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Big Whorls Have Little Whorls -- Lewis F Richardson

(Poem #797) Big Whorls Have Little Whorls
 Big whorls have little whorls
   That feed on their velocity,
 And little whorls have lesser whorls
   And so on to viscosity.
-- Lewis F Richardson
  The poem summarises Richardson's 1920 paper 'The supply of energy from and
  to Atmospheric Eddies'

  The LFR homepage quotes line 3 as 'Little whorls have smaller whorls';
  however, practically everywhere else has it as 'lesser', and this is more
  faithful to DeMorgan's original. Also (and I'm being a trifle inconsistent
  here) the homepage has it in two lines rather than the more familiar
  quatrain format; this is actually the way DeMorgan had it, but the four
  line version is more popular and flows better IMO; I compromised by
  indenting the even lines.

  The poem is untitled; I've merely followed the popular convention of using
  the first line as a title.

I first encountered this wonderful verselet in James Gleick's 'Chaos'
(highly recommended, incidentally - a very understandable and well-written
introduction to the topic), and was instantly captivated. The poem works on
two levels - both as a delightfully well-done parody of DeMorgan's famous
paraphrase of Swift, and as as nice a summation of the fractal nature of
turbulence as any I've seen.


  From Bartlett's Quotations,

    AUTHOR: Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

    QUOTATION:  So, naturalists observe, a flea
                Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
                And these have smaller still to bite 'em;
                And so proceed ad infinitum.

    ATTRIBUTION: Poetry, a Rhapsody.

  And as an addendum

    Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
    And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
    And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
    While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.

        -- Augustus De Morgan: A Budget of Paradoxes, p. 377.


  Richardson, Lewis Fry
  b. Oct. 11, 1881, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, Eng.
  d. Sept. 30, 1953, Kilmun, Argyll, Scot.

  British physicist and psychologist who was the first to apply mathematical
  techniques to predict the weather accurately.

  Richardson made major contributions to methods of solving certain types of
  problems in physics, and from 1913 to 1922 he applied his ideas to
  meteorology. His work, published in Weather Prediction by Numerical
  Process (1922), was not entirely successful at first. The main drawback to
  his mathematical technique for systematically forecasting the weather was
  the time necessary to produce such a forecast. It generally took him three
  months to predict the weather for the next 24 hours. With the advent of
  electronic computers after World War II, his method of weather prediction,
  somewhat altered and improved, became practical. The Richardson number, a
  fundamental quantity involving the gradients (change over a distance) of
  temperature and wind velocity, is named after him.

        -- EB

  See also for a timeline


  The LFR homepage:

  Some quotations by DeMorgan

  For a nice if confusingly laid out introduction to turbulence
    [broken link]

  And one on fractals


  And so on to viscosity...

  The 'science poems by scientists' theme began at poem #795

  Further reading: [broken link]


Death be not Proud (Holy Sonnets: X) -- John Donne

(Poem #796) Death be not Proud (Holy Sonnets: X)
 Death be not proud, though some have called thee
 Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
 For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
 Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
 From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
 Much pleasure: then from thee much more must flow,
 And soonest our best men with thee do go,
 Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
 Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
 And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
 And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
 And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
 One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
 And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
-- John Donne
 Written circa 1610.
 Form: Petrarchan sonnet.
 Meter: Iambic pentameter with occasional trochaic feet (inversions).
 Rhyme scheme: abbaabba cddcee.

Dylan Thomas explores a very similar theme in his magnificent villanelle "Do
Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" [1]. But where Thomas is all defiance
and fire in the face of a higher power, Donne is cool and restrained and,
indeed, mocking; his icy logic seems almost contemptuous of Death [2].

The conceit of Death being like a rest or a sleep is, of course, not new to
Donne [3], but the twist he gives it:
        "From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
         Much pleasure: then from thee much more must flow"
certainly is. The idea that Death, far from being a dread tyrant, is
actually at the beck and call of "fate, chance, kings, and desperate men",
and indeed, of anyone who can wield a sword or a poisoned chalice, is
equally fresh. "Poppy [4] and charms" are just as efficacious as Death in
inducing sleep. And the sleep of Death is not even permanent; instead, the
pure of heart wake to eternal life, where Death is banished forever.


[1] See Minstrels poem #38.
[2] "Fire and Ice"; see Minstrels poem #779.
[3] See, for instance, Minstrels poem #126, an extract from "The Tempest":
                "... We are such stuff
        As dreams are made on, and our little life
        Is rounded with a sleep."
                -- William Shakespeare
[4] That is, opium.


Because almost none of Donne's poetry was published during his lifetime, it
is difficult to date it accurately. Most of his poems were preserved in
manuscript copies made by and passed among a relatively small but admiring
coterie of poetry lovers. Most current scholars agree, however, that the
elegies (which in Donne's case are poems of love, not of mourning),
epigrams, verse letters, and satires were written in the 1590s, the Songs
and Sonnets from the 1590s until 1617, and the "Holy Sonnets" and other
religious lyrics from the time of Donne's marriage until his ordination in
1615. He composed the hymns late in his life, in the 1620s. Donne's
Anniversaries were published in 1611-12 and were the only important poetic
works by him published in his lifetime.

Donne's poetry is marked by strikingly original departures from the
conventions of 16th-century English verse, particularly that of Sir Philip
Sidney and Edmund Spenser. Even his early satires and elegies, which derive
from classical Latin models, contain versions of his experiments with genre,
form, and imagery. His poems contain few descriptive passages like those in
Spenser, nor do his lines follow the smooth metrics and euphonious sounds of
his predecessors. Donne replaced their mellifluous lines with a speaking
voice whose vocabulary and syntax reflect the emotional intensity of a
confrontation and whose metrics and verbal music conform to the needs of a
particular dramatic situation. One consequence of this is a directness of
language that electrifies his mature poetry. "For Godsake hold your tongue,
and let me love", begins his love poem "The Canonization", plunging the
reader into the midst of an encounter between the speaker and an
unidentified listener. Holy Sonnet XI opens with an imaginative
confrontation wherein Donne, not Jesus, suffers indignities on the cross:
"Spit in my face yee Jewes, and pierce my side..."

From these explosive beginnings, the poems develop as closely reasoned
arguments or propositions that rely heavily on the use of the conceit --
i.e., an extended metaphor that draws an ingenious parallel between
apparently dissimilar situations or objects. Donne, however, transformed the
conceit into a vehicle for transmitting multiple, sometimes even
contradictory, feelings and ideas. And, changing again the practice of
earlier poets, he drew his imagery from such diverse fields as alchemy,
astronomy, medicine, politics, global exploration, and philosophical
disputation. Donne's famous analogy of parting lovers to a drawing compass
affords a prime example. The immediate shock of some of his conceits aroused
Samuel Johnson to call them "heterogeneous ideas ... yoked by violence
together". Upon reflection, however, these conceits offer brilliant and
multiple insights into the subject of the metaphor and help give rise to the
much-praised ambiguity of Donne's lyrics.

The presence of a listener is another of Donne's modifications of the
Renaissance love lyric, in which the lovers lament, hope, and dissect their
feelings without facing their ladies. Donne, by contrast, speaks directly to
the lady or some other listener. The latter may even determine the course of
the poem, as in "The Flea", in which the speaker changes his tack once the
woman crushes the insect on which he has built his argument about the
innocence of lovemaking. But for all their dramatic intensity, Donne's poems
still maintain the verbal music and introspective approach that define lyric
poetry. His speakers may fashion an imaginary figure to whom they utter
their lyric outburst, or, conversely, they may lapse into reflection in the
midst of an address to a listener. "But O, selfe traytor", the forlorn lover
cries in "Twickham Garden" as he transforms part of his own psyche into a
listener. Donne also departs from earlier lyrics by adapting the syntax and
rhythms of living speech to his poetry, as in "I wonder by my troth, what
thou, and I/Did, till we lov'd?". Taken together, these features of his
poetry provided an impetus for the works of such later poets as Robert
Browning, William Butler Yeats, and T. S. Eliot.

Donne also radically adapted some of the standard materials of love lyrics.
For example, even though he continued to use such Petrarchan conceits as
"parting from one's beloved is death", a staple of Renaissance love poetry,
he either turned the comparisons into comedy, as when the man in "The
Apparition" envisions himself as a ghost haunting his unfaithful lady, or he
subsumed them into the texture of his poem, as the title "A Valediction:
forbidding Mourning" exemplifies. Donne's love lyrics provide keen
psychological insights about a broad range of lovers and a wide spectrum of
amorous feelings. His speakers range from lustful men so sated by their
numerous affairs that they denounce love as a fiction and women as objects
-- food, birds of prey, mummies -- to platonic lovers who celebrate both the
magnificence of their ladies and their own miraculous abstention from
consummating their love. Men whose love is unrequited feel victimized and
seek revenge on their ladies, only to realize the ineffectuality of their
retaliation. In the poems of mutual love, however, Donne's lovers rejoice in
the compatibility of their sexual and spiritual love and seek immortality
for an emotion that they elevate to an almost religious plane.

Donne's devotional lyrics, especially the "Holy Sonnets", "Good Friday 1613,
Riding Westward", and the hymns, passionately explore his love for God,
sometimes through sexual metaphors, and depict his doubts, fears, and sense
of spiritual unworthiness. None of them shows him spiritually at peace.

The most sustained of Donne's poems, the Anniversaries, were written to
commemorate the death of Elizabeth Drury, the 14-year-old daughter of his
patron, Sir Robert Drury. These poems subsume their ostensible subject into
a philosophical meditation on the decay of the world. Elizabeth Drury
becomes, as Donne noted, "the Idea of a woman", and a lost pattern of
virtue. Through this idealized feminine figure, Donne in The First
Anniversarie: An Anatomie of the World laments humanity's spiritual death,
beginning with the loss of Eden and continuing in the decay of the
contemporary world, in which men have lost the wisdom that connects them to
God. In The Second Anniversarie: Of the Progres of the Soule, Donne, partly
through a eulogy on Elizabeth Drury, ultimately regains the wisdom that
directs him toward eternal life.

        -- EB

[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"
The first of these has a generous EB article on the Metaphysical poets in
general, and Donne in particular. It also happens to be one of my favourite
poems of all time - read it!

The Perils of Modern Living -- Harold P Furth

This week's theme - a series of somewhat playful poems by scientists on
various scientific topics
(Poem #795) The Perils of Modern Living
 Well up above the tropostrata
 There is a region stark and stellar
 Where, on a streak of anti-matter
 Lived Dr. Edward Anti-Teller.

 Remote from Fusion's origin,
 He lived unguessed and unawares
 With all his antikith and kin,
 And kept macassars on his chairs.

 One morning, idling by the sea,
 He spied a tin of monstrous girth
 That bore three letters: A. E. C.
 Out stepped a visitor from Earth.

 Then, shouting gladly o'er the sands,
 Met two who in their alien ways
 Were like as lentils. Their right hands
 Clasped, and the rest was gamma rays.
-- Harold P Furth

 Originally published in the New Yorker, 1956

 Tropostrata: More correctly, 'troposphere', the lowest region of the
   atmosphere (extending to about 18km, where it gives way to the
 AEC: The US Atomic Energy Commission. [broken link]
 Macassars: A pun on 'antimacassar', a chair cover

Who says scientists have no sense of play? The more interesting branches of
modern physics (i.e., almost all of them) have done more than capture the
imaginations of several generations of scientists - they have, in several
cases, moved them to quirky, whimsical and above all delightful verse. Part
of the reason is, I believe, that Science itself has begun to pass beyond
the scope of observational 'common sense', and present conclusions that are
in their own way as counterintuitive and magical as anything out of myth or
fantasy. And not just magical - in many cases, the seeming incongruities are
downright amusing, from relativity, as immortalised by the 'young lady named
Bright'[1], to quantum mechanics, whose paradoxes have spawned a whole genre
of jokes[2], the turbulent boundary between what we expect and what we are
assured is permeated by the foam of creativity.

[1] Who travelled much faster than light
    She went out one day
    In a Relative way
    And returned on the previous night

[2] "Wanted, dead or alive - Schrodinger's Cat", to quote just one

Today's poem stems from that most famous of equations, E=mc^2, which tells
us that if matter could be converted entirely to energy, there'd be an awful
lot of it. It refers to antimatter, matter composed of antiparticles which,
when they encounter their normal counterparts, annihilate each other in a
burst of energy. Antimatter particles exist, but there is no evidence for
antimaterial worlds, way up above the tropostrata or otherwise <g>.

  Bit early for that :) See instead

  And, from a summary of an article about Furth and his 'best known
    Lois Wingerson, "Harold Furth -- Fusion's Front Man", New Scientist, 9
    Sep 1982, pp.701-704, scientist who "seemed far more likely to end up as
    a minor poet", won poetry awards, wrote a famous poem about Edward
    Teller in New Yorker, 1956;

  And here's a biography of Teller

  The closest we've had to poetry by a scientist is Hein's 'On Problems'
  (Poem #668)

  We've had some science-themed poems, though:
    Poem #54: Walt Whitman, 'When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer'
    Poem #57: E. E. Cummings, 'pity this busy monster, manunkind'
    and, of course,
    Poem #490: Tom Lehrer, 'The Elements'

  Tangentially related is the Mathematics theme we ran a while ago:
    Poem #599 Rita Dove 'Geometry'
    Poem #601 E. V. Rieu 'Hall and Knight'
    Poem #604 Edna St. Vincent Millay 'Euclid Alone Has Looked On
              Beauty Bare'

As usual, theme suggestions and guest poems are welcome; note the dual
constraint, though - the poem must be both by a scientist and on some
scientific topic.


In the Quiet Night -- Li Po

Guest poem submitted by Purnima Sreenivas:
(Poem #794) In the Quiet Night
 The floor before my bed is bright:
 Moonlight - like hoarfrost - in my room.
 I lift my head and watch the moon.
 I drop my head and think of home.
-- Li Po
Translated by Vikram Seth.

I came across this poem years ago in Seth's volume "Three Chinese Poets"
which I began reading more from a love of Seth than any great interest in
Chinese poetry. What I love about this poem is its sparseness, something
that Li Po shares with other Chinese poets, and which I think has to do with
a culture where emotional restraint is encouraged. Yet this quatrain is an
example of just how much loneliness can hide behind a facade of serenity.
The poem resembles the Chinese script itself - a minutely detailed painting
brought to life with a few deft strokes.


[Minstrels Links]

Poems by Li Po:
Poem #70, "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
Poem #504, "About Tu Fu"
Poem #683, "To Tu Fu from Shantung"
Poem #749, "Parting"
(Note that the first of these is credited to Ezra Pound on the Minstrels
website, since it's as much Pound's work as Po's).

Poems by Vikram Seth:
Poem #650, "All You Who Sleep Tonight"
Poem #754, "Protocols"
Poem #460, "Round and Round"

Seth's "Three Chinese Poets" (which, sadly, I do not have the good fortune
to possess) includes translations of Wang Wei, Tu Fu (whose name Seth
transliterates as Du Fu) and Li Po (ditto, Li Bai).

No Road -- Philip Larkin

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor:
(Poem #793) No Road
 Since we agreed to let the road between us
 Fall to disuse,
 And bricked our gates up, planted trees to screen us,
 And turned all time's eroding agents loose,
 Silence, and space, and strangers - our neglect
 Has not had much effect.

 Leaves drift unswept, perhaps; grass creeps unmown;
 No other change.
 So clear it stands, so little overgrown,
 Walking that way tonight would not seem strange,
 And still would be followed. A little longer,
 And time would be the stronger,

 Drafting a world where no such road will run
 From you to me;
 To watch that world come up like a cold sun,
 Rewarding others, is my liberty.
 Not to prevent it is my will's fulfillment.
 Willing it, my ailment.
-- Philip Larkin
This is not one of Larkin's best known poems, and I've always wondered why.
In its quiet way it's one of the saddest and most haunting poems I know. The
first two verses capture very precisely the way that even after a really
deep relationship ends one has the feeling that one could just turn it on

It's wishful thinking maybe, but it's only after things have ended that you
realise how deeply the relationship has delved into you, and you feel that
with no problem you could just forget all the problems and go down that road

But then there's the last verse and this is one of the bleakest bits of
verse I know. Because it acknowledges that the road will never be opened
again, and the reason for that is not the many superficial reasons you ended
it for, but because of you. Because you did it, and you did it because you
could do it. And that is the way people behave, even though that is what is
wrong with them.


[Minstrels Links]

Poems by Philip Larkin:
Poem #73, "I Remember, I Remember"
Poem #100, "Days"
Poem #178, "Water"
Poem #254, "The North Ship"
Poem #502, "MCMXIV"
Poem #544, "Toads"
Poem #756, "An Arundel Tomb"
The first and fourth of these have biographies attached; the second and
sixth have external critical commentary, by George Macbeth and Gary Geddes,

"Deprivation is to me what daffodils are to Wordsworth."
        -- Philip Larkin.

The Beautiful Lie -- Sheenagh Pugh

Guest poem submitted by Amulya Gopalakrishnan:
(Poem #792) The Beautiful Lie
 He was about four, I think... it was so long ago.
 In a garden; he'd done some damage
 behind a bright screen of sweet-peas
 - snapped a stalk, a stake, I don't recall,
 but the grandmother came and saw, and asked him:
 "Did you do that?"

 Now, if she'd said why did you do that,
 he'd never have denied it. She showed him
 he had a choice. I could see, in his face,
 the new sense, the possible. That word and deed
 need not match, that you could say the world
 different, to suit you.

 When he said "No", I swear it was as moving
 as the first time a baby's fist clenches
 on a finger, as momentous as the first
 taste of fruit. I could feel his eyes looking
 through a new window, at a world whose form
 and colour weren't fixed

 but fluid, that poured like a snake, trembled
 around the edges like northern lights, shape-shifted
 at the spell of a voice. I could sense him filling
 like a glass, hear the unreal sea in his ears.
 This is how to make songs, create men, paint pictures,
 tell a story.

 I think I made up the screen of sweet peas.
 Maybe they were beans; maybe there was no screen,
 it just felt as if there should be, somehow.
 And he was my - no, I don't need to tell that.
 I know I made up the screen.  And I recall very well
 what he had done.
-- Sheenagh Pugh
I stumbled across this poem by Sheenagh Pugh by sheer accident, in the TLS.
It describes the possibilities opened by the making of fiction, of creating
counter universes with imagination. I love that heady, delirious moment of
discovering -  "this is how..." - it's resonant, memorable. It's such a
powerful affirmation of the magic of 'making it up', escaping a too-literal
world. "Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live
there", as John Barth puts it. Despite the teasing suggestion of Sin (the
snake, the garden, the "taste of fruit"), it places creativity firmly on the
side of experience. It looks at imagination not as some kind of pure
innocent vision, but as something that is born out of some kind of friction,
contact with the outside world.

I don't know much about Sheenagh Pugh, except she's Welsh and writes
wonderfully. She has a website: [broken link]


After -- Lizette Woodworth Reese

(Poem #791) After
 Oh, the littles that remain!
 Scent of mint out in the lane;
 Flare of window; sound of bees; --
 These, but these.

 Three times sitting down to bread;
 One time climbing up to bed;
 Table-setting o'er and o'er;
 Drying herbs for winter's store;
 This thing; that thing; -- nothing more.

 But just now out in the lane,
 Oh, the scent of mint was plain!
-- Lizette Woodworth Reese
A common theme in poetry - the transporting effects of memory. Indeed,
today's poem says nothing particularly *new*, but it says it well. Reese's
poetry has been praised for its 'intensity and concision', a summing up with
which I fully agree, and which shows to very good effect in 'After'. The
contrast between the dull monotony of routine and the sharp spice of a
memory is beautifully evoked in a few, short words, crystallising around the
very different tones of 'these, but these' and 'this thing; that thing; --
nothing more'.

Biography and criticism:

  Reese, Lizette Woodworth

  1856-1935, American poet, b. Waverly, Md.

  Lizette Woodworth Reese was a professional, independent woman from the
  time she left high school in 1873. She began her teaching career that year
  and published her first poem in Baltimore's Southern Magazine in 1874. She
  taught for 45 years in the public schools of Baltimore. Her poetry and her
  readings of it were particularly popular in women's groups throughout the
  United States. She was one of the founders of the Woman's Literary Club of
  Baltimore and its chairman of poetry until her death in 1935. In April,
  1931 she was named Poet Laureate of the General Federation of Women's
  Clubs. In that same month, she was iven an honorary doctorate of
  literature by Goucher College which called her one of the "greatest living
  women in America."

  In her lifetime, Reese was internationally admired for her poetic genius
  and hailed by H.L. Mencken as one of the most distinguished poets in the
  United States. This volume is the first extensive collection of her poems
  since her Selected Poems was published in 1926.

        -- From the description of "In Praise of Common Things"

  In the 1920s when women in great numbers were again publishing her kind of
  poetry, Reese began to re-emerge as a poet. Robert Hariss claims that both
  Teasdale and Millay were "deeply indebted" to her.

        From Cheryl Walker, "The Nightingale's burden : women poets and
        American culture before 1900."
        -- [broken link]

  [Read the whole thing - it's good]

  Her poetry, remarkable for its intensity and concision, has been compared
  to that of Emily Dickinson. She is probably best remembered for the sonnet
  "Years". [I think that last is a typo for 'Tears' - m.]

        -- [broken link]


  Reiterating the essay on pre-1900 woman poets:
    -- [broken link]

Some previous poems I was reminded of (for various reasons):

  poem #206
  poem #236
  poem #323
  poem #373
  poem #464
  poem #670

- martin

One Trick Pony -- Paul Simon

Guest poem submitted by P. Srikant:
(Poem #785) One Trick Pony
 He's a one trick pony
 One trick is all that horse can do
 He does one trick only
 It's the principal source of his revenue
 And when he steps into the spotlight
 You can feel the heat of his heart
 Come rising through

 See how he dances
 See how he loops from side to side
 See how he prances
 The way his hooves just seem to glide
 He's just a one trick pony (that's all he is)
 But he turns that trick with pride

 He makes it look so easy
 He looks so clean
 He moves like God's
 Immaculate machine
 He makes me think about
 All of these extra movements I make
 And all of this herky-jerky motion
 And the bag of tricks it takes
 To get me through my working day
 One-trick pony

 He's a one trick pony
 He either fails or he succeeds
 He gives his testimony
 Then he relaxes in the weeds
 He's got one trick to last a lifetime
 But that's all a pony needs
-- Paul Simon
 From the soundtrack to the movie "One Trick Pony"; both soundtrack and
script were written by Paul Simon. Released 1980.

 Douglas Adams is dead. Here's something to remember him by on the Minstrels
- this album was one of the things his epic series "The Hitchhiker's Guide
to the Galaxy" was dedicated to. A one-trick pony was something Adams didn't
want to be [1], though the Guide is what most of the world will know him by.
I really like Paul Simon's way of expressing his wish for a less complicated
life in the third stanza.



[Minstrels Links]

Poem #119, "A Poem on the Underground Wall", Paul Simon
Poem #615, "The Philosopher's Drinking Song", Monty Python

Salutation -- Ezra Pound

(Poem #790) Salutation
 O generation of the thoroughly smug
        and thoroughly uncomfortable,
 I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
 I have seen them with untidy families,
 I have seen their smiles full of teeth
        and heard ungainly laughter.
 And I am happier than you are,
 And they were happier than I am;
 And the fish swim in the lake
        and do not even own clothing.
-- Ezra Pound
When a writer as skilled and as unrestrained as Ezra Pound applies his
talent to the art of invective, the results are always fascinating. Pound's
magnificent contempt for the petite bourgeoisie can be irritating at times,
even offputting in its frequent self-righteousness, but equally, it can be

Today's scathing denunciation of middle-class mores is vintage Pound. The
poem starts with a deliberately provocative couplet, highlighting two
qualities which the poet most detests in his audience - self-satisfaction,
and a blind adherence to rules even at the cost of personal freedom. Next
comes a telling comparison: even lowly fishermen, "untidy" and "ungainly",
are happier with their picnic baskets and their families than are those who
tread the straight and narrow of society's demands. And most blessed of all
are the fish, who have no property and no propriety, who "swim in the lake /
and do not even own clothing".

Notice how, after the initial salutation, Pound barely addresses his targets
directly. Instead, he proceeds through comparison and contrast, eschewing
the bombast beloved of revolutionary poets before and since. The subtlety is
telling, and effective; it's what I like best about this poem. That, and the
imagery: smug society folks, fisherman laughing in the sun, and the fish,
always the fish.



"And the fish swim in the lake / and do not even own clothing" is almost
certainly a reference to the Sermon on the Mount:

"[28]And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field,
how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. [29] And yet I say unto
you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
[30] Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and
tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of
little faith?"
        -- The Bible, King James Version, the Gospel of Matthew, ch.6

[Minstrels Links]

Poems by Ezra Pound:
Poem #70, "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
Poem #123, "And the days are not full enough"
Poem #191, "The Garden"
Poem #319, "In a Station of the Metro"
Poem #583, "Envoi"

An extract from "The Sermon on the Mount", poem #314.


While selecting the poems to include in the Links section above, I found
myself wondering whether there were any other pieces of verse which were as
openly disdainful of their (respective) audiences as is today's poem. And
then it hit me: "Salutation" is _not_ disdainful of its readers; rather, it
invites its readers to _share_ in Pound's contempt for the purported
addressees, the "generation of the thoroughly smug / and thoroughly
uncomfortable". A skilful example of a poem saying one thing on the surface,
but conveying its _real_ meaning a layer deeper.

The Social Plan -- Stephen Leacock

A brief return to the Canadian theme...
(Poem #789) The Social Plan
 I know a very tiresome Man
 Who keeps on saying, "Social Plan."
     At every Dinner, every Talk
     Where Men foregather, eat or walk,
     No matter where, -- this Awful Man
     Brings on his goddam Social Plan.

 The Fall in Wheat, the Rise in Bread,
 The social Breakers dead ahead,
     The Economic Paradox
     That drives the Nation on the rocks,
 The Wheels that false Abundance clogs --
 And frightens us from raising Hogs, --
     This dreary field, the Gloomy Man
     Surveys and hiccoughs, Social Plan.

 Till simpler Men begin to find
 His croaking aggravates their mind,
     And makes them anxious to avoid
     All mention of the Unemployed,
 And leads them even to abhor
 The People called Deserving Poor.
     For me, my sympathies now pass
     To the poor Plutocratic Class.
     The Crowd that now appeals to me
     Is what he calls the Bourgeoisie.

 So I have got a Social Plan
 To take him by the Neck,
 And lock him in a Luggage van
 And tie on it a check,
     Now, how's that for a Social Plan?
-- Stephen Leacock
        (First published 1936)

In response to Lampman's "To a Millionaire", I received an interesting set
of comments from Matthew Chanoff, in which he argued that the sentiments
expressed therein were naive and dated by today's standards (true enough),
and that that reflected badly on the poem. I personally take the opposite
standpoint - that the poem deserves to be judged by the standards of its own
time, and that its merits lie in the *writing*, that is, in how effectively
it cast those admittedly dated socioeconomic concerns into verse. (This is
something I have alluded to before, in connection with Kipling's poetry).

Still, that got me thinking about the other point of view, and about
extremists of all stripes, and finally about Leacock (Canada's finest
humorist, IMO - I'm currently rereading his 'Literary Lapses' with much
enjoyment). 'Social Plan' is far lighter in tone than 'Millionaire', and,
inevitably, that lightness means that it has aged far better. Leacock's
reference to the 'Gloomy Man' is particularly apposite - the reader is at
once reminded of a host of caricatures and sketches involving just such a
figure; the poem need go into no further detail. And after all, social
setups come and go, but painful people will always be with us <g>.

Constructionwise, the poem is fairly straightforward - it carries itself
forward in a smoothly uninterrupted series of rhyming couplets, all the way
until the last verse, where a variation of both the rhyme scheme and the
metre picks up the pace in tandem with the narrator's shifting into a more
vehement tone. Nice.


  Stephen Leacock was a shaggy, handsome, colorful, Canadian who proved to
  his countrymen that humour was almost respectable and certainly
  profitable, and delighted the world with his wit from the end of the
  Edwardian era until the middle of World War II.

  He succeeded Mark Twain in 1910 as the foremost literary Stephen Leacock
  lived in and is identified with two very dissimilar Canadian milieus; one
  a small Ontario town (Orillia), the other a cosmopolitan Quebec metropolis
  (Montreal). As a fluently multi-lingual academic with a brilliant mind and
  a great flair for teaching the essence of things, he wintered and worked
  in Montreal for four decades; for twenty-eight years as chairman of the
  Department of Economics and Political Science at McGill University.

  During summers in Orillia, Leacock always retired early and rose at dawn
  to write for several hours in a study above the boathouse. Leaving most of
  the day free for sailing and fishing and supervising his big garden and
  small farm. He wrote about both places. Indeed there was rarely a day or a
  dawn when he did not write. His thirty-five volumes of humour followed one
  another at an average rate of one a year. He also wrote twenty-seven other
  books of history, biography, criticism, economics and Political science
  humorist in North America.

        -- [broken link]


  Lampman's "To a Millionaire": poem #784

  The rest of the Canadian theme was summarised in poem #786

  The Stephen Leacock museum: [broken link]

  The National Library of Canada site on Leacock:
    [broken link]


I Missed His Book, But I Read His Name -- John Updike

Guest poem submitted by Ashvin K. George:
(Poem #788) I Missed His Book, But I Read His Name
 Though authors are a dreadful clan
 To be avoided if you can,
 I'd like to meet the Indian,
 M. Anantanarayanan.

 I picture him as short and tan.
 We'd meet, perhaps, in Hindustan.
 I'd say, with admirable elan ,
 "Ah, Anantanarayanan --

 I've heard of you. The Times once ran
 A notice on your novel, an
 Unusual tale of God and Man."
 And Anantanarayanan

 Would seat me on a lush divan
 And read his name -- that sumptuous span
 Of 'a's and 'n's more lovely than
 "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan" --

 Aloud to me all day. I plan
 Henceforth to be an ardent fan
 of Anantanarayanan --
 M. Anantanarayanan.
-- John Updike
Somebody told me that John Updike had written a poem on the name
Ananthanarayanan; simply because he liked the sound of it. (I found this on
google: I hope it has been correctly transcribed). It's quite amusing and
well constructed (if you can overlook the fact that his pronunciation of
Anantanarayanan rhymes with fan rather than fun), with an appropriately
comedic rhyme scheme. It's given me a new appreciation of south Indian names
:). I don't know anything about the real Anantanarayanan, but you can buy
his book[1] on


[1] "The Silver Pilgrimage," by M. Anantanarayanan. 160 pages. Criterion.

[Minstrels Links]

Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan": poem #30

Sea-Gulls -- E J Pratt

Wrapping up the rather desultory whirlwind tour through Canadian poetry...
(Poem #787) Sea-Gulls
 For one carved instant as they flew,
 The language had no simile --
 Silver, crystal, ivory
 Were tarnished. Etched upon the horizon blue,
 The frieze must go unchallenged, for the lift
 And carriage of the wings would stain the drift
 Of stars against a tropic indigo
 Or dull the parable of snow.

 Now settling one by one
 Within green hollows or where curled
 Crests caught the spectrum from the sun,
 A thousand wings are furled.
 No clay-born lilies of the world
 Could blow as free
 As those wild orchids of the sea.
-- E J Pratt
        From 'Many Moods' (Macmillan 1932, p. 9)

There isn't really a lot I want to say about today's poem - I just love the
images it evokes, the play of light, colour and motion against a backdrop of
sun, sea and above all, space. It also touches explicitly upon another of my
favourite topics, the connection between poetry and visual art.

Pratt has been criticized for being too impersonal, as if that in some way
diminshed the quality of his poetry (flying, as it does, in the face of the
'spontaneous overflow of emotion' theory). However, reading poems like
Sea-gulls leaves me in little doubt that Pratt was fully responsive to, and
appreciative of, the beauty of which he wrote, and that the care with which
he crafts and polishes his poetry detracts not at all from its merits. To
quote Froese in her essay on 'Pratt as Lyricist'

  Furthermore, though it may be necessary to coin a new term to describe
  Pratt's peculiar rendering of emotional intensity, I would agree with
  Robert Gibbs, who in "A True Voice:  Pratt as a Lyric Poet," pointed out
  that Pratt is not devoid of emotion, but masks that emotion behind irony
  and understatement.  It is precisely his impersonal, controlled prose
  together with the ambiguous, ironic reversals at the end of many of his
  shorter poems that create a sense of passion repressed, and it is his
  effacing of the individual specific viewpoint that allows him to evoke
  common agonies and dilemmas.


  Here's a reading of the poem by Pratt himself

  Pratt's daughter, the artist Claire Pratt, has a beautiful picture based on
  the poem:
    [broken link]

  An essay on 'Pratt as Lyricist'
    [broken link]

  A Pratt page:

  And what will be the Complete Poems of Pratt:

  A reminiscent poem is Teasdale's exquisite 'Morning': poem #113

On the Theme:

  This was a rather hard theme to put together - I was hampered slightly
  both by my relative unfamiliarity with Canadian poetry, and by the sheer
  volume and diversity of works from which to choose. The poems chosen for
  the theme represent, for the most part, those poets with whose works I was
  already acquainted [Pratt is actually the one exception]; I did discover a
  lot of new poets in the course of reading up on Canadian poetry, but
  decided to populate the theme with familiar faces. There are, unavoidably,
  several glaring omissions (Bliss Carman, for example); I'll definitely be
  running more Canadian poets in the future, particularly some of the later

More Links:

  Theme Summary:
   Poem #781 Robert Service, 'The Law of the Yukon'
   Poem #782 F.R. Scott, 'National Identity'
   Poem #783 Stan Rogers, 'Northwest Passage'
   Poem #784 Archibald Lampman, 'To a Millionaire'
   Poem #785 Margaret Atwood, 'Postcard'

  Some essays on Canadian poetry in general:
    'Canadian Poetry in its Relation to The Poetry of England and America'
      [broken link]

    'Wanted - Canadian criticism'
      [broken link]

  An extensive collection of Canadian poetry:
    [broken link]

  And finally, a fascinating work-in-progress, 'History of Canadian Poetry':
    [broken link]


Postcard -- Margaret Atwood

(Poem #786) Postcard
 I'm thinking of you. What else can I say?
 The palm trees on the reverse
 are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
 What we have are the usual
 fractured coke bottles and the smell
 of backed-up drains, too sweet,
 like a mango on the verge
 of rot, which we have also.
 The air clear sweat, mosquitos
 & their tracks; birds, blue & elusive.

 Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one
 day after the other rolling on;
 I move up, its called
 awake, then down into the uneasy
 nights but never
 forward. The roosters crow
 for hours before dawn, and a prodded
 child howls & howls
 on the pocked road to school.
 In the hold with the baggage
 there are two prisoners,
 their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
 of queasy chicks. Each spring
 there's a race of cripples, from the store
 to the church. This is the sort of junk
 I carry with me; and a clipping
 about democracy from the local paper.
 Outside the window
 they're building the damn hotel,
 nail by nail, someone's
 crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
 can't be all bad, but
 does it? At this distance
 you're a mirage, a glossy image
 fixed in the posture
 of the last time i saw you.
 Turn you over, there's the place
 for the address. Wish you were
 here. Love comes
 in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on
 & on, a hollow cave
 in the head, filling and pounding, a kicked ear.
-- Margaret Atwood
A vivid poem that takes the cheery, cliched, 'wish you were here' image of a
postcard and turns it inside out. One of the things that makes Atwood's work
a pleasure to read is her keen eye for detail, a trait very much in evidence
in 'Postcard'. The appeal to several senses (sight, smell, hearing) gives
the scene a visceral edge that contrasts with the static image of the Other
- and highlights the point that the glossy image on the postcard is, to the
sender, far more real than the person on the other side.

The whole poem is threaded through with images of decay and sickness, an
unsettling harmony that ties the "I'm thinking of you" in the beginning to
the "Love comes in waves ... a sickness which goes on/ & on ..." in the last
four lines. And though I'm not usually too fond of free verse, it works
well here, the uneven rhythms of the verse carrying the poem along at
precisely the right pace.

What I like most about Atwood, though, is her brilliant use of language.
This, combined with the aforementioned eye for detail, shows up most
strongly in her prose ('Good Bones' is one of the best collections of short
pieces I've read), but it is very much in evidence in today's poem, with
phrases like

    A universe that includes you
    can't be all that bad, but
    does it?

and "time comes in waves here, a sickness, one day after the other rolling
on" (I know the feeling <g>).


[broken link]

And a quote from Atwood on her two unauthorized biographies:

  I don't think biographies of living people should be written. I am not
  dead yet. Oddly enough, you can't stop anyone from writing a biography of


  [broken link] is an excellent resource for all things
  Atwood. Don't miss "On writing poetry (recent lecture)" is another nice Atwood page

  Atwood's novel "The Blind Assassin" won the 2000 Booker:
    [broken link]


To a Millionaire -- Archibald Lampman

(Poem #784) To a Millionaire
 The world in gloom and splendour passes by,
 And thou in the midst of it with brows that gleam,
 A creature of that old distorted dream
 That makes the sound of life an evil cry.
 Good men perform just deeds, and brave men die,
 And win not honour such as gold can give,
 While the vain multitudes plod on, and live,
 And serve the curse that pins them down: But I
 Think only of the unnumbered broken hearts,
 The hunger and the mortal strife for bread,
 Old age and youth alike mistaught, misfed,
 By want and rags and homelessness made vile,
 The griefs and hates, and all the meaner parts
 That balance thy one grim misgotten pile.
-- Archibald Lampman
Note: Written Oct 1891

A grim, mordant poem, reminiscent (as are many of Lampman's poems) of Hardy
in one of his bleak moods. Lampman's poetry divides, roughly, into three
main parts - a large body of excellent nature poems, many of them in the
Romantic tradition, some highly atmospheric and somewhat surreal 'scene'
poems that wouldn't raise eyebrows in a fantasy collection, and, especially
in his later years, trenchant socialist poems like today's.

Lampman handles these voices with equal facility; his poems are often
haunting, usually vivid and nearly always rewarding. 'Millionaire' is a nice
example - the tirade could easily have become overdone and hence
off-putting; instead, Lampman treads the line between harsh criticism and
ranting without ever losing control of the poem. By no means a 'great' poem,
but definitely worth the read.


  Archibald Lampman (1861-99)

  which includes the note that 'Lampman is widely regarded as Canada's
  greatest poet of the nineteenth century'


L. R. Early has collected some of Lampman's hitherto uncollected poems
  [broken link]

The Google Directory has collected an excellent set of essays on Lampman's
  [broken link],_Archibald/Reviews/

The previous poems in the Canadian theme:
  Poem #781: Robert Service, 'The Law of the Yukon'
  Poem #782: F.R. Scott, 'National Identity'
  Poem #783: Stan Rogers, 'Northwest Passage'

Surprisingly enough, we haven't run any of Lampman's poems yet, something I
will definitely make up for.


Northwest Passage -- Stan Rogers

Guest poem sent in by Divya Sampath

So you're running a Canadian Theme? May I suggest Stan Rogers? His music was
beautifully representative of Canadian folk traditions, and his original
compositions always sounded like authentic, old songs. [I agree with Divya -
I have only heard a few of Rogers' songs, but this was the aspect that most
struck me. His songs do indeed sound traditional; a hard trick to pull off,
but Rogers does it beautifully. - m.] Two of my favourites are "Northwest
Passage" and "Barrett's Privateers". I first heard the former on the last
episode of the TV series 'Due South'; it was an incredible a capella version
that has to be heard to be truly appreciated.
(Poem #783) Northwest Passage

   Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
   To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
   Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
   And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.

 Westward from the Davis Strait 'tis there 'twas said to lie
 The sea route to the Orient for which so many died;
 Seeking gold and glory, leaving weathered, broken bones
 And a long-forgotten lonely cairn of stones.

 Three centuries thereafter, I take passage overland
 In the footsteps of brave Kelso, where his "sea of flowers" began
 Watching cities rise before me, then behind me sink again
 This tardiest explorer, driving hard across the plain.

 And through the night, behind the wheel, the mileage clicking west
 I think upon Mackenzie, David Thompson and the rest
 Who cracked the mountain ramparts and did show a path for me
 To race the roaring Fraser to the sea.

 How then am I so different from the first men through this way?
 Like them, I left a settled life, I threw it all away.
 To seek a Northwest Passage at the call of many men
 To find there but the road back home again.

 Unpublished additional verse:

 And if should be I come again to loved ones left at home,
 Put the journals on the mantle, shake the frost out of my bones,
 Making memories of the passage, only memories after all,
 And hardships there the hardest to recall.
-- Stan Rogers
** Notes:

I first heard this song on the last episode of 'Due South', which also
mentioned Sir John Franklin and his ill-fated expedition to find the
Northwest Passage. It made me curious enough to look up the history behind
it. For an excellent online resource, check out:

Notice how, after the fashion of most legends, Franklin appears to be alive
in this song: his hand is still 'reaching for the Beaufort Sea'. The song
evokes the compelling drive to seek that 'one warm line', i.e., the
Northwest Passage, through the miles of Arctic waste separating North
America from the Asian land mass.

One memorable evening, I listened to this song in a car driving through a
lonely highway in the Pacific Northwest between Portland and Seattle;  it
called up irresistible mental images of following the trail of the early
pioneers, who sought 'gold and 'glory', but left behind only 'weathered,
broken bones.'

The rhythms and vocabulary are remarkably informed by Stan Rogers extensive
knowledge of traditonal sea shanties and folk songs. The result is a sort of
"faux authenticity" that has many listeners confusing this with a genuinely
antique trad number.

** History (condensed from various sources, including

The list of legendary ocean routes includes the so-called "Northwest
Passage", linking the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean by  way of the Arctic
Ocean in northern Canada.  One of the most famous men to try, and the
subject of legends and folklore, was Sir John Franklin, a British rear
admiral. There is no evidence that he himself completed the Passage -- a
letter left by his crew stated that he had died 70 miles from the end;
nonetheless, he is still cited as the first man to cross the Northwest
Passage.  The trip had cost him his crew, his ships, and his life.  His
adventure was to complete the work of earlier failed explorers.

Two sailing ships, the Erebus and the Terror, left England on May 19, 1845
with the dangerous goal to finish the voyage across the Northwest Passage
that had yet to be completely traversed by explorers.  The supply ship
Baretto Junior accompanied them across the Atlantic.  With 128 men and two
ships, Franklin entered the icy Davis Strait in July 1845.  He and his men
were last seen by whalers on July 28 entering Lancaster Sound, between Devon
Island and Baffin Island.  Baffin Island is a large land mass bordering
Hudson Bay to the north. This route would take them above the Arctic Circle,
where for much of the year the waters were covered with ice.  The were
attempting to sail between the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Canadian
Archipelago, across 300 miles of uncharted seas.  The trip all together from
England to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska and out to Asia was expected to
last only three years.  To that date, the expedition was the best
provisioned to attempt the journey.  Franklin died on June 11, 1847, and was
buried on King William Island.  No one is sure why he died, but nine
officers and fifteen crewmen joined him on that final journey.

England had no idea what was going on in the three years that they waited
for Franklin's return.  In 1848, three years after the Erebus and the Terror
were last spotted in Lancaster Sound, search parties were organized to find
the missing sailors.  Over forty rescue missions were planned and executed
in 6 years.  Much of the previously undiscovered land was charted during the
rescue missions, but few leads were found.  The final rescue party was lead
by Franklin's wife, Lady Jane, and Captain Leopold McLintock in 1857.
Search parties uncovered the remains of a few crewmen and a boat.  Their
bodies lay on the last stretch of the uncharted lands; their final journey
completed the map of the Great North.  They had made the Northwest Passage!

Sir John Franklin's remains were never found, and he slipped into legend...

** Stan Rogers Bio (from

 b. 1949, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, d. 2 June 1983.

Singer-songwriter Rogers began as a bass player in a rock band before
becoming a well-respected artist within the folk arena. In 1969, he turned
professional and, the following year, released two singles for RCA Records.
There followed a period of playing the coffee house circuit, with Nigel
Russell (guitar), until Stan's brother, Garnet Rogers (violin/flute/vocals/
guitar), joined them. Garnet worked with Stan for nearly 10 years. Stan
Rogers' low-register voice exuded a warm sensitive sound, the perfect
complement to his sensitive lyrics. Remembered for songs such as "Northwest
Passage" and "The Lock-keeper", he is probably best known for "The Mary
Ellen Carter". Writing for films and television, and having toured a number
of countries, Rogers was poised for international success but was killed in
an aeroplane fire in 1983.

There's a great site dedicated to Stan Rogers at
[broken link]

For background on how Stan Rogers came to write this song, see:
[broken link]


National Identity -- F R Scott

Guest poem sent in by Shannon West
(Poem #782) National Identity
 The Canadian Centenary Council
 Meeting in Le Reine Elizabeth [1]
 To seek those symbols
 Which will explain ourselves to ourselves
 Evoke unlimited responses
 And prove that something called Canada
 Really exists in the hearts of all
 Handed out to every delegate
 At the start of proceedings
 A portfolio of documents
 On the cover of which appeared In gold letters not

 A Mari Usque Ad Mare [2]
 Dieu Et Mon Droit [3]
 Je Me Souviens [4]
 E Pluribus Unum [5]

-- F R Scott
[1] Posh hotel in Montreal.
[2] 'From sea to sea'. The official motto of Canada
[3] 'God and my right'. Motto of the British Sovereign - on the British
    coat of arms
[4] 'I remember'.  Motto of Quebec; it's even on their licence plates.
[5] 'Out of many, One'. American motto.

I'm utterly thrilled to see a Canadian theme run in Minstrels.  I've been
bugging Martin for months to do this.  In turn, he's been bugging me to
write comments on some of my favourite poems and send them in.  Well - he
beat me to the punch.

F.R. Scott is my favourite poet.  He's a satirist through and through. I'm
not sure if he's written anything without some kind of bite or sarcasm in it
somewhere, usually directed at the notion of Canadian culture.  His best
known poem is "A Lass in Wonderland" which is about the infamous Lady
Chatterley's Lover case in Quebec.  (I'm going to bug Martin until he runs
it). [As the man said, 'be patiently' :) - m.]

There's a bit of history to this poem.  The Canadian Centenary Council was
established in 1960 by a large group of public-spirited citizens as a
clearing house and information centre to promote ideas for 1967 (The
Canadian Centennial year). Its primary goal was to persuade businessmen and
others to contribute ideas, initiative and money to the centennial. (Miriam
McTiernan and Jacqueline Murray (1978))  A big part of this council was to
decide what was inherently Canadian.  What is representative of Canadian
culture?  There have been dozens (if not hundreds) of poems, stories, essays
and jokes written about this very topic.  Some have concluded that we're a
weird mishmash of American, British, and French, with some Eastern European
thrown in for colour, but no one has been able to satisfactorily put their
finger on what exactly Canadian culture is.  Scott is particularly critical
of the notion of "Canadian culture", though there are those among us that
would argue that he himself became integral to it.

In this poem he's particularly bitter, even for him, though, for some reason,
I picture him smiling at the irony of it.  Imagine, a team of bureaucrats
and politicians being appointed to this council to discover and employ those
symbols of Canadian identity.  And in gold letters on the folder (which is
probably one of those over-priced leatherette portfolios) isn't the famous
Latin mottoes, isn't a Canadian flag (the British Ensign at the time) or a
fleur-de-lis, but a "Courtesy of Coca-Cola Limited", the quintessential
corporate symbol.  He's saying that our culture is neither American,
British, French or any other nationality, but corporate.  And he's probably
not far off.


  F.R.(Francis Reginald) Scott was born in Qubec City, Qubec, in 1899. He
  died in Montreal in 1985. He was a Rhodes scholar and went to Magdalen
  Coll, Oxford. After his return to Canada, Scott enrolled in the law
  program at McGill University. He would later return to teach law at
  McGill, and eventually, after giving up partisan politics, was named the
  Dean of Law at McGill (1961-64). As a member of the "Montreal Group" (an
  informal group in Montreal that included Scott's close friend, poet A.J.M.
  Smith) he helped to found The Canadian Mercury journal. Well reknowned for
  his social activism, Scott was the national chairman of the CCF from 1942
  to 1950 and was involved in the transition of the CCF to the NDP. Scott
  won the Governor General's Literary Award in the poetry category in 1981
  for his book, Collected Poems.




  Here's a Scott page, with some bibliographic references:

  An essay on Scott:
  [broken link]

  Scott's father was a poet in his own right - see

  And the previous poem in the Canadian theme: poem #781

The Law of the Yukon -- Robert Service

Back from a wonderful vacation - thanks to Thomas for covering in my
absence. And having just returned from that magical land north of the
border, here begins the long-promised Canadian theme...
(Poem #781) The Law of the Yukon
This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane --
Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;
Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;
Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat,
Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.
Send me the best of your breeding, lend me your chosen ones;
Them will I take to my bosom, them will I call my sons;
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat;
But the others -- the misfits, the failures -- I trample under my feet.
Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
Ye would send me the spawn of your gutters -- Go! take back your spawn again.

"Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway;
From my ruthless throne I have ruled alone for a million years and a day;
Hugging my mighty treasure, waiting for man to come,
Till he swept like a turbid torrent, and after him swept -- the scum.
The pallid pimp of the dead-line, the enervate of the pen,
One by one I weeded them out, for all that I sought was -- Men.
One by one I dismayed them, frighting them sore with my glooms;
One by one I betrayed them unto my manifold dooms.
Drowned them like rats in my rivers, starved them like curs on my plains,
Rotted the flesh that was left them, poisoned the blood in their veins;
Burst with my winter upon them, searing forever their sight,
Lashed them with fungus-white faces, whimpering wild in the night;

Staggering blind through the storm-whirl, stumbling mad through the snow,
Frozen stiff in the ice-pack, brittle and bent like a bow;
Featureless, formless, forsaken, scented by wolves in their flight,
Left for the wind to make music through ribs that are glittering white;
Gnawing the black crust of failure, searching the pit of despair,
Crooking the toe in the trigger, trying to patter a prayer;
Going outside with an escort, raving with lips all afoam,
Writing a cheque for a million, driveling feebly of home;
Lost like a louse in the burning. . .or else in the tented town
Seeking a drunkard's solace, sinking and sinking down;
Steeped in the slime at the bottom, dead to a decent world,
Lost 'mid the human flotsam, far on the frontier hurled;
In the camp at the bend of the river, with its dozen saloons aglare,
Its gambling dens ariot, its gramophones all ablare;
Crimped with the crimes of a city, sin-ridden and bridled with lies,
In the hush of my mountained vastness, in the flush of my midnight skies.
Plague-spots, yet tools of my purpose, so natheless I suffer them thrive,
Crushing my Weak in their clutches, that only my Strong may survive.

"But the others, the men of my mettle, the men who would 'stablish my fame
Unto its ultimate issue, winning me honor, not shame;
Searching my uttermost valleys, fighting each step as they go,
Shooting the wrath of my rapids, scaling my ramparts of snow;
Ripping the guts of my mountains, looting the beds of my creeks,
Them will I take to my bosom, and speak as a mother speaks.
I am the land that listens, I am the land that broods;
Steeped in eternal beauty, crystalline waters and woods.
Long have I waited lonely, shunned as a thing accurst,
Monstrous, moody, pathetic, the last of the lands and the first;
Visioning camp-fires at twilight, sad with a longing forlorn,
Feeling my womb o'er-pregnant with the seed of cities unborn.
Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway,
And I wait for the men who will win me -- and I will not be won in a day;
And I will not be won by weaklings, subtle, suave and mild,
But by men with the hearts of Vikings, and the simple faith of a child;
Desperate, strong and resistless, unthrottled by fear or defeat,
Them will I gild with my treasure, them will I glut with my meat.

"Lofty I stand from each sister land, patient and wearily wise,
With the weight of a world of sadness in my quiet, passionless eyes;
Dreaming alone of a people, dreaming alone of a day,
When men shall not rape my riches, and curse me and go away;
Making a bawd of my bounty, fouling the hand that gave --
Till I rise in my wrath and I sweep on their path and I stamp them into a grave.
Dreaming of men who will bless me, of women esteeming me good,
Of children born in my borders of radiant motherhood,
Of cities leaping to stature, of fame like a flag unfurled,
As I pour the tide of my riches in the eager lap of the world."

This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.
Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
This is the Will of the Yukon, -- Lo, how she makes it plain!
-- Robert Service
Today's choice of poet was easy - few Canadian poets are as well-known, or
as well-loved, as is Service. Picking out a poem was far harder - Service
has written a lot, and most of it is uniformly excellent; indeed, I spent a
very enjoyable couple of hours reading through some of his verse and trying
to settle on a single piece. I finally chose 'The Law of the Yukon' not
because it is his best work (I'd hate to have to pick one out), or even my
favourite (see previous parenthetical comment), but because it is nicely
representative of an aspect of his work I wanted to highlight - the way his
poems are permeated by the Yukon, the land that, regardless of subject, is
often the true protagonist of his work. This is, in fact, one of the things
I like most about his poetry, and one of the reasons I prefer poems like
today's to popular favourites like Dan McGrew.

Formwise, the most striking thing about Service's poetry is the almost
effortless mastery of metre and rhyme he displays. His work is not mere
versification, though; the perfect, flowing lines form a natural frame for
the spellbinding ballads and vivid landscapes he weaves.

Comparisons with Kipling are, of course, inevitable, and indeed, Service
himself has named Kipling as one of his influences (see the biogaphy link).
The similarities are obvious - from the emphasis on themes like the Land and
men's relationship to it, highly personal war poems from the common
soldier's point of view, and enthralling narratives, to the almost obtrusive
perfection of the verse form, Service's poems owe a definite debt to

Again, like Kipling, Service wrote for the masses. This is not to say he was
not a great poet - he was. But he does seem to have eschewed abstract,
self-conscious literary tricks in favour of a more direct style
that would appeal to the common man, and excite pleasure as much as it did

The Service Home Page (see links) emphasises the above point by means of an
obituary and the following quote from one of Service's poems:

        Ah yes, I know my brow is low
        And often wished it high.
        So that I might with rapture write
        An epic of the sky;
        A poem cast in contour vast;
        Of fabled gods and fays;
        A classic screed that few would read
        Yet nearly all would praise.

                -- 1st stanza, Prelude from Lyrics of a Low Brow

Furthermore, returning briefly to Kipling, today's poem seems to be paying a
direct tribute to 'The Law of the Jungle', which it echoes faintly while
being by no means derivative of it.


  There's an excellent biography of Service at


  A nice collection of Service's poems, and another biography:
  [broken link]

  [broken link] has a lexicon of some
  of the unfamiliar terms used in the poem

  [broken link] has an extensive collection of
  Service's poems, as well as links to discussions and mp3s of recitations.

  Kipling's 'The Law of the Jungle' is at

  We've already run Service's best known poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee:
  poem #698

Theme and Acknowledgements:

  Thanks to Shannon West and Maladina for many helpful discussions on
  running a Canadian theme. The theme itself is highly nonspecific; I aim
  merely to cover a few of the more prominent Canadian poets. Suggestions
  and guest poems both welcome, as well as any comments on Canadian poetry
  in general (I'll postpone my own until I've run a few more examples).


The Vagabond -- Robert Louis Stevenson

(Poem #780) The Vagabond
 Give to me the life I love,
   Let the lave go by me,
 Give the jolly heaven above
   And the byway nigh me.
 Bed in the bush with stars to see,
   Bread I dip in the river -
 There's the life for a man like me,
   There's the life for ever.

 Let the blow fall soon or late,
   Let what will be o'er me;
 Give the face of earth around
   And the road before me.
 Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,
   Nor a friend to know me;
 All I seek, the heaven above
   And the road below me.

 Or let autumn fall on me
   Where afield I linger,
 Silencing the bird on tree,
   Biting the blue finger.
 White as meal the frosty field -
   Warm the fireside haven -
 Not to autumn will I yield,
   Not to winter even!

 Let the blow fall soon or late,
   Let what will be o'er me;
 Give the face of earth around,
   And the road before me.
 Wealth I ask not, hope nor love,
   Nor a friend to know me;
 All I ask, the heaven above
   And the road below me.
-- Robert Louis Stevenson
 From "Songs of Travel and Other Verses", published in 1896.
 Meant to be sung "to an air of Schubert", though I don't know which one.

Robert Louis Stevenson's verse - energetic, enthusiastic and exciting - is
in many ways reminiscent of his prose, and like his prose, it's always fun
to read. Readers looking for profound insight or gut-wrenching emotion are
likely to be disappointed; equally, though, readers looking for metrical
felicity and magical atmospherics are likely to be enchanted.

I often think of Stevenson as a mixture of Walter de la Mare and John
Masefield: the former for his command of atmosphere, and the latter for his
wanderlust. The romance of the open road plays a significant role in
Stevenson's writings, yet it's always tempered with a sense of the beauty of
stillness, of silence. And while RLS cannot (in all honesty) hold a candle
to either de la Mare or Masefield, in many respects he does not miss by
much: his poems rarely fail to capture the imagination, and, having captured
it, to take it to places it's rarely seen before.


PS. A quick comment on form: note how the steady rhythm of the hexameter
drives this poem on, and gives it a vigour befitting its subject. Nicely


Stevenson poems on the Minstrels:
Poem #20, "Requiem"
Poem #84, "From a Railway Carriage"
Poem #290, "Bed in Summer"
Poem #450, "Auntie's Skirts"
The first of these has a biography and some critical information.

Walter de la Mare:
Poem #2, "The Listeners"
Poem #272, "Napoleon"
Poem #484, "Brueghel's Winter"
Poem #725, "Silver"

John Masefield:
Poem #27, "Sea Fever"
Poem #74, "Cargoes"
Poem #555, "Trade Winds"
Poem #695, "Beauty"
Poem #702, "Night is on the Downland"
Poem #758, "Sea-Change"

The Poet's Corner has many more poems by RLS, including the complete text of
"Songs of Travel" [1] and of "A Child's Garden of Verses" [2].

[1] [broken link]
[2] [broken link]

Fire and Ice -- Robert Frost

(Poem #779) Fire and Ice
 Some say the world will end in fire,
 Some say in ice.
 From what I've tasted of desire
 I hold with those who favor fire.
 But if it had to perish twice,
 I think I know enough of hate
 To say that for destruction ice
 Is also great
 And would suffice.
-- Robert Frost
[Somebody Else's Commentary]

Initially, few readers progressed in their appreciation beyond the
deceptively simple surfaces of his poems. But Frost writes symbolic poetry;
to arrive at certain basic truths about life, he explores feelings and
thoughts obliquely, through the use of simple bucolic incidents. Poems as
immediately accessible as "Stopping by Woods", "Mending Wall" and "Birches"
possess levels of meaning that are dark and profound - like subtle literary
parables. Although few of his early readers ever went beyond the delight to
the wisdom of Frost's poetry, the notion that he was merely the singer of a
benevolent nature is no longer accepted. He was a passionate and troubled
man, who sought in his poems 'a momentary stay against confusion'; and his
skillfully constructed poems testify to his mastery over that confusion.

     -- Gary Geddes, "20th Century Poetry and Poetics" (Oxford, 1996).

[My Own Commentary]

Frost is a master at making simple words say profound things. Here, he takes
an idle daydream, a whimsical (albeit slightly dark) musing, and converts it
into a telling insight into the destructive power of desire and hate, fire
and ice respectively. The metaphor is apt, and powerful: just as fire and
ice may one day destroy the external, physical world, desire and hate
destroy the internal, spiritual one. Very gnomic, and very Frost.


[Minstrels Links]

Other poems by Robert Frost:

Poem #730, "Mending Wall"
Poem #681, "The Secret Sits"
Poem #336, "A Patch of Old Snow"
Poem #170, "The Need of Being Versed in Country Things"
Poem #155, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
Poem #51, "The Road Not Taken "

The last of these has a biography and lots of critical notes.

Incident of the French Camp -- Robert Browning

(Poem #778) Incident of the French Camp
 You know, we French stormed Ratisbon:
    A mile or so away
 On a little mound, Napoleon
    Stood on our storming-day;
 With neck out-thrust, you fancy how,
    Legs wide, arms locked behind,
 As if to balance the prone brow
    Oppressive with its mind.

 Just as perhaps he mused, "My plans
    That soar, to earth may fall,
 Let once my army-leader Lannes
    Waver a yonder wall," --
 Out 'twixt the battery-smokes there flew
    A rider, bound on bound
 Full-galloping; nor bridle drew
    Until he reached the mound.

 Then off there flung in smiling joy,
    And held himself erect
 By just his horse's mane, a boy:
    You hardly could suspect --
 (So tight he kept his lips compressed,
    Scarce any blood came through)
 You looked twice ere you saw his breast
    Was all but shot in two.

 "Well," cried he, "Emperor, by God's grace
    We've got you Ratisbon!
 The Marshal's in the market-place,
    And you'll be there anon
 To see your flag-bird flap his vans
    Where I, to heart's desire,
 Perched him!" The chief's eye flashed; his plans
    Soared up again like fire.

 The chief's eye flashed; but presently
    Softened itself, as sheathes
 A film the mother-eagle's eye
    When her bruised eaglet breathes:
 "You're wounded!" "Nay", the soldier's pride
    Touched to quick, he said:
 "I'm killed, Sire!" And his chief beside,
    Smiling the boy fell dead.
-- Robert Browning
A rather straightforward tale of adventure, but one that's given additional
strength by the vigour of its verse. Browning's metrical skill and command
of the spoken voice save the poem from mediocrity, though some of the
passages do seem a bit strained (especially the eagle metaphor, which,
though it might be apt, I do not much care for).

Pay special attention to the first and last lines: the former converts what
would ordinarily have been a common-or-garden variety ballad into the form
so beloved of Browning, the dramatic monologue, while the latter is (though
predictable) justly celebrated for its portrayal of courage and dedication
to duty. A bit dated, perhaps, but enjoyable nonetheless.


[On the events described]

Regensburg: also called Ratisbon, city, Bavaria Land (state), southeastern
Germany, on the right bank of the Danube River at its most northerly course,
where it is joined by the Regen River. In the area of the old city was a
Celtic settlement (Radasbona), which later became the site of a Roman
stronghold and legionary camp, Castra Regina (founded AD 179). The Roman
north gate (Porta Praetoria) and parts of the walls survive. The capital of
the dukes of Bavaria from 530, it was made a bishopric in 739 and shortly
afterward became a capital of the Carolingians. The only imperial free city
in the Duchy of Bavaria from 1245, Regensburg was exceedingly prosperous in
the 12th-13th century. It was taken by the Swedes and later by imperial
troops in the Thirty Years' War (17th century) and was destroyed by the
French in 1809. It passed to Bavaria in 1810. The astronomer Johannes Kepler
died there (1630), and the painter Albrecht Altdorfer (d. 1538) was both a
city architect and counselor.

        -- EB

It was during the artillery bombardment at Ratisbon that Napoleon was
wounded for the first and only time in his military career: a bullet struck
the Emperor on the right heel as he was giving instructions to Marshal
Lannes. Word of the wounding spread rapidly, and the French army is said to
have been on the verge of panic until the Emperor showed himself on

        -- [broken link]

Google[Napoleon Ratisbon 1809] has more.

[Minstrels Links]

Browning poems:
Poem #65, "Home Thoughts From Abroad"
Poem #104, "My Last Duchess"
Poem #130, "The Lost Leader"
Poem #133, "Song, from Pippa Passes"
Poem #242, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin"
Poem #352, "My Star"
Poem #364, "The Patriot"
Poem #425, "Memorabilia"
Poem #526, "A Toccata of Galuppi's"
Poem #635, "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister"

Napoleon poems:
Poem #272, "Napoleon", Walter de la Mare
Poem #258, "Macavity: The Mystery Cat", T. S. Eliot