He took her soft hand, ere her mother could bar,--
 "Now tread we a measure!" said young Lochinvar.

 So stately his form, and so lovely her face,
 That never a hall such a galliard did grace;
 While her mother did fret, and her father did fume,
 And the bridegroom stood dangling his bonnet and plume;
 And the bride-maidens whisper'd, " 'Twere better by far
 To have match'd our fair cousin with young Lochinvar."

 One touch to her hand, and one word in her ear,
 When they reach'd the hall-door, and the charger stood near;
 So light to the croupe the fair lady he swung,
 So light to the saddle before her he sprung!
 "She is won! we are gone, over bank, bush, and scaur;
 They'll have fleet steeds that follow," quoth young Lochinvar.

 There was mounting 'mong Grfmes of the Netherby clan;
 Forsters, Fenwicks, and Musgraves, they rode and they ran:
 There was racing and chasing, on Cannobie Lee,
 But the lost bride of Netherby ne'er did they see.
 So daring in love, and so dauntless in war,
 Have ye e'er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?
-- Sir Walter Scott
This is an old favorite that I remember from school. A narrative poem in the
grand old style. There's a flippancy to the brisk rhyme scheme, a careless
kind of ease to the story-telling that immediately delight. As for the
debonair Lochinvar himself- one would be hard put to find his Literary equal
in sheer dash and 'Knight in Shining Armour'-type gallantry. Here's a hero
with Attitude.

Scott always did know how to tell a story.


The Hippopotamus -- Hilaire Belloc

(Poem #124) The Hippopotamus
I shoot the Hippopotamus
  With bullets made of platinum,
Because if I use leaden ones
  His hide is sure to flatten 'em.
-- Hilaire Belloc
Belloc has written serious poetry. I might even run some of it sometime. He
has also written a lot of light verse - see poem #78. But he is
certainly best known for his series of children's poems, collected in 'The
Bad Child's Book of Beasts', 'More Beasts for Worse Children' and
'Cautionary Tales'. It was pretty hard choosing among the various poems,
though - I freely admit that you're being subjected to this one merely for
the rhyme :)


Biographical Notes and Assessment:

Belloc, (Joseph-Pierre) Hilaire

 b. July 27, 1870, La Celle-Saint-Cloud, Fr.
 d. July 16, 1953, Guildford, Surrey, Eng.

  French-born poet, historian, and essayist who was among the most versatile
  English writers of the first quarter of the 20th century. He is most
  remembered for his light verse, particularly for children, and for the
  lucidity and easy grace of his essays, which could be delightfully about
  nothing or decisively about some of the key controversies of the Edwardian

  Verses and Sonnets (1895) and The Bad Child's Book of Beasts (1896)
  launched Belloc on his literary career. Cautionary Tales, another book of
  humorous verse for children, which parodied some Victorian pomposities,
  appeared in 1907. His Danton (1899) and Robespierre (1901) proved his
  lively historical sense and powerful prose style. Lambkin's Remains (1900)
  and Mr. Burden (1904) showed his mastery of satire and irony. In The Path
  to Rome (1902) he interspersed his account of a pilgrimage on foot from
  Toul to Rome with comments on the nature and history of Europe. Born and
  brought up a Roman Catholic, he showed in almost everything he wrote an
  ardent profession of his faith. This coloured with occasional inaccuracy
  and overemphasis most of his historical writing, which includes Europe and
  the Faith (1920), History of England, 4 vol. (1925-31), and a series of
  biographies ranging in period from James II (1928) to Wolsey (1930). But
  he had the power of bringing history to life.

        -- EB

And the days are not full enough -- Ezra Pound

(Poem #123) And the days are not full enough
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
                Not shaking the grass.
-- Ezra Pound
One of those poems which seems utterly perfect in its simplicity... not
a word wasted, not a word out of place. Any further commentary on my
part would be jarring, so...


"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing
left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
    -- Antoine de Saint-Exup$B(Bry

certain maxims of archy -- Don Marquis

(Poem #122) certain maxims of archy
many a man spanks his
children for
things his own
father should have
spanked out of him

i once heard the survivors
of a colony of ants
that had been partially
obliterated by a cow s foot
seriously debating
the intention of the gods
towards their civilization

if you get gloomy just
take an hour off and sit
and think how
much better this world
is than hell
of course it won t cheer
you up much if
you expect to go there

that stern and
rockbound coast felt
like an amateur
when it saw how grim
the puritans that
landed on it were

insects have
their own point
of view about
civilization a man
thinks he amounts
to a great deal
but to a
flea or a
mosquito a
human being is
merely something
good to eat

just as soon as the
uplifters get
a country reformed it
slips into a nose dive

if monkey glands
did restore your youth
what would you do
with it
question mark
just what you did before
interrogation point

every cloud
has its silver
lining but it is
sometimes a little
difficult to get it to
the mint

prohibition makes you
want to cry
into your beer and
denies you the beer
to cry into

the honey bee is sad and cross
and wicked as a weasel
and when she perches on you boss
she leaves a little measle

i do not see why men
should be so proud
insects have the more
ancient lineage
according to the scientists
insects were insects
when man was only
a burbling whatisit

lots of people can make
their own whisky but
can t drink it

i heard a
couple of fleas
talking the other
day says one come
to lunch with
me i can lead you
to a pedigreed
dog says the
other one
i do not care
what a dog s
pedigree may be
safety first
is my motto what
i want to know
is whether he
has got a
muzzle on
millionaires and
bums taste
about alike to me

boss the other day
i heard an
ant conversing
with a flea
small talk i said
and went away
from there

an optimist is a guy
that has never had
much experience

the servant problem
wouldn t hurt the u s a
if it could settle
its public
servant problem

there is always
something to be thankful
for you would not
think that a cockroach
had much ground
for optimism
but as the fishing season
opens up i grow
more and more
cheerful at the thought
that nobody ever got
the notion of using
cockroaches for bait
-- Don Marquis
If you came in late, do look up the previous two 'archy and mehitabel'
poems, poem #36 and poem #76, before returning to this one.

Today's poem is somewhat different in style - it's a series of disconnected
verses, so it lacks some of the helter-skelter streaming effect. The maxims
do share the other characteristics of Marquis's work, though, being both
witty and thought-provoking (and ofttimes just plain funny). I also like the
way he hasn't descended into a series of thinly veiled platitudes - I
usually find the archy and mehitabel poems refreshing, and todays is no


Ulysses -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

(Poem #121) Ulysses
    It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

    This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,---
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

    There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me ---
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads --- you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I actually spent some time writing criticism, commentary and the like...
but then I stopped and erased it all. For this is one poem that deserves
to stand on its own. I have nothing further to say, except for the fact
that I think it's utterly utterly beautiful.


The Purple Cow -- Gelett Burgess

(Poem #120) The Purple Cow
The Purple Cow's Projected Feast:
Reflections on a Mythic Beast,
Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least.

  I never saw a purple cow,
  I never hope to see one;
  But I can tell you, anyhow,
  I'd rather see than be one.
-- Gelett Burgess
What the poem doesn't say the subtitle does - do I really need to comment
on it? Burgess, incidentally, grew increasingly annoyed by the fact that he
was known mainly for 'The Purple Cow', and eventually wrote the following

CONFESSION: and a Portrait, Too,
Upon a Background that I Rue!

  Ah, Yes! I Wrote the "Purple Cow" --
  I'm Sorry, now, I Wrote it!
  But I can Tell you Anyhow,
  I'll Kill you if you Quote it!

        -- Gelett Burgess


Burgess, Gelett

 b. Jan. 30, 1866, Boston, Mass., U.S.
 d. Sept. 17, 1951, Carmel, Calif.

in full FRANK GELETT BURGESS, American humorist and illustrator, best known
for a single, early, whimsical quatrain: [The Purple Cow]

Burgess was educated as an engineer and worked briefly for a railroad in
that capacity. Between 1891 and 1894 he taught topographical drawing at the
University of California. In 1895 Burgess became the founding editor of
Lark, a humour magazine, and in 1897 he began to publish books of his
self-illustrated whimsical writings.

Burgess' humour was based upon the sudden break of ideas: a substitution of
the unexpected for the commonplace. Among his best-known works are Goops and
How to Be Them (1900) and subsequent books on Goops (bad-mannered children).
He is credited with adding several words to the English language, including
blurb. Among his many other works are Are You a Bromide? (1906), Why Men
Hate Women (1927), and Look Eleven Years Younger (1937).

        -- EB

blurb blArb. slang (orig. U.S.). [See note below.] A brief descriptive
paragraph or note of the contents or character of a book, printed as a
commendatory advertisement, on the jacket or wrapper of a newly published
book. Hence in extended use: a descriptive or commendatory paragraph. Also
Comb. Said to have been originated in 1907 by Gelett Burgess in a comic book
jacket embellished with a drawing of a pulchritudinous young lady whom he
facetiously dubbed Miss Blinda Blurb. (D.A.) See Mencken Amer. Lang. Suppl.
I. 329.

        -- OED


<[broken link]>

The Wordsworth one, at least, is worth a read.


A Poem on the Underground Wall -- Paul Simon

Last week's theme spills over into a 4th poem...
(Poem #119) A Poem on the Underground Wall
The last train is nearly due,
The underground is closing soon,
And in the dark deserted station,
Restless in anticipation,
A man waits in the shadows.

His restless eyes leap and snatch,
At all that they can touch or catch,
And hidden deep within his pocket,
Safe within its silent socket,
He holds a coloured crayon.

Now from the tunnel's stony womb,
The carriage rides to meet the groom,
And opens wide the welcome doors,
But he hesitates, then withdraws
Deeper in the shadows.

    And the train is gone suddenly.
    On wheels clicking silently
    Like a gently tapping litany,
    And he holds his crayon rosary
    Tighter in his hand.

Now from his pocket quick he flashes,
The crayon on the wall he slashes,
Deep upon the advertising,
A single-worded poem comprising
Four letters.

And his heart is laughing, screaming, pounding,
The poem across the tracks resounding,
Shadowed by the exit light
His legs take their ascending flight
To seek the breast of darkness and be suckled by the night.
-- Paul Simon
I can't believe I left Paul Simon out of last week's theme poets...

Brilliant though he is as a tunesmith and musician [1], I can't help
feeling that Paul Simon's true claim to fame lies in his songwriting
skills. No other popular musician [2] has managed to consistently
combine such exquisite melodies with such intelligent, subtle lyrics;
while his musical contemporaries were cranking up their amps in the
early days of arena rock, Simon was exploring the sonic textures of
minimalism and freeform jazz, combining them with the folk influences of
his S&G days to create his own elegant sound; when electronica
threatened to take over the world in the late 80s, Simon carried the
torch of the new  'world music', layering African rhythms and harmonies
into his own catchy refrains; now that both jazz-pop and ethnic music is
commonplace, Simon has begun exploring the blues and gospel roots of
American tradition...

[1] two distinctions neither Dylan nor Cohen can lay claim to
[2] except, of course, that genius from Liverpool,

Through it all runs the strength and poetry of his lyrics. Simon's words
were never as overtly activist as Dylan's (though he knew how to hit
home; check out the lyrics to 'America', or the concept behind '7
O'Clock News/Silent Night') (and his devastating parody of his own
genre, folk-rock - 'A Simple Desultory Phillipic, or how I was Robert
MacNamara'd into submission'); his confessions were never as
gutwrenchingly personal as Cohen's (though again, check out the
poignancy of 'Wednesday Morning 3 AM'), but they were always insightful,
always touching. Again, he often indulged in bouts of whimsy, ('Feelin
Groovy', or 'Punky's Dilemma') which made critics take him less
seriously than they ought to have.

Simon has been described as 'the poet of Central Park', and indeed, he
finds beauty in the faceless urban landscapes which so many modern poets
cannot stomach. Another defining characteristic of his work is a warmth
and depth of feeling for his fellow man; Simon is less self-centred,
more open than either Dylan or Cohen. Both these qualities are evident
in today's poem; a simple (and oft-reviled) act is exalted, made almost
heroic, while the perpetrator's feelings are brilliantly exposed... at
the end of the song, we are left, not just with a description of a
graffiti artist, but with an _understanding_ of his actions. And that's
what lifts this song (and all of Simon's work) above the level of pure
entertainment and into the realm of poetry.

Needless to say, the accompanying music is perfect, while Art
Garfunkel's soaring schoolboy tenor adds a touch of magic to it all.


A Prison Evening -- Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor .
(Poem #118) A Prison Evening
Each star a rung,
night comes down the spiral
staircase of the evening.
The breeze passes by so very close
as if someone just happened to speak of love.
In the courtyard,
the trees are absorbed refugees
embroidering maps of return on the sky.
On the roof,
the moon - lovingly, generously -
is turning the stars
into a dust of sheen.
From every corner, dark-green shadows,
in ripples, come towards me.
At any moment they may break over me,
like the waves of pain each time I remember
this separation from my lover.

This thought keeps consoling me:
though tyrants may command that lamps be smashed
in rooms where lovers are destined to meet,
they cannot snuff out the moon, so today,
nor tomorrow, no tyranny will succeed,
no poison of torture make me bitter,
if just one evening in prison
can be so strangely sweet,
if just one moment anywhere on this earth.
-- Faiz Ahmed Faiz
    (translated from the Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali)

Urdu poetry fascinates me. It is so packed with emotion. Urdu poets always
seem to feel things with such intensity - love, longing, melancholy. Its all
supercharged to the extent that just a bit more and it would be over the
top. But the best poetry seems to contain it just in time, so it works,
quivering with intensity and drenched in beautiful images.

Of course, language comes in; Urdu seems to allow for the expression of
sentiments that would seem exaggerated translated, but which work within
Urdu (possibly because they sound so sincere they convince even the person
saying it). I suppose the settings in which such poetry is typically
supposed to be heard must help - those poetry gatherings where poets declaim
with much passion and the audience goes "wah, wah. wah!" in appreciation.

The other interesting thing is how this links to the Hindi vernacular. Maybe
I'm just out on a limb or stating something really obvious, but the
emotionalism of Urdu poetry does seem to link with the melodrama of so much
Hindi film dialogue and lyrics, which in turn affects the way we speak - how
often have we caught ourselves using lines, ironically and seriously, that
could come straight from Hindi movies. I suppose its hardly surprising given
the number of Urdu poets or would be poets who have worked in the Hindi film

But all this emotionalism rarely translates well. That's a problem for me
since I don't really understand Urdu - I know Hindi, sort of, which has much
in common, but its not exactly the same. So reading Urdu poetry often is a
bit of a juggling act between one volume which gives the poems in Urdu
script (which I can't read) and a good English translation, and another
volume which gives the poems in Hindi's Devanagiri script (which I can
read), but an awful English translation that I refuse to read.

But I still get some idea of the impact of the sound - like the opening
lines of his famous Don't Ask Me For That Love Again poem: "mujh se pehli se
muhabbat mere mehboob na mang..." - wah, wah. wah!  Through all the juggling
with the books, it still works. I do get some faint, fleeting idea of Urdu
poetry, and that elusive, emotional quality makes it worth reading.

The one problem I do have is that one of the forms they usually use.
Ghazals, are rather an impenetrable form. And sometimes the poetry, in
translation, seems to just meander a muddle of emotion. Which is
why I like Faiz so much. He's one poet who seems to be able to balance
things out: intensely felt emotion, lyrical imagery, simplicity and

There's also the subject matter. The incessant romanticism and obsession
with the Beloved of Urdu sort of gets boring after a while. And Faiz is most
famous for the way he expanded the boundaries of Urdu poetry by including
social and political subjects; for asserting that poetry was not enough,
that one needed to be aware of other things as well. I'm not saying I
necessary share his poltical views - its just that _any_ views come as a
relief from all the romanticism.

And in Agha Shahid Ali Faiz seems to have found a translator of genius. Ali
is also a well known poet and his translations are wonderful giving you some
idea - at least, I think so - of the original. Since it would seem odd to
give Faiz leaving out the poems in which he revolutionised Urdu poetry, I've
typed his famous "Don't Ask Me For That Love Again" below [snipped to be run
at a later date - m.]. But "A Prison Evening" is my favourite.


Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984)

  The son of a lawyer and wealthy landowner, Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born in
  Sialkot in the Punjab, then a part of India under British rule. He studied
  both English and Arabic literature at the university and in the 1930s
  became involved with the leftist Progressive Movement. During World War II
  he served in the Indian army, but with the 1947 division of the
  subcontinent, he moved to Pakistan, where he served as editor of The
  Pakistan Times. He was also closely involved with the founding of labor
  unions in the country and in 1962 was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the
  Soviet Union. But before that he spent some years in solitary confinement,
  under sentence of death, accused of helping to overthrow the government.
  The very government that has imprisoned him came, after his release, to
  praise him, and he was eventually put in charge of the National Council of
  the Arts. By the time of his death in Lahore - after another period of
  exile in Lebanon - his popularity with both the literary elite and the
  masses was enormous. He charged the traditional romantic imagery of Urdu
  poetry with new political tension, so that when his poems speak of the
  "beloved" they may be referring both to a woman or muse and to the idea of

  -- introduction from The Vintage Book Of Contemporary World Poetry

Vikram Doctor

The Rain and the Wind -- William Ernest Henley

It's raining on and off here, making this cheerful little poem somewhat
(Poem #117) The Rain and the Wind
The rain and the wind, the wind and the rain --
    They are with us like a disease:
They worry the heart, they work the brain,
As they shoulder and clutch at the shrieking pane,
    And savage the helpless trees.

What does it profit a man to know
    These tattered and tumbling skies
A million stately stars will show,
And the ruining grace of the after-glow
   And the rush of the wild sunrise?

Ever the rain -- the rain and the wind!
    Come, hunch with me over the fire,
Dream of the dreams that leered and grinned,
Ere the blood of the Year got chilled and thinned,
    And the death came on desire!
-- William Ernest Henley
Henley's a somewhat recent discovery of mine, and while I don't always like
his verse, this is one of his better poems. He balances his themes nicely -
the savagery of the wind and rain, and the inadequacy of hopes and dreams,
the inability of past or future to alleviate a storm-ridden today. I also
love the rhythms of this poem, the mixture of long and short lines and the
predominantly triple metre (three syllables in a foot) giving it a tumbling,
sweeping effect that blends well with the imagery.



  b. Aug. 23, 1849, Gloucester, Gloucestershire, Eng. d. July 11, 1903,
  Woking, near London

  British poet, critic, and editor who in his journals introduced the early
  work of many of the great English writers of the 1890s.

  As a child Henley contracted a tubercular disease that later necessitated
  the amputation of one foot. His other leg was saved only through the skill
  and radical new methods of the surgeon Joseph Lister, whom he sought out
  in Edinburgh. Forced to stay in an infirmary in Edinburgh for 20 months
  (1873-75), he began writing free-verse impressionistic poems about
  hospital life that established his poetic reputation. These were included
  in A Book of Verses (1888). Dating from the same period is his most
  popular poem, "Invictus" (1875), which concludes with the lines "I am the
  master of my fate; / I am the captain of my soul." The rest of his
  best-known work is contained in London Voluntaries (1893) and In Hospital

  Henley's long, close friendship with Robert Louis Stevenson began in 1874
  when he was still a patient, and Stevenson based part of the character of
  Long John Silver in Treasure Island on his crippled, hearty friend. (See
  Stevenson, Robert Louis Balfour.)

  Restored to active life, Henley earned his living as an editor, the most
  brilliant of his journals being the Scots Observer of Edinburgh, of which
  he became editor in 1889. The journal was transferred to London in 1891
  and became the National Observer. Though conservative in its political
  outlook, it was liberal in its literary taste and published the early work
  of Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, James Barrie, and
  Rudyard Kipling. As an editor and critic, Henley was remembered by young
  writers as a benevolent bully, generous in his promotion and encouragement
  of unknown talents and fierce in his attacks on unmerited reputations.
  Henley also edited, with T.F. Henderson, the centenary edition (1896-97)
  of the poems of Robert Burns, which is still valuable. His biographical
  preface, in its reaction against the tendency of earlier biographers to
  idealize Burns, exaggerates the wild side of Burns's character. His later
  years were saddened by his estrangement from Stevenson (from 1888) and by
  the death of his daughter, an only child born after 10 years of marriage.
  He was severely criticized for a "debunking" article on Stevenson written
  after Stevenson's death.

        -- EB

Suzanne -- Leonard Cohen

(Poem #116) Suzanne
Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she's half crazy
But that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind.

And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said "All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you'll trust him
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind.
-- Leonard Cohen
Dylan's only serious challenger for the title of greatest popular
lyricist ever is a Canadian singer-songwriter-poet named Leonard Cohen.
Who happens to be a genius. Absolutely.

Cohen started his career as a poet and writer; indeed, he finds
prominent mention in any number of anthologies of contemporary verse,
while his second novel prompted the reviewer of the Boston Globe to say
'James Joyce is alive and well and living under the name of Leonard
Cohen'. But when barely getting into his stride as a writer, he switched
to performance; armed with a guitar and minimalistic (yet poignant)
tunes, he hit home with a series of impassioned, truthful songs. He
concentrated on exploring relationships - 'the battles of the boudoirs'
- yet he was never out of touch with the social context of his lyrics;
songs like "Please don't pass me by" (a stunning 14-minute
improvisation, which can be found on the album "Cohen Live") and "First
we take Manhattan" (from "I'm your man") stand out as the defining
classics of his genre.

Todays' poem/song grows on you. Cohen himself once described it as being
'the best song he'd ever written', and looking at the simple, frank
lyrics, it's not hard to see why. Just read it aloud several times, or
(better yet) listen to it... beautiful.


There are lots of Cohen websites out there (and I won't even mention the
number of Bob Dylan sites floating around in the ether :-)), but I think
the most comprehensive one is

For an interview with the Suzanne of the title, go to
[broken link]

For a rather gushingly written but nonetheless comprehensive Cohen
biography, go to
[broken link]

And finally, many thanks to Movin Miranda, Rajeev Chakravarthy and
Sheetal Bahl for their suggestions for poems to run this week.

Next week: Aboriginal Poetry.

The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna -- Charles Wolfe

(Poem #115) The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna
  Not a drum was heard, nor a funeral note,
    As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
    O'er the grave where our hero we buried.

  We buried him darkly at dead of night,
    The sods with our bayonets turning;
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light
    And the lanthorn dimly burning.

   No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
    Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest
    With his martial cloak around him.

  Few and short were the prayers we said,
    And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead,
    And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

  We thought, as we hollowed his narrow bed
    And smoothed down his lonely pillow,
That the foe and the stranger would tread o'er his head,
    And we far away on the billow!

  Lightly they'll talk of the spirit that's gone
    And o'er his cold ashes upbraid him,--
But little he'll reck, if they let him sleep on
    In the grave where a Briton has laid him.

  But half of our heavy task was done
    When the clock struck the hour for retiring:
And we heard the distant and random gun
    That the foe was sullenly firing.

  Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
    From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,
    But left him alone with his glory.
-- Charles Wolfe
I learnt this one way back in school, and it has stuck with me ever since -
the resonant lines, the timeworn but never trite sentiments and the
well-turned phrases make this a particularly memorable poem. The last two
lines of the second verse, in particular, are among my favourite pieces of
verse, both for the image and the sound of the words.



The battle of Corunna was part of the Peninsular War

  January 16, 1809: Sir John Moore, given command, takes the small British
  army through Portugal and into Spain to support the rumoured Spanish
  uprising and relieve Madrid. When this proves to be false, he has to
  retreat over and through terrible snow covered mountains pursued by
  Bonaparte himself with a massive army. Though saving Spain from fulI
  occupation and conquest by the French, he partially loses control of his
  army and scenes of drunkeness ensue. At Corunna harbour, he defeats the
  French pursuit under Marshal Soult but is killed at the moment of victory.



 b. Dec. 14, 1791, Dublin, Ire.
 d. Feb. 21, 1823, Queenstown, County Cork

  Irish poet and clergyman, whose "Burial of Sir John Moore" (1817),
  commemorating the commander of the British forces at the Battle of Corunna
  (La Coruqa, Spain) during the Peninsular War, is one of the best-known
  funeral elegies in English. Wolfe attended Trinity College, Dublin, was
  ordained in 1817, and held curacies in County Tyrone.

        -- EB

The Soul Cages -- Gordon Matthew 'Sting' Sumner

continuing the rock lyrics theme...
(Poem #114) The Soul Cages
A boy child lies locked in the fisherman's yawl
There's a bloodless moon where the oceans die
A shoal of nightstars hang fire in the nets
And the chaos of cages where the crayfish lie.

Where is the fisherman, where is the boat?
Where is the keeper in his carrion coat?
Eclipse on the moon where the dark birds fly
Where is the child with his father's eyes?

He's the King of the Ninth World
Twisted son of the fog bell's toll
In each and every lobster cage,
A tortured human soul.

These are the souls of the broken factories
Subject slaves of the broken crown
Dead accounting for old broken promises,
These are the souls of the broken town.

    These are the Soul Cages,
    These are the Soul Cages.

"I have a wager," the brave child spoke,
The Fisherman laughed, though disturbed at the joke.
"You will drink what I drink, and you must equal me,
If the drink leaves me standing, a soul shall go free.

I have here a cask of most magical wine,
A vintage that's blessed every ship in the line.
It's wrung from the blood of the sailors who died,
Young white bodies adrift in the tide."

"What's in it for me, my pretty young thing?
Why should I whistle when the caged bird sings?
If you lose a wager with the King of the Sea,
You'll spend the rest of forever in the cage with me."

    These are the Soul Cages,
    These are the Soul Cages.

A body lies open in the Fisherman's yawl,
Like the side of a ship where the iceberg rips.
One less soul in the Soul Cages,
One last curse on the Fisherman's lips.

        And he dreamed of a ship on the Sea,
        That would carry his father and he,
        To a place they would never be found,
        To a place far away from this town.
        A Newcastle ship without coals,
        That would sail to the Island of Souls.

    These are the Soul Cages,
    These are the Soul Cages.
-- Gordon Matthew 'Sting' Sumner
The difficulty in writing truly good lyrics (especially to popular
music) is that the form-content relationship is emphasized a good deal
more than it is in ordinary (ie, printed) poetry. The lyrics have not
only to conform to the constraints of metre, rhyme, scansion and
emphasis, they have to fit in with the 'mood' of the music - which last
task is far tougher to accomplish from scratch than it appears to be.
That's what I like about today's piece of poetry - Sting's evocative
lyrics merge with some multilayered background music to form a
wonderfully dense piece of aural experience, but at the same time, the
music doesn't detract from the fact that 'The Soul Cages' is an
excellent ballad in and of itself.

As for 'hidden meanings', well, there are any number of possible
explanations to the lyrics... they're supposed to be a psychoanalyst's
delight. You're welcome to come up with your own interpretation(s) of
the symbolism used; in the meantime, I'm going back home to listen to
the CD :-).


Morning -- Sara Teasdale

(Poem #113) Morning
I went out on an April morning
All alone, for my heart was high,
I was a child of the shining meadow,
I was a sister of the sky.

There in the windy flood of morning
Longing lifted its weight from me,
Lost as a sob in the midst of cheering,
Swept as a sea-bird out to sea.
-- Sara Teasdale
Teasdale is perhaps best known for her love poetry, but what first attracted
me to her were her beautiful, lyrical nature poems like the one above (which
remains my favourite). Her nature poetry is reminiscent of Browning's, with
it's combination of apparent simplicity and unexpectedly powerful images,
and at it's best comaprable to it. Apart from the imagery, I love the
rhythms of this poem, and the way they reinforce its soaring, expansive



(1884-1933), poet

  Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 8, 1884, Sara Trevor Teasdale was
  educated privately and made frequent trips to Chicago, where she
  eventually became part of Harriet Monroe's Poetry magazine circle. Her
  first published poem appeared in the St. Louis weekly Reedy's Mirror in
  May 1907, and later that year she published her first volume of verse,
  Sonnets to Duse, and Other Poems. A second volume, Helen of Troy, and
  Other Poems, followed in 1911. She married in 1914 (having rejected
  another suitor, the poet Vachel Lindsay), and in 1915 her third collection
  of poems, Rivers to the Sea, was published. She moved with her husband to
  New York City in 1916. In 1918 she won the Columbia University Poetry
  Society prize (forerunner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry) and the annual
  prize of the Poetry Society of America for Love Songs (1917). During this
  time she also edited two anthologies, The Answering Voice: One Hundred
  Love Lyrics by Women (1917), and Rainbow Gold for children (1922).

        -- EB


  Teasdale's poems are consistently classical in style. She wrote
  technically excellent, pure, openhearted lyrics usually in such
  conventional verse forms as quatrains or sonnets. Her growth as a poet is
  nonetheless evident in Flame and Shadow (1920), Dark of the Moon (1926),
  and Stars To-night (1930). The poems in these collections evince an
  increasing subtlety and economy of expression. Teasdale's marriage ended
  in divorce in 1929, and she lived thereafter the life of a semi-invalid.
  In frail health after a recent bout of pneumonia, she took an overdose of
  barbiturates and died on the night of January 29, 1933, in New York City.
  Her last and perhaps finest collection of verse, Strange Victory, was
  published later that year. Her Collected Poems appeared in 1937.

        -- EB

Mr.Tambourine Man -- Bob Dylan

(Poem #112) Mr.Tambourine Man
    Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
    I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.
    Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
    In the jingle-jangle morning I'll come followin' you.

Though I know that evenin's empire has returned into sand,
Vanished from my hand,
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping.
My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet,
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming.

    Hey, Mr.Tambourine Man, etc.

Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin' ship,
My senses have been stripped, my hands can't feel to grip,
My toes too numb to step, wait only for my boot heels
To be wanderin'.
I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way,
I promise to go under it.

    Hey, Mr.Tambourine Man, etc.

Though you might hear laughin', spinnin', swingin' madly across the sun,

It's not aimed at anyone, it's just escapin' on the run
And but for the sky there are no fences facin'.
And if you hear vague traces of skippin' reels of rhyme
To your tambourine in time, it's just a ragged clown behind
I wouldn't pay it any mind, it's just a shadow you're
Seeing' that he's chasing

    Hey, Mr.Tambourine Man, etc.
-- Bob Dylan
What makes a poet great?

Is it sheer depth of emotion? Sensitivity and social conscience?
Honesty, both intellectual and moral? The ability to see the truth, and
the courage to recognize it for what it is? A knack for creating
resonant phrases and haunting images? There's all this and more, and all
these and more are present in the songs of Bob Dylan, who absolutely
rules my world :-)

No other poet - indeed, no other person - has managed to exemplify a
time, a place and a generation as completely as Dylan did his. (I know
that's a rather sweeping statement, but I'll stand by it. So there!). In
his lyrics, in his music, and most especially in his uncompromising
social stance, Dylan stood for the hopes and fears of an entire
generation of young Americans, not afraid to criticise the old, not too
cynical to embrace the new, both unrelentingly harsh and deeply
compassionate, biting, yet surprisingly vulnerable...

Today's poem is Dylan in a mellow, subdued mood. The lyrics are complex,
sophisticated - there's a keen and intense sensitivity underlying the
surface psychedelia. The internal rhymes, the repetitions of form, the
uneven metre (and the swirling harmonica music, though you can't hear it
by email) all combine to create a soft, surreal, hypnotic atmosphere...
"In the jingle-jangle morning I'll come following you".


Why marry at all? -- Marge Piercy

Guest poem sent in by Sriram
(Poem #111) Why marry at all?
Why mar what has grown up between the cracks
and flourished like a weed
that discovers itself to bear rugged
spikes of magenta blossoms in August,
ironweed sturdy and bold,
a perennial that endures winters to persist?

Why register with the state?
Why enlist in the legions of the respectable?
Why risk the whole apparatus of roles
and rules, of laws and liabilities?
Why license our bed at the foot
like our Datsun truck: will the mileage improve?

Why encumber our love with patriarchal
word stones, with the old armor
of husband and the corset stays
and the chains of wife? Marriage
meant buying a breeding womb
and sole claim to enforced sexual service.

Marriage has built boxes in which women
have burst their hearts sooner
than those walls; boxes of private
slow murder and the fading of the bloom
in the blood; boxes in which secret
bruises appear like toadstools in the morning.

But we cannot invent a language
of new grunts. We start where we find
ourselves, at this time and place.

Which is always the crossing of roads
that began beyond the earth's curve
but whose destination we can now alter.

This is a public saying to all our friends
that we want to stay together. We want
to share our lives. We mean to pledge
ourselves through times of broken stone
and seasons of rose and ripe plum;
we have found out, we know, we want to continue.

-- Marge Piercy
This poem is from her collection "My Mother's Body". There are many things
about the poem that connect, that touche and provide pleasure. The words
are wonderfully well chosen, the images are striking, the similes and
metaphors compelling and forceful. The internal rhyme holds the story, the
body of the poem extremely well - the consonant "r" sounds dominate the
first part and strengthens the speaker's voice and tone. The poem, for me,
appeals to the head and the heart equally well.

Other notable poems: the title poem "My Mother's Body" is one of her best,
but I thought it too long to read on the screen and did not choose it; "You
Ask Why Sometimes I Say Stop" is another favourite of mine.


Intimates -- D H Lawrence

(Poem #110) Intimates
Don't you care for my love? she said bitterly.

   I handed her the mirror, and said:
Please address these questions to the proper person!
Please make all requests to head-quarters!
 In all matters of emotional importance
please approach the supreme authority direct! --
     So I handed her the mirror.
And she would have broken it over my head,
but she caught sight of her own reflection
and that held her spell bound for two seconds
           while I fled.
-- D H Lawrence
I'm not precisely sure why this is a poem, but I'll take Lawrence's word for
it <g>. It certainly made me laugh out loud - lovely buildup (complete with
exclamation marks) and a wonderfully unexpected last line.


The Viking Terror -- Anonymous

(Poem #109) The Viking Terror
Bitter is the wind tonight.
It tosses the ocean's white hair.
Tonight I fear not the fierce warriors of Norway
Coursing on the Irish Sea.
-- Anonymous
translated by Kuno Meyer.

I must confess I have an inordinate liking for 'Northern' poetry - from
the Icelandic Edda and Viking sagas through Old English alliterative
verse and the Welsh bardic tradition, all the way down to the present
day and good old Tolkien - there's something about epic poetry that
grabs my imagination. Today's poem is a beautifully concentrated example
of the same phenomenon - in just four short lines, the poet [1] manages
to conjure up an extraordinarily vivid atmosphere of grey northern skies
and howling winds, longboats battling through the waves, honour and
valour and courage...

Notice how direct the language of this poem is. It's an especial
characteristic of heroic verse that the words used be simple and common,
the better to express strong emotions clearly and without unnecessary
adornment. This again is the reason why much 'older' poetry (the Elder
Edda, classical Haiku, Yoruba chants) seems elegant to modern readers -
by stripping the verse to its essence, to the barest possible words, the
folk poet achieves a simplicity and honesty lost to more 'sophisticated'


[1] if indeed he was a 'professional' poet - I think it far more likely
that this fragment of verse was composed by a warrior or (even more
likely) a lover :-)

The Penitent -- Edna St Vincent Millay

(Poem #108) The Penitent
         I had a little Sorrow,
          Born of a little Sin,
    I found a room all damp with gloom
         And shut us all within;
   And, "Little Sorrow, weep," said I,
    "And, Little Sin, pray God to die,
       And I upon the floor will lie
     And think how bad I've been!"

       Alas for pious planning - -
        It mattered not a whit!
    As far as gloom went in that room,
      The lamp might have been lit!
    My little Sorrow would not weep,
    My little Sin would go to sleep --
    To save my soul I could not keep
       My graceless mind on it!

         So I got up in anger,
        And took a book I had,
     And put a ribbon on my my hair
       To please a passing lad,
  And, "One thing there's no getting by --
     I've been a wicked girl," said I:
      "But if I can't be sorry, why,
        I might as well be glad!"
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
A charming poem, if not as brilliant as some of her other pieces. Millay was
nothing if not unconventional - encouraged towards independence of thought
from a young age, she cocks a snook at orthodox morality in a manner
somewhat reminiscent of Dorothy Parker, though far less acidly. To quote one
of her biographies, "in those first volumes Millay was the voice of
rebellious 'flaming youth,' of the young people who were bent on gathering
'figs from thistles' and burning their candles at both ends, of the girls
who claimed for themselves the free standards of their brothers."

Constructionwise, the somewhat singsong metre gives the poem a delightful
air of irreverence. I also love the playful complexity of the form, with the
varied line lengths, the occasional internal rhyme, and, for semi-personal
reasons, the abcbdddb rhyme scheme.


Preludes -- T S Eliot

one of the
(Poem #107) Preludes

The winter's evening settles down
With smells of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves across your feet
And newpapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On empty blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.
-- T S Eliot
One of the earliest Eliot poems I read - we had to study it in school.
Despite that <g>, it remains one of my favourites...


[The Preludes] form a group of four portraits - two of places, and two
of people. Despite their inclusive title, which suggests the
preoccupation with musical form that was to stay with Eliot until he
wrote the Four Quartets towards the end of his career, one is
immediately struck by their vividness as sketches. Each seems to suggest
the material for a painting by a French artist at the turn of the
century. Eliot has been wittily charged with writing the best French
poetry in the English language, and although the landscape of these
poems seems to be that of Edwardian New York, it is seen as if through
the eyes of the French poet Paul Verlaine.

    -- George Macbeth, Poetry 1900-1975


Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in Missouri on September 26, 1888. He
lived in St. Louis during the first eighteen years of his life and
attended Harvard University. In 1910, he left the United States for the
Sorbonne, having earned both undergraduate and masters degrees and
having contributed several poems to the Harvard Advocate. After a year
in Paris, he returned to Harvard to pursue a doctorate in philosophy,
but returned to Europe and settled in England in 1914. The following
year, he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood and began working in London, first
as a teacher, and later for Lloyd's Bank.

It was in London that Eliot came under the influence of his contemporary
Ezra Pound, who recognized his poetic genius at once, and assisted in
the publication of his work in a number of magazines, most notably `The
Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' in Poetry in 1915. His first book of
poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, was published in 1917, and
immediately established him as a leading poet of the avant-garde. With
the publication of The Waste Land in 1922, now considered by many to be
the single most influential poetic work of the twentieth century,
Eliot's reputation began to grow to nearly mythic proportions; by 1930,
and for the next thirty years, he was the most dominant figure in poetry
and literary criticism in the English-speaking world.

As a poet, he transmuted his affinity for the English metaphysical poets
of the 17th century (most notably John Donne) and the 19th century
French symbolist poets (including Baudelaire and Laforgue) into radical
innovations in poetic technique and subject matter. His poems in many
respects articulated the disillusionment of a younger post-World-War-I
generation with the values and conventions--both literary and social--of
the Victorian era.

As a critic also, he had an enormous impact on contemporary literary
taste, propounding views that, after his conversion to orthodox
Christianity in the late thirties, were increasingly based in social and
religious conservatism. His major later poems include Ash Wednesday
(1930) and Four Quartets (1943); his books of literary and social
criticism include The Sacred Wood (1920), The Use of Poetry and the Use
of Criticism (1933), After Strange Gods (1934), and Notes Towards the
Definition of Culture (1940).  Eliot was also an important playwright,
whose verse dramas include Murder in the Cathedral, The Family Reunion,
and The Cocktail Party.

He became a British citizen in 1927; long associated with the publishing
house of Faber & Faber, he published many younger poets, and eventually
became director of the firm. After a notoriously unhappy first marriage,
Eliot separated from his first wife in 1933, and was remarried, to
Valerie Fletcher, in 1956. T. S. Eliot received the Nobel Prize for
Literature in 1948, and died in London in 1965.

    -- The Academy of American Poets -

[and more]

This particular Prelude, of course, may be familiar to some of you -
several of the lines are used almost as is in the song 'Memory', from
Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical 'Cats' (which itself is based on Eliot's
book of light verse, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats). You can't
keep a good poet down :-).