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Comment -- Dorothy Parker

(Poem #192) Comment
  Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
  A medley of extemporanea;
  And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
  And I am Marie of Roumania.
-- Dorothy Parker
Short, sweet and to the point. The four line poem is one that particularly
lends itself to humorous effect - it allows a little more buildup than a
couplet, while preserving the added impact that comes from having the
punchline coincide with the first rhyme[1].

Examples abound, including several by Nash, Belloc, Bierce, Bentley etc,some
of which have been run on Minstrels. And, of course, some lovely ones by
Parker herself, of which the one above is probably my favourite - partly for
the fine tone of irony, and partly for the ingenuity of the rhyme[2]. And
partly, too, for Parker's particular talent of combining a light, pattering
surface, with the bitter undercurrent that runs through nearly all her work.

[1] technically the second rhyme here, but the point is that the quatrain,
especially the short-lined one, is often just an extension of a couplet,
with the  1/3 rhyme either assuming a secondary position, or omitted
altogether, so that it isn't associated with any sense of closure.

[2] another very common element of humorous verse


Notes: See poem #150

The Garden -- Ezra Pound

Many thanks to Kuldeep Amarnath for suggesting this poem, which I hadn't read
(Poem #191) The Garden
Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
    of a sort of emotional anaemia.

And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
    will commit that indiscretion.
-- Ezra Pound
Another lovely little Ezra Pound vignette - though not as moving as The River
Merchant's Wife, nor as elegant and concise as And The Days Are Not Full Enough
[1], it nevertheless captures Pound's poetic ethos to a nicety.

What I find most interesting about this poem is the fact that while it's clearly
an imagist poem, there's an almost complete absence of traditional poetic images
in it. Indeed, after the (beautiful) first line, the words are matter-of-fact,
direct, and not a little harsh [2]. And yet... the overall effect is delicate,
clean, and wonderfully perceptive.

If The River Merchant's Wife is a romantic [3] canvas, The Garden is a
silhouette or a thumbnail sketch - a few vivid strokes of the artist's
brush/pen, and the portrait is complete.


[1] Both of which have been featured on this mailing list in the past - see
[2] Over-eager critics (and there are always plenty of them around) may find
hints of incipient Fascism in the second stanza; me, I think that's reading too
much into a line which (imho) merely serves as a contrasting backdrop for the
central portrait.
[3] Once again, do note the absence of capitalization - the poem may be
romantic, but Romantic it certainly is not.

Young Poets -- Nicanor Parra

(Poem #190) Young Poets
 Write as you will
 In whatever style you like
 Too much blood has run under the bridge
 To go on believing
 That only one road is right.

 In poetry everything is permitted.

 With only this condition of course,
 You have to improve the blank page.
-- Nicanor Parra
       (trans. by Miller Williams)

Today's poem - or, rather, antipoem[1] - is surely the final word on the
'prescriptive poetry' front. I don't think I need say very much about it,
except that the last line is a beautifully and slyly unexpected conclusion,
with which I agree wholeheartedly.

A quick note on form - I've gone into the difference between free verse and
unstrutured verse before (see, for example the comments at poem #54),
but the antipoem is by its very nature unstructured - the form here is a
deliberate formlessness that, while not my favourite poetic style, can be
refreshingly original if done well.

[1] The biography describes the concept nicely, so I won't repeat it here.

Biographical Note:

Parra, Nicanor

 b. Sept. 5, 1914, San Fabian, Chile

  one of the most important Latin-American poets of his time, the originator
  of so-called antipoetry (poetry that opposes traditional poetic techniques
  or styles).

  Parra studied mathematics and physics at the University of Chile in
  Santiago, at Brown University, Providence, R.I., U.S. (1943-45), and at
  the University of Oxford. From 1952 he taught theoretical physics at the
  University of Chile.

  Although Parra later renounced his first book of poetry, Cancionero sin
  nombre (1937; "Songbook Without a Name"), his use of colloquial, often
  irreverent language, the light treatment of classical forms, and his
  humorous tone in that volume presage his later antipoetry.

  With Poemas y antipoemas (1954; Poems and Antipoems), Parra's attempts at
  making poetry more accessible to the masses gained him national and
  international fame. These verses treat common, everyday problems of a
  grotesque and often absurd world in clear, direct language and with black
  humour and ironic vision.

  After experimenting with the local speech and humour of the Chilean lower
  classes in La cueca larga (1958; "The Long Cueca [Dance]"), Parra
  published Versos de salón (1962; "Verses of the Salon"), which continued
  the antipoetic techniques of his earlier works. Obra gruesa (1969; "Big
  Work") is a collection of Parra's poems, excluding his first book. Its
  tone of dissatisfaction is intensified by the use of prosaic language,
  cliché, and ironic wordplay.

  In 1967 Parra began to write experimental short poems that he later
  published as a collection of postcards entitled Artefactos (1972;
  "Artifacts"). In these he attempted to reduce language to its simplest
  form without destroying its social and philosophical impact. Later
  collections include Sermones y prédicas del Cristo de Elqui (1977; Sermons
  and Homilies of the Christ of Elqui) and Hojas de Parra (1985; "Leaves
  [Pages] of Parra").

        -- EB

And finally, a bonus poem that delivers a rather trenchant comment on


   Like Nicanor Parra I write antipoetry
   antipoems for antipeople in antibooks
   antipoems for anticritics for antireaders
   antipoetry for antiassholes in the antimatter
   antielectrons in the antiatoms for antideaf
   in my antiadaptation to the literary world
   in the antigroup of the antiliterature
   antipoetry for antieditors for antiprizes
   for antilectors for anticorrectors for antipublishers
   and it is not because I don't like poetry or
   because I don't like critics, it is because,
   like any other antipoet I only know
   how to write

          -- Moshe Benarroch


dear Captain Poetry -- bpNichol

Not sure if this is as a poem about poetry, a poem about poets, or a poem about
love (and various approximations thereof). Maybe it's all the above. Or none.
Whatever. I like it anyway, so here goes...
(Poem #189) dear Captain Poetry
 dear Captain Poetry,
 your poetry is trite.
 you cannot write a sonnet
 tho you've tried to every night
 since i've known you.
 we're thru!!
        Madame X

 dear Madame X

 Look how the sun leaps now upon our faces
 Stomps & boots our eyes into our skulls
 Drives all thot to weird & foreign places
 Till the world reels & the kicked mind dulls,
 Drags our hands up across our eyes
 Sends all white hurling into black
 Makes the inner cranium our skies
 And turns all looks sent forward burning back.
 And you, my lady, who should be gentler, kind,
 Have yet the fiery aspect of the sun
 Sending words to burn into my mind
 Destroying all my feelings one by one;
    You who should have tiptoed thru my halls
    Have slammed my doors & smashed me into walls.

        Cap Poetry
-- bpNichol
from 'The Captain Poetry Poems', 1971.
Note that the occasional misspellings are intentional.

Before embarking on a dissection of this poem, you might want to read this brief

[Biographical Note]

bpNichol [real name: Barrie Phillip Nichol - t.] was one of Canada's most
challenging and innovative poets. His writing spans a remarkable range -- from
concise allegories on a single letter, on through to sound poetry, fiction,
theoretical investigations and culminating in his nine-volume poem The
Martyrology. Nichol's curiosity and his care of language provoke his readers to
embark on their own explorations into the language frontier.

Nichol died in 1988.

[Deep Analysis Begins Here]

Before anything else, I have to say that I just love the concept of Captain
Poetry - defender of the weak, protector of the poor, and guardian of our poetic
frontiers - the world needs more superheroes like him.

This is actually a rather mild poem for Nichol - not as outre as some of his
work, nor as overtly experimental. Perhaps that's the reason why it's also one
of his more popular ones - innovators constantly have to tread the thin line
between accessibility (and public acclaim; after all, even poets have to eat)
and originality.

But I digress. Back to the poem, folks, back to the poem.

The surface of today's poem is obvious enough; what's interesting (and what I
like about it, and about Nichol's poems in general [1]) is the host of self- and
meta-referential questions it raises about the Nature Of Poetry. I'm not going
to go into detail about every little hint or teaser he's thrown in, but do note
in passing the echoes of Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and Thom Gunn. Understated,
but nice.


[1] though again, how can you _not_ like a poet who populates his world with
characters named St. Orm and St. Ranglehold [2]? Or who titles a book 'Not what
the Siren sang, but what the Frag ment'?
[2] both from 'The Martyrology', Nichol's greatest work.


Check out some examples of Nichol's visual poetry at
[broken link]


In the late 1960s, Nichol was part of a performance poetry group called the Four
Horsemen. A documentary about this group, titled 'The Sons of Captain Poetry',
was made in 1971 by no less a personage than Michael Ondaatje. So now you know.

Ars Poetica -- Archibald MacLeish

Continuing what is fast becoming a joint theme...
(Poem #188) Ars Poetica
 A poem should be palpable and mute
 As a globed fruit

 As old medallions to the thumb

 Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
 Of casement ledges where the moss has grown -

 A poem should be wordless
 As the flight of birds

 A poem should be motionless in time
 As the moon climbs

 Leaving, as the moon releases
 Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

 Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
 Memory by memory the mind -

 A poem should be motionless in time
 As the moon climbs

 A poem should be equal to:
 Not true

 For all the history of grief
 An empty doorway and a maple leaf

 For love
 The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -

 A poem should not mean
 But be
-- Archibald MacLeish
  In the code language of criticism when a poem is said to be about poetry
  the word "poetry" is often used to mean: how people construct an
  intelligibility out of the randomness they experience; how people choose
  what they love; how people integrate loss and gain; how they distort
  experience by wish and dream; how they perceive and consolidate flashes of
  harmony; how they (to end a list otherwise endless) achieve what Keats
  called a "Soul or Intelligence destined to possess the sense of Identity."

        -- Helen Vendler, poetry critic

Rather unsurprisingly, if you think about it, a number of poets have taken a
break from mirroring reality, and turned their gaze inwards, whether upon
other poets, other poems, the nature and role of the Poet, or, most
reflexively, the nature and role of Poetry.

Today's poem is a beautiful example. Titled Ars Poetica - 'the Art of
Poetry'[1] - it attempts to prescribe the nature of poetry, and - in a move
Hofstadter would have loved - does so in the form of a poem. Furthermore, it
does not seek to sidestep the possible pitfalls and inconsistencies this
approach leaves it open to - rather it meets them head on, using words like
'mute', 'dumb' and 'wordless' to set up a paradox culminating in the
wonderful last stanza, 'a poem should not mean / but be'.

En route, the main thread is woven through with several exquisite images,
speaking to the reader even as it advocates silence, progressing even as it
advocates motionlessness. And yet, at the end, it does resolve itself into a
seamless, integrated whole, as perfectly self-contained as the globed fruit,
or the timeless, frozen stillness of a winter's night. The reader is free to
pick it apart, to tease meaning from the tapestry of contradictions and
images. As for the poem, it simply is.

[1] and not, as several overingenious students have suggested, 'poetry my
a**e' <g>


A nice serial analysis of the poem can be found at
<> - I don't agree with every
one of his points, but overall he's done a nice job.

MacLeish, Archibald

 b. May 7, 1892, Glencoe, Ill., U.S.
 d. April 20, 1982, Boston

  U.S. poet, playwright, teacher, and public official, whose concern for
  liberal democracy figured in much of his work, although his most memorable
  lyrics are of a more private nature.

There's an online biography at <[broken link]>
and another at <[broken link]>


Poetry for Supper -- R S Thomas

Taking my cue from Martin...
(Poem #187) Poetry for Supper
'Listen, now, verse should be as natural
As the small tuber that feeds on muck
And grows slowly from obtuse soil
To the white flower of immortal beauty.'

'Natural, hell! What was it Chaucer
Said once about the long toil
That goes like blood to the poem's making?
Leave it to nature and the verse sprawls,
Limp as bindweed, if it break at all
Life's iron crust. Man, you must sweat
And rhyme your guts taut, if you'd build
Your verse a ladder.'

        'You speak as though
No sunlight ever surprised the mind
Groping on its cloudy path.'

'Sunlight's a thing that needs a window
Before it enters a dark room.
Windows don't happen.'

        So two old poets,
Hunched at their beer in the low haze
Of an inn parlour, while the talk ran
Noisily by them, glib with prose.
-- R S Thomas
Another slightly more explicit take on the divide between 'natural' and
'constructed' poems [1].

"This is the nearest Thomas comes to a comic poem. He has an ear for Welsh
dialogue, which he seems to use relatively rarely. Despite the imagery, one gets
a real sense of the two old poets' voices in the poem as they talk over the
nature of their art in a country pub. Thomas, one may suppose, is ultimately on
the side of the second poet who believes that inspiration needs the vehicle of
craftsmanship before it can fully come through."

    -- George MacBeth

I tend to agree with Thomas' point of view - I've always felt that much of what
is passed off as 'natural' these days is just laziness or shoddy workmanship.
That said, I would be the first to admit that there are contexts in which free
verse is far more apt than verse constrained by metre and rhyme; conversely,
there are contexts which cry out for the use of specific forms of prosody. The
true skill lies in knowing when to use which.


PS. I should add (before anyone points out my obtuseness) (Hi Martin!) that the
last line suddenly puts the whole poem into a new perspective - that poets, by
concentrating on the how and what of writing poetry, often ignore the why [2].

[1] See yesterday's poem, 'By-the-way', poem #186
for the source of my inspiration.
[2] Isn't it amazing how so many poems stand and fall on the strength of their
last lines? Browse through the Minstrels archives for more examples -

By-the-Way -- Patrick MacGill

(Poem #186) By-the-Way
  These be the little verses, rough and uncultured, which
  I've written in hut and model, deep in the dirty ditch,
  On the upturned hod by the palace made for the idle rich.

  Out on the happy highway, or lines where the engines go,
  Which fact you may hardly credit, still for your doubts 'tis so,
  For I am the person who wrote them, and surely to God, I know!

  Wrote them beside the hot-plate, or under the chilling skies,
  Some of them true as death is, some of them merely lies,
  Some of them very foolish, some of them otherwise.

  Little sorrows and hopings, little and rugged rhymes,
  Some of them maybe distasteful to the moral men of our times,
  Some of them marked against me in the Book of the Many Crimes.

  These, the Songs of a Navvy, bearing the taint of the brute,
  Unasked, uncouth, unworthy out to the world I put,
  Stamped with the brand of labor, the heel of a navvy's boot.
-- Patrick MacGill
A recurring theme in poetry is the 'voice of the common man'; poetry
purportedly written by the uneducated, the poor man, the rough, uncultured
worker. And the attraction of such poetry is undoubtedly that it cuts
straight to the heart of the matter, eschewing the 'poetic' trappings that
many do feel get in the way of the 'real poetry'[1].

Of course this is untrue, and it is likewise the reason that most of the
oeuvre is simply bad verse disguised as rough verse. The good poems fall
into two categories - poetry actually written by the rough, uncultured man,
which may by its sheer unaffectedness[2] contain the rare gem, or poetry
written by good poets, with careful attention paid to every word in an
attempt to reproduce the rhythms of semieducated speech and avoid them
jarring against the more stylized rhythms of verse.

There have been many excellent examples of the latter - Kipling comes to
mind, as does Frost. Today's poem, while I wouldn't call it brilliant, does
a pretty good job - it doesn't quite capture the 'common-man' effect, but
it is a nice poem in its own right. Of course, it then remains debatable
whether it failed in sounding 'rough and uncultured', or it succeeded in
that we would 'hardly credit' the fact. On the whole, I'd call it a good
poem, and leave it at that.

[1] it is to this that I attribute the growing popularity of free verse -
    the feeling that any attention whatsoever to form stifles and compromises
    content. Needless to say, I disagree.
[2] and you need to be _very_ good to simulate this

Biographical Note:

  Patrick MacGill was born in Donegal in 1890. He was the son of poverty-
  -stricken peasants and, between the ages of 12 and 19, he worked as farm-
  -servant, drainer, potato-digger, and navvy, becoming one of the thousands
  of stray "tramp-laborers" who cross each summer from Ireland to Scotland
  to help gather in the crops. Out of his bitter experiences and the evils
  of modern industrial life, he wrote several vivid novels (The Rat Pit is
  an unforgettable document) and the tragedy-crammed Songs of the Dead End.
  He joined the editorial staff of The Daily Express in 1911; was in the
  British army during the war; was wounded at Loos in 1915; and wrote his
  Soldier Songs during the conflict.

        -- Louis Untermeyer

  The Great Push:
  <[broken link]>

  Soldier Songs:
  <[broken link]>


A Glass of Beer -- David O'Bruadair

(Poem #185) A Glass of Beer
 The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there
 Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer;
 May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair,
 And beat bad manners out of her skin for a year.

 That parboiled ape, with the toughest jaw you will see
 On virtue's path, and a voice that would rasp the dead,
 Came roaring and raging the minute she looked at me,
 And threw me out of the house on the back of my head!

 If I asked her master he'd give me a cask a day;
 But she, with the beer at hand, not a gill would arrange!
 May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten, and may
 The High King of Glory permit her to get the mange.
-- David O'Bruadair
 Irish, 17th century.
 Translated by James Stephens.

 Some of the best invective I've ever seen... the last couplet is simply
inspired :-)


 PS. You didn't _really_ expect me to add a commentary to this poem, did you?

Chief Seattle's Reply -- Chief Sealth (Seattle)

Guest poem sent in by Sameer Siruguri
(Poem #184) Chief Seattle's Reply
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? That idea is
                                                         strange to us.
If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water,
                                                  how can you buy them?

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people.
Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark
woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and
                                            experience of my people.
The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory of the red man.

The white man's dead forget the country of their birth when they go to
walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful earth, for it
                                            is the mother of the red man.
We are part of the earth and it is part of us.

The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great
                                          eagle, these are our brothers.
The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony,
                                and man - all belong to the same family.

So, when the Great Chief in Washington sends word that he wishes to
buy our land, he asks much of us. The Great Chief sends word he will
reserve us a place so that we can live comfortably to ourselves.
He will be our father and we will be his children. So we will consider
                                         your offer to buy our land.
But it will not be easy. For this land is sacred to us.

This shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water
but the blood of our ancestors.

If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must
teach your children that it is sacred and that the ghostly reflection in
the clear water of the lakes tells us events and memories in the life of
my people.
The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.
The rivers are our brothers, they quench our thirst. The rivers carry our
cannoes, feed our children. If we sell our land, you must learn, and teach
your children, that the rivers are our brothers, and yours, and you must
henceforth give the rivers the kindness you would give any brother.

We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of
the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in
the night and takes from the land whatever he needs.
The earth is not his brother, but his enemy, and when he has conquered it,
                                                             he moves on.
He leaves his father's grave behind, and he does not care. He kidnaps the
earth from his children, and he does not care.
His father's grave and his children's birthright are forgotten.
He treats his mother, the earth, and his brother, the sky, as things to be
                          bought, plundered, sold like sheep or bright beads.
His appetite will devour the earth and leave behind only a desert.
I do not know. Our ways are different than yours.

The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps
                       because the red man is a savage and does not understand.
There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. No place to hear the
unfurling leaves in spring, or the rustle of an insects wings.
But perhaps it is because I am a savage and do not understand.

The clatter only seems to insult the ears. And what is there to life if
man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoorwill or the arguments of the
frogs around a pond at night ? I am red man and do not understand.

The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of a
pond, and the smell of the wind itself, cleaned by a mid-day rain, or
scented by the pinon pine.

The air is precious to the red man, for all things share the same breath -
the beast, the tree, the man, they all share the same breath.
The white man does not seem to notice the air he breaths. Like a man dying
for many days is numb to the stench.

But if we sell you our land, you must remember that the air is precious to
us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.
The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath
                                   also receives his last sigh.

And if we sell you our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a
place where even the white man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened
by the meadows flowers.
So we will consider your offer to buy our land. If we decide to accept,
I'll make one condition, the white man must treat the beasts of this land
as his brothers.
I am a savage and I do not understand any other way.

I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white
man who shot them from a passing train.
I am a savage and I do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be
more important than the buffalo that we kill only to stay alive.

What is man without the beasts ? If all the beasts were gone, man would
die from a great loneliness of spirit.
For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are

You must teach the children that the ground beneath their feet is the
ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your
children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin.
Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is
our mother.
Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit
upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

This we know, the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.
This we know.
All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things
are connected.
Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not
weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to
the web, he does to himself.

Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to
friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.
We may be brothers after all.
We shall see.
One thing we know, which the white man may discover one day - our God is
the same God.
You may think you know that you own Him as you wish to own our land, but you
cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for the red man
and the white.
This earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt
on its Creator.

The whites too shall pass, perhaps sooner than all other tribes.
Contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.
But in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of
the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you
dominion over this land and over the red man.
That destiny is a mystery to us, for we do not understand when the buffalo
are all slaughtered, the wild horses are tamed, the secret corners of the
forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills
blotted by talking wires.
Where is the thicket ? Gone.
Where is the eagle ? Gone.
The end of living and beginning of survival.
-- Chief Sealth (Seattle)
There is really nothing left to say after that barrage of eloquence, except to
quote a very interesting account of this "poem", at:

[broken link]

Given the elaborate ancestry of this poem, I thought it quite within my rights
to do my own bit and created the line breaks and spacing that you see
above. Most of it is to accomodate the stuff within 80 columns for people
reading this on Unix terminals.

The above-mentioned article follows. It is a trifle long, but definitely
readable. Skim Chief Sealth's biodata in the middle to get through it faster.



                BY PETER STEKEL

AMONG THE Indians of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps none is as well known as
Chief Seattle, who left the earth 130 years ago. Called Sealth by his native
Suquamish tribe, the chief's fame largely rests upon a speech made popular
during the heady days of the 1970s. It includes such inspiring lines as: "Man
did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to
the web, he does to himself." As early as 1975, the authenticity of these words
was questioned. Although Sealth was an eloquent speaker, could his famous words
belong to someone else?

What we know of Sealth (pronounced SEE-elth, with a guttural stop at the end)
and his life is mostly conjecture based upon myth with a little bit of
extrapolated fact. That he was a was expected to share his largess with the
rest of the tribe during a potlatch.

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver anchored off Restoration Point on Bainbridge
Island in Puget Sound. Sealth, according to the recollections of various
old-timers, often spoke of seeing the ship and being impressed with the guns,
steel and other goods. Judging from these accounts, he must have been about 6
at the time. Vancouver was not impressed, writing in his log that the village
was "the most lowly and meanest of its kind. The best of the huts were poor and
miserable," and the people were "busily engaged like swine, rooting up this
beautiful meadow."

As a young adult, Sealth made his mark as a warrior, orator and diplomat. He
worked to increase cooperation within the 42 recognized divisions of Salish
people occupying Puget Sound, including his own Suquamish. In later years it
was remembered that the old chief had a resonant voice that carried "half a
mile" and that "eloquent sentences rolled from his lips like the ceaseless
thunders of cataracts flowing from exhaustless fountains."

In 1832, he impressed the Hudson's Bay factor at Nisqually, Dr. Fraser
Tolmie. "The handsomest Indian I have ever seen," said Tolmie. In 1838, Sealth
was baptized "Noah" by Father Modest Demers. One wonders if the saw this as one
practical way to ascend to the white man's affluence. When the Denny-Boren
party landed in 1851 to found their town on Puget Sound, Sealth was there to
encourage the construction of a trading post.

The post failed, but then Dr. David ("Doc") Maynard entered the picture in
1855. Maynard had left his wife of 20 years in Ohio to come west and make his
fortune. Doc was a dreamer, and he saw dollar signs on the shores of Puget
Sound. No sooner had he filed on a large piece of property, next to the Dennys
and Borens, than he began to give it away to encourage growth. He opened a
trading post along the shores of the Duwamish River, and one of his best
customers was Sealth. They became such good friends that Doc named the new
"city" after him, "Seattle" being as close a pronunciation as most white
tongues would allow. The was less than pleased with the distinction, convinced
as he was that, after dying, every time "Seattle" was spoken he would turn in
his grave.

The 1850s were a turning point for the Salish peoples in and around Puget
Sound. As more and more settlers moved into the country, aggressively
displacing the Salish, discontent rose within the various tribes. With the
discontent came acts of violence on both sides, with the Salish increasingly on
the losing end. In 1853, Washington Territorial Governor Issac Stevens, a man
who believed in the late 19th-century philosophy of "the only good Indian is a
dead Indian," began buying up or seizing Salish lands and removing the tribes
to reservations. In December 1854, the governor visited Seattle, and Sealth
made a speech lamenting that the day of the Indian had passed and the future
belonged to the white man. On hand to take notes was Dr. Henry J. Smith, a
surgeon with a penchant for florid Victorian poetry (his pen name was Paul

In 1855, Sealth spoke again, briefly, at the formal signing of the Port Madison
Treaty, which settled the Suquamish on their reservation across the sound from
Seattle. His brief remarks have none of the elaborate pretensions of most
speeches recorded during that era. As historian Bernard DeVoto noted, Indian
speeches tended to reflect the literary aspirations of the recorder more than
the orator.

Three years later, an old and impoverished Sealth spoke one last time for the
record, wondering why the treaty had not been signed by the Congress of the
United States, leaving the Indians to languish in poverty: "I have been very
poor and hungry all winter and am very sick now. In a little while I will
die. When I do, my people will be very poor; they will have no property, no
chief and no one to talk for them." This entire text, as well as Sealth's 1855
comments, are preserved in the National Archives.

Until the 1970s, the story of Chief Seattle belonged to the city that bears his
name. Then, with the environmental movement in full swing, the speech Sealth
made to Governor Stevens in 1854 was resurrected into the consciousness of
Americans. It is not difficult to find people who consider the speech to be on
almost the same level as the Gospel. The modern versions of the speech, which
has been called the embodiment of all environmental ideas, have references to
things Sealth would have never seen or known about, such as trains,
whippoorwills, and the slaughter of the buffalo (which occurred long after the
's death) are included. Comparisons between known versions of the text have
turned up four main variants, each with its own phrasing, wording and sometimes
contradictory content.

The first version of the speech has been traced to a transcription made by
Dr. Henry Smith more than 30 years after the actual event. Smith's is the
original on which all others are based; it appeared in the October 29, 1887,
issue of the said, based upon notes Smith had made at the time. Smith concludes
with the comment, "The above is but a fragment of his speech, and lacks all the
charm lent by the grace and earnestness of the sable old orator, and the
occasion." Dr. Smith's diary cannot be found, so it is impossible to know just
how closely his notes followed what Sealth had to say. Moreover, Sealth was a
prideful man, and though he embraced the white man's commercial products, he
refused to learn his ways or speak his language. Hence, it is safe to say that
what Smith heard was a translation. It was probably made from Sealth's
Lushotseed language into the Chinook jargon and then into English, with each
transliteration losing or embellishing something of the original.

In 1931, Clarence B. Bagley published an article and reproduced the Chief
Seattle speech with his own additions. In 1932, John M. Rich published a
booklet called is essentially the same as these two.

The third major revision of the speech was done in 1969 by poet William
Arrowsmith, who "translated from the Victorian English of Dr. Henry Smith" an
interpretation that retains the 's meaning, if not the wording and phrasing. A
fourth version displayed at the 1974 Spokane Expo, a shorter "Letter to
President Franklin Pierce," and many other variations at about that time have a
familial resemblance to the Smith text but begin to adopt an ecological
view. In Smith's 1887 version, the natural world is the canvas upon which Chief
Seattle's words are drawn. In the 1970s, the environment is the entire

The differences between the Smith version and the fourth version are striking,
including the line, "Your God loves your people and hates mine," vs. "Our God
is the same God." There are inspiring phrases, in the newer version, that the
Smith transcription lacks: "How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the
land? The idea is strange to us....The rivers are our brothers....The air is
precious...for all things share the same breath" and "This we know. The earth
does not belong to man. Man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are
connected like the blood which unites one family."

For many years this fourth variant has been the accepted version of Chief
Seattle's speech. So it came as some surprise when this last rendering was
traced to a screenwriter, Ted Perry, for the 1972 movie a production of the
Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission. Perry heard Arrowsmith read
his 1969 version and with permission, used the text as the basis for a new,
fictitious speech for a film on pollution and ecology. The film's producers
revised Perry's script without his knowledge, removed his name from the film
credits, sent off 18,000 posters with the speech to viewers who requested it,
and glibly began the confusion we have today. Perry was not pleased.

Ted Perry is now a professor at Middlebury College in Vermont and has tried to
set the record straight, but with little result. In a article in 1992, Perry
mused, "Why are we so willing to accept a text like this if it's attributed to
a Native American," and not to a Caucasian? Over the years, he has been
embarrassed by his role in putting words in the mouth of Chief Seattle. "I
would never have allowed anyone to believe that it was anything but a
fictitious item written by me," he has said. Yet, Perry has also been pleased
that his words have served as a powerful inspiration for so many others. "Would
that this stimulus had not come at the expense of more distancing and
romanticizing the Native American," he adds.

The legend of Chief Seattle's speech may never die. Undoubtedly there will be
many who refuse to believe that such fine and noble words and sentiments could
have been made by a non-Indian during the 20th century--and for a television
show at that. To allow any version of the speech to pass away would be to deny
the magic and power of the words and their meaning. If something is true, it
shouldn't matter who said it and when it was said as long as we recognize the
source. What matters most is that the "Chief Seattle Speech" has something to
teach us all: "So if we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care
for it as we have cared for it. We may be brothers after all."

The chief died in 1866. His grave lies in a little cemetery behind the historic
St. Peter's Catholic Church in the hamlet of Suquamish on Washington's Kitsap
Peninsula. Through tall Douglas-fir trees toward the west, visitors can gaze
across mist-covered Puget Sound on warm summer days. With the snow-clad Cascade
Mountains on the far horizon as background, the tiny bumps of downtown Seattle
rise like headstones.

Sorrows of Werther -- William Makepeace Thackeray

(Poem #183) Sorrows of Werther
 Werther had a love for Charlotte
   Such as words could never utter;
 Would you know how first he met her?
   She was cutting bread and butter.

 Charlotte was a married lady,
   And a moral man was Werther,
 And, for all the wealth of Indies,
   Would do nothing for to hurt her.

 So he sighed and pined and ogled,
   And his passion boiled and bubbled,
 Till he blew his silly brains out,
   And no more was by it troubled.

 Charlotte, having seen his body
   Borne before her on a shutter,
 Like a well-conducted person,
   Went on cutting bread and butter.
-- William Makepeace Thackeray
As a poem, this doesn't really need much said about it. The reference is to
Goethe's 'The Sorrows of Young Werther', a work that apparently inspired a
lot of poems[1], though it's a pretty safe bet none of them took quite the
tone of Thackeray's piece.

[1] see <[broken link]>
for example.

Note: I couldn't find a synopsis of 'The Sorrows of Young Werther' anywhere,
but the following is a synopsis of Massenet's opera based on the novel:
<[broken link]>. The poem is a nicer if
not as accurate summary, though <g>.


Thackeray, William Makepeace

  b. July 18, 1811, Calcutta, India
  d. Dec. 24, 1863, London, Eng.

  English novelist whose reputation rests chiefly on Vanity Fair (1847-48),
  a novel of the Napoleonic period in England, and The History of Henry
  Esmond, Esq. (1852), set in the early 18th century.

  See <> for a full biography.


  In his own time Thackeray was regarded as the only possible rival to
  Dickens. His pictures of contemporary life were obviously real and were
  accepted as such by the middle classes. A great professional, he provided
  novels, stories, essays, and verses for his audience, and he toured as a
  nationally known lecturer. He wrote to be read aloud in the long Victorian
  family evenings, and his prose has the lucidity, spontaneity, and pace of
  good reading material. Throughout his works, Thackeray analyzed and
  deplored snobbery and frequently gave his opinions on human behaviour and
  the shortcomings of society, though usually prompted by his narrative to
  do so. He examined such subjects as hypocrisy, secret emotions, the
  sorrows sometimes attendant on love, remembrance of things past, and the
  vanity of much of life--such moralizing being, in his opinion, an
  important function of the novelist. He had little time for such favourite
  devices of Victorian novelists as exaggerated characterization and
  melodramatic plots, preferring in his own work to be more true to life,
  subtly depicting various moods and plunging the reader into a stream of
  entertaining narrative, description, dialogue, and comment.

  Thackeray's high reputation as a novelist continued unchallenged to the
  end of the 19th century but then began to decline. Vanity Fair is still
  his most interesting and readable work and has retained its place among
  the great historical novels in the English language.

        -- EB

La Belle Dame Sans Merci -- John Keats

It's been far too long since we did a Keats...
(Poem #182) La Belle Dame Sans Merci
O, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
    Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
    And no birds sing.

O, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
    So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
    And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
    With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
    Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
    Full beautiful --- a faery's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
    And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
    And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look'd at me as she did love,
    And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
    And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
    A faery's song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
    And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
    'I love thee true.'

She took me to her elfin grot,
    And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild sad eyes
    With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep,
    And there I dream'd --- ah! woe betide! ---
The latest dream I ever dreamt
    On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
    Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried --- 'La Belle Dame sans Merci
    Hath thee in thrall!'

I saw their starved lips in the gloam
    With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
    On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
    Alone and palely loitering;
Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
    And no birds sing.
-- John Keats
from Life, Letters and Literary Remains, 1848.

... not that I'm a great fan of 19th century poetry in general, but I've
always liked Keats. And 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' is my second
favouritest poem by him (the bestest, of course, is the incomparable 'On
First Looking into Chapman's Homer', Minstrels poem #12) (yes, it's been
some time).

If I had to name one poet of sheer unadulterated natural genius (as
opposed to skill or craftsmanship it would probably be Keats. Perhaps
more than any other writer before or since [1], he had the ability to
distil in its purest form that quality called 'poetry' in his verse. He
doesn't use ornate or flowery language; his rhymes and rhythms are often
less than perfect; his themes can be ordinary. And yet his words are
just magical - pure music.


[1] always excepting Shakespeare

[Links] Of course, poem #12

The Guards Came Through -- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

(Poem #181) The Guards Came Through
 Men of the Twenty-first
     Up by the Chalk Pit Wood,
 Weak with our wounds and our thirst,
     Wanting our sleep and our food,
 After a day and a night --
     God, shall we ever forget!
 Beaten and broke in the fight,
     But sticking it -- sticking it yet.
 Trying to hold the line,
     Fainting and spent and done,
 Always the thud and the whine,
     Always the yell of the Hun!
 Northumberland, Lancaster, York,
     Durham and Somerset,
 Fighting alone, worn to the bone,
     But sticking it -- sticking it yet.

 Never a message of hope!
     Never a word of cheer!
 Fronting Hill 70's shell-swept slope,
     With the dull dead plain in our rear.
 Always the whine of the shell,
     Always the roar of its burst,
 Always the tortures of hell,
     As waiting and wincing we cursed
 Our luck and the guns and the Boche,
     When our Corporal shouted, "Stand to!"
 And I heard some one cry, "Clear the front for the Guards!"
     And the Guards came through.

 Our throats they were parched and hot,
     But Lord, if you'd heard the cheers!
 Irish and Welsh and Scot,
     Coldstream and Grenadiers.
 Two brigades, if you please,
     Dressing as straight as a hem,
 We -- we were down on our knees,
     Praying for us and for them!
 Lord, I could speak for a week,
     But how could you understand!
 How should your cheeks be wet,
     Such feelin's don't come to you.
 But when can me or my mates forget,
     When the Guards came through?

 "Five yards left extend!"
     If passed from rank to rank.
 Line after line with never a bend,
     And a touch of the London swank.
 A trifle of swank and dash,
     Cool as a home parade,
 Twinkle and glitter and flash,
     Flinching never a shade,
 With the shrapnel right in their face
     Doing their Hyde Park stunt,
 Keeping their swing at an easy pace,
     Arms at the trail, eyes front!

 Man, it was great to see!
     Man, it was fine to do!
 It's a cot and a hospital ward for me,
 But I'll tell'em in Blighty, wherever I be,
     How the Guards came through.
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This poem reminds me strongly of Kipling's, and I like it for many of the
same reasons. While not one of the graphic, hyperrealistic war poems that
flourished during and after WW1, it nonetheless does a pretty good job of
capturing the scene, and makes effective use of the 'first person' voice.

What I really like about it are the rhythms; the basic metre has 3 feet per
line, and the natural tendency towards a four beat line[1] induces a pause
at the end of each line, lending the poem a rather slow and deliberate
progression. (This is most noticeable in the breach, when the occasional
four-foot line moves noticeably faster.) Note, also, the way the rhyme
scheme changes in the last verse, when the two consecutive rhyming lines and
the shift to both triple feet and tetrameter stretch out the tension, giving
the final line an air of conclusion and finality.

[1] most metred English verse, as I have noted before, tries to fit itself
to a 4x4 pattern; i.e. four lines of four feet each. The only exception is
pentameter, which explains its popularity in poems wishing to avoid the
air of 'commonness'.


  The war in question is WW1.

  Doyle was so little known as a poet that just one of the online
  biographies I could find bothered mentioning it - the bibliography,
  however, lists four books of verse:

  1898    Songs of Action
  1911    Songs of the Road
  1919    The Guards Came Through and Other Poems
  1922    The Poems of Arthur Conan Doyle. Collected edition


  Boche: [Fr. slang, = rascal, German, said to be shortened from caboche
  head, or from Alboche, modification of Allemand German.] The (French)
  soldiers' name for a German. -- OED

  (For an interesting perspective on this see the prefatory note at
  <[broken link]>)


Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan

  b. May 22, 1859, Edinburgh
  d. July 7, 1930, Crowborough, Sussex, Eng.

  writer best known for his creation of the detective Sherlock Holmes--one
  of the most vivid characters in English fiction. Holmes's friend, the
  good-hearted but comparatively obtuse Dr. Watson, and the detective's
  principal enemy, the archcriminal Professor Moriarty, also have taken on
  an uncanny life that persists beyond the page. In New York the Baker
  Street Irregulars and in London the Sherlock Holmes Society peruse
  Holmesiana with a cultist fervour, and similar groups exist on the
  Continent. The brilliantly eccentric hero, in deerstalker or dressing
  gown, has been portrayed in a variety of media and has put the author's
  other works--chiefly historical romances--somewhat in the shade.

  Conan Doyle practiced medicine until 1891 after graduating from the
  University of Edinburgh, and the character of Holmes, who first appeared
  in A Study in Scarlet (1887), partly derives from a teacher at Edinburgh
  noted for his deductive reasoning. Short stories about Holmes began to
  appear regularly in the Strand Magazine in 1891 and later made up several
  collections, including The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), The
  Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893), The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905),
  and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927). Conan Doyle wearied of him
  and devised his death in 1893--only to be forced by public demand to
  restore him ingeniously to life. The other Holmes novels include The
  Mystery of Cloomber (1889), The Sign of Four (1890), The Doings of Raffles
  Haw (1892), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), and The Valley of Fear
  (1915). [This is wrong - Cloomber and Raffles Haw weren't Holmes novels -

  Conan Doyle was knighted in 1902 for his work with a field hospital in
  Bloemfontein, S.Af., and for other activities concerning the South African
  (Boer) War. After the death of his son from wounds incurred in World War
  I, he dedicated himself to the cause of spiritualism.

        -- EB

  Author of more than 50 books, including historical novels (most famous The
  White Company), science fiction (The Lost World and other novels of
  Professor Challenger), domestic comedy, seafaring adventure, the
  supernatural, poetry, military history, many other subjects.

        -- <[broken link]>, the only
        place I found that mentioned poetry even in passing.

  A more complete biography is linked to from the Doyle page at
  <[broken link]>

The Emperor of Ice-Cream -- Wallace Stevens

(Poem #180) The Emperor of Ice-Cream
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
-- Wallace Stevens
"A poem need not have a meaning and, like most things in nature, often
does not have."
     - Wallace Stevens, from Opus Posthumous, "Adagia" (1959)

A line like that should absolve me of all critical responsiblities :-)

Actually, though, this poem (one of Stevens' most famous) is hardly
nonsensical. Rather, it describes (with great clarity, I might add) a
funeral scene, while commenting on the very human fallibilities of those
attending the wake.

Not much more to say, I'm afraid; I'll leave it to you to come up with
your own interpretations of each line (especially the most controversial
of them all, 'let be be finale of seem'). Good luck :-).



Lots and lots of lovely links for you today.

A good introductory essay to the meaning of this poem can be found at
[broken link]
while a more in-depth analysis lurks at
[broken link]

[broken link] Emperor of Ice Cream
is part of a larger article on Stevens and Theodore Roethke.

And of course there's the Minstrels biography at poem #154

Read all our prevous poems at

Missed -- P G Wodehouse

This week I'll be running a series of poems by writers far better known for
their prose.
(Poem #179) Missed
 The sun in the heavens was beaming,
     The breeze bore an odour of hay,
 My flannels were spotless and gleaming,
     My heart was unclouded and gay;
 The ladies, all gaily apparelled,
     Sat round looking on at the match,
 In the tree-tops the dicky-birds carolled,
     All was peace -- till I bungled that catch.

 My attention the magic of summer
     Had lured from the game -- which was wrong.
 The bee (that inveterate hummer)
     Was droning its favourite song.
 I was tenderly dreaming of Clara
     (On her not a girl is a patch),
 When, ah, horror! there soared through the air a
     Decidedly possible catch.

 I heard in a stupor the bowler
     Emit a self-satisfied 'Ah!'
 The small boys who sat on the roller
     Set up an expectant 'Hurrah!'
 The batsman with grief from the wicket
     Himself had begun to detach --
 And I uttered a groan and turned sick. It
     Was over. I'd buttered the catch.

 O, ne'er, if I live to a million,
     Shall I feel such a terrible pang.
 From the seats on the far-off pavilion
     A loud yell of ecstasy rang.
 By the handful my hair (which is auburn)
     I tore with a wrench from my thatch,
 And my heart was seared deep with a raw burn
     At the thought that I'd foozled that catch.

 Ah, the bowler's low, querulous mutter
     Points loud, unforgettable scoff!
 Oh, give me my driver and putter!
     Henceforward my game shall be golf.
 If I'm asked to play cricket hereafter,
     I am wholly determined to scratch.
 Life's void of all pleasure and laughter;
     I bungled the easiest catch.
-- P G Wodehouse
Wodehouse, I hope, needs little introduction[1]; however he is not very well
known as a poet. And not without reason - his poetry, while beautifully
crafted, lacks a certain something. I think part of the problem is that it
is crafted; unlike some poets, Wodehouse doesn't really have the knack of
making contrived rhymes and complicated constructions work. Somewhat
surprising, actually, given the sheer unadulterated genius of his prose,
though it may very well be that the selfsame prose has led me to judge this
little piece too harshly. Still, it is a pretty enough poem, if not a
'great' one, and well worth the read.

[1] and if he does, do yourself a favour and read some of his sublime and
ridiculous novels - I recommend 'Joy in the Morning'.


 Wodehouse, Sir P.G.

 b. Oct. 15, 1881, Guildford, Surrey, Eng. d. Feb. 14, 1975, Southampton,
 N.Y., U.S.

  in full PELHAM GRENVILLE WODEHOUSE, English-born comic novelist,
  short-story writer, lyricist, and playwright, best known as the creator of
  Jeeves, the supreme "gentleman's gentleman." He wrote more than 90 books
  and more than 20 film scripts and collaborated on more than 30 plays and
  musical comedies.

  Wodehouse was educated at Dulwich College, London, and, after a period in
  a bank, took a job as a humorous columnist on the London Globe (1902) and
  wrote freelance for many other publications. After 1909 he lived and
  worked for long periods in the United States and in France. He was
  captured in France by the Germans in 1940 and spent much of the war
  interned in Berlin. In 1941 he made five radio broadcasts from there to
  the United States in which he humorously described his experiences as a
  prisoner and subtly ridiculed his captors. His use of enemy broadcasting
  facilities evoked deep and lasting resentment in Britain, however, which
  was then practically under siege by Germany. After the war Wodehouse
  settled in the United States, becoming a citizen in 1955. He was knighted
  in 1975.

  Wodehouse began by writing public-school stories and then light romances.
  It was not until 1913 (in Something New; published in England as Something
  Fresh, 1915) that he turned to the farce, which became his special
  strength. He had a scholar's command of the English sentence. He delighted
  in vivid, far-fetched imagery and in slang. His plots are highly
  complicated and carefully planned. Whatever the dates of publication of
  his books, Wodehouse's English social atmosphere is of the late Edwardian
  era. The young bachelor Bertie Wooster and his effortlessly superior
  manservant, Jeeves, were still together, their ages unadvanced, in Much
  Obliged, Jeeves (1971), though they first appeared in a story in The Man
  with Two Left Feet (1917).

        -- EB


  There's a P.G.Wodehouse appreciation page at
  <[broken link]> with a lot of other nice links
  hanging off it.

  A few more of his poems can be found at
  <[broken link]>

Water -- Philip Larkin

(Poem #178) Water
If I were called in
To construct a religion
I should make use of water.

Going to church
Would entail a fording
To dry, different clothes;

My litany would employ
Images of sousing,
A furious devout drench,

And I should raise in the east
A glass of water
Where any-angled light
Would congregate endlessly.
-- Philip Larkin
Yesterday was O-bon, one of several Shinto festivals that grace the
Japanese calendar.

That, in itself, is not a particularly interesting fact, except insofar
as it motivated my choice of today's poem. You see, one of the motifs of
the O-bon celebration is the purity and power of water, and I got to
thinking about how so many religions do, in fact, use water as part of
their litany, as a 'furious devout drench'. From Holi in India to O-bon
to the Christian baptism ceremony, water (with all its attendant
symbolism) has a central role in many rituals and beliefs.

Interesting and thought-provoking, but what does it have to do with
poetry? Not much, I'm afraid :-)


PS. In case you thought this was free verse, do note the rhythm of the
stressesthe effect is to build up to a quiet yet
definite conclusion with wonderfully restrained elegance.

Where The Mind is Without Fear -- Rabindranath Tagore

Guest poem sent in by Sameer Siruguri
(Poem #177) Where The Mind is Without Fear
 Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
 Where knowledge is free;
 Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow
         domestic walls;
 Where words come out from the depth of truth;
 Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
 Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the
         dreary desert sand of dead habit;
 Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought
        and action--
 Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
If you have been schooled in India, you couldn't possibly have not read this in
some English textbook or the other. I have always been captivated by the
simplicity and economy of this poem; how, through exquisite imagery, Tagore
expresses such profound thoughts. If you find that it reads more like a prayer
chant from a religious book, you won't be far from the truth: the original
Bengali poem which Tagore himself translated as above, was titled
"Prayer". Though this poem was chosen because today is the 52nd anniversary of
India's independence, it is really a plea, not for the political independence
that was being sought early this century when it was written, but for freedom
from parochialness and dogma, a prayer that is perhaps as relevant today as it
was then. Maybe human nature itself is such that it always turns
once-refreshing paradigms into stale tradition, forcing a Tagore in every
generation to thus complain.

This poem is from Gitanjali, lit. Offering of Songs, published in English in


 Tagore, Rabindranath (1861-1941), Indian poet, philosopher, and Nobel
 laureate, was born in Calcutta, into a wealthy family. He began to write
 poetry as a child; his first book appeared when he was 17 years old. After a
 brief stay in England (1878) to study law, he returned to India, where he
 rapidly became the most important and popular author of the colonial era,
 writing poetry, short stories, novels, and plays.  He composed several hundred
 popular songs and in 1929 also began painting.

 Tagore wrote primarily in Bengali, but translated many of his works into
 English himself. He was awarded the 1913 Nobel Prize in literature, and in
 1915 he was knighted by the British king George V.  Tagore renounced his
 knighthood in 1919 following the Amritsar massacre of 400 Indian demonstrators
 by British troops. Some of his more famous works are 'Balaka', 'Sonar Tari',
 'Chitali', and 'Gitanjali'.  His selected poems 'Sanchaita', and selected
 short stories 'Galpagucha' were published in India 1966. Two of his songs are
 national anthem of India and Bangladesh.

 In 1901 Rabindranath Tagore founded a school at Santiniketan, West Bengal,
 India, which later developed into an international institution called Visva
 Bharati, where he tried to revive the spirit of education of ancient India,
 the famed "Gurukula" system, when students spent their childhood at their
 teacher's house and studied there.

More resources:

1. The poem in Bengali: [broken link]

2. A more detailed bio: [broken link]
                        [broken link]

Is there any reward? -- Hilaire Belloc

(Poem #176) Is there any reward?
  Is there any reward?
  I'm beginning to doubt it.
  I am broken and bored,
  Is there any reward
  Reassure me, Good Lord,
  And inform me about it.
  Is there any reward?
  I'm beginning to doubt it.
-- Hilaire Belloc
While I had mentioned, in passing, that Belloc had written more than the
children's verse he is famous for, I was surprised to discover the sheer
quantity and versatility of his work.

Today's poem is a beautiful example. Like most of Belloc's work, it shows a
strong Christian influence, and is vaguely reminiscent of some of the
metaphysical poets (particularly Herbert), but lacking the heaviness that so
many of them possess, and injecting, instead, a refreshingly ironical tone.

Belloc has, IMO, that quality that distinguishes a good poet - the ability
to take a timeworn theme and write a poem that in no way sounds cliched or
stale. Note the intriguing conflict of moods in today's piece - the
underlying seriousness, the overlay of irony ('Reassure me, Good Lord...')
and the almost nursery-rhyme effect, with a tinge of despair, created by the
short lines (2 feet), simple rhymes and repetition. All intended, no doubt,
as a commentary on Man's relationship with God; our old friends form and
content engaged in their usual interplay.

Biography etc:

See the previous poem, poem #124

And for a nice collection of Belloc's poems, see


I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre -- Anonymous

 The archetype of the Wandering Minstrel...
(Poem #175) I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre
 I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre,
 Which will last to the end of the world.
 My patron is Elphin...

 I know why there is an echo in a hollow;
 Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody;
 Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate;
 Why milk is white; why holly is green;
 Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow;
 Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter;
 Why the linnet is green and berries red;
 Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings;
 I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter.
 I know what beasts there are at the bottom of the sea;
 How many spears in battle; how may drops in a shower;
 Why a river drowned Pharaoh's people;
 Why fishes have scales.
 Why a white swan has black feet...

 I have been a blue salmon,
 I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain,
 A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,
 A stallion, a bull, a buck,
 I was reaped and placed in an oven;
 I fell to the ground when I was being roasted
 And a hen swallowed me.
 For nine nights was I in her crop.
 I have been dead, I have been alive.
 I am Taliesin.
-- Anonymous
From the Mabinogion.
Translated by Ifor Williams.
Taliesin, by the way, means 'radiant brow'.

[About the Mabinogion]

The tales of the Mabinogion are not the product of any single hand;
rather, they evolved over the centuries, passing from storyteller to
storyteller, until some master bard put them together around the twelfth
century. Its contents draw upon the myths and history of Celtic Britain:
four branches of a storyline set largely within the confines of Wales
and the otherworld.

The tales create a dreamlike atmosphere and preserve much of the
primitive, fascinating world of Celtic myth. They exemplify the heroic
and idealistic world of Celtic literature. The Mabinogion does not seem
to have been very well known until its translation into English in 1849
when Lady Charlotte Guest's version appeared. The tales comprise an
ensemble of parts, the first four "Pwyll", "Branwen", "Manawydan", and
"Math" comprising the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. It was Lady
Charlotte who supplied the title Mabinogion. Previously, the tales were
simply identified as part of this or that manuscript. Each of the Four
Branches ends with the term 'So ends this Branch of the Mabinogi.' The
Welsh word 'mab' means 'son'. Lady Charlotte concluded that 'mabinogi'
was a noun meaning 'a story for children' and that the word 'mabinogion'
was its plural. Another interpretation is that the word mabinog refers
to "a student in the bardic class" and mabinogi (pl. mabinogion)
therefore being "a tale belonging to the mabinog's repertoire".

The Mabinogion are found in the "Red Book of Hergest", a large
fourteenth-century manuscript kept at Jesus College, Oxford. An earlier
manuscript called 'The White Book of Rhydderch' (c. 1325) is incomplete
but more than likely contained all the tales when it was whole.
Fragments of these tales appear elsewhere, the earliest of which is
believed to be 'Peniarth 6' which dates to c. 1225. The stories were
probably drawn up in their present shape towards the end of the twelfth
century, but the stories are of much greater antiquity, some belonging
even to the more distant past of Celtic paganism and to the period of
Gallo-Breton unity. Welsh scholars tend to favour an earlier
amalgamation, wanting to maximize the extent of their ancestors'
contribution to The Mabinogion, while French scholars argue for 1200 -
1250 CE with the same thing in mind. Ifor Williams proposed 1060 CE as a
likely date and gives a number of arguments: the occurrence of outdated
word forms in the text, the scarcity of French words, references to
extinct customs, and the peaceful period 1055-63 which was a time of
bards from north and south to exchange and tell their tales.

It is interesting to note that in the main "Four Branches" there is no
mention of Arthur. Besides these four tales, the Mabinogion includes two
from romantic British history ("The Dream of Maxen Wledig" and "Lludd
and Llevelys"), two more interesting ones ("Rhonabwy's Dream" and
"Kilhwch and Olwen"), "Taliesin", and, finally, three tales ("Owain or
The Lady of the Fountain", "Gereint the Son of Erbin", "Peredur ab
Evrawc") which show a marked kinship with certain medieval French tales.

The three-volume edition with English translation by Lady Charlotte
Guest was printed by Llandovery in 1849 with the English translation
alone appearing in an edition of 1879. The Welsh text has been printed
in a diplomatic edition, "The Red Book of Hergest", by J. Rhys and J.
Gwenogfryn Evans (Oxford, 1887). Lady Guest's translation has been
re-edited with valuable notes by Alfred Nutt (London, 1902).

    -- from an Arthurian sources page,


The complete text of the Mabinogion (including the tale of Taliesin) can
be found online at [broken link]
This is the original Charlotte Guest translation, and not the Ifor
Williams version that appears in today's poem.

There are lots of sites related to Celtic mythology (I suppose because
it's a very New Age sort of thingy). The most comprehensive links I
could find are at

Another goodly set of links can be had at
[broken link]

Finally, here's a prose summary of Taliesin's life:
The context of this last is... interesting, to say the least :-).


A Route of Evanescence -- Emily Dickinson

(Poem #174) A Route of Evanescence
 A Route of Evanescence
 With a revolving Wheel--
 A Resonance of Emerald--
 A Rush of Cochineal--
 And every Blossom on the Bush
 Adjusts its tumbled Head--
 The mail from Tunis, probably,
 An easy Morning's Ride--
-- Emily Dickinson
Like a minimalist painting, today's poem captures the essence of a scene
with a few, well chosen images. The fleeting blur of a train rushing by is
beautifully evoked by the almost fragmentary snapshots, gradually building
up into more complete images.

There's not really that much to say about it - you might like to compare it
to Stevenson's 'From a Railway Carriage'[1], a rather more detailed
treatment of the same theme.

[1] poem #84


  evanescence: The quality of being evanescent; tendency to vanish away.
  cochineal: The colour of cochineal-dye, scarlet.

Dickinson-related stuff: poem #92

Hoochie Coochie Man -- Willie Dixon

From a modern-day minstrel...
(Poem #173) Hoochie Coochie Man
Gypsy woman told my mother
Before I was born
She said "You got a boy-child coming,
Gonna be a son-of-a-gun
He gonna make pretty women
Jump and shout
And the world's gonna know
What's it all about

    Don't you know what I'm saying!
    Yeah, everybody knows I'm him
    I said I'm your hoochie coochie man
    You'd better believe I'm him!

I've got a black cat bone
I've got a mojo too
I've got a little bottle of Johnny confidence
I'm gonna mess with you
Hey! I'll pick you up
Lead you by the hand
And the world's gonna know
I'm your hoochie coochie man

    Don't you know what I'm saying!
    Yeah! Every body knows I'm him!
    Said I'm your hoochie coochie man
    You'd better believe I'm him!

On the seventh hour
Of the seventh day
Of the seventh month
Seven black girls say
He was born for good luck
And you will see
I got seven hundred dollars, baby,
Don't you mess with me!

    Don't you know what I'm saying!
    Yeah! Every body knows I'm him!
    Said I'm your hoochie coochie man
    You'd better believe I'm him!
-- Willie Dixon
Go to a music store and pick up virtually _any_ blues compilation;
chances are, you'll find that half the songs were written by Willie
Dixon. Classics such as today's, errm, 'poem' (Ok, so I'm stretching
definitions a little bit. I still think the blues is poetry, though),
"Little Red Rooster", "Spoonful", "Back-door Man", "Evil"... the list of
wonderful songs penned by the bass player from Chicago just goes on and
on. Only a handful of people (in the history of popular music) have been
as influential as Dixon; only a handful have been as _good_.


As usual, the All-Music Guide has the most comprehensive info on the
net, including this

[Biographical essay]

Willie Dixon's life and work was virtually an embodiment of the progress
of the blues, from an accidental creation of the descendants of freed
slaves to a recognized and vital part of America's musical heritage.
That Dixon was one of the first professional blues songwriters to
benefit in a serious, material way -- and that he had to fight to do it
-- from his work also made him an important symbol of the injustice that
still informs the music industry, even at the end of this century. A
producer, songwriter, bassist and singer, he helped Muddy Waters,
Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and others find their most commercially
successful voices...

... Dixon's real recognition as a songwriter began with Muddy Waters'
recording of "Hoochie Coochie Man." The success of that single, "Evil"
by Howlin' Wolf, and "My Babe" by Little Walter saw Dixon established as
Chess's most reliable tunesmith, and the Chess brothers continually
pushed Dixon's songs on their artists. In addition to writing songs,
Dixon continued as bassist and recording manager of many of the Chess
label's recording sessions, including those by Lowell Fulson, Bo Diddley
and Otis Rush...

... During the mid-'60s, [Dixon] began to see a growing interest in his
songwriting from the British rock bands that he saw while in London --
his music was getting covered regularly by artists like the Rolling
Stones and the Yardbirds, and when he visited England, he even found
himself cajoled into presenting his newest songs to their managements.
Back at Chess, Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters continued to perform
Dixon's songs, as did newer artists such as Koko Taylor, who had her own
hit with "Wang Dang Doodle."...

... By [the 1980s]Dixon was regarded as something of an elder statesman,
composer, and spokesperson of American blues. Dixon had suffered from
increasingly poor health in recent years, and lost a leg to diabetes
several years earlier, which didn't slow him down very much. He died
peacefully in his sleep early in 1992.

    -- Bruce Eder, All-Music Guide

and this piece of

[Critical Acclaim]

Willie Dixon will go down in blues history as, if not its most famous
composer, certainly one of its most notable and most popular. While more
lip service is certainly paid to the song catalogs of Robert Johnson and
Muddy Waters (both great, but both only a drop in the bucket when
compared to Willie's voluminous output), Dixon holds another unique
place, that of a songwriter who was also a performer, but a songwriter
first and foremost. In this regard, Dixon had a lot closer kinship with
the Tin Pan Alley way of doing things, where singers were singers only
and songwriters furnished the commercial ammunition. That Willie not
only a) had the inclination to apply this same working system to the
blues and b) find a workplace in Chess Records that allowed him to pitch
the songs but arrange and produce these sessions to final fruition is
one of those blues as a commercial force equations that supposedly never
come to bear in a music so noble and raw in its emotions. But that was,
and still is, the beauty of Dixons work. He helped popularize and
mainstream the blues from a back porch, back alley, fairly disreputable
form of music to something acceptable and welcomed on concert stages
worldwide. It may have taken several liberal adaptions of his songs by
various White musicians for them to become the standards that we now
know them to be, but the musical fabric of the blues would be
unimaginable without songs like "Back Door Man," "Hoochie Coochie Man,"
"Spoonful," "Wang Dang Doodle," "I Just Want To Make Love To You," and
"Little Red Rooster." The structures and subject matter to his songs are
exactly what gives them their universality; they are both the blues and
about the blues. They draw on strong universal themes yet keep their
playlets in the African-American community with their colloquialisms and
slang terminology; certainly the party revelers in "Wang Dang Doodle"
are like few parties held in most Caucasian neighborhoods. Yet Dixons
description of the party in that song makes it one thats accessible to
everyone from all over the world; everybody can pitch a wang dang doodle
all night long. Willie Dixon's songs live inside the voices of a million
singers, of all colors and races, simply because his music speaks to
everybody who hears his basic, homespun message.

        -- Cub Koda, All-Music Guide


Dixon once won the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight
Championship. He might've been a successful boxer, but he turned to
music instead, thanks to Leonard "Baby Doo" Caston, a guitarist who had
seen Dixon at the gym where he worked out and occasionally sang with


Lots of them. Lots and lots and lots. Rather than wasting your time
surfing the net, I suggest you go out and buy some of the man's music.

Paul Revere's Ride -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Fixing a rather startling omission in the poet list...
(Poem #172) Paul Revere's Ride
 Listen my children and you shall hear
 Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
 On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
 Hardly a man is now alive
 Who remembers that famous day and year.

 He said to his friend, "If the British march
 By land or sea from the town to-night,
 Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
 Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
 One if by land, and two if by sea;
 And I on the opposite shore will be,
 Ready to ride and spread the alarm
 Through every Middlesex village and farm,
 For the country folk to be up and to arm."

 Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
 Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
 Just as the moon rose over the bay,
 Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
 The Somerset, British man-of-war;
 A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
 Across the moon like a prison bar,
 And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
 By its own reflection in the tide.

 Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
 Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
 Till in the silence around him he hears
 The muster of men at the barrack door,
 The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
 And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
 Marching down to their boats on the shore.

 Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
 By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
 To the belfry chamber overhead,
 And startled the pigeons from their perch
 On the sombre rafters, that round him made
 Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
 By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
 To the highest window in the wall,
 Where he paused to listen and look down
 A moment on the roofs of the town
 And the moonlight flowing over all.

 Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
 In their night encampment on the hill,
 Wrapped in silence so deep and still
 That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
 The watchful night-wind, as it went
 Creeping along from tent to tent,
 And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
 A moment only he feels the spell
 Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
 Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
 For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
 On a shadowy something far away,
 Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
 A line of black that bends and floats
 On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

 Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
 Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
 On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
 Now he patted his horse's side,
 Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
 Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
 And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
 But mostly he watched with eager search
 The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
 As it rose above the graves on the hill,
 Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
 And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
 A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
 He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
 But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
 A second lamp in the belfry burns.

 A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
 A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
 And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
 Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
 That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
 The fate of a nation was riding that night;
 And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
 Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
 He has left the village and mounted the steep,
 And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
 Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
 And under the alders that skirt its edge,
 Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
 Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

 It was twelve by the village clock
 When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
 He heard the crowing of the cock,
 And the barking of the farmer's dog,
 And felt the damp of the river fog,
 That rises after the sun goes down.

 It was one by the village clock,
 When he galloped into Lexington.
 He saw the gilded weathercock
 Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
 And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
 Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
 As if they already stood aghast
 At the bloody work they would look upon.

 It was two by the village clock,
 When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
 He heard the bleating of the flock,
 And the twitter of birds among the trees,
 And felt the breath of the morning breeze
 Blowing over the meadow brown.
 And one was safe and asleep in his bed
 Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
 Who that day would be lying dead,
 Pierced by a British musket ball.

 You know the rest. In the books you have read
 How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
 How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
 From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
 Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
 Then crossing the fields to emerge again
 Under the trees at the turn of the road,
 And only pausing to fire and load.

 So through the night rode Paul Revere;
 And so through the night went his cry of alarm
 To every Middlesex village and farm,---
 A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
 A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
 And a word that shall echo for evermore!
 For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
 Through all our history, to the last,
 In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
 The people will waken and listen to hear
 The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
 And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I have no idea why it took so long to get around to Longfellow, since I do
enjoy his work. You'll definitely see more of him, but I thought I'd start
here with one of his most famous pieces.

This beautifully-written poem has all the elements that characterize good
narrative verse - a flowing metre, some excellent and evocative descriptive
bits[1] and above all a good story. Ironically enough, the very thoroughness
with which it has ingrained itself into the public consciousness have given
the lie to the opening verse - nearly every American now alive, and a good
part of the rest of the English speaking world, 'remember that famous day
and year', or at least the events that took place thereupon.

[1] By far the main reason I like the poem - every passing scene is vividly
described, yet so skilfully that nowhere is the momentum of the narrative
broken. Description and action blend together in a smoothly unfolding
tapestry of images that perfectly parallels the course of the ride.


Biography and Assessment:

There's an online biography at
<[broken link]>

A few relevant passages from the EB:

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth

 b. Feb. 27, 1807, Portland, Mass. [now in Maine], U.S.
 d. March 24, 1882, Cambridge, Mass.

 the most popular American poet in the 19th century.


The Tales of a Wayside Inn, modeled roughly on Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury
Tales and published in 1863, reveals his narrative gift. The first poem,
"Paul Revere's Ride," became a national favourite. Written in anapestic
tetrameter meant to suggest the galloping of a horse, this folk ballad
recalls a hero of the American Revolution and his famous "midnight ride" to
warn the Americans about the impending British raid on Concord, Mass. Though
its account of Revere's ride is historically inaccurate, the poem created an
American legend. Longfellow published in 1872 what he intended to be his
masterpiece, Christus: A Mystery, a trilogy dealing with Christianity from
its beginning. He followed this work with two fragmentary dramatic poems,
"Judas Maccabaeus" and "Michael Angelo." But his genius was not dramatic, as
he had demonstrated earlier in The Spanish Student (1843). Long after his
death in 1882, however, these neglected later works were seen to contain
some of his most effective writing.

During his lifetime Longfellow was loved and admired both at home and
abroad. In 1884 he was honoured by the placing of a memorial bust in Poets'
Corner of Westminster Abbey in London, the first American to be so
recognized. Sweetness, gentleness, simplicity, and a romantic vision shaded
by melancholy are the characteristic features of Longfellow's poetry. He
possessed great metrical skill, but he failed to capture the American spirit
like his great contemporary Walt Whitman, and his work generally lacks
emotional depth and imaginative power. Some years after Longfellow's death a
violent reaction set in against his verse as critics dismissed his
conventional high-minded sentiments and the gentle strain of Romanticism
that he had made so popular. This harsh critical assessment, which tried to
reduce him to the status of a mere hearthside rhymer, was perhaps as
unbalanced as the adulation he had received during his lifetime. Some of
Longfellow's sonnets and other lyrics are still among the finest in American
poetry, and Hiawatha, "The Wreck of the Hesperus," Evangeline, and "Paul
Revere's Ride" have become inseparable parts of the American heritage.
Longfellow's immense popularity helped raise the status of poetry in his
country, and he played an important part in bringing European cultural
traditions to American audiences.