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Coda -- Octavio Paz

Many thanks to Rajat Sharma, for
introducing me to this poem.
(Poem #442) Coda
 Perhaps to love is to learn
 to walk through this world.
 To learn to be silent
 like the oak and the linden of the fable.
 To learn to see.
 Your glance scattered seeds.
 It planted a tree.
      I talk
 because you shake its leaves.
-- Octavio Paz
(Rajat informs me that this is an extract from a larger poem titled
'Letter of Testimony').

There are some poems which you only have to read once to know
that they'll be a part of you forever; this, for me, is one of them.

It's not as if 'Coda' is a particularly complex poem; it isn't. What it
is, though, is exquisitely 'true' in its simplicity: the basic idea is
something that I've always known implicitly, but which needed
Paz's genius to put into words.


PS. Isn't 'linden' an absolutely beautiful word?


In a slightly more analytical vein:

The first few phrases of the poem are a sort of definition (if such a
thing were possible) of love; like any great poet, Paz presents a
wholly new way of looking at his subject. I especially like the line
"to love... is to learn to be silent" - it conveys a truth lost in many
more verbose descriptions of the emotion.

The silence of the forest ("the oak and the linden of the fable")
leads naturally into the analogy of the second half:"Your glance
scattered seeds / It planted a tree". Again, the metaphor is neither
forced nor is it taken too far; the final line comes as a natural (and
beautiful) conclusion to the whole.

Notice how the rather abstract infinitives with which 'Coda' starts (to
love, to learn, to walk, to see, to be silent) give way to more
concrete actions later on - 'scattered', 'planted', 'talk' and 'shake'.
The result is to move the poem from the general to the specific:
from a discussion of Love as an abstract concept, to words and
sentences addressed directly to the poet's beloved. This is a fairly
common poetic device, but one no less pleasing for that; I like the
delicate and unobtrusive skill with which it's done in today's poem.



Paz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990, 'for impassioned
writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence
and humanistic integrity'. His Nobel lecture, titled 'In Search of the
Present', can be found at [broken link]

Sadly, neither Martin nor myself know much about poetry in
languages other than English (Hint! Hint!), so there's a paucity of
translated works on the Minstrels. We've only done one Paz
before, that too a guest submission, 'There is a motionless tree',
archived at poem #412

Other 'Latin' poets to have featured on this list include
Borges: poem #401, and
Lorca: poem #210
Both of these are guest submissions as well.

The Simplon Pass -- William Wordsworth

(Poem #441) The Simplon Pass
          -Brook and road
  Were fellow-travellers in this gloomy Pass,
  And with them did we journey several hours
  At a slow step. The immeasurable height
  Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,
  The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
  And in the narrow rent, at every turn,
  Winds thwarting winds bewildered and forlorn,
  The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky,
  The rocks that muttered close upon our ears,
  Black drizzling crags that spake by the wayside
  As if a voice were in them, the sick sight
  And giddy prospect of the raving stream,
  The unfettered clouds and region of the heavens,
  Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light--
  Were all like workings of one mind, the features
  Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree,
  Characters of the great Apocalypse,
  The types and symbols of Eternity,
  Of first and last, and midst, and without end.
-- William Wordsworth
A surprising, even startling poem - this is certainly not the Wordsworth of
'Daffodils' and 'The Solitary Reaper', one feels. And certainly, the mood is
far darker; dazzling contrasts of light and darkness throwing every aspect
of a grimly personified Nature into stark relief. On the other hand, though,
one sees the same wonderful lyricism, the keen attention to detail and the
phrases delivered with a marvellous assurance (that's one of the things I
like about Wordsworth's poetry - he radiates an air of having gotten it
right, and *knowing* he's gotten it right, that many better poets have
failed to match[1]) that permeate his more famous works.

[1] and many worse ones have let slip into bombast - there's all the
difference between assurance and poetic arrogance.

Which is not, of course, to say that I think this is a perfect poem, or even
one of his better ones - the ending, sadly enough, does not really work for
me. The attempt to unify the tumbled scenery by way of mystical (religious,
if you will) imagery perversely enough robs it of some of its grandeur - the
verse gets slightly dry as Wordsworth leaves off 'showing' in favour of
'telling'. Still, this is not really a poem that depends on its ending for
impact - all in all it's a rather nice piece of descriptive verse blended
neatly with imagery that is at once vivid and dreamlike.


  Dated by Wordsworth 1799; however, the earliest manuscript is of 1804 when
  these lines appear in Book VI of The Prelude, then being composed. First
  published in Poems, 1845; also in The Prelude (1850), VI, 621-40.
  Wordsworth had crossed by the Simplon Pass from Switzerland to Italy in
  the summer of 1790 when on a walking tour with a college friend.


Here's a nice analysis of the poem, complete with historical notes and
pictures: [broken link]

There have (unsurprisingly) been a lot of poems with a similar theme or
themes. One of my favourites is Coleridge's Kubla Khan, poem #30

Not so long ago I compiled a bunch of links to 'bad-weather' poems - see
  poem #416

And, of course, all the Wordsworth poems in the archive can be viewed at
  [broken link]

- martin

Bregalad's Lament -- J R R Tolkien

Playing to my Tolkien fetish:
(Poem #440) Bregalad's Lament
O Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië!
O rowan fair, upon your hair how white the blossom lay!
O rowan mine, I saw you shine upon a summer's day,
Your rind so bright, your leaves so light, your voice so cool and soft:
Upon your head how golden-red the crown you bore aloft!
O rowan dead, upon your head your hair is dry and grey;
Your crown is spilled, your voice is stilled for ever and a day.
O Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië!
-- J R R Tolkien
In any other context, I dare say I would have found this poem
cloyingly sentimental, even irritating. If Shelley or Byron had written
it, I would have weighed in with some choice invective about
Romantic guff; if it had been by Auden, I would have railed on about
his lack of depth and insight; if it were a Pope, I would have
criticised its smallness of vision.

But since it's by Tolkien, I'll overlook all its deficiencies and instead
say that I actually like it <grin>.



Bregalad is an Ent, a shepherd of the trees. In this song he mourns
the wanton desecration of his beloved rowans by the Evil Wizard
[tm] Saruman's Evil Hordes [tm].

'Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië!' means "mountain-dwelling, leaf-
grey, with adornment of red jewels". But then, that should be
obvious, neh? <grin>


If you're a die-hard Tolkien fan (like Martin and myself), you might
be interested in this mail, from the Tolkien Languages discussion
list. I especially like the comment about the coffee beans.

"I had guessed that the ending -e was a feminine ending, and that
Orofarne and Carnimiirie were particularized, feminine forms derived
from the adjectives *orofarna and *carnimiirea.  That still leaves the
question of lassemista; but possibly the preference of Lassemista
to Lassemiste comes from the existence of a word miste with other
meaning? ('fine rain' in The Etymologies).

I take lassemista as meaning something like 'leaves as silvery-grey
as fine rain'.  The underside of rowan leaves have a soft fuzzy
surface that is pale grey and sharply distinguished from the brighter
green of the top surface.  This is quite noticeable in a storm when
the leaves are blown back, or when the trees have been cutdown
and are lying on their sides, as implied by the poem.  Also, note
that it doesn't make too much difference if you translate mista as
"silvery-grey" or "fine rain".  I believe the word for violet was
originally applied to the flower because of its color though most
people now would consider the word to have come from the plant.
Oranges however had the name before it was applied to the color.
This *does* make a difference in how words are formed in a
language from a morphological standpoint, that is, whether a
speaker considers a word to be a noun or an adjective may
determine the form of derivatives of that word.  But the derivatives
may change if speakers' understanding of the underlying form and
history of the word changes--hence folk etymologies, etc.

I think that Orofarne might be understood as "mountain-grown"
though this makes the rowans sound like coffee-beans, an
unfortunate product of passing time.  Although the form "far"
meaning in some sense "dwell" is not, as stated, attested, it might
be related to such forms as "feren" which show up in the Ilkorin
dialects as names for the beech tree, which like the rowan is
"spreading".  The form gal/kal also has a dual meaning of to "grow"
and to "spread", hence its application to both trees and light.  But
that is a rather tenuous argument."

        -- David Salo


I'm back in Tokyo (and on email) after a blissful vacation. Many
thanks to Martin for covering for me while I was away, and to all the
guest poem contributors whose contributions we've been surviving

A Shropshire Lad - XV -- A E Housman

Guest poem sent in by Louise Archer
(Poem #439) A Shropshire Lad - XV
  Look not in my eyes, for fear
  They mirror true the sight I see,
  And there you find your face too clear
  And love it and be lost like me.
  One the long nights through must lie
  Spent in star-defeated sighs,
  But why should you as well as I
  Perish? gaze not in my eyes.
  A Grecian lad, as I hear tell,
  One that many loved in vain,
  Looked into a forest well
  And never looked away again.
  There, when the turf in springtime flowers,
  With downward eye and gazes sad,
  Stands amid the glancing showers
  A jonquil, not a Grecian lad.
-- A E Housman
I love this poem.  Not just for the content, but also for the "feel" of the
words.  It flows so beautifully and is vaguely sinister.  There is a
distinct shift in tone from line 8 to line 9, where he moves into the
explanation of the poem - where we learn that it is about self-love.

I have been to the house in Hampstead, UK, where Housman wrote A Shropshire
Lad, and I have to say if anywhere could inpspire poetry in someone, it is

As to further suggestions for content - well, anything by Housman!!!


Not my Best Side -- U A Fanthorpe

Guest poem sent in by "Vijay D'silva"
(Poem #438) Not my Best Side

 Not my best side, I'm afraid.
 The artist didn't give me a chance to
 Pose properly, and as you can see,
 Poor chap, he had this obsession with
 Triangles, so he left off two of my
 Feet. I didn't comment at the time
 (What, after all, are two feet
 To a monster?) but afterwards
 I was sorry for the bad publicity.
 Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
 Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
 A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
 Why should my victim be so
 Unattractive as to be inedible,
 And why should she have me literally
 On a string? I don't mind dying
 Ritually, since I always rise again,
 But I should have liked a little more blood
 To show they were taking me seriously.


 It's hard for a girl to be sure if
 She wants to be rescued. I mean, I quite
 Took to the dragon. It's nice to be
 Liked, if you know what I mean. He was
 So nicely physical, with his claws
 And lovely green skin, and that sexy tail,
 And the way he looked at me,
 He made me feel he was all ready to
 Eat me. And any girl enjoys that.
 So when this boy turned up, wearing machinery,
 On a really dangerous horse, to be honest
 I didn't much fancy him. I mean,
 What was he like underneath the hardware?
 He might have acne, blackheads or even
 Bad breath for all I could tell, but the dragon--
 Well, you could see all his equipment
 At a glance. Still, what could I do?
 The dragon got himself beaten by the boy,
 And a girl's got to think of her future.


 I have diplomas in Dragon
 Management and Virgin Reclamation.
 My horse is the latest model, with
 Automatic transmission and built-in
 Obsolescence. My spear is custom-built,
 And my prototype armour
 Still on the secret list. You can't
 Do better than me at the moment.
 I'm qualified and equipped to the
 Eyebrow. So why be difficult?
 Don't you want to be killed and/or rescued
 In the most contemporary way? Don't
 You want to carry out the roles
 That sociology and myth have designed for you?
 Don't you realize that, by being choosy,
 You are endangering job prospects
 In the spear- and horse-building industries?
 What, in any case, does it matter what
 You want? You're in my way.
-- U A Fanthorpe
  There is a refreshing feel about the whole poem. I suppose when you look
at it, you could say it boils down to the story of a boy and a girl in a
painted world. I feel sorry for the dragon though. Why does it have to be
engulfed in that pathetic microcosm of our world just to enable another two
mentally superior apes to continue with their mundane existence?


Sir Patrick Spens -- Anonymous

(Poem #437) Sir Patrick Spens
  The King sits in Dunfermline town,
  Drinking the blood-red wine;
  "O where shall I get a skeely skipper         [skeely: skilful]
  To sail this ship or mine?"

  Then up and spake an eldern knight,
  Sat at the King's right knee:
  "Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor
  That ever sailed the sea."

  The King has written a broad letter,
  And sealed it with his hand,
  And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens,
  Was walking on the strand.

  "To Noroway, to Noroway,
  To Noroway o'er the foam;
  The King's daughter of Noroway,
  'Tis thou must fetch her home."

  The first line that Sir Patrick read,
  A loud laugh laughed he;
  The next line that Sir Patrick read,
  The tear blinded his ee.

  "O who is this has done this deed,
  Has told the King of me,
  To send us out at this time of the year,
  To sail upon the sea?

  "Be it wind, be it wet, be it hail, be it sleet,
  Our ship must sail the foam;
  The king's daughter of Noroway,
  'Tis we must fetch her home."

  They hoisted their sails on Monenday morn,
  With all the speed they may;
  And they have landed in Noroway
  Upon a Wodensday

  They had not been a week, a week,
  In Noroway but twae,
  When that the lords of Noroway
  Began aloud to say, -

  "Ye Scottishmen spend all our King's gowd,
  And all our Queenis fee."
  "Ye lie, ye lie, ye liars loud!
  So loud I hear ye lie.

  "For I brought as much of the white monie
  As gane my men and me,
  And a half-fou of the good red gowd           [fou: bushel]
  Out o'er the sea with me.

  "Make ready, make ready, my merry men all,
  Our good ship sails the morn."
  "Now, ever alack, my master dear
  I fear a deadly storm.

  "I saw the new moon late yestreen
  With the old moon in her arm;
  And if we go to sea, master,
  I fear we'll come to harm."

  They had not sailed a league, a league,
  A league but barely three,
  When the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud,
  And gurly grew the sea.                       [gurly: rough]

  The ankers brake and the top-masts lap,
  It was such a deadly storm;
  And the waves came o'er the broken ship
  Till all her sides were torn.

  "O where will I get a good sailor
  Will take my helm in hand,
  Till I get up to the tall top-mast
  To see if I can spy land?"

  "O here am I, a sailor good,
  Will take the helm in hand,
  Till you go up to the tall top-mast,
  But I fear you'll ne'er spy land."

  He had not gone a step, a step,
  A step but barely ane,                        [ane: one]
  When a bolt flew out of the good ship's side,
  And the salt sea came in.

  "Go fetch a web of the silken cloth,
  Another of the twine,
  And wap them into our good ship's side,
  And let not the sea come in."

  They fetched a web of the silken cloth,
  Another of the twine,
  And they wapp'd them into the good ship's side,[wap: throw violently]
  But still the sea came in.

  O loth, both, were our good Scots lords
  To wet their cork-heel'd shoon,
  But long ere all the play was play'd
  They wet their hats aboon.                    [aboon: above]

  And many was the feather-bed
  That fluttered on the foam;
  And many was the good lord's son
  That never more came home.

  The ladies wrang their fingers white,
  The maidens tore their heair,
  All for the sake of their true loves,
  For them they'll see nae mair.

  O lang, lang may the maidens sit
  With their gold combs in their hair,
  All waiting for their own dear loves,
  For them they'll see nae mair.

  O forty miles of Aberdeen,
  'Tis fifty fathoms deep;
  And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens,
  With the Scots lords at his feet.
-- Anonymous
           (17th Century)


  In the reign of Alexander III of Scotland, his daughter Margaret was
  escorted by a large party of nobles to Norway for her marriage to King
  Eric; on the return journey many of them were drowned. Twenty years later,
  after Alexander's death, his grand-daughter Margaret, the Maid of Norway,
  was heiress to the Scottish throne, and on the voyage to Scotland she

  The ballad; which exists in several versions, combines these two
        -- From <>

Another famous ballad[1] from that most prolific of poets, Anon. Despite the
dialect it's surprisingly easy to read, and being handed down in a jumble of
versions doesn't seem to have hurt it very much.

[1] ballad: short narrative folk song whose distinctive style crystallized
in Europe in the late Middle Ages and persists to the present day in
communities where literacy, urban contacts, and mass media have not yet
affected the habit of folk singing. -- EB

- martin

When You Are Old -- William Butler Yeats

Guest poem sent in by JP Andrews
(Poem #436) When You Are Old
  When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
  And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
  And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
  Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

  How many loved your moments of glad grace,
  And loved your beauty with love false or true,
  But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
  And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

  And bending down beside the glowing bars,
  Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
  And paced upon the mountains overhead
  And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
-- William Butler Yeats

I will leave the analysis to someone better qualified than myself. All I
know for sure is that I love this poem, have loved it since the moment I
first read it. It was the first piece of poetry I ever sent my wife, back
when we were courting. She told me recently that she knew I loved her when I
sent her Yeats.

JP Andrews

Tell Her That I Fell -- Leo Connellan

Guest poem sent in by Terry Smith
(Poem #435) Tell Her That I Fell
  Woke me retching and alone.
  Within doom booze
  her arms around me again
  in wished-for honeymoon time
  that never happened.

  Wait now to become ashes
  and am so sorry.

  Stagger now, shaking for what I'm running on.
  But it takes a few to get started these days,
  face gouged by razor unable fingers hold
  and each step away from where a bar is near
  makes me feel certain I'm going to drop dead.

  Each morning now is terror.
  The bathroom mirror reflects
  earthworms have not a long wait
  to pick me clean.
  My toothpaste mouthwash
  is a breakfast of liquor,
  so is all day and every complete night.

  Took her once in the snow
  the seacoast near, vivid
  like if bright red blood was blue.

  Afterward when she stood up
  the bare spot we melted
  was like two halves of a pear.
  I know she is in a Fishing Village now
  with many babies.
  The boats go out each morning before sunup
  breaks through salt fog and come in long after dark,
  just to make ends meet.

  Maybe he is good to her
  in his clumsy understanding
  I hope so, but never sure in his mind.
  Furiously suspicious at any man's glance at her
  eternally looking for whoever I am
  directly into the face of each tourist who comes
  into town.

  How it frustrates him, unable
  to find and strangle me
  who is always the wedge between his best effort,
  and he is so strong, sea life hardened.

  Wake me these days retching then, all right
  just tell her that I fell.
  My happiness time was with her,
  been any kind of a man
  I would have carried her like
  a knapsack away and felt
  her feet slapping my thighs.

  Come on, death, I fear
  to wobble the few steps to you.
-- Leo Connellan
Alcoholism, the hardness of sea coast men, the difficulty of making ends
meet fishing and lobstering, the haunting of ancient memories and regret
for inaction are common themes in Leo Connellan's "Maine Poems", which he
told me at a University of Maryland reception he was glad to see published
here at the end of his life.  He read this and several other poems in an
harsh, aged voice at a poetry conference last April. He seemed to accept
applause as a sort of burden, some cruel necessity of the situation.
Afterwards he talked wistfully with me about his hobo days.

This poem struck me as a portrait of the poet, or an amalgamation of men
very close to him, written in a drink-addled voice that moves from memory
to memory in a stream of broken consciousness.  It's a good poem to read
aloud, but my voice always breaks on the last two lines.

Leo Connellan has been the poet laureate of Connecticut since 1996.

"Once the idea is clear, get rid of excess words... The poem will be done
when it is. But the minute you have to explain it you're writing prose."
  -L.C. from the introduction to "Maine Poems", Blackberry Books, Maine

Extended Family -- A K Ramanujan

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #434) Extended Family
  Yet like grandfather
  I bathe before the village crow

  the dry chlorine water
  my only Ganges

  the naked Chicago bulb
  a cousin of the Vedic sun

  slap soap on my back
  like father

  and think
  in proverbs

  like me
  I wipe myself dry

  with an unwashed
  Sears turkish towel

  like mother
  I hear faint morning song

  (though here it sounds

  and three clear strings

  through kitchen

  like my little daughter
  I play shy

  hand over crotch
  my body not yet full

  of thoughts novels
  and children

  I hold my peepee
  like my little son

  play garden hose
  in and out
  the bathtub

  like my grandson
  I look up

  at myself

  like my great

  I am not yet
  may never be

  my future

  on several

  to come
-- A K Ramanujan
One of my favorites - a short, staccato rhythm symbolizing hurried modern
life, and the stark contrast between old, orthodox tamil brahminical
 and modern, decadent (and somewhat innocent) vulgarity.

Profile - old A. K. Ramanujan poem at poem #382 (A River - direct
lift from Panorama), and [broken link]

Suresh Ramasubramanian | sureshr at
"Whatever the missing mass of the universe is, I hope it's not
                -- Mom

Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell -- John Keats

Guest poem sent in by Aseem Kaul ()

One of my favourites...
(Poem #433) Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell
  Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell
  No God, no demon of severe response
  Deigns to reply from heaven or from hell
  Then to my human heart I turn at once:
  Heart, thou and I are here, sad and alone,
  Say, why did I laugh? O mortal pain!
  O darkness! darkness! Forever must I moan
  To question heaven and hell and heart in vain?
  Why did I laugh? I know this being's lease
  My fancy to it's utmost blisses spreads
  Yet would I on this very midnight cease
  And all the world's gaudy ensigns see in shreds
  Verse, fame and beauty are intense indeed
  But death intenser, death is life's high meed.
-- John Keats
What I love about this poem is the fact that its so uncharacteristic of
Keats - so dark and feverish, quite a change from his usual tranquility:
Keats is still ceasing upon the midnight, but no longer 'with no pain'. Plus
of course it's a poem that cries out to be read aloud, the repetition of the
original question adding a dramatic soul-searching intensity: almost like
the sound of a man drawing in air between fits of pain. But that's not all
that makes it dramatically intense - there's also the alternation between
anger and anguish, between god and demons on the one hand, and his own heart
on the other, all of it ending with an almost heroic disillusionment that
one (or at any rate I) associates so much more with Shelley than with Keats.
Altogether a wonderful poem that shows off the more savage side of Keats to


[I've added in a few links - m.]


Here's an analysis of the poem:

And an excellent Keats site, complete with biography:

(The above site also has a 'vote for your favourite Keats poem' poll - worth
taking a second or two on)

Earth -- John Hall Wheelock

(Poem #432) Earth
 "A planet doesn't explode of itself," said drily
 The Martian astronomer, gazing off into the air --
 "That they were able to do it is proof that highly
 Intelligent beings must have been living there."
-- John Hall Wheelock
What can one possibly add to a poem like that? :) I'll content myself with
quoting Wheelock on poetry:

  "in poetry, words are employed more as an end, and less as a means merely,
  than is the case with prose."

Biographical Snippet:

John Wheelock (1886 - 1978) American Poet

Strangely enough, while there are several of Wheelock's poems online, and a
number of quotations, I was unable to find a biography.


A few vaguely-related poems:

For a somewhat less self-assured Martian view of humanity, see poem #131
On 'highly intelligent beings': poem #57
And the same theme explored from some other angles: poem #222, poem #223

And while there are other poems to which this could be related I'll leave
you the pleasure of making the connections yourself.

- martin

Sea Love -- Charlotte Mew

Guest poem sent in by Tom Lincoln
(Poem #431) Sea Love
 Tide be runnin' the great world over.
 'Twas only last June month I mind that we
 Was thinkin' the toss and call in the breast of the lover
 So everlastin' as the sea.

 Here's the same little fishies that sputter and swim,
 Wi' the moon's old glim on the grey, wet sand:
 An' him no more to me or me to him
 Then the wind goin' over my hand.
-- Charlotte Mew
I first heard the poem when it was read by a visiting lecturer at our high
school about 1947. It kept ringing in my head, but I could never find it or
quote it completely. All I could recall was that it was written by a woman
poet with a name that began with "M". For years I tried all of the usual
suspects, but never found it. Then I tried and found
[broken link] but without an author. Given the
title I went back into Dogpile and found
[broken link] with the author Charlotte
Mew (1869-1928)...

Given that information with Dogpile again under
[broken link] I found a full biography...

At 71 I found a poem that massively impressed me in my youth, when such
ephemeral relationships were common (and much regretted).

Luckily, it is not the story of my life.

Tom Lincoln

Wild Asters -- Sara Teasdale

(Poem #430) Wild Asters
 In the spring I asked the daisies
  If his words were true,
 And the clever, clear-eyed daisies
  Always knew.

 Now the fields are brown and barren,
  Bitter autumn blows,
 And of all the stupid asters
  Not one knows.
-- Sara Teasdale
A delightful poem - it's amazing how well the tone comes across. The
sentiment and phrasing are mildly reminiscent of Dorothy Parker (though not
as hard-edged). There isn't a whole lot to be said about it, but note how
well Teasdale blends a strictly controlled metre with varying line lengths -
her poetry is always a pleasure to read, whether for the imagery, the sound
or the sheer elegance of the writing.


For a collection of Teasdale's poems, see
[broken link]

For a biography, see poem #113


In Time of 'The Breaking Of Nations' -- Thomas Hardy

Guest poem submitted by P. G. Murthy:
(Poem #429) In Time of 'The Breaking Of Nations'
 Only a man harrowing clods
         In a slow silent walk
 With an old horse that stumbles and nods
         Half asleep as they stalk.

 Only thin smoke without flame
         From the heaps of couch-grass;
 Yet this will go onward the same
         Though Dynasties pass.

 Yonder a maid and her wight
         Come whispering by:
 War's annals will cloud into night
         Ere their story die.
-- Thomas Hardy
This is a great poem; it stills the heart and makes one pause and think of the
lone farmer standing by his plough watching the years and the centuries go past
with all their futility. How often we see at level crossings when the train
speeds by the farmer and his animals waiting patiently: "He sees with unseeing

Hardy saw such a scene in Cornwall in 1870 and for forty years this lay dormant
till 1915 when this sentiment surfaced to take the shape of these three lovely
verses. I can only quote : "In this poem Hardy comments on the permanence of
such simple things as work and love. Man must cultivate the earth so that he can
eat, and he will continue to fall in love. Not even the madness of war can
change these basic certainties ... a great truth, [stated] simply and

"Thou art my battle axe and weapons of war : for with thee will I break in
pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms."
        -- Jeremiah 51:20

P. G. Murthy.


I'm off on vacation (and away from email) for 2 weeks, starting as soon as I
send this message; however, Martin will cover for me while I'm gone.


Reply to the Question: "How can You Become a Poet?" -- Eve Merriam

(Poem #428) Reply to the Question: "How can You Become a Poet?"
 take the leaf of a tree
 trace its exact shape
 the outside edges
 and inner lines
 memorize the way it is fastened to the twig
 (and how the twig arches from the branch)
 how it springs forth in April
 how it is panoplied in July
 by late August
 crumple it in your hand
 so that you smell its end-of-summer sadness
 chew its woody stem
 listen to its autumn rattle
 watch it as it atomizes in the November air
 then in winter
 when there is no leaf left
       invent one
-- Eve Merriam
As I've remarked before, poets as a class are inordinately fond of
commenting on the nature of poetry itself, and doing it in verse. I like
this trend for several reasons - for one, I'm a big fan of self-reference in
all its myriad incarnations; for another, it bespeaks a sense of play that I
feel can only enhance a poet's work. And not least of all, because poetry
itself *is* a wonderfully poetic topic, and that some truly beautiful poems
have been written on it.

I particularly like today's poem because it sums up a number of my own
feelings about poetry (and, for that matter, about Art in general), and far
better than I could have. Merriam conjures up a beautiful evocation of the
creative process, seamlessly interspersed with a verse picture of a leaf,
and culminating in an unexpected, but oh-so-satisfyingly *right* conclusion.

The form is well-chosen too - the shortage of capitalisation, far from
obtruding itself on the reader's notice, stays in the background, lending
the poem an air of quietness, while the lack of punctuation emphasises the
smoothly evolving flow of the images. In Merriam's own words, "a good poem
contains both meaning and music", and today's certainly fits both criteria.


  Eve Merriam is a poet, playwright, director, and lecturer. Born in
  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1916, she attended Cornell University,
  University of Pennsylvania, University of Wisconsin, Columbia University,
  and has has taught and lectured at many other institutions. Her first
  book, Family Circle (1946), was selected for the Yale Series of Younger
  Poets by Archibald MacLeish. In addition to her adult poetry, she has also
  written picture books and a number of books of poetry for children,
  including There is No Rhyme for Silver (1964), It Doesn't Always Have to
  Rhyme (1964), The Inner City Mother Goose (1969), Catch a Little Rhyme
  (1966), Finding a Poem (1970), Out Loud (1973), and Rainbow Writing
  (1976). The controversial Inner City Mother Goose, which Merriam once
  referred to as "just about the most banned book in the country," was the
  basis for a 1971 Broadway musical, Inner City, and a second musical
  production, Street Dreams (1982), which was performed in San Francisco,
  Chicago and New York City. In 1981, she was named the winner of the NCTE
  Award for Ex.

        -- [broken link]


A nice list of metapoems (from where I got today's) can be found at

We've also run several on minstrels - see, in particular, the week starting
with poem #186

- martin

The Two -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #427) The Two
 You are the town and we are the clock.
 We are the guardians of the gate in the rock
 The Two
 On your left and on your right
 In the day and in the night,
 We are watching you.

 Wiser not to ask just what has occurred
 To them who disobeyed our word;
 To those
 We were the whirlpool, we were the reef,
 We were the formal nightmare, grief
 And the unlucky rose.

 Climb up the crane, learn the sailor's words
 When the ships from the islands laden with birds
 Come in
 Tell your stories of fishing and other men's wives:
 The expansive moments of constricted lives
 In the lighted inn.

 But do not imagine we do not know
 Nor that what you hide with such care won't show
 At a glance
 Nothing is done, nothing is said,
 But don't make the mistake of believing us dead:
 I shouldn't dance.

 We're afraid in that case you'll have a fall.
 We've been watching you over the garden wall
 For hours.
 The sky is darkening like a stain
 Something is going to fall like rain
 And it won't be flowers.

 When the green field comes off like a lid
 Revealing what was much better hid:
 And look, behind you without a sound
 The woods have come and are standing round
 In deadly crescent.

 The bolt is sliding in its groove,
 Outside the window is the black remov-
 ers van.
 And now with sudden swift emergence
 Comes the women in dark glasses and the humpbacked surgeons
 And the scissor man.

 This might happen any day
 So be careful what you say
 Or do.
 Be clean, be tidy, oil the lock,
 Trim the garden, wind the clock,
 Remember the Two.
-- W H Auden
from 'The Dog Beneath The Skin'.

The other Auden poems we've had so far show his lyrical side or his questioning
intelligence. But this poem has another aspect of Auden's - the ability to
create a picture of nightmarish fear, of being hunted and pursued, of having
'them' after you. Not for nothing is Auden the dominant poet of the Thirties,
the worst, most frightening and disturbed decade of our century. The Depression,
the rise of fascism and other tyrannies, all the cowardices and compromises of
what he called 'a low dishonest decade', it all seeps into Auden's verse, and
what he does with it is unforgettable.

It can be pointed, as in the picture of refugees he paints in 'Refugee Blues'
("Say this city has ten million souls,/ Some are living in mansions, some are
living in holes:? Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for
us.") or just general and hallucinatory, as in "The Orators" ("Oh where are you
going?" said reader to rider, "That valley is fatal where furnaces burn,/
Yonder's the midden whose odours will madden,/ That gap is the grave where the
tall return."), but its always uniquely frightening.

This poem in particular is straight out of those nightmares we've all had where
we feel that under the normality of things, is something always looking at us,
waiting to pounce if we step out of line for a moment. We all know the pressures
of conformity, to be normal, not to be different, and the veiled threat of what
might happen if we dare to be different... out comes the scissor man.


Wild Geese -- Mary Oliver

Guest poem submitted by Aparna Chennapragada :
(Poem #426) Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
-- Mary Oliver
I stumbled upon this poem most unexpectedly and I love the way the poem 'feels'.
Not being into analysing poems, all I can add is I found myself re-discovering
all those little joys in the world around me, that Mary Oliver speaks of in her



Mary Oliver is the author of more than ten volumes of poetry and prose,
including "New and Selected Poems", "American Primitive"(Pulitzer Prize winner
1984), "House of Light", and "Blue Pastures". A longtime resident of
Provincetown, Massachussetts, she is now the Catharine Osgood Foster Professor
at Bennington College, Vermont. (From the cover of her book "New and Selected

[thomas adds]

Is it just me or is there a distinct Native American feel to this poem? Oh, and
while you're answering that question, check out Chief Seattle's Reply to the men
who wanted to buy his land, poem #184, and also the Navajo Night Way
Ceremony, poem #344.

Memorabilia -- Robert Browning

Many thanks to Divya Sampath for suggesting this poem:
(Poem #425) Memorabilia
 Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,
 And did he stop and speak to you?
 And did you speak to him again?
 How strange it seems, and new!

 But you were living before that,
 And you are living after,
 And the memory I started at--
 My starting moves your laughter!

 I crossed a moor, with a name of its own
 And a certain use in the world no doubt,
 Yet a hand's-breadth of it shines alone
 'Mid the blank miles round about:

 For there I picked up on the heather
 And there I put inside my breast
 A moulted feather, an eagle-feather--
 Well, I forget the rest.
-- Robert Browning
Percy Shelley's been getting a fair bit of coverage on the Minstrels lately [1],
so it comes as a bit of a relief to know that I'm not alone in disliking his
verse [2].

Actually, I can't name too many parodies written by well-known poets [3] - this
is a pretty rare example of one. Maybe the originality that is the mark of any
great poet prevents him (or her) from ever writing a true parody... I don't

Be that as it may, I think Browning does an excellent job of capturing the exact
tone of voice and style of imagery used by the Romantics... indeed, I must
confess that this poem (especially the last stanza) had me laughing out loud.

(still grinning)

[1] see poem #22 for a rave, and poem #399 for a hatchet job.
[2] Not that he's a bad poet, mind you. It's just that _I_ don't like his
work. Your mileage may vary.
[3] Lewis Carroll, of course, is the exception that proves the rule.

The Moonsheep -- Christian Morgenstern

Guest poem submitted by Amit Chakrabarti:
(Poem #424) The Moonsheep
The moonsheep stands upon the clearing.
He waits and waits to get his shearing.
        The moonsheep.

The moonsheep plucks himself a blade
returning to his alpine glade.
        The moonsheep.

The moonsheep murmurs in his dream:
'I am the cosmos' gloomy scheme.'
        The moonsheep.

The moonsheep, in the morn, lies dead.
His flesh is white, the sun is red.
        The moonsheep.
-- Christian Morgenstern
Translated by Max Knight.

[Personal feelings]

The first time I read this surrealistic beauty of a poem, it was about 2.30
a.m., I was almost sleepy, and was startled wide awake. I reread and reread it,
savouring its delightful couplets and the hypnotic and insistent repetitions of
its refrain.

The sudden splash of a totally unexpected image in the final couplet (the *red*
sun) strikes me almost literally, even on the nth reading.

The first read wasn't too long ago, but I suspect this is one of those poems
that will remain a gem to me, forever.



This poem is an English translation by Max Knight from the original Deutsch poem
"Das Mondschaf" by Christian Morgenstern from his famous "Galgenlieder"
("Gallows Songs"), all of which are available at this Project Gutenberg site:

What makes English translations of Morgenstern's poetry interesting is that HE
IS ONE OF THE STANDARD EXAMPLES OF an untranslatable poet. Is this claim true?
You decide.


Morgenstern hated to 'explicate' his Galgenlieder, insisting that they had far
less hidden meaning to them than many critics were bent on reading into them.
However, when pressed hard, he occasionally would offer a crumb. In this case,
he suggested the moonsheep might be the moon itself -- first against the sky;
then vanishing behind mountains; next, a dream of grandeur, with its own
tininess filling the cosmos; and at least appearing at dawn as a pale disk.


1871--1914. German poet and humorist whose work ranged from the mystical and
personally lyrical to nonsense verse.  Morgenstern's international reputation
came from his nonsense verse, in which he invented words, distorted meanings of
common words by putting them into strange contexts, and dislocated sentence
structure, but always with a rational, satiric point. Volumes of nonsense verse
include Galgenlieder (1905; "Gallows Songs"); Palmström (1910), named for an
absurd character; and three volumes published posthumously: Palma Kunkel (1916),
Der Gingganz (1919), and Die Schallmühle (1928; "The Noise Mill"), all collected
in Alle Galgenlieder (1932).

The above from Encyclopædia Brittanica, of course.

Hope you liked it!

- Amit.

[Minstrels Links]

'The Midnightmouse', also from Morgenstern's Galgenlieder, at poem #252
'The Pobble who has no toes', by Edward Lear, at poem #297

The Song of Songs -- Anonymous

The first two chapters of
(Poem #423) The Song of Songs
I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as
the curtains of Solomon.

Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my
mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards;
but mine own vineyard have I not kept.

Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy
flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the
flocks of thy companions?

If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps
of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.

I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.

Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.

We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.

While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell

A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my

My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi.

Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes.

Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.

The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.


I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.

As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my

He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.

His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.

I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the
field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.

The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping
upon the hills.

My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall,
he looketh forth at the windows, showing himself through the lattice.

My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and
the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape
give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the
stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy
voice, and thy countenance is comely.

Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have
tender grapes.

My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.

Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou
like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
-- Anonymous
(Attributed to Solomon in the Old Testament; also known as the 'Song of
(English translation: the King James Version of the Bible, 16th century)

I've spent most of the last 5 days listening to Palestrina's choral setting of
the Song of Songs ('Cantica Canticorum', in Latin), and all I can say is, Ooh.

(Digression: Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was a 16th century composer of
sacred music. From the CD liner notes:

'The music of Palestrina represents undoubtedly the artistic culmination of the
church music reform advocated by the Council of Trent in the age of the
Counter-Reformation... Palestrina [had unmatched] skill in the creation of a
superb correspondence between text and music, and thus [fulfilled] an urgent
demand rising out of pastoral considerations... [F]or the individual educated in
the spirit of humanism, a composition doing full justice to a text required not
only the proper choice of musical figures in accordance with the natural flow of
the text to be set - certainly this as well - but also an intellectual
pervasiveness in which language, textual content, onomatopoeic interpretation
with musical figures, rhythm and euphony were combined to create a harmonious
whole in compliance with what at that time was considered Beauty. It is this
lofty idea of harmony and beauty - for that age the best conceivable integration
of intellect and artistic form, of internal clarity and creative truth, of a
classical sense of balance and order - which is Palestrina's legacy to the

and from Brittanica:

'[Palestrina's] 29 motets based on texts from the Song of Solomon afford
numerous examples of "madrigalisms": the use of suggestive musical phrases
evoking picturesque features, apparent either to the ear or to the eye,
sometimes to both.'

Incidentally, I read elsewhere that Bach was a keen student of Palestrina's
works - not surprising, given the contexts in which they wrote music and the
many similarities in their work).

The point of this long (but interesting, don't you think?) digression is to
restate a thesis I've made previously on the Minstrels: matching lyrics to text
is _hard_. I've mentioned a few popular musicians in this regard (see the links
below), but their art cannot compare with the greats of antiquity - Mozart's
arias, Bach's cantatas, and Palestrina's masses.

For example, there's a bit in today's piece which goes 'filii matris meae
pugnaverunt contra me' ('my mother's children were angry with me' - see the
second verse above); the softness and delicate beauty of the preceding line
suddenly swells into overwhelming emotion when the singers reach the phrase
'contra me' - the effect is powerful, moving, and absolutely glorious. As I said
before, Ooh.


PS. The poem itself? Lyrical, sensuous, and frankly erotic - gorgeous stuff.

[Minstrels Links]

poem #114, poem #287, poem #299.
 - all include short essays on the difficulties faced by lyricists (as opposed
to 'pure' poets). The first two are by myself; the third is a guest poem
submitted by Amit Chakrabarti.

We've actually covered quite a bit of popular music on the Minstrels, from
Dylan, Simon and Cohen to Willie Dixon and Richard Thompson. You can read their
work, and much much more, at the Minstrels website,


'spikenard' - a fragrant ointment, derived from a Himalayan aromatic plant
(Nardostachys jatamansi) of the valerian family.
'the voice of the turtle' - refers to the turtledove, not the slow and steady

Sonnet XVII: Love -- Pablo Neruda

Guest poem submitted by Sudha Shastri:
(Poem #422) Sonnet XVII: Love
I don't love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn't bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don't know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.
-- Pablo Neruda
Translated by Stephen Mitchell

An Italian sonnet (Petrarchan form), where the 14 lines are divided as 8
(octave) + 6 (sestet). Usually this form is characterised by a 'turn' in the
thought after the octave, but here the divide seems to be rather differently
achieved. Almost (?) ironical the way the octave elaborately labours the ways of
loving ( reminds me of 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' ) and the
sestet tersely dismisses the possibility of a successful description of the

As for theme, well, it carries echoes and echoes from mostly Renaissance poetry.
The octave in particular reminds me of Viola's description of her love in
'Twelfth Night' - the oft-quoted 'Patience on a monument' speech.

Also, I wonder if the anaphora helps.

S Shastri.


'Anaphora' - repetition of a word or expression at the beginning of successive
phrases, clauses, sentences, or verses especially for rhetorical or poetic
effect <Lincoln's "we cannot dedicate--we cannot
consecrate--we                      cannot hallow--this ground" is an example>

        -- Merriam-Webster,

- t.]

The Jungle Husband -- Stevie Smith

(Poem #421) The Jungle Husband
Dearest Evelyn, I often think of you
Out with the guns in the jungle stew
Yesterday I hittapotamus
I put the measurements down for you but they got lost in the fuss
It's not a good thing to drink out here
You know, I've practically given it up dear.
Tomorrow I am going alone a long way
Into the jungle. It is all grey
But green on top
Only sometimes when a tree has fallen
The sun comes down plop, it is quite appalling.
You never want to go in a jungle pool
In the hot sun, it would be the act of a fool
Because it's always full of anacondas, Evelyn, not looking ill-fed
I'll say. So no more now, from your loving husband Wilfred.
-- Stevie Smith
Stevie Smith's poetry is beguilingly simple, and incredibly impossible to
imitate. It _sounds_ childlike, artless, direct; in reality, it betokens a
complete and utter originality: she's certainly one of the most distinctive
voices of the mid 20th century.

Which raises the question, why isn't she more famous? I know I like her poetry;
I like its irreverence and its whimsy and its no-holds-barred attitude to a
number of society's sacred cows. But somehow, her poems are not _quite_ there -
they fall just short of greatness. Maybe her subjects are too light; maybe her
verse is just too pithy - I don't know. Pity. But I enjoy them anyway.



There's a nice biography of Stevie Smith (and an essay wondering why her poetry
isn't more widely read) at [broken link]

'hittapotamus' is straight out of Ogden Nash (though if I remember aright,
Smith's poem predates Nash by a goodly bit). Assorted pieces of Nashery can be
found at the Minstrels website,
[broken link]

Thirty Bob a Week -- John Davidson

(Poem #420) Thirty Bob a Week
 I couldn't touch a stop and turn a screw,
   And set the blooming world a-work for me,
 Like such as cut their teeth -- I hope, like you --
   On the handle of a skeleton gold key;
 I cut mine on a leek, which I eat it every week:
   I'm a clerk at thirty bob as you can see.

 But I don't allow it's luck and all a toss;
   There's no such thing as being starred and crossed;
 It's just the power of some to be a boss,
   And the bally power of others to be bossed:
 I face the music, sir; you bet I ain't a cur;
   Strike me lucky if I don't believe I'm lost!

 For like a mole I journey in the dark,
   A-travelling along the underground
 From my Pillar'd Halls and broad Suburbean Park,
   To come the daily dull official round;
 And home again at night with my pipe all alight,
   A-scheming how to count ten bob a pound.

 And it's often very cold and very wet,
   And my missus stitches towels for a hunks;
 And the Pillar'd Halls is half of it to let--
   Three rooms about the size of travelling trunks.
 And we cough, my wife and I, to dislocate a sigh,
   When the noisy little kids are in their bunks.

 But you never hear her do a growl or whine,
   For she's made of flint and roses, very odd;
 And I've got to cut my meaning rather fine,
   Or I'd blubber, for I'm made of greens and sod:
 So p'r'haps we are in Hell for all that I can tell,
   And lost and damn'd and served up hot to God.

 I ain't blaspheming, Mr. Silver-tongue;
   I'm saying things a bit beyond your art:
 Of all the rummy starts you ever sprung,
   Thirty bob a week's the rummiest start!
 With your science and your books and your the'ries about spooks,
   Did you ever hear of looking in your heart?

 I didn't mean your pocket, Mr., no:
   I mean that having children and a wife,
 With thirty bob on which to come and go,
   Isn't dancing to the tabor and the fife:
 When it doesn't make you drink, by Heaven! it makes you think,
   And notice curious items about life.

 I step into my heart and there I meet
   A god-almighty devil singing small,
 Who would like to shout and whistle in the street,
   And squelch the passers flat against the wall;
 If the whole world was a cake he had the power to take,
   He would take it, ask for more, and eat them all.

 And I meet a sort of simpleton beside,
   The kind that life is always giving beans;
 With thirty bob a week to keep a bride
   He fell in love and married in his teens:
 At thirty bob he stuck; but he knows it isn't luck:
   He knows the seas are deeper than tureens.

 And the god-almighty devil and the fool
   That meet me in the High Street on the strike,
 When I walk about my heart a-gathering wool,
   Are my good and evil angels if you like.
 And both of them together in every kind of weather
   Ride me like a double-seated bike.

 That's rough a bit and needs its meaning curled.
   But I have a high old hot un in my mind --
 A most engrugious notion of the world,
   That leaves your lightning 'rithmetic behind:
 I give it at a glance when I say 'There ain't no chance,
   Nor nothing of the lucky-lottery kind.'

 And it's this way that I make it out to be:
   No fathers, mothers, countres, climates -- none;
 Not Adam was responsible for me,
   Nor society, nor systems, nary one:
 A little sleeping seed, I woke -- I did, indeed --
   A million years before the blooming sun.

 I woke because I thought the time had come;
   Beyond my will there was no other cause;
 And everywhere I found myself at home,
   Because I chose to be the thing I was;
 And in whatever shape of mollusc or of ape
   I always went according to the laws.

 I was the love that chose my mother out;
   I joined two lives and from the union burst;
 My weakness and my strength without a doubt
   Are mine alone for ever from the first:
 It's just the very same with a difference in the name
   As 'Thy will be done.' You say it if you durst!

 They say it daily up and down the land
   As easy as you take a drink, it's true;
 But the difficultest go to understand,
   And the difficultest job a man can do,
 Is to come it brave and meek with thirty bob a week,
   And feel that that's the proper thing for you.

 It's a naked child against a hungry wolf;
   It's playing bowls upon a splitting wreck;
 It's walking on a string across a gulf
   With millstones fore-and-aft about your neck;
 But the thing is daily done by many and many a one;
   And we fall, face forward, fighting, on the deck.
-- John Davidson
This poem caused a scandal when it was first published, back in 1894. And
unsurprisingly so - its sentiments and its language were anathema to the
Victorians. No daffodils, no rainbows, certainly no Muses  - instead, a harsh
Cockney voice laying bare the grimy underbelly of 'civilization'. Powerful
stuff, and powerfully presented.

Of course, the irony is that Davidson, in his use of language and emotion, was
being far more true to the ideals of Wordsworth and his fellow Romantics than
his late-Victorian contemporaries...


PS. The final stanza is deservedly famous - see 'Invictus', another masterpiece
of defiance and courage, at poem #221


'Skeleton gold key' - the phrase implies that gold opens all doors.
'engrugious' is a malapropism for 'egregious'.
'suburbean' is an intentional mispelling; see the later line about 'the kind
that life is always giving beans'.

[Life and Works]

Poet, translator, novelist, and man of letters, John Davidson spent the first
part of his life as a teacher in Greenock, Glasgow, Perth, Crieff, and other
places. In 1884 he married Margaret Macarthur, who bore him two sons. In 1899 he
moved to London and earned a living by journalism. His second and third volumes
of verse, Fleet Street Eclogues (1893), proved popular, established his
reputation, and earned the respect of T. S. Eliot, who wrote a preface to a
selection of Davidson's poems in 1961 edited by Maurice Lindsay (PR 4525 D5A17
1961 Robarts Library). Little after these books, whether poetry, novels, or
translations, did well, and Davidson moved depended on his friends for support
until getting a Civil List pension in 1906 and moving to Penzance a year later.
The last half of his literary career was devoted to unsuccessful philosophical
poems and tragedies promoting a new world order. Depressed and ill, Davidson
committed suicide March 23, 1909, but his body was only found on the seashore
months later. He was buried at sea on September 21, 1909.


(Eliot's admiration for Davidson finds concrete expression in the Cockney
dialogues of the second part of The Waste Land, 'A Game of Chess', available
online at - t.)

March -- Boris Pasternak

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #419) March
The sun is hotter than the top ledge in a steam bath;
The ravine, crazed, is rampaging below.
Spring -- that corn-fed, husky milkmaid --
Is busy at her chores with never a letup.

The snow is wasting (pernicious anemia --
See those branching veinlets of impotent blue?)
Yet in the cowbarn life is burbling, steaming,
And the tines of pitchforks simply glow with health.

These days -- these days, and these nights also!
With eavesdrop thrumming its tattoos at noon,
With icicles (cachectic!) hanging on to gables,
And with the chattering of rills that never sleep!

All doors are flung open -- in stable and in cowbarn;
Pigeons peck at oats fallen in the snow;
And the culprit of all this and its life-begetter--
The pile of manure -- is pungent with ozone.
-- Boris Pasternak
(attributed to Yurii Andreivich Zhivago).

Translation has rendered this poem (originally written in Russian, like the
classic novel in which it appeared) into blank verse.  It still retains much of
its original beauty.  The unusual imagery is what grabbed me - contrasting
winter (disease and suffering) with spring (health, youth).  It is a metaphor
for the whole book, I feel.

Zhivago's poems are all listed as an appendix (and there is a long note by
Pasternak in the middle of the text about how Zhivago's poems evolve in style -
from long, rambling blank verse to short, sharp poems with a staccato rhythm,
just three words to a line).  They also reflect his changing moods and fortunes.

On the whole, Zhivago is an excellent book, and the poems at the end are the
icing on the cake.  Every time I read the book (and the poems) I keep hearing
"Lara's Theme" from the David Lean movie.  Everything comes together into one
glorious whole.


Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair -- Stephen Foster

(Poem #418) Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair
  I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
  Borne, like a vapor, on the summer air;
  I see her tripping where the bright streams play,
  Happy as the daisies that dance on her way.
  Many were the wild notes her merry voice would pour,
  Many were the blithe birds that warbled them o'er:
  Oh! I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair,
  Floating, like a vapor, on the soft summer air.

  I long for Jeanie with the daydawn smile,
  Radiant in gladness, warm with winning guile;
  I hear her melodies, like joys gone by,
  Sighing round my heart o'er the fond hopes that die:-
  Sighing like the night wind and sobbing like the rain,-
  Wailing for the lost one that comes not again:
  Oh! I long for Jeanie, and my heart bows low,
  Never more to find her where the bright waters flow.

  I sigh for Jeanie, but her light form strayed
  Far from the fond hearts round her native glade;
  Her smiles have vanished and her sweet songs flown,
  Flitting like the dreams that have cheered us and gone.
  Now the nodding wild flowers may wither on the shore
  While her gentle fingers will cull them no more:
  Oh! I sigh for Jeanie with the light brown hair,
  Floating, like a vapor, on the soft summer air.
-- Stephen Foster
Another of those wonderfully musical poems that practically sing themselves.
Foster was a musician and singer as well as a poet (his most famous work was
undoubtedly "Oh Susanna") and it shows - his words have a lyricism about
them that blends well with the floating, flitting imagery, and keeps the
sentimentality from drifting into triteness.


Stephen Foster was born July 4, 1826, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was
educated at Allegheny Academy, Athens Academy, and Jefferson College. He
became a full-time musician in 1850, working for and with Christy's
Minstrels, Campbell Minstrels, and the New Orleans Serenaders. His songs
made him famous with the public. Married to Jane Denny McDowell, and with
one daughter, Foster moved to New York City in 1860, but he soon succumbed
to alcoholism and poverty, living alone in a Bowery hotel. He died on
January 13, 1864, in Bellevue Hospital from injuries to his face and neck as
a result of a fall in his hotel room.


See also for a somewhat more
poignant statement of the above.


This poem reminds me irresistibly of Naidu's Palanquin Bearers: poem #390

We've run a few actual song lyrics on minstrels:

  poem #112
  poem #114
  poem #116
  poem #119
  poem #287
  poem #299

and several poems that ought to be, but I'll leave you to make your own
judgements about those.

- martin

Thistles -- Ted Hughes

(Poem #417) Thistles
Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up

From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.

Then they grow grey like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.
-- Ted Hughes
One of the marks of a great poet is the ability to take a perfectly ordinary
object and cast it in an entirely new light. Hughes does this with the thistles
of today's poem - transforming them from humble weeds into a symbol of strength
and resistance. As George Macbeth says,

"[Thistles] is a short paean of praise to the unkillable virtue of heroism. By
presenting this quality through the nature of part of the vegetable, rather than
the animal, kingdom, Hughes contrives to give it an air of naturalness and
inevitability, as if heroism like the flowers in spring is something which must
go on for ever."

Of course, the fact that it mentions Icelandic frost and Viking gutturals makes
it utterly irresistible to someone like me...



Hughes' poetry is centred on the natural world, as our previous offerings

'The Thought Fox', a poem about being visited by the Muse: poem #98

'Hawk Roosting', a depiction of the ruthless egotism of a tyrant: poem #42

Martin once ran a week of poems loosely based on the theme of 'defiance';
here they are: poem #34, poem #36, poem #38.

The Fitful Alternations of the Rain -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

(Poem #416) The Fitful Alternations of the Rain
 The fitful alternations of the rain,
 When the chill wind, languid as with pain
 Of its own heavy moisture, here and there
 Drives through the gray and beamless atmosphere
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
A nice if somewhat bleak little fragment - I've always felt that if one must
endure bad weather, the thing to do is to endure it in style :) And there
does seem to be something about wind and rain that has inspired countless
fits of prose and poetry - whether due to the profound effect the weather
has on one's moods and emotions, or simply as an omnipresent reminder of the
sheer uncontrolled scale of nature (see links).

Though I do have to wonder why he rhymed 'there' with 'atmosphere' -
nice as Shelley's imagery may have been, the sound of his verse was
frequently less than perfect. (Of course, one could always argue that this
is better than technically perfect but not very poetic verse, and that
Shelley has quite rightly chosen the words he wanted to use to convey his
imagery first, and bothered about the form later; my point is that it's
perfectly possible to have both, and that someone writing structured verse
has an obligation to his readers to get it right).


 These are among the many short fragments from Shelley's MSS. published by
 Mary Shelley, the poet's wife, in her editions of 1824 and 1839. There she
 entitles this poem Rain



As promised, no shortage of poems about wind and rain:
  poem #226, poem #96, poem #117, poem #200.

There is, unsurprisingly, an overlap with sea poetry (one of my favourite
genres) - here are a couple of examples:
  poem #326, poem #27 (the excerpt at the end).

And what catalogue of gales and dark clouds would be complete without the
following poem? poem #343

- martin