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The King's Breakfast -- A A Milne

(Poem #562) The King's Breakfast
 The King asked
 The Queen, and
 The Queen asked
 The Dairymaid:
 "Could we have some butter for
 The Royal slice of bread?"
 The Queen asked the Dairymaid,
 The Dairymaid
 Said, "Certainly,
 I'll go and tell the cow
 Before she goes to bed."

 The Dairymaid
 She curtsied,
 And went and told the Alderney:
 "Don't forget the butter for
 The Royal slice of bread."

 The Alderney said sleepily:
 "You'd better tell
 His Majesty
 That many people nowadays
 Like marmalade

 The Dairymaid
 Said "Fancy!"
 And went to
 Her Majesty.
 She curtsied to the Queen, and
 She turned a little red:
 "Excuse me,
 Your Majesty,
 For taking of
 The liberty,
 But marmalade is tasty, if
 It's very

 The Queen said
 And went to his Majesty:
 "Talking of the butter for
 The royal slice of bread,
 Many people
 Think that
 Is nicer.
 Would you like to try a little

 The King said,
 And then he said,
 "Oh, deary me!"
 The King sobbed, "Oh, deary me!"
 And went back to bed.
 He whimpered,
 "Could call me
 A fussy man;
 I only want
 A little bit
 Of butter for
 My bread!"

 The Queen said,
 "There, there!"
 And went to
 The Dairymaid.
 The Dairymaid
 Said, "There, there!"
 And went to the shed.
 The cow said,
 "There, there!
 I didn't really
 Mean it;
 Here's milk for his porringer
 And butter for his bread."

 The queen took the butter
 And brought it to
 His Majesty.
 The King said
 "Butter, eh?"
 And bounced out of bed.
 "Nobody," he said,
 As he kissed her
 "Nobody," he said,
 As he slid down
 The banisters,
 My darling,
 Could call me
 A fussy man -
 I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!"
-- A A Milne
There is surely no body of verse in which strong rhythm has been more
effectively and enthusiastically used than in children's poetry, and Milne
is in this regard (as in several others) one of the very best. Today's poem
needs no real commentary, except to say that I find it no less delightful
today than I did as a child.


To see the illustrated version of the poem:
[broken link]

For another nice Milne poem, and a biography, see poem #463


I was going to write a piece on why rhythmic verse is so appealing to
children, but realised that I didn't know too much about it myself. Perhaps
someone could comment with greater authority?


The Metre Columbian -- Anonymous

Another Longfellow parody, but in a different metre, namely,
(Poem #561) The Metre Columbian
 This is the metre Columbian. The soft-flowing trochees and dactyls,
 Blended with fragments spondaic, and here and there an iambus,
 Syllables often sixteen, or more or less, as it happens,
 Difficult always to scan, and depending greatly on accent,
 Being a close imitation, in English, of Latin hexameters --
 Fluent in sound and avoiding the stiffness of blank verse,
 Having the grandeur and flow of America's mountains and rivers,
 Such as no bard could achieve in a mean little island like England;
 Oft, at the end of a line, the sentence dividing abruptly
 Breaks, and in accents mellifluous, follows the thoughts of the author.
-- Anonymous
As Martin wrote a couple of days ago, metre is explicitly foregrounded
in "self-referential humorous poems, whose content often refers directly
to their form". Today's poem is one of the more skilfully executed
examples of the genre [1]...

Two little touches I especially like: the enjambement in the last line
(which the poet makes sure to point out), and the not very subtle dig at
the (many) critics who praised 'Evangeline' (the original of this poem)
for being a quintessentially American work of art - the lines
 "Having the grandeur and flow of America's mountains and rivers,
  Such as no bard could achieve in a mean little island like England;"
embody reductio ad absurdum at its most cutting.


[1] Another old favourite of mine is John Clarke's brilliant take on the
limerick: poem #378


The original is Longfellow's 'Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie'; the
introduction thereto is reproduced below for your edification:

 This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
 Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
 Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
 Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
 Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
 Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
 This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
 Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the
 Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers --
 Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
 Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
 Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
 Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
 Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o'er the ocean.
 Naught but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pré.
 Ye who believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient,
 Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman's devotion,
 List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest;
 List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

        -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The entire text of Evangeline (two parts of five cantos of several
hundred lines each - noone ever accused Longfellow of laconicity) can be
found at


trochee: a metrical foot consisting of one long syllable followed by one
short syllable or of one stressed syllable followed by one unstressed
syllable (as in apple).

dactyl: a metrical foot consisting of one long and two short syllables
or of one stressed and two unstressed syllables (as in tenderly).

spondee: a metrical foot consisting of two long or stressed syllables.

iambus: a metrical foot consisting of one short syllable followed by one
long syllable or of one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed
syllable (as in above).

As you can see (or rather, hear), 'spondee' is the only self-referential
one of the above. 'Trochee' comes close, but not quite; the preferred
pronunciation is spondaic.

Chant for Dark Hours -- Dorothy Parker

(Poem #560) Chant for Dark Hours
 Some men, some men
 Cannot pass a
 Book shop.
 (Lady, make your mind up, and wait your life away.)

 Some men, some men
 Cannot pass a
 Crap game.
 (He said he'd come at moonrise, and here's another day!)

 Some men, some men
 Cannot pass a
 (Wait about, and hang about, and that's the way it goes.)

 Some men, some men
 Cannot pass a
 (Heaven never send me another one of those!)

 Some men, some men
 Cannot pass a
 Golf course.
 (Read a book, and sew a seam, and slumber if you can.)

 Some men, some men
 Cannot pass a
 (All your life you wait around for some damn man!)
-- Dorothy Parker
While Parker can always be counted on to combine delightfully witty content
with a just-so metre, it is is usually the message of the poem that stands
out. Today's poem, the very aptly named 'Chant For Dark Hours', is an
exception - indeed, given how cutting she's capable of being, the words seem
deliberately toned down to balance the hypnotic rhythm.

The metre is very well constructed - the first three lines of each verse
deliberately dragged out with a preponderance of accented syllables, to
give a dull, heavy, effect, and then the fourth line shifting to a more
tripping rhythm, speeding the reader to the verse's conclusion. Note, too,
the way the poem ends with three consecutive stresses - as nice a way of
driving home the point as any I've seen.


This week's theme is 'the pleasures of strong rhythm' - see
poem #558 for a fuller explanation.


We've run several Dorothy Parker poems - see the index

- [broken link]

A biography is at poem #150


As much as the metre, it was the opening lines that first attracted me to
this poem (for tolerably obvious reasons :))


The Modern Hiawatha -- George A Strong

(Poem #559) The Modern Hiawatha
 He killed the noble Mudjokivis.
 Of the skin he made him mittens,
 Made them with the fur side inside,
 Made them with the skin side outside.
 He, to get the warm side inside,
 Put the inside skin side outside.
 He, to get the cold side outside,
 Put the warm side fur side inside.
 That's why he put the fur side inside,
 Why he put the skin side outside,
 Why he turned them inside outside.
-- George A Strong
Yesterday, Martin wrote: "In some poems, though (Longfellow's 'Hiawatha' is
probably the most famous example) the form (and, in particular, the metre)
stands out quite independent of the poem's contents, and is often what the
reader carries away as his chief impression of the poem (for instance, I
could write a Hiawatha parody far more easily than I could quote much of the
actual verse)".

Truth to tell, 'Parodies of Hiawatha' probably qualifies as a poetic genre
in itself... today's offering is merely one of my favourite examples
thereof. Beyond that, there's really not much more I can say, is there?



The complete 'Song of Hiawatha' is rather long; you can find it at
[broken link]

An extract, 'Hiawatha's Departure', has featured an the Minstrels; it's
archived at poem #362

In the commentary accompanying that extract, I mention another of my
favourite Hiawatha spinoffs, Carroll's hilarious 'Hiawatha's Photography'.
You can read it (along with some wonderful illustrations by Arthur Frost) at

Bees -- Norman Rowland Gale

This week's theme - the pleasures of strong rhythm
(Poem #558) Bees
 You voluble,
 Vehement fellows
 That play on your
 Flying and
 Musical cellos,
 All goldenly
 Girdled you
 Serenade clover,
 Each artist in
 Bass but a
 Bibulous rover!

 You passionate,
 Pastoral bandits,
 Who gave you your
 Roaming and
 Rollicking mandates?
 Come out of my
 Foxglove; come
 Out of my roses
 You bees with the
 Plushy and
 Plausible noses!
-- Norman Rowland Gale
A wonderful poem - feather-light, and with a rippling, cascading series of
dactyls reinforced by the persistent alliteration and the clever double

Dactylics are lovely for this sort of tripping effect - the 'stress,
unstress, unstress' pattern encourages the reader into a rhythmic, flowing
cadence which is, of course, precisely what the poet intends.

Some Notes on the Theme:

This week's theme concerns itself with poems whose most immediately striking
feature is their underlying rhythm. Unlike some poems, which attempt to
blend the regular rhythms of poetry with the natural ones of speech, these
are deliberately 'artificial' sounding, with metres that call the reader's
attention to themselves, and on which the poem depends heavily for its

The intimate interconnection between form and content is something we've
talked about several times in the past. In general, a poem's form tends to
reinforce its content (a notable exception is self-referential humorous
poems, whose content often refers directly to their form), but the effect is
subtle and unobtrusive unless you deliberately choose to focus on it. In
some poems, though (Longfellow's 'Hiawatha' is probably the most famous
example) the form (and, in particular, the metre) stands out quite
independent of the poem's contents, and is often what the reader carries
away as his chief impression of the poem (for instance, I could write a
Hiawatha parody far more easily than I could quote much of the actual

Of course, the other obvious connection is the music-poetry link. We've gone
into detail on this too, and I won't repeat any of it here, but here's an
interesting perspective on poetry-as-sound:

  Speech researchers distinguish a speech mode and a nonspeech mode. In the
  latter, the shape of the perceived sound is similar to the shape of the
  auditory information. In the former, only an abstract phonetic category
  (such as [a] [b] [i]) is perceived; the sound information that carries it
  is shut out of consciousness. I have suggested that there may be a third,
  poetic mode, in which some of the rich precategorial auditory information
  may reach consciousness, strongly affecting the emotional or poetic
  qualities of the speech sounds.
        -- Reuven Tsur, 'Rhyme and Cognitive Poetics'


We've run a Gale poem in the past: poem #284

The paper on Rhyme and Cognitive Poetics:
[broken link]


The 'dactylic' foot has in interesting etymology - it originally referred to
Latin and Greek scansion, where, being syllable- rather than stress-timed, a
dactyl was a 'long, short, short' pattern. The allusion was to the three
joints of the finger, a long one followed by two short ones - dactyl being
the Greek for finger


PostScript: As always, if you'd like to extend the theme with a guest poem,
send it in by Friday and we'll move it to the head of the queue.

Parabolic Balad -- Andrei Voznesensky

Guest poem submitted by Uma Raman:
(Poem #557) Parabolic Balad
 Among a parabola life like a rocket flies,
 Mainly in darkness, now and then on a rainbow,
 Red-headed bohemian Gauguin the painter
 Started out life as a prosperous stockbroker.
 In order to get to the Louvre from Montmartre
 He made a detour all through Java, Sumatra,
 Tahiti, the Isles of Marquesas.

                                With levity
 He took off in flight from the madness of money,
 The cackle of women, the frowst of academies,
 Overpowered the force of terrestrial gravity.
 The high priests drank their porter and kept up their jabbering:
 'Straight lines are shorter, less steep than parabolas.
 It's more proper to copy the heavenly mansions.'

 He rose like a howling rocket, insulting them,
 With a gale that tore off the tails of their frock-coats.
 So he didn't steal into the Louvre by the front door
 But on a parabola smashed through the ceiling.
 In finding their truths lives vary in daring:
 Worms come through holes and bold men on parabolas.

 There was once a girl who lived in my neighbourhood.
 We went to school, took exams simultaneously.
 But I took off with a bang,

                                I went whizzing
 Through the prosperous double-faced stars of Tiflis.
 Forgive me for this idiotic parabola
 Cold shoulders in a pitch dark vestibule...
 Rigid, erect as a radio antenna-rod
 Sending its call-sign out through the freezing
 Dark of the universe, how you rang out to me,
 An undoubtable signal, an earthly stand-by
 From whom I might get my flight-bearings to land by
 The parabola does not come to us easily.

 Laughing at law with its warnings and paragraphs
 Art, love and history race along recklessly
 Over a parabolic trajectory.

 He is leaving tonight for Siberia.
 A straight line after all is the shorter one actually.
-- Andrei Voznesensky
tr. W.H. Auden.

I found this marvellous poet in a slender anthology of post-Stalin Russian
writing called Half-way to the Moon edited by Patricia Blake and Max Hayward and
published in the US, by Holt, Rinehart and Winstein in 1964. It was nestled
among other half-forgotten books donated by some kind soul to a hospital ward.
The dark and dusty cupboards of hospital wards are veritable buried treasure to
the single-minded ferreter and lover of second-hand volumes. It helps to be a
doctor and inhabit those nether regions. I rescued  Voznesensky and brought him
and his companions home. They have kept me frequent and excellent company for
more than 20 years now.

At the back of the anthology, in the section on Notes on Authors, Andrei
Voznesensky is listed tersely as 'the best of the post-Stalinist generation of
poets. He was born in Moscow in 1933. He attended the Moscow Architectural
Institute in 1957, and published his first poems in 1958.'

The longer and more evocative Introduction by Ms. Blake fleshes this skeleton to

He was Russia's first modern poet, who flowered in the the thaw after Stalin's
three decades of repression. He was Pasternak's devoted disciple and stayed with
the Master until his death.

He was an accomplished and sophisticated technician who constructed his verse of
assonances, rhymes and puns that served his intention rather as a brilliant
orchestration serves a central musical idea. "Form isn't what counts", he says.
"Form must be clear, unfathomable,disquieting, like the sky in which only the
radar can sense the presence of a plane." Most characteristic of his idiom are
the abrupt shifts in tone and intention within the same poem, he is tender
jocular mocking and finally compellingly ironic.

A very compelling poet and performer, he electrified the Russians of his time
and had a tremendous following.

The translation renders the Russian into a powerful English poem. Through Auden,
Voznesensky speaks to a wider audience and now he and other fine non-English
speaking and writing poets need to be introduced to the world wide web.


Ballade of the Hanged (Villon's Epitaph) -- Francois Villon

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #556) Ballade of the Hanged (Villon's Epitaph)
 Brothers that live when we are dead,
 don't set yourself against us too.
 If you could pity us instead,
 then God may sooner pity you.
 We five or six strung up to view,
 dangling the flesh we fed so well,
 are eaten piecemeal, rot and smell.
 We bones in a fine dust shall fall.
 No one make that a laugh to tell:
 pray God may save us one and all.

 Brothers, if that's the word we said,
 it's no disparagement to you
 although in justice we hang dead.
 Yet all the same you know how few
 are men of sense in all they do.
 Pray now we're dead that Jesu's well
 of grace shall not run dry - nor Hell
 open in thunder as we fall.
 We're dead don't harry us as well:
 pray God may save us one and all.

 Showered and rinsed with rain, we dead
 the sun has dried out black and blue.
 Magpie and crow gouge out each head
 for eyes and pluck the hair. On view,
 never at rest a moment of two,
 winds blow us here or there a spell;
 more pricked than a tailor's thumb could tell
 we're needled by the birds. Don't fall
 then for our brotherhood and cell:
 pray God may save us one and all.

 Prince, Lord of Men, oh keep us well
 beyond the sovereignty of Hell.
 On him we've no business to call.
 And, men, it's no joke now I tell:
 pray God may save us one and all.
-- Francois Villon
tr. Peter Dale.

There is no poet quite like Villon, which is why we have to have something by
him, though the problem is immediately obvious: Villon does not translate well
at all. 'Where are the snows of yesteryear' for 'Ou sont les neiges d'antan' is
a fluke; apart from that I've never seen any translation that quite does justice
to his tone.

And that tone is so unmistakeable, even to someone like me whose French is only
passable. Witty, pithy, sad, romantic, vituperative, street-smart, crude and yet
refined, it simply reeks from every line of Villon's colourful life. (There's a
biographical sketch after this, also the original for those who know some
French. It's medieval French, but can still be understood to some extent by
speakers of current French).

Perhaps it's this legend that colours the reading, but then one has to accept
that there are poets whose lives and verse cannot be separated (for some reason
it's the French poets like Villon, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Verlaine who come
most immediately to mind, though of course it's also true of Byron, Shelley and

And of all the poems Villon wrote, none carries more emotional impact than this.
Villon was imprisoned and very definitely facing execution when he wrote this,
and this expectation hugely fills every syllable of this poem. That cliche of
never being more aware of life at the point of death is no cliche here, its what
the poem is all about. There is an agonising awareness of life in his precise
description of the corpses hung up in the wind and how their bodies rot.

And the plea for mercy is agonisingly real too. For all his quarrels with the
Church, there is no doubt that Villon was a believer, and that faith - or
horror, the two seem to be the same for him - aches through this poem.

This is also an example of a poetic form that fits the purpose brilliantly. In
English the ballade often seems an artificial form: the fixed rhymes, the strict
number of verses and the poet's address to himself or a superior at the end
(which always reminds me of the ghazal, the last couplet of which also starts
with such an address to someone). In English it seems to work best in comic

But not in French. Ballades are among the best poems in French, and in Villon's
hand reached a level no one else ever really did. Villon's handling of the
technical constraints is so easy and skillful, one almost never becomes aware of
them. And in this poem, the address in last quatrain comes in all too
appropriately for Villon to beg Jesus for mercy.


 "Ballade des Pendus (L'Epitaphe Villon)"

 Freres humains qui après nous vivez
 N'ayez les cuers contre nous endurcis
 Cas se pitié de nous povres avez
 Dieu en aura plus tost de vous mercis.
 Vous nous voiez cy attachez cinq, six.
 Quant de la chair que trop avons nourrie,
 Elle est pieça devorée et pourrie,
 Et nous, les os, devenons cendre et pouldre.
 De nostre mal personne ne s'en rie
 Mais priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre.

 Se freres vous clamons, pas n'en devez
 Avoir desdaing, quoy que fusmes occis
 Par justice. Toutesfois, vous sçavez
 Qua tous hommes n'ont pas bon sens rassis.
 Excusez nous, puis que sommes transsis,
 Envers le fils de la Vierge Marie
 Que sa grace ne soit pour nous tarie
 Nous sommes mors; ame ne nous harie
 Mais priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre.

 La pluye nous a debuez et lavez
 Et le soleil dessechiez et noircis.
 Pies, corbeaulx, nous ont les yeux cavez
 Et arrachié la barbe et les sourcis.
 Jamais nul temps nous ne sommes assis;
 Puis ça, puis la, comme le vent varie
 A son plaisir sans cesser nous charie,
 Plus becquetez d'oiseaulx que dez a couldre.
 Ne soiez donc de nostre confrarie
 Mis priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre.

 Prince Jesus qui sur tous a maistrie
 Garde qu'Enfer n'ait de nous seigneurie.
 A luy n'ayons que faire ne que souldre.
 Hommes, icy n'a point de mocquerie;
 Mais priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre.

        -- Francois Villon


Francois Villon was born Francois Montcorbier or Francois des Loges in 1431. He
took his surname, Villon, from his guardian and benefactor, Guillaume de Villon,
chaplain of Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné, a man of whom he speaks well, in both Le
Lais and Le Testament. He took his baccalauréat from the University of Paris in
1449. Around 1451, he was probably involved in a student rag which removed a
landmark (le Pet au Diable: The Devil's Fart) from the front of Mademoiselle de
Bruyère's house. He himself mentions a poem, Le Roman du Pet au Diable, in Le

However, in 1452, he received his licence and maire ès arts from the University
of Paris. His first clash with the law occurred in 1455 when he was involved in
a fight with a priest who was killed An eye-witness, admittedly a friend of
Villon's, maintains he acted in self-defence. Though pardoned for the murder in
1456, that same year he was implicated in the famous robbery of five hundred
golden écus from the College of Navarre. Guy Tabary and Colin de Cayeux are two
of his confederates mentioned in Le Testament. In this year he wrote, presumably
in some haste, Le Lais. Tabary's confession to the robbery in 1457 made Villon
leave Paris and go on the run. Much of the rest of the detail of his life comes
from Le Testament, on the assumption that it is truly autobiographical.
According to this he was imprisoned, somewhat unjustly or pettily if his mood is
anything to judge from, by the Bishop of Orleans in his palace-dungeons at

He was set free to celebrate King Louis IX's progress through the town., In this
year he wrote Le Testament in which he speaks of his wanderings and various
towns that must have been his itinerary between, say, 1456 and 1461. In 1462, he
is again in prison, the Châtelet, charged with robbery of the College of
Navarre. He was released quickly on promising to repay the money. The last real
fact we have about Villon is his arrest for brawling later in 1462... He had
been imprisoned for a minor brawling incident with a papal scribe Ferrebouc who,
unluckily, had influence. He was tortured and sentenced to be strangled and
hanged... Parliament set aside the sentence, imposing banishment from Paris.

        -- from Francois Villon: Selected Poems.


I forgot to add that the one English poet who Villon reminds me of a bit is John
Skelton. Skelton's short, rapid lines, are very different technically, but there
is a bit of Villon in his street wise cocky quality.

I might be going out on a bit of a limb here, since I just consulted my local
Eng. Litt. expert who sort of kindly told me this was a bit far fetched, Villon
being part of the courtly love tradition.

But reading Le Testament again for this I was struck by how much of it is simply
making fun of and abusing random people who seem to have annoyed him, and for
some reason it made me think of Skelton. Anyway, the only thing to result from
this is the suggestion that we have some Skelton sometime since he's fun and
very distinctive.


Trade Winds -- John Masefield

(Poem #555) Trade Winds
 In the harbor, in the island, in the Spanish Seas,
 Are the tiny white houses and the orange trees,
 And day-long, night-long, the cool and pleasant breeze
        Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.

 There is the red wine, the nutty Spanish ale,
 The shuffle of the dancers, the old salt's tale,
 The squeaking fiddle, and the soughing in the sail
        Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.

 And o' nights there's fire-flies and the yellow moon,
 And in the ghostly palm-trees the sleepy tune
 Of the quiet voice calling me, the long low croon
        Of the steady Trade Winds blowing.
-- John Masefield
Masefield is often thought of as (almost exclusively) a 'sea poet', one whose
descriptive prowess and ability to evoke 'atmosphere' far outweigh his
intellectual and emotional insight. The judgement may be slightly unfair - after
all, his verse did turn markedly more introspective and austere after he became
Poet Laureate - but the fact remains that masterpieces like 'Sea Fever' [1],
'Cargoes' [2] and today's poem are likely to be remembered long after his more
'serious' works are forgotten. And rightfully so, in my opinion: Laureates (and
their peculiar brand of poetry) may come and go, but magic like Masefield's
lives on forever.


[1] poem #27
[2] poem #74


  b. June 1, 1878, Ledbury, Herefordshire, Eng.
  d. May 12, 1967, near Abingdon, Berkshire

Poet, best known for his poems of the sea, Salt-Water Ballads (1902, including
"Sea Fever" and "Cargoes"), and for his long narrative poems, such as The
Everlasting Mercy (1911), which shocked literary orthodoxy with its phrases of a
colloquial coarseness hitherto unknown in 20th-century English verse.

Educated at King's School, Warwick, Masefield was apprenticed aboard a
windjammer that sailed around Cape Horn. He left the sea after that voyage and
spent several years living precariously in the United States. His work there in
a carpet factory is described in his autobiography, In the Mill (1941). He
returned to England, worked for a time as a journalist for the Manchester
Guardian, and settled in London. After he succeeded Robert Bridges as poet
laureate in 1930, his poetry became more austere.

Other of Masefield's long narrative poems are Dauber (1913), which concerns the
eternal struggle of the visionary against ignorance and materialism, and Reynard
the Fox (1919), which deals with many aspects of rural life in England. He also
wrote novels of adventure--Sard Harker (1924), Odtaa (1926), and Basilissa
(1940)--sketches, and works for children. His other works include the poetic
dramas The Tragedy of Nan (1909) and The Tragedy of Pompey the Great (1910), as
well as a further autobiographical volume, So Long to Learn (1952). Masefield
was awarded the Order of Merit in 1935.

        -- EB

Taliesin -- R S Thomas

(Poem #554) Taliesin
 I have been all men known to history,
 Wondering at the world and at time passing;
 I have seen evil, and the light blessing
 Innocent love under a spring sky.

 I have been Merlin wandering in the woods
 Of a far country, where the winds waken
 Unnatural voices, my mind broken
 By a sudden acquaintance with man's rage.

 I have been Glyn Dwr set in the vast night,
 Scanning the stars for the propitious omen,
 A leader of men, yet cursed by the crazed women
 Mourning their dead under the same stars.

 I have been Goronwy, forced from my own land
 To taste the bitterness of the salt ocean;
 I have known exile and a wild passion
 Of longing changing to a cold ache.

 King, beggar and fool, I have been all by turns,
 Knowing the body's sweetness, the mind's treason;
 Taliesin still, I show you a new world, risen,
 Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart's need.
-- R S Thomas
Taliesin [1] is one of my favourite mythological characters. Partly, of course,
for the obvious reason - he's a poet, and not just a poet, but the archetype of
that wonderful figure, the wandering minstrel. And partly for a very different
reason: Taliesin, like Loki and Enki, Coyote[2] and Brer Rabbit, is a trickster
- he uses cunning and ingenuity to get his way [3].

Today's poem emphasizes the former aspect of his character: specifically, the
ability of the poet to synthesize experience into a new and compelling form. The
final couplet is the most telling:

        Taliesin still, I show you a new world, risen,
        Stubborn with beauty, out of the heart's need.

One might interpret this couplet as Thomas' view of the process of poetry,
broken down into four parts: who, what, how and why.

Who: 'Taliesin still' - the poet, though transformed by his experience, remains
recognizably himself.

What: 'I show you a new world' - the central tenet of the poet's creed
everywhere; it's especially fitting that the words are spoken by a person who
embodies the idea of poetry, in its most elemental form.

How: 'Stubborn with beauty' - this phrase, to those who know his work, is pure
R. S. Thomas. It reflects that rarest of abilities, the ability to find magic in
the harshness of the everyday.

Why: 'Out of the heart's need' - this, at least, requires no explanation.


[1] The name means 'radiant brow'
[2] The figure from Plains Indian mythology. Not his descendant Wile E. <grin>.
[3] Random association: Rowan Atkinson saying "I have a cunning plan, Baldrick".


Biographies of Ronald Stuart Thomas: and poem #392.

An essay comparing R. S. Thomas and Geoffrey Hill (another contemporary poet
whose work I enjoy), with especial emphasis on the former's Welshness:
[broken link]

More on Thomas' Welshness:

'I am Taliesin; I sing perfect metre', translated from the original by Ifor
Williams: poem #175

'The Ancients of the World', a Thomas poem charged with mythic grandeur:
poem #152

'Good', a quieter, more introspective poem, but one none the less powerful
for that: poem #392

Caught in the Undertow -- Christopher Morley

Another of my Poets' Corner discoveries...
(Poem #553) Caught in the Undertow
 Colin, worshipping some frail,
 By self-deception sways her:
 Calls himself unworthy male,
 Hardly even fit to praise her.

 But this tactic insincere
 In the upshot greatly grieves him
 When he finds the lovely dear
 Quite implicitly believes him.
-- Christopher Morley
A very Dorothy Parkerish sort of poem - a sarcastic look at courtship
rituals, ending with a very satisfying punchline. I did intend to run a more
'typical' piece as the first Morley, but his favourite theme seems to be
'poetry is but a poor imitation of Life', not something I have a lot of
sympathy for :)

He does have a lot of good poems, though, and I'll certainly be covering a
few more - in the meantime, do check out the wonderfully illustrated copy of
his book 'Chimneysmoke' up at the Poets' Corner.


 Morley, Christopher
 b. May 5, 1890, Haverford, Pa., U.S.
 d. March 28, 1957, Roslyn Heights, Long Island, N.Y.
 in full CHRISTOPHER DARLINGTON MORLEY, American writer whose versatile
 works are lighthearted, vigorous displays of the English language.

 Morley's father was a mathematician and his mother a musician and poet. The
 young Morley studied at Haverford College (B.A., 1910) and was a Rhodes
 scholar at New College, Oxford (1910-13). Over the years he found success
 in several fields. He gained popularity with his literary columns in the
 New York Evening Post (1920-24) and the Saturday Review of Literature
 (1924-41) and from collections of essays and columns such as Shandygaff
 (1918). His novels include the innovative The Trojan Horse (1937), a
 combination of prose, verse, and dramatic dialogue that satirized human
 devotion to luxury, and the sentimental best-seller Kitty Foyle (1939),
 about an office girl and a socialite youth. The Old Mandarin (1947) is a
 collection of witty free verse. Morley also edited Bartlett's Familiar
 Quotations (1937, 1948).

        -- EB


The aforementioned Chimneysmoke:
  - [broken link]

And here's one of Parker's poems, by way of comparison:

  'Unfortunate Coincidence'

  By the time you swear you're his,
  Shivering and sighing,
  And he vows his passion is
  Infinite, undying -
  Lady, make a note of this:
  One of you is lying.

    -- [broken link]


Morning -- Robert Creeley

(Poem #552) Morning
 dam's broke,
 head's a
-- Robert Creeley
As suggested by one of our subscribers, a change of pace.

Robert Creeley has been described as 'an Imagist of the emotions'. His poems are
like sharply etched miniatures - not a word out of place, not a phrase that
seems jarring. At the same time, his subjects are not the external objects that
Pound famously exhorted his Imagist brethren to 'show, not tell'; rather,
Creeley is more concerned with limning the nice distinctions of feeling and
sensibility, of heart and mind.

We'll definitely be running more of Creeley's work in the future (he's a poet
whom I've but recently discovered); today's poem is, I think, a wonderful
introduction to it. I especially love the line break before the word
'waterfall': it makes the reader pause before plunging into the final line, just
like water gathering itself up before tumbling over a precipice... lovely.



Robert White Creeley
  b. May 21, 1926, Arlington, Mass., U.S.
  U.S. poet and founder of the Black Mountain movement of the 1950s.

 Creeley dropped out of Harvard University in the last semester of his senior
year and spent a year driving a truck in India and Burma for the American Field
Service. Soon after his return in 1945, he lived on a poultry farm in New
Hampshire and, by his own account, spent much time listening to jazz. Motivated
by a Boston radio program of poetry readings that he chanced to hear, he began
to publish his poems in small magazines. He lived in France in the early 1950s
and then moved to Majorca, Spain, where he started the Divers Press. In 1955,
after receiving a B.A. from Black Mountain College (North Carolina), he joined
Charles Olson on its faculty and was editor of the Black Mountain Review for its
first three years. The Review published poems by the then little-known Creeley,
as well as poems by various other faculty members and poets.

 Creeley's poems of the 1950s and 1960s reveal the influence of William Carlos
Williams. In For Love (1962), the collection of poems written between 1950 and
1960, Creeley emerged as a master technician. Like Williams' poems, Creeley's
are short and to the point. In his later books of poetry, most notably Pieces
(1968), Creeley's poems are equally self-contained. His poetry, characterized by
understatement, down-to-earth flippancy, and a studious adherence to economic
and precise language, has influenced many younger poets.

 Creeley taught poetry in several universities and from 1967 was a member of the
faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo. His Selected Poems
appeared in 1976. Later collections include Later (1979), The Collected Poems of
Robert Creeley, Memory Gardens (1986), and Windows (1990).

        -- EB

[The Black Mountain poets]

 ... any of a loosely associated group of poets that formed an important part of
the avant-garde of American poetry in the 1950s, publishing innovative yet
disciplined verse in the Black Mountain Review (1954-57), which became a leading
forum of experimental verse.

 The group grew up around the poets Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, and Charles
Olson while they were teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina.
Turning away from the poetic tradition espoused by T.S. Eliot, these poets
emulated the freer style of William Carlos Williams. Charles Olson's essay
Projective Verse (1950) became their manifesto. Olson emphasized the creative
process, in which the poet's energy is transferred through the poem to the
reader. Inherent in this new poetry was the reliance upon decidedly American
conversational language.

 Much of the group's early work was published in the magazine Origin (1951-56).
Dissatisfied with the lack of critical material in that magazine, Creeley and
Olson established the Black Mountain Review. It featured the work of William
Carlos Williams, Paul Blackburn, Denise Levertov, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder,
and many others who later became significant poets.

        -- EB

Her Beauty -- Max Plowman

(Poem #551) Her Beauty
 I heard them say, "Her hands are hard as stone,"
 And I rememebred how she laid for me
 The road to heaven. They said, "Her hair is grey."
 Then I remembered how she once had thrown
 Long plaited strands, like cables, into the sea
 I battled in -- the salt sea of dismay.
 They say, "Her beauty's past." And then I wept,
 That these, who should have been in love adept,
 Against my font of beauty should blaspheme.
 And hearing a new music, miss the theme.
-- Max Plowman
One of the delightful things about love poetry is its endless series of
variations on even the most timeworn themes. Today's poem, for instance, has
been foreshadowed by a countless series of poems on love, beauty and aging,
but nonetheless manages to strike its own individual note.

Form: Iambic pentameter, rhyming abcabcddee. Does anyone know if this is a
'named' verse form?

Biographical Notes:

I couldn't find much on Plowman online - he seems to be best known for his
book 'An Introduction to the Study of Blake', and to have added his voice to
the canon of WW1 poets, but that's all I could dig up. If anyone knows
anything more (dates would be nice, for instance) do send it in.


Evolution -- Langdon Smith

Guest poem submitted by Jose de Abreu:
(Poem #550) Evolution
 When you were a tadpole and I was a fish
  In the Paleozoic time,
 And side by side on the ebbing tide
  We sprawled through the ooze and slime,
 Or skittered with many a caudal flip
  Through the depths of the Cambrian fen,
 My heart was rife with the joy of life,
  For I loved you even then.

 Mindless we lived and mindless we loved
  And mindless at last we died;
 And deep in the rift of the Caradoc drift
  We slumbered side by side.
 The world turned on in the lathe of time,
  The hot lands heaved amain,
 Till we caught our breath from the womb of death
  And crept into light again.

 We were amphibians, scaled and tailed,
  And drab as a dead man's hand;
 We coiled at ease 'neath the dripping trees
  Or trailed through the mud and sand.
 Croaking and blind, with our three-clawed feet
  Writing a language dumb,
 With never a spark in the empty dark
  To hint at a life to come.

 Yet happy we lived and happy we loved,
  And happy we died once more;
 Our forms were rolled in the clinging mold
  Of a Neocomian shore.
 The eons came and the eons fled
  And the sleep that wrapped us fast
 Was riven away in a newer day
  And the night of death was past.

 Then light and swift through the jungle trees
  We swung in our airy flights,
 Or breathed in the balms of the fronded palms
  In the hush of the moonless nights;
 And, oh! what beautiful years were there
  When our hearts clung each to each;
 When life was filled and our senses thrilled
  In the first faint dawn of speech.

 Thus life by life and love by love
  We passed through the cycles strange,
 And breath by breath and death by death
  We followed the chain of change.
 Till there came a time in the law of life
  When over the nursing side
 The shadows broke and soul awoke
  In a strange, dim dream of God.

 I was thewed like an Auruch bull
  And tusked like the great cave bear;
 And you, my sweet, from head to feet
  Were gowned in your glorious hair.
 Deep in the gloom of a fireless cave,
  When the night fell o'er the plain
 And the moon hung red o'er the river bed
  We mumbled the bones of the slain.

 I flaked a flint to a cutting edge
  And shaped it with brutish craft;
 I broke a shank from the woodland lank
  And fitted it, head and haft;
 Then I hid me close to the reedy tarn,
  Where the mammoth came to drink;
 Through the brawn and bone I drove the stone
  And slew him upon the brink.

 Loud I howled through the moonlit wastes,
  Loud answered our kith and kin;
 From west and east to the crimson feast
  The clan came tramping in.
 O'er joint and gristle and padded hoof
  We fought and clawed and tore,
 And check by jowl with many a growl
  We talked the marvel o'er.

 I carved that fight on a reindeer bone
  With rude and hairy hand;
 I pictured his fall on the cavern wall
  That men might understand.
 For we lived by blood and the right of might
  Ere human laws were drawn,
 And the age of sin did not begin
  Till our brutal tush were gone.

 And that was a million years ago
  In a time that no man knows;
 Yet here tonight in the mellow light
  We sit at Delmonico's.
 Your eyes are deep as the Devon springs,
  Your hair is dark as jet,
 Your years are few, your life is new,
  Your soul untried, and yet -

 Our trail is on the Kimmeridge clay
  And the scarp of the Purbeck flags;
 We have left our bones in the Bagshot stones
  And deep in the Coralline crags;
 Our love is old, our lives are old,
  And death shall come amain;
 Should it come today, what man may say
  We shall not live again?

 God wrought our souls from the Tremadoc beds
  And furnished them wings to fly;
 We sowed our spawn in the world's dim dawn,
  And I know that it shall not die,
 Though cities have sprung above the graves
  Where the crook-bone men make war
 And the oxwain creaks o'er the buried caves
  Where the mummied mammoths are.

 Then as we linger at luncheon here
  O'er many a dainty dish,
 Let us drink anew to the time when you
  Were a tadpole and I was a fish.
-- Langdon Smith
I was just surfing around and came across this poem... really unusual for a love
poem, I felt. So I thought it might look good on Minstrels:-) The catch being
that I couldn't find much in the way of bio details on the poet, or any other
poems but this one.


Bio (all I could find!)

 ... one such individual, unknown even among biologists, is British naturalist
Langdon Smith, who conducted excellent biological research, and also wrote
exquisite poetry. Smith was born in Scotland in 1877, and came to the United
States when he was 14. Practically nothing is known about his education, except
that in his early twenties he was engaged by the Museum of Natural History in
New York to do research, and that he was often invited by scientific societies
to lecture. He also wrote articles on scientific subjects for newspapers. He
wrote a particularly beautiful poem about evolution titled "A Tadpole and a
Fish." A friend of his found this poem, which Smith had carelessly laid aside,
and recognized it as something exceptional. He prevailed upon Smith to submit
the poem to some of the best papers for an opinion. The first to examine the
poem was the editor of the New York Herald, who gave Smith a check for $500, a
considerable sum in those times, for the right to publish it. Smith became ill
and returned to England, where he died some months later of tuberculosis. The
poem was later published under the title "Evolution" in 1909 and was included in
anthologies published in 1922 and 1924.

Metrical Feet -- A Lesson for a Boy -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge

(Poem #549) Metrical Feet -- A Lesson for a Boy
 Trochee trips from long to short;
 From long to long in solemn sort
 Slow Spondee stalks, strong foot!, yet ill able
 Ever to come up with Dactyl's trisyllable.
 Iambics march from short to long.
 With a leap and a bound the swift Anapests throng.
 One syllable long, with one short at each side,
 Amphibrachys hastes with a stately stride --
 First and last being long, middle short, Amphimacer
 Strikes his thundering hoofs like a proud high-bred Racer.

 If Derwent be innocent, steady, and wise,
 And delight in the things of earth, water, and skies;
 Tender warmth at his heart, with these meters to show it,
 WIth sound sense in his brains, may make Derwent a poet --
 May crown him with fame, and must win him the love
 Of his father on earth and his father above.
    My dear, dear child!
 Could you stand upon Skiddaw, you would not from its whole ridge
 See a man who so loves you as your fond S.T. Colerige.
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Today's piece is not so much a poem as an intellectual curiosity, a little
poetic game that Coleridge amused himself with. Considered as a poem, it's a
pretty poor example of the genre - indeed, the second verse, where he
abandons his metrical experiments and segues into a poetic address to his
son, is downright annoying. Particularly the last couplet - unlike some
poets, Coleridge did not have the gift of making contrived rhymes seem
natural or even clever; rhyming "whole ridge" with "Coleridge" just seems
strained (ironically enough, because it doesn't quite scan properly).

Still, the first verse is an interesting demonstration of poetic facility -
the stitching together of various metres into a smooth poem is very neatly
done, as is the way the name of each foot is fit into the scansion. My
comment on strained rhymes still applies, but all in all the poem is worth a

Notes and Links:

Rather than quote large sections of the Britannica article on prosody, I'll
simply supply a link to it, and then outline the metres referred to in the

Here's the article:


see especially the section on syllable-stress metres.

The metres (where /, -, s and l are stressed, unstressed, short and long
syllables respectively)

Trochee         / -
Spondee         / /
Dactyl          / - -
Iamb            - /
Anapest         - - /
Amphibrach      s l s
Amphimacer      l s l

The latter two feet are based on short and long rather than stressed and
unstressed syllables, and apply to Greek and Latin poetry.

The Glossary of Poetic Terms at the UToronto site has fuller definitions:

It also has the complete scansion of the first verse of Coleridge's poem,
under the entry for 'foot'.

Coleridge on Metre:

  Here's what Coleridge had to say on the subject. From the Britannica:

  Wordsworth (in his "Preface" to the Lyrical Ballads, 1800) followed
  18th-century theory and saw metre as "superadded" to poetry; its function
  is more nearly ornamental, a grace of style and not an essential quality.
  Coleridge saw metre as being organic; it functions together with all of
  the other parts of a poem and is not merely an echo to the sense or an
  artifice of style. Coleridge also examined the psychologic effects of
  metre, the way it sets up patterns of expectation that are either
  fulfilled or disappointed:

    As far as metre acts in and for itself, it tends to increase the
    vivacity and susceptibility both of the general feelings and of the
    attention. This effect it produces by the continued excitement of
    surprize, and by the quick reciprocations of curiosity still gratified
    and still re-excited, which are too slight indeed to be at any one
    moment objects of distinct consciousness, yet become considerable in
    their aggregate influence. As a medicated atmosphere, or as wine during
    animated conversation; they act powerfully, though themselves unnoticed.
    Where, therefore, correspondent food and appropriate matter are not
    provided for the attention and feelings thus roused, there must needs be
    a disappointment felt; like that of leaping in the dark from the last
    step of a staircase, when we had prepared our muscles for a leap of
    three or four.

        -- Biographia Literaria, XVIII (1817)

More on 19th Century prosody:

True to his philosophy, Coleridge has written numerous poems and fragments
that are explicitly 'metrical experiments'. Sadly, I could only find one
example online:
- [broken link]

More on the 'whole ridge/Coleridge' rhyme:

And Bob Blair explains the biographical references to Skiddaw and Derwent:

We've run a couple of Coleridge's more famous poems in the past; see in
particular his masterpiece "Kubla Khan":
  - poem #30


Barbara Allen -- Anonymous

(Poem #548) Barbara Allen
 In Scarlet town, where I was born,
 There was a fair maid dwellin',
 Made every youth cry Well-a-day!
 Her name was Barbara Allen.

 All in the merry month of May,
 When the green buds they were swellin',
 Young Jemmy Grove on his death-bed lay,
 For love of Barbara Allen

 He sent his men down to her then,
 To the town where she was dwelling:
 "O haste and come to my master dear,
 Gin ye be Barbara Allen."

 So slowly, slowly rase she up,
 And slowly she came nigh him,
 And when she drew the curtains by--
 "Young man, I think you're dyin'."

 "O it's I am sick and very very sick,
 And 'tis a' for Barbara Allen." --
 "O the better for me ye'se never be,
 Tho your heart's blood were a-spillin'!.

 "O dinna ye mind, young man," said she,
 "When the red wine ye were fillin',
 That ye made the healths gae round and round,
 And slighted Barbara Allen?"

 He turned his face unto the wall,
 And death was with him dealin':
 "Adieu, adieu, my dear friends all,
 And be kind to Barbara Allen!"

 And slowly, slowly raise she up,
 And slowly, slowly left him,
 And sighing said she could not stay,
 Since death of life had reft him.

 As she was walkin o'er the fields
 She heard the dead-bell knellin',
 And every jow that the dead-bell geid,
 Cried, "Woe to Barbara Allen!"

 "O mother, mother, make my bed!
 O make it saft and narrow:
 My love has died for me today,
 I'll die for him to-morrow."

 "Farewell", she said, "ye virgins all,
 And shun the fault I fell in:
 Henceforward take warning by the fall
 Of cruel Barbara Allen."
-- Anonymous
        (Child Ballad #84)

c. 17th Century, but at least a few centuries older in oral tradition.

A classic folk ballad - life and love, drama and death, with a strong dash
of moral judgement thrown in. (Perhaps the true contemporary heir to the
folk ballad is the soap opera!) The morality might seem slightly archaic
today, especially the very androcentric slant, but that shouldn't preclude
enjoyment of the poem.

I've been planning to run a Child ballad for a while, and today's was the
obvious choice, being a friend of my youth. I remember what mostly caught my
fancy back then was the sound of the poem, a combination of the dialect and
the rhythm; interestingly, I'd forgotten most of the poem completely, except
for the last two verses, and therefore remembered it as a poem about a woman
who scorned her true love, and then killed herself out of repentance.
Rediscovering[1] the fact that he had slighted her first was quite a

[1] or perhaps just discovering - many versions leave that bit out, no doubt
to strengthen their 'moral'

On the Child Ballads:

 Francis Child's five-volume work, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
 (1882-1898), is considered by many as the basis of traditional Anglo-Celtic
 folk music, as both the motifs like the popular characters like the
 mythical Tam Lin and the might have been real Robin Hood, and the actual
 songs still played by many a musician are contained within this work. And
 just as importantly, the Child Ballads are crucial to present day writers
 who use the old folk ballads.


 So why is the English and Scottish Popular Ballads so valuable? First we
 need a definition of what a ballad is. Funk & Wagnall's Online Dictionary
 defines a ballad thus: "short narrative folk song that fixes on the most
 dramatic part of a story, moving to its conclusion by means of dialogue and
 a series of incidents. The word ballad was first used in a general sense to
 mean a simple short poem. Such a poem could be narrative or lyric, sung or
 not sung, crude or polite, sentimental or satiric, religious or secular; it
 was vaguely associated with dance. The word is still commonly used in this
 loose fashion. In the field of folklore, however, ballad is applied
 specifically to the kind of narrative folk song described in the opening
 lines. These narrative songs represent a type of literature and music that
 developed across Europe in the late Middle Ages. Unlike the medieval
 romances and rhymed tales, ballads tend to have a tight dramatic structure
 that sometimes omits all preliminary material, all exposition and
 description, even all motivation, to focus on the climactic scene (as in
 the British "Lord Randall"). It is as though the ballad presented only the
 last act of a play, leaving the listener or reader to supply the antecedent
 material. When the ballad emerged, it was a new form of art and literature,
 distinct from anything that had gone before."


 Child's contribution in researching, compiling, and publishing the English
 and Scottish Popular Ballads, was that he documented the very roots of
 English speaking ballads as versionthey still existed in the late Victorian
 period. This -- and its effects on popular folk music and written
 literature -- is why the Child Ballads (as they are most often called)
 remain a seminal work.

        -- [broken link]

 Follow the link and read the whole piece - it's well worth a look.


Some other versions of the lyrics ('Barbara Allen', like most ballads, has
no 'definitive' text)
  - [broken link]

Both links contain MIDI files of the melody

Bob Blair draws an interesting parallel between ballads and urban legends:

An excellent page on folk music:

The complete catalogue of Child ballads:

The androcentricity reminds me of Goldsmith's 'When Lovely Woman Stoops to


The Isles of Greece -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian

Hi all ...

One of my favorites this time - oddly enough, by Byron, who I'm normally
not all that keen on.

Enjoy yourself ...
(Poem #547) The Isles of Greece
 The isles of Greece! the isles of Greece!
 Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
 Where grew the arts of war and peace, --
 Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung!
 Eternal summer gilds them yet,
 But all, except their sun, is set.

 The Scian and the Teian muse,
 The hero's harp, the lover's lute,
 Have found the fame your shores refuse;
 Their place of birth alone is mute
 To sounds which echo further west
 Than your sires' "Islands of the Blest."

 The mountains look on Marathon --
 And Marathon looks on the sea;
 And musing there an hour alone,
 I dream'd that Greece might yet be free
 For, standing on the Persians' grave,
 I could not deem myself a slave.

 A king sat on the rocky brow
 Which looks on sea-born Salamis;
 And ships, by thousands, lay below,
 And men in nations; -- all were his!
 He counted them at break of day --
 And when the sun set, where were they?

 And where are they? and where art thou,
 My country? On thy voiceless shore
 The heroic lay is tuneless now --
 The heroic bosom beats no more!
 And must thy lyre, so long divine,
 Degenerate into hands like mine?

 'Tis something, in the dearth of fame,
 Though link'd among a fetter'd race,
 To feel at least a patriot's shame,
 Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
 For what is left the poet here?
 For Greeks a blush -- for Greece a tear.

 Must we but weep o'er days more blest?
 Must we but blush? -- Our fathers bled.
 Earth! render back from out thy breast
 A remnant of our Spartan dead!
 Of the three hundred grant but three,
 To make a new Thermopylae.

 What, silent still, and silent all?
 Ah! no; the voices of the dead
 Sound like a distant torrent's fall,
 And answer, "Let one living head,
 But one arise, -- we come, we come!"
 'Tis but the living who are dumb.

 In vain -- in vain: strike other chords;
 Fill high the cup of Samian wine!
 Leave battles to the Turkish hordes,
 And shed the blood of Scio's vine!
 Hark! rising to the ignoble call --
 How answers each bold bacchanal!

 You have the Pyrrhic dance as yet,
 Where is the Pyrrhic phalanx gone?
 Of two such lessons, why forget
 The nobler and the manlier one?
 You have the letters Cadmus gave --
 Think ye he meant them for a slave?

 Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
 We will not think of themes like these!
 It made Anacreon's song divine;
 He served -- but served Polycrates --
 A tyrant; but our masters then
 Were still, at least, our countrymen.

 The tyrant of the Chersonese
 Was freedom's best and bravest friend;
 That tyrant was Miltiades!
 Oh! that the present hour would lend
 Another despot of the kind!
 Such chains as his were sure to bind.

 Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
 On Suli's rock, and Parga's shore,
 Exists the remnant of a line
 Such as the Doric mothers bore;
 And there, perhaps, some seed is sown,
 The Heracleidan blood might own.

 Trust not for freedom to the Franks --
 They have a king who buys and sells:
 In native swords and native ranks,
 The only hope of courage dwells:
 But Turkish force and Latin fraud
 Would break your shield, however broad.

 Fill high the bowl with Samian wine!
 Our virgins dance beneath the shade --
 I see their glorious black eyes shine;
 But, gazing on each glowing maid,
 My own the burning tear-drop laves,
 To think such breasts must suckle slaves.

 Place me on Sunium's marble steep --
 Where nothing, save the waves and I,
 May hear our mutual murmurs sweep:
 There, swan-like, let me sing and die;
 A land of slaves shall ne'er be mine --
 Dash down yon cup of Samian wine!
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron
I was introduced to this poem in a rather weird way - I was reading Alistair
MacLean's 'Santorini', in which a clasically educated nerd called Lt.Denholm
quotes from it.  I just _had_ to dig the poem out - and it was worth it, I
must say ;)

One of my favorite bits of Byron - and a bit of Ancient Greece 101 ;)  A
wonderful paean to ancient Greece (or more specifically, the isles of greece
<g>) - an impassioned outpouring which tries to inspire his contemporary
Greeks to rise and fight the Turks, and to remember the lost glory and
bravery of their ancestors.

Compare this to, say, 'My country, in thy days of glory past, a beauteous
halo encircled thy brow ....' by Michael Madhusudhan Dutt.

I think Brewers and a few other books on Greek history would supply the
historical allusions ... I'll give a few anyway.

Sappho - Greek poetess who lived on the island of Lesbos - and whose tastes
give us the word 'Lesbian'.

Phoebus - Greek poet + scribe + slave

Anacreon - Greek poet noted for songs in praise of love and wine

... lots more of art ;)  now for war ...  lots of allusions - the Trojan
war, Thermopylae - where 300 spartans (plus a few thousand auxilaries from
nearby greek cities) routed a huge persian army - but died fighting.

Suresh Ramasubramanian

The Sick Rose -- William Blake

(Poem #546) The Sick Rose
 O Rose, thou art sick!
 The invisible worm
 That flies in the night,
 In the howling storm,

 Has found out thy bed
 Of crimson joy,
 And his dark secret love
 Does thy life destroy.
-- William Blake
Martin's commentary yesterday notwithstanding, short poems do not necessarily
have to be either 'self-contained' or 'gemlike' in order to achieve perfection.
Indeed, I find that among my own favourite short poems are several that seem to
expand upon reading, that open themselves up to multiple layers of
interpretation. This is one of them.


[Minstrels Links]

There are, of course, plenty of short poems on the Minstrels site, from
Pound's imagist magic to Basho's haiku. One of my favourites is Peter
Porter's 'Instant Fish', another poem that seems to say much more than just
what the words imply: poem #64

Talking about Peter Porter and haiku, here's one that shouldn't be missed:

        William Blake, William
Blake, William Blake, William Blake,
        say it and feel new!

        -- Peter Porter

from 'Japanese Jokes', poem #198

The Moving Finger Writes; and, Having Writ -- Omar Khayyam

(Poem #545) The Moving Finger Writes; and, Having Writ
 The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
 Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
 Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
 Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
-- Omar Khayyam
Perhaps the most famous verse of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat, and with good reason
- it is hard to think of any way in which it could possibly be improved.
That's one of the things I most like about short poems, actually - at
their best, they can attain a self-contained, gemlike perfection[1] that
longer pieces are hard-pressed to match, and the Rubaiyat definitely take
their place among the best of the breed.

Indeed, today's poem has attained an almost proverbial status quite
independent of its Biblical origins (see Notes) - while 'the writing on the
wall' is definitely from the Bible, the image of a Moving Finger has, IMHO,
been popularised far more by Fitzgerald's verse.

[1] yes, we've used the phrase before. It's still the right one :)


'Rubaiyat' (singular 'rubai') is simply the name for the verse form (Arabic
'ruba`iyat, singular 'ruba`iyah', a quatrain)

The full title of Fitzgerald's translation (or adaptation, if you prefer) is
'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam'. The individual rubai are untitled, of
course; I've just followed the standard practice of using the first line as
the title. Also, since we've set a precedent, I've continued to list the
author as Khayyam rather than Fitzgerald.

Today's quatrain is based on a passage from the Old Testament, specifically
Daniel 5. Quoting sections from the King James Version:

  (5:1) Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his
  lords, and drank wine before the thousand. (5:2) Belshazzar, whiles
  he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which
  his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in
  Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines,
  might drink therein. (5:3) Then they brought the golden vessels
  that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at
  Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines,
  drank in them. (5:4) They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold,
  and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. (5:5) In
  the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against
  the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace: and
  the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. (5:6) Then the king's
  countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints
  of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. (5:7)
  The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the
  soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon,
  Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof,
  shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck,
  and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom. (5:8) Then came in all the
  king's wise men: but they could not read the writing, nor make known to
  the king the interpretation thereof.

and later on

  (5:23) But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they
  have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy
  lords, thy wives, and thy concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou
  hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and
  stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know: and the God in whose hand thy
  breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified: (5:24)
  Then was the part of the hand sent from him; and this writing was written.
  (5:25) And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL,
  UPHARSIN. (5:26) This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath
  numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. (5:27) TEKEL; Thou art weighed in
  the balances, and art found wanting. (5:28) PERES; Thy kingdom is divided,
  and given to the Medes and Persians. (5:29) Then commanded Belshazzar, and
  they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck,
  and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler
  in the kingdom. (5:30) In that night was Belshazzar the king of the
  Chaldeans slain.


There's an ex.html

Some excerpts

  As one who found the freest current for his delicate and impressionable
  genius in the translation and adaptation of the works of others, Edward
  FitzGerald stands as far aloof from the ordinary activities of the
  literature of his day as his life was remote from that of the world in


  Of work which was entirely original, FitzGerald left little. The charming
  verses, written at Naseby in the spring of 1831 under the influence of
  "the merry old writers of more manly times," and printed in Hone's
  Year-Book under the title The Meadows in Spring, were thought, at their
  first appearance, to be the work of Charles Lamb and were welcomed by
  their supposed author with good-humoured envy. Diffidence of his own
  powers and slowness in composition prevented FitzGerald from rapid
  publication. It was not until 1851 that the dialogue Euphranor appeared, a
  discourse upon youth and systems of education set in the scenery of
  Cambridge, amid the early summer flowering of college gardens and "the
  measured pulse of racing oars." Its limpid transparency of style was not
  achieved without an effort: in 1846, when FitzGerald was writing it, he
  alluded to his difficulties with the task in a letter to his friend Edward
  Cowell, and its ease and clearness, like those of Tennyson's poetry,
  appear to have been the fruit of constant polish and revision.


  We've run a couple of pieces on the Rubaiyat as a whole (with excerpts):
    poem #162, poem #342.

  While the quatrains are wonderful poems in their own right, they take on a
  whole new dimension when read in the context of the complete Rubaiyat. See

  There's a searchale KJV at


Toads -- Philip Larkin

My turn to contribute to the theme:
(Poem #544) Toads
 Why should I let the toad work
 Squat on my life?
 Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
 And drive the brute off?

 Six days of the week it soils
 With its sickening poison -
 Just for paying a few bills!
 That's out of proportion.

 Lots of folk live on their wits:
 Lecturers, lispers,
 Losers, loblolly-men, louts-
 They don't end as paupers;

 Lots of folk live up lanes
 With fires in a bucket,
 Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
 They seem to like it.

 Their nippers have got bare feet,
 Their unspeakable wives
 Are skinny as whippets - and yet
 No one actually _starves_.

 Ah, were I courageous enough
 To shout, Stuff your pension!
 But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
 That dreams are made on:

 For something sufficiently toad-like
 Squats in me, too;
 Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
 And cold as snow,

 And will never allow me to blarney
 My way of getting
 The fame and the girl and the money
 All at one sitting.

 I don't say, one bodies the other
 One's spiritual truth;
 But I do say it's hard to lose either,
 When you have both.
-- Philip Larkin
A typical Larkin poem: dry and to the point, it echoes the quiet desperation
which infuses much of his work. The comparison between the two toads of the
title [1] - the sickening poison of the toad 'work', and the lack of courage of
his own baser self - is not overdone at all; instead, Larkin's matter-of-fact
tone reinforces the sense he is trying to convey.


[1] Alliteration watch!


" ... Philip Larkin is the poet of the emotionally underprivileged. He speaks
for the vast majority of people, for whom life is a series of successive
disillusionments. His poetic personae are invariably unprepossessing - the man
with bicycle clips on his trousers, sitting in an empty church; the outsider,
looking in on the merrymaking of other people; the traveler who has (both
literally and figuratively) missed the boat. Yet if we describe his subject as
being 'the short end of the stick', all we can say is that he has a firm grasp
of it; like Thomas Hardy (one of his early influences), he is an intelligent
skeptic, rather than a shallow cynic or a bitter loser.

Larkin's distaste for the spectacular extends itself to the _manner_ of his
poetry; his verse exhibits the same precision and clarity as does that of Yeats.
His relatively small poetic output reflects his sense of balance and his
attention to detail... "

        -- Gary Geddes, 20th Century Poetry and Poetics

(The above paragraphs are from memory, so they're not verbatim. The overall
sense is correct, though - t.).

Executive -- John Betjeman

My contribution to the work theme...
(Poem #543) Executive
I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner;
I have a Slimline brief-case and I use the firm's Cortina.
In every roadside hostelry from here to Burgess Hill
The maîtres d'hôtel all know me well, and let me sign the bill.

You ask me what it is I do. Well, actually, you know,
I'm partly a liaison man, and partly P.R.O.
Essentially, I integrate the current export drive
And basically I'm viable from ten o'clock till five.

For vital off-the-record work - that's talking transport-wise -
I've a scarlet Aston-Martin - and does she go? She flies!
Pedestrians and dogs and cats, we mark them down for slaughter.
I also own a speedboat which has never touched the water.

She's built of fibre-glass, of course. I call her 'Mandy Jane'
After a bird I used to know - No soda, please, just plain -
And how did I acquire her? Well, to tell you about that
And to put you in the picture, I must wear my other hat.

I do some mild developing. The sort of place I need
Is a quiet country market town that's rather run to seed
A luncheon and a drink or two, a little savoir faire -
I fix the Planning Officer, the Town Clerk and the Mayor.

And if some Preservationist attempts to interfere
A 'dangerous structure' notice from the Borough Engineer
Will settle any buildings that are standing in our way -
The modern style, sir, with respect, has really come to stay.
-- John Betjeman
Despite the common complaint that having to study poems in school 'ruins'
them, I've always found my textbooks a lovely source of new poets. One such
happy discovery was Betjeman, one of my favourite modern poets, and while
'Executive' is far from his best poem, it was the one that got me hooked on
his work.

The poem's attractions are evident. 'Executive' is not just a good poem; it
is a distinctive one (indeed, much of Betjeman's poetry is - he has a very
distinct and original style, though it is hard to say just what makes it so
individual). The quick-paced, breezy monologue, laden with buzzwords,
captures the image of the yuppie to perfection - note the almost comically
boastful tone, the attention paid to status symbols, and ruthless efficiency
the narrator upholds as an ideal. Note, also, the hilarious parody of
corporate speak in the second verse - indeed, I was surprised to see that
the poem was written back in 1974; a phrase like 'essentially I integrate
the current export drive' seems straight out of Dilbert.


Betjeman, Sir John
b. Aug. 28, 1906, London, Eng.
d. May 19, 1984, Trebetherick, Cornwall

British poet known for his nostalgia for the near past, his exact sense of
place, and his precise rendering of social nuance, which made him widely
read in England at a time when much of what he wrote about was rapidly
vanishing. The poet, in near-Tennysonian rhythms, satirized lightly the
promoters of empty and often destructive "progress" and the foibles of his
own comfortable class. As an authority on English architecture and
topography, he did much to popularize Victorian and Edwardian building and
to protect what remained of it from destruction.

The son of a prosperous businessman, Betjeman grew up in a London suburb,
where T.S. Eliot was one of his teachers. He later studied at Marlborough
College (a public school) and Magdalen College, Oxford. The years from early
childhood until he left Oxford were detailed in Summoned by Bells (1960),
blank verse interspersed with lyrics.

Betjeman's first book of verse, Mount Zion, and his first book on
architecture, Ghastly Good Taste, appeared in 1933. Churches, railway
stations, and other elements of a townscape figure largely in both books.
Four more volumes of poetry appeared before the publication of Collected
Poems (1958). His later collections were High and Low (1966), A Nip in the
Air (1974), Church Poems (1981), and Uncollected Poems (1982). Betjemen's
celebration of the more settled Britain of yesteryear seemed to touch a
responsive chord in a public that was suffering the uprootedness of World
War II and its austere aftermath.

Betjeman's prose works include several guidebooks to English counties; First
and Last Loves (1952), essays on places and buildings; The English Town in
the Last Hundred Years (1956); and English Churches (1964; with Basil
Clarke). He was knighted in 1969, and in 1972 he succeeded C. Day-Lewis as
poet laureate of England. [And was succeeded in 1984 by Ted Hughes - m.]

        -- EB


For another biography, see [broken link]

And while you're at it, take a look at the rest of the official Betjeman


p.s. Thanks to Thomas for manning the fort while I was away

Will Consider Situation -- Ogden Nash

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor, as part of his
guest theme "Poems at Work":
(Poem #542) Will Consider Situation
 There here are words of radical advice for a young man looking for a job;
 Young man, be a snob.
 Yes, if you are in search of arguments against starting at the bottom,
 Why I've gottem.
 Let the personnel managers differ;
 It,s obvious that you will get on faster at the top than at the bottom because
there are more people at the bottom than at the top so naturally the competition
at the bottom is stiffer.
 If you need any further proof that my theory works
 Well, nobody can deny that presidents get paid more than vice-presidents and
vice-presidents get paid more than clerks.
 Stop looking at me quizzically;
 I want to add that you will never achieve fortune in a job that makes you
uncomfortable physically.
 When anybody tells you that hard jobs are better for you than soft jobs be sure
to repeat this text to them,
 Postmen tramp around all day through rain and snow just to deliver other
people's in cozy air-conditioned offices checks to them.
 You don't need to interpret tea leaves stuck in a cup
 To understand that people who work sitting down get paid more than people who
work standing up.
 Another thing about having a comfortable job is you not only accommodate more
 You get more leisure.
 So that when you find you have worked so comfortably that your waistline is a
 You correct it with golf or tennis.
 Whereas is in an uncomfortable job like piano-moving or stevedoring you
 You have no time to exercise, you just continue to bulge.
 To sum it up, young man, there is every reason to refuse a job that will make
heavy demands on you corporally or manually,
 And the only intelligent way to start your career is to accept a sitting
position paying at least twenty-five thousand dollars annually.
-- Ogden Nash
A poem that's evidently the theme song of management institutes (and I say that
being a somewhat unlikely MBA myself).


[thomas adds]

Inflation has not been kind to Ogden Nash - now, how many poets can you say
_that_ about? - ... apart from that, though, this is a wonderfully typical piece
of Nashery. Not as good as some of his best work, but delightful nonetheless.


You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly -- U A Fanthorpe

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor, as part of his
theme "Poems at Work":
(Poem #541) You Will Be Hearing From Us Shortly
 You feel adequate to the demands of this position?
 What qualities do you feel you
 Personally have to offer?

 Let us consider your application form.
 Your qualifications, though impressive, are
 Not, we must admit, precisely what
 We had in mind. Would you care
 To defend their relevance?

 Now your age. Perhaps you feel able
 To make your own comment about that,
 Too? We are conscious ourselves
 Of the need for a candidate with precisely
 The right degree of immaturity.
                                        So glad we agree.

 And now a delicate matter: your looks.
 You do appreciate this work involves
 Contact with the actual public? Might they,
 Perhaps, find your appearance
                                        Quite so.

 And your accent. That is the way
 You have always spoken, is it? What
 Of your education? We mean, of course,
 Where were you educated?
                                And how
 Much of a handicap is that to you,
 Would you say?

                Married, children,
 We see. The usual dubious
 Desire to perpetuate what had better
 Not have happened at all. We do not
 Ask what domestic desires shimmer
 Behind that vaguely unsuitable address.

 And you were born--?
                                        Yes. Pity.

 So glad we agree.
-- U A Fanthorpe
Nothing much to add on this, except it made me laugh out loud when I read it in
the Oxford Book of Work. I love the image it conjures up of a malign interviewer
peering down in disgust at the unfortunate interviewee. I've been there too...