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Haiku -- Yosa Buson

Guest poem submitted by Sidharth Jaggi:
(Poem #712) Haiku
 The seashore temple...
 Incoming rollers flow in time
 To the holy flute.
-- Yosa Buson
Words mean more to one if they have some immediate relevance; in my case it
was the sheer coincidence of seeing a brass plate with the above haiku on it
in the promenade while roller-blading down the waterfront of San Francisco.
Since I've seen a translation of the above with the operative word
substituted with 'breakers' I guess the pun was unintentional, but...

But that isn't quite all; the poem, if anything, is the city of San
Francisco. It's a lovely lovely city with ups and downs and
all-the-way-arounds, and try going along the seashore on a sunny morning and
see if you don't think the haiku has it about right.


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #23, Poem #57 and Poem #277 are all classic haiku; the first two
are by Basho, the third by Buson.

Poem #198, "Japanese Jokes", is Peter Porter's witty take on this very
distinctive genre.

Poem #87, by Yakamochi is an example of 'tanka', the predecessor of the
haiku form.

I'm Nobody! Who are you? -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem sent in by Ashwin
(Poem #711) I'm Nobody! Who are you?
 I'm Nobody! Who are you?
 Are you--Nobody--Too?
 Then there's a pair of us?
 Don't tell! they'd advertise--you know!

 How dreary--to be--Somebody!
 How public--like a Frog--
 To tell one's name--the livelong June--
 To an admiring Bog!
-- Emily Dickinson
I prefer not to subject this poem to a deep analysis - drawing
elaborate analogies to life or our present day society and so on.
The language is , IMHO, sufficiently plain and hard-hitting  to convey
Dickinson's feelings. What catches my fancy is the whimsical punctuation
and the only too evident sarcasm.



No shortage of Dickinson's poems on Minstrels; there's a biography at
  poem #92

[And yes, you can sing this one TTTO 'The Yellow Rose of Texas' :) - m.]

Vergissmeinnicht -- Keith Douglas

(Poem #710) Vergissmeinnicht
 Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
 returning over the nightmare ground
 we found the place again, and found
 the soldier sprawling in the sun.

 The frowning barrel of his gun
 overshadowing. As we came on
 that day, he hit my tank with one
 like the entry of a demon.

 Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
 the dishonoured picture of his girl
 who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht.
 in a copybook gothic script.

 We see him almost with content,
 abased, and seeming to have paid
 and mocked at by his own equipment
 that's hard and good when he's decayed.

 But she would weep to see today
 how on his skin the swart flies move;
 the dust upon the paper eye
 and the burst stomach like a cave.

 For here the lover and killer are mingled
 who had one body and one heart.
 And death who had the soldier singled
 has done the lover mortal hurt.
-- Keith Douglas
Vergissmeinnicht means "forget me not" in German.

The phrase 'War Poets' usually calls to mind names such as those of Wilfred
Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and their contemporaries from the First World War
(the 'Great War', as it was called in its immediate aftermath); although the
Second World War did produce its share of important poems, most of them were
written at some remove from the trenches (the work of Empson and Auden
springs to mind) (cue a flood of emails from Minstrels subscribers pointing
out my ignorance of WW2 poetry). Douglas is the exception: like Owen, he
distinguished himself on the front lines (thus achieving a moral stature
which enabled him to criticize the carnage around him); like Owen, his
poetry has a universality which speaks to readers removed from its immediate
context; and like Owen, he was killed in action.

Douglas' verse itself, though, is quite different from Owen's; where the
latter is a blend of (barely-restrained) outrage and compassion, the
former's "unquiet intensity" has been compared to the Metaphysicals -
detached and clinical on the surface [1], yet deeply thought-out and
meaning-laden. "Vergissmeinnicht" is an excellent (if somewhat
over-anthologized) example of this... the final couplet, especially, is
justly celebrated for its encapsulation of the paradox of war.


[1] Michael Schmidt quips that for Douglas, "the poetry is in the
pitilessness", reversing Owen's famous comment on his own work, which you
can read at poem #132


  b. January 20, 1920, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England
  d. June 9, 1944, Normandy, France

British poet who is remembered for his irony, eloquence, and fine control in
expressing the misery and waste of war, to which he was to fall victim.

Douglas' education at Oxford University was cut short by the outbreak of
war. By 1941 he was serving as a tank commander in North Africa, where some
of his most powerful poems were written (Alamein to Zem-Zem, 1946). He was
moved back to Britain in 1944 to take part in the D-Day invasion; he fell in
combat in Normandy on his third day there. His posthumous Collected Poems
(1951) enhanced his reputation as a war poet, but in 1964 Ted Hughes's
edition of Douglas' Selected Poems established him as a poet of universal

        -- EB


See poem #707 for a list of
other war poems; don't miss the ones by Wilfred Owen, especially.

100 Pipers -- Trad

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #709) 100 Pipers
 Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a',
 Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a',
 We'll up an' gie them a blaw, a blaw,
 Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a'.
 O it's owre the border awa', awa'
 It's owre the border awa', awa',
 We'll on an' we'll march to Carlisle ha'
 Wi' its yetts, its castle an' a', an a'.

   Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a',
   Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a',
   We'll up an' gie them a blaw, a blaw
   Wi' a hundred pipers, an' a', an' a'.

 O! our sodger lads looked braw, looked braw,
 Wi' their tartan kilts an' a', an' a',
 Wi' their bonnets an' feathers an' glitt'rin' gear,
 An' pibrochs sounding loud and clear.
 Will they a' return to their ain dear glen?
 Will they a' return oor Heilan' men?
 Second sichted Sandy looked fu' wae.
 An' mithers grat when they march'd away.


 O! wha' is foremos o' a', o' a',
 Oh wha' is foremost o' a', o' a',
 Bonnie Charlie the King o' us a', hurrah!
 Wi' his hundred pipers an' a', an ' a'.
 His bonnet and feathers he's waving high,
 His prancing steed maist seems to fly,
 The nor' win' plays wi' his curly hair,
 While the pipers play wi'an unco flare.


 The Esk was swollen sae red an' sae deep,
 But shouther to shouther the brave lads keep;
 Twa thousand swam owre to fell English ground
 An' danced themselves dry to the pibroch's sound.
 Dumfoun'er'd the English saw, they saw,
 Dumfoun'er'd they heard the blaw, the blaw,
 Dumfoun'er'd they a' ran awa', awa',
 Frae the hundred pipers an' a', an' a'.

-- Trad
A fantastic song (traditional scottish reel, to the tune of bagpipes) about
Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) (The Young Pretender)
and his 1745 Jacobite rebellion against the English, with the support of
several highland clans.

The rebellion was destined to abject failure, and the prince returned to his
(rather comfortable) exile in France.

Several books by Sir Walter Scott (most notably Rob Roy) and R.L.
Stevenson's Kidnapped (and its sequel Catriona) are set around this time -
read 'em for more.

Oh by the way, this is the tune which inspired Seagrams to call their
scotch '100 Pipers'.


fu' wae=full of woe
grat=cried  (present tense - greet)


Five Songs - II -- W H Auden

Guest poem sent in by L. Archer
(Poem #708) Five Songs - II
 That night when joy began
 Our narrowest veins to flush,
 We waited for the flash
 Of morning's levelled gun.
 But morning let us pass,
 And day by day relief
 Outgrows his nervous laugh,
 Grown credulous of peace,
 As mile by mile is seen
 No trespasser's reproach,
 And love's best glasses reach
 No fields but are his own.
-- W H Auden
        (November 1931)

I don't think a person has to have been through the experience of a soldier
to appreciate this one.

To me, this poem encapsulates the feeling of apprehension which so often is
just groundless worry over little or nothing.  Often, when the situation has
passed, you wonder why you were so concerned.

My fave line is "As mile by mile is seen, No trespasser's reproach."  How
many of us wait for the hammer to fall, only to find it never does?

Good link:  [broken link]

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner -- Randall Jarrell

(Poem #707) The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
 From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
 And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
 Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
 I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
 When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
-- Randall Jarrell
[Jarrell's note to the poem]

A ball turret was a Plexiglas sphere set into the belly of a B-17 or B-24,
and inhabited by two .50 caliber machine-guns and one man, a short small
man. When this gunner tracked with his machine guns a fighter attacking his
bomber from below, he revolved with the turret; hunched upside-down in his
little sphere, he looked like the foetus in the womb. The fighters which
attacked him were armed with cannon firing explosive shells. The hose was a
steam hose.

[My own commentary]

A rather 'obvious' poem, but one that's no less powerful for that: the image
of 'the nightmare fighters' [1] attacking the cold, miserable gunner as he
crouches upside-down in his lonely turret awakens a very primal response in
the reader. The extended foetal metaphor [2] adds to the visceral effect...


[1] brilliant phrase, that - I can picture swastikaed BF-109s and FW-190s
screaming in to attack the lumbering Fortresses and Liberators... scary.

[2] "my mother's sleep", "wet fur", "dream of life"... need I say more?

[Minstrels Links]

War Poems:
Poem #132, "Dulce Et Decorum Est", Wilfred Owen
Poem #232, "Insensibility", Wilfred Owen
Poem #288, "Futility", Wilfred Owen
Poem #321, "Strange Meeting", Wilfred Owen
Poem #385, "Base Details", Siegfried Sassoon
Poem #535, "The Working Party", Siegfried Sassoon
Poem #28, "To Whom It May Concern",     Adrian Mitchell
(Actually, 'anti-war poems' is probably a better description of most of the

Sort of War Poems:
Poem #43, "Tommy", Rudyard Kipling
Poem #276, "High Flight", John Gillespie Magee
Poem #32, "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death", William Butler Yeats
Poem #395, "Naming of Parts", Henry Reed

[Random Association]

Poem #707, Boeing 707, Boeing B-17... nah, I guess I'm just sleepy.

Villanelle -- William Empson

(Poem #706) Villanelle
 It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
 Your chemic beauty burned my muscles through.
 Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

 What later purge from this deep toxin cures?
 What kindness now could the old salve renew?
 It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

 The infection slept (custom or changes inures)
 And when pain's secondary phase was due
 Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

 How safe I felt, whom memory assures,
 Rich that your grace safely by heart I knew.
 It is the pain, it is the pain endures.

 My stare drank deep beauty that still allures.
 My heart pumps yet the poison draught of you.
 Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

 You are still kind whom the same shape immures.
 Kind and beyond adieu. We miss our cue.
 It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
 Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.
-- William Empson

Empson's blend of emotion and intellect is very reminiscent of John Donne,
and like Donne, his poems, though dense and impenetrable at first, reward
the reader willing to explore their intricacies. Today's poem is as
metaphysical as they come: the central conceit [1] is reinforced and given
depth by the precise use of terminology [2], yet not so much as to detract
from the essentially human feeling that gives rise to it. The choice of form
is equally inspired - the strict constraints of the villanelle, like Donne's
convoluted syntax, work to harness the flood of emotion that would otherwise
sweep the poet away. Wonderfully done.


[1] "Better living through chemistry!"... errm... maybe not.
[2] chemic, purge, toxin, salve, infection, poison... a Physick's Delight of

[Minstrels Links]

Poems by John Donne:
Poem #330, "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"
Poem #384, "Song"
Poem #403, "A Lame Beggar"
Poem #465, "The Sun Rising"

Poems by William Empson:
Poem #202, "Missing Dates"
Poem #233, "Let It Go"
Poem #351, "The Teasers"
"The Teasers" has an Empson biography attached; "Missing Dates" includes an
assessment of his contribution to twentieth-century poetry and criticism.

Poem #38, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", Dylan Thomas
Poem #202, "Missing Dates", William Empson
Poem #393, "Villanelle (minimalist): One Drunken Night", Peter Schaeffer
Poem #639, "One Art", Elizabeth Bishop
Poem #677, "Villanelle", W. H. Auden

Poems that use the word 'chemic':
Poem #568, "Especially When The October Wind", Dylan Thomas

A Likeness -- Willa Sibert Cather

Chiming in on Vikram's Roman theme...
(Poem #705) A Likeness
Portrait Bust of an Unknown, Capitol, Rome

 In every line a supple beauty --
   The restless head a little bent --
 Disgust of pleasure, scorn of duty,
   The unseeing eyes of discontent.
 I often come to sit beside him,
   This youth who passed and left no trace
 Of good or ill that did betide him,
   Save the disdain upon his face.

 The hope of all his House, the brother
   Adored, the golden-hearted son,
 Whom Fortune pampered like a mother;
   And then, -- a shadow on the sun.
 Whether he followed C├Žsar's trumpet,
   Or chanced the riskier game at home
 To find how favor played the strumpet
   In fickle politics at Rome;

 Whether he dreamed a dream in Asia
   He never could forget by day,
 Or gave his youth to some Aspasia,
   Or gamed his heritage away;
 Once lost, across the Empire's border
   This man would seek his peace in vain;
 His look arraigns a social order
   Somehow entrammelled with his pain.

 "The dice of gods are always loaded";
   One gambler, arrogant as they,
 Fierce, and by fierce injustice goaded,
   Left both his hazard and the play.
 Incapable of compromises,
   Unable to forgive or spare,
 The strange awarding of the prizes
   He had not fortitude to bear.

 Tricked by the forms of things material --
   The solid-seeming arch and stone,
 The noise of war, the pomp imperial,
   The heights and depths about a throne --
 He missed, among the shapes diurnal,
   The old, deep-travelled road from pain,
 The thoughts of men which are eternal,
   In which, eternal, men remain.

 Ritratto d'ignoto; defying
   Things unsubstantial as a dream --
 An Empire, long in ashes lying --
   His face still set against the stream.
 Yes, so he looked, that gifted brother
   I loved, who passed and left no trace,
 Not even -- luckier than this other --
   His sorrow in a marble face.
-- Willa Sibert Cather
If the dominant note of the previous Roman theme was the wars that swept
in great waves across the Roman empire, this time's seems to be the more
tangible remnants of that empire, the ineradicable (or, at any rate,
uneradicated) pieces of sea-worn glass it left in its wake.

And one of the more intriguing forms of immortality is surely the anonymous
portrait or statue, the
         youth who passed and left no trace
      Of good or ill that did betide him,
      Save the disdain upon his face.

Cather handles the topic wonderfully, using the bust both as a starting
point and as a lens through which to take a remarkably sweeping look at the
Life and Times of the unknown youth. Cather weaves the various skeins
together with enviable skill (this is one of those poems I really wish I
could've written), treading the well-worn territory of Ancient Roman imagery
with grace and assurance, while never losing sight of her central character,
and segueing smoothly into an unexpected but nonetheless perfectly
harmonious last verse.


  Aspasia: Famous teacher of rhetoric. See

  Ritratto d'ignoto: Probably a reference to Antonello da Messina's famous
  masterpiece "Ritratto d'Ignoto" (Portrait of an unknown man)


  Willa Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, Virginia., on December.
  7, 1873. She died on April. 24, 1947. Cather's work made her one of the
  most important American novelists of the first half of the 20th century.
  When Cather was nine, her family homesteaded in pioneer Nebraska. She was
  a tomboy at home in the saddle. enjoyed distinguished careers as
  journalist, editor, and fiction writer. Cather is most often thought of as
  a chronicler of the pioneer American West. Critics note that the themes of
  her work are intertwined with the universal story of the rise of
  civilizations in history, the drama of the immigrant in a new world, and
  views of personal involvements with art. Cather's fiction is characterized
  by a strong sense of place, the subtle presentation of human
  relationships, an often unconventional narrative structure, and a style of
  clarity and beauty.


  [follow the link to the whole review - I've just included an excerpt]

  Some interesting snippets:

    Cather never wrote openly about lesbian or gay themes. Much her work,
    however, can be interpreted with a lesbian or gay subtext if one knows
    to look for the clues. Nothing overt would have been tolerated by the
    publishers (and probably by the reading public as well).


    Cather did not really take herself serious as a poet - she believed that
    women should not write poetry at all - but during her Pittsburgh years,
    she nevertheless wrote rather steadily and April Twilights were her
    first collected published work. She, however, later regretted the

        -- [broken link]


  [broken link] is a well written and informative Cather

  Comparisons to Kipling are inevitable (or, at least, I'm incapable of
  avoiding them <g>) - see, for instance, "If", and large portions of "Puck
  of Pook's Hill"
    poem #271
    [broken link]

  Go back and read the rest of the Roman theme:
    Poem #702 John Masefield, 'Night Is On The Downland'
    Poem #703 A. E. Housman, 'On Wenlock Edge'
    Poem #704 Christopher Isherwood, 'On His Queerness'

    The links from Poem #703 also summarise the first Roman theme.


  Thanks to Vikram Doctor for the guest theme - I enjoyed the opportunity to
  revisit one of my favourite historical periods.


On His Queerness -- Christopher Isherwood

Winding up the theme, a third guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #704) On His Queerness
 When I was young and wanted to see the sights,
 They told me: 'Cast an eye over the Roman Camp
 If you care to.
 But plan to spend most of your day at the Aquarium -
 Because, after all, the Aquarium -
 Well, I mean to say, the Aquarium -
 Till you've seen the Aquarium you ain't seen nothing.'

 So I cast my eye over
 The Roman Camp -
 And that old Roman Camp,
 That old, old Roman Camp
 Got me

 So that now, near closing-time,
 I find that I still know nothing -
 And am still not even sorry that I know nothing -
 About fish.
-- Christopher Isherwood
This sort of carries on and updates the Roman ruin link to today - but in a
very different way! Not the best of poems, and Isherwood isn't really a
poet. But in a way I like the poem for capturing that cool, ironic gaze on
life that Isherwood made so much his own in books like 'Goodbye To Berlin'.



        b. Aug. 26, 1904, High Lane, Cheshire, Eng.
        d. Jan. 4, 1986, Santa Monica, Calif., U.S.

playwright best known for his novels about Berlin in the early 1930s.

After working as a secretary and a private tutor, Isherwood gained a measure
of coterie recognition with his first two novels, All the Conspirators
(1928) and The Memorial (1932). During the 1930s he collaborated with his
friend W.H. Auden on three verse dramas, including The Ascent of F6 (1936).
But it had been in 1929 that he found the theme that was to make him widely
known. Between 1929 and 1933 he lived in Berlin, gaining an outsider's view
of the simultaneous decay of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism. His
novels Mr. Norris Changes Trains (1935; The Last of Mr. Norris) and Goodbye
to Berlin (1939), which were later published together as The Berlin Stories,
established his reputation as an important writer and inspired the play I Am
a Camera (1951; film 1955) and the musical Cabaret (1966; film 1972). These
books are detached but humorous studies of dubious characters leading seedy
expatriate lives in the German capital. In 1938 Isherwood published Lions
and Shadows, an amusing and sensitive account of his early life and
friendships while a student at the University of Cambridge.

The coming of World War II saw not merely a change of outlook in Isherwood's
writing but also a permanent change of domicile. He immigrated to the United
States in 1939 and settled in southern California, where he taught and wrote
for Hollywood films. He was naturalized in 1946. It was also in 1939 that
Isherwood turned to pacifism and the self-abnegation of Indian Vedanta,
becoming a follower of Swami Prabhavananda. In the following decades,
Isherwood produced several works on Vedanta and translations with
Prabhavananda, including one of the Bhagavadgita.

Isherwood's postwar novels continued to demonstrate his personal style of
fictional autobiography. A Single Man (1964), a brief but highly regarded
novel, presents a single day in the life of a lonely, middle-aged
homosexual. His avowedly autobiographical works include a self-revealing
memoir of his parents, Kathleen and Frank (1971); a retrospective biography
of himself in the 1930s, Christopher and His Kind (1977); and a study of his
relationship with Prabhavananda and Vedanta, My Guru and His Disciple

From 1953 on, Isherwood lived with a companion, Don Bachardy, a painter and
portraitist, and both later became involved in homosexual-rights causes.

        -- EB

[Minstrels Links]

As Vikram remarks, Isherwood isn't really a poet; nevertheless, he is
perhaps most remembered for his long association with someone who was,
namely, W. H. Auden. Interestingly enough, Auden also wrote several poems
about ancient Rome (and the shadow it casts upon modern European culture);
check out Poem #491, "Roman Wall Blues", and Poem #494, "The Fall of Rome".

On Wenlock Edge The Wood's In Trouble -- A E Housman

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #703) On Wenlock Edge The Wood's In Trouble
 On Wenlock Edge the wood's in trouble;
 His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
 The gale, it plies the saplings double,
 And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

 'Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
 When Uricon the city stood;
 'Tis the old wind in the old anger,
 But then it threshed another wood.

 Then, 'twas before my time, the Roman
 At yonder heaving hill would stare;
 The blood that warms an English yeoman,
 The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

 There, like the wind through woods in riot,
 Through him the gale of life blew high;
 The tree of man was never quiet:
 Then 'twas the Roman, now 'tis I.

 The gale, it plies the saplings double,
 It blows so hard, 'twill soon be gone:
 Today the Roman and his trouble
 Are ashes under Uricon.
-- A E Housman
Poem XXXI from "A Shropshire Lad", 1896.

While I was typing out the Masefield I suddenly thought of this, realising
the similarity in what the poet is doing in both. It seems a continuous
tradition in English poetry, the contemplation of the ruins of Roman Britain
to make one think of the past - a tradition that goes all the way back to
that fragment of Anglo-Saxon verse I think Thomas posted on the list
sometime back.


PS. This poem, by the way, has also given the title to a very fine book:
Patrick White's The Tree Of Man, the Australian epic which was one of the
books mentioned in his Nobel Prize citation.

PPS. Uricon was the Roman city also known as Virconium.

[Minstrels Links]

The Masefield referred to is yesterday's poem, "Night is on the Downland":
poem #702

We've posted lots of 'fragments of Anglo-Saxon verse' on the list; check out

[broken link]
and search for 'Anon' in the list of poets.

Other Minstrels poems about ancient Rome:
Poem #296, "Footsteps", Constantine Cavafy.
Poem #489, "Horatius", Thomas Babbington Macaulay.
Poem #491, "Roman Wall Blues", W. H. Auden.
Poem #493, "A Pict Song", Rudyard Kipling.
Poem #494, "The Fall of Rome", W. H. Auden.
Poem #499, "Lay of Ancient Rome", Thomas Ybarra.
Poem #519, "The Roman Road", Thomas Hardy.

Other Minstrels poems by A. E. Housman:
Poem #33, "White in the Moon the Long Road Lies", A Shropshire Lad, XXXVI.
Poem #86, "When I Was One-and-Twenty", A Shropshire Lad, XIII.
Poem #377, "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now", A Shropshire Lad, II.
Poem #439, "Look not in my eyes, for fear", A Shropshire Lad, XV.
Poem #588, "Terence, this is stupid stuff", A Shropshire Lad,  LXII.
Poem #539, "Yonder see the morning blink", Last Poems, XI.

The first and third of these have Housman biographies attached.

Night Is On The Downland -- John Masefield

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #702) Night Is On The Downland
 Night is on the downland, on the lonely moorland,
 On the hills where the wind goes over sheep-bitten turf,
 Where the bent grass beats upon the unplowed poorland
 And the pine-woods roar like the surf.

 Here the Roman lived on the wind-barren lonely,
 Dark now and haunted by the moorland fowl;
 None comes here now but the peewit only,
 And moth-like death in the owl.

 Beauty was here in on this beetle-droning downland;
 The thought of a Caesar in the purple came
 From the palace by the Tiber in the Roman townland
 To this wind-swept hill with no name.

 Lonely Beauty came here and was here in sadness,
 Brave as a thought on the frontier of the mind,
 In the camp of the wild upon the march of madness,
 The bright-eyed Queen of the Blind.

 Now where Beauty was are the wind-withered gorses,
 Moaning like old men in the hill-wind's blast;
 The flying sky is dark with running horses,
 And the night is full of the past.
-- John Masefield
A very vivid poem from Masefield. You can almost see the wind pouring the
clouds past, whipping past your ears in the dark. "Brave as a thought on the
frontier of the mind" is a line that has particularly stuck in my mind.

Masefield, by the way, is one of those poets best read in anthology. I once
tried reading a collected works, and tired quite fast. And I read this in
one of the best anthologies I've ever found: The Pocket Book Of Modern
Verse, edited by Oscar Williams.

I bought it years ago in a place that has now sadly vanished - Moore Market
in Madras. This was a wonderful old red brick structure from the Raj, in the
ornate Indo-Saracenic style you get in Madras. It was a warren of shops of
all kinds, but the ones I stuck to were all in the circle of old book shops
that ringed the Market. (Very sadly, it burned down - or was burned down,
it's never been precisely solved - some years later)

I was quite young then and just starting to read poetry as opposed to
mugging it in school. And this book I think was the perfect introduction.
Williams' definition of modern is a broad one, going from Walt Whitman,
Matthew Arnold and W.S.Gilbert, via Wallace Steves and Ezra Pound,
A.E.Housman and John Masefield all the way to Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes.
(No Eliot though, his estate didn't allow it).

This may seem too broad a sweep, but I think it was best for the reader I
then was. The traditional poems like this Masefield one were easy to
understand, so I wasn't put off and form the impression so many people have
of poetry has weird and difficult. Williams steered clear though of the more
mawkish traditional poems and mixed with them were always the more
challenging ones.

It started right from Whitman, whose burst of pure energy got the collection
off to a high power start. There were the formal melodies of Wallace Steves,
more energy from Ezra Pound, and as the book progressed poets who I didn't
always understand then, but came to appreciate over the years.

The other reason I liked the book was the photographs. Tiny, sepia, passport
ones of the poets' faces. I can't say why but it somehow made it more read
and vivid, it added some quality of life, to have faces one could connect
with poems. Perhaps it was a bit specious, but there seemed to be a link.
The melancholy of Housman reflected in the bleakness of his gaze. Edna
St.Vincent Millay looked as beautiful and doomed as her poems suggest.

I wasn't the only one who felt this way. Years later I read an article by a
poet from, I think, the Soviet Union. Some country under censorship, with
access to Western works curtailed. Somehow he got a copy of this same book,
and for him too the faces came to matter along with the poems. The book was
a link to a wider world of poetry, and the faces helped reinforce their
iconic stature.

I've read many other good anthologies since then, learning to appreciate the
anthologist's art. Palgrave's classic one, for example. Or The Faber Book of
Modern Verse, for example, which finally introduced me to the Wasteland. Or
a more personal one, like Lord Wavell's Other Men's Flower's (both because
its really nice, as well as for the thought of him reading them in between
all the frustrating negotiations for Indian Independence). But, though it's
old now and falling to pieces now so I can't really read it much, The Pocket
Book remains one of the best anthologies for me.


Teeth -- Spike Milligan

(Poem #701) Teeth
 English Teeth, English Teeth!
 Shining in the sun
 A part of British heritage
 Aye, each and every one.

 English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
 Always having fun
 Champing down on bits of fish
 And sausages half done.

 English Teeth, HEROES' Teeth!
 Here them click! and clack!
 Let's sing a song of praise to them -
 Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.
-- Spike Milligan
First published in "Silly Verse for Kids", 1959.
Also appears in "Poems on the Underground" (5th ed.), 1995.

A wonderfully irreverent gem from Spike Milligan; readers are strongly
advised to lay their hands on either of the above publications, so as to
savour the accompanying illustration (drawn by Milligan himself).


PS. Insightful commentary? What's that?


Terrance Allan "Spike" Milligan, born 16th April 1918.

Dubbed "the godfather of alternative comedy" by Eddie Izzard, Spike Milligan
pioneered the joke without a punchline, paving the way for Monty Python and
all the waves of anarchic anti-format humour that followed in the 60s, 70s,
80s and 90s.

He was the son of an Army Officer posted to the Empire, and was born in
(what was then British) India. Although he fought for the United Kingdom
during the War and has lived in England since 1933, he recently had so much
bureaucratic flak about the official status of his citizenship that he took
an Irish passport instead.

Spike served in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War, which
wasn't the best place in the world to develop an interest in gardening, but
probably helped him secure a sense of humour amidst the tragic but
ridiculous events occuring around him (it certainly helped his bank balance
when he published his war diaries many years later to popular acclaim).

In the early 1950s, he and some other conflict-battered chums by the names
of Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine decided to put together
a radio series for the British Broadcasting Corporation. They wanted to call
it "The Goon Show", but the BBC knew best, and decided it should be known as
"Crazy People". At first it was a sketch show, much like its spiritual
successor Monty Python, but a change of producer (and a change of title to,
finally, "The Goon Show") led to a story based format, which only served to
highlight the strangeness of the humour. At first both Milligan and Bentine
wrote scripts for the sketch-based series, but artistic differences made
Bentine go solo and left Spike as the creative core of the outfit until its
final broadcast. The flavour of The Goon Show is very difficult to get
across on paper, as it depended so heavily on sound effects (Milligan ended
the series partly because he had used every tape in the BBC library), Harry
Secombe's joyous timing and the mercurial vocal performance of Peter
Sellers. Indeed it was probably this dependence upon and familiarity with
its radio format that made it stand out from its competitors, both
contemporary and subsequent. An attempt to convert the series' scripts onto
television in the 1960s as The Telegoons did not prove satisfactory.

A lifelong sufferer from depression, Milligan once tried to kill Peter
Sellers (and it's a mark of their friendship that they remained close pals
until Sellers' natural death). The script writing process took a lot out of
Spike, and he often cites it with deep despair as the main cause for his
divorce. Secombe once commented that he and Sellers had all the fun of
performing for a grateful audience at the sunday recording sessions, while
Milligan painfully immersed himself in his craft throughout the week leading
up to it. Eventually, the strain proved too much, and he decided to end the
series in 1959. However, a wave of protest from devoted fans convinced him
to make one extra set of programmes which ended with The Last Smoking
Seagoon on the 28th January 1960. Even this was not to be quite the end, and
The Very Last Goon Show Of All was recorded on television before a Royal
audience (which, alas, did not include the series' most famous fan, Prince
Charles) in 1972. Spike screamed the last line after the applause had died
down: "Now, get out!"

After The Goon Show, Spike went on to write and star in the TV sketch series
Q, and has published lots of written material including his interpretation
of Lady Chatterley's Lover, as well as his famous war memoirs which began
with "Hitler, my part in his downfall". Several characters from The Goon
Show also appeared in a film he made with Peter Sellers called The Muckinese



Complete Goon scripts: [broken link]
Complete Monty Python scripts: [broken link]

There, that should keep you occupied for some time <grin>.

Outsong in the Jungle -- Rudyard Kipling

Guest poem submitted by Ravi Mundoli:
(Poem #700) Outsong in the Jungle
 [Baloo:] For the sake of him who showed
 One wise Frog the Jungle-Road,
 Keep the Law the Man-Pack make
 For thy blind old Baloo's sake!
 Clean or tainted, hot or stale,
 Hold it as it were the Trail,
 Through the day and through the night,
 Questing neither left nor right.
 For the sake of him who loves
 Thee beyond all else that moves,
 When thy Pack would make thee pain,
 Say: "Tabaqui sings again."
 When thy Pack would work thee ill,
 Say: "Shere Khan is yet to kill."
 When the knife is drawn to slay,
 Keep the Law and go thy way.
   (Root and honey, palm and spathe,
   Guard a cub from harm and scathe!)

   Wood and Water, Wind and Tree,
   Jungle-Favour go with thee!

 [Kaa:] Anger is the egg of Fear--
 Only lidless eyes see clear.
 Cobra-poison none may leech--
 Even so with Cobra-speech.
 Open talk shall call to thee
 Strength, whose mate is Courtesy.
 Send no lunge beyond thy length.
 Lend no rotten bough thy strength.
 Gauge thy gape with buck or goat,
 Lest thine eye should choke thy throat.
 After gorging, wouldst thou sleep ?
 Look thy den be hid and deep,
 Lest a wrong, by thee forgot,
 Draw thy killer to the spot.
 East and West and North and South,
 Wash thy hide and close thy mouth.
   (Pit and rift and blue pool-brim,
   Middle-Jungle follow him!)

   Wood and Water, Wind and Tree,
   Jungle-Favour go with thee!

 [Bagheera:] In the cage my life began;
 Well I know the worth of Man.
 By the Broken Lock that freed--
 Man-cub, ware the Man-cub's breed!
 Scenting-dew or starlight pale,
 Choose no tangled tree-cat trail.
 Pack or council, hunt or den,
 Cry no truce with Jackal-Men.
 Feed them silence when they say:
 "Come with us an easy way."
 Feed them silence when they seek
 Help of thine to hurt the weak.
 Make no bandar's boast of skill;
 Hold thy peace above the kill.
 Let nor call nor song nor sign
 Turn thee from thy hunting-line.
   (Morning mist or twilight clear,
   Serve him, Wardens of the Deer!)

   Wood and Water, Wind and Tree,
   Jungle-Favour go with thee!

 [The Three:] On the trail that thou must tread
 To the threshold of our dread,
 Where the Flower blossoms red;
 Through the nights when thou shalt lie
 Prisoned from our Mother-sky,
 Hearing us, thy loves, go by;
 In the dawns when thou shalt wake
 To the toil thou canst not break,
 Heartsick for the Jungle's sake;
   Wood and Water, Wind air Tree,
   Wisdom, Strength, and Courtesy,
   Jungle-Favour go with thee!
-- Rudyard Kipling
This is a poemsong by Kipling. It's from "The Jungle Books" and is sung by
Mowgli's friends as he prepares to leave the jungle and return to the
man-pack in "The Spring Running".

Things that are nice:

1. Most of Kipling's stuff rhymes nicely, you can chant them as much as you
can read them.

2. Mowgli gets advice from 3 friends, from their own unique perspective. The
advice is perfectly in tune with their characters. Baloo, says idealistic
and sentimental things, advises him to be "good" in life, just like the
teacher-friend-advisor he is; Kaa provides a lot more worldly-wise advice
and Bagheera is a balance between the other two.

3. The message is related to the context of the three creatures, and this
point is hammered in the next-to-penultimate and next-to-next-to-penultimate

(Root and honey, palm and spathe,
Guard a cub from harm and scathe!)

(Pit and rift and blue pool-brim,
Middle-Jungle follow him!)

(Morning mist or twilight clear,
Serve him, Wardens of the Deer!)

4. The last two lines in each stanza are italicized, and common to all
three. A sense of urgency or importance, and unity.

5. And finally, the chorus is once again a united statement. Come to think
of it, it's quite moving - especially if you've read the books and
understand Mowgli's life amongst his friends. There's a feel of a sort of
"farewell party", the kind that happened to some of us when we left our
homes and hostels etc.; when our old friends gave us advice and wished us
well as we started on something new.

Personally, this poem is about a billion times better than such sentimental
hogwash as "If".

Ooops. I've already said too much.


[Minstrels Links]

Rudyard Kipling has featured quite regularly on the Minstrels; see
[broken link]
for a comprehensive index.

Many of Kipling's poems first featured in his books; for example:

Poem #166, "Night-Song in the Jungle", is from the Jungle Book.

Poem #143, "Harp Song of the Dane Women", and Poem #493, "A Pict Song", are
both from "Puck of Pook's Hill".

Poem #379, "The Buddha at Kamakura", is from "Kim".

Incident -- Norman MacCaig

Guest poem submitted by Amulya Gopalakrishnan:
(Poem #699) Incident
 I look across the table and think
 (fiery with love)
 Ask me, go on, ask me
 to do something impossible,
 something freakishly useless,
 something unimaginable and inimitable

 Like making a finger break into blossom
 or walking for half an hour in twenty minutes
 or remembering tomorrow.

 I will you to ask it.
 But all you say is
 Will you give me a cigarette?
 And I smile and,
 returning to the marvelous world
 of possibility
 I give you one
 with a hand that trembles
 with a human trembling.
-- Norman MacCaig
Find me a guy who thinks like that, the madness and the wry tenderness...
realizing the awful depth of his love, the contrast between that glorious
pitch of passion and our unmagical surroundings. Reminds me of Yeats in
Adam's Curse( yearning to love her in 'the old high way of love'). I love
the touches like 'marvellous world of possibility'... discovering the
romance of the real. What's absolutely wonderful about MacCaig is the way he
always, always brings out the underworld of dreaming, of the fantasy
billowing beneath the even surface of the everyday.


The Cremation of Sam McGee -- Robert Service

(Poem #698) The Cremation of Sam McGee
        There are strange things done in the midnight sun
                By the men who moil for gold;
        The Arctic trails have their secret tales
                That would make your blood run cold;
        The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
                But the queerest they ever did see
        Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
                I cremated Sam McGee.

 Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
 Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows.
 He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
 Though he'd often say in his homely way that he'd "sooner live in hell".

 On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
 Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
 If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn't
 It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

 And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
 And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel and toe,
 He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
 And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."

 Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of
 "It's the cursed cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean
through to the bone.
 Yet 'tain't being dead -- it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
 So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."

 A pal's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
 And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
 He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
 And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

 There wasn't a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
 With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise given;

 It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: "You may tax your brawn
and brains,
 But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate those last remains."

 Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
 In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed
that load.
 In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in
a ring,
 Howled out their woes to the homeless snows -- O God! how I loathed the

 And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
 And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
 The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
 And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

 Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
 It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice
 And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
 Then "Here", said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-ium."

 Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
 Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
 The flames just soared, and the furnace roared -- such a blaze you seldom
 And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

 Then I made a hike, for I didn't like to hear him sizzle so;
 And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to
 It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know
 And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

 I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
 But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
 I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.
 I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked";. . . then the door I opened

 And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;

 And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that
 It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm --
 Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been

        There are strange things done in the midnight sun
                By the men who moil for gold;
        The Arctic trails have their secret tales
                That would make your blood run cold;
        The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
                But the queerest they ever did see
        Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
                I cremated Sam McGee.
-- Robert Service
 From "The Spell of the Yukon, and Other Verses".
 Originally published in 1916 by Barse & Co.
 Also published as "Songs of a Sourdough".

 Tokyo's in the grip of its coldest winter in several years - the perfect
opportunity for me to send this poem <grin>. Sometimes I think I know
exactly what Sam McGee felt like...

 On the poem itself I have not much to say. Heptameters always lend
themselves perfectly to balladry; there's also a touch of cheerful
bloodthirstyness about today's poem that's very reminiscent of Percy
French's "Abdul Abulbul Amir", or Gilbert's "Yarn of the 'Nancy Bell'"...



Sir Willam S. Gilbert, "The Yarn of the 'Nancy Bell'": poem #161

Percy French, "Abdul Abulbul Amir": poem #358

The Poet's Corner has all of Robert Service's poems online:
[broken link]

Service was often called 'The Kipling of the North'. My favourite Kipling is
"The Ballad of East and West": poem #67


 b. Jan. 16, 1874, Preston, Lancashire, Eng.
 d. Sept. 11, 1958, Lancieux, France

in full ROBERT WILLIAM SERVICE, popular verse writer called "the Canadian
Kipling" for rollicking ballads of the "frozen North," notably "The Shooting
of Dan McGrew."
Service emigrated to Canada in 1894 and, while working for the Canadian Bank
of Commerce in Victoria, B.C., was stationed for eight years in the Yukon.
He was a newspaper correspondent for the Toronto Star during the Balkan Wars
of 1912-13 and an ambulance driver and correspondent during World War I.

Service's first verse collections, Songs of a Sourdough (1907) and Ballads
of a Cheechako (1909), describing life in the Canadian north, were
enormously popular. Among his later volumes of verse are Rhymes of a Red
Cross Man (1916) and Bar Room Ballads (1940). The Trail of '98 (1910) is a
vivid novel of men and conditions in the Klondike. He also wrote two
autobiographical works, Ploughman of the Moon (1945) and Harper of Heaven
(1948). From 1912 he lived in Europe, mainly on the French Riviera.

        -- EB

A Well Worn Story -- Dorothy Parker

(Poem #697) A Well Worn Story
 In April, in April,
 My one love came along,
 And I ran the slope of my high hill
 To follow a thread of song.

 His eyes were hard as porphyry
 With looking on cruel lands;
 His voice went slipping over me
 Like terrible silver hands.

 Together we trod the secret lane
 And walked the muttering town;
 I wore my heart like a wet, red stain
 On the breast of a velvet gown.

 In April, in April,
 My love went whistling by,
 And I stumbled here to my high hill
 Along the way of a lie.

 Now what should I do in this place
 But sit and count the chimes,
 And splash cold water on my face,
 And spoil a page with rhymes?
-- Dorothy Parker
Like Shakespeare, many of Parker's poems are variations on essentially the
same few themes; however (again like Shakespeare) they are themes that she
handles particularly well.

Two devices that stand out in today's piece are the colourfully exaggerated
imagery and the cynical bathos of the ending. And while the latter is rather
weak, the imagery is among the best I've seen from Parker, especially the
wonderfully synaesthetic 'his voice went slipping over me/ like terrible
silver hands'. The poem also has a pleasingly varying rhythm, almost musical
in places (particularly the third verse).

All in all, I'd say this was one of Parker's better poems - all the more
impressive a feat considering the relative weakness of the ending.


We've run several Parker poems (have I mentioned that I love her

Poem #150 Resume [including a biography]
Poem #192 Comment
Poem #486 Epitaph for a Darling Lady [another poem with superlative imagery]
Poem #560 Chant for Dark Hours
Poem #638 Song of Perfect Propriety


Last Sonnet -- John Keats

Guest poem submitted by Anustup Datta:
(Poem #696) Last Sonnet
 Bright Star, would I were steadfast as thou art--
 Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
 And watching, with eternal lids apart,
 Like Nature's patient sleepless Eremite,
 The moving waters at their priest-like task
 Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
 Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
 Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
 No--yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
 Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
 To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
 Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
      Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
      And so live ever--or else swoon to death.
-- John Keats
Of course, this one needs no introduction. I thought of this sonnet, which I
had read and loved in school, when reading "The more loving one" by Auden.
This is a beautiful love poem, and I agree with you that Keats is the most
"natural" poet of the language - whatever he wrote became poetry. Here, the
imagery in the octet is purely Romantic - especially "The moving waters at
their priest-like task/Of pure ablution round earth's human shores"; but the
sestet turns the focus inward and makes it beautifully tender and intimate -
the poet looking at the sleeping form of his beloved and wishing he could
capture the moment forever. Not a startlingly original emotion, nor by any
means a unique conceit, but perfectly and gracefully executed.



"The More Loving One", W. H. Auden, Poem #618

Other Keats poems:

"On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer", Poem #12
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci", Poem #182
"Ode to a Nightingale", Poem #316
"Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell", Poem #33
"To Mrs Reynolds' Cat", Poem #575

Beauty -- John Masefield

(Poem #695) Beauty
 I have seen dawn and sunset on moors and windy hills
 Coming in solemn beauty like slow old tunes of Spain:
 I have seen the lady April bringing the daffodils,
 Bringing the springing grass and the soft warm April rain.

 I have heard the song of the blossoms and the old chant of the sea,
 And seen strange lands from under the arched white sails of ships;
 But the loveliest thing of beauty God ever has shown to me,
 Are her voice, and her hair, and eyes, and the dear red curve of her lips.
-- John Masefield
As I have noted before, one of the outstanding features of Masefield's
poetry is the sense of beauty that permeates them; I had, therefore, high
hopes for a poem he explicitly titled 'Beauty'.

However, the poem proved sadly disappointing in that respect. Oh, it's a
nice enough poem - certainly worth a read (as is most of Masefield). It
misses, though, the sheer magic of 'Sea Fever' or 'Cargoes', the music of
phrases like 'dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores', or the
quiet vividness of poems like 'The West Wind'.

The poem has interesting echoes in some of his other pieces - compare "and
April's in the West Wind, and daffodils" (The West Wind), the sea and ship
imagery from a number of poems, and, most interestingly, the ending of
'Roadways', where he describes his road to the sea as travelling "in quest
of that one beauty/ God put me here to find". It is true that a lot of
Masefield's poems have recurrent themes and images (and are none the worse
for that); still, it is an interesting (albeit far-fetched) conjecture that,
in one of his rare love poems, Masefield is deliberately examining some of
the things he has lauded in other poems, and stating that even these fall
short of 'her voice, and her hair, and eyes, and the dear red curve of her


 I was reminded today of Yvette Sangiorgio's comment (on Poem #651) that
 knowing the date when a poem is written is often vital to its understanding
 - indeed, knowing which volume of Masefield's this poem appeared in would
 have been most helpful. Sadly, I was unable to find the information
 anywhere online.


  I am reminded of Kipling's "The Sea and the Hills"           (Poem #29)
  and, in a roundabout sort of way, Shakespeare's "My
  Mistress's Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun"                    (Poem #44)

The theme itself is a common one, and there are doubtless several other
poems that echo one aspect of it or another.

We've run a few other Masefield poems; you can find a biography at poem #27


True Love -- Wislawa Szymborska

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #694) True Love
 True love. Is it normal
 is it serious, is it practical?
 What does the world get from two people
 who exist in a world of their own?

 Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
 drawn randomly from millions but convinced
 it had to happen this way - in reward for what?
    For nothing.
 The light descends from nowhere.
 Why on these two and not on others?
 Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does.
 Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
 and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

 Look at the happy couple.
 Couldn't they at least try to hide it,
 fake a little depression for their friends' sake?
 Listen to them laughing - its an insult.
 The language they use - deceptively clear.
 And their little celebrations, rituals,
 the elaborate mutual routines -
 it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!

 It's hard even to guess how far things might go
 if people start to follow their example.
 What could religion and poetry count on?
 What would be remembered? What renounced?
 Who'd want to stay within bounds?

 True love. Is it really necessary?
 Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
 like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
 Perfectly good children are born without its help.
 It couldn't populate the planet in a million years,
 it comes along so rarely.

 Let the people who never find true love
 keep saying that there's no such thing.

 Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.
-- Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

Wislawa Szymborska has got to be one of the best things thrown up by the
Nobel Prize. When she won it in 1996 she wasn't widely known outside Poland.
But in this case the Prize did what it does rarely. It took a break from
honouring well known writers because "they have to get it" or writers who
get it as a political statement rather than because of the quality of their
writing, and gave it to a writer who can simply be enjoyed.

I love her poems to bits. He voice is warm, witty, knowing and human,
mocking, yet life-affirming. Her language is direct and easy to understand.
She's one poet you automatically feel you're friends with. She may not be a
'great' poet and her themes may not be 'great' themes. But she speaks for
all the not-so-great people, who, while all the great people are making
history, simply have to get on with their lives. I strongly recommend buying
'View With A Grain Of Sand' which is a book of her selected poems.

This is a typical Wislawa poem. She takes the figure of the troooo luvvers
and looks at them through the eyes of the Outraged and Earnest Majority,
asking Is This A Good Thing? What Does It Mean For Society? Should It Be
Encouraged? And let's admit here that there are probably bits of the
Outraged and Earnest Majority in us because let's be honest, haven't some
these thoughts occurred to us as well? I mean, maybe it's envy, maybe
exasperation, but haven't we all looked at some eyes-only-for-each-other
couple and muttered, "God look at them, can't they get over it!"

Wislawa builds on these human if dishonourable feelings and takes them to
the extremes of such pompous statements as "It couldn't populate the planet
in a million years". All the people in the Earnest Majority, who are never
going to know true love are told to keep insisting it's not possible.

And then with her last line she undermines it all. Such people may feel the
need to keep believing this, but this simply affirms the reality of love.
"Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die". The harder you
need to not believe in love, in order not to be depressed by its lack for
you, the stronger in reality you affirm its importance.


Strugnell's Haiku -- Wendy Cope

Another, errm, masterpiece of sorts from Jason Strugnell...
(Poem #693) Strugnell's Haiku

 The cherry blossom
 In my neighbour's garden - Oh!
 It looks really nice.


 The leaves have fallen
 And the snow has fallen and
 Soon my hair also...


 November evening:
 The moon is up, rooks settle,
 The pubs are open.
-- Wendy Cope
 From "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis", first published in 1986.

 Poor Strugnell. The syllables number seventeen, properly arranged in a
5-7-5 pattern; the seasonal references are all present and accounted for;
why, there are even cherry blossoms and falling leaves and the winter

 ... and yet there's _something_ about his haiku that doesn't quite work. Oh


PS. <grin>

[Quoting from a previous encounter with Cope and Strugnell]

 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


 The said previous encounter was "Strugnell's Rubaiyat", which you can read
at poem #587

 The above page has a lot more material on parodies - analyses, links, the
works. Check it out!


 Today's poem is from "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis", Cope's first book,
which I found at a bookstore just this afternoon. Quoting extensively from
the dust-jacket:

 ""Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis", Wendy Cope's first book, was an
immediate bestseller, delighting readers with its unconventional mixture of
satire, candid love poetry, and parody. It includes examples of work by
Jason Strugnell, the haplessly influenceable bard of Tulse Hill, as well as
poems in Wendy Cope's own voice...

 ... Wendy Cope was born in Erith, Kent. She was educated at Farringtons
School and read History at St Hilda's College, Oxford. After university she
worked for fifteen years as a primary-school teacher in London. In 1987 she
received the Cholmondeley Award for poetry and, in 1995, the American
Academy of Letters Michael Braude Award for Light Verse. She is now a
freelance writer. She has written another collection of verse, "Serious
Concerns", a book of rhymes for children, "Twiddling Your Thumbs", and a
long poem, "The River Girl", and she has edited an anthology of women's
poetry for teenagers, "Is That the New Moon?"."

     -- Dust-jacket of "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis", Faber & Faber, 1986

[Bonus Poem]

 The collection's title poem is unskippable:

 "Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis"

 It was a dream I had last week
 And some kind of record seemed vital.
 I knew it wouldn't be much of a poem
 But I love the title.

     -- Wendy Cope

The Messenger -- H P Lovecraft

Guest poem submitted by William Johns:
(Poem #692) The Messenger
 The thing, he said, would come in the night at three
 From the old churchyard on the hill below;
 But crouching by an oak fire's wholesome glow,
 I tried to tell myself it could not be.

 Surely, I mused, it was pleasantry
 Devised by one who did not truly know
 The Elder Sign, bequeathed from long ago,
 That sets the fumbling forms of darkness free.

 He had not meant it - no - but still I lit
 Another lamp as starry Leo climbed
 Out of the Seekonk, and a steeple chimed
 Three - and the firelight faded, bit by bit.

 Then at the door that cautious rattling came -
 And the mad truth devoured me like a flame!
-- H P Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a weird fiction author during the 1920's and
30's.  After failing to complete school, allegedly due to poor health, and
being unable to go on to become a scientist as he wished, he became quite
reclusive, perhaps even clinically depressed, for several years.  He became
involved in what would today be called a "flame war" over the merits of a
certain romance author, and his letters, cleverly written in prose,
attracted the attention of the Amateur Publishing Association.  He was
invited to join, and published his first story, "The Alchemist".  Membership
and activity in the APA pulled him out of his doldrums, and he went on to
become the greatest weird fiction author of all time.

That being said, it must also be said that much of his poetry, especially
early on, was awful.  Only later on, when he adopted a more modern style and
freed himself from the imitation of earlier poets, did his prose become
palatable.  "The Messenger" is a good example of what he was capable of.
There is an interesting story of how this poem came about.

In the summer of 1926, H. P. Lovecraft wrote "The Call of Cthulhu", which
was published in February 1928 in Weird Tales and is perhaps his most famous
(if not best) story.  In that story, a sculptor named Henry Anthony Wilcox,
described as "a thin, dark young man of neurotic and excited aspect",
produced a clay tablet covered in mysterious heiroglyphs while sleepwalking.
Wilcox' address is given as 7 Thomas Street, Providence, R. I.

Bertrand Kelton Hart, author of a daily column called "The Sideshow" in the
Providence Journal, happened to live at that address.  Upon learning that
his address had been used in Lovecraft's story, he published in his column
"...I shall not be happy until, joining league with wraiths and ghouls, I
have plumped down at least one large and abiding ghost by way of reprisal
upon [Lovecraft's] own doorstep in Barnes street... I think I shall teach it
to moan in a minor dissonance every morning at 3 o'clock sharp, with a
clinking of chains."

This, in turn, inspired Lovecraft to write "The Messenger", which was
published in the Providence Journal on December 3, 1929.


[thomas adds]

Martin once ran a set of three poems written by fantasy authors:

Poem #257 - "Three Rings for the Elven Kings", J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #259 - "Songs from an Evil Wood", Lord Dunsany
Poem #261 - "Recompense", Robert E. Howard

Needless to say, "The Messenger" would have fit the theme like a glove.

Incidentally, "weird fiction" is as good a description of Lovecraft's
peculiar brand of fantasy as any I've seen <grin>.


Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles -- Billy Collins

(Poem #691) Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles
 It seems these poets have nothing
 up their ample sleeves
 they turn over so many cards so early,
 telling us before the first line
 whether it is wet or dry,
 night or day, the season the man is standing in,
 even how much he has had to drink.

 Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
 Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

 "Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
 on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
 "Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
 is another one, or just
 "On a Boat, Awake at Night."

 And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
 "In a Boat on a Summer Evening
 I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
 It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
 My Woman Is Cruel--Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

 There is no iron turnstile to push against here
 as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
 "The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
 No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

 Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
 to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
 is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

 And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
 is a servant who shows me into the room
 where a poet with a thin beard
 is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
 whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
 about sickness and the loss of friends.

 How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
 to sit down in a corner,
 cross my legs like his, and listen.
-- Billy Collins
I just love the way today's poem implicitly echoes the conventions of the
very same Chinese poems it explicitly pays tribute to - from the sparse,
Imagistic words it uses to its own overly expressive title [1]. I also like
the dry humour of phrases like "the simple rice cake" and "up their ample
sleeves", and the sardonic wit that came up with "Vortex on a String" and
"The Horn of Neurosis" (!)...

... of course, the humour shouldn't mask the fact that Collins is making an
important point about what he believes poetry should be and mean and do. Too
often (especially these days), poets seem to speak only to other poets, or
(even worse!) to academics and critics. And while I confess I like
cleverness and intellectual games, I have to agree with Collins in
castigating those who pursue obscurity for its own sake, who refuse to
"[make it easy] to enter [a poem] / to sit down in a corner / cross my legs
... and listen".


[1] form, content, self-reference, Imagism, the mystery of the Orient...
wow, I managed to refer to all of my favourite critical hobby-horses in a
single sentence!


Billy Collins was born in New York City in 1941. He is the author of six
books of poetry, including Picnic, Lightning (University of Pittsburgh
Press, 1998); The Art of Drowning (1995), which was a finalist for the
Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Questions About Angels (1991), which was
selected by Edward Hirsch for the National Poetry Series; The Apple That
Astonished Paris (1988); Video Poems (1980); and Pokerface (1977). A
recording of Collins reading thirty-three of his poems, The Best Cigarette,
was released in 1997. Collins's poetry has appeared in anthologies,
textbooks, and a variety of periodicals, including Poetry, American Poetry
Review, American Scholar, Harper's, Paris Review, and The New Yorker. His
work has been featured in the Pushcart Prize anthology and The Best American
Poetry for 1992, 1993, and 1997. He has received fellowships from the New
York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the
Guggenheim Foundation. In 1992, he was chosen by the New York Public Library
to serve as "Literary Lion." For several years he has conducted summer
poetry workshops in Ireland at University College Galway. He is a professor
of English at Lehman College, City University of New York. He lives in
Somers, New York.

     -- The Academy of American Poets
[broken link]

[Links] is a very comprehensive website dedicated
to Billy Collins; it has links to several other of his poems.

We haven't had a whole lot of Chinese poetry on the Minstrels, though check
Poem #70, Ezra Pound, "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
Poem #504, Li Po, "About Tu Fu"
Poem #683, Li Po, "To Tu Fu from Shantung"

There are also several haiku by Basho, Buson and the like; see Poem #23,
Poem #56 and Poem #277.

And finally, the essay accompanying Geoffrey Hill's "A Prayer to the Sun",
Poem #349, has more on the concept of 'necessary obscurity' in poetry.

All this, and much much more, at the Minstrels website,

Tell Brave Deeds of War -- Stephen Crane

(Poem #690) Tell Brave Deeds of War
 "Tell brave deeds of war."

 Then they recounted tales, --
 "There were stern stands
 And bitter runs for glory."

 Ah, I think there were braver deeds.
-- Stephen Crane
        (Black Riders XV)

I've read a number of war poems, good, bad and indifferent, but nothing
quite like today's quietly understated piece. There is a certain quality to
Crane's work; not quite 'originality', for the sentiment is not a new one,
but rather distinctiveness - not so much what the poem says as how it says

As in many of his other poems, Crane manages to say a lot in surprisingly
few words; nor is it, as with some other poets, a matter of layering
meanings and imagery, or of 'making every word count'. With Crane, it seems
to be more a matter of finding *precisely* the right thing to say, and then
saying it as simply and economically[1] as possible - a technique that
sounds simple enough in theory, but whose difficulty is actually concealed
by the ease with which Crane accomplishes it.

[1] but without ever losing his characteristic tone of voice


poem #196 has a biography and a more extensive discussion of crane's

poem #253 is one of my favourite verses from The Black Riders

And [broken link] contains the complete
text of The Black Riders and Other Lines, of which today's poem is but
stanza XV.


Helen in Egypt -- H D

Guest poem submitted by David Wright, an excerpt
(Poem #689) Helen in Egypt
 This is the spread of wings,
 whether the Straits claimed them
 or the Cyclades,

 whether they floundered on the Pontic seas
 or ran aground before the Hellespont,
 whether they shouted Victory at the gate,

 whether the bowmen shot them from the Walls,
 whether they crowded surging through the breach,
 or died of fever on the smitten plain,

 whether they rallied and came home again,
 in the worn hulks, half-rotted from the salt
 or sun-warped on the beach,

 whether they scattered or in companies,
 or three or two sought the old ways of home,
 whether they wandered as Odysseus did,

 encountering new adventure, they are one;
 no, I was not instructed, but I "read" the script,
 I read the writing when he seized my throat,

 this was his anger,
 they were mine, not his,
 the unnumbered host;

 mine, all the ships,
 mine, all the thousand petals of the rose,
 mine, all the lily-petals,

 mine, the great spread of wings,
 the thousand sails,
 the thousand feathered darts

 that sped them home,
 mine, the one dart in the Achilles-heel,
 the thousand-and-one, mine.
-- H D
Lately I've been reading H.D.'s Helen in Egypt and very much enjoying it,
although I'm hard pressed to express why.  The book-length poem takes as its
subject a story that dates back at least as far as the sixth century Greek
lyric poet Stesichorus, and was the subject of a play by Euripides as well.
The story is an alternate version of the Troy legend in which Zeus placed a
phantom Helen upon the ramparts of Troy and kept the faithful wife safe in
Egypt until Menelaus retrieved her.  In H.D.'s version she has encounters
with the spirit of Achilles who comes limping onto the shore, (it is he that
seizes her throat in the passage above, although that is not where their
story ends), as well as with Theseus and Paris, who she does after all seem
to have run off with.

I'm sure there is much interesting matter to be found in the author's
biography, the effect of the post-war years, the relationship of the poem to
Pound's Cantos -- it is supposed to be something of a feminist response --
the layers of Woolf-y psychology or the author's symbols, and I expect it
would be easy to find all sorts of explication of the piece. H.D. has
provided her own explanation in short prose passages before each verse,
originally composed to aid in a recording of the piece, and making this a
very accessible poem to read, I think.

What has captured me is the language, which shares with much ancient Greek
lyric a spare directness combined with this enchanting, at times incantatory
power.  (I guess enchanting and incantatory are just French and Latin for
the same thing, eh?)  And her feel for rhythm, her respect for the pulse,
make this a pleasure to read aloud.  I don't read Greek myself, but I
understand ancient Greek is very plain and unadorned in comparison with
English, or English poetry, anyway.  The whole poem is suffused with mystic
longing and with Love-Death.  If you enjoy reading Homer, this is a
fascinating counterpart to it.

(I'll insert a plug for one of my other favorite modern poetic treatments of
an ancient epic, although it is an altogether different sort of thing, very
prosy and sardonic.  This is Jason & Medeia, by John Gardner, a wonderful
author who hardly anybody seems to read anymore.)

David Wright.

PS. Other poems by H. D. on the Minstrels:
"Oread" poem #310
"Helen" poem #449
The first of these has a biography, critical analysis, and links to other
Imagist poetry. The second kicks off a set of poems on the Trojan War, which
might be of interest read in conjunction which today's poem. - t.