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The Albatross -- Charles Baudelaire

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #534) The Albatross
 Often to pass the time on board, the crew
 will catch an albatross, one of those big birds
 which nonchalently chaperone a ship
 across the bitter fathoms of the sea.

 Tied to the deck, this sovereign of space,
 as if embarrassed by its clumsiness,
 pitiably lets its great white wings
 drag at its sides like a pair of unshipped oars.

 How weak and awkward, even comical
 this traveller but lately so adoit -
 one deckhand sticks a pipestem in its beak,
 another mocks the cripple that once flew!

 The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds
 riding the storm above the marksman's range;
 exiled on the ground, hooted and jeered,
 he cannot walk because of his great wings.
-- Charles Baudelaire
tr. Richard Howard.

This collection would be incomplete without Baudelaire. But having given the
poem above, I can see the problem. Its not a bad translation, but Baudelaire
doesn't seem to be a poet who translates well. The original, given below, has a
quality of musicality, of every word and syllable seeming exactly right, that
escapes the translation.

If you have any French though, Baudelaire is a poet who must be read (and as a
bonus, his French is relatively simple). There's this amazing atmosphere (though
not in this poem), of beauty, sensuality, music, decay. Its what he's writing
about, and the feel of the poems matches it brilliantly. (Its also why he works
very well set to music: I think there's a French singer called George Brassaens
who's done some great arrangement of the poems to music).



Souvent, pour s'amuser, les hommes d'équipage
Prennent des albatros, vastes oiseaux des mers,
Que suivent, indolents compagnons de voyage,
Le navire glissant sur les goufres amers.

A peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Que ces rois de l'azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comes des avirons traîner à côté d'eux.

Ce voyageur ailé, come it est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu'il est comique et laid!
L'un agace son bec avec un brûle-guele,
L'autre mime, en boitant, l'infirme qui volait!

Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer;
Exilé sur le sol au mileu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher.

        -- Charles Baudelaire

The Gift -- Carole Oles

Guest poem sent in by Erin Cheatham
(Poem #533) The Gift
 Thinking she was the gift
 they began to package it early.
 They waxed its smile
 they lowered its eyes
 they tuned its ears to the telephone
 they curled its hair
 they straightened its teeth
 they taught it to bury its wishbone
 they poured honey down its throat
 they made it say yes yes and yes
 they sat on its thumbs.

 That box has my name on it,
 said the man.  It's for me.
 And they were not surprised.
 While they blew kisses and winked
 he took it home.  He put it on a table
 where his friends could examine it
 saying dance saying faster.
 He plunged its tunnels
 he burned his name deeper.
 Later he put it on a platform
 under the lights
 saying push saying harder
 saying just what I wanted
 you've given me a son.
-- Carole Oles
I came across this poem in one of my college textbooks and was
immediately captivated.  I appreciate the poems, like this one, that must
be read over and over before they are understood on the surface alone,
and must be read and analyzed and pored over to be truly understood.

This is a beautiful, haunting, and chilling poem that looks at the
cliche of the pretty, submissive, and simple-minded girl and ably gives
that cliche depth.


Little Gidding -- T S Eliot

An excerpt from
(Poem #532) Little Gidding
 Ash on an old man's sleeve
 Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
 Dust in the air suspended
 Marks the place where a story ended.
 Dust inbreathed was a house-
 The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
 The death of hope and despair,
     This is the death of air.

 There are flood and drouth
 Over the eyes and in the mouth,
 Dead water and dead sand
 Contending for the upper hand.
 The parched eviscerate soil
 Gapes at the vanity of toil,
 Laughs without mirth.
     This is the death of earth.

 Water and fire succeed
 The town, the pasture and the weed.
 Water and fire deride
 The sacrifice that we denied.
 Water and fire shall rot
 The marred foundations we forgot,
 Of sanctuary and choir.
     This is the death of water and fire.

 In the uncertain hour before the morning
   Near the ending of interminable night
   At the recurrent end of the unending
 After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
   Had passed below the horizon of his homing
   While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
 Over the asphalt where no other sound was
   Between three districts whence the smoke arose
   I met one walking, loitering and hurried
 As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
   Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
   And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
 That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
   The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
   I caught the sudden look of some dead master
 Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
   Both one and many; in the brown baked features
   The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
 Both intimate and unidentifiable.
   So I assumed a double part, and cried
   And heard another's voice cry: "What! are you here?"
 Although we were not. I was still the same,
   Knowing myself yet being someone other-
   And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
 To compel the recognition they preceded.
   And so, compliant to the common wind,
   Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
 In concord at this intersection time
   Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
   We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
 I said: "The wonder that I feel is easy,
   Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
   I may not comprehend, may not remember."
 And he: "I am not eager to rehearse
   My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
   These things have served their purpose: let them be.
 So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
   By others, as I pray you to forgive
   Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
 And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
   For last year's words belong to last year's language
   And next year's words await another voice.
 But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
   To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
   Between two worlds become much like each other,
 So I find words I never thought to speak
   In streets I never thought I should revisit
   When I left my body on a distant shore.
 Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
   To purify the dialect of the tribe
   And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
 Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
   To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
   First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
 Without enchantment, offering no promise
   But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
   As body and sould begin to fall asunder.
 Second, the conscious impotence of rage
   At human folly, and the laceration
   Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
 And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
   Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
 Of things ill done and done to others' harm
   Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
   Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
 From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
   Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
   Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."
 The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
   He left me, with a kind of valediction,
   And faded on the blowing of the horn.
-- T S Eliot
(Little Gidding: a village in south England, important historically to both
Royalists and Anglicans; Eliot was a member of both groups).

Eliot and Milton are, I think, the two poets most short-changed by the format
we've chosen for this mailing list; although both of them have written some very
good shorter poems, their true genius shines through only in their more major
endeavours. Unfortunately, works such as Lycidas and The Waste Land are simply
too long to be included in our daily emails... more's the pity, since they're
among my favourite poems.

Little Gidding is the final poem in Eliot's masterpiece, Four Quartets; it is
also the last major poem he wrote. In it, Eliot comes to the end of a long and
often tortuous spiritual journey, the entirety of which is chronicled in his
verse - from the pain of conversion evident in Ash Wednesday, through the
asceticism and mental discipline of the early quartets, up to the resolution
(not entirely peaceful, it must be said) that occurs in today's poem.

The Quartets are equally an investigation of the nature of Time and its
relationship to Eternity; in Burnt Norton, (the first, and along with Little
Gidding, the most celebrated of the Quartets) Eliot poses the problem of Time
and its influence on human affairs; in East Coker and the Dry Salvages he
expands the range of his meditation, and in Little Gidding he approaches a

So, what is this solution? Well, a complete explication of the poem is beyond
the scope of this forum, and _way_ beyond the capabilities of this reviewer
<grin>; still, here's my stab at it.

The poem opens with a harsh description of the passage of Time. A regular
alternation of trimeter and tetrameter, along with a strict aabbcc rhyme scheme
and an absence of enjambment [1], means that the lines are bound into tight
couplets. The effect is to convey an impression of a ritual litany; the final
line of each stanza acts as a sort of refrain, a chanted "Amen" that lends the
process of decay a feeling of inevitability.

The lines themselves are predominantly iambic, but with frequently inverted
feet; this pattern continues into the second section, which is in an almost (but
not quite) uniform iambic pentameter.

The second section is actually quite staggering in its achievement. Eliot
manages the astonishing feat of describing a scene set in wartime England in
word patterns that seem to be straight out of medieval Europe; indeed,
Britannica informs me that "the diction is as near to that of Dante as is
possible in English" [2]. The section is written in a sort of modified
(unrhymed) terza rima [3]; through it, Eliot manages to link present and past in
a manner that's perfectly natural and utterly wonderful.

The action is as follows: in the grim aftermath of an air-raid ("the dark dove
with the flickering tongue" is a German bomber [4]), the poet meets a 'familiar
compound ghost', whom he recognizes as being an amalgam of 'dead masters', great
poets of the past. The ghost describes to the poet the seeming futility of his
  "For last year's words belong to last year's language
   And next year's words await another voice. "
and goes on to catalogue the agonies that old age brings.

Yet all is not dark. For the ghost also holds out the promise of redemption: the
poet can be restored by entering
  "that refining fire
   Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."

In other words, the key to redemption is spiritual discipline; Eliot thus paints
a contrast between the dark fire of the bomber and the refining fire of
religion. Through the latter, the destructive power of the former is negated.


[1] enjambment, 'the running over of a sentence from one verse or couplet into
another so that closely related words fall in different lines'.
        -- Merriam-Webster,

[2] Of course, my Italian is about as good as my Klingon, which is to say, it's
non-existent. Could some kind member of the list who actually speaks the
language comment on the truth of this statement? Cristina?

[3] the same form used in the Divine Comedy; see

[4] By way of comparison, in Burnt Norton, Eliot likens the descent into a
bombed-out subway shelter to Dante's descent into the Inferno. It's links like
this which make the Quartets such a wonderfully unified whole.


My comments above notwithstanding, we have, as a matter of fact, run a fair bit
of both Milton and Eliot in the past; see
[broken link] for a complete listing.

The entire text of Little Gidding can be found, for example, at

I've barely touched the surface of the meanings to be found in this poem (and in
the Quartets as a whole); uncommented are the analogies with music, the
symbolism of the flame and the rose, the many allusions to literature and to
Eliot's personal experience... For a good introductory analysis, check out


Eliot's masterpiece is The Four Quartets, which was issued as a book in 1943,
though each "quartet" is a complete poem. The first of the quartets, "Burnt
Norton," had appeared in the Collected Poems of 1936. It is a subtle meditation
on the nature of time and its relation to eternity. On the model of this Eliot
wrote three more poems, "East Coker" (1940), "The Dry Salvages" (1941), and
"Little Gidding" (1942), in which he explored through images of great beauty and
haunting power his own past, the past of the human race, and the meaning of
human history. Each of the poems was self-subsistent; but when published
together they were seen to make up a single work, in which themes and images
recurred and were developed in a musical manner and brought to a final
resolution. This work made a deep impression on the reading public, and even
those who were unable to accept the poems' Christian beliefs recognized the
intellectual integrity with which Eliot pursued his high theme, the originality
of the form he had devised, and the technical mastery of his verse. This work
led to the award to Eliot, in 1948, of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

An outstanding example of Eliot's verse in The Four Quartets is the passage in
"Little Gidding" in which the poet meets a "compound ghost," a figure composite
of two of his masters: William Butler Yeats and Stéphane Mallarmé. The scene
takes place at dawn in London after a night on duty at an air-raid post during
an air-attack; the master speaks in conclusion:

      From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
      Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
      Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.
      The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
      He left me, with a kind of valediction,
      And faded on the blowing of the horn.

The passage is 72 lines, in modified terza rima; the diction is as near to that
of Dante as is possible in English; and it is a fine example of Eliot's belief
that a poet can be entirely original when he is closest to his models.

        -- EB

[On Eliot as a critic]

Eliot said that the poet-critic must write "programmatic criticism"--that is,
criticism that expresses the poet's own interests as a poet, quite different
from historical scholarship, which stops at placing the poet in his background.
Consciously intended or not, Eliot's criticism created an atmosphere in which
his own poetry could be better understood and appreciated than if it had to
appear in a literary milieu dominated by the standards of the preceding age. In
the essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent," appearing in his first critical
volume, The Sacred Wood (1920), Eliot asserts that tradition, as used by the
poet, is not a mere repetition of the work of the immediate past ("novelty is
better than repetition," he said); rather, it comprises the whole of European
literature from Homer to the present. The poet writing in English may therefore
make his own tradition by using materials from any past period, in any language.
This point of view is "programmatic" in the sense that it disposes the reader to
accept the revolutionary novelty of Eliot's polyglot quotations and serious
parodies of other poets' styles in The Waste Land.

Also in The Sacred Wood, "Hamlet and His Problems" sets forth Eliot's theory of
the objective correlative:

   The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding
   an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a
   situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula for that
   particular emotion; such that, when the external facts, which must
   terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately

Eliot used the phrase "objective correlative" in the context of his own
impersonal theory of poetry; it thus had an immense influence toward correcting
the vagueness of late Victorian rhetoric by insisting on a correspondence of
word and object. Two other essays, first published the year after The Sacred
Wood, almost complete the Eliot critical canon: "The Metaphysical Poets" and
"Andrew Marvell," published in Selected Essays, 1917-32 (1932). In these essays
he effects a new historical perspective on the hierarchy of English poetry,
putting at the top Donne and other Metaphysical poets of the 17th century and
lowering poets of the 18th and 19th centuries. Eliot's second famous phrase
appears here--"dissociation of sensibility," invented to explain the change that
came over English poetry after Donne and Andrew Marvell. This change seems to
him to consist in a loss of the union of thought and feeling. The phrase has
been attacked, yet the historical fact that gave rise to it cannot be denied,
and with the poetry of Eliot and Pound it had a strong influence in reviving
interest in certain 17th-century poets.

The first, or programmatic, phase of Eliot's criticism ended with The Use of
Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)--his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at
Harvard. Shortly before this his interests had broadened into theology and
sociology; three short books, or long essays, were the result: Thoughts After
Lambeth (1931), The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), and Notes Towards the
Definition of Culture (1948). These book-essays, along with his Dante (1929), an
indubitable masterpiece, broadened the base of literature into theology and
philosophy: whether a work is poetry must be decided by literary standards;
whether it is great poetry must be decided by standards higher than the

        -- EB


Hmm. Brittanica says that 'the familiar compound ghost' is an amalgam of Yeats
and Mallarmé. Alternative theories as to his identity abound, however; Swift,
Shakespeare and Shelley have all been proposed as candidates. The homage to
Dante, though, is unquestionable; compare the following passage from the
Inferno, Canto XV:
    "A company of shades came into sight
     Walking beside the bank. They stared at us ...
     Stared at us so closely by the ghostly crew,
     I was recognized by one who seized the hem
     Of my skirt and said: "Wonder of Wonders! You?" ...
     I answered: "Sir Brunetto, are you here?""
And just as Brunetto proceeds to warn Dante of his fate, the 'dead master' warns
Eliot of the fate of his poetry.

Incidentally, the lines I quoted at the end of the Silk Road theme,
    "We shall not cease from exploration
     And the end of all our exploring
     Will be to arrive where we started
     And know the place for the first time."
are also from Little Gidding, from the final section. (Today's poem is the
second of five). Thanks to all the readers who wrote in to appraise me of the
fact, thus providing me with my choice of poem for today.

The analogies with music in the Four Quartets are legion; the overall structure,
the repetition of themes and images, the verbal counterpoint... The immediate
comparison, of course, is with Beethoven's final quartets, which form an equally
profound statement of redemption in the midst of chaos.

I've just found out that each of the Quartets is centred on one of the medieval
elements - air, earth, water, and (in the case of today's poem) fire. Neat.


Love's Philosophy -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Guest poem submitted by Divya Sampath:
(Poem #531) Love's Philosophy
 The fountains mingle with the river,
   And the rivers with the ocean;
 The winds of heaven mix forever
   With a sweet emotion;
 Nothing in the world is single;
   All things by a law divine
 In another's being mingle--
   Why not I with thine?

 See, the mountains kiss high heaven,
   And the waves clasp one another;
 No sister flower could be forgiven
   If it disdained its brother;
 And the sunlight clasps the earth,
   And the moonbeams kiss the sea;--
 What is all this sweet work worth,
   If thou kiss not me?
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
I always did like "Love's Philosophy". It's fluff, but enjoyable fluff.

This is Shelley in a rare, whimsical mood. It's fairly unusual to find the poet
speaking in this voice. Shelley can be difficult to appreciate, especially when
he's being thrust down one's throat in high school (there was a point when "To a
Skylark"  made me want to throw things around the classroom), but I've since
discovered he can be quite bearable.


A Sonnet -- J K Stephen

(Poem #530) A Sonnet
 Two voices are there: one is of the deep;
 It learns the storm-cloud's thunderous melody,
 Now roars, now murmurs with the changing sea,
 Now bird-like pipes, now closes soft in sleep:
 And one is of an old half-witted sheep
 Which bleats articulate monotony,
 And indicates that two and one are three,
 That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep:
 And, Wordsworth, both are thine: at certain times
 Forth from the heart of thy melodious rhymes,
 The form and pressure of high thoughts will burst:
 At other times--good Lord! I'd rather be
 Quite unacquainted with the ABC
 Than write such hopeless rubbish as thy worst.
-- J K Stephen
What could I possibly add to today's poem, save applause? Stephen has
perfectly captured my feelings about Wordsworth's poetry, the 'hopeless
rubbish' all the more disappointing in contrast with the sublime poems he is
capable of.

Returning to Stephen (there are several discussions of Wordsworth in the
archives already, without hijacking today's commentary to run another one
<g>) - he's one of the many delightful discoveries I've made while browsing
Steve Spanoudis' excellent 'Poet's Corner' website. Like many other
deserving poets, he was not destined for immortality, but his verse is
nonetheless well worth a read, and I'll certainly run a few more of his
poems in the future.

As for today's poem, while I have the vague feeling he's parodying something
specific of Wordsworth's, I can't place it. The general feel of Wordsworth's
poetry is certainly in evidence, especially in the first four lines.


 (1859-1892) English Poetic Parodist, Royal Tutor, and International Law
        -- Poets' Corner

 The youngest and the shortest-lived of the three, James Kenneth Stephen,
 who, like Calverley, established himself in literature by his initials, had
 his chances marred in a manner even worse than that from which Calverley
 suffered, by his early death and the illness which preceded it. The variety
 and brilliancy of the talent shown in Lapsus Calami and the other too rare
 waifs of J. K. S.'s short life were altogether exceptional. Time and
 chance, with which no man can strive, arrested their development, but not
 before they had shown themselves unmistakably.


 The J. K. Stephen poems at the Poets' Corner:
   [broken link]

 For another treatment of the two faces of Wordsworth, see Browning's
 brilliant 'The Lost Leader': poem #130

 We've run several Wordsworth poems on Minstrels, but rather unsurprisingly
 concentrated on the good ones. However, I did use one of the other kind to
 make a point - see poem #411

 And of course, if anyone has a good anti-Wordsworth rant just waiting to be
 unleashed (and preferably with examples to support it), feel free to send
 it in :)


If you were coming in the fall -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem submitted by Neha Kumar:
(Poem #529) If you were coming in the fall
 If you were coming in the fall,
 I'd brush the summer by
 With half a smile and half a spurn,
 As housewives do a fly.

 If I could see you in a year,
 I'd wind the months in balls,
 And put them each in separate drawers,
 Until their time befalls.

 If only centuries delayed,
 I'd count them on my hand,
 Subtracting till my fingers dropped
 Into Van Diemen's land.

 If certain, when this life was out,
 That yours and mine should be,
 I'd toss it yonder like a rind,
 And taste eternity.

 But now, all ignorant of the length
 Of time's uncertain wing,
 It goads me, like the goblin bee,
 That will not state its sting.
-- Emily Dickinson
While going over the Dickinson poems in the Minstrels archive I found this one
missing... it's one of my favorites from all of her works, I guess mostly for
its simple expression of undying, though unrequited, love.

Compared to most of her works, this poem is quite simply written, easy to
understand and easy to appreciate. I think it especially beautiful for how
effortlessly and effectively it captures the sands of time: ".. wind the months
in balls", "If only centuries delayed, I'd count them on my hand". This tone of
hope of the poem undergoes a change to one of despair in the key (last) stanza,
where the agony that remained successfully hidden in the rest of the poem is
finally expressed.

The style spelt out Dickinson to me, but I couldn't think of anything to say on
that. I thought it would be nice to see this on the mailing list. Dickinson
doesn't seem to be too popular there and I think that's a shame, for of the
roughly 1800 poems that she did write, there are a few that I feel are worth a
read still, to say the very least... I thought the above was one. And I remember
when we did Dickinson's works in High School, this one was introduced to us as
one of her best few and it was fun explicating it!


PS. Van Diemen's Land - now Tasmania.

A Renewal -- James Merrill

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #528) A Renewal
 Having used every subterfuge
 To shake you, lies, fatigue, or even that of passion,
 Now I see no way but a clean break.
 I add that I am willing to bear the guilt.

 You nod assent. Autumn turns windy, huge,
 A clear vase of dry leaves vibrating on and on.
 We sit, watching. When I next speak
 Love buries itself in me, up to the hilt.
-- James Merrill
A short, sad and lovely poem that perfectly illustrates the inexplicable
complications of emotional bonds. Anyone who has ever been in a relationship
must have felt like this at sometime. And 'up to the hilt' perfectly captures
both the depths and the pain.

Merrill is best known for his longer poems, particularly the sequence
collectively known as 'The Changing Light At Sandover', but he could also
produce small gems like these.


I Bended Unto Me a Bough of May -- Tom Brown

(Poem #527) I Bended Unto Me a Bough of May
 I bended unto me a bough of May,
 That I might see and smell:
 It bore it in a sort of way,
 It bore it very well.
 But, when I let it backward sway,
 Then it were hard to tell
 With what a toss, with what a swing,
 The dainty thing
 Resumed its proper level,
 And sent me to the devil.
 I know it did--you doubt it?
 I turned, and saw them whispering about it.
-- Tom Brown
A somewhat old-fashioned but delightfully whimsical poem. This sort of
gentle whimsy is hard to get right - it requires a very light touch, or it
ends up looking self-conscious and forced. Brown, needless to say, has done
a beautiful job on today's poem - both the tone of voice and the imagery are


In keeping with the content, somewhat idiosyncratic. I have yet to decide
whether this does anything to enhance the poem :)

Biography and Assessment:

Thomas Edward Brown, 1830-1897


He published several volumes of verse, the first being ' Betsy Lee, and
other Poems," in 1881,and the whole were collected and published in one
volume shortly after his death on a visit to Clifton. Later, his letters to
a number of friends were also collected and published. Although a great
quantity of his verse is in the Manx dialect, he is increasingly being
recognised as taking high rank among the masters of English poetic

Time however has not dealt well with T.E.Brown - although highly regarded,
especially on the Island, at the turn of the Century, he is now little read.
Samuel Norris accounts for this by Brown's use of the Anglo-Manx Dialect and
his rather late start as a Poet. There was always some undercurrent of
suspicion by the native Manx that he was 'mocking' them in some way.



Brown's most famous work is perhaps 'My Garden', whose opening line,
"A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!", was responsible for adding a word
to the language. From the OED:

  Godwottery go(hook)dwo(hook).t<e>ri. Also with lower-case initial. [f; God
  wot (cf. god sb. 10) in the line `A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot!'
  in T. E. Brown's poem My Garden (1876) + -ery. ] An affected or
  over-elaborate style of gardening or attitude towards gardens (see
  quots.); also (in quot. 1939), archaic language.


There's a more complete biography at

'My Garden': [broken link]


A Toccata of Galuppi's -- Robert Browning

After a long and weary journey, we come at last to Venice, western terminus of
the fabled Silk Road.
(Poem #526) A Toccata of Galuppi's
 Oh Galuppi, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find!
 I can hardly misconceive you; it would prove me deaf and blind;
 But although I take your meaning, 'tis with such a heavy mind!

 Here you come with your old music, and here's all the good it brings.
 What, they lived once thus at Venice where the merchants were the kings,
 Where Saint Mark's is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with rings?

 Ay, because the sea's the street there; and 'tis arched by... what you call...
 Shylock's bridge with houses on it, where they kept the carnival:
 I was never out of England--it's as if I saw it all.

 Did young people take their pleasure when the sea was warm in May?
 Balls and masks begun at midnight, burning ever to mid-day,
 When they made up fresh adventures for the morrow, do you say?

 Was a lady such a lady, cheeks so round and lips so red,--
 On her neck the small face buoyant, like a bell-flower on its bed,
 O'er the breast's superb abundance where a man might base his head?

 Well, and it was graceful of them--they'd break talk off and afford
 --She, to bite her mask's black velvet--he, to finger on his sword,
 While you sat and played Toccatas, stately at the clavichord?

 What? Those lesser thirds so plaintive, sixths diminished, sigh on sigh,
 Told them something? Those suspensions, those solutions--"Must we die?"
 Those commiserating sevenths--"Life might last! we can but try!

 "Were you happy?"--"Yes."--"And are you still as happy?"--"Yes. And you?"
 --"Then, more kisses!"--"Did I stop them, when a million seemed so few?"
 Hark, the dominant's persistence till it must be answered to!

 So, an octave struck the answer. Oh, they praised you, I dare say!
 "Brave Galuppi! that was music! good alike at grave and gay!
 "I can always leave off talking when I hear a master play!"

 Then they left you for their pleasure: till in due time, one by one,
 Some with lives that came to nothing, some with deeds as well undone,
 Death stepped tacitly and took them where they never see the sun.

 But when I sit down to reason, think to take my stand nor swerve,
 While I triumph o'er a secret wrung from nature's close reserve,
 In you come with your cold music till I creep thro' every nerve.

 Yes, you, like a ghostly cricket, creaking where a house was burned:
 "Dust and ashes, dead and done with, Venice spent what Venice earned.
 "The soul, doubtless, is immortal--where a soul can be discerned.

 "Yours for instance: you know physics, something of geology,
 "Mathematics are your pastime; souls shall rise in their degree;
 "Butterflies may dread extinction,--you'll not die, it cannot be!

 "As for Venice and her people, merely born to bloom and drop,
 "Here on earth they bore their fruitage, mirth and folly were the crop:
 "What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop?

 "Dust and ashes!" So you creak it, and I want the heart to scold.
 Dear dead women, with such hair, too--what's become of all the gold
 Used to hang and brush their bosoms? I feel chilly and grown old.
-- Robert Browning
Not for nothing is Browning considered the master of the dramatic monologue;
poems such as today's are brilliant showcases for his skill at capturing the
staccato patterns of everyday speech while never sacrificing the melody or
rhythm of his own verse. I also like the various musical conceits, which are
phrased in beautifully self-referential verses... marvellously done.

The poem itself is not an easy one to follow [1]; it deals (primarily) with the
tyranny of time, as seen through the eyes of an old Venetian. I'm not going to
explicate it in full; however, I will point out, in passing, the resonance with
Thomas Hardy's poem 'The Roman Road', which Martin ran just a few days ago - the
sense of a link between present and past is conveyed most strongly in Browning's
verse. Nice.


[1] See the critical assessment below for more on why Browning's works are often
considered 'difficult'


Many thanks to Paul Malin, who responded to our query on
alt.quotations and pointed us to this poem.

[On the theme]

What a long strange trip it's been!

We started our journey in 8th century China, home of Li Po and his friend Tu Fu.
Our caravan then crossed the endless steppes of Central Asia, where we
encountered Tamburlaine and his mighty armies on the way to his capital, golden
Samarkand of story and song. Next, we climbed the high Pamirs and descended into
the orchards and meadows of Rumi's Persia. From Persia, we made our way across
the deserts of Araby to the very gates of Damascus. We set sail from a Syrian
harbour a few days ago, and now, laden with silk and spice, porcelain and
perfume, jade and jewels, we cast anchor in sight of our home port, Venice.

You can revisit all the above people, places and times, at the Minstrels

Li Po, 'About Tu Fu', Poem #505
Christopher Marlowe, 'Lament for Zenocrate', Poem #507
James Elroy Flecker, 'The Golden Road to Samarkand', Poem #510
Jalaluddin Rumi, 'The Tavern', Poem #514
Robert Graves, 'The Persian Version', Poem #516
James Elroy Flecker, 'The Gates of Damascus' (a guest submission), Poem #519
Constantine Cavafy, 'In Harbor', Poem #523
Robert Browning, 'A Toccata of Galuppi's', Poem #526

As you can see, we've covered a fair bit of ground - historically,
geographically, and poetically. I hope you've enjoyed the theme; please do write
in with your comments and suggestions, about both this and future themes.

Next up: Around the World in Eighty Days (ha ha, just kidding!).


"And the end of our journeying will be to return to the place from which we
started, and know it for the first time".

Could some kind reader enlighten me as to where this quote is originally from?
It's been running through my head for some time now; I think it's Eliot, but I'm
not quite sure...


There's a nice essay on Venice - specifically, about its influence on literature
- at

Our search for Venice poems also threw up

Canto IV of 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage', by Byron:

Wordsworth's 'On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic, 1802:

and the aptly titled 'Venice' by Susan Mitchell:
[broken link]

Thanks to Ben Trovato , William C. Waterhouseand Lizard for suggesting these.

A Browning biography can be found accompanying 'The Patriot', archived at
poem #364

Another very famous Browning monologue is 'My Last Duchess', which you can
read at poem #364.

[Critical Assessment]

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. This type of dramatic monologue, since it
depends on the unconscious provision by the speaker of the evidence by which the
reader is to judge him, is eminently suitable for the ironist. Browning's
fondness for this form has, however, encouraged the two most common
misconceptions of the nature of his poetry--that it is deliberately obscure and
that its basic "message" is a facile optimism. Neither of these criticisms is
groundless; both are incomplete.

Browning is not always difficult. In many poems, especially short lyrics, he
achieves effects of obvious felicity. Nevertheless, his superficial
difficulties, which prevent an easy understanding of the sense of a passage, are
evident enough: his attempts to convey the broken and irregular rhythms of
speech make it almost impossible to read the verse quickly; his elliptical
syntax sometimes disconcerts and confuses the reader but can be mastered with
little effort; certain poems, such as Sordello or "Old Pictures in Florence,"
require a considerable acquaintance with their subjects in order to be
understood; and his fondness for putting his monologues into the mouths of
charlatans and sophists, such as Mr. Sludge or Napoleon III, obliges the reader
to follow a chain of subtle or paradoxical arguments. All these characteristics
stand in the way of easy reading.

But even when individual problems of style and technique have been resolved, the
poems' interest is seldom exhausted. First, Browning often chooses an unexpected
point of view, especially in his monologues, thus forcing the reader to accept
an unfamiliar perspective. Second, he is capable of startling changes of focus
within a poem. For example, he chooses subjects in themselves insignificant, as
in "Fra Lippo Lippi" and "Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha," and treats through them
the eternal themes of poetry. This transition from particular observation to
transcendental truth presents much the same challenge to the reader as do the
metaphysical poets of the 17th century and much the same excitement. Third,
because Browning seldom presents a speaker without irony, there is a constant
demand on the reader to appreciate exactly the direction of satiric force in the
poem. Even in a melodious poem such as "A Toccata of Galuppi's," the valid
position must be distinguished from the false at every turn of the argument,
while in the major casuistic monologues, such as "Bishop Blougram's Apology,"
the shifts of sympathy are subtler still.

It has also been objected that Browning uses his poetry as a vehicle for his
philosophy, which is not of itself profound or interesting, being limited to an
easy optimism. But Browning's dramatic monologues must, as he himself insisted,
be recognized as the utterances of fictitious persons drawing their strength
from their appropriateness in characterizing the speaker, and not as expressions
of Browning's own sentiments. Thus his great gallery of imagined characters is
to be regarded as an exhaustive catalog of human motives, not as a series of

Nevertheless, certain fundamental assumptions are made so regularly that they
may be taken to represent Browning's personal beliefs, such as his Christian
faith. In matters of human conduct his sympathies are with those who show loving
hearts, honest natures, and warmth of feeling; certainly these qualities are
never satirized. He is in general on the side of those who commit themselves
wholeheartedly to an ideal, even if they fail. By itself this might suggest
rather a naive system of values, yet he also, sometimes even in the same poem,
shows his understanding of those who have been forced to lower their standards
and accept a compromise. Thus, although Browning is far from taking a cynical or
pessimistic view of man's nature or destiny, his hopes for the world are not
simple and unreasoning.

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

Morning Song of Senlin -- Conrad Aiken

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #525) Morning Song of Senlin
 It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
 When the light drips through the shutters like the dew,
 I arise, I face the sunrise,
 And do the things my father learned to do.
 Stars in the purple dusk above the rooftops
 Pale in the saffron mist and seem to die
 And I myself upon a swiftly tilting planet
 Stand before a glass and tie my tie,

 Vine leaves tap my window,
 Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
 The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
 Repeating three clear tones.

 It is morning. I stand by the mirror
 And tie my tie once more.
 While waves far off in a pale rose twilight
 Crash on a white sand shore.
 I stand by a mirror and comb my hair:
 How small and white my face! -
 The green earth tilts through a sphere of air
 And bathes in a flame of space.
 There are houses hanging above the stars
 And stars hung under a sea...
 And a sun far off in a shell of silence
 Dapples my walls for me...

 It is morning, Senlin says, and in the morning
 Should I not pause in the light to remember god?
 Upright and firm I stand on a star unstable,
 He is immense and lonely as a cloud.
 I will dedicate this moment before my mirror
 To him alone, for him I will comb my hair.
 Accept these humble offerings, cloud of silence!
 I will think of you as I descend the star.

 Vine leaves tap my window,
 The snail track shines on the stones.
 Dew-drops flash from the chinaberry tree
 Repeating two clear tones.

 It is morning, I awake from a cloud of silence,
 Shining I rise from the starless waters of sleep.
 The walls are about me still as in the evening,
 I am the same, and the same name still I keep.

 The earth revolves around with me, yet makes no motion,
 The stars pale silently in a coral sky.
 In a whistling void I stand before my mirror,
 Unconcerned, and tie my tie.

 There are horses neighing on far-off hills
 Tossing their long white manes,
 And mountains flash in the rose-white dusk,
 Their shoulders black with the rains...
 It is morning. I stand by the mirror
 And surprise my soul once more;
 The blue air rushes above my ceiling,
 There are suns beneath my floor...

   ... it is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness
 And depart on the winds of space for I know not where,
 My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket,
 And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.
 There are shadows across the windows, clouds in heaven,
 And a god among the stars; and I will go
 Thinking of him as I might think of daybreak
 And humming a tune I know...

 Vine-leaves tap at the window,
 Dew-drops sing to the garden stones,
 The robin chirps in the chinaberry tree
 Repeating three clear tones.
-- Conrad Aiken
One of the most intensely musical poems I've read. The way Aiken keeps moving
from the individual to the cosmic and back again, seems to give it a wonderful
clear, crystalline feel. The phrases are wonderful: "swiftly tilting planet..."

Aiken isn't much known today, although his daughter Joan Aiken will be familiar
to fantasy and children's fiction buffs for her wonderful eerie stories. I've
only read one other work by him, but that was superb - his short story 'Silent
Snow, Secret Snow' which is hypnotic in how it describes a child's growing sense
of schizophrenia.


PS. While looking for background for this though I discovered that there's also
an Evening Song Of Senlin, which I'll give below. It perhaps explains why Aiken
seems to have remained a minor poet. It's a perfectly nice poem, but read in
conjunction with the Morning Song it starts to seem like much of a muchness. A
bit of trick effect, almost parodying itself.

'Evening Song of Senlin'

 It is moonlight. Alone in the silence
 I ascend my stairs once more,
 While waves, remote in a pale blue starlight,

 Crash on a white sand shore.
 It is moonlight. The garden is silent.
 I stand in my room alone.
 Across my wall, from the far-off moon,
 A rain of fire is thrown ...

 There are houses hanging above the stars,
 And stars hung under a sea:
 And a wind from the long blue vault of time
 Waves my curtain for me ...

 I wait in the dark once more,
 Swung between space and space:
 Before my mirror I lift my hands
 And face my remembered face.

 Is it I who stand in a question here,
 Asking to know my name? ...
 It is I, yet I know not whither I go,
 Nor why, nor whence I came.

 It is I, who awoke at dawn
 And arose and descended the stair,
 Conceiving a god in the eye of the sun, --
 In a woman's hands and hair.
 It is I whose flesh is gray with the stones
 I builded into a wall:
 With a mournful melody in my brain
 Of a tune I cannot recall . . .

 There are roses to kiss: and mouths to kiss;
 And the sharp-pained shadow of death.
 I remember a rain-drop on my cheek, --
 A wind like a fragrant breath . . .
 And the star I laugh on tilts through heaven;

 And the heavens are dark and steep . . .
 I will forget these things once more
 In the silence of sleep.

        -- Conrad Aiken


  b. Aug. 5, 1889, Savannah, Ga., U.S.
  d. Aug. 17, 1973, Savannah

in full CONRAD POTTER AIKEN American poet, short-story writer, novelist, and
critic whose works, influenced by early psychoanalytic theory, are concerned
largely with the human need for self-awareness. Aiken himself faced considerable
trauma in his childhood when he found the bodies of his parents after his father
had killed his mother and committed suicide. He later wrote of this in his
autobiography Ushant (1952).  Educated at private schools and at Harvard
University, where he was a friend and contemporary of T.S. Eliot (whose poetry
was to influence his own), Aiken divided his life almost equally between England
and the United States until 1947, when he settled in Massachusetts. He played a
significant role in introducing the work of American poets to the British
public. After three early collections of verse, he wrote five  symphonies"
between 1915 and 1920 in an effort to create poetry that would resemble music in
its ability to express several levels of meaning simultaneously. Then came a
period of narrative poems, several volumes of lyrics and meditations, and, after
World War II, a return to musical form but with richer philosophical and
psychological overtones. The best of his poetry is contained in Collected Poems
(1953), including a long sequence "Preludes to Definition," which some critics
consider his masterwork, and the often anthologized "Morning Song of Senlin."
Most of his fiction was written in the 1920s and '30s. Generally more successful
than his novels of this period were his short stories, notably "Strange
Moonlight" from Bring! Bring! (1925) and "Silent Snow, Secret Snow" and "Mr.
Arcularis" from Among the Lost People (1934). The Short Stories of Conrad Aiken
was published in 1950, followed by A Reviewer's ABC: Collected Criticism from
1916 to the Present (1958) and The Collected Novels (1964).

        -- EB

Fan-Piece, For Her Imperial Lord -- Ezra Pound

(Poem #524) Fan-Piece, For Her Imperial Lord
 O fan of white silk,
 clear as frost on the grass-blade,

 You also are laid aside.
-- Ezra Pound
Note: Based on a 1st century BC Chinese poem

A wonderful poem - the clean, austere beauty of the first two lines
balanced perfectly against the quiet understatement of the final one.

Note the simultaneous minimalism and density of the images - the softness of
silk contrasting with the crystalline brittleness of frost, the wintry
overtones of white and frost, suggesting in the fan a perfection born of
unadornedness - and the way they combine into a self-contained whole.

The Oriental feel of the original is captured beautifully - the rather
poignant apostrophe to the fan, the woman's quiet acceptance of her fate,
are enhanced by the almost Japanese minimalism of the imagery.

Another point of note is the poem's title, which makes a more than usually
significant contribution to the whole. For one, it sets the scene, a needed
factor in a poem this short. Secondly, the use of the word 'for' gives the
poem an added poignancy, and a certain quiet dignity, suggesting as it does
an offering to the Imperial Lord who has laid her aside. Again, the phrase
'her Imperial Lord' suggests that the Lord may have laid the poet aside, but
she is not to be afforded a similar privilege - an inequity, of course, very
much in keeping with the poem's setting[1].

[1] or, at least, as much as reasonably popular literature has depicted of
ancient Chinese society - if I am wrong about this please correct me gently


Not quite a haiku, but (as the link below suggests in greater detail),
definitely influenced by the form.

Links: has a short
discussion of the poem.

We've run several of Pound's poems in the past; of particular interest today
is his 'River Merchant's Wife: A Letter', poem #70 which also has a
biography of Pound.


If anyone knows something about the original this poem was based on, do
write in.


Naming the Stars -- Joyce Sutphen

Guest poem submitted by Todd:
(Poem #523) Naming the Stars
 This present tragedy will eventually
 turn into myth, and in the mist
 of that later telling the bell tolling
 now will be a symbol, or, at least,
 a sign of something long since lost.

 This will be another one of those
 loose changes, the rearrangement of
 hearts, just parts of old lives
 patched together, gathered into
 a dim constellation, small consolation.

 Look, we will say, you can almost see
 the outline there: her fingertips
 touching his, the faint fusion
 of two bodies breaking into light.
-- Joyce Sutphen
Here is a poem I read on _Poetry Daily_ ( not long ago. I know
nothing about the author, except that her poem was published first in the July
2000 issue of _Poetry_ (i.e., before its appearance on _Poetry Daily_).

I like the way the poet has managed to link words together in a way that is
suggestive of the linkage of stars in a constellation.  When we look at a
constellation we "can almost see/the outline there."  That is, we make the
connections between one star and another -- with our memories and imaginations
-- and find the image that is latent in the pattern. There is a "faint fusion"
that results in a kind of revelation -- a revelation that perhaps comes from
some deep place within ourselves.

The poet accomplishes this through a skillful use of internal rhyme, assonance
and alliteration.  To cite one line, "a sign of something long since lost" is
beautifully rendered; to my ear it is the perfect expression of the poet's

When we look at the stars and discern the outline of mythical figures we trace
the dim shape of human history, made up of countless "parts of old lives/patched


In Harbor -- Constantine Cavafy

(Poem #522) In Harbor
 A young man, twenty eight years old, on a vessel from Tenos,
 Emes arrived at this Syrian harbor
 with the intention of learning the perfume trade.
 But during the voyage he was taken ill. And as soon
 as he disembarked, he died. His burial, the poorest,
 took place here. A few hours before he died,
 he whispered something about "home," about "very old parents."
 But who these were nobody knew,
 nor which his homeland in the vast panhellenic world.
 Better so. For thus, although
 he lies dead in this harbor,
 his parents will always hope he is alive.
-- Constantine Cavafy
Heinlein once wrote: "Romantic times need pragmatic men". And though it's all
very well to celebrate the glories of the Silk Road in its heyday, it behooves
us also to remember that in those times, travel of any sort was a perilous
undertaking, fraught with danger and uncertainty. What I like about Cavafy's
poem is the way it accepts this danger as a part of life... the image of the
aged parents waiting, waiting for the son who will never return to them, is
heartbreakingly sad, yet Cavafy points out that the alternative is even sadder.
A beautifully poignant poem.


[Theme and Links]

Our journey, which began in Li Po's China several poems ago, has taken us
through the grassy plains of Mongolia and the lofty peaks of Central Asia, the
cool gardens of Persia and the bare deserts of Arabia, until now we find
ourselves on the shores of that greatest of seas, the Mediterranean.

I did a week of poems based upon a Mediterranean theme once; this included a
previous Cavafy poem, 'Footsteps', archived at poem #296.

While we're in this part of the world: Martin once used 'Lays of Ancient Rome'
as a theme; likewise, I once ran a bunch of poems based upon the Trojan War. See
Minstrels poems 490, 492, 494, 495 and 500 for the former, and poems 449, 451
and 75 for the latter.

My favourite Cavafy poem is his masterpiece, 'Ithaka', which you can read (along
with biographical info and the like) at poem #217.

[Bonus Poem]

'For Cavafy'

 The poems are sad and short: love half-remembered,
 history--beautiful, closed and Greek.
 But what I like best
 is the blank three-quarters page,
 white as a statue's marble eyes--

 a space to write or cry.

        -- Bruce Williams

The Suicide -- Louis MacNeice

Guest poem sent in by Smitha Rao
(Poem #521) The Suicide
 And this, ladies and gentlemen, whom I am not in fact
 Conducting, was his office all those minutes ago,
 This man you never heard of. These are the bills
 In the intray, the ash in the ashtray, the grey memoranda stacked
 Against him, the serried ranks of the box-files, the packed
 Jury of his unanswered correspondence
 Nodding under the paperweight in the breeze
 From the window by which he left; and here is the cracked
 Receiver that never got mended and here is the jotter
 With his last doodle which might be his own digestive tract
 Ulcer and all or might be the flowery maze
 Through which he had wandered deliciously till he stumbled
 Suddenly finally conscious of all he lacked
 On a manhole under the hollyhocks. The pencil
 Point had obviously broken, yet, when he left this room
 By catdrop sleight-of-foot or simple vanishing act,
 To those who knew him for all that mess in the street
 This man with the shy smile has left behind
 Something that was intact.
-- Louis MacNeice
Louis MacNeice was born in Northern Ireland in 1907 and died in 1964. He
took a first in Greats at Oxford and later taught classics at the University
of Birmingham. Though his work is spoken of in the same breath as Auden's
the main worry about his poetry is its occasional lack of depth and
penetration, although in his best work there is a piercing sweetness and

This touching poem about a colleague who killed himself is a moving record
of MacNeice's response to years of office life. The image of 'a manhole
under the hollihocks' is an effective one for the sudden sense of a yawning
void at one's feet which extreme depression can sometimes produce. The last
two lines might serve as an epitaph on MacNeice himself.


We've run one MacNeice poem before, Bagpipe Music: poem #18

For a brief biography and a number of poems see

A Lost Chord -- Adelaide Procter

(Poem #520) A Lost Chord
 Seated one day at the Organ,
   I was weary and ill at ease,
 And my fingers wandered idly
   Over the noisy keys.

 I do not know what I was playing,
   Or what I was dreaming then;
 But I struck one chord of music,
   Like the sound of a great Amen.

 It flooded the crimson twilight,
   Like the close of an Angel's Psalm,
 And it lay on my fevered spirit
   With a touch of infinite calm.

 It quieted pain and sorrow,
   Like love overcoming strife;
 It seemed the harmonious echo
   From our discordant life.

 It linked all perplexéd meanings
   Into one perfect peace,
 And trembled away into silence
   As if it were loth to cease.

 I have sought, but I seek it vainly,
   That one lost chord divine,
 Which came from the soul of the Organ,
   And entered into mine.

 It may be that Death's bright angel
   Will speak in that chord again,
 It may be that only in Heaven
   I shall hear that grand Amen.
-- Adelaide Procter
Today's poem is built around a haunting and wonderfully compelling image.
Nicely developed, too - the poem mirrors both the "attack, decay, sustain,
release" envelope of an organ note and its deeply resonant sound.

The theme itself is an old one - of something precious and magical, that may
only be discovered by chance ('and never twice' is a reasonably common
addition). Likewise, music has been attributed mystical powers for
practically as long as it has existed. Nevertheless, Procter has managed to
take these timeworn elements and merge them in a poem that is both good and
original - and a poem that, if not 'great' is certainly immortal.


Two biographies can be found at

Quoting from the former:
  Her works were very popular; they were published in America and also
  translated into German. In 1877 her poems were in greater demand in
  England than those of any living writer except Tennyson. If her verses are
  unambitious, dealing with simple emotional themes, they have the merit of
  originality and give evidence of much culture. She appears perhaps to
  greatest advantage in her narrative poems, several of which, such as "The
  Angel's Story", "A Legend of Bregenz", "The Story of the Faithful Soul",
  and "A Legend of Provence", are well known in anthologies; but some of her
  lyrics, like "Cleansing Fires" and "A Lost Chord", have made a very wide
  appeal. Some of her poems, for example, "Per Pacem ad Lucem" and
  "Thankfulness" are so devotional that they are in use as hymns.


This poem reminds me of a surprising number of sf/fantasy stories,
particularly Hilton's 'Lost Horizon' (which introduced the Shangri-La
legend) and Clarke's 'The Ultimate Melody'.


The Roman Road -- Thomas Hardy

(Poem #519) The Roman Road
 The Roman Road runs straight and bare
 As the pale parting-line in hair
 Across the heath. And thoughtful men
 Contrast its days of Now and Then,
 And delve, and measure, and compare;

 Visioning on the vacant air
 Helmeted legionnaires, who proudly rear
 The Eagle, as they pace again
 The Roman Road.

 But no tall brass-helmeted legionnaire
 Haunts it for me. Uprises there
 A mother's form upon my ken,
 Guiding my infant steps, as when
 We walked that ancient thoroughfare,
 The Roman Road.
-- Thomas Hardy
There is something ineffably romantic about the old Roman roads, those
enduring remnants of a vanished empire. They spoke then, and speak now, of
the might and organization of that empire, and their present day existence
is a continuing point of contact between Then and Now.

It is the second of these properties that forms the basis of Hardy's poem,
a reflection on the Road, and the way it bridges the past and present -
except that he refers to a far more personal and immediate past, and in
doing so, raises the road to the same level of immediacy. The two images
overlap - the Road of the ancient Romans, that survives even now and recalls
a bygone civilisation, and the road of the poet's youth, recalling a
bygone past.

And finally, the use of 'ancient' in the penultimate line brings the whole
thing into focus - the road not only is ancient, it *was* ancient even in
childhood memory, and so the timeline clicks into place and two roads become
one again.


You can find a biography at
  poem #96

We've recently done a theme on ancient Rome:
  poem #490
  poem #492
  poem #494
  poem #495

And rather longer ago, one on roads:
  poem #47
  poem #49
  poem #51

And, of course, you can see all the previous Hardy poems we've run at
  [broken link]


This is, by Hardy's standards, a remarkably cheerful poem :)


The Gates of Damascus -- James Elroy Flecker

Guest poem submitted by Jairam Panickssery;
one that slots neatly into our theme:
(Poem #518) The Gates of Damascus
        Four great gates has the city of Damascus
                And four Great Wardens, on their spears reclining,
        All day long stand like tall stone men
                And sleep on the towers when the moon is shining.

        This is the song of the East Gate Warden
        When he locks the great gate and smokes in his garden.

 Postern of Fate, the Desert Gate, Disaster's Cavern, Fort of Fear,
 The Portal of Baghdad am I, and Doorway of Diarbekir.

 The Persian Dawn with new desires may net the flushing mountain spires:
 But my gaunt buttress still rejects the suppliance of those mellow fires.

 Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard
 That silence where the birds are dead yet something pipeth like a bird?

 Pass not beneath! Men say there blows in stony deserts still a rose
 But with no scarlet to her leaf--and from whose heart no perfume flows.

 Wilt thou bloom red where she buds pale, thy sister rose? Wilt thou not fail
 When noonday flashes like a flail? Leave nightingale the caravan!

 Pass then, pass all! "Baghdad!" ye cry, and down the billows of blue sky
 Ye beat the bell that beats to hell, and who shall thrust you back? Not I.

 The Sun who flashes through the head and paints the shadows green and red,
 The Sun shall eat thy fleshless dead, O Caravan, O Caravan!

 And one who licks his lips for thirst with fevered eyes shall face in fear
 The palms that wave, the streams that burst, his last mirage, O Caravan!

 And one--the bird-voiced Singing-man--shall fall behind thee, Caravan!
 And God shall meet him in the night, and he shall sing as best he can.

 And one the Bedouin shall slay, and one, sand-stricken on the way
 Go dark and blind; and one shall say--"How lonely is the Caravan!"

 Pass out beneath, O Caravan, Doom's Caravan, Death's Caravan!
 I had not told ye, fools, so much, save that I heard your Singing-man.

        This was sung by the West Gate's keeper
        When heaven's hollow dome grew deeper.

 I am the gate toward the sea: O sailor men, pass out from me!
 I hear you high in Lebanon, singing the marvels of the sea.

 The dragon-green, the luminous, the dark, the serpent-haunted sea,
 The snow-besprinkled wine of earth, the white-and-blue-flower foaming sea.

 Beyond the sea are towns with towers, carved with lions and lily flowers,
 And not a soul in all those lonely streets to while away the hours.

 Beyond the towns, an isle where, bound, a naked giant bites the ground:
 The shadow of a monstrous wing looms on his back: and still no sound.

 Beyond the isle a rock that screams like madmen shouting in their dreams,
 From whose dark issues night and day blood crashes in a thousand streams.

 Beyond the rock is Restful Bay, where no wind breathes or ripple stirs,
 And there on Roman ships, they say, stand rows of metal mariners.

 Beyond the bay in utmost West old Solomon the Jewish King
 Sits with his beard upon his breast, and grips and guards his magic ring:

 And when that ring is stolen, he will rise in outraged majesty,
 And take the World upon his back, and fling the World beyond the sea.

        This is the song of the North Gate's master,
        Who singeth fast, but drinketh faster.

 I am the gay Aleppo Gate: a dawn, a dawn and thou art there:
 Eat not thy heart with fear and care, O brother of the beast we hate!

 Thou hast not many miles to tread, nor other foes than fleas to dread;
 Home shall behold thy morning meal and Hama see thee safe in bed.

 Take to Aleppo filigrane, and take them paste of apricots,
 And coffee tables botched with pearl, and little beaten brassware pots:

 And thou shalt sell thy wares for thrice the Damascene retailers' price,
 And buy a fat Armenian slave who smelleth odorous and nice.

 Some men of noble stock were made: some glory in the murder-blade;
 Some praise a Science or an Art, but I like honorable Trade!

 Sell them the rotten, buy the ripe! Their heads are weak; their pockets burn.
 Aleppo men are mighty fools. Salaam Aleikum! Safe return!

        This is the song of the South Gate Holder,
        A silver man, but his song is older.

 I am the Gate that fears no fall: the Mihrab of Damascus wall,
 The bridge of booming Sinai: the Arch of Allah all in all.

 O spiritual pilgrim rise: the night has grown her single horn:
 The voices of the souls unborn are half adream with Paradise.

 To Mecca thou hast turned in prayer with aching heart and eyes that burn:
 Ah Hajji, wither wilt thou turn when thou art there, when thou art there?

 God be thy guide from camp to camp: God be thy shade from well to well;
 God grant beneath the desert stars thou hear the Prophet's camel bell.

 And God shall make thy body pure, and give thee knowlede to endure
 This ghost-life's piercing phantom-pain, and bring thee out to Life again.

 And God shall make thy soul a Glass where eighteen thousand aeons pass.
 And thou shalt see the gleaming Worlds as men see dew upon the grass.

 And sons of Islam, it may be that thou shalt learn at journey's end
 Who walks thy garden eve on eve, and bows his head, and calls thee Friend.
-- James Elroy Flecker
Ever since I subscribed to the Minstrels a long time ago (another id, another
time and another country) I've toyed with the idea of sending in a guest poem,
but it always remained just that - an idea. This Monday morning when I opened my
mailbox to find Flecker's poem, it reminded me of this poem that has remained in
my mind over so many years, hence this email.

When I first read Agatha Christie's 'Postern of Fate' I was too young to
understand the deeper connotations of her titles. 'Diabekir', for instance,
sounded like a villain in a kids' comic book... so the snippet of verse that
prefixed the book sounded eerie to me those days and the feeling remained.

"Pass not beneath, O Caravan, or pass not singing. Have you heard
That silence where the birds are dead yet something pipeth like a bird?"

The confusion that always accompanies fear sounded very logical in this context.
A desert, a caravan and a Gate - a slice of a strange life, and one that many a
child might want to live in his fantasy (no wonder most kids love stories of
gypsies and such).


[thomas adds]

Another very Kiplingesque poem, but it also reminds me of Tolkien's 'Lament for
Boromir': poem #46

Flecker really is very very good; I'm surprised that his verse is so
little-known. Of course, his poetic career is too short and his output too
limited for him to ever be considered a truly great poet, or even a particularly
insightful one; still, he deserves to be more famous than he actually is. He
certainly has a marvellous way with words: the versification in today's poem,
for example, is as close to perfection as you'll see, this side of Tennyson.
Flecker also has that rarest of poetic abilities, the ability to evoke that
ineffable quality called _atmosphere_... whether it's that of the bazaar:
"Take to Aleppo filigrane, and take them paste of apricots,
 And coffee tables botched with pearl, and little beaten brassware pots: "
or the sea:
"The dragon-green, the luminous, the dark, the serpent-haunted sea,
 The snow-besprinkled wine of earth, the white-and-blue-flower foaming sea. "

Simply beautiful.

The Gipsy Girl -- Ralph Hodgson

(Poem #517) The Gipsy Girl
 "Come, try your skill, kind gentlemen,
 A penny for three tries!"
 Some threw and lost, some threw and won
 A ten-a-penny prize.

 She was a tawny gipsy girl,
 A girl of twenty years,
 I liked her for the lumps of gold
 That jingled from her ears;

 I liked the flaring yellow scarf
 Bound loose around her throat,
 I liked her showy purple gown
 And flashy velvet coat.

 A man came up, too loose of tongue,
 And said no good to her;
 She did not blush as Saxons do,
 Or turn upon the cur;

 She fawned and whined "Sweet gentleman,
 A penny for three tries!"
 - But oh, the den of wild things in
 The darkness of her eyes!
-- Ralph Hodgson
A vivid poem, dancing with life and colour, and enhanced by a simple
narrative style - Georgian poetry may have fallen into disfavour, but at its
best it produced some very good poems indeed, and today's is a fine example.
'Gipsy Girl' is a perceptive look at the Gypsy as coloured by popular
stereotypes - all the little details that stand out and mark her as the
exotic Outsider, one who 'did not blush as Saxons do', or indeed dress or
act as they did, or pursue a respectable occupation.

The shift in tone at the end is handled beautifully too - it made me shiver,
both for the unexpectedness and for the sheer power of the image. (And note
how, on a deeper level, it merely reinforces the perception of gypsies as
wild, and not quite human.)


Hodgson, Ralph

b. Sept. 9, 1871, Yorkshire, Eng.
d. Nov. 3, 1962, Minerva, Ohio, U.S.

  poet noted for simple and mystical lyrics that express a love of nature
  and a concern for modern man's progressive alienation from it.

  While working as a journalist in London and later as the editor of Fry's
  Magazine, Hodgson belonged to the loosely connected group of poets known
  as the Georgians. After teaching English literature at Sendai University
  in Japan (1924-38), he emigrated to the United States, retiring to a small
  farm outside Minerva, Ohio. Most of Hodgson's works were written between
  1907 and 1917, a period that ushered in the modernist revolution in
  poetry, in which he took little part. He achieved fame as a poet with the
  publication of the frequently anthologized "The Bull" in 1913. His
  collections include The Last Blackbird and Other Lines (1907), Eve (1913),
  Poems (1917), The Skylark and Other Poems (1958), and Collected Poems

        -- EB


Here's a collection of Georgian poetry:

and a note on the movement:,5722,37231,00.html

For a nice commentary on the poem, see


The Patriot -- Nissim Ezekiel

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #516) The Patriot
 I am standing for peace and non-violence.
 Why world is fighting fighting
 Why all people of world
 Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
 I am simply not understanding.
 Ancient Indian Wisdom is 100% correct,
 I should say even 200% correct,
 But modern generation is neglecting-
 Too much going for fashion and foreign thing.

 Other day I'm reading newspaper
 (Every day I'm reading Times of India
 To improve my English Language)
 How one goonda fellow
 Threw stone at Indirabehn.
 Must be student unrest fellow, I am thinking.
 Friends, Romans, Countrymen, I am saying (to myself)
 Lend me the ears.
 Everything is coming -
 Regeneration, Remuneration, Contraception.
 Be patiently, brothers and sisters.

 You want one glass lassi?
 Very good for digestion.
 With little salt, lovely drink,
 Better than wine;
 Not that I am ever tasting the wine.
 I'm the total teetotaller, completely total,
 But I say
 Wine is for the drunkards only.

 What you think of prospects of world peace?
 Pakistan behaving like this,
 China behaving like that,
 It is making me really sad, I am telling you.
 Really, most harassing me.
 All men are brothers, no?
 In India also
 Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, Hindiwallahs
 All brothers -
 Though some are having funny habits.
 Still, you tolerate me,
 I tolerate you,
 One day Ram Rajya is surely coming.

 You are going?
 But you will visit again
 Any time, any day,
 I am not believing in ceremony
 Always I am enjoying your company.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
Nissim Ezekiel, a Jew who lives in Bombay, is possibly India's greatest living
poet [1].

He's most famous for his wry commentaries on contemporary India - often written
in an exaggerated 'Indian English' - note, for instance, the overuse of the
present continuous tense in today's monologue. (Or is it that much of an
exaggeration? I meet people who talk like that all the time...).

Today's poem is in many ways typical of Ezekiel: a wry view of patriotism mixed
with some fairly sarcastic political commentary. It appears to have been written
around the time of the infamous Emergency in 1977 (which was invoked by the then
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi - to suppress her political rivals, according to

That particular Indira regime was marked by lots of corruption, a '20 point
program' for regeneration, the forced sterilization of people (to implement a
'one family, one child' rule mooted by her power hungry and vicious son Sanjay

... all as seen through the eyes of an old pedant gossiping over a cup of lassi
(sweetened yoghurt) with his neighbor.  Also, note the dig at the 'unity in
diversity' which is official Indian policy.  India is a huge mix of several
races - most of which speak different languages, wear different clothes ...

All in all, though, a refreshing change from blood and thunder jingoism.


[thomas adds]

[1] Suresh goes on to ask, "Is the man still alive? He turned eighty a few years
ago"; to which I reply, yes, he's alive, but he suffers from an advanced case of
Alzheimer's disease and is in institutional care.

[Note on Indian English]

Like most hybrid dialects, Indian English [2] has its own curious set of
syntactical structures and odd coinages [3]. Usually, these result from
over-generalizations of rules that hold in the vernacular; for example, many
Indian languages use doubled verbs to indicate an ongoing action, hence phrases
like "world is fighting fighting" in today's poem.

[2] The usual compound form is 'Hinglish', a portmanteau of 'Hindi' and
'English'. Truth to say, though, there are almost as many forms of Indian
English as there are Indian languages, which is why I've chosen not to be more
specific in my nomenclature.
[3] Odd, that is, to native speakers of English. To Indians, they sound
perfectly natural: witness my astonishment on finding out (just a few months
ago) that 'black money' [4] was not a phrase in currency [5] elsewhere in the
[4] That is, money made on the black market. Who'd have thunk it?
[5] Pun fully intended. Need you ask?

Other often-seen idiosyncracies include the following:

"I am simply not understanding" - as Suresh pointed out above, the misuse of the
continuous tense is rife in India. And in this poem.
"modern generation is neglecting" - another common mistake, the omission of the
object of a transitive verb.
"Too much going for fashion" - 'too much' is by way of being a universal
modifier in Indian English; I use it very often myself <grin>.
"Other day I'm reading newspaper" - Hindi doesn't have articles; hence either
their complete omission as in this sentence, or their replacement by numbers, as
in "You want one glass lassi?".
"To improve my English Language" - This one's a classic: the use of the phrase
'English Language', where just 'English' will do, is widespread.
"One goonda fellow" - Nouns are often used as adjectives, as also in "student
unrest fellow".
"Lend me the ears" - when articles _are_ used, they're as likely as not to be
used incorrectly; as also in "Not that I am ever tasting the wine".
"All men are brothers, no?" - The interrogative 'no?' at the end of the sentence
is common to many non-native speakers of English.

Please note that I'm not trying to pick holes in the language of today's poem,
nor am I poking fun at Indian English; rather, I'm trying to point out how
brilliantly Ezekiel has managed to capture the essence of the latter in the

Incidentally, linguaphiles and/or Indophiles might be interested in
Hobson-Jobson, the definitive reference on words of Anglo-Indian origin,
available online at

Also, the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has a supplement on
Indian English; sadly, it isn't available for public access online (as far as I
know; I would be happy to be corrected on this point).


Both Martin and I first read Ezekiel's poem in an anthology titled 'Panorama: A
Selection of Poems', which we had to study in high school. The choice of poems
is astonishingly good - there's a lovely mix of the famous and the obscure.
Highly, highly recommended.


The Persian Version -- Robert Graves

Still in Persia, but looking westward now...
(Poem #515) The Persian Version
 Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon
 The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.
 As for the Greek theatrical tradition
 Which represents that summer's expedition
 Not as a mere reconnaisance in force
 By three brigades of foot and one of horse
 (Their left flank covered by some obsolete
 Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet)
 But as a grandiose, ill-starred attempt
 To conquer Greece - they treat it with contempt;
 And only incidentally refute
 Major Greek claims, by stressing what repute
 The Persian monarch and the Persian nation
 Won by this salutary demonstration:
 Despite a strong defence and adverse weather
 All arms combined magnificently together.
-- Robert Graves
Although the tone is light-hearted, this is actually a fairly major poem. Graves
is a past master at capturing the exact tone of voice of the figure he wishes to
lampoon [1]; here, the Persian speaker's words leave us in no doubt that the art
of political 'spin' was alive and well several thousands of years ago; his
pompous self-justification, though, betrays its own purpose.


[1] See, for example, 'Welsh Incident', archived at poem #55

[Note on construction]

Like Yeats and Auden, Graves' poetry is written in a remarkably assured
'speaking voice' - it stays strictly within the rules of rhyme and metre, yet
never seems artificial or strained. It takes great skill to be able to craft
words as naturally as those in today's poems; Graves pulls off the task so
adroitly that we hardly even notice the fact.

[Minstrels Links]

This is the fifth in a series of poems based on the theme of 'The Silk Road'; so
far, we've covered China, Mongolia, Samarkand and Persia. You can read the
previous poems at

The final line of the poem - "All arms combined magnificently together" - is
more than a little reminiscent of Southey's "It was a famous victory", the
refrain of 'The Battle of Blenheim', which you can read in full at poem #203

We've done several Grave poems before; there's the uproariously funny 'Welsh
Incident', at poem #55...

the spine-tingling enchantment of 'The Cool Web', at poem #298...

and the bewitchingly beautiful 'Like Snow', at poem #467

If nothing else, these three should serve to show how varied Graves' poetic
output was: I would be hard-pressed to choose a single favourite from among
them; yet they're three very different poems, and I like them for very different

[On the Battle of Marathon]

The 'Greek Version' is chronicled in Britannica thusly:

Marathon, Battle of, (September 490 BC), in the Greco-Persian Wars, decisive
battle fought on the  Marathon plain of northeastern Attica in which the
Athenians, in a single afternoon, repulsed the first Persian invasion of Greece.
Command of the hastily assembled Athenian army was vested in 10 generals, each
of whom was to hold operational command for one day. The generals were evenly
divided on whether to await the Persians or to attack them, and the tie was
broken by a civil official, Callimachus, who decided in favour of an attack.
Four of the generals then ceded their commands to the Athenian general
Miltiades, thus effectively making him commander in chief.

The Greeks could not hope to face the Persians' cavalry contingent on the open
plain, but before dawn one day the Greeks learned that the cavalry were
temporarily absent from the Persian camp, whereupon Miltiades ordered a general
attack upon the Persian infantry. In the ensuing battle, Miltiades led his
contingent of 10,000 Athenians and 1,000 Plataeans to victory over the Persian
force of 15,000 by reinforcing his battle line's flanks and thus decoying the
Persians' best troops into pushing back his centre, where they were surrounded
by the inward-wheeling Greek wings. On being almost enveloped, the Persian
troops broke into flight. By the time the routed Persians reached their ships,
they had lost 6,400 men; the Greeks lost 192 men, including Callimachus. The
battle proved the superiority of the Greek long spear, sword, and armour over
the Persians' weapons.

According to legend, an Athenian messenger was sent from Marathon to Athens, a
distance of about 25 miles (40 km), and there he announced the Persian defeat
before dying of exhaustion. This tale became the basis for the modern marathon
race. Herodotus, however, relates that a trained runner, Pheidippides (also
spelled Phidippides, or Philippides), was sent from Athens to Sparta before the
battle in order to request assistance from the Spartans; he is said to have
covered about 150 miles (240 km) in about two days.

        -- EB