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The Hag -- Robert Herrick

A poem for All Hallows' Eve:
(Poem #593) The Hag
      The hag is astride
      This night for to ride,
 The devil and she together;
      Through thick and through thin,
      Now out and then in,
 Though ne'er so foul be the weather.

      A thorn or a burr
      She takes for a spur,
 With a lash of a bramble she rides now;
      Through brakes and through briars,
      O'er ditches and mires,
 She follows the spirit that guides now.

      No beast for his food
      Dare now range the wood,
 But hush'd in his lair he lies lurking;
      While mischiefs, by these,
      On land and on seas,
 At noon of night are a-working.

      The storm will arise
      And trouble the skies;
 This night, and more for the wonder,
      The ghost from the tomb
      Affrighted shall come,
 Call'd out by the clap of the thunder.
-- Robert Herrick
A wonderfully spooky poem, perfect for Halloween. I first read it at the age
of seven(ish), in a children's anthology titled (rather immodestly)
'SuperBook'. More than the poem, though, I was captivated at the time by the
accompanying illustration, by Victor Ambrus... come to think of it, that was
probably the first Ambrus picture I'd ever seen. Now, though, he forms a
cherished part of my bookshelf - King Arthur, Robin Hood, the Arabian
Nights, all those gorgeous Hamlyn titles would be completely different
without Ambrus' distinctive style to further their enchantment.

Regarding the poem itself I have not much to say. Herrick's verse, as
always, is possessed of a remarkable felicity of rhythm and rhyme; the
scansion is effortless, the alliteration unobtrusive yet effective, and the
words - rather, the _sounds_ of the words - remain clear in your mind long
after the mere sense is forgotten... if, like me, you delight in technical
mastery for its own sake, you'll love this poem.


PS. Aren't you glad we've stopped running sonnets? I know I am <grin>.


A biography, critical assessment, and links to several archives of Herrick
poems can be found at poem #398

Here's an example of Victor Ambrus' magical art:


 - also called ALL HALLOWS' EVE or ALL HALLOWS' EVENING: a holy or hallowed
evening observed on October 31, the eve of All Saints' Day. In modern times,
it is the occasion for pranks and for children requesting treats or
threatening tricks.

In ancient Britain and Ireland, the Celtic festival of Samhain eve was
observed on October 31, at the end of summer. This date was also the eve of
the new year in both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon times and was the occasion for
one of the ancient fire festivals when huge bonfires were set on hilltops to
frighten away evil spirits. The date was connected with the return of herds
from pasture, and laws and land tenures were renewed. The souls of the dead
were thought to revisit their homes on this day, and the autumnal festival
acquired sinister significance, with ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black
cats, fairies, and demons of all kinds said to be roaming about. It was the
time to placate the supernatural powers controlling the processes of nature.
In addition, Halloween was thought to be the most favourable time for
divinations concerning marriage, luck, health, and death.

        -- EB

Sonnet: England in 1819 -- Percy Bysshe Shelley

(Poem #592) Sonnet: England in 1819
 An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king, --
 Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
 Through public scorn, -- mud from a muddy spring, --
 Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
 But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
 Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow, --
 A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field, --
 An army, which liberticide and prey
 Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield, --
 Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
 Religion Christless, Godless -- a book sealed;
 A Senate, -- Time's worst statute unrepealed, --
 Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
 Burst, to illumine our tempestous day.
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley
A nicely vitriolic sonnet - Shelley seems to have warmed to his theme and
produced an uncharacteristically[1] good poem. The tirade is delivered with
a sure touch, verging on the heavy-handed, but never going overboard, and
ending with a very appropriate image - indeed, one that blends the twin
messages of decay and hope almost perfectly.

In form, this is a Shakespearean sonnet (12+2 rather than 8+6), though the
rhyme scheme doesn't follow that of either the traditional Shakespearean or
the Spenserean sonnet.

[1] strictly IMHO, I hasten to add, but I do not in general care for


Well, it looks like matters still hadn't improved since Wordsworth's "London
1802" <g>. England in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars was apparently a
hotbed of discontent:

  The end of the long wars against Napoleon did not usher in a period of
  peace and contentment. Although both agricultural and industrial
  production had greatly, if unevenly, increased during the wars, the total
  national debt had nearly quadrupled since 1793. Of the total annual public
  revenue after 1815, more than half had to be employed to pay interest on
  this debt. Furthermore, the abolition of Pitt's income tax in 1816 meant
  that the debt burden fell on consumers--many of them with low incomes--and
  on industrialists. The archaic and regressive nature of the national
  taxation system, along with a mounting scale of locally levied poor-law
  rates, which fell heavily on middle-income groups, provoked widespread
  anxiety and criticism.

        -- EB

The king in the opening line was George III.


For a biography and assessment see the notes on Ozymandias: poem #22

Some more annotations:

Another annotated version, in hypertext:

[The above site seems to have been developed as a teaching aid - the
hyperlinked pages are highly interesting]

More on the Peterloo massacre:

And Wordsworth's London 1802 can be found at poem #128


Sonnet XIV -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(Poem #591) Sonnet XIV
 If thou must love me, let it be for nought
 Except for love's sake only. Do not say
 I love her for her smile--her look--her way
 Of speaking gently,--for a trick of thought
 That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
 A sense of ease on such a day--
 For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
 Be changed, or change for thee,--and love, so wrought,
 May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
 Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheek dry,--
 A creature might forget to weep, who bore
 Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
 But love me for love's sake, that evermore
 Thou may'st love on, through love's eternity.
-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
At first glance this seems to be a most curious love sonnet - one that
consciously revokes the usual conventions of the genre, offering instead an
abstract, almost philosophical vision of the emotion. It seems especially
surprising when taken in the context of Elizabeth Barrett's love for Robert
Browning, a love that gave rise to some of the most emotionally charged
poetry ever written [1]... surely a passion that deep should be expressed in
words more specific than these?

To answer this question, it might be useful to look a bit more closely at
the poem's compositional background. At the time of writing this poem,
"[Elizabeth Barrett was unsure] what sort of a gift her heart would make to
[Robert] Browning since she was not young (thirty-eight), six years an
invalid, broken-spirited in guilt and sorrow... So for a long time Browning
had to accede to her formula, urged in the Sonnets, that he loved her for
nothing at all, just because he loved her" [3].

Now the poem begins to make more sense - indeed, it takes on an almost
heroic quality, in the way the poet denies her own feelings for the sake of
the happiness of her beloved [4]. Seen in this light, it's obvious why there
are no elaborate conceits, no professions of undying love and eternal
devotion; instead, Barrett and Browning are, in Donne's marvellous words,
"by a love so much refined / That [their] selves know not what it is" [5].


[1] Specifically, Barrett's masterpiece, the sequence of 'Sonnets from the
Portuguese' [2], of which today's poem is the 14th.
[2] Robert's nickname for Elizabeth was 'my little Portuguese', because she
was dark.
[4] It might be argued that this is a misguided heroism or (even worse) a
tawdry self-dramatization. In any case, that's more a personal judgement
than a critical one.
[5] poem #330


The most well-known of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'Sonnets from the
Portuguese', and possibly the most anthologized love poem ever, is her
famous 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways', which you can read at
poem #269. This link also has a biography and some critical analysis.

The complete 'Sonnets' can be found at
[broken link]

The Victorian Web has a wealth of resources on EBB:

For another sonnet which seems to go against every rule in the book, read
the Bard's glorious 'My Mistress' Eyes', Sonnet CXXX, archived at
poem #44.

Sonnet XLIII -- Edna St Vincent Millay

Guest poem submitted by Jose de Abreu:
(Poem #590) Sonnet XLIII
 What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
 I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
 Under my head till morning; but the rain
 Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
 Upon the glass and listen for reply,
 And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
 For unremembered lads that not again
 Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

 Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
 Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
 Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
 I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
 I only know that summer sang in me
 A little while, that in me sings no more.
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
I'm truly indebted to the minstrels for introducing me to the works of Edna
St Vincent Millay. I like her poems for their sweet and simple nature, with
often a tinge of sorrow; and today's poem is no exception.


[thomas adds]

On content: While I don't _quite_ share Martin's (and Jose's, evidently)
fondness for Millay, I do like this poem: images like 'the lonely tree' and
'the rain ... full of ghosts' are utterly enchanting. Perhaps it has
something to do with the time of year - Millay's gentle melancholy slots
perfectly into a cold and rainy October like the one we're having right now.

On form: Today's sonnet is cast in the classic Petrarchan form, of which
Britannica has this to say:

"The Petrarchan sonnet characteristically treats its theme in two parts. The
first eight lines, the  octave, state a problem, ask a question, or express
an emotional tension. The last six lines, the sestet, resolve the problem,
answer the question, or relieve the tension. The octave is rhymed abbaabba.
The rhyme scheme of the sestet varies; it may be cdecde, cdccdc, or cdedce
... In most cases the form [is] adapted to the staple metre of the
language--e.g., the alexandrine (12-syllable iambic line) in France and
iambic pentameter in English."

        -- EB

Although I wouldn't call the sestet of today's poem a resolution, it
certainly betokens a quietude that's absent in the octave...


Sonnet Reversed -- Rupert Brooke

Guest poem submitted by Sunil Iyengar:
(Poem #589) Sonnet Reversed
 Hand trembling towards hand; the amazing lights
 Of heart and eye. They stood on supreme heights.

 Ah, the delirious weeks of honeymoon!
    Soon they returned, and, after strange adventures,
 Settled at Balham by the end of June.
    Their money was in Can. Pacs. B. Debentures,
 And in Antofagastas. Still he went
    Cityward daily; still she did abide
 At home. And both were really quite content
    With work and social pleasures. Then they died.
 They left three children (besides George, who drank):
    The eldest Jane, who married Mr. Bell,
 William, the head-clerk in the County Bank,
    And Henry, a stock-broker, doing well.
-- Rupert Brooke
Another Georgian poem. We normally acquaint Brooke with sober patriotism
("The Soldier") or English nostalgia ("Grantchester"), and his reputation as
a WWI poet who died at 28 obscures his sense of humor. A lover of Donne,
Brooke reveled in irony and metaphysical conceits, although here we have
plain old wit on the order of Byron. This sonnet starts from the "supreme
heights" of the conventional final couplet, then descends into mundane
realities: the daily commute and family tree, both anticlimactic. I'm
unclear about the references in lines 6 and 7, but the context is
sufficiently developed to secure enjoyment of the poem.

Sunil Iyengar.

[thomas adds]

Balham: district in Wandsworth, Greater London.
Can. Pacs. B. Debentures: securities or bonds in (possibly) Canada Packers.
Antofagastas: Antofagasta is a city in Chile.

Actually, I think Can. Pacs. is more likely to be the Canadian Pacific
Railway, one of those gigantic engineering projects which the Victorian Era
was famous for. Antofagastas, meanwhile, are probably a slang term for South
American government bonds. (Bond market terminology is a fascinating beast:
you have Treasuries in the USA, Gilts in the UK, Tresors in France, Bunds in
Germany... then there are Yankees, Samurais, Kangaroos... ).


Terence, this is stupid stuff -- A E Housman

Guest poem submitted by Reed C. Bowman:
(Poem #588) Terence, this is stupid stuff
  "Terence, this is stupid stuff:
 You eat your victuals fast enough;
 There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
 To see the rate you drink your beer.
 But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
 It gives a chap the belly-ache.
 The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
 It sleeps well, the horned head:
 We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
 To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
 Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
 Your friends to death before their time
 Moping melancholy mad:
 Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad."

  Why, if 'tis dancing you would be
 There's brisker pipes than poetry.
 Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
 Or why was Burton built on Trent?
 Oh, many a peer of England brews
 Livelier liquor than the Muse,
 And malt does more than Milton can
 To justify God's ways to man.
 Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
 For fellows whom it hurts to think:
 Look into the pewter pot
 To see the world as the world's not.
 And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
 The mischief is that 'twill not last.
 Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
 And left my necktie god knows where,
 And carried half-way home, or near,
 Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
 Then the world seemed none so bad,
 And I myself a sterling lad;
 And down in lovely muck I've lain,
 Happy till I woke again.
 Then I saw the morning sky:
 Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
 The world, it was the old world yet,
 I was I, my things were wet,
 And nothing now remained to do
 But begin the game anew.

  Therefore, since the world has still
 Much good, but much less good than ill,
 And while the sun and moon endure
 Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
 I'd face it as a wise man would,
 And train for ill and not for good.
 'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
 Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
 Out of a stem that scored the hand
 I wrung it in a weary land.
 But take it: if the smack is sour,
 The better for the embittered hour;
 It should do good to heart and head
 When your soul is in my soul's stead;
 And I will friend you, if I may,
 In the dark and cloudy day.

  There was a king reigned in the East:
 There, when kings will sit to feast,
 They get their fill before they think
 With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
 He gathered all that springs to birth
 From the many-venomed earth;
 First a little, thence to more,
 He sampled all her killing store;
 And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
 Sate the king when healths went round.
 They put arsenic in his meat
 And stared aghast to watch him eat;
 They poured strychnine in his cup
 And shook to see him drink it up:
 They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
 Them it was their poison hurt
        - I tell the tale that I heard told.
 Mithridates, he died old.
-- A E Housman
Another poem I love, and memorized long ago (and still have memorized) is
brought strongly to mind by Baudelaire's "Enivrez-vous". It's a poem in
defense of gloomy poetry, and its take on the situation, and the relative
merits of alcohol and poetry, is a little different from Baudelaire's. It's
from the collection _A Shropshire Lad_.

The poem seems to require some notes and discussion. First of all, "Terence"
is a name Housman used in his poetry to refer to himself. I don't know
enough about the ancient comic playwright Terence (Publius Terentius Afer),
or for that matter about Housman himself, to know what reference Housman may
have intended by this.


Now, on the poem's outline:

It begins with a complaint by a friend of the poet for the gloominess of his
poems, asking him to sing, or pipe, a happier tune.

The second section is the poet's direct response, scoffing at the idea of
happy poems for their own sake. If you want false (and fleeting) cheer, he
says, drink beer; when you return to the world of reality it will be as
dismal as ever.

The third section states and recommends his philosophy: prepare your heart
and mind for the worst, that you may endure it. In this, the grim wisdom of
bleak poems - gleaned from the poet's own bitter experience - may aid you.
In the last two lines of this section, the could almost be said to have
shifted from the poet to the poem itself.

The final section is a poem within a poem. It is nicely self-referential, in
that it both illustrates the gloomy poetry Housman is defending, and
provides a parable illustrating the philosophy of the third section: just as
Mithridates outlasted the unprepared feasters and imbibers (and all the
other unprepared kings of the East) by inoculating himself against poisons,
so can one innoculate oneself against all ills by judiciously taking of the
bitter wisdom in advance.


Much could be said on the threads and metaphors and interesting usages
running through the poem, but I don't want to write a book here. Do take
some time to look at all the liquid imagery through the whole poem, though.
Have we any comments so far on the list on the ancient Northern metaphor of
the Mead of Poetry?

Finally, just a few footnotes here on matters which may not be obvious:

Burton-upon-Trent is a city famous for its breweries. (I don't know if
Ludlow fair was also particularly famous for beer or beer drinking, but,
well, any fair would probably do.)

At the beginning of _Paradise Lost_, Milton invokes the Heavenly Muse to
help him "assert Eternal Providence,/And justify the ways of God to men."

"Mithridates", properly spelt "Mithradates", is King Mithradates VI (the
Great) of Pontus, in Asia Minor. He reigned from 120 to 63 BCE - fifty-seven
years. The story of the poison comes from Pliny the Elder's _Natural
History_. In the end, betrayed by his son, he tried to commit suicide, but
could not poison himself, so he ordered a mercenary to kill him.

Enjoy, all.


Strugnell's Rubaiyat -- Wendy Cope

This is but one of several works attributed by Wendy Cope to the
impressionable South London poet Jason Strugnell, whose misfortune has been
to fall under the all-too-obvious influence of one great poet after
another... here, Strugnell encounters Edward Fitzgerald and Omar Khayyam:
(Poem #587) Strugnell's Rubaiyat

 Awake! for Morning on the Pitch of Night
 Has whistled and has put the Stars to Flight.
 The incandescent football in the East
 Has brought the splendour of Tulse Hill to Light.


 Another Pint! Come, loosen up, have Fun!
 Fling off your Hang-ups and enjoy the Sun:
 Time's Spacecraft all too soon will carry you
 Away - and Lo! the Countdown has begun


 Here with a Bag of Crisps beneath the Bough,
 A Can of Beer, a Radio - and Thou
 Beside me half asleep in Brockwell Park
 And Brockwell Park is Paradise enow.


 Some Men to everlasting Bliss aspire,
 Their lives, Auditions for the heavenly Choir:
 Oh, use your Credit Card and waive the Rest -
 Brave Music of a distant Amplifier!


 Oh, come with Strugnell - Argument's no Tonic.
 One thing's certain: Life flies supersonic.
 One thing's certain: Man's Evasion chronic -
 The Flower that's blown can never be bionic.


 The Moving Telex writes, and having writ,
 Moves on; nor all thy Therapy nor Wit
 Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
 Nor Tide nor Daz wash out a word of it.
-- Wendy Cope
Wendy Cope is one of the most gifted parodists around, and Strugnell's
Rubaiyat invariably has me laughing out loud - especially the line about
"the incandescent football in the East". Actually, it's not just the one
line; the entire poem is blisteringly funny, transforming the sublime to the
ridiculous with effortless ease. Where Khayyam talks amout Life and the Soul
and Desire, Strugnell's subjects are humbler: the distant Amplifier, the
Moving Telex, Therapy, Tide and Daz...


PS. Time's Spacecraft - perhaps a descendant of Time's Winged Chariot? See
Andrew Marvell, poem #158


The complete Rubaiyat can be found at

We've run a few excerpts from it in the past (including several of the
verses parodied above); you can read them at
poem #162
poem #342
poem #545

[Britannica on the Art of Parody]

(Greek paroidía, "a song sung alongside another"), in literature, a form of
satirical criticism or comic mockery that imitates the style and manner of a
particular writer or school of writers so as to emphasize the weakness of
the writer or the overused conventions of the school. Differing from
burlesque by the depth of its technical penetration and from travesty, which
treats dignified subjects in a trivial manner, true parody mercilessly
exposes the tricks of manner and thought of its victim yet cannot be written
without a thorough appreciation of the work that it ridicules.

        -- EB

[thomas on the ditto]

Incongruity, technical ingenuity, the inversion of the normal relationship
between form and content, the conscious walking of a fine line between
structural exactitude and semantic absurdity... I like parodies <grin>.

[More Links]

poem #400
poem #468

Oft-parodied poems:
poem #85
poem #88
poem #90

Poems run specifically for their parodies:
poem #376
poem #378
poem #380

The most ingenious parody I've ever read:


One of the most notorious hoaxes of recent years is Alan Sokal's classic
paper "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics
of Quantum Gravity", which you can read at

Paul Boghossian has an interesting followup thereto:

And finally, I leave you with this

[Bonus Poem]

 I liked the project not one bit.
   I didn't think I had a hope,
 But got it done, and this is it:
   A parody of Wendy Cope!

        -- Kit Wright

The Anvil -- Rudyard Kipling

(Poem #586) The Anvil
 England's on the anvil -- hear the hammers ring --
 Clanging from the Severn to the Tyne!
 Never was a blacksmith like our Norman King --
 England's being hammered, hammered, hammered into line.

 England's on the anvil! Heavy are the blows!
 (But the work will be a marvel when it's done.)
 Little bits of Kingdoms cannot stand against their foes.
 England's being hammered, hammered, hammered into one!

 There shall be one people -- it shall serve one Lord --
 (Neither Priest nor Baron shall escape!)
 It shall have one speech and law, soul and strength and sword.
 England's being hammered, hammered, hammered into shape!
-- Rudyard Kipling
Note: "Norman Conquest, 1066", from Kipling's Songs Written for C.R.L.
Fletcher's "A History of England"

A striking poem - both for the image of England being forged like a sword
beneath the Norman hammer, and for the flawless manner in which the imagery
is echoed in the verse. You can almost hear the rhythmic strokes of the
blacksmith's hammer, and picture the steady, inexorable reshaping of the
country beneath the invaders.


The complete set of 'A History of England' verses can be found at
[broken link]

Read in order, they make an interesting verse tour through English history.

Another fascinating look at the history of England is 'Puck of Pooks' Hill'.
See [broken link] for an online version,
and poem #493 for one of the
poems we've run on Minstrels.

And, of course, there are no shortage of other Kipling poems run - in
particluar, a biography is attached to poem #17


Split the Lark -- R T Smith

Guest poem submitted by Uma Raman:
(Poem #585) Split the Lark
        'Split the lark, and you'll find the Music -
         Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled - ' (Emily Dickinson)

 Rend the song to splinters
 the way it tears the air.
 Trace it over meadows,
 briars, spruce, the bristle

 of crouching hares
 until the source is clear -
 a breast of softest yellow.
 Then lure it to a snare,

 shear away the feathers,
 delicate speckling,
 the finest silk of skin.
 Plunder with your fingers

 the colours cloaked within
 windpipe, jellies, heart
 of the fallen meadowlark -
 iris, ginger, viridian.

 Savage as a raven's beak,
 will you find the bliss
 that engined into song -
 What you thought the art

 beyond counterfeit is gone.
 Was it refined disguise
 or a tithe of grace
 made this bird a wonder,

 perching amid oak leaves,
 flourishing its skein
 of honesty and laughter -
 In scarlet experiment
 your instrument is riven,
 your palms a criminal-red
 soiling morning grass.
 Now, my skeptic, do you
 still doubt your bird was true?
-- R T Smith
From 'S-p-l-i-t---t-h-e---L-a-r-k----Selected-Poems-by-R.T.-SMITH'.

The poems of 'Split the Lark' record one man's mission to find the mythic in
the social, the crucial in the casual, the supernatural in the natural. R.
T. Smith's precise images and quietly modulated music cast a wide net,
engaging Native American customs and history, the forested mysteries of the
American South, the habits of birds and one traveler's ruminations on the
people, conflicts and stories of Ireland. This gathering of poems scanning
two decades displays, as Eamon Grennan said of Smith's collection
Trespasser, "a language at once taut and sensuous, speedy but carefully

R. T. Smith was born in Washington, D.C., and has lived in Georgia, North
Carolina, Alabama and Virginia. He has taught at Appalachian State
University, Auburn University, where he served as Alumni Writer-in-Residence
and co-editor of Southern Humanities Review, and Washington and Lee
University. His collections The Cardinal Heart and Trespasser were nominees
for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, and he has received grants in literature
from the National Endowment for the Arts and Arts International. In 1998 he
was Artist-in-Residence at the National Historical Park at Harpers Ferry,
WV. He has been a resident at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, the Wurlitzer
Foundation and the Millay Colony and has spent extensive time in Ireland,
notably Galway. Mr Smith, whose collection of stories is entitled Faith,
currently resides in Rockbridge County, Virginia, where he edits Shenandoah
and is currently working on an anthology to be entitled Shine in Darkness,
100 Poems of the Moon.

Uma Raman.

PS. Emily Dickinson's original 'Split the Lark' is archived at poem #580

History of the Night -- Jorge Luis Borges

Guest poem submitted by Dr. Sudha Shastri
(Poem #584) History of the Night
 Throughout the course of the generations
 men constructed the night.
 At first she was blindness;
 thorns raking bare feet,
 fear of wolves.
 We shall never know who forged the word
 for the interval of shadow
 dividing the two twilights;
 we shall never know in what age it came to mean
 the starry hours.
 Others created the myth.
 They made her the mother of the unruffled Fates
 that spin our destiny,
 they sacrificed black ewes to her, and the cock
 who crows his own death.
 The Chaldeans assigned to her twelve houses;
 to Zeno, infinite words.
 She took shape from Latin hexameters
 and the terror of Pascal.
 Luis de Leon saw in her the homeland
 of his stricken soul.
 Now we feel her to be inexhaustible
 like an ancient wine
 and no one can gaze on her without vertigo
 and time has charged her with eternity.

 And to think that she wouldn't exist
 except for those fragile instruments, the eyes.
-- Jorge Luis Borges
This is a poem I stumbled upon while hunting for magic realist narratives. I
responded instinctively with liking, and am sending it even though I have
not checked some of the allusions in the poem (such as the Chaldeans and the
terror of Pascal).

It also reminded me of Joseph Blanco White's poem on Night.

Sudha Shastri


The Joseph Blanco White poem can be found at

For a Borges biography and assessment see poem #401

Envoi (1919) -- Ezra Pound

In response to yesterday's Waller piece, a guest poem from
Sunil Iyengar ...
(Poem #583) Envoi (1919)
 Go, dumb-born book,
 Tell her that sang me once that song of Lawes:
 Hadst thou but song
 As thou hast subjects known,
 Then were there cause in thee that should condone
 Even my faults that heavy upon me lie,
 And build her glories their longevity.

 Tell her that sheds
 Such treasure in the air,
 Recking naught else but that her graces give
 Life to the moment,
 I would bid them live
 As roses might, in magic amber laid,
 Red overwrought with orange and all made
 One substance and one color
 Braving time.

 Tell her that goes
 With song upon her lips
 But sings not out the song, nor knows
 The maker of it, some other mouth,
 May be as fair as hers,
 Might, in new ages, gain her worshipers,
 When our two dusts with Waller's shall be laid,
 Siftings on siftings in oblivion,
 Till change hath broken down
 All things save beauty alone.
-- Ezra Pound
There is much to be admired here. Several factors of the poem compel
memorization: the hit-and-miss rhyme scheme, the hypnotically quaint
diction, and (for me) the spondee-driven last line, which resembles,
prosodically, a favorite poem of Pound's: Donne's "The Ecstasy." (The ending
there is "Small change when we're to bodies gone.") The quantification of
"dust" in the third to last line is mesmerizing. And how about "Siftings on
siftings in oblivion," which anyone would thirst to say aloud?

In the context of "Hugh Selwyn Mauberly," the lyric anticipates the
"Mauberly" sequence, which will have more to say on poetic ambition. The
"oblivions" line I have just quoted will resound with this stanza:

  Thick foliage
  Placid beneath warm suns,
  Tawn fore-shored
  Washed in the cobalt of oblivions.

As for the lines "I would bid them live/As roses might, in magic amber
laid," here we have the beginnings of Pound's misgivings about imagism's
preservative function, whether or not it is really "but an art/In profile."
Earlier, he confessed of modern London:

  Beside this thoroughfare
  The sale of half-hose has
  Long since superseded the cultivation
  Of Pierian roses.

Finally, the reference to "Lawes" in "Envoi" speaks to Harry Lawes, the
composer who set Edmund Waller's "Go, lovely rose" to music. Milton wrote of

  Harry, whose tuneful and well-measured song
  First taught our English music how to span
  Words with just note and accent, not to scan
  With Midas' ears, committing short and long....

(To Mr. H. Lawes, On His Airs)

-- Sunil Iyengar


The Waller poem is at poem #582

A Pound biography and assorted details poem #70

Go, Lovely Rose -- Edmund Waller

Guest poem sent in by Jose De Abreu
(Poem #582) Go, Lovely Rose
     Go, lovely Rose-
 Tell her that wastes her time and me,
     That now she knows,
 When I resemble her to thee,
 How sweet and fair she seems to be.

     Tell her that's young,
 And shuns to have her graces spied,
     That hadst thou sprung
 In deserts where no men abide,
 Thou must have uncommended died.

     Small is the worth
 Of beauty from the light retired:
     Bid her come forth,
 Suffer herself to be desired,
 And not blush so to be admired.

     Then die-that she
 The common fate of all things rare
     May read in thee;
 How small a part of time they share
 That are so wondrous sweet and fair!
-- Edmund Waller
I liked this poem for much the same reasons as I liked Marvell's "To His
Coy Mistress"; this poem though is more simple and yet (to me at least)
more elegant somehow. It appeals to the hopeless romantic in me, I
guess ;-)



Edmund Waller (1606-1687). Born in Hertfordshire, England, Waller was
privately instructed as a young child, then sent to Eton and Cambridge. He
served for several years as a member of Parliament, first as an opponent
of the crown and later as a Royalist. His advocacy of the Royalist cause
and his attempts to moderate between the crown and the Puritans in an
increasingly revolutionary period led to his imprisonment and exile. He
made his peace with Cromwell and returned to England in 1651. When the
monarchy was restored in 1660, Waller regained his seat in Parliament.

Waller was a celebrated poet and wit in his lifetime, and many of his
poems had long circulated in manuscript before the 1645 publication of his
'Poems'. He is known today mostly for his lyrics "Go, Lovely Rose", and
"On a Girdle".

Get Drunk! -- Charles Baudelaire

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #581) Get Drunk!
 Always be drunk.
 That's it!
 The great imperative!
 In order not to feel
 Time's horrid fardel
 bruise your shoulders,
 grinding you into the earth,
 Get drunk and stay that way.
 On what?
 On  wine, poetry, virtue, whatever.
 But get drunk.
 And if you sometimes happen to wake up
 on the porches of a palace,
 in the green grass of a ditch,
 in the dismal loneliness of your own room,
 your drunkenness gone or disappearing,
 ask the wind,
 the wave,
 the star,
 the bird,
 the clock,
 ask everything that flees,
 everything that groans
 or rolls
 or sings,
 everything that speaks,
 ask what time it is;
 and the wind,
 the wave,
 the star,
 the bird,
 the clock
 will answer you:
 "Time to get drunk!
 Don't be martyred slaves of Time,
 Get drunk!
 Stay drunk!
 On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!"
-- Charles Baudelaire
A wonderful celebration of the fact of being alive, shot through with
excitement and exhilaration and sheer unbridled joy: it _is_ good to get off
the wagon and get drunk, all right - especially if you drink of life the way
Baudelaire does. I used to think that Keats' "the blushful Hippocrene" in
Skylark was the epitome of getting drunk poetically, but this is even better
- it's not merely a longing for joy (as Keats' poem was) but a gorgeous
expression thereof...


PS. Credits to Deepa Balakrishnan for suggesting this poem to me.

[thomas adds]

I wasn't able to find a completely satisfying translation of this poem on
the Web; this version is the best of a distinctly average lot. Here's the
original, for the French-speakers among you:


 Il faut être toujours ivre.
 Tout est là:
 c'est l'unique question.
 Pour ne pas sentir
 l'horrible fardeau du Temps
 qui brise vos épaules
 et vous penche vers la terre,
 il faut vous enivrer sans trêve.
 Mais de quoi?
 De vin, de poésie, ou de vertu, à votre guise.
 Mais enivrez-vous.
 Et si quelquefois,
 sur les marches d'un palais,
 sur l'herbe verte d'un fossé,
 dans la solitude morne de votre chambre,
 vous vous réveillez,
 l'ivresse déjà diminuée ou disparue,
 demandez au vent,
 à la vague,
 à l'étoile,
 à l'oiseau,
 à l'horloge,
 à tout ce qui fuit,
 à tout ce qui gémit,
 à tout ce qui roule,
 à tout ce qui chante,
 à tout ce qui parle,
 demandez quelle heure il est;
 et le vent,
 la vague,
 vous répondront:
 "Il est l'heure de s'enivrer!
 Pour n'être pas les esclaves martyrisés du Temps,
 enivrez-vous sans cesse!
 De vin, de poésie ou de vertu, à votre guise."

        -- Charles Baudelaire

Another translation, with an interesting visual, is available at
[broken link]

Split the Lark -- Emily Dickinson

Not had a Dickinson in a while...
(Poem #580) Split the Lark
 Split the Lark--and you'll find the Music--
 Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled--
 Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning
 Saved for your Ear when Lutes be old.

 Loose the Flood--you shall find it patent--
 Gush after Gush, reserved for you--
 Scarlet Experiment! Sceptic Thomas!
 Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?
-- Emily Dickinson
An exquisite poem, mixing imagery in a way that few other poets would be able
to get away with. Countless poets have attempted to capture the essence of
music in a number of images, but Dickinson's is surely one of the most
beautiful I've seen.

Today's poem seems to be highly allusive, and I'm not sure I've not missed a
reference or two. One obvious allusion in the first verse, for instance, is
to the goose that laid the golden eggs (a reading supported by the use of
'bulb'), but do the next two lines refer to anything? Likewise, the second
verse refers to the New Testament story of Doubting Thomas, who refused to
believe that Jesus had risen 'Except I shall see in his hands the print of
the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand
into his side'. And the Bird (tying rather neatly in with the first verse)
is probably a reference to the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ in the
form of a dove, but if anyone has something stronger to suggest do write in.


See the comments after 'There's a Certain Slant of Light', poem #92

The above poem presents another of Dickinson's startlingly original
comparisons, incidentally (again involving music, though on the other side
of the equation).


The story of Doubting Thomas is in John 20:

Here's a discussion of the poem:
[broken link]

The poem has been set to music by Paul Schwartz:
[broken link]


The Professor -- Nissim Ezekiel

Guest poem submitted by Neha Kumar:
(Poem #579) The Professor
 Remember me? I am Professor Sheth.
 Once I taught you geography. Now
 I am retired, though my health is good.
 My wife died some years back.
 By God's grace, all my children
 Are well settled in life.
 One is Sales Manager,
 One is Bank Manager,
 Both have cars.
 Other also doing well, though not so well.
 Every family must have black sheep.
 Sarala and Tarala are married,
 Their husbands are very nice boys.
 You won't believe but I have eleven grandchildren.
 How many issues you have? Three?
 That is good. These are days of family planning.
 I am not against. We have to change with times.
 Whole world is changing. In India also
 We are keeping up. Our progress is progressing.
 Old values are going, new values are coming.
 Everything is happening with leaps and bounds.
 I am going out rarely, now and then
 Only, this is price of old age
 But my health is O.K. Usual aches and pains.
 No diabetes, no blood pressure, no heart attack.
 This is because of sound habits in youth.
 How is your health keeping?
 Nicely? I am happy for that.
 This year I am sixty-nine
 and hope to score a century.
 You were so thin, like stick,
 Now you are man of weight and consequence.
 That is good joke.
 If you are coming again this side by chance,
 Visit please my humble residence also.
 I am living just on opposite house's backside.
-- Nissim Ezekiel
As in the last Ezekiel poem [1], most of you will note the predominant usage
of  'Indian English', and the following extended quote says much about how
he came to write this way:

N.E.: "It all started as a comment by a friend who said that you write in
English no doubt and you write English well but you don't seem to even know
or realise that thousands of Indians speak what can only be called Indian
English, because you only meet people who are learning English Literature.
So I said yes, it's true I have never thought in terms of writing what you
call Indian English. I have just thought it was bad English or wrong English
and ignored it. He said no, no, no, you must listen to it. So from that time
in all my train journeys from Mithibai College back home, I began to take
some interest in the way English was being spoken on the train. Every time I
heard an obvious Indian English phrase like, "I'm not knowing only", I would
take it down. When I had about a thousand of these, I thought now is the
time to create a character, who will speak Indian English from beginning to
end. A situation has to be created, you have to think of all those things.
So several hours would pass before finally the poem would begin and perhaps
come to an end. Then it had to be revised and cut down and the emphasis
would be on the Indian English that the character speaks. So naturally one
wouldn't write a hundred Indian English poems either so if I would total
them up, they would come to about six or seven. I think or maybe ten

In this poem in particular he describes a conversation between a professor
and a student of his whom he is meeting after a long time. The setting is
such that the poet is seemingly effortlessly able to describe this very
typical conversation between student and teacher in the Indian English he is
so famous for.

To an aged man in his late sixties, retired, these are the things that
matter - sons that are doing well, the one that isn't! Daughters married and
well-settled. Grandchildren. There's the typical health talk of how he's
doing well and is spared from the most typical ailments of blood pressure,
diabetes etc. Then there is mention of the times that are a-changing, simply
a must when it comes to this age group of 'retired intellectuals'. The
generation gap is also kind of indicated by the difference in the number of
'issues' (I've never heard that term used anyplace else!).

It didn't have to be a professor as the subject of this poem, and perhaps
that had something to do with Ezekiel's having been an (English) professor
himself. (Though I can only guess about that!)

As far as the theme of the poem goes, there is clearly a coming together of
the old and the new. The style with which Ezekiel describes this, however,
leaves a far greater impact on the reader's mind than the content itself.
The choice of the rhyming names 'Sarala and Tarala', of the respectable,
well-paying managerial positions... As simple an addition as 'Both have
cars' goes a long way towards expressing the mentality of the professor,
quite a typically Indian mentality for his age and position in society. Also
note how the only questions he asks are how many children his student has
and how his health is keeping! And I just love the way he cracks the joke
about being thin vs. weight :), then adding "That is good joke." :) :)

About the language and the terms used, Ezekiel is been excessively generous
with his use of the present continuous, but that is his style of using
Indian English in his poetry. As is the complete omission of articles...
also mentioned in the commentary to 'The Patriot' [1].  But Thomas wrote in
such detail about his style, I guess I can omit that bit here.


[1] poem #516

Autumn Song -- Margurite Kingman

Cats and autumn both...
(Poem #578) Autumn Song
 The firelight glows,
 The embers sigh,
 We dream and
 The cat and I.
 The kitten purrs,
 The kettle sings,
 The heart remembers
 Little things.
-- Margurite Kingman
Not the sort of poem I usually like - the word 'trite' did spring to mind -
but somehow I do this one. Indeed, it's poems like this that originally led
me to soften my stance on cliches - it's the difference between using a
cliche because you can't think of anything better, and using it because it's
precisely the web of familiar and comfortable associations that you wish to
evoke thereby.

No, 'Autumn Song' will never be the next great, original poem - but then, it
never tried to be. As far as painting a vivid scene in pleasing verse
goes, it succeeds perfectly.


Like the content, simple but appropriate - nicely balanced between
minimalist and 'nursery rhyme', spontaneous and crafted. And while I can see
why 'doze' was moved to a line of its own, I wish it hadn't been <g>.
There's also a very refreshing lack of adjectives, something that does a lot
to redeem the poem's triter elements.

Biography etc:

Nope. Kingman seems to have been an ordinary person who happened to write a
nice poem :)


The Cat and the Moon -- William Butler Yeats

It's amazing: no less than three people submitted the same poem for
inclusion in our feline theme - Sunil Iyengar , Uma
Raman and Suresh Ramasubramanian .
Herewith, Sunil's commentary:
(Poem #577) The Cat and the Moon
 The cat went here and there
 And the moon spun round like a top,
 And the nearest kin of the moon,
 The creeping cat, looked up.
 Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
 For, wander and wail as he would,
 The pure cold light in the sky
 Troubled his animal blood.
 Minnaloushe runs in the grass
 Lifting his delicate feet.
 Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
 When two close kindred meet,
 What better than call a dance?
 Maybe the moon may learn,
 Tired of that courtly fashion,
 A new dance turn.
 Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
 From moonlit place to place,
 The sacred moon overhead
 Has taken a new phase.
 Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
 Will pass from change to change,
 And that from round to crescent,
 From crescent to round they range?
 Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
 Alone, important and wise,
 And lifts to the changing moon
 His changing eyes.
-- William Butler Yeats
A minor poem from one of the poet's best books, "The Wild Swans at Coole"
(1919), "The Cat and the Moon" requires scant comment. The furry protagonist
belonged to Maude Gonne, who once was to Yeats what Beatrice was to Dante.
This aspect is scarcely relevant to the poem, however, which foretells his
preoccupation with phases of the moon. (Yeats' "The Vision" was published in
1925, the year after he issued a slim volume, "The Cat and the Moon and
Certain Poems").

The poem adds a welcome quality to Yeats' oeuvre: an eagerness to engage
with animals ("Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?"). This tone is an
extension of his profound curiosity for other forms of spiritual life. To
escape my vague account, see Yeats' "To a Squirrel at Kyle-na-no," short
enough to be quoted in entirety:

        Come play with me;
        Why should you run
        Through the shaking tree
        As though I'd a gun
        To strike you dead?
        When all I would do
        Is to scratch your head
        And let you go.

This charming reticence reminds me of an equally uncharacteristic strain in
Yeats' contemporary, Robert Frost. At the head of Frost's "Collected Poems,"
one encounters this quiet proposal:

        I'm going out to fetch the little calf
        That's standing by the mother. It's so young
        It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
        I shan't be gone long. -- You come too.
                        (from "The Pasture")

Finally, no mock-analysis of Yeats' affection for felines can be complete
without this anecdote. Swinburne died on April 10, 1909. When Yeats met his
sister on the street the following day, he declared: "Now I am King of the
Cats." He was, and is.

Sunil Iyengar.


"When I play with my cat, who knows whether she isn't amusing herself with
me more than I am with her?"
        -- Montaigne,  Essays,  bk. II [1580], ch. 12.

Tra-la-la, tra-la-la -- A A Milne

Guest poem (and prose) submitted by Siddhartha Joshi:

Since 14 Oct is Winnie-the-Pooh's birthday (as per my Pooh calendar)...
(Poem #576) Tra-la-la, tra-la-la
        He had made up a little hum that very morning, as he was doing his
Stoutness Exercises in front of the glass: Tra-la-la, tra-la-la, as he
stretched up as high as he could go, and then Tra-la-la, tra-la--oh,
help!--la, as he tried to reach his toes. After breakfast he had said it
over and over to himself until he had learnt it off by heart, and now he was
humming it right through, properly. It went like this:

 Tra-la-la, tra-la-la,
 Tra-la-la, tra-la-la,
 Tiddle-iddle, tiddle-iddle,
 Tiddle-iddle, tiddle-iddle,
-- A A Milne
I love the wonderful, exuberant brand of poetry that Milne conjured up;
verses like
        "Sing Ho! for the life of a Bear!
         I don't much mind if it rains or snows,
         'Cos I've got a lot of honey on my nice new nose!"
are such an important part of the magic of his stories. Indeed, few chapters
of Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner are without verse of some
form - usually sung ("he murmured this to himself three times in a singing
sort of way") by Pooh Bear or his other (stuffed) animal chums. That's also
the reason I'm including the text snippets that the verses are embedded in -
in the books :-) - it just doesn't read *right* without them.



[broken link]


So Owl wrote ... and this is what he wrote:


Pooh looked on admiringly.

"I'm just saying 'A Happy Birthday'," said Owl carelessly.

"It's a nice long one," said Pooh, very much impressed by it.

"Well, actually, of course, I'm saying 'A Very Happy Birthday with love from
Pooh.' Naturally it takes a good deal of pencil to say a long thing like

"Oh, I see," said Pooh.

        -- A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh.

To Mrs. Reynolds' Cat -- John Keats

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #575) To Mrs. Reynolds' Cat
 Cat! who hast pass'd thy grand climacteric,
   How many mice and rats hast in thy days
   Destroy'd? -- How many tit bits stolen? Gaze
 With those bright languid segments green, and prick
 Those velvet ears -- but pr'ythee do not stick
   Thy latent talons in me -- and upraise
   Thy gentle mew -- and tell me all thy frays
 Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.

 Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists --
   For all the wheezy asthma, -- and for all
 Thy tail's tip is nick'd off -- and though the fists
   Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
 Still is that fur as soft as when the lists
   In youth thou enter'dst on glass-bottled wall.
-- John Keats
Keats doesn't need any introduction anyway ;)  As for the poem itself, it's
a charming commentary on an old cat. Light-hearted, enjoyable - and


[thomas adds]

A classical Petrarchan sonnet: iambic pentameter, the octave rhyming
_abbaabba_, the sestet _cdcdcd_. It's a testimony to the power of the sonnet
that even the Romantics, with their emphasis on freedom and spontaneity,
continued to write notable pieces in this form... today's poem may not soar
to the heights of Keats' great "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" [1],
but it does not aspire to do so in the first place. Instead, as Suresh said,
it remains an excellent example of light verse, charming and enjoyable.


[1] (poem #12)

Growltiger's Last Stand -- T S Eliot

One theme merges seamlessly into another...
(Poem #574) Growltiger's Last Stand
 Growltiger was a Bravo Cat, who travelled on a barge:
 In fact he was the roughest cat that ever roamed at large.
 From Gravesend up to Oxford he pursued his evil aims,
 Rejoicing in his title of 'The Terror of the Thames'.

 His manners and appearance did not calculate to please;
 His coat was torn and seedy, he was baggy at the knees;
 One ear was somewhat missing, no need to tell you why,
 And he scowled upon a hostile world from one forbidding eye.

 The cottagers of Rotherhithe knew something of his fame;
 At Hammersmith and Putney people shuddered at his name.
 They would fortity the hen-house, lock up the silly goose,
 When the rumour ran along the shore: GROWLTIGER'S ON THE LOOSE!

 Woe to the weak canary, that fluttered from its cage;
 Woe to the pampered Pekinese, that faced Growltiger's rage;
 Woe to the bristly Bandicoot, that lurks on foreign ships,
 And woe to any Cat with whom Growltiger came to grips!

 But most to Cats of foreign race his hatred had been vowed;
 To Cats of foreign name and race no quarter was allowed.
 The Persian and the Siamese regarded him with fear -
 Because it was a Siamese had mauled his missing ear.

 Now on a peaceful summer night, all nature seemed at play,
 The tender moon was shining bright, the barge at Molesey lay.
 All in the balmy moonlight it lay rocking on the tide -
 And Growltiger was disposed to show his sentimental side.

 His bucko mate, GRUMBUSKIN, long since had disappeared,
 For to the Bell at Hampton he had gone to wet his beard;
 And his bosun, TUMBLEBRUTUS, he too had stol'n away -
 In the yard behind the Lion he was prowling for his prey.

 In the forepeak of the vessel Growltiger sat alone,
 Concentrating his attention on the Lady GRIDDLEBONE.
 And his raffish crew were sleeping in their barrels and their bunks -
 As the Siamese came creeping in their sampans and their junks.

 Growltiger had no eye or ear for aught but Griddlebone,
 And the Lady seemed enraptured by his manly baritone,
 Disposed to relaxation, and awaiting no surprise -
 But the moonlight shone reflected from a hundred bright blue eyes.

 And closer still and closer the sampans circled 'round,
 And yet from all the enemy there was not heard a sound.
 The lovers sang their last duet, in danger of their lives -
 For the foe was armed with toasting forks and cruel carving knives.

 Then GENGHIS gave the signal to his fierce Mongolian horde;
 With a frightful burst of fireworks the Chinks they swarmed aboard.
 Abandoning their sampans, and their pullaways and junks,
 They battened down the hatches on the crew within their bunks.

 Then Griddlebone she gave a screech, for she was badly skeered;
 I am sorry to admit it, but she quickly disappeared.
 She probably escaped with ease, I'm sure she was not drowned -
 But a serried ring of flashing steel Growltiger did surround.

 The ruthless foe pressed forward, in stubborn rank on rank;
 Growltiger to his vast surprise was forced to walk the plank.
 He who a hundred victims had driven to that drop,
 At the end of all his crimes was forced to go ker-flip, ker-flop.

 Oh there was joy in Wapping when the news flew through the land;
 At Maidenhead and Henley there was dancing on the strand.
 Rats were roasted whole at Brentford, and at Victoria Dock,
 And a day of celebration was commanded in Bangkok.
-- T S Eliot
(from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats).

Yes, the new theme is Cats.

That said, there's not a lot I can profitably add to this poem by way of
commentary, so I won't.



The complete Old Possum can be found at
[broken link]

Possibly the most famous of the Practical Cats is Macavity, the Mystery Cat:
poem #258

(Griddlebone gets a mention in the above poem:
        "And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
         (I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
         Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
         Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!"

Andrew Lloyd Webber's megahit musical Cats is based on Eliot's verse; the
official home page is [broken link]

Incidentally, in the Dutch version of Cats, Growltiger becomes Snauwtijger.
So now you know. (Ain't Dutch a fascinating language, though?).

At a Fishing Settlement -- Alistair Campbell

Winding up with a New Zealand poet - thanks to Harry Smith for suggesting
today's poem
(Poem #573) At a Fishing Settlement
 October, and a rain-blurred face,
 And all the anguish of that bitter place.
 It was a bare sea-battered town,
 With its one street leading down
 Onto a shingly beach. Sea winds
 Had long picked the dark hills clean
 Of everything but tussock and stones
 And pines that dropped small brittle cones
 Onto a soured soil. And old houses flanking
 The street hung poised like driftwood planking
 Blown together and could not outlast
 The next window-shuddering blast
 From the storm-whitened sea.
 It was bitterly cold; I could see
 Where muffled against gusty spray
 She walked the clinking shingle; a stray
 Dog whimpered and pushed a small
 Wet nose into my hand - that is all.
 Yet I am haunted by that face,
 That dog, and that bare bitter place.
-- Alistair Campbell
As Harry observed when he sent this in, we ran a string of October poems
last year - there's something wonderfully gloomy about this time of year
that seems to inspire poets to greater efforts.

Today's poem blends the grey, rainy, windswept ambience of an October day
with the air of tired despair that clings to a failing settlement, weaving
the separate images together into a satisfyingly coherent whole. The scene
is portrayed with surprising vividness - due, in some part, to the attention
paid to the often neglected senses of taste and touch. The soured[1] soil, the
brittle pinecone, the cold, wet nose of the dog, engage the reader's
imagination at a visceral level, encouraging him to picture not just the
scene as described, but himself in the narrator's place.

[1] yes, this is not technically a directly gustatory image; nonetheless, it
is a metaphor that depends intimately on the reader's sense of taste for
impact. (as, to a lesser extent, does 'that bare, bitter place').

The form too - rhyming but irregular, the lines huddling together in tight
couplets - echoes the tattered, dilapidated, storm-lashed settlement; like
most good poems, it complements and enhances the imagery without obtruding
upon it.

[broken link]

An article on Campbell:
[broken link]


Mort aux Chats -- Peter Porter

Not an Australian poem, but an Australian poet, and I suppose that counts
for something...
(Poem #572) Mort aux Chats
 There will be no more cats.
 Cats spread infection,
 Cats pollute the air,
 Cats consume seven times
 their own weight in food a week,
 Cats were worshipped in
 decadent societies (Egypt
 and Ancient Rome); the Greeks
 had no use for cats. Cats
 sit down to pee (our scientists
 have proved it). The copulation
 of cats is harrowing; they
 are unbearably fond of the moon.
 Perhaps they are all right in
 their own country but their
 traditions are alien to ours.
 Cats smell, they can't help it,
 you notice it going upstairs.
 Cats watch too much television,
 they can sleep through storms,
 they stabbed us in the back
 last time. There have never been
 any great artists who were cats.
 They don't deserve a capital C
 except at the beginning of a sentence.
 I blame my headaches and my
 plants dying on cats.
 Our district is full of them,
 property values are falling.
 When I dream of God I see
 a Massacre of Cats. Why
 should they insist on their own
 language and religion, who
 needs to purr to make his point?
 Death to all cats! The Rule
 of Dogs shall last a thousand years!
-- Peter Porter
As George MacBeth puts it, "only a confirmed cat-lover could write such a
charming indictment of the species"...

That said, this is as good a putdown of racist propaganda as any I've seen.
It's the tone of voice that does it, I think - the same mix of populist
rhetoric and vile innuendo, the same blend of twisted logic and warped
facts... Porter takes the caricature to extremes ("I blame my headaches and
my plants dying on cats"), but let's not forget that people have been taken
in by far less rational arguments in the past; the vicious anti-cat
demagoguery may be sidesplittingly funny in its particulars, but it's no
less powerful for that.

And of course, the last sentence (which I did _not_ expect, the first time I
read this poem) puts the whole poem into context - when we finally find out
who the speaker is, we know _precisely_ how much trust to put into his


PS. "they stabbed us in the back / last time" is a reference to a phrase
used by Hitler during his ascent to power: "Hitler considered the German
politicians who prematurely ended World War One and established the German
democratic republic to be traitors (the 'November criminals', he called
them); their actions were akin to a 'stab in the back'. In Hitler's mind and
among many Germans, the Army had not been defeated on the battlefield but
had been undermined by political treachery at home."

PPS. I'm also reminded of Snoopy's Kitten Kaboodle stories - equally
'speciesist', and aimed at an equally specific target audience ("PlayBeagle
has bought the entire series" <grin>).

The Death Of The Bird -- A D Hope

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor, who was
actually the person who first suggested the Australian theme to us:

With everyone's eyes turning to Sydney, why not do an Australian theme? I
can't think off-hand of too many Australian poems, but there are good poets
like Les Murray and Peter Porter. And there is this one, which has remained
with me ever since I first read it:
(Poem #571) The Death Of The Bird
 For every bird there is this last migration;
 Once more the cooling year kindles her heart;
 With a warm passage to the summer station
 Love pricks the course in lights across the chart.

 Year after year a speck on the map divided
 By a whole hemisphere, summons her to come;
 Season after season, sure and safely guided,
 Going away she is also coming home;

 And being home, memory becomes a passion
 With which she feeds her brood and straws her nest;
 Aware of ghosts that haunt the heart's possession
 And exiled love mourning within the breast.

 The sands are green with a mirage of valleys;
 The palm-tree casts a shadow not its own;
 Down the long architrave of temple or palace
 Blows a cool air from moorland scraps of stone.

 And day by day the whisper of love grows stronger,
 The delicate voice, more urgent with despair,
 Custom and fear constraining her no longer,
 Drives her at last on the waste leagues of air.

 A vanishing speck in those inane dominions,
 Single and frail, uncertain of her place.
 Alone in the bright host of her companions,
 Lost in the blue unfriendliness of space.

 She feels it close now, the appointed season:
 The invisible thread is broken as she flies;
 Suddenly, without warning, without reason,
 The guiding spark of instinct winks and dies.

 Try as she will the trackless world delivers
 No way, the wilderness of light no sign,
 The immense and complex map of hills and rivers
 Mocks her small wisdom with its vast design.

 And darkness rises from the eastern valleys,
 And the winds buffet her with their hungry breath,
 And the great earth, with neither grief not malice,
 Receives the tiny burden of her death.
-- A D Hope
A simple poem, but one that has always impressed me for the quiet way it
builds up in force. Starting from the small presence of the bird getting the
migratory itch, it slowly expands to show her smallness against the
immensity of what she sets out to do.

Then suddenly, without any warning, the thread is terrifyingly cut and it is
our worst nightmare of being totally lost in a blind, indifferent world. And
the last verse is hugely impactful as the the immensity of the world rises
up to overwhelm the bird.

(There is something almost pagan about it, since this is literally as far as
you get from the Biblical "not a sparrow shall fall...").


[thomas adds]

Les Murray wrote 'An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow', a guest poem submitted by
Ron Heard (who's from Queensland, if I remember correctly): poem #387

Peter Porter has featured several times on the Minstrels (I happen to like
his work); check out
'Instant Fish', poem #64
'Japanese Jokes', poem #198
'Your Attention Please', poem #222

Come, Night; Come, Romeo -- William Shakespeare

Guest poem sent in by Ronald Lundquist

The stunning beauty of this passage never fails to floor me.  It is an
excerpt from Act 3 Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet speaking.
(Poem #570) Come, Night; Come, Romeo
 Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night;
 For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
 Whiter than new snow on a raven's back.
 Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow'd night,
 Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
 Take him and cut him out in little stars,
 And he will make the face of heaven so fine
 That all the world will be in love with night
 And pay no worship to the garish sun.
-- William Shakespeare
Commentary: Biographically we all know about Shakespeare or Bacon or
whomever (I believe Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him).

I became aware of this passage when I rented an audiocassette of the great
speeches of Robert Kennedy. He quoted

        when he shall die,
        Take him and cut him out in little stars,
        And he will make the face of heaven so fine
        That all the world will be in love with night

in a speech about his brother John shortly after John's death.
It is interesting to note that that the last line from the full excerpt
above is recycled in Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" in the song "Music of
the Night":

        Slowly, gently, night unfurls its splendour
        Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender
        Turn your face away from the garish light of day
        Turn your thoughts away from cold, unfeeling light
        And listen to the music of the night. . .

Ronald J. Lundquist

The Great Grey Plain -- Henry Lawson

And, for a rather different point of view...
(Poem #569) The Great Grey Plain
 Out West, where the stars are brightest,
 Where the scorching north wind blows,
 And the bones of the dead gleam whitest,
 And the sun on a desert glows --
 Yet within the selfish kingdom
 Where man starves man for gain,
 Where white men tramp for existence --
 Wide lies the Great Grey Plain.
 No break in its awful horizon,
 No blur in the dazzling haze,
 Save where by the bordering timber
 The fierce, white heat-waves blaze,
 And out where the tank-heap rises
 Or looms when the sunlights wane,
 Till it seems like a distant mountain
 Low down on the Great Grey Plain.

 No sign of a stream or fountain,
 No spring on its dry, hot breast,
 No shade from the blazing noontide
 Where a weary man might rest.
 Whole years go by when the glowing
 Sky never clouds for rain --
 Only the shrubs of the desert
 Grow on the Great Grey Plain.

 From the camp, while the rich man's dreaming,
 Come the `traveller' and his mate,
 In the ghastly dawnlight seeming
 Like a swagman's ghost out late;
 And the horseman blurs in the distance,
 While still the stars remain,
 A low, faint dust-cloud haunting
 His track on the Great Grey Plain.

 And all day long from before them
 The mirage smokes away --
 That daylight ghost of an ocean
 Creeps close behind all day
 With an evil, snake-like motion,
 As the waves of a madman's brain:
 'Tis a phantom NOT like water
 Out there on the Great Grey Plain.
 There's a run on the Western limit
 Where a man lives like a beast,
 And a shanty in the mulga
 That stretches to the East;
 And the hopeless men who carry
 Their swags and tramp in pain --
 The footmen must not tarry
 Out there on the Great Grey Plain.

 Out West, where the stars are brightest,
 Where the scorching north wind blows,
 And the bones of the dead seem whitest,
 And the sun on a desert glows --
 Out back in the hungry distance
 That brave hearts dare in vain --
 Where beggars tramp for existence --
 There lies the Great Grey Plain.

 'Tis a desert not more barren
 Than the Great Grey Plain of years,
 Where a fierce fire burns the hearts of men --
 Dries up the fount of tears:
 Where the victims of a greed insane
 Are crushed in a hell-born strife --
 Where the souls of a race are murdered
 On the Great Grey Plain of Life!
-- Henry Lawson
If "the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know", they
were wasted on Dawson, whose view of the Australian Bush is considerably
more dismal. Dismal, but no less expressive - indeed, as a general rule,
poets attain to far greater flights of eloquence in their tirades than in
their encomia.

Lawson's verse does not, in general, attain the effortless ease that
characterises that of his contemporary and friend Banjo Paterson.
Nonetheless, they are just as energetic and vivid, and when he hits his
stride, as in today's poem, the results can be impressive and haunting. Too,
his dissonant voice appears refreshingly original when set against the large
body of 'back to nature' poetry that every age and country seems to have
produced limitless quantities of.


Lawson, Henry (Archibald)
b. June 17, 1867, near Grenfell, N.S.W., Australia
d. Sept. 22, 1922, Abbotsford, N.S.W.
Australian writer of short stories and balladlike verse noted for his
realistic portrayals of bush life.

He was the son of a former Norwegian sailor and an active feminist. Hampered
by deafness from the time he was nine and by the poverty and unhappiness in
his family, he left school at 14 to help his father as a builder. About 1884
he moved to Sydney, where the Bulletin published his first stories and
verses (1887-88). During those years he worked for several newspapers but
also spent much time wandering. Out of these experiences came material for
his vivid, realistic writing, which, by its often pessimistic blend of
pathos and irony, captured some of the spirit of Australian working life.
His later years were increasingly unhappy, and the quality of his writing

        -- EB


For more of Lawson's work, see
[broken link]

For a biography, and several other links, see
[broken link]

In 1892, Australian poetry was enriched by a spirited exchange of verse
between Paterson, Lawson and various other poets.


There has been a disappointing lack of response to my call for Australian
guest poems. If nothing else, a suggestion for the third poem would be
welcomed, preferably from a more recent poet.


Especially when the October wind -- Dylan Thomas

(Poem #568) Especially when the October wind
 Especially when the October wind
 With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
 Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
 And cast a shadow crab upon the land,
 By the sea's side, hearing the noise of birds,
 Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
 My busy heart who shudders as she talks
 Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

 Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
 On the horizon walking like the trees
 The wordy shapes of women, and the rows
 Of the star-gestured children in the park.
 Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
 Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
 Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
 Some let me make you of the water's speeches.

 Behind a post of ferns the wagging clock
 Tells me the hour's word, the neural meaning
 Flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning
 And tells the windy weather in the cock.
 Some let me make you of the meadow's signs;
 The signal grass that tells me all I know
 Breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
 Some let me tell you of the raven's sins.

 Especially when the October wind
 (Some let me make you of autumnal spells,
 The spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
 With fists of turnips punishes the land,
 Some let me make of you the heartless words.
 The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
 Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
 By the sea's side hear the dark-vowelled birds.
-- Dylan Thomas
A marvellously dense, evocative poem - Dylan Thomas at his dazzling

The central conceit is simple enough: the poet, walking in his beloved
Welsh countryside, makes a present to his sweetheart of all the things
he sees ("Some let me make you of the meadow's signs"). Only, since he
is, after all, a poet, his gift takes the form of words - his "busy
heart ...  sheds the syllabic blood".

Of course, the idea of words as a gift is not new to Dylan Thomas;
indeed, it's central to the Welsh bardic tradition to which he owes so
much. What _is_ different is the way Thomas expresses himself:
everything he sees from within his "tower of words" is transformed into
language; thus we have vowelled beeches, oaken voices, the water's
speeches, dark-vowelled birds, spider-tongued autumnal spells, the loud
hills of Wales... In any other writer, the adjectives would appear
incongruous, sometimes ludicrously so. In Thomas, though, they're

A second theme running through today's poem (and indeed, through much of
Dylan Thomas' work) is the passage of time: the "crabbing sun" makes men
old; the bare branches and "winter sticks" tell of seasons passing; the
"shafted disk" (i.e., the sundial) does the same, but on a smaller



Dylan Thomas is one of my favourite poets (Martin's, too), and we've
covered a fair bit of his work in the past.

'Prologue' is very similar to today's poem in its descriptive detail; I
talk more about the _sound_ of Thomas' poetry in the accompanying essay.
Both poem and commentary can be found at poem #14

'Fern Hill' is an exquisitely joyous work; it's also a showcase for
Thomas' mastery of compressed metaphor. You can read it at poem #138

Very similar to 'Fern Hill' (and equally good) is 'Poem in October', poem #225

For sheer _density_ of word and sound, 'Under Milk Wood' is hard to
beat; along with the poem there's a (longish) piece on the difference
between denotation and connotation in poetry. It's archived at poem #270

The theme of life being magically transformed into art is most famously
addressed in Yeats' 'Sailing to Byzantium':

 Once out of nature I shall never take
 My bodily form from any natural thing,
 But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
 Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
 To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
 Or set upon a golden bough to sing
 To lords and ladies of Byzantium
 Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

(The entire poem is at poem #21).