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An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow -- Les Murray

Guest poem submitted by Ron Heard :
(Poem #387) An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow
The word goes round Repins, the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
At Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
The Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
And men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
There's a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can't stop him.

The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
And drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
And more crowds come hurrying. Many run into the back streets
Which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
There's a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.

The man we surround, the man no one approaches
Simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
Not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
And does not declaim it, not beat his breast, not even
Sob very loudly --- yet the dignity of his weeping

Holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
In the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
And uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
Stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
Longing for tears as children for a rainbow.

Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
Or force stood around him. There was no such thing.
Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
But they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
The toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us

Trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
Judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream
Who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children
And such as look out of Paradise come near him
And sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.

Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
His mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit ---
And I see a woman, shining, stretch out her hand
And shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
As many as follow her also receive it.

And many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
Refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
But the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
The man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
Of his writhen face and ordinary body

Not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow
Hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea ---
And when he stops, he simply walks between us
Mopping his face with the dignity of one
Man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.

Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.
-- Les Murray
I think it would be impertinent to comment on such a fine and lucid poem, except
to make a couple of personal comments. I find this one of the most profound and
moving poems I know. The poem was written in an Australian context, where
virtues traditionally praised are reticence, sardonic humour, and not showing
emotions. At one stroke it re-writes this tradition and the idea of virtue --
the marvellous phrase "the gift of weeping".

Ron Heard.


The local geographic references are mainly self-explanatory, however:

Martin Place - Major and ceremonial street in central Sydney
Repins - Famous Bohemian café
Lorenzini's - Fashionable Italian restaurant
Tatersall's - club, mainly associated with horse racing



  b. Oct. 17, 1938, Nabiac, N.S.W., Australia

Australian poet and essayist who in such meditative, lyrical poems as "Noonday
Axeman" and "Sydney and the Bush" captured Australia's psychic and rural
landscape as well as its mythic elements.

Murray grew up on a dairy farm and graduated from the University of Sydney
(B.A., 1969). He worked as a writer in residence at several universities
throughout the world and served as editor of Poetry Australia from 1973 to 1979.
He also compiled and edited the New Oxford Book of Australian Verse (1986).

Murray's poetry celebrates a hoped-for fusion of the Aboriginal (which he called
the "senior culture"), the rural, and the urban. The poem "The Buladelah-Taree
Holiday Song Cycle," in the collection Ethnic Radio (1977), reflects his
identification with Australia's Aboriginals; it uses Aboriginal narrative style
to describe vacationing Australians. The Boys Who Stole the Funeral (1979) is a
sequence of 140 sonnets about a pair of boys who surreptitiously remove a man's
body from a Sydney funeral home for burial in his native Outback. Murray's other
poetry collections include Dog Fox Field (1990), The Rabbiter's Bounty (1991),
The Paperbark Tree (1992), Translations from the Natural World (1992), and
Subhuman Redneck Poems (1996). In Freddy Neptune (1999) Murray presents a verse
narrative of the misfortunes of a German-Australian sailor during World War I.

Peasant Mandarin (1978), a collection of essays, champions the antielitist
vitality of  "Australocentrism," at the same time demonstrating a high regard
for a classical education and its traditions. Murray also presented the work of
five leading but little-known Australian poets in Fivefathers (1995).

        -- EB

The Unknown Citizen -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Jacob Hale Russell:
(Poem #386) The Unknown Citizen
(To JS/07/M/378 This Marble Monument Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Installment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for he time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
-- W H Auden
I've always enjoyed this poem as a brilliantly composed portrait of a
bureaucracy taken to the excess -- the point where it dehumanizes individuals,
its subjects, in the absolute. Auden meticulously selects his words to express
the obsessive inanity of this mindless, mechanized State which knows its citzens
only by letters and numbers, evaluates their worth with statistics, and has a
formulaic standard for virtuous living. The tone of the final two lines -- a
spokesperson's spin on the situation -- is both ironic and chilling.

The ultimate question, of course, is whether this is a portrait of a society to
come or perhaps the society we already inhabit.

Jacob Russell.

Auden's biography from

Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, England, in 1907. He moved to Birmingham
during childhood and was educated at Christ's Church, Oxford. As a young man he
was influenced by the poetry of Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost, as well as
William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Old English verse. At
Oxford his precocity as a poet was immediately apparent, and he formed lifelong
friendships with two fellow writers, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.

In 1928, Auden published his first book of verse, and his collection Poems,
published in 1930, established him as the leading voice of a new generation.
Ever since, he has been admired for his unsurpassed technical virtuosity and an
ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form; the incorporation
in his work of popular culture, current events, and vernacular speech; and also
for the vast range of his intellect, which drew easily from an extraordinary
variety of literatures, art forms, social and political theories, and scientific
and technical information. He had a remarkable wit, and often mimicked the
writing styles of other poets such as Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, and Henry James.
His poetry frequently recounts, literally or metaphorically, a journey or quest,
and his travels provided rich material for his verse.

He visited Germany, Iceland, and China, served in the Spanish Civil war, and in
1939 moved to the United States, where he met his lover, Chester Kallman, and
became an American citizen.  His own beliefs changed radically between his
youthful career in England, when he was an ardent advocate of socialism and
Freudian psychoanalysis, and his later phase in America, when his central
preoccupation became Christianity and the theology of modern Protestant
theologians. A prolific writer, Auden was also a noted playwright, librettist,
editor, and essayist. Generally considered the greatest English poet of the
twentieth century, his work has exerted a major influence on succeeding
generations of poets on both sides of the Atlantic.

W. H. Auden was a Chan,
and divided most of the second half of his life between residences in New York
City and Austria. He died in Vienna in 1973.

Base Details -- Siegfried Sassoon

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian :
(Poem #385) Base Details
If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
  I'd live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
  You'd see me with my puffy, petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
  Reading the Roll of Honour.  'Poor young chap,'
I'd say --- 'I used to know his father well;
  Yes, we've lost heavily in this last scrap.'
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I'd toddle safely home and die --- in bed.
-- Siegfried Sassoon
It's the sort of poem which really catches Sassoon's mood, a jaded
contempt for the war and all it stands for.  He's struck the right note
for a John Bull sort of officer - the sort who stays behind the lines
while others (like Spender) have to do all the dirty work of dying for
their country. A refreshing change from the sort of blood and glory
patriotism you'd get in most of the romantic poets like Byron.


Song -- John Donne

Guest poem submitted by Anustup Datta :
(Poem #384) Song
Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devils foot;
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be'st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights
Till Age snow white hairs on thee;
Thou, when thou return'st wilt tell me
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear
No where
Lives a woman true and fair.

If thou find'st one let me know;
Such a pilgrimage were sweet.
Yet do not; I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet.
Though she were true when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two or three.
-- John Donne
Here is Donne at his bitterest - the disappointed lover reviles
womankind and bemoans his own fortune as well. But like all of Donne's
poetry, it is simply beautiful : read aloud the wonderful first stanza
and you would know why Tagore rated Donne the greatest lyric poet in the
English tongue.


PS. I have always felt that Donne's use of difficult argument, complex
metaphor and allegory was a device to control and discipline his wildly
romantic heart - he treads over-carefully like a drunk who does not
trust his own tottering footsteps.

The Health-Food Diner -- Maya Angelou

Guest poem submitted by Raj Palaniswamy :
(Poem #383) The Health-Food Diner
No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).

Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I'm dreaming of a roast).

Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).

No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run


Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.
-- Maya Angelou

Notes: Maya Angelou is better known for her serious poetry about
emancipation, freedom and equality, in particular about African
Americans and women, particularly African American women. I came across
this one by her completely by accident, in a collection of her poetry.
This is different in theme from most of her other work, but is
completely in keeping with her irreverence to what is "accepted" in
polite society. It was written in 1983, but is increasingly funny in the
overly health conscious 90's, and always amuses me. I can imagine her
sitting down to a hearty meal, and laughing as she was writing this. I
am very weight conscious myself but enjoy my meat, second hand smoke and
an occasional puff on a cigar. I expect that most new agers might object
to this poem, and I personally find the parentheses in the last lines a
little unnecessary -- but who can resist this poem?


[About the poet]

Maya Angelou, born Marguerite Johnson is an author, poet, historian,
conductor, actress, singer, songwriter, playwright, film director, and
civil rights activist. Born in a segregated rural area of St. Louis,
Arkansas, she comes from a broken home, was raped at eight, and was an
unwed mother at 16 years old. Throughout all these circumstances she
still managed to become San Francisco's first black woman conductor. She
was also the first black woman to have an original screenplay produced
in 1971, Georgia, Georgia. She has several volumes of poetry and some of
her composed music was recorded by B.B. King She was also nominated for
an Emmy Award for her acting in Roots and Georgia. She is fluent in
French, Spanish, Italian, and West African Fanti.

Ms. Angelou began her career in drama and dance, and she married a South
African freedom fighter and lived in Cairo. During her five years in
Africa, she lived in Egypt and became the editor of The Arab Observer,
the only English-language news weekly in the Middle East. Later she also
taught in Ghana and was feature editor of The African Review. In the
1960's she said that being black, female, non-Muslim, non-Arab, six foot
tall, and American made for some interesting experiences during her stay
in Africa. During this time she was also the northern coordinator for
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at the request of Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. She was also appointed to the Bicentennial
Commission by President Gerald Ford, and the National Commission on the
Observance of International Women's Year by Jimmy Carter. She has
published ten best selling books and countless magazine articles, and in
1993 she wrote and delivered the presidential inauguration for President
Bill Clinton.

One of Maya Angelou's books, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was
an account of her youth, describes the trauma of being raped as a child,
the violent death of her attacker, and her subsequent refusal to speak
for five years. It was the target of a censorship attack according to
the Dec. 3, 1994 edition of the Washington Afro-American. The Round
Rock, Texas parents thought that the book was "pornographic" and "just
plain filth." It was also a two hour special on CBS. Currently, Ms.
Angelou lectures throughout the United States and abroad and recently
has been a Reynolds professor of American Studies at Wake Forest
University in North Carolina.

A River -- A K Ramanujan

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian :
(Poem #382) A River
In Madurai,
city of temples and poets,
who sang of cities and temples,
every summer
a river dries to a trickle
in the sand,
baring the sand ribs,
straw and women's hair
clogging the watergates
at the rusty bars
under the bridges with patches
of repair all over them
the wet stones glistening like sleepy
crocodiles, the dry ones
shaven water-buffaloes lounging in the sun
The poets only sang of the floods.

He was there for a day
when they had the floods.
People everywhere talked
of the inches rising,
of the precise number of cobbled steps
run over by the water, rising
on the bathing places,
and the way it carried off three village houses,
one pregnant woman
and a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda as usual.

The new poets still quoted
the old poets, but no one spoke
in verse
of the pregnant woman
drowned, with perhaps twins in her,
kicking at blank walls
even before birth.

He said:
the river has water enough
to be poetic
about only once a year
and then
it carries away
in the first half-hour
three village houses,
a couple of cows
named Gopi and Brinda
and one pregnant woman
expecting identical twins
with no moles on their bodies,
with different coloured diapers
to tell them apart.
-- A K Ramanujan

A. K. Ramanujan, who died recently, was one of India's greatest modern
poets.  This is a really beautiful piece of cynical criticism aimed at
poets who force themselves to look only at the beautiful things in life,
and mindlessly ape the same lines quoted by poets for aeons.

On the other hand, they tend to ignore the unpleasant facets of life,
unless perhaps it is a catastrophe which has killed several hundred
people.  No one knows or cares to write about a pregnant woman and a
couple of cows.

The City of Madurai in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu is one of
the most ancient cities in India.  A great deal of the Sangam era poetry
(the earliest and most famous Tamil poetry, dating back to the 2nd
century BC was composed here.  Since then, it has had a long and rich
tradition of art and culture.


From Among Hundreds of Masts -- Mihail Eminescu

Guest poem submitted by Mihail Faina :
(Poem #381) From Among Hundreds of Masts
 From among hundreds of masts
 Leaving shores and banks and bays,
 Are there many to be lost
 Broken by the winds and waves?

 From among birds of passage,
 Flying over lands and seas,
 Are there many to be drowned
 By the waves and by the sea?

 If you chase away your luck
 Or ideals, all you have,
 You are followed everywhere
 By the winds and by the waves.

 Undeciphered is the thought
 That keeps passing through your chants
 As they fly, they murmur it
 All these winds and all these waves.
-- Mihail Eminescu
Translation by Gabriela Bernea.

This particular poem has been with me since my teenager years; its
particular message about the sea as a connection with the infinite and
the human desire to know what is behind the horizon despite any risks
makes me recite this poem whenever I feel blue. It does sound better in
Romanian though (just hope that the English translation is good enough
to express all this).


About the poet:

MIHAIL EMINESCU (b. January 15, 1850 in Botosani- d. June 15, 1889 in
Bucharest, Romania) (his real name was M. Eminovici - pron.: Eminovitch)
is regarded as the national poet of Romania. Born in Botosani, (pron.:
Botoshan), Moldova he died at the age of 38 years in Bukarest, suffering
from paralysis the last five years of his life. From 1869 to 1874 he
studied philosophy in Vienna and Berlin. Only a small part of his work
was published during
his lifetime ("Poezii(Poems)" 1883).

Eminencu raised not only poetry, whose best representative he was to
become, but also Romanian literary prose, literary and political
journalism to the highest levels of modern European thinking and
feeling. He is most loved for his pieces dealing with nature, and love,
and for his "lyric of thoughts ", deeply melancholy and full of
"Weltschmerz/Poesie Noire/Metaphysical distress" and longing for death.
His intact lyric  has a very proper and touching melody.  His work was
influenced by German philosophers and poets (Schopenhauer in
particular). He translated several works of German poets like Friedrich
Schiller into  Romanian.

Here it is a link for more info about Eminescu:
[broken link]

Heraclitus -- William Johnson Cory

(Poem #380) Heraclitus
 They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
 They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
 I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
 Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.

 And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
 A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
 Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
 For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
-- William Johnson Cory
A poem that has 'classic' written all over it - the language, the images
capture the feel of the original perfectly. There isn't a whole lot I can
say about it - the poem and the original should both speak for themselves.


Heraclitus: Greek philosopher (ca. 540-ca. 400 BC), pre-Socratic founder
  of an Ionian school, whose principal tenet was change in all things. Cory
  translates an epigram of Callimachus, which in A. W. Mair's translation of
  the Greek is as follows: "One told me, Heracleitus, of thy death and
  brought me to tears, and I remembered how often we two in talking put the
  sun to rest. Thou, methinks, Halicarnasian friend, art ashes long and long
  ago; but thy nightingales live still, whereon Hades, snatcher of all
  things, shall not lay his hand"

Carian: of Caria, part of southwest Asia Minor.

  -- From

And from Unauthorized Versions

  Heraclitus's poems appear to have been known as 'nightingales', and
  Lempriere explains that he was 'remarkable for the elegance of his style'.

Biographical Note

  Educator (his tenure as Assistant Master of Eton College lasted from 1845
  to 1872) and author of A Guide to Modern British History (New York: Holt,
  1880-82), William Johnson became William Johnson Cory after his
  retirement. A brief biography appears in the third edition of Ionica, his
  translation of classical poems, as edited by Arthur C. Benson



Two, this time, both titled 'They Told Me, Heraclitus'. The first is a
couplet that neatly deflates the poem's slightly dramatic atmosphere:

  They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead.
  But I just wondered who you were, and what it was you said.
          -- Guy Hanlon

The second is perhaps not as good overall, but it contains one of the nicest
opening couplets I've seen in a parody...

  They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead.
  I never knew your proper name was Heraclitus, Fred.
  You made out you were working-class, you talked with adenoids,
  And so it was a shock to learn you were a name at Lloyd's

  And now I'm full of doubts about the others at the squat.
  Are they a load of Yuppies, or Thatcherites, or what?
  Is Special Branch among us, camoflauged with crabs and fleas?
  Is Kev a poncing Xenophon? Darren Thucydides?
          -- Brian Fore

squat: a house occupied by squatters. poncing: effeminate

I've never been able to look at a Fred in quite the same way since <g>.


The Buddha at Kamakura -- Rudyard Kipling

(Poem #379) The Buddha at Kamakura
        "And there is a Japanese idol at Kamakura"

 O ye who tread the Narrow Way
 By Tophet-flare to Judgment Day,
 Be gentle when the 'heathen' pray
        To Buddha at Kamakura!

 To him the Way, the Law, apart,
 Whom Maya held beneath her heart,
 Ananda's Lord, the Bodhisat,
        The Buddha of Kamakura.

 For though he neither burns nor sees,
 Nor hears ye thank your Deities,
 Ye have not sinned with such as these,
        His children at Kamakura.

 Yet spare us still the Western joke
 When joss-sticks turn to scented smoke
 The little sins of little folk
        That worship at Kamakura --

 The grey-robed, gay-sashed butterflies
 That flit beneath the Master's eyes.
 He is beyond the Mysteries
        But loves them at Kamakura.

 And whoso will, from Pride released,
 Contemning neither creed nor priest,
 May feel the Soul of all the East
        About him at Kamakura.

 Yea, every tale Ananda heard,
 Of birth as fish or beast or bird,
 While yet in lives the Master stirred,
        The warm wind brings Kamakura.

 Till drowsy eyelids seem to see
 A-flower 'neath her golden htee
 The Shwe-Dagon flare easterly
        From Burmah to Kamakura,

 And down the loaded air there comes
 The thunder of Thibetan drums,
 And droned -- "Om mane padme hums" --
        A world's-width from Kamakura.

 Yet Brahmans rule Benares still,
 Buddh-Gaya's ruins pit the hill,
 And beef-fed zealots threaten ill
        To Buddha and Kamakura.

 A tourist-show, a legend told,
 A rusting bulk of bronze and gold,
 So much, and scarce so much, ye hold
        The meaning of Kamakura?

 But when the morning prayer is prayed,
 Think, ere ye pass to strife and trade,
 Is God in human image made
        No nearer than Kamakura?
-- Rudyard Kipling

I don't know if Kipling ever made the trip to Kamakura to gaze upon the
Great Buddha, but his poem upon the subject remains, in my opinion, one
of the most perfect evocations ever of 'the Soul of all the East'.
Indeed, I can hardly read it without hearing Tibetan drums and scenting
joss sticks and seeing saffron-clad monks going about their morning

It's a profoundly religious poem, but no less universal or accessible
for that; in fact, I would call it, rather, a wonderful exaltation of
humanism and a call for gentleness and  understanding. The philosophy
may not be 'deep', but it's certainly very moving.

'The Buddha at Kamakura' should also serve as a rebuttal to those who
continue to view Kipling as a heavy-handed imperialist, a relic of
bygone colonial days. It's true he sings the praises of the British
Empire (more specifically, of the soldiers and scribes who built that
Empire), but he is also more tolerant, more honourable, and above all,
more _universal_ than many of his contemporaries and latter-day critics.
And he had a rare gift of words - his verse, whether the Cockney slang
of Tommy Atkins or the pulsing rhythms of the Jungle Book or the archaic
patternings of today's poem, is always vibrant and alive, and it sticks
in the memory.

On a personal note: I made the pilgrimage to the Daibutsu (the Great
Buddha) at Kamakura last weekend, and I must say it's a truly
awe-inspiring spectacle. For one thing, it's _big_ - it towers over the
hordes of tourists that infest the place. And it's incredibly,
incredibly beautiful - the expression on the Buddha's face is serene,
calm,  compassionate, wise... ineffable. The statue is in the open (the
wooden structure that housed it was washed away in a tsunami, many
hundreds of years ago) (which in itself is a sobering thought), and it
sits in quiet repose through wind and rain, sun and shade. Sitting zazen
in the temple grounds really brought the power of today's poem home to


[History Lesson]

Kamakura was the capital of Japan in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was
chosen because it was easy to defend, with densely-wooded hills on three
sides and the sea on the fourth. The first Shogun of the Kamakura
period, Yoritomo Minamoto, died and both of his sons were assassinated;
power then passed to the Hojo clan (to which one of his wives belonged).
The construction of the Great Buddha was started at the behest of this
wife; it was completed around 1250. The statue itself is hollow and made
of bronze; it's 44 feet high and perfectly proportioned. In addition to
the Daibutsu, Kamakura has literally dozens of  small shrines and
temples; in that sense, it's like a smaller version of Japan's other
ancient capital, Kyoto.

The Kamakura period ended in 1333, when the Emperor's troops
successfully laid seige to it. No less than 800 warriors of the Hojo and
allied clans committed seppuku (ritual suicide) in the precincts of the
Engakuji temple. Yes, Japan had a very bloody feudal history.

[Tidbit #1]

'The Voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan, 1613' includes the following

The Countrey betwixt Surnunga [ed. 'Suruga', a province of Japan] and
Edoo [ed. 'Edo', the old name for Tokyo] is well inhabited. We saw many
Fotoquise [ed 'Hotoke-san'?, translates to 'Our Lord Buddha'] or Temples
as we passed, and amongst others one Image of especiall note, called
Dabis [ed. 'Daibutsu', or 'Great Buddha'], made of Copper, being hollow
within, but of very substantiall thicknesse. It was in height, as wee
ghessed, from the ground about one and twentie or two and twentie foot,
in the likeness of a man kneeling upon the ground, with his buttockes
resting on his heeles [ed. This is not accurate], his arms of wondefull
largeness, and the whole body proportionable. He is fashioned wearing of
a Gowne. This Image is much reverenced by Travellers as they passe
        -- filched from the Web, [broken link]

[Tidbit #2]


Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou
enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by
the worship of ages. This is the Temple of the Buddha and the Gate of
the Eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.



The Narrow Way is a reference to Christianity; contrast the 'Eight-fold
Path' of Buddhism and the 'Middle Way' of Confucianism. Tophet is, I
presume, a place, but I don't know where. Maya was Gautama's mother.
Ananda is the faithful chela (disciple) who features in many tales of
the Buddha. A Bodhisat (Bodhisattva) is a soul who reaches enlightenment
and then devotes his/her life  to helping others do the same. 'htee' is
not a typo; it's in italics in the original. I don't know what it refers
to (as always, pointers appreciated). The Shwe-Dagon pagoda is in Burma.
'Om mane padme hum' is a meditation chant. Brahmans are the hereditary
Hindu priestly caste. Benaras is the holy city of Varanasi, at the
junction of the Ganges and the Yamuna. Buddh-gaya is the spot at which
Gautama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha.

There Was an Old Man with a Beard -- Edward Lear

(Poem #378) There Was an Old Man with a Beard
  There was an Old Man with a beard,
  Who said, "It is just as I feared! --
  Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren,
  Have all built their nests in my beard.
-- Edward Lear
Like most people, I have an ambivalent response to Lear's limericks. Sure,
they practically defined the genre - as the following piece puts it,

  Although at the Limericks of Lear,
  We may feel a temptation to sneer,
  We should never forget
  That we owe him a debt
  For his work as the first pioneer.
        -- Langford Reed

but nonetheless the temptation to sneer is undeniably there. And the reason
is not all that hard to see - despite all their redeeming qualities, Lear's
limericks are *boring*.

Also annoying is the fact that the first and last lines end with the same
word - two of the pleasures of modern limericks are the cleverness of the
rhymes and the (usually humourous) unexpectedness of the ending, both of
which are lost here.


No, the formatting is not messed up. Lear really did write his limericks in
four line form, with an internal rhyme in the third; the split into two
short lines came later.

On Limericks:

  limerick: a popular form of short, humorous verse that is often
  nonsensical and frequently ribald. It consists of five lines, rhyming
  aabba, and the dominant metre is anapestic, with two metrical feet in the
  third and fourth lines and three feet in the others. The origin of the
  limerick is unknown, but it has been suggested that the name derives from
  the chorus of an 18th-century Irish soldiers' song, "Will You Come Up to
  Limerick?" To this were added impromptu verses crowded with improbable
  incident and subtle innuendo.

  The first collections of limericks in English date from about 1820. Edward
  Lear, who composed and illustrated those in his Book of Nonsense (1846),
  claimed to have gotten the idea from a nursery rhyme beginning "There was
  an old man of Tobago." A typical example from Lear's collection is this
  verse:There was an Old Man who supposed/That the street door was partially
  closed;/But some very large rats Ate his coats and his hats,/While that
  futile Old Gentleman dozed.

  And later

  certain metric forms associated with heroic poetry, such as the hexameter
  or alexandrine, arouse expectations of pathos, of the exalted; to pour
  into these epic molds some homely, trivial content--"beautiful soup, so
  rich and green/ waiting in a hot tureen"--is an almost infallible comic
  device. the rolling rhythms of the first lines of a limerick that carry,
  instead of a mythical hero such as hector or achilles, a young lady from
  ohio for a ride make her ridiculous even before the expected calamities
  befall her.
        -- EB


Parody? Of a limerick? Not the world's easiest task, one might have thought,
but Lear's somewhat laboured style leaves him wide open to attack, as taken
full advantage of in the following brilliant piece of verse

  There was an old man with a beard
  A funny old man with a beard
  He had a big beard
  A great big old beard
  That amusing old man with a beard

        -- John Clarke


Lear's nonsense verse was far better than his limericks. we've run a few
examples: poem #165 (with biography), poem #297, and poem #356.

And for a comprehensive webpage on limericks:
[broken link]


Loveliest of trees, the cherry now -- A E Housman

(Poem #377) Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
-- A E Housman
'A Shropshire Lad', Poem II.

First, the obligatory Brittanica excerpt:

"Apparently convinced that he must live without love, Housman became
increasingly reclusive and for solace turned to his notebooks, in which
he had begun to write the poems that eventually made up A Shropshire Lad
(1896). For models he claimed the poems of Heinrich Heine, the songs of
William Shakespeare, and the Scottish border ballads. Each provided him
with a way of expressing emotion clearly and yet keeping it at a certain
distance. For the same purpose, he assumed in his lyrics the unlikely
role of farm labourer and set them in Shropshire, a county he had not
yet visited when he began to write the first poems. The popularity of A
Shropshire Lad grew slowly but so surely that Last Poems (1922) had
astonishing success for a book of verse. "

The poems in A Shropshire Lad are instantly recognizable for their
delicate, airy touch and their Romantic melancholy - in them, Housman
captures a particular mood and a particular period with exquisite skill
and charm. The verse itself is uneven at best - while pieces like
'Loveliest of Trees' and 'White in the Moon' (the first Housman I read,
and still my favourite) are justly celebrated, others are eminently
forgettable. Nonetheless, the collection as a whole seems assured of a
place among the greats, and I for one am not going to cavil at that.


PS. As you may have guessed, cherry blossom season is just starting here
in Japan, and the nation is going through its annual spiritual rebirth.
There's a wonderful haiku by Basho about plum-blossoms which I sent out
around this time last year; you can read it at poem #56

PPS. The poem I mentioned:
'White in the Moon the long road lies
That leads me from my Love.'
is archived at poem #33

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways -- William Wordsworth

(Poem #376) She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways
  She dwelt among the untrodden ways
  Beside the springs of Dove,
  A Maid whom there were none to praise
  And very few to love:

  A violet by a mossy stone
  Half hidden from the eye!
  --Fair as a star, when only one
  Is shining in the sky.

  She lived unknown, and few could know
  When Lucy ceased to be;
  But she is in her grave, and, oh,
  The difference to me!
-- William Wordsworth
Probably the best known of Wordsworth's 'Lucy' poems. A brief note on these:

  The Lucy who is the subject of a small group of poems, most of them
  written in the winter of 1798-99, has never been identified, if she ever
  existed except as a creation of the poet's imagination. A widely held
  theory is that the poems represent an attempt to give literary expression
  and distance to Wordsworth's feeling of affection for his sister.

As for the poem itself, it contains in full measure the blend of beauty and
simplicity that permeates Wordsworth's poetry. The images are unstartling,
the metre regular, and the rhymes predictable; yet the poem as a whole has a
certain ineffable greatness to it that defies attempts at breakdown. As I've
mentioned several times, one of the marks of a great poet is the ability to
take a trite subject and, without any stylistic tricks, write a lasting,
memorable poem on it.


This week's two-for-the-price-of-one theme is based on Kenneth Baker's
excellent anthology "Unauthorized Versions", a collection of poetic
parodies. Here's today's parody:

  He Liv'd amidst th'Untrodden Ways

  He liv'd amidst th'untrodden ways
  To Rydal Lake that lead;
  A bard whom there were none to praise,
  And very few to read.

  Behind a cloud his mystic sense,
  Deep hidden, who can spy?
  Bright as the night when not a star
  Is shining in the sky.

  Unread his works - his 'Milk White Doe'
  With dust is dark and dim;
  It's still in Longman's shop, and oh!
  The difference to him!

        -- Hartley Coleridge
        (eldest son of S T Coleridge)

A trifle cutting, but nonetheless fun to read :)


Biography and assessment, as well as a quote by Wordsworth on poetry, can be
found after 'The Daffodils", poem #63

Another nice parody is Kipling's 'The Idiot Boy' (the title itself is from
another Wordsworth poem),

For more on Wordsworth and the Lucy poems see


Look, Delia, How We 'Steem the Half-blown Rose (Delia XXXIX) -- Samuel Daniel

Guest poem submitted by Anustup Datta:
(Poem #375) Look, Delia, How We 'Steem the Half-blown Rose (Delia XXXIX)
  Look, Delia, how we 'steem the half-blown Rose,
  The image of thy blush and Summer's honor,
  Whilst in her tender green she doth enclose
  That pure sweet Beauty Time bestows upon her.

  No sooner spreads her glory in the air,
  But straight her full-blown pride is in declining;
  She then is scorn'd that late adorn'd the Fair;
  So clouds thy beauty after fairest shining.

  No April can revive thy wither'd flowers,
  Whose blooming grace adorns thy glory now;
  Swift speedy Time, feather'd with flying hours,
  Dissolves the beauty of the fairest brow.

  O let not then such riches waste in vain,
  But love whilst that thou mayst be lov'd again.
-- Samuel Daniel
  As far as I know, we have not had any of the celebrated
"Delia" sonnets on Minstrels. I hope this - probably the
most famous, Sonnet 39 - will correct the omission. That
apart, this is probably the best carpe diem poem ever - it
balances didactic philosophy and poetic delicacy wonderfully
well. The main argument is presented as logically and
cogently as to rival any of the great metaphysical poets -
Donne at his best would not have been ashamed to be credited
for this.



  b. 1562?, Taunton, Somerset, Eng.
  d. 1619

English contemplative poet, marked in both verse and prose
by his philosophic sense of history.

Daniel entered Oxford in 1581. After publishing a
translation in 1585 for his first patron, Sir Edward Dymoke,
he secured a post with the English ambassador at Paris;
later he travelled in Italy, visiting the poet Battista
Guarini in Padua. After 1592 he lived at Lincoln in the
service of Sir Edward Dymoke, at Wilton as tutor to William
Herbert, later earl of Pembroke, and at Skipton Castle,
Yorkshire, as tutor to Lady Anne Clifford. In 1604 Queen
Anne chose him to write a masque, The Vision of the Twelve
Goddesses, in which she danced. She awarded him the right to
license plays for the boy actors at the Blackfriars Theatre
and a position as a groom, and later gentleman, of her privy

Edmund Spenser praised Daniel for his first book of poems,
'Delia, with The Complaint of Rosamond' (1592). Daniel
published 50 sonnets in this book, and more were added in
later editions. The passing of youth and beauty is the theme
of the Complaint, a tragic monologue. In 'The Tragedie of
Cleopatra' (1594) Daniel wrote a Senecan drama. 'The Civile
Warres' (1595-1609), a verse history of the Wars of the
Roses, had some influence on Shakespeare in Richard II and
Henry IV.

Daniel's finest poem is probably 'Musophilus: Containing a
Generall Defence of Learning', dedicated to Fulke Greville.
His Poeticall Essayes (1599) also include 'A Letter from
Octavia to Marcus Antonius'. His 'Defence of Ryme',
answering Thomas Campion's 'Observations in the Art of
English Poesie', a critical essay, was published in 1603.
Fame and honour are the subjects of 'Ulisses and the Syren'
(1605) and of 'A Funerall Poeme uppon the Earle of
Devonshire' (1606). He had to defend himself against a
charge of sympathizing with the Earl of Essex in 'The
Tragedie of Philotas', acted in 1604 (published 1605). His
other masques include 'Tethys' Festival' (1610), staged with
scenery by Inigo Jones, and 'The Queene's Arcadia'
(published 1606), a pastoral tragicomedy in the Italian
fashion. Daniel's last pastoral was 'Hymen's Triumph'
(1615). He also wrote 'The Collection of the Historie of
England' (1612-18) as far as the reign of Edward III.

    -- EB

Psalm Of the Valleys -- Alex Pascall

Guest poem submitted by Gareth Jones:
(Poem #374) Psalm Of the Valleys
We dedicate, O Lord, this flame to The Valleys,
In loving memory of our beloved ones,
To the thousands whose toils, hopes and aspirations
Gave life and sustenance to us all,
Families, friends and colleagues,
For the warmth bestowed to those with and without
To the energies of coal, its miners and
The emptied wombs who gave birth to this unending glow,
You gave us light. Give us hope for peace.
Guide us through our darkness.
To the hills, though silently you listen and look on,
You'll remain the eyes, ears and manuscripts.
You hold in your vision, treasures,
Faces, voices and footsteps of generations.
You are the legacy of hope,
The Psalm for change,
The flame to keep alive the memory of
Blaenavon, Ebbw Vale, Rhymney, Merthyr, Rhondda.
Sustain us with radiance and confidence,
Give us the essence of peace for tranquillity.
You are the everlasting.
-- Alex Pascall
Alex Pascall is one of the story tellers on the TV program
Teletubbies. He is a truly amazing person to meet, which I
was lucky enough to do at a children's festival in Cardiff,
Wales. It was here that I was given a copy of this poem. I
don't know if it has been published.

I must admit to being biased here, because my parents, and
their parents before them came from Rhondda, but I think
that even though the coal mines are now almost extinct, the
memory is still very strong, and should not be forgotten.
The memories will always be there for people to see, but
that there is a future as well.

Oh, what the heck, I just like it. I am not one of those who
memorise things and can quote a whole poem, which has
distinct advantages, each time I read this it is fresh, and
yet reminds me of the hymns so aften associated with South
Wales and the rugby internationals particularly. It is quite
a feat to bring all this to life for a West Indian whose
home is in London.


The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad -- Wallace Stevens

(Poem #373) The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad
 The time of year has grown indifferent.
 Mildew of summer and the deepening snow
 Are both alike in the routine I know:
 I am too dumbly in my being pent.

 The wind attendant on the solstices
 Blows on the shutters of the metropoles,
 Stirring no poet in his sleep, and tolls
 The grand ideas of the villages.

 The malady of the quotidian . . .
 Perhaps if summer ever came to rest
 And lengthened, deepened, comforted, caressed
 Through days like oceans in obsidian

 Horizons, full of night's midsummer blaze;
 Perhaps, if winter once could penetrate
 Through all its purples to the final slate,
 Persisting bleakly in an icy haze;

 One might in turn become less diffident,
 Out of such mildew plucking neater mould
 And spouting new orations of the cold.
 One might. One might. But time will not relent.
-- Wallace Stevens
       (from Harmonium, 1923)

An unusually 'hard' poem - I had to read it thrice just to see what it was
talking about. However, it's a rewarding effort, if only to see the
seemingly unrelated fragments and the roundabout construction finally
crystallise into a coherent whole. Of course, there are other rewards -
images like 'days like oceans in obsidian' and 'night's midsummer blaze',
phrases like 'the malady of the quotidian' spring to eye, and on the whole
the piece has a nice flow to it.

However, none of the above are the reason I ran the poem. Why did I? Well,
how could I *not* run a poem titled 'The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad?' <g>
Truly, one of the nicest titles I've seen, especially given the lack of
connection to the poem.


  pharynx: The cavity, with its enclosing muscles and mucous membrane,
  situated behind and communicating with the nose, mouth, and larynx, and
  continuous below with the oesophagus; forming a passage from the mouth for
  the food and drink, and from the nasal passages for the breath. --OED

So now you know.


For a biography, see the previous Stevens poem we've run, poem #154


Icham of Irlaunde -- Anonymous

In honour of St. Patrick's Day...
(Poem #372) Icham of Irlaunde
   Icham of Irlaunde
   Ant of the holy londe
   Of Irlande.

Gode sire, pray ich the,
For of saynte charite,
Come ant daunce wyt me
In Irlaunde.
-- Anonymous
Brittanica has this to say about the lyric, of which today's poem is an

The lyric was virtually unknown to Old English poets: poems like "Deor"
and "Wulf and Eadwacer," which have been called lyrics, are thematically
different from those that began to circulate orally in the 12th century
and to be written down in great numbers in the 13th; and these Old
English poems have a stronger narrative component than the later
productions. The most frequent topics in the Middle English secular
lyric are springtime and romantic love; many rework such themes
tediously, but some, such as "Foweles in the frith" (13th century) and
"Ich am of Irlaunde" (14th century), convey strong emotions in a few
lines. Two lyrics of the early 13th century, "Mirie it is while sumer
ilast" and "Sumer is icumen in," are preserved with musical settings,
and probably most of the others were meant to be sung. The dominant mood
of the religious lyrics is passionate: the poets sorrow for Christ on
the Cross and for Mary, celebrate the "five joys" of Mary, and import
language from love poetry to express religious devotion. Excellent early
examples are "Nou goth sonne under wod" and "Stond wel, moder, ounder
rode." Many of the lyrics are preserved in manuscript anthologies, of
which the best is British Library manuscript Harley 2253 from the early
14th century. The love poems in this collection, such as "Alysoun" and
"Blow, Northerne Wynd," take after the poems of the Provençal
troubadours but are less formal and abstract and therefore more lively.
The religious lyrics also are of high quality; but the most remarkable
of the Harley Lyrics, "The Man in the Moon," far from being about love
or religion, imagines the man in the Moon as a simple peasant,
sympathizes with his hard life, and offers him some useful advice on how
to best the village hayward.

        -- EB

The key phrase in the above is that the best lyrics 'convey strong
emotions in a few lines'. Indeed, that's especially true of today's poem
- it's exceptionally simple and direct, and wonderfully moving.


[In Modern English]

   I am of Ireland
   And of the holy land
   Of Ireland.

Good sir, I pray thee,
For the sake of charity,
Come and dance with me
In Ireland.


Around this time last year we ran Sir Henry Newbolt's poignant 'Ireland,
Ireland', archived at poem #41

'Pangur Ban' always calls up some beautiful associations in my mind; you
can read it at poem #167

'The Viking Terror' is a perfect example of the 'Northern' poetic
tradition; in this case, alliterative verse. It's archived at poem #109

And finally, you might as well pay a visit to

O What Is That Sound -- W H Auden

(Poem #371) O What Is That Sound
 O what is that sound which so thrills the ear
     Down in the valley drumming, drumming?
 Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,
    The soldiers coming.

 O what is that light I see flashing so clear
     Over the distance brightly, brightly?
 Only the sun on their weapons, dear,
     As they step lightly.

 O what are they doing with all that gear,
     What are they doing this morning, this morning?
 Only their usual manoeuvres, dear.
     Or perhaps a warning.

 O why have they left the road down there,
     Why are they suddenly wheeling, wheeling?
 Perhaps a change in their orders, dear.
     Why are you kneeling?

 O haven't they stopped for the doctor's care,
     Haven't they reined their horses, their horses?
 Why, they are none of them wounded, dear.
     None of these forces.

 O is it the parson they want, with white hair,
     Is it the parson, is it, is it?
 No, they are passing his gateway, dear,
     Without a visit.

 O it must be the farmer who lives so near.
     It must be the farmer so cunning, so cunning?
 They have passed the farmyard already, dear,
     And now they are running.

 O where are you going? Stay with me here!
     Were the vows you swore deceiving, deceiving?
 No, I promised to love you, dear,
     But I must be leaving.

 O it's broken the lock and splintered the door,
     O it's the gate where they're turning, turning;
 Their boots are heavy on the floor
     And their eyes are burning.
-- W H Auden
If I've never run an Auden poem before, it's merely because I've only
recently started reading him to any great extent. And I have to agree with
Thomas's opinion - he's not always good, but when he's good, he's very good
indeed. Today's poem is one of my favourites - the first Auden poem I
ever read, and one of the very few that has stuck with me.

The most immediately striking thing about the poem is the repetition.
Combined with the strong, almost singsong metre, it gives the poem a
'nursery rhyme' effect strongly at variance with the increasingly chilling
atmosphere, in a manner that merely reinforces the latter. Seldom has the
dissonant interplay of form and content been handled so well or so

Some more on form - as has been remarked before, poetry differs from prose
in the extreme care that has to be taken over word choice. This is
especially true for the rhymed words, which are thrown into emphasis by the
structure of the poem. Now this is not always a restriction that poets feel
compelled to follow, but when a word is repeated as well, a careless
selection could ruin the poem. Today's poem is crafted beautifully in that
respect - in almost every case[1] the repetition works so well as to seem
the natural way to phrase things[2] (this also goes a long way towards making
the poem memorable).

[1] excepting 'this morning, this morning', which makes no sense to me
[2] for instance 'is it? is it?' sounds more insistent, 'deceiving,
deceiving' more plaintive, 'drumming, drumming' more continuous than they
would be unrepeated.

As for the background, Seamus Cooney refers to it as 'fear of contemporary
1930s totalitarianism'. I'm not too sure what that refers to - if anyone
has any further information do write in.


Biography at poem #50

Criticism of Auden at poem #68

And don't miss all the other Auden poems we've run, at
[broken link]


Troll sat alone on his seat of stone -- J R R Tolkien

The lighter side of Tolkien...
(Poem #370) Troll sat alone on his seat of stone
Troll sat alone on his seat of stone,
And munched and mumbled a bare old bone;
For many a year he had gnawed it near,
For meat was hard to come by.
        Done by! Gum by!
In a cave in the hills he dwelt alone,
And meat was hard to come by.

Up came Tom with his big boots on.
Said he to Troll: 'Pray, what is yon?
For it looks like the shin o' my nuncle Tim.
As should be a-lyin' in the graveyard.
        Caveyard! Paveyard!
This many a year has Tim been gone,
And I thought he were lyin' in the graveyard.'

'My lad,' said Troll, 'this bone I stole.
But what be bones that lie in a hole?
Thy nuncle was dead as a lump o' lead,
Afore I found his shinbone.
        Tinbone! Skinbone!
He can spare a share for a poor old troll,
For he don't need his shinbone.'

Said Tom: 'I don't see why the likes o' thee
Without axin' leave should go makin' free
With the shank or the shin o' my father's kin;
So hand the old bone over!
        Rover! Trover!
Though dead he be, it belongs to he;
So hand the old bone over!'

'For a couple o' pins,' says Troll, and grins,
'I'll eat thee too, and gnaw thy shins.
A bit o' fresh meat will go down sweet!
I'll try my teeth on thee now.
        Hee now! See now!
I'm tired o' gnawing old bones and skins;
I've a mind to dine on thee now.'

But just as he thought his dinner was caught,
He found his hands had hold of naught.
Before he could mind, Tom slipped behind
And gave him the boot to larn him.
        Warn him! Darn him!
A bump o' the boot on the seat, Tom thought,
Would be the way to larn him.

But harder than stone is the flesh and bone
Of a troll that sits in the hills alone.
As well set your boot to the mountain's root,
For the seat of a troll don't feel it.
        Peel it! Heal it!
Old Troll laughed, when he heard Tom groan,
And he knew his toes could feel it.

Tom's leg is game, since home he came,
And his bootless foot is lasting lame;
But Troll don't care, and he's still there
With the bone he boned from its owner.
        Doner! Boner!
Troll's old seat is still the same,
And the bone he boned from its owner!
-- J R R Tolkien
I've mentioned before that Tolkien's comic verse is among the best that
I've read; it's all due to the effortlessness with which he captures the
rhythms of (in this case) rustic speech while staying strictly within
the confines of rhyme and metre. Marvellously, skilfully done - and a
very funny poem to boot.


PS. Pun fully intended <grin>

The Cantelope -- Bayard Taylor

Back after a much-needed vacataion - thanks to Thomas for doing a daily poem
in my absence.
(Poem #369) The Cantelope
  Side by side in the crowded streets,
    Amid its ebb and flow,
  We walked together one autumn morn;
    ('Twas many years ago!)

  The markets blushed with fruits and flowers;
    (Both Memory and Hope!)
  You stopped and bought me at the stall,
    A spicy cantelope.

  We drained together its honeyed wine,
    We cast the seeds away;
  I slipped and fell on the moony rinds,
    And you took me home in a dray!

  The honeyed wine of your love is drained;
    I limp from the fall I had;
  The snow-flakes muffle the empty stall,
    And everything is sad.

  The sky is an inkstand, upside down,
    It splashes the world with gloom;
  The earth is full of skeleton bones,
    And the sea is a wobbling tomb!
-- Bayard Taylor
Another recent discovery of mine[1], Taylor has written a number of parodies
and other humorous poems. While I've been somewhat reluctant to run
lesser-known parodies of well-known poems[2], I think 'Cantelope' is a nice
poem in its own right - a very effective combination of 'poetic' language,
bathos and just plain absurdity that made me laugh. Of course, it helps that
- while I have the vague feeling this is a parody - I have not the slightest
idea what the original is.

[1] in case I haven't mentioned it before, I cannot recommend the Poets'
Corner too highly. [broken link]
[2] mostly because i feel that even if they're good, it's just because the
original was (although see next week's theme).


  cantelope: a small, round, ribbed variety of musk-melon, of a very
  delicate flavour [OED]. the modern spelling is cantaloupe

  dray: a small cart


  Taylor, Bayard
  b. Jan. 11, 1825, Kennett Square, Pa., U.S.
  d. Dec. 19, 1878, Berlin, Ger.
  in full JAMES BAYARD TAYLOR, American author known primarily for his
  lively travel narratives and for his translation of J.W. von Goethe's

  A restless student, Taylor was apprenticed to a printer at age 17. In 1844
  his first volume of verse, Ximena, was published. He then arranged with
  The Saturday Evening Post and the United States Gazette to finance a trip
  abroad in return for publication rights to his travel letters, which were
  compiled in the extremely popular Views Afoot (1846). In 1847 he began a
  career in journalism in New York. Eldorado (1850) recounted his trials as
  a newspaper correspondent in the 1849 California gold rush. He continued
  his trips to remote parts of the world--to the Orient, to Africa, to
  Russia--and became renowned as something of a modern Marco Polo. In 1862
  he became secretary of the U.S. legation at St. Petersburg, Russia. Of his
  works in this later period, the translation of Faust (1870-71) remains his
  best known. His Poems of the Orient appeared in 1855.


  The poem's slightly surreal imagery reminds me of Carroll's 'The Walrus
  and the Carpenter', poem #347

  Another poem that relies both on bathos and exaggeratedly poetic language
  (both very popular techniques) is Claverley's 'Forever', poem #255


Auguries of Innocence -- William Blake

(Poem #368) Auguries of Innocence
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A dove house fill'd with doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thro' all its regions.
A dog starv'd at his Master's Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State.
A Horse misus'd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing,
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clipp'd and arm'd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.
Every Wolf's & Lion's howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul.
The wild deer, wand'ring here & there,
Keeps the Human Soul from Care.
The Lamb misus'd breeds public strife
And yet forgives the Butcher's Knife.
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that won't believe.
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbeliever's fright.
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belov'd by Men.
He who the Ox to wrath has mov'd
Shall never be by Woman lov'd.
The wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spider's enmity.
He who torments the Chafer's sprite
Weaves a Bower in endless Night.
The Caterpillar on the Leaf
Repeats to thee thy Mother's grief.
Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly,
For the Last Judgement draweth nigh.
He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar.
The Beggar's Dog & Widow's Cat,
Feed them & thou wilt grow fat.
The Gnat that sings his Summer's song
Poison gets from Slander's tongue.
The poison of the Snake & Newt
Is the sweat of Envy's Foot.
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artist's Jealousy.
The Prince's Robes & Beggars' Rags
Are Toadstools on the Miser's Bags.
A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so;
Man was made for Joy & Woe;
And when this we rightly know
Thro' the World we safely go.
Joy & Woe are woven fine,
A Clothing for the Soul divine;
Under every grief & pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
The Babe is more than swaddling Bands;
Throughout all these Human Lands
Tools were made, & born were hands,
Every Farmer Understands.
Every Tear from Every Eye
Becomes a Babe in Eternity.
This is caught by Females bright
And return'd to its own delight.
The Bleat, the Bark, Bellow & Roar
Are Waves that Beat on Heaven's Shore.
The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of death.
The Beggar's Rags, fluttering in Air,
Does to Rags the Heavens tear.
The Soldier arm'd with Sword & Gun,
Palsied strikes the Summer's Sun.
The poor Man's Farthing is worth more
Than all the Gold on Afric's Shore.
One Mite wrung from the Labrer's hands
Shall buy & sell the Miser's lands:
Or, if protected from on high,
Does that whole Nation sell & buy.
He who mocks the Infant's Faith
Shall be mock'd in Age & Death.
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall ne'er get out.
He who respects the Infant's faith
Triumph's over Hell & Death.
The Child's Toys & the Old Man's Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons.
The Questioner, who sits so sly,
Shall never know how to Reply.
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out.
The Strongest Poison ever known
Came from Caesar's Laurel Crown.
Nought can deform the Human Race
Like the Armour's iron brace.
When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow
To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow.
A Riddle or the Cricket's Cry
Is to Doubt a fit Reply.
The Emmet's Inch & Eagle's Mile
Make Lame Philosophy to smile.
He who Doubts from what he sees
Will ne'er believe, do what you Please.
If the Sun & Moon should doubt
They'd immediately Go out.
To be in a Passion you Good may do,
But no Good if a Passion is in you.
The Whore & Gambler, by the State
Licenc'd, build that Nation's Fate.
The Harlot's cry from Street to Street
Shall weave Old England's winding Sheet.
The Winner's Shout, the Loser's Curse,
Dance before dead England's Hearse.
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born.
Every Morn & every Night
Some are Born to sweet Delight.
Some are Born to sweet Delight,
Some are born to Endless Night.
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro' the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to Perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light.
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.
-- William Blake
Blake, even more than Milton, is the poet of Righteous Fury: at times,
his indignation with all that is corrupt in his coutry and his religion
spills unchecked into the pages of his work. Coupled with his vivid,
often hallucinatory imagery and his deceptively simple syntax, this has
resulted in a number of wonderful poems which are unparalleled in their
power and honesty. So much so, in fact, that certain critics have
bestowed upon him the title of 'Greatest Poet Ever'.

While I think this is probably overstating it a bit (if for no other
reason than that all such epithets are a waste of time, imho), I do
agree that he can be absolutely amazing.

'Auguries of Innocence' is Blake at his most, errm, Blakean, so to speak
- all his usual themes are stated, with a passion which would border on
self-parody if it were not for the absolute firmness of his convictions,
the strength of his beliefs. The language is simple, yet powerful; the
thoughts are direct enough to make an impact, yet subtle enough to avoid
being trite moralizings; the poem as a whole is a moral masterpiece.



Several of the couplets in 'Auguries of Innocence' have achieved
immortality, one way or another.

   "The Caterpillar on the Leaf
    Reminds thee of thy Mother's grief."
was published as a standalone poem by Blake (note the slight change in
syntax - 'repeats to thee' becomes 'reminds thee of'; I prefer the
latter version myself), and has been the subject of endless critical
analysis (ranging from scriptural to Freudian to deconstructionist).

   "Some are Born to sweet Delight,
    Some are born to Endless Night."
features in a 'End of the Night', a brilliantly hallucinatory song by
the Doors, on their eponymous first album.

   "The Bat that flits at close of Eve
    Has left the Brain that won't believe."
gave rise to
   "The Bat that Blocks at Close of Play
    Stays on to Score another Day.'
which brilliant parody is (I think) due to Wendy Cope (though I could be

   "The Harlot's cry from Street to Street
    Shall weave Old England's winding Sheet."
has resonances with
   "But most, through midnight streets, I hear
    How the youthful harlot's curse
    Blasts the newborn infants tear,
    And blights with plagues the marriage hearse."
from another famous Blake poem, 'London'.

[Minstrels Links]

There's a biography and critical assessment accompanying 'Jerusalem', at
poem #26

One poem that _everybody_ knows is 'The Tyger', at poem #66

Another much-anthologized Blake is 'The Fly', at poem #26

Krishnakali -- Rabindranath Tagore

It's a cool and rainy day in Tokyo, just perfect for me to send you this
guest poem submitted by Ron Heard :
(Poem #367) Krishnakali
In the village they call her the dark girl
but to me she is the flower Krishnakali
On a cloudy day in a field
I saw the dark girl's dark gazelle-eyes.
She had no covering on her head,
her loose hair had fallen on her back.

        Dark? However dark she be,
        I have seen her dark gazelleeyes.

Two black cows were lowing,
as it grew dark under the heavy clouds.
So with anxious, hurried steps,
the dark girl came from her hut.
Raising her eyebrows toward the sky,
she listened a moment to the clouds' rumble.

        Dark? However dark she be,
        I have seen her dark gazelle-eyes.

A gust of the east wind
rippled the rice plants.
I was standing by a ridge,
alone in the field.
Whether or not she looked at me
Is known only to us two.

        Dark? However dark she be,
        I have seen her dark gazelle-eyes.

This how the Kohldark cloud
rises in the northeast in Jaistha;
the soft dark shadow
descends on the Tamal grove in Asharh;
and sudden delight floods the heart
in the night of Sravan.

        Dark? However dark she be,
        I have seen her dark gazelle-eyes.

To me she is the flower Krishnakali,
whatever she may be called by others.
In a field in Maynapara village
I saw the dark girl's dark gazelle-eyes.
She did not cover her head,
not having the time to feel embarrassed.

        Dark? However dark she be,
        I have seen her dark gazelle-eyes.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
Translated by J. C. Ghosh

I think my favourite love poem is Krishnakali, by Tagore.

I love the dreaminess emphasised by repetition -- the sort of repetition
that is natural in an infatuation. At the same time I love the
clear-eyed clarity of the particulars. Tagore has captured the self and
the woman, the mood and the reality.

(I heard the poem read over the radio, and found it on the web. I
haven't been able to find it in a printed version, so I hope the
transcription is correct)

Ron Heard

Child -- Sylvia Plath

Guest poem submitted by Dan Percival :
(Poem #366) Child
Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new
Whose name you meditate--
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,

Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.
-- Sylvia Plath
This is one of those poems I am often tempted to call the best in the
English language.  Though "free verse," the meter and sound are
carefully structured to support the poem's literal and emotional
content.  I haven't seen any piece of writing that more poignantly and
subtly expresses both the hope for a new beginning that a child inspires
and the foreboding that the hurtful constructions of the adult world
will shape each new life and re-enact themselves.  I wish I had the
leisure to describe this in more detail...

I found a bio of Plath at and a shorter but
better-formatted one at [broken link]

Dan Percival.

Boston -- John Collins Bossidy

(Poem #365) Boston
And this is good old Boston
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells talk to the Cabots,
And the Cabots talk only to God
-- John Collins Bossidy

I like short poems.

Poems like 'Boston' come close to achieving perfection through their
simplicity. They don't strive for epic grandeur, for bold sweeps of
narrative or for weighty philosophy; what they strive for is something
much more difficult to achieve, that ineffable quality called 'elegance'


[1] At this point I simply have to throw in one of my favourite
non-poetic quotes, Saint-Exupery's definition of engineering elegance:
"A designer knows he has attained perfection, not when there is nothing
to add, but when there is nothing to take away.".

[More short poems]

My favourite is Peter Porter's 'Instant Fish', at poem #64

Another lovely poem is 'Juliet' by Hilaire Belloc, at poem #315

The Minstrels site has lots of Imagist poetry; you can search the poet
index for works by Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Hilda
Doolittle, at [broken link]

The Imagists were strongly influenced by Haiku; it's worth checking out
works by Basho and Buson at the same link mentioned above.

[About the Boston Brahmins]

The insularity of the Lowells, Cabots, and their upper-crust Boston
Brahmin peers has become a topic of benign humor, best exemplified by
Cleveland Amory's unsurpassed anecdotal study of the breed, The Proper
Bostonians. Teasing stories about their ossified social conventions and
limited repertoire of first names aside, the clubbiness of these
powerful 19th-century mercantile dynasties shaped the city's design as
significantly as landfill and fire. Their wealth supported Boston's
banks, backed its real estate, invested in its capital bonds, and
endowed many of its institutions, from hospitals and schools to the
Athenæum and the symphony. Allied by marriages, education, and church
affiliations against Boston's swelling foreign-born population, Boston's
Harvard-educated Unitarian and Episcopalian Yankee oligarchy held
disproportionate sway over civic affairs through much of the 1800s. Even
a bank founded in 1816 at the behest of a Catholic archbishop and
patronized predominantly thereafter by Irish immigrants wasn't immune:
no Irish Catholic was named to its board of directors until the end of

        -- Jeff Perk, The Story of Boston
(excerpted from the Boston handbook)

The Patriot -- Robert Browning

Many thanks to Suresh Ramasubramanian, for reminding me of the anthology
wherein I first read this poem.
(Poem #364) The Patriot
 - An Old Story


It was roses, roses, all the way,
With myrtle mixed in my path like mad.
The house-roofs seemed to heave and sway,
The church-spires flamed, such flags they had,
A year ago on this very day!


The air broke into a mist with bells,
The old walls rocked with the crowds and cries.
Had I said, "Good folks, mere noise repels -
But give me your sun from yonder skies!"
They had answered, "And afterward, what else?"


Alack, it was I who leaped at the sun,
To give it my loving friends to keep.
Nought man could do have I left undone,
And you see my harvest, what I reap
This very day, now a year is run.


There's nobody on the house-tops now -
Just a palsied few at the windows set -
For the best of the sight is, all allow,
At the Shambles' Gate - or, better yet,
By the very scaffold's foot, I trow.


I go in the rain, and, more than needs,
A rope cuts both my wrists behind,
And I think, by the feel, my forehead bleeds,
For they fling, whoever has a mind,
Stones at me for my year's misdeeds.


Thus I entered Brescia, and thus I go!
In such triumphs, people have dropped down dead.
"Thou, paid by the World, - what dost thou owe
Me?" God might have questioned; but now instead
'Tis God shall requite! I am safer so.
-- Robert Browning
A poignant depiction of the fickleness of public opinion; this poem
ranks with the best of Empson and Auden in cataloguing the ebb and flow
of human affairs (specifically, politics). The first line has, of
course, passed into the language, but the entire poem is skilfully and
delicately constructed. The fifth stanza, I think, is my especial
favourite - simple, yet remarkably touching. One could say the same
about the poem as a whole.



Few poets have suffered more than Browning from hostile incomprehension
or misplaced admiration, both arising very often from a failure to
recognize the predominantly dramatic nature of his work. The bulk of his
writing before 1846 was for the theatre; thereafter his major poems
showed his increasing mastery of the dramatic monologue. This consists
essentially of a narrative spoken by a single character and amplified by
his comments on his story and the circumstances in which he is speaking.
From his own knowledge of the historical or other events described, or
else by inference from the poem itself, the reader is eventually enabled
to assess the intelligence and honesty of the narrator and the value of
the views he expresses.


During Browning's lifetime, critical recognition came rapidly after
1864; and, although his books never sold as well as his wife's or
Tennyson's, he thereafter acquired a considerable and enthusiastic
public. In the 20th century his reputation, along with those of the
other great Victorians, declined, and his work did not enjoy a wide
reading public, perhaps in part because of increasing skepticism of the
values implied in his poetry. He has, however, influenced many modern
poets, such as Robert Frost and Ezra Pound, partly through his
development of the dramatic monologue, with its emphasis on the
psychology of the individual and his stream of consciousness, but even
more through his success in writing about the variety of modern life in
language that owed nothing to convention. As long as technical
accomplishment, richness of texture, sustained imaginative power, and a
warm interest in humanity are counted virtues, Browning will be numbered
among the great English poets.

        -- EB


Browning, Robert

  b. May 7, 1812, London
  d. Dec. 12, 1889, Venice

The son of a clerk in the Bank of England in London, Browning received
only a slight formal education, although his father gave him a grounding
in Greek and Latin. In 1828 he attended classes at the University of
London but left after half a session. Apart from a journey to St.
Petersburg in 1834 with George de Benkhausen, the Russian consul
general, and two short visits to Italy in 1838 and 1844, he lived with
his parents in London until 1846, first at Camberwell and after 1840 at

During this period (1832-46) he wrote his early long poems and most of
his plays. Browning's first published work, Pauline: A Fragment of a
Confession (1833, anonymous), although formally a dramatic monologue,
embodied many of his own adolescent passions and anxieties. Although it
received some favourable comment, it was attacked by John Stuart Mill,
who condemned the poet's exposure and exploitation of his own emotions
and his "intense and morbid self-consciousness." It was perhaps Mill's
critique that determined Browning never to confess his own emotions
again in his poetry but to write objectively. In 1835 he published
Paracelsus and in 1840 Sordello, both poems dealing with men of great
ability striving to reconcile the demands of their own personalities
with those of the world. Paracelsus was well received, but Sordello,
which made exacting demands on its reader's knowledge, was almost
universally declared incomprehensible.

Encouraged by the actor Charles Macready, Browning devoted his main
energies for some years to verse drama, a form that he had already
adopted for Strafford (1837). Between 1841 and 1846, in a series of
pamphlets under the general title of Bells and Pomegranates, he
published seven more plays in verse, including Pippa Passes (1841), A
Blot in the 'Scutcheon (produced in 1843), and Luria (1846). These, and
all his earlier works except Strafford, were printed at his family's
expense. Although Browning enjoyed writing for the stage, he was not
successful in the theatre, since his strength lay in depicting, as he
had himself observed of Strafford, "Action in Character, rather than
Character in Action."

By 1845 the first phase of Browning's life was near its end. In that
year he met Elizabeth Barrett. In her Poems (1844) Barrett had included
lines praising Browning, who wrote to thank her (January 1845). In May
they met and soon discovered their love for each other. Barrett had,
however, been for many years an invalid, confined to her room and
thought incurable. Her father, moreover, was a dominant and selfish man,
jealously fond of his daughter, who in turn had come to depend on his
love. When her doctors ordered her to Italy for her health and her
father refused to allow her to go, the lovers, who had been
corresponding and meeting regularly, were forced to act. They were
married secretly in September 1846; a week later they left for Pisa.

Throughout their married life, although they spent holidays in France
and England, their home was in Italy, mainly at Florence, where they had
a flat in Casa Guidi. Their income was small, although after the birth
of their son, Robert, in 1849 Mrs. Browning's cousin John Kenyon made
them an allowance of £100 a year, and on his death in 1856 he left them

Browning produced comparatively little poetry during his married life.
Apart from a collected edition in 1849 he published only Christmas-Eve
and Easter-Day (1850), an examination of different attitudes toward
Christianity, perhaps having its immediate origin in the death of his
mother in 1849; an introductory essay (1852) to some spurious letters of
Shelley, Browning's only considerable work in prose and his only piece
of critical writing; and Men and Women (1855). This was a collection of
51 poems--dramatic lyrics such as "Memorabilia," "Love Among the Ruins,"
and "A Toccata of Galuppi's"; the great monologues such as "Fra Lippo
Lippi," "How It Strikes a Contemporary," and "Bishop Blougram's
Apology"; and a very few poems in which implicitly ("By the Fireside")
or explicitly ("One Word More") he broke his rule and spoke of himself
and of his love for his wife. Men and Women, however, had no great sale,
and many of the reviews were unfavourable and unhelpful. Disappointed
for the first time by the reception of his work, Browning in the
following years wrote little, sketching and modeling in clay by day and
enjoying the society of his friends at night.

At last Mrs. Browning's health, which had been remarkably restored by
her life in Italy, began to fail. On June 29, 1861, she died in her
husband's arms. In the autumn he returned slowly to London with his
young son.

His first task on his return was to prepare his wife's Last Poems for
the press. At first he avoided company, but gradually he accepted
invitations more freely and began to move in society. Another collected
edition of his poems was called for in 1863, but Pauline was not
included. When his next book of poems, Dramatis Personae
(1864)--including "Abt Vogler," "Rabbi Ben Ezra," "Caliban upon
Setebos," and "Mr. Sludge, The Medium' "--reached two editions, it was
clear that Browning had at last won a measure of popular recognition.

In 1868-69 he published his greatest work, The Ring and the Book, based
on the proceedings in a murder trial in Rome in 1698. Grand alike in
plan and execution, it was at once received with enthusiasm, and
Browning was established as one of the most important literary figures
of the day. For the rest of his life he was much in demand in London
society. He spent his summers with friends in France, Scotland, or
Switzerland or, after 1878, in Italy.

The most important works of his last years, when he wrote with great
fluency, were the long narrative or dramatic poems, often dealing with
contemporary themes, such as Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau (1871), Fifine
at the Fair (1872), Red Cotton Night-Cap Country (1873), The Inn Album
(1875), and the two series of Dramatic Idyls (1879 and 1880). He wrote a
number of poems on classical subjects, including Balaustion's Adventure
(1871) and Aristophanes' Apology (1875). In addition to many collections
of shorter poems--Pacchiarotto and How He Worked in Distemper (1876),
Jocoseria (1883), Ferishtah's Fancies (1884), and Asolando: Fancies and
Facts (1889)--Browning published toward the end of his life two books of
unusually personal origin--La Saisiaz (1878), at once an elegy for his
friend Anne Egerton-Smith and a meditation on mortality, and Parleyings
with Certain People of Importance in Their Day (1887), in which he
discussed books and ideas that had influenced him since his youth.

While staying in Venice in 1889, Browning caught cold, became seriously
ill, and died on December 12. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

        -- EB