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A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever -- John Keats

(Poem #770) A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever
 A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
 Its loveliness increases; it will never
 Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
 A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
 Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
 Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
 A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
 Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
 Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
 Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darken'd ways
 Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
 Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
 From our dark spirits...
-- John Keats
Lines taken from 'Endymion', composed in 1818.

Readers interested in the poetic process might be interested to know that
Keats' first draft of this section of Endymion started with the words
   "A thing of beauty is forever a joy"
and it was only much later that he changed the line to its present form.

Which, when you think about it, is a truly fascinating fact: it goes to show
that poets, even the greatest ones, have to work sometimes - inspiration
doesn't always strike the first time around.


[On the mythologial figure of Endymion]

Endymion: in Greek mythology, a beautiful youth who spent much of his life
in perpetual sleep. Endymion's parentage varies among the different ancient
references and stories, but several traditions say that he was originally
the king of Elis. According to one tradition, Zeus offered him anything that
he might desire, and Endymion chose an everlasting sleep in which he might
remain youthful forever. According to another version of the myth,
Endymion's eternal sleep was a punishment inflicted by Zeus because he had
ventured to fall in love with Zeus's wife, Hera. In any case, Endymion was
loved by Selene, the goddess of the moon, who visited him every night while
he lay asleep in a cave on Mount Latmus in Caria; she bore him 50 daughters.
A common form of the myth represents Endymion as having been put to sleep by
Selene herself so that she might enjoy his beauty undisturbed.

        -- EB

[On the composition of the poem]

In 1817 Keats left London briefly for a trip to the Isle of Wight and
Canterbury and began work on Endymion, his first long poem. Endymion
appeared in 1818. This work is divided into four 1,000-line sections, and
its verse is composed in loose rhymed couplets. The poem narrates a version
of the Greek legend of the moon goddess Diana's (or Cynthia's) love for
Endymion, a mortal shepherd, but Keats puts the emphasis on Endymion's love
for Diana rather than on hers for him. Keats transformed the tale to express
the widespread Romantic theme of the attempt to find in actuality an ideal
love that has been glimpsed heretofore only in imaginative longings. This
theme is realized through fantastic and discursive adventures and through
sensuous and luxuriant description. In his wanderings in quest of Diana,
Endymion is guilty of an apparent infidelity to his visionary moon goddess
and falls in love with an earthly maiden to whom he is attracted by human
sympathy. But in the end Diana and the earthly maiden turn out to be one and
the same. The poem equates Endymion's original romantic ardour with a more
universal quest for a self-destroying transcendence in which he might
achieve a blissful personal unity with all creation. Keats, however, was
dissatisfied with the poem as soon as it was finished.

        -- EB

[Minstrels Links]

John Keats:
Poem #12, "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer"
Poem #182, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"
Poem #316, "Ode to a Nightingale"
Poem #433, "Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell"
Poem #575, "To Mrs Reynolds' Cat"
Poem #696, "Last Sonnet"

George Gordon, Lord Byron:
Poem #62, "So We'll Go No More a-Roving"
Poem #169, "She Walks in Beauty"
Poem #510, "There is a pleasure in the pathless woods"
Poem #547, "The Isles of Greece"
Poem #718, "The Destruction of Sennacherib"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
Poem #30, "Kubla Khan"
Poem #361, "Cologne"
Poem #549, "Metrical Feet - A Lesson for a Boy"

Percy Bysshe Shelley:
Poem #22, "Ozymandias"
Poem #329, "Ode to the West Wind"
Poem #399, "The Indian Serenade"
Poem #416, "The Fitful Alternations of the Rain"
Poem #500, "A Dirge"
Poem #531, "Love's Philosophy"
Poem #592, "Sonnet: England in 1819"

William Wordsworth:
Poem #63        "Daffodils"
Poem #82        "The Solitary Reaper"
Poem #128       "London, 1802"
Poem #376       "She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways"
Poem #411       "The Tables Turned"
Poem #441       "The Simplon Pass"
Poem #462       "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802"
Poem #759       "A Complaint"


I seem to remember reading the (marvellously punning) phrase "mooned about
Endymion" somewhere, but I can't for the life of me remember where. Does
anyone on the list have a clue?

what if a much of a which of a wind -- e e cummings

Guest poem submitted by Pavithra Krishnan:
(Poem #769) what if a much of a which of a wind
 what if a much of a which of a wind
 gives the truth to summer's lie;
 bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun
 and yanks immortal stars awry?
 Blow king to beggar and queen to seem
 (blow friend to fiend: blow space to time)
 -when skies are hanged and oceans drowned,
 the single secret will still be man

 what if a keen of a lean wind flays
 screaming hills with sleet and snow:
 strangles valleys by ropes of thing
 and stifles forests in white ago?
 Blow hope to terror; blow seeing to blind
 (blow pity to envy and soul to mind)
 -whose hearts are mountains, roots are trees,
 it's they shall cry hello to the spring

 what if a dawn of a doom of a dream
 bites this universe in two,
 peels forever out of his grave
 and sprinkles nowhere with me and you?
 Blow soon to never and never to twice
 (blow life to isn't; blow death to was)
 -all nothing's only our hugest home;
 the most who die, the more we live
-- e e cummings
An extremely explanationless poet (the e. e. was no accident :)). I don't
level that as an accusation. I lay it down as a tribute. When meaning darts
in and out of a poem the way it does when you're with cummings, the
elusiveness doesn't irritate... it enchants and intrigues(in the very best
way possible). cummings has figured on this list before, several times [1].
And while it's relatively easy to familiarize oneself with the sheer drama
of his innovation and his audacious powers of invention... it's a little
more difficult to stop being surprised by him. cummings is such an
inexhaustibly lively poet. And this is a poem of crazy, sweeping whatifs. A
poem brimful of lines that make music for you before (if ever) they make
sense. I love the way the verses are built. Beginning with a vivid riddle,
spiralling into a two-line almost-incantation, closing each, with something
wise, glinting... and enigmatic. What is curious to me, about this poem, is
the way it _compels_ -- combining a playfulness of tone, grammar and rhyme,
with a series of merciless, even cruel images and ideas. There is a strange
violence here. An impartial, indifferent violence that spares nothing, no
one. Not monarchs or mountains, the stars or the elements, not space and
time or you and me. Nowhere in evidence here is the delicate, crystal-veined
fragility that cummings is so excruciatingly capable of ("nobody, not even
the rain, has such small hands" [2]). But while this is not a tremulous
poem, neither is it irredeemably harsh. Because there is something
inconquerable inside of it. Something in the 'single secret', the 'cry
hello' and 'the more we live' that seems to convey a spirit transcending the
violence of vocabulary, a wisdom beyond ordinary compassion. Maybe I'm way
off track here. Highly possible. It's hard to tell with cummings...

... all I truly know is that I really like the voice of his sound.


[1] See, for instance:
Poem #56, "pity this busy monster, manunkind"
Poem #139, "Buffalo Bill's/ defunct"
Poem #214, "Where's Madge then,"
Poem #311, "Untitled"
Poem #454, "If I have made, my lady, intricate"
Poem #492, "Poem 42"
Poem #619, "somewhere i have never travelled"
on the Minstrels website.

[2] The last line of the bewitchingly beautiful love poem "somewhere i have
never travelled", Poem #619 on the Minstrels website.

Theology -- Ted Hughes

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #768) Theology
 "No, the serpent did not
 Seduce Eve to the apple.
 All that's simply
 Corruption of the facts.

 Adam ate the apple.
 Eve ate Adam.
 The serpent ate Eve.
 This is the dark intestine.

 The serpent, meanwhile,
 Sleeps his meal off in Paradise -
 Smiling to hear
 God's querulous calling."
-- Ted Hughes
In the spirit of submitting poems about religion. This is one I find
particularly impressive because of the unflinching directness with which
it's written - which is what keeps it from being more than just a momentary
witticism. I specially love the incredible sense of despair that grips me
everytime I read the lines 'This is the dark intestine' - because with that
one line Hughes simply kills the laughter of the previous three (and is it
just my imagination or is there a suggestion of the long geneologies of the
Genesis in them) and suddenly plunges us into a sort of minor key, a note of
unrelieved blackness. Philosophically, it's not that profound a poem, but
what makes it special is that despite this it sort of feels right.


A Scroll Painting -- Arthur Yap

Guest poem submitted by Ann Ang
(Poem #767) A Scroll Painting
 the mountains are hazy with timeless passivity
 sprawling monotonously in the left-hand corner
 while clouds diffuse and fill the entire top half
 before bumping daintily into a bright red parakeet
 perched suicide-like on a beautiful gnarled branch
 arched by the weight of fruit and one ripe peach
 hung a motionless inch from the gaping beak

 here is transient beauty
 caught in permanence
 but of what avail is such perpentual unattainment?

 i know the stupid bird can never eat the stupid peach
-- Arthur Yap
This poem speaks mostly for itself, to me it is about the essential
uselessness of some art. For those who have never seen a Chinese painting,
just think Amy Tan and tigers and goldfish and willows and songbirds. The
object of most scrolls is to capture 'transient beauty' or some similar
profound notion about nature.

About the poet: Arthur Yap was born in Singapore in 1943. His first
collection of poems, 'Only Lines' was published in 1971, for which he
received the National Book Development Council of Singapore's first award
for poetry.He has since published various collections of verse such as 'Man
Snake Apple' and 'Commonplace'. In 1983, he was awarded the prestigious
Southeast Asia Write Award in Bangkok and the Cultural Medallion for
Literature in Singapore. He is also a prolific painter.


The Grey Squirrel -- Humbert Wolfe

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #766) The Grey Squirrel
 Like a small grey
 sits the squirrel.
 He is not

 all he should be,
 kills by dozens
 trees, and eats
 his red-brown cousins.

 The keeper on the
 other hand,
 who shot him, is
 a Christian, and

 loves his enemies,
 which shows
 the squirrel was not
 one of those.
-- Humbert Wolfe
I can't pretend to have read very much Wolfe - in fact, this is about the
only poem I have read - finding it in anthology long ago. But this is a poem
I've never been able to forget, not only because the wonderful combination
of short lines and a simple rhyme pattern clings to me and makes me tingle
all over rather as though a whole host of laughing squirrels were chattering
away inside me, but also because it so wonderfully exposes the hypocrisy of
organised religion. Whenever someone asks me to explain the meaning of
'tongue in cheek', I have an urge to quote this to them.


For The Fallen -- Laurence Binyon

Guest poem submitted by Stephanie Pegg:
A poem for ANZAC Day (25 April):
(Poem #765) For The Fallen
 With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
 England mourns for her dead across the sea.
 Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
 Fallen in the cause of the free.

 Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
 Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
 There is a music in the midst of desolation
 And a glory that shines upon our tears.

 They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
 Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
 They were staunch to the end against odds uncountered:
 They fell with their faces to the foe.

 They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
 Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
 At the going down of the sun and in the morning
 We will remember them.

 They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
 They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
 They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
 They sleep beyond England's foam.

 But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
 Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
 To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
 As the stars are known to the Night;

 As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
 Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
 As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
 To the end, to the end they remain.
-- Laurence Binyon
I think the most quoted passage in this poem is the fourth stanza, but I
always remember it for the last two lines -- "As the stars that are starry
in the time of our darkness / To the end, to the end they remain" purely for
the beauty of the image.

I don't know much about Laurence Binyon, except that he wrote this poem in
September, 1914.  It gets quoted a lot on war memorial days.


ANZAC stands for the Australia New Zealand Army Corps.  It was formed by
combining the Australian Imperial Force and the New Zealand Expeditionary
Force stationed in Egypt in 1914.  On the 25 of April 1915 the Corps was
part of an assault on Gallipoli.  By the time its soldiers were evacuated in
December 1915, 2721 New Zealanders and 8000 Australians had died.  (To give
a sense of scale, New Zealand's population had just reached a million people
7 years earlier.)  This was the first major participation in a war by either
country and at the time the incident was used to get a lot of nationalistic
fervour going.  Since then the 25th of April has been the war memorial day
in both Australia and New Zealand.


[broken link] - Poems by Laurence
Binyon - A biography - Good NZ resource,
essays, biographies, list of casualties, maps etc
[broken link] - the Aussie point of view


A Subaltern's Love Song -- John Betjeman

Guest poem submitted by Pavithra Krishnan:
(Poem #764) A Subaltern's Love Song
 Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
 Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun,
 What strenuous singles we played after tea,
 We in the tournament - you against me!

 Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
 The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
 With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
 I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

 Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
 How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
 The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
 But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

 Her father's euonymus shines as we walk,
 And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
 And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
 To the six-o'clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

 The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
 The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
 As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
 For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

 On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
 And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
 And westering, questioning settles the sun,
 On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

 The Hillman is waiting, the light's in the hall,
 The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
 My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
 And there on the landing's the light on your hair.

 By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways,
 She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
 Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells
 And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

 Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
 I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
 Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
 Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand!

 Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
 Above us the intimate roof of the car,
 And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
 With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

 And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
 And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
 We sat in the car park till twenty to one
 And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.
-- John Betjeman
I like this one as much for the title as for anything that follows. A poem
that admits to being a Love Song right off the bat, needs to balance the
sentimentality of the confession with, well... something. Where Eliot used
J. Alfred Prufrock, Betjeman uses A Subaltern... and follows up with the
introduction of the entirely bewitching Miss J. Hunter Dunn. And if the
title fails to inspire interest, well then I dare any reader to rein in at
the end of the first verse. Betjeman at his merriest is impossibly
irresistible. His rhythms have been called near-Tennysonian, a deliciously
accurate observation: like the earlier Laureate, Betjeman too, slips with
breathtaking ease into beautiful babblings. And like the girl that is its
fascination, the poem too is light and lovely, swift and sure of foot (that
could well be feet :)). Miss Dunn in all her athletic splendour, outdoorsy
goodlooks and snub-nosed wholesomeness, is representative of the species of
girlhood that Betjeman's verse was particularly susceptible to (in his own
words)-- 'The tennis-playing biking girl/ The wholly-to-my-liking girl"...
Here's a poet who has a way with hyphens and the words that go with them, a
poet who can charm the cynic out of anyone [1] with his style of
story-telling. I love the loving attention he pays to inconsequential (but
then again maybe not so) details -- the pictures of Egypt, the double-end
evening tie, the scent of her wrap, her father's euonymus that shines as
they walk... [2] I like too that he makes a precious habit of investing
inanimates with human qualities thereby giving us such wonders as a
questioning sun, an importunate band, an intimate roof...

Great poetry doesn't always make for happy reading. Sometimes it does. And
sometimes, like with Betjeman's poem, it can be, quite simply, a joy.


[1] Though on the other hand,

 "A Subaltern's Love-Song"

 Feel her foreplay - more than kisses!
 Now I'll have to call her Mrs.

        -- Bill Greenwell

...Well, almost anyone then ;-)

[2] euonymus: a shrub or small tree noted for its autumn colours and bright
fruit - and not an obscure reference to a balding head as I fondly believed

Love Without Hope -- Robert Graves

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #763) Love Without Hope
 Love without hope, as when the young bird-catcher
 Swept off his tall hat to the Squire's own daughter,
 So let the imprisoned larks escape and fly
 Singing about her head, as she rode by.
-- Robert Graves
Graves isn't always an easy poet to read. His more mystical works are pretty
hard going. But nothing could be simpler than today's poem in the way it
captures both the impossibilities of one-sided love, and yet the good that
can come of it.

The pain of one-sided loving can have some redeeming benefits. Perhaps it
could be in the way it makes you more aware of your feelings (as in the
Auden poem 'The More Loving One' which I sent earlier). Perhaps it could be
with the art that comes from it - think of the many masterpieces of
literature that have come from unattainable love. Perhaps even just in the
generosity of a gesture that can "let the imprisoned larks escape and fly /
Singing about her head... "


[Minstrels Links]

Other poems by Robert Graves:
Poem #55, "Welsh Incident"
Poem #298, "The Cool Web"
Poem #467, "Like Snow"
Poem #515, "The Persian Version"
Poem #564, "Warning to Children"
Poem #663, "A Child's Nightmare"
The first of these has a Graves bio attached.

Miranda -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Laura Harding:
(Poem #762) Miranda
 My dear one is mine as mirrors are lonely,
 As the poor and sad are real to the good king,
 And the high green hill sits always by the sea.

 Up jumped the Black Man behind the elder tree,
 Turned a somersault and ran away waving;
 My Dear One is mine as mirrors are lonely.

 The Witch gave a squawk; her venomous body
 Melted into light as water leaves a spring,
 And the high green hill sits always by the sea.

 At his crossroads, too, the Ancient prayed for me,
 Down his wasted cheeks tears of joy were running:
 My dear one is mine as mirrors are lonely.

 He kissed me awake, and no one was sorry;
 The sun shone on sails, eyes, pebbles, anything,
 And the high green hill sits always by the sea.

 So to remember our changing garden, we
 Are linked as children in a circle dancing:
 My dear one is mine as mirrors are lonely,
 And the high, green hill sits always by the sea.
-- W H Auden
This is Miranda's one speaking part in 'The Sea and the Mirror', Auden's
long, careful, mostly prose gambit with the Faust-theme, a fantasia on
Shakespeare's 'Tempest'. [The 'sea' and the 'mirror' appear through this
whole work in various casts; most pointedly, the sea is the vast and
dangerous real inner or outer life, the mirror, art's solipsistic construct.
Come to think of it, seas and mirrors don't appear outright anywhere in the
work except in the above poem, which figures at just about the halfway
point... for more on this awesome play, please read it... ]

To my mind this first line is enough to carry whatever the poet might want
to put in a dozen more; he's gone further, though, and there's a rich little
surprise in every verse. I only have some trouble with the final stanza - it
seems a bit vacuous. On the other hand, maybe this is intentional: in
Miranda's lucky state, anything goes - and I love her all the more for it.


Desiderata -- Max Ehrmannn

Guest poerm submitted by Sidharth Jaggi:
(Poem #761) Desiderata
 Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be
in silence.

 As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull
and ignorant; they too have their story.

 Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you
compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always
there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your
achievements as well as your plans.

 Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in
the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue
there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full
of heroism.

 Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about
love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial
as the grass.

 Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of
youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do
not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and
loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

 You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you
have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the
universe is unfolding as it should.

 Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and
whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep
peace with your soul.

 With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful

 Be cheerful.

 Strive to be happy.
-- Max Ehrmannn
Written 1927.
Copyright 1976 Robert L. Bell.

According to some reference books, Desiderata is still sometimes thought to
have been 'found' at Old St. Paul's Church in Baltimore and to date back to
1692. It was actually written and copyrighted by Max Ehrmann (1872-1945) in
1927, the copyright was renewed in 1948 and 1954 by Bertha K. Ehrmann. It
was copyrighted by Robert L. Bell in 1976. In 1956, the rector of St. Paul's
Church in Baltimore, Maryland, used the poem in a collection of mimeographed
inspirational material for his congregation. Someone who subsequently
printed it asserted that it was found in Old St. Paul's Church, dated 1692.
The year 1692 was the founding date of the church and has nothing to do with
the poem. See Fred D. Cavinder, "Desiderata", TWA Ambassador, Aug. 1973, pp.

I like the Desiderata. I really really like it. Like, y'know, I dig it. I
like the tone of it - it's not overly preachy, but just full of good stuff.
I like to imagine a big daddy figure saying such things to me when I'm
feeling lonely or down. The lines are the ropes religions are made of; when
people are feeling lonely or down they like to imagine a big daddy figure
saying such things to them. It just reeks of tolerance, goodwill to humanity
and the fellowship of man. Good stuff. Which I found really strange when I
first read about its supposed provenance, in a Protestant church in the
bastion of Puritanism. Come to think of it, the Roaring Twenties are just as

But, you know, I really really like the Desiderata.

Oh, general fact - all the people I've forced to read the above and comment
on it have, without exception, suddenly laughed / snickered / sniggered when
they came to the line

"Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit."


And, of course, when I want a change there's always...


 Go placidly amid the noise and waste, remembering what comfort may be found
in owning a piece thereof. Avoid quiet and passive persons unless you are in
need of sleep.

 Rotate your wheels, it is what they are for.

 Speak glowingly of others greater than yourself, heed well their advice
even though they be turkeys. Know what to kiss, and when.

 Consider that two wrongs never make a right. However, three do.

 Wherever possible put people on hold and leave for the day. Be comforted
that, in the face of all aridity and disillusionment and despite the
changing fortunes of time, there will always be a big future in computer

 Remember the Alamo. Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle and
mutilate. Know yourself. If you do not, look in the mirror - that's you.
Exercise caution in your daily affairs, especially with those persons
closest to you. That turkey on your left for instance.

 Fall not in love, it will stick to your face and smell of tuna.

 Gracefully surrender the things of youth, burgers, coffee and obesity.

 Hire people with hooks.

 For a good time, Listen to a US foreign policy speech.

 Take heart amid the deepening gloom that at least your cat is being fed
well; reflect that whatever misfortune may be your lot, at least you don't
live in Ohio.

 You are a fluke of the universe: you have no right to be here. Whether or
not you can hear it, the Universe is laughing behind your back.

 Therefore make your peace with God, whether you consider him to be clown or
President of the disUnited States.

 With all its hopes, dreams and McDonalds, the world will continue to

     -- National Lampoon

One of the above two hangs on my bedroom wall - you have three guesses as to
which one :)


The Name -- Alexander Pushkin

Guest poem submitted by Nick Grundy:
(Poem #760) The Name
 What is my name to you? 'T will die:
 a wave that has but rolled to reach
 with a lone splash a distant beach;
 or in the timbered night a cry ...

 'T will leave a lifeless trace among
 names on your tablets: the design
 of an entangled gravestone line
 in an unfathomable tongue.

 What is it then? A long-dead past,
 lost in the rush of madder dreams,
 upon your soul it will not cast
 Mnemosyne's pure tender beams.

 But if some sorrow comes to you,
 utter my name with sighs, and tell
 the silence: "Memory is true -
 there beats a heart wherein I dwell."
-- Alexander Pushkin
Translation by Vladimir Nabokov.

Infuriatingly, I can't find any online resources which carry parts of
Nabokov's translation of "Eugene Onegin" - but "The Name" is at least a
translation of Pushkin...  The obvious advantage those translating from
their native tongue have is that they can retain the feel of the original -
there's something peculiarly Russian about this, and "timbered night" is a
lovely phrase.  You can almost smell them, or hear them rustling!

Nabokov is, predictably, amusingly nasty about people whose methods of
translation he disagrees with.  I've appended (an abbreviated) part of a
longer essay which you can read at
[broken link]
- always assuming you aren't irritated by his style - it's worth it, though,
as some of the examples he uses are worryingly believable, and when he
describes reading a translation of Gogol's short story "Overcoat" as leaving
him "with the impression that I am witnessing a murder and can do nothing to
prevent it", you rather know what he means.

Then, of course, you remember that another translator of Pushkin - Walter
Arndt - called Nabokov's version of "Onegin": "...the sad ritual murder
performed for the purposes of an ever more insatiable lexical necrophilia."
Perhaps you start to think that it's a strange business, translation.

There's also a poem called "On Translation) which he wrote in tetrameter
sonnets (like those in Eugene Onegin) to defend his decision to translate
the work in free verse.  It's at


[Nabokov on Translation]

Three grades of evil can be discerned in the queer world of verbal
transmigration. The first, and lesser one, comprises obvious errors due to
ignorance or misguided knowledge. This is mere human frailty and thus
excusable. The next step to Hell is taken by the translator who
intentionally skips words or passages that he does not bother to understand
or that might seem obscure or obscene to vaguely imagined readers; he
accepts the blank look that his dictionary gives him without any qualms; or
subjects scholarship to primness: he is as ready to know less than the
author as he is to think he knows better. The third, and worst, degree of
turpitude is reached when a masterpiece is planished and patted into such a
shape, vilely beautified in such a fashion as to conform to the notions and
prejudices of a given public. This is a crime, to be punished by the stocks
as plagiarists were in the shoebuckle days.

The second, and much more serious, sin of leaving out tricky passages is
still excusable when the translator is baffled by them himself; but how
contemptible is the smug person who, although quite understanding the sense,
fears it might stump a dunce or debauch a dauphin! Instead of nestling in
the arms of the great writer, he keeps worrying about the little reader
playing in a corner with something dangerous or unclean. Perhaps the most
charming example of Victorian modesty that has ever come my way was in an
early English translation of "Anna Karenina." Vronsky had asked Anna what
was the matter with her. "I am beremenna" (the translator's italics),
replied Anna, making the foreign reader wonder what strange and awful
Oriental disease that was; all because the translator thought that "I am
pregnant" might shock some pure soul, and that a good idea would be to leave
the Russian just as it stood.

But masking and toning down seem petty sins in comparison with those of the
third category; for here he comes strutting and shooting out his bejeweled
cuffs, the slick translator who arranges Scheherazade's boudoir according to
his own taste and with professional elegance tries to improve the looks of
his victims.

     -- [broken link]

A Complaint -- William Wordsworth

Guest poem submitted by Suresh Ramasubramanian:
(Poem #759) A Complaint
 There is a change--and I am poor;
 Your love hath been, nor long ago,
 A fountain at my fond heart's door,
 Whose only business was to flow;
 And flow it did; not taking heed
 Of its own bounty, or my need.

 What happy moments did I count!
 Blest was I then all bliss above!
 Now, for that consecrated fount
 Of murmuring, sparkling, living love,
 What have I? Shall I dare to tell?
 A comfortless and hidden well.

 A well of love--it may be deep--
 I trust it is,--and never dry:
 What matter? If the waters sleep
 In silence and obscurity.
 --Such change, and at the very door
 Of my fond heart, hath made me poor.
-- William Wordsworth
Written circa 1806-1807.

This is in the classic ababcc format.

It is quite likely that his "changed friend" was Coleridge. Wordsworth met
him (after a gap of several years) in late 1806, and then for several months
in the winter of 1806 when Coleridge was a guest of the Wordsworths during
their stay at Colenorton, Sir George Beaumont's house in Leicestershire.

Coleridge was back in England after a long residence abroad, mostly in
Malta, trying to restore his health (which was severely affected by his
being addicted to opium).  Not that I'm being censorious here, he couldn't
have written Kubla Khan without that :) His health was, however,
irrepairably destroyed by his drug abuse.

Dorothy Wordsworth wrote: "never never did I feel such a shock as at the
first sight of him [in Oct. 1806]. We all felt exactly in the same way--as
if he were different from what we had expected to see...."

His appearance and physical health were not the only things that had changed
about him - his mental balance was also affected by the drugs.

Wordsworth's grief at the state to which Coleridge was reduced shines
through every line in this poem, as does his deep love for Coleridge.
As he says, his grief makes him poor, robs him of his happiness.


Sea-Change -- John Masefield

(Poem #758) Sea-Change
 "Goneys an' gullies an' all o' the birds o' the sea
    They ain't no birds, not really", said Billy the Dane.
 "Not mollies, nor gullies, nor goneys at all", said he,
    "But simply the sperrits of mariners livin' again.

 "Them birds goin' fishin' is nothin' but the souls o' the drowned,
    Souls o' the drowned, an' the kicked as are never no more
 An' that there haughty old albatross cruisin' around,
    Belike he's Admiral Nelson or Admiral Noah.

 "An' merry's the life they are living. They settle and dip,
    They fishes, they never stands watches, they waggle their wings;
 When a ship comes by, they fly to look at the ship
    To see how the nowaday mariners manages things.

 "When freezing aloft in a snorter I tell you I wish --
    (Though maybe it ain't like a Christian) -- I wish I could be
 A haughty old copper-bound albatross dipping for fish
    And coming the proud over all o' the birds o' the sea."
-- John Masefield
Question: Should narrowness of theme be held against a poet?
Answer: Not when the theme is handled as magnificently as in Masefield's
poems of the sea.

John Masefield's ballads are astonishingly vivid. Read them, and you can
feel the salt spray in your face, taste the brine in your mouth, hear the
cawing of the gulls, the rip and crash of the storm, the stillness of the
morning after... Masefield may have written other kinds of verse (most
especially, during his lengthy tenure as Poet Laureate), but it's surely
poems like "Sea-Change" that he'll be remembered for. And rightly so.


[Minstrels Links]

The title of today's poem is from The Tempest, wherein Ariel expresses a
similar conceit. You can read the entire exquisite passage at poem #16

Other excerpts from Shakespeare's last play to have featured on the
Minstrels include "Our revels now are ended", Poem #126, and "Admired
Miranda", Poem #413.

Eliot's Wasteland makes several references to The Tempest; see poem #354

And finally, other Masefield poems:
"Sea Fever", Poem #27
"Cargoes", Poem #74
"Trade Winds", Poem #555
"Beauty", Poem #695
"Night is on the Downland", Poem #702

The Sunlight on the Garden -- Louis MacNeice

(Poem #757) The Sunlight on the Garden
 The sunlight on the garden
 Hardens and grows cold,
 We cannot cage the minute
 Within its nets of gold;
 When all is told
 We cannot beg for pardon.

 Our freedom as free lances
 Advances towards its end;
 The earth compels, upon it
 Sonnets and birds descend;
 And soon, my friend,
 We shall have no time for dances.

 The sky was good for flying
 Defying the church bells
 And every evil iron
 Siren and what it tells:
 The earth compels,
 We are dying, Egypt, dying

 And not expecting pardon,
 Hardened in heart anew,
 But glad to have sat under
 Thunder and rain with you,
 And grateful too
 For sunlight on the garden.
-- Louis MacNeice
An truly beautiful poem - the complex, intertwined images building up into
an ominous picture of a world spiralling into war. The superposition of the
large-scale and the highly personal is highly effective, the ending lending
the rest of the poem a new and enhanced perspective. And the poem is lent an
extra poignancy by the knowledge (see the first link) that it was addressed
to the wife who had just left him.

And speaking of complex and intertwined, don't miss the exquisitely crafted
rhyme scheme, the combination of internal and end rhymes having a delight
all their own. The technique of rhyming the last word of a line with the
first word of the next is, incidentally, reminiscent of Joe Haldeman's
"Lines Composed on a Noisy Plane to Atlantic City", in Zelazny's 'Wheel of
Fortune' anthology. Zelazny refers to it as an old Welsh verse form - if
anyone can shed further light on this, do write in.


  "We are dying, Egypt, dying": echoes Antony's word to Cleopatra in
  Act 4 of Antony and Cleopatra.
    -- [broken link]


  MacNeice, Louis:

   1907-63, Irish poet. Educated in England, he became a classical scholar
   and teacher and later was a producer for the British Broadcasting
   Corporation. In the 1930s MacNeice allied himself with a group of poets
   of social protest led by W. H. Auden. His later poetry, expressing the
   futility of modern life, retains the sparkling wit, ironical flatness of
   statement, and colloquial tone of his earlier verse. His volumes of
   poetry include Poems,, Springboard (1945), Holes in the
   Sky (1948), Ten Burnt Offerings (1952), and Solstices (1961). He also
   rendered poetic translations of Aeschylus' Agamemnon (1936) and Goethe's
   Faust (1951).

        -- [broken link]


  Seamus Cooney has an detailed commentary on the poem
    [broken link]

  Dickinson's 'There's a Certain Slant of Light' has reminiscent imagery
    poem #92

  And Henley's 'The Rain and the Wind' resonates nicely with the ending
     poem #117

  As for MacNeice, we've run two of his poems:
    poem #18
    poem #521


An Arundel Tomb -- Philip Larkin

Guest poem submitted by Ann Ang:
(Poem #756) An Arundel Tomb
 Side by side, their faces blurred,
 The earl and countess lie in stone,
 Their proper habits vaguely shown
 As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
 And that faint hint of the absurd--
 The little dogs under their feet.

 Such plainess of the pre-baroque
 Hardly involves the eye, until
 It meets his left hand gauntlet, still
 Clasped empty in the other; and
 One sees, with sharp tender shock,
 His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

 They would not think to lie so long.
 Such faithfulness in effigy
 Was just a detail friends could see:
 A sculptor's sweet comissioned grace
 Thrown off in helping to prolong
 The Latin names around the base.

 They would not guess how early in
 Their supine stationary voyage
 Their air would change to soundless damage,
 Turn the old tenantry away;
 How soon succeeding eyes begin
 To look, not read. Rigidly they

 Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
 Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
 Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
 Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
 Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
 The endless altered people came,

 Washing at their identity.
 Now, helpless in the hollow of
 An unarmorial age, a trough
 Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
 Above their scrap of history,
 Only an attitude remains:

 Time has transfigured them into
 Untruth. The stone finality
 They hardly meant has come to be
 Their final blazon, and to prove
 Our almost-instinct almost true:
 What will survive of us is love.
-- Philip Larkin
This is the last poem in Larkin's collection 'The Whitsun Weddings'. If one
must sum up Larkin's poetry in general, it would be in the famous line: 'To
all that shot and missed'. Larkin deals with the reality and imperfection of
human existence. He spares no one; he tells all the ugly truths. His poems
constantly drive home how human intentions fall short of the final goal.

This is what gives rise to the sweet irony in the last stanza of this poem.
The seeming goal of eternal love has come about despite the fact that there
was no original intention. Why does it come about? Because human beings
still want to believe that there can be such a thing as perfect everlasting
love even though we know intellectually that it cannot exist, hence 'Our
almost-instinct almost true'. It's so human, this contradiction and
precisely why this poem is strangely moving in its apparently jaded tone.


[Minstrels Links]

Other Larkin poems to have featured on the list:
Poem #73, "I Remember, I Remember"
Poem #100, "Days"
Poem #178, "Water"
Poem #254, "The North Ship"
Poem #502, "MCMXIV"
Poem #544, "Toads"
All of which can be found at
[broken link]

Gone Are The Days -- Norman MacCaig

Guest poem submitted by Amulya Gopalakrishnan:
(Poem #755) Gone Are The Days
 Impossible to call a lamb a lambkin
 or say eftsoons or spell you ladye.
 My shining armour bleeds when it's scratched;
 I blow the nose that's part of my visor.

 When I go pricking o'er the plain
 I say Eightpence please to the sad conductress.
 The towering landscape you live in has printed
 on its portcullis Bed and breakfast.

 I don't regret it. There are wildernesses
 enough in Rose Street or the Grassmarket
 where dragons' breaths are methylated
 and social workers trap the unwary.

 So don't expect me, lady with no e,
 to look at a lamb and feel lambkin
 or give me a down look because I bought
 my greaves and cuisses at Marks and Spencers.

 Pishtushery's out. But oh, how my heart swells
 to see you perched, perjink, on a bar stool.
 And though epics are shrunk to epigrams, let me
 buy you a love potion, a gin, a double.
-- Norman MacCaig
I love MacCaig for the same things, always... the tenderness, the humour,
and oh, the Romance that's still utterly romantic even when it's dedicated
to a 'lady with no e'. The sensuous brunt of the words, his obvious
revelling in the sound and feel of 'perjink' and 'greaves and cuisses', the
whole picture of him 'pricking o'er the plain' and gently saying 'eightpence
please' to the conductress. I don't care, even if epics are shrunk to
epigrams, he's my hero.


Protocols -- Vikram Seth

Guest poem submitted by Vidur:
(Poem #754) Protocols
 What can I say to you? How can I retract
 All that that fool, my voice, has spoken_
 Now that the facts are plain, the placid surface cracked,
 The protocols of friendship broken?

 I cannot walk by day as now I walk at dawn
 Past the still house where you lie sleeping.
 May the sun burn these footprints on the lawn
 And hold you in its warmth and keeping.
-- Vikram Seth
Vikram Seth needs no introduction. Although he is better known for a certain
volumnious book that fetched him fame and fortune, I find his verse far
better than any of his prose. This poem is from his collection "All You Who
Sleep Tonight", the title poem of which was on this list some time ago.

What I like about the poem is the simple, elegant form, its ability to
convey volumes of emotion with economy of verse and of course, the all too
familiar experience it talks about.


[Minstrels Links]

Poems by Vikram Seth:
Poem #460, "Round and Round"
Poem #650, "All You Who Sleep Tonight"

Vikram Seth is also known for his interpretations of Chinese poets such as
Li Po, Tu Fu and Wang Wei. The former has featured on the Minstrels before:
Poem #504, "About Tu Fu"
Poem #749, "Parting"
Poem #683, "To Tu Fu from Shantung"
Poem #70, "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
(The first three above are translated by Sam Hamill; the fourth by Ezra

And finally, other contemporary Indian poets writing in English to have
featured on the Minstrels include Eunice de Souza:
Poem #682, "Advice to Women"
Poem #603, "Marriages are Made"
and Nissim Ezekiel:
Poem #714, "Night of the Scorpion"
Poem #364, "The Patriot"
Poem #579, "The Professor"

Delayed Action -- Christian Morgenstern

Wrapping up the theme...
(Poem #753) Delayed Action
 Korf invents some jokes of a new sort
 That only many hours later work.
 Everybody listens to them, bored.

 Yet, like some still fuse glowing in the dark,
 You wake up suddenly that night in bed
 Beaming like a baby newly fed.
-- Christian Morgenstern
Translated from the German by W. D. Snodgrass and Lore Segal.

Morgenstern has been described as the canonical example of the
untranslatable poet. Today's poem, though, exhibits none of the mystery and
magic of, say, "Der Lattenzaun" or "Das Mondschaf"; it's merely a charming
piece of whimsy, and deserves to be delighted in for that reason alone.



Here's the German original:

 "Korf erfindet eine Art von Witzen"

 Korf erfindet eine Art von Witzen,
 die erst viele Stunden später wirken.
 Jeder hört sie an mit Langerweile.
 Doch als hätt ein Zunder still geglommen,
 wird man nachts im Bette plötzlich munter,
 selig lächelnd wie ein satter Säugling.

        -- Christian Morgenstern

And here's Babelfish's stab at translation:

 "Korf invents a type of jokes"

 Korf invents a type of jokes,
 those only many hours later work.
 Everyone hears it on with long while.
 But as if a scale haett quietly geglommen,
 becomes at night suddenly lively one bed bed,
 blessedly smiling like a full baby.

        -- Christian Morgenstern /

Of course, the conjunction of German, translation and new jokes reminds me
irresistibly of Monty Python's "Funniest Joke in the World" sketch, which
you can read at .

[And finally]

If the idea, theory and practice of translation fascinates you, I can't do
better than to recommend Douglas Hofstadter's wonderful book "Le Ton beau de
Marot", which is almost as much of a tour de force as his earlier
masterpiece, "Godel, Escher, Bach". Read them both.

Overheard In An Asylum -- Alfred Kreymborg

(Poem #752) Overheard In An Asylum
  And here we have another case
  quite different from the last,
  another case quite different --

    Baby, drink.
    The war is over.
    Mother's breasts
    are round with milk.

    Baby, rest.
    The war is over.
    Only pigs
    slop over so.

    Baby, sleep.
    The war is over.
    Daddy's come
    with a German coin.

    Baby, dream.
    The war is over.
    You'll be a soldier

  Yes, we gave her the doll --
  Now there we have another case
  quite different from --
-- Alfred Kreymborg
Notes: The bit I indented was italicised in the original. The war in quetion
is WW1; the poem is from his 1916 collection 'Mushrooms'.

Today's quietly chilling poem is all the more effective for its utter lack
of commentary. The language is simple and understated, a fact that detracts
nothing from the vividness of the image. I really don't want to say too much
about the poem - it has very little problem speaking for itself.


We've run a couple of Kreymborg's poems:

  poem #306: Geometry
  poem #245: Whitman

His biography can be found at poem #245


Elegies -- Guillevic

Guest poem submitted by Terry Smith, as part of the
'translations' theme', an excerpt from:
(Poem #751) Elegies
 He probably held too tightly
 (In the palm of his hand,
 Looking out on the sea)

 To the sand the wind
 Was taking, grain by grain --

 He who holds a fear
 Of becoming mist.
-- Guillevic
Translated by Terry Smith.

Here's the original:

 Il aura trop tenu
 Dans le fond de sa paume
 En face de la mer

 Du sable que le vent
 Y prenait grain par grain

 Celui que tient la peur
 De devenir nuage.

        -- Guillevic

Apologies for both the format of the submission and the crudeness of the
translation - I think there is a sublety in the grammar of the first line
that I have never quite grasped and I've been modifying my translation of
the poem since I found it. Any comment is appreciated.

I found Eugene Guillevic in a copy of "Contemporary French Poetry" which is
a collection of French work and facing-page translations (so I need to
credit Aspel and Justice for the first iteration of the translation). His
poetry reads beautifully, and simply, in French, but as he revels in the
subtleties of his own language he is very hard to translate into English. I
submitted this poem because the image is so strong, and because every time I
read it with a different voice, the meaning changes.  For a couple of years,
the last two lines were included in my signature as a personal statement.

There is a long review of some translations of Guillevic's work, and some
biographical info, at [broken link]


The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam -- Omar Khayyam

Continuing the 'translations' theme:
(Poem #750) The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
 Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
 A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse--and Thou
 Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
 And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

 "How sweet is mortal Sovranty!"--think some:
 Others--"How blest the Paradise to come!"
 Ah, take the Cash in hand and waive the Rest;
 Oh, the brave music of a distant Drum!
-- Omar Khayyam
 Translated by Edward FitzGerald.
 From FitzGerald's first edition, published in 1859.

 "FitzGerald's Rubaiyat" - the name says it all, really, so intertwined are
the English translation and the Persian original. This is surely the
canonical example of a poem whose popularity owes as much to its translator
as to its author, and for good reason: although not as faithful to the
letter of the original as some other versions, FitzGerald's masterpiece is
justly celebrated for its thematic unity, its command of atmosphere, and
above all, its sublime choice of phrasing.


[Other translations]

Here's FitzGerald's second edition:

 A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
 A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, -- and Thou
 Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
 Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

 Some for the Glories of This World; and some
 Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
 Ah, take the Cash, and let the Promise go,
 Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

        -- Omar Khayyam / Edward Fitzgerald

FitzGerald completed three more versions of the Khayyam's Rubaiyat before
his death in 1883. In the same year, Edward Whinfield published a more
comprehensive translation, of which these are the corresponding verses
(numbered 79, 84, 452, 94 and 108 respectively):

 Some wine, a Houri (Houris if there be),
 A green bank by a stream, with minstrelsy;---
 Toil not to find a better Paradise
 If other Paradise indeed there be!

 In the sweet spring a grassy bank I sought,
 And thither wine, and a fair Houri brought;
 And, though the people called me graceless dog,
 Gave not to Paradise another thought!

 Give me a skin of wine, a crust of bread,
 A pittance bare, a book of verse to read;
 With thee, O love, to share my lowly roof,
 I would not take the Sultan's realm instead!

 Did He who made me fashion me for hell,
 Or destine me for heaven? I can not tell.
 Yet will I not renounce cup, lute, and love,
 Nor earthly cash for heavenly credit sell.

 They preach how sweet those Houri brides will be,
 But I say wine is sweeter---taste and see!
 Hold fast this cash, and let that credit go,
 And shun the din of empty drums like me.

        -- Omar Khayyam / Edward Whinfield

Yet another version is Arthur Talbot's, completed in 1908; here are his
quatrains 40, 149, 34 and 42, respectively:

 Whether my destin'd fate shall be to dwell
 Midst Heaven's joys or in the fires of Hell
 I know not; here with Spring, and bread, and wine,
 And thee, my love, my heart says "All is well."

 Give me a scroll of verse, a little wine,
 With half a loaf to fill thy needs and mine,
 And with the desert sand our resting place,
 For ne'er a Sultan's kingdom would we pine.

 Men talk of Eden's Houris and their charms;
 To maids of Earth I drink and sing my psalms.
 Hold fast Life's cash; if Time be in thy debt
 How pleasant is the distant call to arms!

 If in thy heart the seed of Love is plac'd,
 No day of all thy life can run to waste;
 Whether for God's approval thou dost strive,
 Or on the joys of Earth hast set thy taste.

        -- Omar Khayyam / Arthur Talbot

Here's an extract from Richard Brodie's Anagrammatic Rubaiyat (more about
which later):

 A Poem, and Trees a-blowing in a Wind.
 A Brew I'll drink -- base Needs of other Stuff
 Ignore. Ah see here how we do behave;
 Indeed for us a Song is just enough

        -- Omar Khayyam / Edward FitzGerald / Richard Brodie

And finally, here's Wendy Cope's transcription of Strugnell's Rubaiyat:

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

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

        -- Omar Khayyam / Jason Strugnell / Wendy Cope

[Links] is an excellent resource for those
interested in the translator's art; it charts the progress of FitzGerald's
translation of Rubaiyat through several editions, and has a very neat
verse-by-verse comparison of FitzGerald, Whinfield and Talbot. Most
impressive of all, it offers (as a work in progress) Richard Brodie's
anagrammatic paraphrase of the Rubaiyat, a poem whose every stanza is a
perfect anagram of the corresponding one in FitzGerald's original. Check it

Incidentally, Richard Brodie is the co-author, with Mike Keith, of "The
Anagrammed Bible", an anagrammatic paraphrase of three complete books of the
Old Testament (King James Version). And Mike Keith's name has been mentioned
before on the Minstrels, for his insanely brilliant constrained version of
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven", [broken link]

Jeff Kelley's Kellcraft Studio, the Poet's Corner,
[broken link] and the ELF's
Rubaiyat site, have a
wealth of Rubaiyat-related information - annotations, critiques,
FitzGerald's prefaces, and so on.

And finally, Minstrels links: we've dipped into FitzGerald's Rubaiyat
several times before; see poem #162, poem #342, poem #545 and poem #654.
Also don't miss out Wendy Cope's parody (attributed to that
all-too-impressionable South London poet, the Bard of Tulse Hill, Jason
Strugnell), poem #587.


Some interesting snippets from the sites mentioned above:

FitzGerald's Rubaiyat was not a translation as such. The Rubaiyat
manuscripts contained over 400 quatrains. FitzGerald translated some
literally, some loosely, combined others, and added some of his own
composition though in the spirit of the Persian original. In addition,
FitzGerald arranged the verses so that they seem to have a certain cohesion,
though the original quatrains were independent and related only in tone. A
more literal translation was undertaken by Robert Graves in the 1970s.

        -- Bob Blair, [broken link]

While Whinfield and Talbot do not exhibit the same consistent, memorable
sublimity of expression as does Fitzgerald, they can serve to illuminate the
latter's monumental achievement of sifting and sorting through the
hodge-podge that is the original Persion collection, consisting not only of
Khayyam's verse, but of subsequent poets as well, selectively extracting and
recombining from this diverse assortment, a beautifully coherent and
naturally flowing creation.

        -- Richard Brodie,

Parting -- Li Po

Yesterday's poem leads into this week's theme, translated poetry:
(Poem #749) Parting
 Green mountains rise to the north;
 white water rolls past the eastern city.

 Once it has been uprooted,
 the tumbleweed travels forever.

 Drifting clouds like a wanderer's mind;
 sunset, like the heart of your old friend.

 We turn, pause, look back and wave,
 Even our ponies look back and whine.
-- Li Po
Translated by Sam Hamill.

Quite a few poets have essayed their own translations of Li Po's poem.
Here's the inimitable Ezra Pound:


 Blue mountains to the north of the wall,
 White river winding about them;
 Here we must make separation
 And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.

 Mind like a floating wide cloud,
 Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances
 Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance
 Our horses neigh to each other
 as we are departing.

        -- Ezra Pound

And here's his Imagist colleague Amy Lowell:


 Clear green hills at a right angle to the North Wall,
 White water winding to the East of the city.
 Here is the place where we must part.
 The lonely water-plants go ten thousand li;
 The floating clouds wander everywhither as does man.
 Day is departing--it and my friend.
 Our hands separate. Now he is going.
 "Hsiao, hsiao," the horse neighs.
 He neighs again, "Hsiao, hsiao."

        -- Amy Lowell and Florence Ayscough

My favourite translator, though, is Sam Hamill; there's something about his
style - simple, unaffected, yet intensely evocative, which resonates with my
idea of what Li Po's marvellous poems _should_ be like. Hamill's 1993
anthology "Endless River: Li Po and Tu Fu, A Friendship in Poetry" is
especially ecommended.

I'm told that Vikram Seth has some exquisite translations of Li Po, Tu Fu
and Wang Wei in his anthology "Three Chinese Poets"; I haven't read them
myself, though. Several other translations of this particular poem can be
found on Ken Hope's impressive website, at
[broken link]



Once again, let me plug Ken Hope's pages dedicated to Li Po [1], which are
part of his large and very comprehensive poetry website [2]. I especially
recommend the Story of the Yellow Crane [3], which, although it has no
direct connection with Li Po, is very beautiful. Also not to be missed is
Hope's own introductory essay on Li Po [4], an essay which brims over with
enthusiasm and delight.

[1] [broken link]
[2] [broken link]
[3] [broken link]
[4] [broken link]

Li Po has featured on the Minstrels before; check out
  Poem #70, "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
  Poem #504, "About Tu Fu"
  Poem #683, "To Tu Fu from Shantung"
all of which can be found on the Minstrels website,

[On the theme]

Spare a thought for translators: they have to balance painstaking
craftsmanship with original expression; insightful criticism with deep and
abiding sympathy for the works they criticize; poetic licence with faithful
tribute. If the poet is the bold and innovative composer of symphonies, the
translator is the maestro who conducts them, bringing his own interpretation
to the concert hall while taking care never to obscure or misrepresent the
creative genius behind them. It's a hard task, and a thankless one; how many
translators can _you_ name? This week's theme attempts to redress the
balance by highlighting some poems (and poets) who've benefited from having
wonderful translators. As usual, if you have any suggestions you'd like to
share with the rest of the list, do write in.

Be Near Me -- Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #748) Be Near Me
 You who demolish me, you whom I love,
 be near me. Remain near me when evening,
 drunk on the blood of the skies,
 becomes night, in its one hand
 a perfumed balm, in the other
 a sword sheathed in the diamond of stars.

 Be near me when night laments or sings,
 or when it begins to dance,
 its steel-blue anklets ringing with grief.

 Be here when longings, long submerged
 in the heart's waters, resurface
 and when everyone begins to look:
 Where is the assassin? In whose sleeve
 is hidden the redeeming knife?

 And when wine, as it is poured, is the sobbing
 of children whom nothing will console -
 when nothing holds,
 when nothing is:
 at that dark hour when night mourns,
 be near me, my destroyer, my lover,
 be near me.
-- Faiz Ahmed Faiz
translated by Agha Shahid Ali.

I don't find Urdu poets very easy reading (in English, unfortunately I don't
read Urdu). I'm intrigued and attracted to them by the extravagance of their
emotions, the intensity of their images. Perhaps it's translation, perhaps
it's their frequent use of the ghazal, hardly the easiest of form of poetry
to understand, but I often find it hard to figure out what's going on.

The exception is Faiz. He's one poet who manages to balance deep emotion, as
in this poem, with more complex issues of life and politics. (He has also
been lucky in having an exceptionally good translator in Agha Shahid Ali). I
have no particular sympathy for Faiz's Marxist politics, at least as
expressed by politicians, but with Faiz you get the feeling that his views
spring from a deep, passionate engagement with humanity, a concern for
people, a love of life that one cannot help connecting to. Perhaps Marxism
would have been more successful if it had had more poets like Faiz.

This poem though is not one of his political ones, but one just focusing on
love. I was going to say it's a simple poem, but perhaps it's not, since the
Beloved in this poem is both the one he loves and the one who he feels will
destroy him. It's a hugely extravagant and intense poem, but Faiz's skill
prevents it from going over the top.



Vikram's friend Vicente has some interesting comments to add:

There may in my view be more connection between "Hispanic" poets (Latin
American and Spanish/Portuguese), and Indian poets than meets the eye,
particularly but not exclusively the Northern Indian poets with strong
influences from the Mughal, Arabic and Islamic traditions. And even the
explicitly Hindu poets were not uninfluenced by the Islamic forms, nor were
they uninfluenced in turn. The southern coasts also share this influence,
due to the maritime Arab trade routes, which brought Kerala and Tamil Nadu
into contact with these same poetics (and had some influence no doubt in
reverse also).

The link is of course Islamic Spain, which lasted 500 years up to the
1490's, and the influence of Arab/Islamic forms in Al-Andaluz or Andalucia.
If you listen to the ancient Saetas of Seville, or the Cante Jondo (Deep
Song) of Granada, you could be forgiven for thinking you are listening to
the bitter sweet music and lyrics directly reflected in this poem by Faiz.
Here I am talking about the "real" saetas that can still be heard sung in
the streets of Seville during Holy week. The flamenco of today, or the pop
flamenco of The Gypsy Kings, are only a poor reflection.

The imagery of the oasis and desert (water and thirst, abundance and loss,
youth and age), the symbology of flowers, death and love, blood and revenge,
the sound of birds, the reverie of wine and the impermanence of all earthly
phenomena, are all the stock in trade of Spanish Andalucian poetics, and
continue in the contemporary "Andalucian" music of Morocco.

The pogrom against Jews and Muslims by Their Catholic Majesties Isabella and
Ferdinand (Los Reyes Catolicos) also served to disperse Andalucian music
across the whole globe. There are Sephardic Jewish songs, variations of
which can be found in Spain, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Bombay, Cochin, Burma,
and Shanghai. Last year, I was telling a Jewish elder in Cochin about a
particular Sephardic song I like about domestic violence and choice in
marriage, which I have heard in Ladino (the Medieval Spanish and Hebrew
creole of Sephardic Jews), and lo and behold a version was known in the
Keralan creole of the Cochin Jews. Similarly, an old man of Vypin (Vypeen)
sang another song "Shingly Nona" to me two years ago which is a mix of
Keralan dialect and corrupted Portuguese [1].

The Granadan poet Federico Garcia Lorca was strongly influenced by the cante
jondo tradition, and did much to revitalise it, and his poetry, although
reflective of the surrealist (and Republican) trends of his time, is
recognisably within the broad stream in which Faiz also sits. Following the
"discovery" of the Americas in 1492, these streams of influence traveled
west, and can be felt amongst not only poets like Octavio Paz,
Pablo Neruda and Vicente Huidobro, but also novelists.


[1] has several
versions of this poem, in different languages/dialects.

The Player Piano -- Randall Jarrell

Guest poem submitted by Sunil Iyengar:
(Poem #747) The Player Piano
 I ate pancakes one night in a Pancake House
 Run by a lady my age. She was gay.
 When I told her that I came from Pasadena
 She laughed and said, "I lived in Pasadena
 When Fatty Arbuckle drove the El Molino bus."

 I felt that I had met someone from home.
 No, not Pasadena, Fatty Arbuckle.
 Who's that? Oh, something that we had in common
 Like -- like -- the false armistice. Piano rolls.
 She told me her house was the first Pancake House

 East of the Mississippi, and I showed her
 A picture of my grandson. Going home --
 Home to the hotel -- I began to hum,
 "Smile a while, I bid you sad adieu,
 When the clouds roll back I'll come to you."

 Let's brush our hair before we go to bed,
 I say to the old friend who lives in my mirror.
 I remember how I'd brush my mother's hair
 Before she bobbed it. How long has it been
 Since I hit my funnybone? had a scab on my knee?

 Here are Mother and Father in a photograph,
 Father's holding me.... They both look so young.
 I'm so much older than they are. Look at them,
 Two babies with their baby. I don't blame you,
 You weren't old enough to know any better;

 If I could I'd go back, sit down by you both,
 And sign our true armistice: you weren't to blame.
 I shut my eyes and there's our living room.
 The piano's playing something by Chopin,
 And Mother and Father and their little girl

 Listen. Look, the keys go down by themselves!
 I go over, hold my hands out, play I play --
 If only, somehow, I had learned to live!
 The three of us sit watching, as my waltz
 Plays itself out a half-inch from my fingers.
-- Randall Jarrell
Maybe because Jarrell was such an impulsive critic and essayist, he was all
the more careful to conceal the logic of his characters in poems such as
this one. Not to say that the logic of the narrator in "The Player Piano" is
obscure, only that we are lulled by a sort of pastoral until the fifth
stanza, when remorse infiltrates the poem. Considered to be his last before
Jarrell died -- in 1965, sideswiped by a car while strolling down a lonely
North Carolina lane --  "The Player Piano" begins with a charitable couplet:
"I ate pancakes one night in a Pancake House/Run by a lady my age. She was
gay." The generous tone is suggested not by the parenthetical, if halting,
remark, "She was gay," but by the short phrase that precedes it: "Run by a
lady my age."

This identification with other human beings, those who share a collective
memory, becomes the narrator's redemption. The reference to Fatty Arbuckle
and Pasadena is not so much a throwback to Jarrell's California childhood as
it is a clutching after a common likeness. The question that the narrator
asks herself, "Fatty Arbuckle/Who's that?" suggests a mischievous joy in the
"something that we had in common," something from which the reader might
feel temporarily excluded. Fishing for specimens of that "something," the
narrator trots out, a bit awkwardly, "the false armistice," or the calm
between the wars. Then follows the quaint example of "piano rolls." But the
armistice, or rather its falseness, lingers in the reader's mind and will
erupt later in the poem.

Confidences are exchanged between the narrator and the pancake lady. The
former shows her grandson's picture, a gesture that supports her
characterization of an earlier life, and her new acquaintance boasts a
modest enough accomplishment: "She told me her house was the first Pancake
House/East of the Mississippi." The combination of this provincial detail
("Pancake House") with the panoramic image, "East of the Mississippi,"
heralding the next stanza, is a quality to be admired in Jarrell's work
generally. The narrator goes home -- home to her hotel, she can't resist
adding -- and hums what sounds like a faded show tune, until we are lurched
into the present tense with "Let's brush our hair before we go to bed,/I say
to the old friend who lives in my mirror." Here our attention is commanded
not by the simple declarative sentence, nor by the substitution of "we" for
"I" in the first line, launching a new stanza, but of course by the
startlingly accurate metaphor of "the old friend who lives in my mirror."
I've never heard it used before, and it captures the sense of buried life,
an alternative existence, which the narrator invokes with the seemingly
innocent questions: "How long has it been/Since I hit my funnybone? had a
scab on my knee?"

The less said about the last three stanzas, the better. The narrator is old
and wise enough to absolve her parents from any blame in her upbringing,
after seeing them in a photo; as with the mirror, she wants to go beyond the
picture -- through the picture -- to identify with the lives therein. As for
the domestication of the armistice in Line Two, Stanza Six, and the
imperative, "Listen," in the first line of the final stanza -- what
commentary is needed? The "piano rolls" from five stanzas back resurfaces in
the titular theme, the player piano: "Look, the keys go down by themselves!"
The grown-up narrator, not the little girl sitting with her parents, holds
her fingers a "half-inch" from the keys. At the same time, she laments,
reminiscent of Kafka or Rilke: "If only, somehow, I had learned to live!"
Yet one cannot imagine many poets saying this outright, nor extracting the
fullest force of sincerity that Jarrell does. The final line evokes the
close at hand, yet unattainable; a virtual reality, one that will not submit
to the speaker's control. In closing, and with dubious relevance, I quote
the poem "Here" by Philip Larkin, of whom I am gratified to learn that
Jarrell approved: "Here is unfenced existence:/Facing the sun, untalkative,
out of reach."