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To Tu Fu from Shantung -- Li Po

(Poem #683) To Tu Fu from Shantung
 You ask how I spend my time--
 I nestle against a treetrunk
 and listen to autumn winds
 in the pines all night and day.

 Shantung wine can't get me drunk.
 The local poets bore me.
 My thoughts remain with you,
 like the Wen River, endlessly flowing.
-- Li Po
tr. Hamil.

A wonderfully poignant poem about the pain of separation from one's beloved;
it's amazing how the poet manages to capture the essence of the emotion in
words as simple as they are heartbreaking. Further commentary would be
superfluous, so...


[Minstrels Links]

"About Tu Fu" is a gem of a poem about, well, Tu Fu (who'd have thunk it?):
poem #504

The above link has biographies of both Li Po and his 8th century
contemporary (and fellow poet) Tu Fu. It's also the starting point for one
of the nicer journeys I've taken, a poetic exploration of the Silk Road.

"The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter" is Ezra Pound's (rather liberal)
translation of another Li Po masterpiece; it, too, deals with themes of love
and distance and devotion: poem #70

Advice to Women -- Eunice deSouza

Guest poem sent in by Deepa Balakrishnan and Suresh
(Poem #682) Advice to Women
 Keep cats
 if you want to learn to cope with
 the otherness of lovers.
 Otherness is not always neglect --
 Cats return to their litter trays
 when they need to.
 Don't cuss out of the window
 at their enemies.
 That stare of perpetual surprise
 in those great green eyes
 will teach you
 to die alone.
-- Eunice deSouza
commentary by suresh follows ...

This is a really off-beat poem - comparing a cat's haughtily indifferent
attitude towards life, the universe and everything (it's always there - and
it's all mine - let it be) to what a woman's reaction must be when jilted by
a lover.

I rather like the way it cloaks bitter sorrow and anger with light hearted
banter about a cat ... and also note that cats are (if I've read enough
books) often the companions of old maiden (Miss Marple-ish) ladies <g>

Eunice deSouza is one of India's better modern poets ... a Roman Catholic
Goan brought up in Pune, and now Head of the Dept of English at St.Xavier's
College, Bombay.  She's also published a lot of children's fiction - most of
which was published by Echo Books, a more or less defunct arm of Uncle
(Ananth) Pai's India Book House (more popular for its Amar Chitra Katha and
Tinkle comics - see for these)

This poem is typical of de Souza's work which rarely drifts beyond the
particular, the identifiable object. The writing style is sheer drama, using
the seemingly transparent language of spoken English, without any conceits
and attempted graces - which make her poems a sheer pleasure to read aloud.

The idiom is almost entirely uncluttered by metaphor and imagery (a lot of
which I grew to _hate_ thanks to being force-fed a diet of the 'Chhayavaad'
genre of Hindi poetry - Mahadevi Varma and such ... which believed in heavy
use of symbolism to express often maudlin sentiments - one of the reasons
why I abhor poetesses like Toru Dutt and Sarojini Naidu ...)

but I degress .... back to Ms. deSouza,

Her poems are totally devoid of the traditional devices which indicate mood
or define emotion. They rely mainly on sound, rhythm of lines, on tone and
the (natural) accenting of precisely placed words and phrases.  Again, one
of the best reasons why her poetry is best read aloud.

- Suresh


poem #603 for another poem by deSouza

I was unable to find a biography I could link to.

[Offtopic, but...]

See if you'd like to help any
of several relief efforts for the recent earthquake in Gujarat.

The Secret Sits -- Robert Frost

(Poem #681) The Secret Sits
 We dance round in a ring and suppose,
 But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.
-- Robert Frost
First published in "A Witness Tree", 1942.

It's tempting to assume that this pithy, aphoristic couplet embodies Frost's
view of poetry and the poetic process (both composition and interpretation).
It's especially tempting when you consider that Frost's own poetry is
celebrated for its "wonderful ability to pack layer after layer of meaning
and imagery into a few words" [1] - and that he was loth to favour any
particular interpretation thereof over any other [2].

Tempting, perhaps, but not necessarily true. Which (in a marvellous twist of
self-reference) makes it equally plausible that what is being referred to is
the poem itself; it's certainly impenetrable enough in its own way... wheels
within wheels within wheels.


[1] See Martin's commentary on Frost's "A Patch of Old Snow", poem #336

[2] See the anecdote accompanying "The Need of Being Versed in Country
Things", poem #170

[Minstrels Links]

Frost has featured on the Minstrels before, but not to the extent that one
might have expected (and not at all in the last year or so).

Poem #155, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening", is a classic, and one of
those poems which _everyone_ knows and loves.

Poem #51, "The Road Not Taken", is on one of our favourite themes. The
accompanying commentary has a biography, critical assessment, and two
interesting essays on Frost's use of deceptively simple language to drive
home what are often fairly complex thoughts and emotions.

Both of these, plus the poems mentioned in the footnotes above, plus many
many more, are available on the Minstrels website,
[broken link]


Robert Frost died on the 29th of January, 1963. No, I wasn't aware of the
coincidence when I chose today's poem.

The Butterfly -- Arun Kolatkar

Guest poem sent in by Kedar Keshavan
(Poem #680) The Butterfly
 There is no story behind it.
 It is split like a second.
 It hinges around itself.

 It has no future.
 It is pinned down to no past.
 It's a pun on the present.

 Its a little yellow butterfly.
 It has taken these wretched hills
 under its wings.

 Just a pinch of yellow,
 it opens before it closes
 and it closes before it o

 where is it?
-- Arun Kolatkar
this one's my fave kolatkar poem. the wonderfully abrupt last line gives just
the right effect....the movement of the butterfly.....something vanishing
before it appears......

Arun Kolatkar is a bilingual poet - he writes both in english  and marathi.
although his poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies since 1955, he
has so far published only two books, 'Jejuri' (1976), in english, and 'Arun
Kolatkarchya Kavita' (1976) in marathi. some of his early poems in english
appaeared in 'An Anthology of Marathi Poetry: ed by dilip chitre (another
poet writing in eng n marathihe could be considered a wanderer of language.....certain of his poems are
dually located....the marathi texts of 'irani restaurant in bombay', 'crabs'
and 'biograph' are found in 'arun kolatkarchya kavita' while simultaneously
they are poems in english smuggled into the language through the unnamed
checkpoint of verse.

a second reason for these poems' neglect is 'jejuri', the book kolatkar he
has come to be identified with. few books of english verse published in india
have been so successful. it won the commonwealth poetry prize, and quickly
went into three editions. asked by an interviewer whether he believed in
god, kolatkar replied 'i leave the question alone. i don't think i have to
take a position about god one way or the other.'

gauri keshavan.


  Arun Balkrishna Kolatkar was born in Kolhapur, Maharashtra in 1932 and
  educated at the Rajaram High School there. He attended art schools in
  Kolhapur and Pune and earned a diploma in painting from the J J School of
  Art in Bombay. He writes in both English and Marathi and has authored two
  books. Jejuri ( 1976) in English and Arun Kolhatkarchya Kavita (1976) in
  Marathi. His poems have appeared in various anthologies and magazines
  since 1955. Some of his early poems in English have appeared in An
  Anthology of Marathi Poetry:edited by Dilip Chitre.

  Jejuri won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize and went into three editions. A
  German translation by Giovanni Bandini, of Jejuri was published by Verlag
  Wolf Mersch in 1984. Kolhatkar works in advertising and lives in Mumbai.

        -- [broken link]


 Two poems in the same general vein: poem #563, poem #599.

Maybe -- Carl Sandburg

Guest poem sent in by Rajesh B

I am sending in this poem which i came across when i was surfing the net.
It's simplicity touched me. You will like it. Maybe.
(Poem #679) Maybe
 Maybe he believes me, maybe not.
 Maybe I can marry him, maybe not.

 Maybe the wind on the prairie,
 The wind on the sea, maybe,
 Somebody, somewhere, maybe can tell.

 I will lay my head on his shoulder
 And when he asks me I will say yes,
-- Carl Sandburg
On second thoughts, on rereading the poem .. maybe(!!) i would like to say
something and what i like about it. Not an expert commentary (i am not an
expert on poems) but just what i think i love about the poem.

First, it is nice and simple.

Then, the poem beautifully highlights the uncertainties we go through when
we realise we are in love. And we could give anything to know if the other
person loves us too. We would try everything except ask him/her. And even if
we knew we would ask ourselves the question again. Sometimes we even suspect
the very feeling. Is it love or infatuation or just fatal attraction? Oh the
'maybe's associated with love .. hmm.



Sandburg was one of the earliest poets we ran: poem #5

And here's a biography: poem #163

Mirror -- Sylvia Plath

Guest poem sent in by Ronald Lundquist
(Poem #678) Mirror
 I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
 What ever you see I swallow immediately
 Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike .
 I am not cruel, only truthful---
 The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
 Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
 It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
 I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
 Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
 Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
 Searching my reaches for what she really is.
 Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
 I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
 She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
 I am important to her. She comes and goes.
 Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
 In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
 Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
-- Sylvia Plath

This poem is haunting, beautiful, gripping and breaks your heart. There are
many websites that discuss this poem, most of them interpret the poem in
terms of chronological aging (I list a few below.) I am not so sure. Perhaps
Plath refers to emotional aging, the evolution from a lively young woman
(pre Ted Hughes?) to an angry depressed suicide waiting to happen. Don't
misunderstand me. Although I am no deep student of the Plath-Hughes
relationship I do not believe Hughes can be blamed for Plath's self-induced
demise. They separated in 1962. She wrote this poem in 1961. She killed
herself in 1963, three days before Valentine's Day. Anyway I am digressing
from the analysis of Mirror.

Perhaps Plath is telling us that we uncover to ourselves when we are alone
who we really are - or who we want to be or we wish we were. Sometimes it
takes a while for the self to discover who he/she is or is not. And maybe
that discovery unveils the self to be an angel, at other times it discloses
the self to be a terrible fish. Which are you? If you are unhappy with your
answer don't worry. Time changes everything.

Thr following biography is from
Plath, Sylvia   1932 -- 1963
Writer. Born October 27, 1932, in Boston, Massachusetts. Plath's father, a
German immigrant, was a professor of biology and a leading expert on
bumblebees. An autocrat at home, he insisted his wife give up teaching to
raise their two children. He died at home after a lingering illness that
consumed the energy of the entire household and left the family penniless.
Sylvia's mother went to work as a teacher and raised her two children alone.
Plath was an outstanding student. She won a scholarship to Smith College,
published her first short story, "Sunday at the Mintons," in Mademoiselle
while she was still in college, and won a summer job as "guest managing
editor" at the magazine. After the job ended, she suffered a nervous
breakdown, tried to commit suicide, and was hospitalized. She returned to
school to finish her senior year, won a Fulbright to England, and went to
Cambridge after graduation, where she met poet Ted Hughes in February 1956.
They married four months later.  Plath took a job teaching at Smith, which
she kept for a year before quitting to write full time. She and Hughes lived
in Boston, and she attended poetry workshops with Robert Lowell, whose
confessional approach to poetry deeply influenced her. Hughes won a
Guggenheim fellowship in 1959 and the couple returned to England, where
Plath had her first child.  Her first poetry collection, Colossus, was
published in 1960 to favorable reviews. The couple bought a house in Devon
and had a second child in 1962, the same year that Plath discovered her
husband was having an affair. He left the family to move in with his lover,
and Plath desperately struggled against her own emotional turmoil and
depression. She moved to London and wrote dozens of her best poems in the
winter of 1962. Her only novel, The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical
account of a college girl who works at a magazine in New York and suffers a
breakdown, was published in early 1963 but received mediocre reviews. With
sick children, frozen pipes, and a severe case of depression, Plath took her
own life in February 1963 at age 30.  Hughes edited several volumes of
Plath's poetry, which appeared after her death, including Ariel(1965),
Crossing the Water (1971), and Collected Poems (1981), which won the
Pulitzer Prize in 1982. He received criticism for publishing a severely
edited version of his wife's journals, The Journals of Sylvia Plath, in
1982. After Hughes' own death in 1998, Plath's journals were published in
full, as The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath,Links discussing Mirror:

[broken link]

[broken link]


Villanelle -- W H Auden

(Poem #677) Villanelle
 Time will say nothing but I told you so,
 Time only knows the price we have to pay;
 If I could tell you I would let you know.

 If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
 If we should stumble when musicians play,
 Time will say nothing but I told you so.

 There are no fortunes to be told, although,
 Because I love you more than I can say,
 If I could tell you I would let you know.

 The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
 There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
 Time will say nothing but I told you so.

 Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
 The vision seriously intends to stay;
 If I could tell you I would let you know.

 Suppose the lions all get up and go,
 And all the brooks and soldiers run away?
 Will time say nothing but I told you so?
 If I could tell you I would let you know.
-- W H Auden
[On Auden]

As both Martin and I have commented in the past, one of the pleasures of
Minstrelsy is the discovery of new poems, many of which we'd never have
chanced upon had it not been for this mailing list. Rather less common (but
no less thrilling) is the reappraisal of well-known names, the sudden
realization that you've come to like poets you didn't care for in previous

W. H. Auden tops my list of the latter. For the longest time I was less than
impressed by his work: I appreciated his obvious technical brilliance and
the width of his stylistic experiments, but his actual verse left me a bit

An abundance of guest submissions changed that, though. Perhaps Auden's art
takes time to appreciate, perhaps I just hadn't read the 'right' poems prior
to the Minstrels [1], perhaps my own tastes in poetry have changed in the
last year or two... for whatever reason, I found myself replacing disregard
with tolerance, tolerance with a grudging respect, respect with admiration,
and (finally!) admiration with a whole-hearted enjoyment of his work.

[1] For make no mistake, Auden's poetic output was immense, and much of it
is decidedly uneven.

[On Today's Poem]

At first glance, Auden's villanelle seems to echo familiar Shakespearean
themes: "Time triumphs over Flesh, and Love over all" [2]. But all is not as
simple as it seems. In a particularly modernist twist to the poem, Time
continues to be the malicious tyrant of old, but the triumph of Love is no
longer inevitable [3]. Instead, it's an object to be gained through
struggle. And this struggle is made incalculably harder by the problem of
communication, a problem that lies at the heart of all 20th century art.

Deep Philosophical Questions are all very well; the magic of the poem,
though, lies in the details - the roses and clowns, lions and soldiers. I
confess I can't make sense of every single reference Auden uses (for
example, how can _brooks_ run away?), but the overall effect is brilliant -
it captures the ideas of evanescence and loss and yes, love, remarkably

[2] See Martin's commentary on Sonnet XXXIII, from which the above line is
taken: poem #219

[3] See Cristina Gazzieri's wonderful essay on the crisis of love poetry in
the 20th century, part of her commentary on Yeats' "Solomon and the Witch",
archived at   poem #407

[On Villanelles]

Several modern poets have written villanelles; interestingly, they all seem
to be on the subject of time and loss. Check out the following works in the
Minstrels Archive,

Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", Poem #38
William Empson, "Missing Dates", Poem #202
Elizabeth Bishop, "One Art", Poem #639

The first of the above has an explanatory note on the form, and (as a bonus)
a self-referential villanelle by Peter Schaeffer appended.


A version of the poem starting with the line "Time _can_ say nothing but I
told you so" seems to be floating around the Internet. Needless to say, the
connotations are very different indeed...


Eating Poetry -- Mark Strand

Guest poem sent in by Terry Smith
(Poem #676) Eating Poetry
 Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
 There is no happiness like mine.
 I have been eating poetry.

 The librarian does not believe what she sees.
 Her eyes are sad
 and she walks with her hands in her dress.

 The poems are gone.
 The light is dim.
 The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

 Their eyeballs roll,
 their blond legs burn like brush.
 The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

 She does not understand.
 When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
 she screams.

 I am a new man.
 I snarl at her and bark.
 I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
-- Mark Strand
I submitted another Mark Strand poem some time ago
(poem #453), so
I'll forego any biographical info except to say there's a short
bio at,5716,366991,00.html
and the author won a pulitzer prize in 1999 for his book "A
Blizzard of One" ([broken link]

I was given this poem by way of introduction to Strand, and while
he isn't the boldest poet currently writing, he deserves his
reputation as one of the best.  In this poem, there's a hint of
the poetry being the source of light in the library that I love,
and "bookish dark" has a familiar smell to it.  I have to admit,
however, I don't understand the reference to the dogs on the
stairs.  Perhaps there is someone on the list with some good

        -Terry Smith

Comin' Thro the Rye -- Robert Burns

(Poem #675) Comin' Thro the Rye
 O, Jenny's a' weet, poor body,
 Jenny's seldom dry;
 She draigl't a' her petticoattie
 Comin thro' the rye.

         Comin thro the rye, poor body,
              Comin thro the rye,
         She draigl't a'her petticoatie,
              Comin thro the rye!

 Gin a body meet a body
 Comin thro the rye,
 Gin a body kiss a body,
 Need a body cry?

 Gin a body meet a body
 Comin thro the glen,
 Gin a body kiss a body,
 Need the warld ken?
-- Robert Burns

a' weet: all wet
gin [g as in give]: if
draigl't a' her petticoattie: draggled (wet by trailing on the ground) all
                              her petticoats
ken: know

The first thing a typical English speaker will notice when introduced to
Burns's poetry is, of course, the dialect. However, once you get beyond
that, the most striking thing about his poems is how wonderfully musical
they are. Indeed, most of them practically sing themselves, and it is
unsurprising to learn that many (including today's piece) were actual song
lyrics rather than 'poetry'.

I also love the tone of today's piece, somewhere between playful and
earnest[1], though leaning towards the latter. Burns has captured the feel
of the setting and the moment perfectly, and done so in a few, simple words.
And despite its slightly plaintive air, I can see this working very well as
a drinking song :)

[1] calling once more on Piet Hein:
        Taking fun
          as simply fun
        and earnestness
          in earnest
        shows how thoroughly
          thou none
        of the two
                -- Hein, 'The Eternal Twins'


Salinger's classic 'Catcher in the Rye' owes its title to the protagonist's
misremembering the poem as 'Gin a body catch a body/ Comin thro the rye' -
the image of a 'catcher' in the rye stayed with him.

No less a person than the physicist James Clerk Maxwell parodied 'Comin'
Thro the Rye' in his 'Rigid Body Sings'

       Gin a body meet a body
       Flyin' thro the air,
       Gin a body hit a body,
       Will it fly? And where?
       Ilka impact has its measure
       Ne'er a' ane hae I
       Yet a' the lads they measure me,
       Or, at least, they try.

       Gin a body meet a body
       Altogether free,
       How they travel afterwards
       We do not always see.
       Ilka problem has its method
       By analytics high;
       For me, I ken na ane o' them,
       But what the waur am I?

                -- James Maxwell

[Ilka: each; Ane: one; Waur: worse]


The tune was a traditional Scottish one - sheet music and MIDI available at
[broken link]

Biography of Burns: poem #81


Aunt Jennifer's Tigers -- Adrienne Rich

Guest poem sent in by Teresa D. Gunnell
(Poem #674) Aunt Jennifer's Tigers
 Aunt Jennifer's tigers prance across a screen,
 Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
 They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
 They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

 Aunt Jennifer's fingers fluttering through her wool
 Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
 The massive weight of Uncle's wedding band
 Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer's hand.

 When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
 Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
 The tigers in the panel that she made
 Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
-- Adrienne Rich

This poem has been an echo in my mind since I first read it, largely, I
think, because it reminds me of so many women I watched while growing up in
rural Missouri.  Rich is an amazing poet, her work is laden with meaning and
lovely language ("Bright topaz denizens of a world of green. / They do not
fear the men beneath the tree; / They pace in sleek chivalric certainty).
To me the most pivotal aspect of this poem is the image of a wife, beaten by
marriage and conquered by the weight of her wedding ring.  While not too
overt a feminist chant, it still has a moment of hope, because although Aunt
Jennifer was locked in her world, her tigers aren't.  There is a shaft of
light in this poem - something magical and tangible that remains.



 A biography of Rich:

 There's an extensive collection of links at

The Flower-School -- Rabindranath Tagore

(Poem #673) The Flower-School
 When storm-clouds rumble in the sky and
 June showers come down,
 The moist east wind comes marching over the heath
 to blow its bagpipes amongst the bamboos.
 The crowds of flowers come out of a sudden,
 from nobody knows where,
 and dance upon the grass in wild glee.

 Mother, I really think the flowers go to school underground.
 They do their lessons with doors shut,
 and if they want to come out to play before it is time,
 their master makes them stand in a corner.
 When the rains come they have their holidays.

 Branches clash together in the forest,
 and the leaves rustle in  the wild wind,
 the thunder-clouds clap their giant hands and
 the flower children rush out i dresses of
 pink and yellow and white.

 Do you know, mother, their home is in the sky,
 where the stars are.
 Haven't you seen how eager they are to get there?
 Don't you know why they are in such a hurry?
 Of course, I can guess to whom they raise their arms,
 they have their mother as I have my own.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
(This poem is from the book 'The Crescent Moon', published in 1913)


This poem is from a book of children's poetry. I think we also had another
poem called "Paperboats" from the same collection in the Indian CBSE

It is a fairly simple and charming piece. It also has that lyrical quality I
find in most Tagore poems, and in most (old) poetry translated from Indian

The whole premise of the poem made me smile. I think it sounds just like the
kind of poem a child would write, all his thoughts centred on school-life
while still marvelling at beauty in a curious sort of way. I also like the
way the poem progresses from the child "thinking" to him "knowing". <grin>
This poem also reminds me of my own school days, particularly the "stand
in a corner" part!

- Suchitra


Rabindranath Tagore , the Bengali writer, was born in Calcutta and later
traveled over the world. He grew up in a large house where there was much
writing and artistic activity, and he wrote prolifically throughout his
life, producing more than 3,000 songs as well as volumes of novels, short
stories, plays, and poems. In later life he delivered lectures and painted
many paintings. He wrote what are now the national anthems of both India and

Tagore (who perhaps should be referred to as "Rabindranath" as Bengalis do
with other famous writers) became famous in the West when he traveled to
England and met W. B. Yeats and others, and translated his works into
English. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.  He was knighted in
1915, but gave up his knighthood after the massacre of demonstrators in
India in 1919. Although he did not agree with all the political activities
and nationalistic principles of the movements for independence, he did
participate in them along with Gandhi.

After a short spell of fame in the West, and after he gave up his
knighthood, Tagore's English writings lapsed into a sort of obscurity.
However, of late, editors and translators have acknowledged that Tagore is
very much a modernist writer in spite of the previous criticism that placed
him in the sentimentalist or mystical Edwardian camp.


Other poems from "The Crescent Moon" (with illustrations) can be found at
A few more pieces, some from Tagore's acclaimed "Gitanjali" & "The
Gardener", at

Death -- Thomas Hood

Guest poem sent in by Anustup Datta
(Poem #672) Death
 It is not death, that sometime in a sigh
 This eloquent breath shall take its speechless flight;
 That sometime these bright stars, that now reply
 In sunlight to the sun, shall set in night;
 That this warm conscious flesh shall perish quite,
 And all life's ruddy springs forget to flow;
 That thoughts shall cease, and the immortal sprite
 Be lapp'd in alien clay and laid below;
 It is not death to know this -- but to know
 That pious thoughts, which visit at new graves
 In tender pilgrimage, will cease to go
 So duly and so oft -- and when grass waves
 Over the pass'd-away, there may be then
 No resurrection in the minds of men.
-- Thomas Hood

Found this gem while going through the Oxford Book of English Verse, edited
by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (Q to you <g>). Have not read Hood before in any
depth, but this sonnet appeared to me a really polished example of poetic
craftsmanship - not an image or a word out of place, and a wonderfully
strong metre. Death is a melancholy reflection of how the inexorable passage
of time dulls human memory - dying is complete when there is "No
resurrection in the minds of men." This could be a companion piece to
Silence, another Hood sonnet done earlier on Minstrels (Poem #513).


Lineage -- Ted Hughes

Guest poem sent in by Pavithra Krishnan
(Poem #671) Lineage
 In the beginning was Scream
 Who begat Blood
 Who begat Eye
 Who begat Fear
 Who begat Wing
 Who begat Bone
 Who begat Granite
 Who begat Violet
 Who begat Guitar
 Who begat Sweat
 Who begat Adam
 Who begat Mary
 Who begat God
 Who begat Nothing
 Who begat Never
 Never Never Never

 Who begat Crow

 Screaming for Blood
 Grubs, crusts


 Trembling featherless elbows in the nest's filth
-- Ted Hughes
Hughes' poetry is not kind.

It's mean.

There is something about his style that makes his words read like Truth.
A hard, uncompromising purity that commands admiration, awe.

Pang-less, Hughes rewrites the story of Creation here, he evolves a world of
horror and a fallible God and...Crow. There's a lot of energy in the universe
he sets up, and a lot of violence. Like much of Hughes' poetry this one too
startles. Startles with its strangeness of idea (someday I will understand the
bit about the Violet who begat Guitar), its cataract force, its clean

Crow is an irresistible character. And in introducing him I love how Hughes
shows him to be demanding, obnoxious and bloodthirsty - and yet, with the
'trembling featherless elbows' - breathtakingly vulnerable.

In 'From the Life and Songs of Crow'(from where this poem was taken)Hughes
adopts the voice of folk-myth to tell the adventures of a creature --
part-human,part-greek hero, part-wonderful beast --  called Crow.

'Lineage' is only the beginning.



poem #98 has biographical information and some further links.

And, of course, all the Hughes poems run on Minstrels can be found at
[broken link]

What's the Railroad to Me? -- Henry David Thoreau

Taking a break from epigrams...
(Poem #670) What's the Railroad to Me?
 What's the railroad to me?
 I never go to see
 Where it ends.
 It fills a few hollows,
 And makes banks for the swallows,
 It sets the sand a-blowing,
 And the blackberries a-growing.
-- Henry David Thoreau
Note: From Thoreau's novel 'Walden'

Today's piece forms an interesting counterpoint to poems like Stevenson's
'From a Railway Carriage'. Like roads, railroads (and trains) have garnered
a considerable body of poetry, and for much the same reason. There is a deep
fascination with travel that permeates the collective consciousness; that has
moved countless poets and writers and been responsible for some of their
best works.

In 'What's the Railroad to Me', Thoreau presents a rather different point of
view - that of the uninterested (one is tempted to say 'parochial') person
who 'never goes to see where it ends'. This is in one sense not a
particularly startling viewpoint - it finds echoes in every complaint about
future shock, or the increasingly pervasive intrusion of the 'modern' world
into every surviving enclave of the old one. I do, however, like Thoreau's
treatment of it - the railroad is viewed not as an intrusion, a slash across
the countryside, but rather an accepted part of it. 'What's the railroad to
me?' asks the narrator, and then goes on to answer his question - rather
than a mere rhetorical hook leading in to a rant about the railroad, this is
a genuine exploration of the railroad's place in the surrounding landscape,
from the point of view of someone who cares neither for point A nor for
point B.


  Bob Blair has a nice discussion of the poem within the context of Walden

  Here's an annotated etext of Walden:

  A biography of Thoreau:

  The Stevenson piece referred to: poem #84

And finally, by way of lagniappe:

  "I'm afraid you're going to have to accept it," said Mr Prosser gripping
  his fur hat and rolling it round the top of his head, "this bypass has got
  to be built and it's going to be built!"

  "First I've heard of it," said Arthur, "why's it going to be built?"

  Mr Prosser shook his finger at him for a bit, then stopped and put it away

  "What do you mean, why's it got to be built?" he said. "It's a bypass.
  You've got to build bypasses."

  Bypasses are devices which allow some people to drive from point A to
  point B very fast whilst other people dash from point B to point A very
  fast. People living at point C, being a point directly in between, are
  often given to wonder what's so great about point A that so many people of
  point B are so keen to get there, and what's so great about point B that
  so many people of point A are so keen to get there. They often wish that
  people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted to

  Mr Prosser wanted to be at point D. Point D wasn't anywhere in particular,
  it was just any convenient point a very long way from points A, B and C.
  He would have a nice little cottage at point D, with axes over the door,
  and spend a pleasant amount of time at point E, which would be the nearest
  pub to point D.

        -- Douglas Adams, 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'


Epitaph on Charles II -- John Wilmot

Gues poem submitted by Divya Sampath:
(Poem #669) Epitaph on Charles II
 Here lies a great and mighty King,
 Whose promise none relied on;
 He never said a foolish thing,
 Nor ever did a wise one.
-- John Wilmot
     (Earl of Rochester)


Following Martial's example [1], later epigrammatists often composed
epitaphs for the still living. The one above was written by John Wilmot
during a falling out with the King - a fairly frequent occurrence, by all
accounts, though they were otherwise fast friends. In response to this,
Charles II is supposed to have said, "That is very true, for my words are my
own, but my acts, my ministers'".

[1] Marcus Valerius Martialis (40-104 C.E), who wrote (among other things)
the following pithy words:

 Hic est quem legis ille, quem requiris,
 toto notus in orbe Martialis
 argutis epigrammaton libellis:
 cui, lector studiose, quod dedisti
 uiuenti decus atque sentienti,
 rari post cineres habent poetae.

(He unto whom thou art so partial,
 Oh, reader! is the well-known Martial,
 The Epigrammatist: while living,
 Give him the fame thou wouldst be giving;
 So shall he hear, and feel, and know it --
 Post-obits rarely reach a poet. )
(tr. George Gordon, Lord Byron)

[Brief Bio]

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680)

John Wilmot was born at Ditchley in Oxfordshire, England. The son of a
Cavalier hero and his deeply religious wife, he grew into a notorious
rakehell. By the age of eighteen he had indulged in a number of love
affairs, one of which resulted in the birth of an illegitimate daughter. In
1665 he kidnapped the much sought after heiress Elizabeth Malet, whom he
later married. His lifestyle and wit earned him the (mercurial) favour of
Charles II. Despite several banishments from the court, he remained a
favourite of the king.

In the last year of his life, he seemed to regret his self-indulgent
lifestyle, while being cared for by the rising Anglican Bishop, Gilbert
Burnet. Wilmot influenced and was admired by a large number of poets
including John Dryden, Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope.

     -- condensed from various sources, including the EB


On Problems -- Piet Hein

What collection of epigrams would be complete without at least one of Hein's
sparkling little grooks? Here's one of my favourites...
(Poem #668) On Problems
Our choicest plans
  have fallen through
our airiest castles
  tumbled over
because of lines
  we neatly drew
and later neatly
  stumbled over.
-- Piet Hein
If ever someone deserved the label of 'Renaissance Man', it was surely Piet
Hein[1], mathematician, scientist, inventor, engineer, artist, poet and
above all, genius. It would be hard to say what the most significant of
Hein's many accomplishments was, but high among them is surely the invention
and perfection of the grook.

[1] and all the actual Renaissance men, of course <g>

Hein has left behind a body of work consisting of around 10000 of these
grooks - an impressive achievement by any standard. But what exactly is a
grook? 'Grook' ('gruk' in Danish) is a word invented by Hein to describe his
short, aphoristic poems. There being no formal definition, the best I can do
is try to capture the unmistakable, but surprisingly elusive spirit
underlying Hein's poems.

Pithy, perceptive, varying from the gently quirky to the funny, and with a
deceptively simple style that hides their richly multifaceted nature while
robbing it of none of its impact - the average grook reads like something
between a nursery rhyme and a proverb, and like them, is absolutely
distinctive. Indeed, that is what most impresses me about Hein's grooks -
how, with very little in the way of formal structure, they manage to be so
strongly stamped with his very individual style.

As for today's poem - not only does it speak for itself; it does so far
better than I could hope to.


Here's an excellent biography:

Particularly nice to find was Hein's quote on his invention of the
superellipse - "Man is the animal that draws lines which he himself then
stumbles over." A rare insight into the genesis of a grook - compare this
quote with the polished verse form above.

Hein not only wrote and translated all his grooks, he illustrated them too.
Here's a sampling: [broken link]

Doing a google search on grooks brings up several pages full of them -
here're some of the biggest collections
- [broken link]

While Hein's grooks are out of print in English, and hence hard to find,
they do appear to be getting reprinted:
[broken link]

Amazingly enough, the Britannica does not have an entry for Hein; he is
mentioned in passing in their article on the Soma Cube.


Reflections on Ice-Breaking -- Ogden Nash

 From the modern-day master of the epigram:
(Poem #667) Reflections on Ice-Breaking
 Is Dandy
 But liquor
 Is quicker.
-- Ogden Nash
The _other_ thing about epigrams (which I forgot to mention yesterday) is
that when they're done a-right, further comment is superfluous.


[Minstrels Links]

"Common Cold" is a wonderful piece of hypochondriac hyperbole; the source of
that immortal phrase 'The Führer of the Streptococcracy', it's archived at
poem #325. The commentary accompanying the above poem also quotes (in
entirety) several of Nash's better known short pieces, including "The Cobra"
and his "Reflection on a Wicked World".

"P G Wooster, Just as he Useter" is the tribute of one comic genius to
another: poem #353.

while "Kipling's Vermont" is a very different, but equally accomplished
piece of sly satire: poem #388.

"Will Consider Situation", poem #542, showcases Nash's gift for the
long line.

And finally, "The Sniffle", poem #625, is just plain delightful.


 b. Aug. 19, 1902, Rye, N.Y., U.S.
 d. May 19, 1971, Baltimore, Md.

in full FREDERIC OGDEN NASH, American writer of humorous poetry who won a
large following for his audacious verse.

After a year at Harvard University (1920-21), Nash held a variety of
jobs--advertising, teaching, editing, bond selling--before the success of
his poetry enabled him to work full-time at it. He sold his first verse
(1930) to The New Yorker, on whose editorial staff he was employed for a
time. With the publication of his first collection, Hard Lines (1931), he
began a 40-year career during which he produced 20 volumes of verse with
such titles as The Bad Parents' Garden of Verse (1936), I'm a Stranger Here
Myself (1938), and Everyone but Thee and Me (1962). Making his home in
Baltimore, he also did considerable lecturing on tours throughout the United
States. He wrote the lyrics for the musicals One Touch of Venus (1943) and
Two's Company (1952), as well as several children's books.

His rhymes are jarringly off or disconcertingly exact, and his ragged
stanzas vary from lines of one word to lines that meander the length of a
paragraph, often interrupted by inapposite digressions. He said he learned
his prosody from the unintentional blunders of the notoriously slipshod poet
Julia Moore, the "Sweet Singer of Michigan."

        -- EB

Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness -- Alexander Pope

Guest poem submitted by Rachel Granfield:
(Poem #666) Epigram Engraved on the Collar of a Dog Which I Gave to His Royal Highness
 I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
 Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
-- Alexander Pope
After a particularly tedious introduction to Pope's _The Rape of the Lock_
in freshman English, I have avoided him ever since. However, anyone who can
so thoroughly excoriate human hierarchy and snobbery in 15 short words (not
including the lengthy title) has my undying respect. It looks like
biographical information on Pope has been included with his two previous
poems appearing on Minstrels, so I am going to gracefully bow out of that
responsibility. :)



"The Riddle of the World", archived at poem #39 has a biography and
critical assessment of the poet, plus some nice commentary by Salil Murthy
on the art of satire.

poem #331 is an excerpt from Pope's "Essay on Man"; the accompanying
commentary includes lots of interesting material on (read: critical analysis
of) his style and themes.

Dreams -- Robert Herrick

(Poem #665) Dreams
 Here we are all, by day; by night we're hurled
 By dreams, each one, into a several world.
-- Robert Herrick
Epigrams, even more than other poems, demand an absolute perfection of
design and execution if they are to work at all. One syllable out of place,
and the entire effect is ruined... conversely, the very best examples of the
genre seem to have lasted forever, so naturally do the words, sounds and
meanings fit together. Herrick's couplet on dreams falls in the latter
category [1].

Technical mastery apart, I like epigrams (whether they be by Horace or
Hafiz, Blake or Basho) for the same reason I like haiku and other
minimalistic forms of verse - so much of the interpretation is left to the
reader; the poetry expands in the mind's eye. Again, Herrick's poem is an
excellent example thereof: the image of being "hurled" (no other word will
do) into "several worlds" by dreams offers limitless possibilities to the
reader willing to explore its depths...


[1] As does most of his work; as I've commented before, his poetry is
possessed of "a remarkable felicity of rhythm and rhyme". See the links
section below for examples.

[Minstrels Links]

The Minstrels archive,, has the
following poems by Robert Herrick:

Delight in Disorder, Poem #332
The Night Piece, to Julia, Poem #398
The Hag, Poem #593

The second poem above has a brief biography, and links to some other of his

Conceit -- Mervyn Peake

Guest poem submitted by Mukund Rangamani:
(Poem #664) Conceit
 I heard a winter tree in song
 Its leaves were birds, a hundred strong;
 When all at once it ceased to sing,
 For every leaf had taken wing.
-- Mervyn Peake
I am sure others can say a lot about the poet (I for one have yet to read
Gormenghast), so I will content myself with saying something about the poem.
For someone who has lived a good part of life in tropical climes, the change
of seasons through fall and winter is a fantastic revelation. The fleeting
nature of the beautiful season before all turns grey and dull is beautifully
captured in the poem. And the analogy of the song, a snippet of melody,
heard but a short while, before silence, works just so well...


[thomas adds]

Yesterday's poem, and the associations it called up in my mind, prompted my
choice of guest submission to run today: Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy
has much the same texture (rich, mysterious, forbidding and just plain
weird) as Graves' nightmarish vision.


Martin once ran a theme on poems written by fantasy authors; check out
J. R. R. Tolkien, "Three Rings for the Elven Kings", Poem #257
Lord Dunsany, "Songs from an Evil Wood", Poem #259
Robert E. Howard, "Recompense", Poem #261
in the Minstrels archive,

Of course, there's a lot more Tolkien in the archive; go to
[broken link] for a full listing.

Like Peake, Edward Lear illustrated many of the strange worlds he conjured
up; the link above features several of his poems as well.

Mukund suggested for more about the poet, and I
concur - it seems to be an excellent site, and does ample justice to Peake's
multifarious talents, as poet, novelist, artist, illustrator, writer of
children's books and nonsense verse.


 b. July 9, 1911, Kuling, Kiangsi Province, China
 d. Nov. 17, 1968, Burcot, Oxfordshire, Eng.

English novelist, poet, painter, playwright, and illustrator, best known for
the bizarre Titus Groan trilogy of novels and for his illustrations of his
novels and of children's stories.

Educated in China and in Kent, Peake went to art school and trained as a
painter, but he was stricken with a progressive illness that made him
increasingly helpless until his death.

His Titus Groan novels--consisting of Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast
(1950), and Titus Alone (1959)--display a gallery of eccentric and freakish
characters in an idiosyncratic Gothic setting. Peake's drawings and
paintings, particularly his illustrations for the novels and for children's
books, are only a little less known, and his poem The Glassblowers (1950)
won a literary prize, together with Gormenghast. Peake also wrote a play,
The Wit to Woo (performed 1957).

        -- EB

A Child's Nightmare -- Robert Graves

Guest poem submitted by Suchitra:
(Poem #663) A Child's Nightmare
 Through long nursery nights he stood
 By my bed unwearying,
 Loomed gigantic, formless, queer,
 Purring in my haunted ear
 That same hideous nightmare thing,
 Talking, as he lapped my blood,
 In a voice cruel and flat,
 Saying for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."

 That one word was all he said,
 That one word through all my sleep,
 In monotonous mock despair.
 Nonsense may be light as air,
 But there's Nonsense that can keep
 Horror bristling round the head,
 When a voice cruel and flat
 Says for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."

 He had faded, he was gone
 Years ago with Nursery Land,
 When he leapt on me again
 From the clank of a night train,
 Overpowered me foot and head,
 Lapped my blood, while on and on
 The old voice cruel and flat
 Says for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."

 Morphia drowsed, again I lay
 In a crater by High Wood:
 He was there with straddling legs,
 Staring eyes as big as eggs,
 Purring as he lapped my blood,
 His black bulk darkening the day,
 With a voice cruel and flat,
 "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..." he said, "Cat! ... Cat!..."

 When I'm shot through heart and head,
 And there's no choice but to die,
 The last word I'll hear, no doubt,
 Won't be "Charge!" or "Bomb them out!"
 Nor the stretcher-bearer's cry,
 "Let that body be, he's dead!"
 But a voice cruel and flat
 Saying for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!"
-- Robert Graves
 From "Fairies and Fusiliers", published 1918.

 Let me begin with a confession - I don't like cats. I don't even like
feline poetry that much, except for a few poems like this one.

 This poem has a distinctive eerie feel; it reminds me, somehow, of
"Frankenstein" since the cat (or the unnamed thing that says "Cat!...Cat!")
is destined to haunt the poet forever. The repitition of the word "Cat"
seems to turn the word into a symbol of terror. I also think the "..."
between the words "Cat!" gives it a good rhythm (not "monotonous" as to the
poet!) and adds to the haunting effect.

 These lines are particularly insightful: "Nonsense may be light as air /
But there's Nonsense that can keep / Horror bristling round the head". Aptly
describes the kind of fear one associates with "ghoulies and ghosties and
long-leggedy beasties" [1].

 On a personal note, this is also a poem I can empathise with, because I
have had some vivid nightmares about tigers. Still do, actually (there, I
admitted it!). One of them was about a huge tiger that lay on the roof of my
house, its paws hanging over the windows - quite like "He was there with
straddling legs / Staring eyes as big as eggs / ... / His black bulk
darkening the day". Of course in my dream, there were also life-size tigers
prowling around the house...


[1] A traditional Scottish prayer goes:

 From ghoulies and ghosties
 And long-leggedy beasties
 And things that go bump in the night,
 Good Lord, deliver us!

[Minstrels Links]

Other poems by Robert Graves:
poem #55
poem #564
poem #467
poem #298
poem #515

[thomas adds]

Other poems about cats:
All over the place. Sometimes it feels like we've never done anything else
<grin>. Go to poem #661 , and
follow the links. Once we have the "sort by theme" feature ready (coming
your way Real Soon Now) it should be a lot easier to do this sort of thing.

Random associations:
"Ghost V", by Robert Sheckley.
"Lords and Ladies", by Terry Pratchett.
(Both highly recommended, if you haven't read them before).

Cat -- Jibanananda Das

Guest poem sent in by Raghavendra Udupa U
(Poem #662) Cat
 Again and again through the day
 I meet a cat.
 In the tree's shade, in the sun, in the crowding brown leaves.
 After the success of a few fish bones
 Or inside a skeleton of white earth
 I find it, as absorbed in the purring
 Of its heart as a bee.
 Still it sharpens its claws on the gulmohar tree
 And follows the sun all day long.

 Now I see it and then it is gone,
 Losing itself somewhere.
 On the autumn evening I have watched it play,
 Stroking the soft body of the saffron sun
 With a white paw. Then it caught
 The darkness in paws like small balls
 And scattered it all over the earth.
-- Jibanananda Das
Translated by: Lila Ray
[[broken link]]

There is a poem titled Cat by Jibanananda Das. I don't know Bangla and hence I
haven't read the original. However, the English translation is beautiful and
the image it creates is mesmerizing. The last four lines are magical, a
wonderful way to end a good poem.


Jubilate Agno -- Christopher Smart

Back in action with a cat poem of my own...
(Poem #661) Jubilate Agno
 For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
 For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
 For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his
 For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant
 For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon
his prayer.
 For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
 For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
 For this he performs in ten degrees.
 For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
 For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
 For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
 For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
 For fifthly he washes himself.
 For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
 For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the
 For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
 For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
 For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
 For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
 For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
 For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
 For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
 For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
 For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
 For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and
glaring eyes.
 For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
 For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
 For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
 For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
 For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he
 For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit
without provocation.
 For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
 For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
 For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the
 For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the
Children of Israel from Egypt.
 For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
 For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
 For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
 For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him
 For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
 For he is tenacious of his point.
 For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
 For he knows that God is his Saviour.
 For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
 For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
 For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence
perpetually -- Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
 For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
 For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
 For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in
 For he is docile and can learn certain things.
 For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
 For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
 For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
 For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
 For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
 For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
 For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
 For the former is afraid of detection.
 For the latter refuses the charge.
 For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
 For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
 For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
 For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
 For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
 For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
 For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
 For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
 For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from
heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
 For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
 For, tho' he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
 For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other
 For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
 For he can swim for life.
 For he can creep.
-- Christopher Smart
The line dividing genius and madness is an exceedingly fine one, and more
than a few poets have straddled it. Christopher Smart is one such: today's
extraordinary poem was written while he was confined to an insane asylum in
Bethnal Green, yet it shows none of the effects one might expect from such a
conception. On the contrary - the poem reeks of sanity: the organisation is
superb, the diction is utterly assured and confident, the verses ring
perfectly true. It makes you wonder, doesn't it?


[About the Madness of Christopher Smart]

... In 1756 Smart was dangerously ill, and a year later he was admitted to a
hospital for the insane; he spent the years 1759-63 in a private home for
the insane in Bethnal Green. His derangement took the form of a compulsion
to public prayer, which occasioned the famous comment of Dr. Johnson: "I'd
as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else". After leaving the asylum he
published his best-known poem, _A Song to David_... [in later years] he
declined into poverty and debt, and died within the 'Rules' of the King's
Bench Prison.

     -- Margaret Drabble, The Oxford Companion to English Literature

[About the Poem Itself]

First published in 1939, under the title Rejoice in the Lamb: A Song from
Bedlam, edited by W. F. Stead from Smart's manuscript, which Stead had
discovered in a private library. Smart wrote the poem during the long period
of restraint and confinement to a madhouse (there is no evidence that he was
in Bedlam) which extended from 1756 to 1763. The poem consists of two types
of verses: one a series beginning with the word "Let," associating names of
human beings, mainly biblical, with various natural objects, and the other a
series of aphoristic verses beginning with the word "For." A later edition
of the poem, by W. H. Bond (1954), indicates that Smart's plan was to
arrange the "Let" and "For" passages opposite one another antiphonally,
following a practice of biblical Hebrew poetry, and that the present MS.
represents less than half of Smart's original plan for the poem, It is
unlikely that Smart thought of publishing the poem in his lifetime.


[More About Madness and Genius]

Christopher Smart, who was tossed in the madhouse for his incessant praying
(in the street, for the most part), constantly asks what creativity is, what
rationality and irrationality are. His poems let loose a portion of the
imagination which the age of reason makes a point of keeping fettered with
social norms and conventional religion; in this way his raptures are related
to the scenes of redemptive or escapest madness we see in the literature of
Sensibility: Clarissa's mad letters after the rape and the lunatic picking
flowers in Werther. These issues of madness animate the debate we see
throughout the literature of Sensibility that revolves around the tension
between an imagination founded on the senses, on one hand, and governing
reason and judgement, on the other. Foucault in Madness and Civilization
examines the relationship between passion and enthusiasm and madness.
Smart's "madness" is actually grounded in his acute sensibilious response to
the physical world: the "mad" Smart is very much a part of this world, even
as he authorizes himself as a prophetic interpretor of the universe.
Interested in this world -- the material, the everyday, his cat -- his own
senses lead him on a journey of spiritual discovery. We also see here, as we
see in Sentimental Journey and elsewhere, the non-human or animal which
sparks benevolence, pity, or joy in the human.

        -- [broken link]

[Tangentially Related Stuff]

Rejoice in the Lamb, Britten's 1943 setting of Jubilate Agno by Christopher
Smart, is based upon one of poetry's more weird offerings. The writer was
incarcerated in a lunatic asylum in 1756 for a form of religious mania and
his poem reflects this in an innocent, childlike faith which strikes us as
strange even today. Included in the eight sections is a poem For I will
consider my cat Jeoffrey and the feline's daily devotions which involve
twisting his body around seven times each morning. Britten chooses to set
this part for a rather plaintive treble voice. He uses an alto to tell the
tale of a male mouse that prepares to challenge a cat to protect his mate.
The Te Deum in C, from 1934, contrasts a solo treble voice with the rest of
the choir, while the short Jubilate Deo of 1961 has some sprightly organ



A poem as distinctive as Smart's simply cries out for parody, and Gavin
Ewart more than rises to the occasion:

'Jubilate Matteo'

For I rejoice in my cat Matty.
For his coat is variegated in black and brown, with white undersides.
For in every way his whiskers are marvellous.
For he resists the Devil and is completely neuter.
For he sleeps and washes himself and walks warily in the ways of Putney.
For he is at home in the whole district of SW15.
For in this district the great Yorkshire Murderer ate his last meal before
he entered into captivity.
For in the Book of Crime there is no name like John Reginald Halliday
For Yorkshire indeed excels in all things, as Geoffrey Boycott is the best
For the Yorkshire Ripper and the Hull Arsonist have their horns exalted in
For Yorkshire is therefore acknowledged the greatest County.
For Hull was once of the company, that is now of Humberside.
For Sir Leonard Hutton once scored 364 runs in a Test Match.
For Fred Trueman too is a flagrant glory to Yorkshire.
For my cat wanders in the ways of the angels of Yorkshire.
For in his soul God has shown him a remarkable vision of Putney.
For he has also trodden in the paths of the newly fashionable.
For those who live in Gwendolen Avenue cry 'Drop dead, darling!'
For in Cambalt road and Dealtry Road where the Vet lives there are
professional people.
For Erpingham Road and Danemere Street and Dryburgh Road include the
For in Clarendon Drive the Britist Broadcasting Corporation is rampant.
For the glory of God has deserted the simple.
For the old who gossiped in Bangalore Road are unknown to the dayspring.
For there is a shortage of the old people who adorned the novels of William
For in the knowledge of this I cling to the old folkways of Gwalior Road and
Olivette Street.
For I rejoice in my cat, who has the true spirit of Putney.

        -- Gavin Ewart

[Minstrels Links]

Madness has its place; check out
William Blake: Poems 26, 66, 97, 368, 546,
Ezra Pound: Poems 70, 123, 191, 319, 524, 583,
and Sylvia Plath: Poems 53, 129, 366, 404, 612.

The previous cat theme Martin mentioned: Poems 572, 574, 575, 577 (I'm sure
there are many more cat poems available on the website).

Other works by Gavin Ewart: Poems 263, 283, 546.

All this, and much much more, in the Minstrels archive,

[And Finally]

I've just returned to Tokyo (and email!) after a most excellent holiday; my
thanks go to all those who submitted guest poems to cover for me, and to
Martin for manning the conn over the last few weeks.

On A Night of Snow -- Elizabeth Coatsworth

Carrying on with the cat theme...

Guest poem sent in by Martin Davis
(Poem #660) On A Night of Snow
 Cat, if you go outdoors, you must walk in the snow.
 You will come back with little white shoes on your feet,
 little white shoes of snow that have heels of sleet.
 Stay by the fire, my Cat.  Lie still, do not go.
 See how the flames are leaping and hissing low,
 I will bring you a saucer of milk like a marguerite,
 so white and so smooth, so spherical and so sweet -
 stay with me, Cat.  Outdoors the wild winds blow.

 Outdoors the wild winds blow, Mistress, and dark is the night,
 strange voices cry in the trees, intoning strange lore,
 and more than cats move, lit by our eyes green light,
 on silent feet where the meadow grasses hang hoar -
 Mistress, there are portents abroad of magic and might,
 and things that are yet to be done.  Open the door!
-- Elizabeth Coatsworth
I'm afraid that I know nothing of Elizabeth Coatsworth, not can I
remember the anthology in which I found this poem.  When I started to
read it, I thought "Ho hum, another twee cat poem..." ; but then the
cat's voice in the second stanza hits its contrasting view of the world,
and, for me, conjures up the excitement of sharing living space with
cats very successfully.

It works so well that it was only some time after my first reading that
I realised it was a sonnet, 8/6, abbaabba cdcdcd, which I think is
always a tribute to the poet's art.

Regardless of the crafting, it still makes the hair on the back of my
neck rise - I hope you enjoy it too.

Best wishes,
Martin Davis

Poem -- William Carlos Williams

Guest poem sent in by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #659) Poem
 As the cat
 climbed over
 the top of

 the jamcloset
 first the right

 then the hind
 stepped down

 into the pit of
 the empty
-- William Carlos Williams
It's so incredibly simple isn't it. There's a cat. It moves from point A to
point B. That's all. But Williams captures the instinctive soft-footedness of
that movement so well. The first time I read this poem, I BRISTLED with
excitement, literally. The words themselves so sleekly feline, and the last
paragraph leaping down on to the page so nimbly that just reading the words,
just hearing the sound of them, you can see the cat moving. One of my
favourite Williams.



poem #83 for a biography of Williams and what is probably his best
known poem.

Serenade -- Oscar Wilde

Carrying on with the theme...

Guest poem sent in by Suchitra
(Poem #658) Serenade
 The western wind is blowing fair
   Across the dark Ægean sea,
 And at the secret marble stair
   My Tyrian galley waits for thee.
 Come down! the purple sail is spread,
   The watchman sleeps within the town,
 O leave thy lily-flowered bed,
   O Lady mine come down, come down!

 She will not come, I know her well,
   Of lover's vows she hath no care,
 And little good a man can tell
   Of one so cruel and so fair.
 True love is but a woman's toy,
   They never know the lover's pain,
 And I who loved as loves a boy
   Must love in vain, must love in vain.

 O noble pilot tell me true
   Is that the sheen of golden hair?
 Or is it but the tangled dew
   That binds the passion-flowers there?
 Good sailor come and tell me now
   Is that my Lady's lily hand?
 Or is it but the gleaming prow,
   Or is it but the silver sand?

 No! no! 'tis not the tangled dew,
   'Tis not the silver-fretted sand,
 It is my own dear Lady true
   With golden hair and lily hand!
 O noble pilot steer for Troy,
   Good sailor ply the labouring oar,
 This is the Queen of life and joy
   Whom we must bear from Grecian shore!

 The waning sky grows faint and blue,
   It wants an hour still of day,
 Aboard! aboard! my gallant crew,
   O Lady mine away! away!
 O noble pilot steer for Troy,
   Good sailor ply the labouring oar,
 O loved as only loves a boy!
   O loved for ever evermore!
-- Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, the son of an
eye-surgeon and a literary hostess and writer (known under the pseudonym
"Speranza"). After studying at Trinity College, Dublin, Wilde went to
Magdalen College, Oxford, where he achieved a double first and won the
Newdigate prize for a poem "Ravenna".

While at Oxford he became notorious for his flamboyant wit, talent, charm
and aestheticism, and this reputation soon won him a place in London
society. Bunthorne, the Fleshly Poet in Gilbert and Sullivan's opera
Patience was widely thought to be a caricature of Wilde (though in fact it
was intended as a skit of Rossetti) and Wilde seems to have consciously
styled himself on this figure.

In 1882 Wilde gave a one year lecture tour of America, visiting Paris in
1883 before returning to New York for the opening of his first play Vera. In
1884 he married and had two sons, for whom he probably wrote his first book
of fairy tales, The Happy Prince. The next decade was his most prolific and
the time when he wrote the plays for which he is best remembered. His
writing and particularly his plays are epigramatic and witty and Wilde was
not afraid to shock.

This period was also haunted by accusations about his personal life, chiefly
prompted by the Marquess of Queensberry's fierce opposition to the intense
friendship between Wilde and her son, Lord Alfred. These accusations
culminated in 1895 in Wilde's imprisonment for homosexual offences.

While in prison, Wilde was declared bankrupt, and after his release he lived
on the generosity of friends. From prison he wrote a long and bitter letter
to Lord Alfred, part of which was afterwards published as De Profundis, but
after his release he wrote nothing but the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol.


Oscar Wilde's works online at

A comprehensive biography at

The Dark and Turbulent Sea -- Stephen Dobyns

Guest poem sent in by Ravi Mundoli
(Poem #657) The Dark and Turbulent Sea
 Sailboat, sailboat - so Heart counts the ships at sea
 in order to raise his thoughts above matters of flesh.
 Heart is at the beach in his red swimsuit and nearby
 on towels or tossing balls in the air are abundant
 examples of female dazzle. Often Heart is comforted
 by the waves' regulation, the distant line of watery
 horizon, and the air with its mixed aspects of seafood,
 salt and sweat. But here at the beach Heart is no closer
 to the sea's soothing sway and resultant philosophical
 reflection than on a city street. Lolling and frolicking
 nymphs, pink flesh, and half-bared breasts, consume
 his vision and so in desperation Heart counts the ships
 at sea - sailboat, sailboat - in hopes he'll be restored
 to calm. This for Heart enacts life's essential problem-
 the distant vista with its philiosophical paraphernalia
 is disturbingly hidden by the delights of the foreground.
 Why for instance, mull over mortality when a bevy
 of young ladies is engaged in a bosomy bout of volleyball
 just a few feet away. Jiggle, jiggle thinks Heart, it leads
 to trouble. Sad to say, he hasn't thought of Kierkegaard
 all day. Heart is even hesitant to swim or take a nap lest
 he miss some beauty adjust a strap or hitch her halter up.
 as for the dark and violent sea it's just a distraction, easily
 ignored; moral issues, highbrow notions - all forgotten.
 This is in answer to a question asked the next day by a man
 in his car starting through his tempest - streaked windshield
 at the wind pummeled beach: Why's that guy sitting there
 grinning? Heart's having a picnic, even though its storming.
 Raindrops run down his neck. Heart stares at the waves disappearing
 into the fog and feels able at last to see what's there in peace. And
 what's that?:
 What lies ahead and what always has been. All the immutable why's and
 But now Heart's distracted once again. Beneath the sand he has found a
 polka dotted bikini top. What amazing luck! Heart presses it to his lips,
 then folds it neatly in his basket. Is he aware of the wintry weather's
 fierce attack? Guess not.
-- Stephen Dobyns

   Dobyns has published 21 works of fiction; a book of essays on poetry,
   "Best Words, Best Order" (St. Martin's Press, 1996); and ten books of
   poems, most recently "Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides." His most
   recent novels are "Boy in the Water" and "Church of Dead Girls." A
   collection of his short stories, "Eating Naked," is forthcoming from
   Holt this year. Dobyns' poems have won many awards and prizes,
   including the Lamont Poetry Selection, the Poetry Society of America's
   Melville Cane Award and Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts
   fellowships. His novels have been translated into some 15 languages,
   and two of them have been made into films ("Cold Dog Soup" and "Two
   Deaths of Señora Puccini"). Whether working in prose or poetry, he is a
   storyteller of great playfulness, caustic wit and heartfelt tenderness
   -- provocative and deeply curious.

The present poem is from "Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides".

   In "Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides," we see the world through
   the melancholic eyes of Heart -- blood-pumping organ, lover, poet and
   skeptical philosopher of the everyday. Heart reflects on the vagaries
   of love, the cruelties of time and on "how some folks get pearls,
   others pebbles." Dividing two sections of Heart poems is the long
   "Oh, Immobility, Death's Vast Associate," which is a jazzy
   disquisition on human isolation and inaction in the midst of a planet
   full of people brooding over problems of gravity, age and memory.
   Full of Dobyns' characteristic black humor and maniacal imagination,
   the poem also admits moments of irresistible affirmation:

       But the flower, the poem, the sonata, the song:
       all beauty is a form of eager activity. Within
       its delicate body each daisy is a rowdy dance.

   "Pallbearers" has been called "a cycle of medieval morality poems for
   a new Dark Age."

   "Stephen Dobyns is nothing so much as the Dean Swift of contemporary
   American poetry," writes The Washington Post. "Satirist and
   absurdist, unsparing chronicler of the body's runaway appetites and
   the body politic's rampant festerings, a searing moralist camouflaged
   in a manic style and a flair for the macabre." But, as Hayden Carruth
   said, while "his manner is tart, often sardonic,.at heart the poems
   are profoundly humane," struggling as they always are with the
   paradox of the human condition: "How hard to love the world; we must
   love the world."

        -- [broken link]

The book is an excellent one, the poems all seem "relevant" even though
(!!) Dobyns uses such modern day images as fax machines and email to put
his point across. In particular, the separating out of "Heart" as though he
were a separate person, with a separate consciousness from the more
business-like brain seems like a brilliant literary trick. You will have to
read the book to understand what I'm saying :-).

Ravi Mundoli