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Very Like a Whale -- Ogden Nash

Guest poem submitted by :
(Poem #854) Very Like a Whale
 One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
 Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and
 Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
 Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to
    go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
 What does it mean when we are told
 That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
 In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
 To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of
 However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and
    thus hinder longevity.
 We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
 Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were
    gleaming in purple and gold,
 Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a
    wold on the fold?
 In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy
    there are great many things.
 But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple
    and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
 No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was
    actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
 Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red
    mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
 Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say,
    at the very most,
 Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian
    cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
 But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he
    had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
 With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers
    to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of
    wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
 That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets,
    from Homer to Tennyson;
 They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,
 And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket
    after a winter storm.
 Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of
    snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical
    blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,
 And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
 What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.
-- Ogden Nash
This is one of my favourite poems by Nash, and seems to build on various
threads running through the Minstrels at the moment (large animals (though
alas no hippopotami), nonsense verse etc!). It is the irreligious tone
combined with the air of the ridiculous that is present throughout that
gives this poem its essence for me. Throughout he is attempting to puncture
the balloon of ostentation that poetry sometimes clouds itself in. The
deliberate misquotes combined with the animal noises ("Woof Woof!")!) give
the poem an air of intelligent farce, that I don't feel is overdone.

[Minstrels Links]

The infamous Assyrian poem:
Poem #718, The Destruction of Sennacherib -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

Poems by Ogden Nash:
Poem #402, Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man
Poem #542, Will Consider Situation
Poem #625, The Sniffle
Poem #667, Reflections on Ice-Breaking
Poem #848, The Hippopotamus
Poem #325, Common Cold
Poem #353, PG Wooster, Just as he Useter
Poem #388, Kipling's Vermont

Stew Much -- Sukumar Ray

Guest poem submitted by Rohit Jaisingh:
(Poem #853) Stew Much
 A duck once met a porcupine; they formed a corporation
 Which called itself a Porcuduck (a beastly conjugation!).

 A stork to a turtle said, "Let's put my head upon your torso;
 We who are so pretty now, as Stortle would be more so!"

 The lizard with the parrot's head thought: taking to the chilli
 After years of eating worms is absolutely silly.

 A prancing goat - one wonders why - was driven by a need
 To bequeath its upper portion to a crawling centipede.

 The giraffe with grasshopper's limbs reflected: Why should I
 Go for walks in grassy fields, now that I can fly?

 The nice contented cow will doubtless get a frightful shock
 On finding that its lower lombs belong to a fighting cock.

 It's obvious the Whalephant is not a happy notion:
 The head goes for the jungle, while the tail turns to the ocean,

 The lion's lack of horns distressed him greatly, so
 He teamed up with a deer - now watch his antlers grow!
-- Sukumar Ray
Translated by Satyajit Ray.
The Bengali version is titled "Haans chilo sojaru".

Given the level of interest in nonsense verse among the people on the
mailing list, I'm surprised that Sukumar Ray has not yet been run. Perhaps
it has to do with the paucity of good translations from the original
Bengali. The only one in wide circulation that I know of is Sukanta

At one level, this poem is wondrous for its vivid imagery. It evokes a
delightful and uninhibited response, like the tinkling laughter of a child -
spontaneous and devoid of any pollution.

At another level, one can draw analogies to the attempts to combine
incongruent units into a composite whole. Think of parallels in personal
relationships, (and here I run the risk of courting controversy) arranged
marriages, the North-South divide, mergers of companies ...


[More on Sukumar Ray]

Sukumar Ray was one of the leading figures in that flowering of Bengali
culture that occurred in the early years of the 20th century. Sadly, his
work remains little known outside his homeland; recent translations by
Sukanta Chaudhuri and Ray's (rather more famous) son Satyajit barely scratch
the surface of his wit and invention.

[broken link] is a fairly
comprehensive Ray site; it includes biographical information, time lines,
links, and a generous selection of his work (including the entire text of
his masterpiece, "Abol-Tabol"). Two caveats, though: much of the textual
material is in the original (Bengali) script, and the HTML of the site
itself is rather buggy.

Sukanta Chaudhuri's "The Select Nonsense of Sukumar Ray" is available on

[Minstrels Links]

Other poems translated from the Bengali:
Poem #177, Where The Mind is Without Fear  -- Rabindranath Tagore
Poem #367, Krishnakali  -- Rabindranath Tagore
Poem #673, The Flower-School -- Rabindranath Tagore
Poem #446, Banalata Sen  -- Jibanananda Das
Poem #662, Cat -- Jibanananda Das

Other nonsense poems:
Poem #91, Cottleston Pie  -- A. A. Milne
Poem #369, The Cantelope  -- Bayard Taylor
Poem #99, Nephelidia  -- Algernon Charles Swinburne
Poem #849, Sir Beelzebub -- Edith Sitwell
Poem #165, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat  -- Edward Lear
Poem #297, The Pobble Who Has No Toes  -- Edward Lear
Poem #356, The Akond of Swat  -- Edward Lear
Poem #378, There Was an Old Man with a Beard  -- Edward Lear
Poem #628, The Dong with a Luminous Nose -- Edward Lear
Poem #120, The Purple Cow  -- Gelett Burgess
Poem #444, Contours  -- Noel Coward
Poem #161, The Yarn of the Nancy Bell -- W. S. Gilbert
Poem #247, To Sit In Solemn Silence -- W. S. Gilbert
Poem #505, The Story of Prince Agib -- W. S. Gilbert
Poem #52, Jabberwocky  -- Lewis Carroll
Poem #265, The Mad Gardener's Song  -- Lewis Carroll
Poem #347, The Walrus and the Carpenter  -- Lewis Carroll
Poem #600, The Mouse's Tale -- Lewis Carroll

Mariana in the Moated Grange -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Guest poem submitted by Anustup Datta:
(Poem #852) Mariana in the Moated Grange
 With blackest moss the flower-plots
 Were thickly crusted, one and all:
 The rusted nails fell from the knots
 That held the pear to the gable-wall.
 The broken sheds look'd sad and strange:
 Unlifted was the clinking latch;
 Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
 Upon the lonely moated grange.
 She only said, "My life is dreary,
 He cometh not," she said;
 She said, "I am aweary, aweary,
 I would that I were dead!"

 Her tears fell with the dews at even;
 Her tears fell ere the dews were dried;
 She could not look on the sweet heaven,
 Either at morn or eventide.
 After the flitting of the bats,
 When thickest dark did trance the sky,
 She drew her casement-curtain by,
 And glanced athwart the glooming flats.
   She only said, "The night is dreary,
   He cometh not," she said;
   She said, "I am aweary, aweary,
   I would that I were dead!"

 Upon the middle of the night,
 Waking she heard the night-fowl crow:
 The cock sung out an hour ere light:
 From the dark fen the oxen's low
 Came to her: without hope of change,
 In sleep she seem'd to walk forlorn,
 Till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn
 About the lonely moated grange.
   She only said, "The day is dreary,
   He cometh not," she said;
   She said, "I am aweary, aweary,
   I would that I were dead!"

 About a stone-cast from the wall
 A sluice with blacken'd waters slept,
 And o'er it many, round and small,
 The cluster'd marish-mosses crept.
 Hard by a poplar shook alway,
 All silver-green with gnarled bark:
 For leagues no other tree did mark
 The level waste, the rounding gray.
   She only said, "My life is dreary,
   He cometh not," she said;
   She said "I am aweary, aweary
   I would that I were dead!"

 And ever when the moon was low,
 And the shrill winds were up and away,
 In the white curtain, to and fro,
 She saw the gusty shadow sway.
 But when the moon was very low
 And wild winds bound within their cell,
 The shadow of the poplar fell
 Upon her bed, across her brow.
   She only said, "The night is dreary,
   He cometh not," she said;
   She said "I am aweary, aweary,
   I would that I were dead!"

 All day within the dreamy house,
 The doors upon their hinges creak'd;
 The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
 Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek'd,
 Or from the crevice peer'd about.
 Old faces glimmer'd thro' the doors
 Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
 Old voices called her from without.
   She only said, "My life is dreary,
   He cometh not," she said;
   She said, "I am aweary, aweary,
   I would that I were dead!"

 The sparrow's chirrup on the roof,
 The slow clock ticking, and the sound
 Which to the wooing wind aloof
 The poplar made, did all confound
 Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
 When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
 Athwart the chambers, and the day
 Was sloping toward his western bower.
   Then said she, "I am very dreary,
   He will not come," she said;
   She wept, "I am aweary, aweary,
   Oh God, that I were dead!"
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Just read "Now sleeps the crimson petal ..." after a long time and
remembered what a favourite Tennyson was when I was just beginning to
discover the magic of poetry. Poetry is meant to be read aloud, and
Tennyson's melody and construction made an immediate impression at that
admittedly impressionable age - who could forget the babbling of The Brook,
or resist the delicious pathos of Home They Brought Her Warrior Dead? As a
special treat, our English teacher read aloud selections from 'Maud' - and
for days on end, the class was hypnotically chanting 'Come into the garden'
at the slightest provocation.

With critical faculties more developed in later years, one began to
understand Tennyson's failings: ultra-conservatism (what else could one
expect of a Victorian Poet Laureate?), the conscious abandonment of reason
for rhyme, and the tendency towards over-dramatisation; but one had to still
admit that his genius was far from commonplace - the perfect word at the
perfect place, the metre and the melody, and his superb creation of
'atmosphere', all add up to a wonderful audio-visual experience. In my
anthology of a hundred great poems to be read aloud, Tennyson and Walter de
la Mare would occupy the first ten slots.

I feel that Tennyson's gifts were ideal for the creation of fragments of
beauty - a scene, a turn of the kaleidoscope, a moment of wonder. He is
definitely not at his best in longer poems - take Maud, for example, which
taken as a whole is decidedly a feverish poem about an over-dramatic hero.
But there too exists snippets of almost unbearable beauty like the scene
with the flowers in the garden. Creating sustained dramatic tension and
irony was beyond Tennyson - for that one has to turn to Browning, a
contemporary at the other end of the spectrum, both difficult and obscure,
but rich with the subtlety of minute shades of human emotion and passions.

I am attaching two great Tennysons [we'll run the other one some other day -
t.] that were among the first I read at school - and they showcase his
particular talents admirably. The first is an old favourite that alludes to
Mariana in Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" - and is chiefly remarkable
for the use of language. Take the first few lines (which incidentally were
used by Professor Higgins to improve Eliza's diction) - "With blackest moss
the flower-plots were thickly crusted, one and all:, The rusted nails fell
from the knots that held the pear to the gable-wall...". How skilfully is
the picture of the lonely manor woven, and the lament of Mariana in the
final lines of each stanza provide the perfect counterpoint. It is
wonderfully tactile, you can feel the disused manor in your bones.


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #15, The Eagle (a fragment)
Poem #31, Break, break, break
Poem #80, The Brook (excerpt)
Poem #121, Ulysses
Poem #355, Charge of the Light Brigade
Poem #653, Ring Out, Wild Bells
Poem #825, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, Now the White

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
Poem #778, Incident of the French Camp
Poem #814, Parting at Morning

de le Mare:
Poem #2, The Listeners
Poem #272, Napoleon
Poem #483, Brueghel's Winter
Poem #725, Silver

The Skater -- Charles G D Roberts

(Poem #851) The Skater
 My glad feet shod with the glittering steel
 I was the god of the wing├Ęd heel.

 The hills in the far white sky were lost;
 The world lay still in the wide white frost;

 And the woods hung hushed in their long white dream
 By the ghostly, glimmering, ice-blue stream.

 Here was a pathway, smooth like glass,
 Where I and the wandering wind might pass

 To the far-off palaces, drifted deep,
 Where Winter's retinue rests in sleep.

 I followed the lure, I fled like a bird,
 Till the startled hollows awoke and heard

 A spinning whisper, a sibilant twang,
 As the stroke of the steel on the tense ice rang;

 And the wandering wind was left behind
 As faster, faster I followed my mind;

 Till the blood sang high in my eager brain,
 And the joy of my flight was almost pain.

 The I stayed the rush of my eager speed
 And silently went as a drifting seed, --

 Slowly, furtively, till my eyes
 Grew big with the awe of a dim surmise,

 And the hair of my neck began to creep
 At hearing the wilderness talk in sleep.

 Shapes in the fir-gloom drifted near.
 In the deep of my heart I heard my fear.

 And I turned and fled, like a soul pursued,
 From the white, inviolate solitude.
-- Charles G D Roberts
When I read the first couplet, I realised two things - firstly, that this
was not, critically speaking, a particularly great poem, and secondly, that
I was captivated anyway. Having read the entire poem, both impressions
remain - this will never be a great poem, but it's a beautiful one for a'

It's hard to define exactly what it is about the poem that my inner critic
balks at. It's mostly the impression that the poet fails to achieve the
unselfconscious ease that marks the truly great poem - every now and then,
the images feel faintly forced, or the word choice suboptimal, which throws
me off my stride.

Far easier to say what I like about it - the fact remains that, for all my
nitpicking, this is a very pleasing poem. The imagery is beautiful, and very
evocative in places - the quiet, lonely stream winding through the wood,
its atmosphere slowly seeping into the narrator's mood, comes across

Furthermore, couplets are a form I really like when they work, and they do
here, the poem being carried along as swift and as feather-light as the
skater on the cascading lines, and the slightly surreal atmosphere being
enhanced by the fragmentation.



There's a bio of Roberts at

Two other poems that make effective use of couplets:

  Poem #84 R. L. Stevenson, 'From a Railway Carriage'
  Poem #209 Mary Robinson, 'The Camp'

No, I'll not take the half... -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Guest poem submitted by S. Ramnarayan:
(Poem #850) No, I'll not take the half...
 No, I'll not take the half,
 Give me the whole sky! The far-flung earth!
 Seas and rivers and mountain avalanches--
 All these are mine! I'll accept no less!

 No, life, you cannot woo me with a part.
 Let it be all or nothing! I can shoulder that!
 I don't want happiness by halves,
 Nor is half of sorrow what I want.

 Yet there's a pillow I would share,
 Where gently pressed against a cheek,
 Like a helpless star, a falling star,
 A ring glimmers on a finger of your hand.
-- Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Translated by George Reavey.

I don't really read much poetry outside of what I receive through this
egroup and yet somehow I kept stumbling upon poetry by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
and they almost consistently appealed to me. What I like about this
particular poem is the contrast between the first two stanzas and the last
stanza. The first two stanzas are fiery and passionate and sound so sure
while the last paragraph suddenly switches to reveal vulnerability.

[Biographical information]

Best known poet of the post-Stalin generation of Russian poets,
Yevtushenko's early poems show the influence of Mayakovsky and loyalty to
communism, but with such works as The Third Snow (1955) Yevtushenko become a
spokesman for the young post-Stalin generation and travelled abroad widely
throughout the Khrushchev and the Brezhnev periods.

Yevtushenko was born in Zima in Irkutsk (July 18, 1933) as a
fourth-generation descendant of Ukrainians exiled to Siberia. He moved to
Moscow in 1944, where he studied at the Gorky Institute of Literature from
1951 to 1954. In 1948 he accompanied his father on geological expeditions to
Kazakhstan and to Altai in 1950. His first important narrative poem Zima
Junction was published in 1956 but gained international fame in 1961 with
Babi Yar, in which he denounced Nazi and Russian anti-Semitism. The poem was
not published in Russia until 1984, althoug it was frequently recited in
both Russia and abroad.

The Heirs of Stalin (1961), published presumably with Party approval in
Pravda, was not republished until 1987. The poem contained warnings that
Stalinism had long outlived its creator.

Yevtushenko's demands for greater artistic freedom and his attacks on
Stalinism and bureaucracy in the late 1950s and 60s made him a leader of
Soviet youth. However, he was allowed to travel widely in the West until
1963. He published then A Precocious Autobiography in English, and his
privileges and favors were withdrawn, but restored two years later.

In 1972 Yevtushenko gained huge success with his play Under the Skin of the
Statue of Liberty. Since the 1970s he has been active in many field of
culture, writing novels, engaging in acting, film directing, and
photography. He has also remained politically outspoken and in 1974
supported Solzhenitsyn when the Nobel Prize Winner was arrested and exiled.
In 1989 Yevtushenko became member of the Congress of People's Deputies.
Since 1990 he has been vice president of Russian PEN. He was appointed
honorary member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987.

After the accession of Gorbachev to power, Yevtushnko introduced to Soviet
readers many poets repressed by Stalin in the journal Ogonek. He raised
public awareness of the pollution of Lake Baikal and when communism
collapsed he was instrumental in getting a monument to the victims of
Stalinist repression placed opposite Lubianka, headquarters of the KGB.


Sir Beelzebub -- Edith Sitwell

Guest poem submitted by Mike Christie:
(Poem #849) Sir Beelzebub
 Beelzebub called for his syllabub in the hotel in Hell
    Where Proserpine first fell,
 Blue as the gendarmerie were the waves of the sea,
    (Rocking and shocking the barmaid).

 Nobody comes to give him his rum but the
 Rim of the sky hippopotamus-glum
 Enhances the chances to bless with a benison
 Alfred Lord Tennyson crossing the bar laid
 With cold vegetation from pale deputations
 Of temperance workers (all signed In Memoriam)
 Hoping with glory to trip up the Laureate's feet,
    (Moving in classical metres) ...

 Like Balaclava, the lava came down from the
 Roof, and the sea's blue wooden gendarmerie
 Took them in charge while Beelzebub roared for his rum.
    ... None of them come!
-- Edith Sitwell
Here's a poem I've been thinking about sending in for a while. And I was
shocked -- shocked! -- to discover the word hippopotamus in there. Actually
it would make a good segue away from hippopotami. I first read this in the
Collins Albatross Book of Verse, and loved it at age ten. I still like it
now: I love the metre, and the stuttering way it starts, like a car ignition
coughing and then roaring into life.


[thomas adds]

"It seems very pretty", she said when she had finished it, "but it's rather
hard to understand!"
        -- Alice, upon reading "Jabberwocky"

The Hippopotamus -- Ogden Nash

I never knew there were so many hippopotamusings in the world...
(Poem #848) The Hippopotamus
 Behold the hippopotamus!
 We laugh at how he looks to us,
 And yet in moments dank and grim,
 I wonder how we look to him.

 Peace, peace, thou hippopotamus!
 We really look all right to us,
 As you no doubt delight the eye
 Of other hippopotami.
-- Ogden Nash
It's fitting that the last word [1] on hippos should fall to Ogden Nash; the
hippo is nothing if not a Nash creature, an improbability on four legs. And
yet, as the poet points out, we humans must look equally absurd in its eyes:
thin-skinned, anorexic, and always on the verge of falling over...

On a purely technical note, I do think the poem would have been better had
Nash stopped after the first quatrain. The second stanza needlessly
belabours the joke of the first, while not adding much in the way of humour.
Or maybe that's just me.


[1] Yes, this really is the last poem in this theme. Really.

[Minstrels Links]

Poem #124, "The Hippopotamus",  Hilaire Belloc
Poem #844, "The Hippopotamus", Oliver Herford
Poem #845, "Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich", Shel Silverstein
Poem #846, "The Hippopotamus", T. S. Eliot
Poem #847, "On the Death of Smet-Smet, the Hippopotamus-Goddess", Rupert


I'm back online after a fortnight spent travelling; my thanks go to Martin
and various guest Minstrels for covering while I was away.


Hippopotami really is the plural of hippopotamus (though hippopotamuses is
also acceptable).

On the Death of Smet-Smet, the Hippopotamus-Goddess -- Rupert Brooke

Still on the Theme that Refuses to Die - guest poem sent in by Suresh
(Poem #847) On the Death of Smet-Smet, the Hippopotamus-Goddess
 Song of a tribe of the ancient Egyptians

   (The Priests within the Temple)

 She was wrinkled and huge and hideous? She was our Mother.
 She was lustful and lewd? -- but a God; we had none other.
 In the day She was hidden and dumb, but at nightfall moaned in the shade;
 We shuddered and gave Her Her will in the darkness; we were afraid.

   (The People without)

 She sent us pain,
 And we bowed before Her;
 She smiled again
 And bade us adore Her.
 She solaced our woe
 And soothed our sighing;
 And what shall we do
 Now God is dying?

   (The Priests within)

 She was hungry and ate our children; -- how should we stay Her?
 She took our young men and our maidens; -- ours to obey Her.
 We were loathed and mocked and reviled of all nations; that was our pride.
 She fed us, protected us, loved us, and killed us; now She has died.

   (The People without)

 She was so strong;
 But death is stronger.
 She ruled us long;
 But Time is longer.
 She solaced our woe
 And soothed our sighing;
 And what shall we do
 Now God is dying?
-- Rupert Brooke
Speaking of sarcasm, Hippos and religion, this one just has to take the
cake. Blind acceptance of a cruel and savage Deity - till the Deity dies,
leaving priests and people alike fumbling, scared, at a loss.

The frightened priests are busy making up excuses for their cruel rites -
and attributing all of them to the Hippo-Goddess' savage appetites.  The
common people, who have come to accept the cruelty of the Smet-Smet cult,
are at a loss as whatever religion they had - whatever supported their
society - has been destroyed.

Fatalism - the stoic acceptance of a (frequently savage) predestination - is
often the backbone of a religion, especially a religion which is based on
terrorizing its followers into submission.  Now, when the (supposed) arbiter
of Fate herself meets her fate?  A rather interesting state of affairs.

The first thing that I thought of when I read this was that Marx was perhaps
right when he dismissed religion as "The opium of the masses."

As for Brooke - it was a pleasant surprise for me to discover he wasn't just
a war poet (though his war sonnets are among the best I've read).

    "A young Apollo, golden-haired,
    Stands dreaming on the verge of strife,
    Magnificently unprepared
    For the long littleness of life."

These lines were written by Frances Cornford for Brooke, called by W. B.
Yeats, "The most handsome man in England."  Not a very long littleness
though - Brooke died in 1915, aged just 28.  I guess there has been more
than one Brooke bio posted on minstrels already, so I'll just stop here.



Brooke poems on Minstrels:

  Poem #514 "The Chilterns"
  Poem #280 "The Soldier"
  Poem #589 "Sonnet Reversed"

The Hippopotamus -- T S Eliot

Guest poem send in by Aseem

The first poem that came to mind for the hippopotamus theme. An old, old
(Poem #846) The Hippopotamus
 The broad-backed hippopotamus
 Rests on his belly in the mud;
 Although he seems so firm to us
 He is merely flesh and blood.

 Flesh and blood is weak and frail,
 Susceptible to nervous shock;
 While the true church can never fail
 For it is based upon a rock.

 The hippo's feeble steps may err
 In compassing material ends,
 While the True Church need never stir
 To gather in its dividends.

 The 'potamus can never reach
 The mango on the mango-tree;
 But fruits of pomegranate and peach
 Refresh the Church from over sea.

 At mating time the hippo's voice
 Betrays inflexions hoarse and odd,
 But every week we hear rejoice
 The Church, at being one with God.

 The hippopotamus's day
 Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;
 God works in a mysterious way -
 The church can sleep and feed at once

 I saw the 'potamus take wing
 Ascending from the damp savannas,
 And quiring angels round him sing
 The praise of God, in loud hosannas.

 Blood of the Lamb shall wash him clean
 And him shall heavenly arms enfold,
 Among the saints he shall be seen
 Performing on a harp of gold.

 He shall be washed as white as snow,
 By all martyr'd virgins kist,
 While the True Church remains below
 Wrapt in old miasmal mist.
-- T S Eliot
Easily one of the most sarcastic and vicious poems I've ever read - I
specially love the simple, almost childish abab rhyming and the final two
lines with their image of an institution wallowing in eternal stagnation.


On the theme:

Honestly, I never intended this to become a theme :) Yesterday's poem was
more along the lines of an Irresistible Followup (tm), and I was planning to
let it go at that. However, not only did I receive two emails both
suggesting the same poem, I also had someone express the hope that I was not
running a *hippopotamus* theme of all things. Well, with incentive like
that, what could I do? Here's the third hippo poem, and here endeth the



The previous two poems in the theme:

  Poem #844 Oliver Herford, "The Hippopotamus"
  Poem #845 Shel Silverstein, "Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich"

And other Eliot poems on Minstrels:

  Poem #9   "La Figlia Che Piange (The Weeping Girl)"
  Poem #107 "Preludes"
  Poem #193 "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock"
  Poem #248 "Sweeney Among the Nightingales"
  Poem #258 "Macavity: The Mystery Cat"
  Poem #291 "The Journey of the Magi"
  Poem #354 "The Waste Land (Part IV)"
  Poem #466 "Rhapsody on a Windy Night"
  Poem #532 "Little Gidding"
  Poem #574 "Growltiger's Last Stand"
  Poem #630 "To Walter de la Mare"

Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich -- Shel Silverstein

Uniting the hippo and food motifs...
(Poem #845) Recipe for a Hippopotamus Sandwich
 A hippo sandwich is easy to make.
 All you do is simply take
 One slice of bread,
 One slice of cake,
 Some mayonnaise
 One onion ring,
 One hippopotamus
 One piece of string,
 A dash of pepper --
 That ought to do it.
 And now comes the problem...
 Biting into it!
-- Shel Silverstein
        (from 'Where the Sidewalk Ends')

The word that comes to mind when speaking of Silverstein is 'inimitable' -
his best poems have a *flavour* about them that is hard to define, but
unmistakably there.

Silverstein was, sadly, not a poet I was aware of as a child - I'd read the
occasional poem in anthologies (and, what's more, remembered them, so that
when I finally did discover his books I could point to the odd piece and say
'hey - I've seen that before'), but his name was lost among a bunch of other,
more-deservingly-forgotten poets. I'm glad to say that his poems lose very
little when read from an adult perspective, but I can't help but wonder how
much more magical they'd have been when I was part of the target audience.

Today's piece is pretty self-explanatory - but note the oh-so-innocent way
'one hippopotamus' is slipped into the ingredient list. And where but in a
child's universe would one slice of bread and one of cake make up a sandwich
recipe? :)


  [broken link]


An excellent Silverstein page is
  [broken link]

And here's a great site devoted to all things hippopotamous:

See particularly the poems section:
(complete with unexpected entries by L. Sprague de Camp and Jane Yolen, and
illustrations for both yesterday's poem and today's)

And speaking of recipes, there's the ever-popular stuffed camel:


The Hippopotamus -- Oliver Herford

Adding to our regular army of hippopotami...
(Poem #844) The Hippopotamus
 "Oh, say, what is this fearful, wild,
 Incorrigible cuss?"
 "This *creature* (don't say 'cuss,' my child;
 'Tis slang)--this creature fierce is styled
 The Hippopotamus.
 His curious name derives its source
 From two Greek words: hippos--a horse,
 Potamos--river. See?
 The river's plain enough, of course;
 But why they called *that* thing a *horse*,
 That's what is Greek to me."
-- Oliver Herford
There's something about hippopotamuses that appeals to writers of humorous
verse, particularly children's verse. Whether it's the comical aspect of the
beast itself, or the delightfully long and euphonious word 'hippopotamus',
or both, the fact remains that the beast has worked its way into a number of
poems, ranging from Carroll's [1]

   He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk
   Descending from the bus:
   He looked again, and found it was
   A Hippopotamus:
   "If this should stay to dine," he said,
   "There won't be much for us!"

to Flanders' bold hippopotamus on the banks of the Shalimar[2], and almost
always for comic effect.

Today's poem is a pleasant if not outstanding example of the genre. The
punch line works - though the 'Greek to me' line loses a bit from having
been done to death - but the poem itself does not really rely on it for a
make-or-break effect. The poem is instead cheerfully and trippingly humorous
throughout - indeed, my favourite bit is the parenthetical admonishment in
the third and fourth lines. And, as some of the best children's poems are,
it is (almost as an afterthought) educational as well - if you didn't know the
etymology of 'hippopotamus' you do now <g>.

Biographical Snippet:

  Oliver Herford (1863-1935)
  English-born American poet, illustrator, and wit; published over 50
  volumes of light verse and prose
        -- Poets' Corner

  In the United States an older generation of humorists somewhat
  of the upper-class Punch style lingered briefly after World War
  I. Of such were Oliver Herford, whose Alphabet of Celebrities
  and other comic verses with pictures were published as small
  books; Peter Newell, whose highly original Slant Book, Hole
  Book, etc., had a sharp eye to late prewar costume, and Gelett
  Burgess, whose Goops for children were spaghetti-like little
  figures whose behaviour illustrated a moral. (See Burgess,
        -- EB (which had no entry on the man himself)


[1] poem #265
  (Does anyone read Sylvie and Bruno these days? Painful in places, but
  worth at least one readthrough, IMO)
[2] [broken link]

And the other hippo poem we've run on Minstrels: poem #124


Love in a Bathtub -- Sujata Bhatt

Guest poem sent in by Vidur
(Poem #843) Love in a Bathtub
 Years later we'll remember the bathtub
 the position of the taps
 the water, slippery
 as if a bucketful of eels had joined us ...
 we'll be old, our children grown up
 but we'll remember the water sloshing out
 the useless soap,
 the mountain of wet towels.
 'Remember the bathtub in Belfast?'
 we'll prod each other -
-- Sujata Bhatt
alright, so you never ran my submission of that wonderful wonderful
kamala das poem 'the looking glass'. [we did, actually - poem #804 -m.]

but i do feel indian women poets besides eunice (whose work i've
enjoyed ever since i studied under her) deserve better representation
on this list. so here's a delightful little poem by sujata bhatt.

ok, so sujata bhatt doesn't really belong to this genre: but she is of
indian origin and a lot of her work is influenced thus. there's little
comment i have to offer for this poem. i just love the way in which it
captures the essence of growing old together. two people who've shared
their lives, know each other so well and who can enjoy one another
through intimate moments like this from their past. private moments
that are theirs and theirs alone to treasure: 'remember the bathtub in



  A biography and an interview with Bhatt:
    [broken link]

To a Goose -- Robert Southey

(Poem #842) To a Goose
 If thou didst feed on western plains of yore;
 Or waddle wide with flat and flabby feet
 Over some Cambrian mountain's plashy moor;
 Or find in farmer's yard a safe retreat
 From gipsy thieves, and foxes sly and fleet;
 If thy grey quills, by lawyer guided, trace
 Deeds big with ruin to some wretched race,
 Or love-sick poet's sonnet, sad and sweet,
 Wailing the rigour of his lady fair;
 Or if, the drudge of housemaid's daily toil,
 Cobwebs and dust thy pinions white besoil,
 Departed Goose! I neither know nor care.
 But this I know, that thou wert very fine,
 Season'd with sage and onions, and port wine.
-- Robert Southey
Today's poem is not just a neat bit of humorous verse, but a marvellous send
up of the sonnet form. The late lamented bird is limned, in keeping with the
finest traditions of the sonnet, in nothing but the most 'poetic' of
language - my favourite line, I think, being

                                   ... trace
   Deeds big with ruin to some wretched race

- and then, where a Shakespeare or a Milton would have wrapped the whole up
neatly in a two line apothegm that delivered the message of the sonnet,
Southey deftly undercuts it, descending in the space of three lines from the
sublime to the dinner table.

Constructionwise, too, 'To a Goose' adheres perfectly to the conventions of
the sonnet. The ababbccbdeedff rhyme scheme is slightly unusual, but sonnets
are allowed some flexibility in that matter. The development of the poem
too, would be not at all out of place in a serious sonnet - Southey lending
credence to the fact that in order to effectively parody something, you have
to know it first.



Two poems very similar in spirit are

  Poem #448 William Cowper, 'To The Immortal Memory of the Halibut,
                     On Which I Dined This Day, Monday, April 26, 1784'
  Poem #589 Rupert Brooke, 'Sonnet Reversed'

Other Southey poems on Minstrels:

  Poem #203 'The Battle of Blenheim'
  Poem #652 'The Cataract of Lodore'


Emptiness -- Jalaluddin Rumi

Guest poem sent in by Rishidev Chaudhuri
(Poem #841) Emptiness
 Consider the difference
 in our actions and God's actions.

 We often ask, "Why did you do that?"
 or "Why did I act like that?"

 We do act, and yet everything we do
 is God's creative action.

 We look back and analyse the events
 of our lives, but there is another way
 of seeing, a backward-and-forward-at-once
 vision, that is not rationally understandable.

 Only God can understand it.
 Satan made the excuse, "You caused me to fall,
 whereas Adam said to God, "We did this
 to ourselves." After this repentance,
 God asked Adam, "Since all is within
 my foreknowledge, why didn't you
 defend yourself with that reason?"

 Adam answered, "I was afraid,
 and I wanted to be reverent."

 Whoever acts with respect will get respect.
 Whoever brings sweetness will be served almond cake.
 Good women are drawn to be with good men.

 Honour your friend.
 Or treat him rudely,
 and see what happens!

 Love, tell an incident now
 that will clarify this mystery
 of how we act feely, and are yet
 compelled. One hand shakes with palsy.
 Another shakes because because you slapped it away.

 Both tremblings come from God,
 but you feel guilty for the one,
 and what about the other?

 These are intellectual questions.
 The spirit approaches the matter
 differently. Omar once had a friend, a scientist,
 Bu'l-Hakam, who was flawless at solving
 empirical problems, but he could not follow Omar
 into the area of illumination and wonder.

 Now I return to the text, "And He is with you,
 wherever you are," but when have I ever left it!

 Ignorance is God's prison
 Knowing is God's palace.

 We sleep in God's unconsciousness.
 We wake in God's open hand.

 We weep God's rain.
 We laugh God's lightning.

 Fighting and peacefulness
 both take place within God.

 Who are we then
 in this complicated world-tangle,
 that is really just the single, straight
 line down at the beginning of ALLAH?

 We are


 When you are with everyone but me,
                          you're with no one.
 When you are with no one but me,
                          you're with everyone.

 Instead of being so bound up with everyone,
                          be everyone.
 When you become that many, you're nothing.
-- Jalaluddin Rumi
It is always very interesting to look at how mystical
experience is reflected in different traditions. The
Sufis stand out for many reasons, among them the
context in which they arose, their influence on both
Indian and Middle Eastern thought and literature, and
particularly for their view of the world, very
different in expression (though not, I believe in
spirit) from some of the earlier Indian traditions,
but bearing very strong resemblances to Mahayana
Buddhist and Tantric thought. This poem could very
easily pass off as one written by a Zen Buddhist,
particularly for its statement of paradox and
trans-rational, trans-verbal view. The concept of
emptiness or the pregnant void (sunyata) at the heart
of things is also a very common Buddhist concept.

And Sufism has, of course, produced some lovely poems
and celebrations of union with the divine. This poem
is rather more intellectual than much of what Rumi has
written, but his sheer exuberance and spirit is very
apparent and quite charming.



Rumi poems we've run before:
  Poem #472, 'Spring Giddiness'
  Poem #513, 'The Tavern'

There's an excellent Rumi site at
including a biography:

The Travellers' Curse after Misdirection -- Robert Graves

Guest poem sent in by Jeff Berndt

Hello, Minstrels.

The other day, I had to walk to rent a car.  The car rental place was a
couple miles from my home, and it was poorly signed.  I could not find it.
I asked a fellow for directions and he sent me an extra mile out of my way.
I tried to find him on the way back, but he had gone.  This extra walking
put me in mind of the following poem, by Robert Graves:
(Poem #840) The Travellers' Curse after Misdirection
(from the Welsh)

 May they stumble, stage by stage
 On an endless Pilgrimage
 Dawn and dusk, mile after mile
 At each and every step a stile
 At each and every step withal
 May they catch their feet and fall
 At each and every fall they take
 May a bone within them break
 And may the bone that breaks within
 Not be, for variations sake
 Now rib, now thigh, now arm, now shin
 but always, without fail, the NECK
-- Robert Graves
Here's what has to say about Robert Graves:

Robert Graves

  Robert Graves was born on July 24, 1895, in Wimbledon, near London. His
  father, Alfred Perceval Graves, was a Gaelic scholar and minor Irish poet.
  His mother, Amalie von Ranke Graves, was a relation of Leopold von Ranke,
  one of the founding fathers of modern historical studies. One of ten
  children, Robert was greatly influenced by his mother's puritanical
  beliefs and his father's love of Celtic poetry and myth. As a young man,
  he was more interested in boxing and mountain climbing than studying,
  although poetry later sustained him through a turbulent adolescence. In
  1913 Graves won a scholarship to continue his studies at St. John's
  College, Oxford, but in August 1914 he enlisted as a junior officer in the
  Royal Welch Fusiliers. He fought in the Battle of Loos and was injured in
  the Somme offensive in 1916. While convalescing, he published his first
  collection of poetry, Over the Brazier. By 1917, though still an active
  serviceman, Graves had published three volumes. In 1918, he spent a year
  in the trenches, where he was again severely wounded.

  In January 1918, at the age of twenty-two, he married eighteen-year-old
  Nancy Nicholson, with whom he was to have four children. Traumatized by
  the war, he went to Oxford with his wife and took a position at St. John's
  College. Graves's early volumes of poetry, like those of his
  contemporaries, deal with natural beauty and bucolic pleasures, and with
  the consequences of the First World War. Over the Brazier and Fairies and
  Fusiliers earned for Graves the reputation as an accomplished war poet.
  After meeting the American poet and theorist Laura Riding in 1926,
  Graves's poetry underwent a significant transformation. Douglas Day has
  written that the "influence of Laura Riding is quite possibly the most
  important single element in [Graves's] poetic career: she persuaded him to
  curb his digressiveness and his rambling philosophizing and to concentrate
  instead on terse, ironic poems written on personal themes."

  In 1927, Graves and his first wife separated permanently, and in 1929 he
  published Goodbye to All That, an autobiography that announced his
  psychological accommodation with the residual horror of his war
  experiences. Shortly afterward, he departed to Majorca with Laura Riding.
  In addition to completing many books of verse while in Majorca, Graves
  also wrote several volumes of criticism, some in collaboration with
  Riding. The couple cofounded Seizin Press in 1928 and Epilogue, a
  semiannual magazine, in 1935. During that period, he evolved his theory of
  poetry as spiritually cathartic to both the poet and the reader. Although
  Graves claimed that he wrote novels only to earn money, it was through
  these that he attained status as a major writer in 1934, with the
  publication of the historical novel I, Claudius, and its sequel, Claudius
  the God and His Wife Messalina. (During the 1970's, the BBC adapted the
  novels into an internationally popular television series.)

  At the onset of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Graves and Riding fled
  Majorca, eventually settling in America. In 1939, Laura Riding left Graves
  for the writer Schuyler Jackson; one year later Graves began a
  relationship with Beryl Hodge that was to last until his death. It was in
  the 1940s, after his break with Riding, that Graves formulated his
  personal mythology of the White Goddess. Inspired by late
  nineteenth-century studies of matriarchal societies and goddess cults,
  this mythology was to pervade all of his later work.

  After World War II, Graves returned to Majorca, where he lived with Hodge
  and continued to write. By the 1950's, Graves had won an enormous
  international reputation as a poet, novelist, literary scholar, and
  translator. In 1962, W. H. Auden went as far as to assert that Graves was
  England's "greatest living poet." In 1968 he received the Queen's Gold
  Medal for Poetry. During his lifetime he published more than 140 books,
  including fifty-five collections of poetry (he reworked his Collected
  Poems repeatedly during his career), fifteen novels, ten translations, and
  forty works of nonfiction, autobiography, and literary essays. From 1961
  to 1966, Graves returned to England to serve as a professor of poetry at
  Oxford. In the 1970s his productivity fell off; and the last decade of his
  life was lost in silence and senility. Robert Graves died in Majorca in
  1985, at the age of ninety.


Jeff Berndt


Graves poems on Minstrels:

  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
  Poem #763, Love Without Hope

A Musical Instrument -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(Poem #839) A Musical Instrument

 What was he doing, the great god Pan,
   Down in the reeds by the river?
 Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
 Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
 And breaking the golden lilies afloat
   With the dragon-fly on the river.


 He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
   From the deep cool bed of the river:
 The limpid water turbidly ran,
 And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
 And the dragon-fly had fled away,
   Ere he brought it out of the river.


 High on the shore sate the great god Pan,
   While turbidly flowed the river;
 And hacked and hewed as a great god can,
 With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,
 Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed
   To prove it fresh from the river.


 He cut it short, did the great god Pan,
   (How tall it stood in the river!)
 Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,
 Steadily from the outside ring,
 And notched the poor dry empty thing
   In holes, as he sate by the river.


 'This is the way,' laughed the great god Pan,
   Laughed while he sate by the river,)
 'The only way, since gods began
 To make sweet music, they could succeed.'
 Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
   He blew in power by the river.


 Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
   Piercing sweet by the river!
 Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!
 The sun on the hill forgot to die,
 And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
   Came back to dream on the river.


 Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
   To laugh as he sits by the river,
 Making a poet out of a man:
 The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, --
 For the reed which grows nevermore again
   As a reed with the reeds in the river.
-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  Publication Date: 1862.

Elizabeth Browning is, sadly enough, another poet whom I've avoided due to
my dislike of a single poem (in this case, the ubiquitous "How Do I Love
Thee?"). I was surprised, when I finally read some more of her work, to see
how - well, not 'good', since I do admit 'How Do I Love Thee' is a good poem
- but how much more to my taste a lot of it was.

Today's wonderfully musical poem is definitely one of my favourite pieces of
Browning. The sound and rhythm of the lines and the adjective-laden imagery
evoke the scene beautifully, with just that touch of languid sun-stippled
mistiness that gives it a wonderfully Arcadian riverside feel. The
repetition of 'river' in the second and last lines of each verse also helps
with the musical effect, tying the poem together and providing a constant
strain without the inclusion of an actual chorus[1].

The abaccb rhyme scheme does break the flow somewhat - I keep expecting it
to be abaaab (influenced, no doubt, by poems like Horatius and the
aforementioned Rimini), or even abccab, and the fourth line comes as a
subconscious surprise. The problem is mostly that the metre strongly
suggests that the third and fourth lines rhyme; on the other hand, the 1-3
rhyme is not emphasised much, so that at some level I have to keep mentally
regrouping lines when I read the poem.

And finally, there's the unexpected last verse, which, with a little
rewriting could have made an excellent poem in its own right, and which
provides a haunting and satisfying conclusion to the tale of Pan.

[1] Kipling's 'Rimini' uses the same effect, though it has a chorus too. (It
also has a very similar rhythm)


Other poems by EBB on Minstrels:
  Poem #269, "How do I love thee?" (Complete with biography)
  Poem #591, "Sonnet XIV" ('If thou must love me, let it be for nought')

Kipling's 'Rimini':

Another beautiful piece about Pan[2] is Kenneth Grahame's 'The Piper at the
Gates of Dawn', from his masterpiece 'The Wind in the Willows'

[2] and one of my favourite titles ever


They Say -- Ben Okri

Guest poem sent in by Suchitra S
(Poem #838) They Say
 They say
 Love grows
 When the fear of death

 They say
 Courage looms
 When the fear
 Of never loving again
 In the smell of the enemy
 Who crushes us so much
 We can only fight.

 Love and courage grow together
 When the flesh is rawest
 And the spirit charged.
 And distorted within the nightmare
 We see the possibility
 Of a future.
-- Ben Okri
I've always worshipped at the altar of verse that goes  beyond mere
word-play. Verse that is forged in the furnace of experience...and is so
painful to write, that when it is eventually written, every word is as it
should be.

But this one is not entirely sans joy.

It is about Hope and the Spirit and  Dignity, and about coming into one's
own. About digging into one's soul in moments of despair, and finding the
jewels hidden there.

It is wonderful and reminds me of Dostoyevsky. Okri here seems on the verge
of making some phantasmagoric , metaphysical revelation that might just



The Ben Okri page at
contains an extensive set of Okri resources, including a biography.

Child of Europe -- Czeslaw Milosz

Guest poem sent in by Jenny Lobasz
(Poem #837) Child of Europe

 We, whose lungs fill with the sweetness of day,

 Who in May admire trees flowering,
 Are better than those who perished.

 We, who taste of exotic dishes,
 And enjoy fully the delights of love,
 Are better than those who were buried.

 We, from the fiery furnaces, from behind barbed wires
 On which the winds of endless Autumns howled,
 We, who remember battles where the wounded air roared in paroxysms of pain,
 We, saved by our own cunning and knowledge.

 By sending others to the more exposed positions,
 Urging them loudly to fight on,
 Ourselves withdrawing in certainty of the cause lost.

 Having the choice of our own death and that of a friend,
 We chose his, coldly thinking: let it be done quickly.

 We sealed gas chamber doors, stole bread,
 Knowing the next day would be harder to bear than the day before.

 As befits human beings, we explored good and evil.
 Our malignant wisdom has no like on this planet.

 Accept it as proven that we are better than they,
 The gullible, hot-blooded weaklings, careless with their lives.


 Treasure your legacy of skills, child of Europe,
 Inheritor of gothic cathedrals, of baroque churches,
 Of synagogues filled with the wailing of a wronged people.
 Successor of Descartes, Spinoza, inheritor of the word "honor,"
 posthumous child of Leonidas,
 Treasure the skills acquired in the hour of terror.

 You have a clever mind which sees instantly
 The good and bad of any situation.
 You have an elegant, skeptical mind which enjoys pleasures
 Quite unknown to primitive races.

 Guided by this mind you cannot fail to see
 The soundness of the advice we give you:
 Let the sweetness of day fill your lungs.
 For this we have strict but wise rules.


 There can be no question of force triumphant.
 We live in the age of victorious justice.

 Do not mention force, or you will be accused
 Of upholding fallen doctrines in secret.

 He who has power, has it by historical logic.
 Respectfully bow to that logic.

 Let your lips, proposing a hypothesis,
 Not know about the hand faking the experiment.

 Let your hand, faking the experiment,
 Not know about the lips proposing a hypothesis.

 Learn to predict a fire with unerring precision.

 Then burn the house down to fulfill the prediction.


 Grow your tree of falsehood from a small grain of truth.
 Do not follow those who lie in contempt of reality.

 Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself,
 So the weary travelers may find repose in the lie.

 After the Day of the Lie gather in select circles,
 Shaking with laughter when our real deeds are mentioned.

 Dispensing flattery called: perspicacious thinking.
 Dispensing flattery called: a great talent.

 We, the last who can still draw joy from cynicism.
 We, whose cunning is not unlike despair.

 A new, humorless generation is now arising,
 It takes in deadly earnest all we received with laughter.


 Let your words speak not through their meanings,
 But through them against whom they are used.

 Fashion your weapon from ambiguous words.
 Consign clear words to lexical limbo.

 Judge no words before the clerks have checked
 In their card index by whom they were spoken.

 The voice of passion is better that the voice of reason.
 The passionless cannot change history.


 Love no country: countries soon disappear.
 Love no city: cities are soon rubble.

 Throw away keepsakes, or from your desk
 A choking, poisonous fume will exude.

 Do not love people: people soon perish.
 Or they are wronged and call for your help.

 Do not gaze into the pools of the past.
 Their corroded surface will mirror
 A face different from the one you expected.


 He who invokes history is always secure.
 The dead will not rise to witness against him.

 You can accuse them of any deed you like.
 Their reply will always be silence.

 Their empty faces swim out of the deep dark.
 You can fill them with any features desired.

 Proud of dominion over people long vanished,
 Change the past into your own, better likeness.


 The laughter born of the love of truth
 Is now the laughter of the enemies of the people.

 Gone is the age of satire.  We no longer need mock
 The senile tyrant with false courtly phrases.

 Stern as befits the servants of a cause,
 We will permit ourselves only sycophantic humor.

 Tight-lipped, guided by reasons only,
 Cautiously let us step into the era of the unchained fire.
-- Czeslaw Milosz
My father sent me this poem, writing, "I believe this is one of the most
profound descriptions of the twentieth century that I have read. I think
that it was written in Poland in 1945."  I completely agree.  Milosz has
a gift for infusing his poetry with history and our obligations, as he
says in another poem, "Dedication," "What is a poetry which does not
save/Nations or people?"  His command of imagery is amazing, and I've
found it impossible to read this and not be overwhelmed with the guilt
and cynicism he describes.

For some quick biographical information:

 Czeslaw Milosz was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980;
 indeed, he is one of the greatest writers living today. Born in
 Lithuania in 1911, Czeslaw Milosz witnessed the turmoil of early
 twentieth-century Europe. In the thirties, he became a leader of the
 Polish avant-garde poetry movement and during World War II, a member of
 the resistance. The weight of Milosz's poetry arises from his
 remembering that man is inextricably linked to his history. Milosz
 deftly fuses historical and individual elements, making his poetry "a
 kind of higher politics, an unpolitical politics." In the forties,
 Czeslaw Milosz served as diplomat for Poland's communist regime in
 Washington, D.C.; however, in 1951, he defected to Paris where he spent
 the next decade as a freelance writer. He continued to write in Polish
 for the people he could no longer be with -- about lost homelands, the
 search for identity, and political repression. Through his poetry,
 Milosz struggles to understand human nature in its entirety, and he
 teaches that "we must lift ourselves over new thresholds of
 consciousness; that to aim at higher and higher thresholds is our only

 In 1961, Czeslaw Milosz was offered a lectureship in Polish Literature
 at the University of California; soon he became professor of Slavic
 languages and literatures. His published works include: Native Realm,
 The Issa Valley, Czeslaw Milosz: The Collected Poems 1931-1987, The
 Separate Notebooks, Bells in Winter, and A Year of the Hunter, and
 Roadside Dog among others. In January 2001 his book of "memories, dreams
 & reflections," Milosz's ABC'S (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) was published.
 In April of 2001, Czeslaw Milosz will publish his book length poem,
 Treatise on Poetry (Ecco Press, HarperCollins - translated by Robert
 Hass). His other forthcoming (2001-2002) works include New & Collected
 Poems, Selected Prose, as well as Legends of Modernity.

        -- [broken link]

In Railway Halls, on Pavements Near the Traffic -- Stephen Spender

Guest poem sent in by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #836) In Railway Halls, on Pavements Near the Traffic
 In railway halls, on pavements near the traffic,
 They beg, their eyes made big by empty staring
 And only measuring Time, like the blank clock.

 No, I shall weave no tracery of pen-ornament
 To make them birds upon my singing tree:
 Time merely drives these lives which do not live
 As tides push rotten stuff along the shore.

  - There is no consolation, no, none
 In the curving beauty of that line
 Traces on our graphs through history, where the oppressor
 Starves and deprives the poor.

 Paint here no draped despairs, no saddening clouds
 Where the soul rests, proclaims eternity.
 But let the wrong cry out as raw as wounds
 This Time forgets and never heals, far less transcends.
-- Stephen Spender
This is one of those poems that contain within themselves the best that can
be said about them: "Paint here no draped despairs...But let the wrong cry
out as raw as wounds". In a way, I think, that sums up most of Spender's
work - what I have always admired about his poetry is its unflinching
honesty, its refusal to either stylise or make conversational. Spender
writes the simple truth the best way he can, so that even his metaphors
(though beautiful) seem to be hammered into the poem. One feels in Spender,
like one does in almost no one else, the effort of the writing - and while
this may not seem much of a recommendation, it gives his poems an air of
knowing weariness, making them that much more real. Spender has neither the
airy intelligence of Auden nor MacNiece's flowing way with words: he has
only an earthy gravity of feeling, but that too, as this poem clearly
demonstrates, is a rare and splendid gift.



There Was a Little Girl -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(Poem #835) There Was a Little Girl
     There was a little girl,
     Who had a little curl,
 Right in the middle of her forehead.
     When she was good,
     She was very good indeed,
 But when she was bad she was horrid.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Having known and loved and quoted and parodied this little verselet for most
of my life, it came as quite a surprise to see that it was written not by
that most prolific duo, Anon. and Trad., but by the decidedly nonymous

At least I'm not alone in making the mistake - from the UToronto site:

  Longfellow's second son Ernest says of this poem: "It was while walking up
  and down with his second daughter, then a baby in his arms, that my father
  composed and sang to her the well-known lines .... Many people think this
  a Mother-Goose rhyme, but this is the true version and history"


Note, too that the penultimate line is more commonly misquoted "She was
very, very good".


[broken link]


All the Longfellow poems on Minstrels:

  Poem #172 'Paul Revere's Ride'
  Poem #362 'Hiawatha's Departure'
  Poem #629 'The Slave's Dream'
  Poem #717 'The Wreck of the Hesperus'

Plus a couple of Longfellow parodies:
  Poem #559 George A. Strong, 'The Modern Hiawatha'
  Poem #561 Anon., 'The Metre Columbian'


Soup -- Carl Sandburg

(Poem #834) Soup
 I saw a famous man eating soup.
 I say he was lifting a fat broth
 Into his mouth with a spoon.
 His name was in the newspapers that day
 Spelled out in tall black headlines
 And thousands of people were talking about him.

     When I saw him,
 He sat bending his head over a plate
 Putting soup in his mouth with a spoon.
-- Carl Sandburg
A nice little vignette that makes a simple point, but makes it well: even
the rich and famous are like you and I [1].

Sandburg's unadorned, unpretentious style lends itself well to snippets like
this. Today's poem does not have the rollicking energy, the sweeping
syllables of "Chicago". Nor does it have the subtle beauty, the delicate
imagery of "Crucible" and "Pennsylvania". But it does not need either of
these to succeed. Instead, the impact of "Soup" is in all the little
touches, the splashes of detail, in phrases such as 'tall black headlines'
and 'bending his head over a plate'. Skilfully done.


[1]     "The rich are different from you and me." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald.
        "Yes, they have more money." -- Ernest Hemingway.


While Sandburg's passionate unstructured verse may have invigorated American
poetry when it was first published in the early years of this century, in
recent years it has fallen out of favour with critics due to its seeming
lack of discipline. Read
for more on this subject.

Poems by Sandburg on the Minstrels:
Poem #5, Chicago
Poem #163, Dust
Poem #205, Crucible
Poem #235, Pennsylvania
Poem #282, Fog
Poem #679, Maybe
Poem #713, Last Answers
The second and third of these have biographies, from EB and

Washing the Dishes -- Christopher Morley

(Poem #833) Washing the Dishes
 When we on simple rations sup
 How easy is the washing up!
 But heavy feeding complicates
 The task by soiling many plates.

 And though I grant that I have prayed
 That we might find a serving-maid,
 I'd scullion all my days I think,
 To see Her smile across the sink!

 I wash, she wipes. In water hot
 I souse each pan and dish and pot;
 While Taffy mutters, purrs, and begs,
 And rubs himself against my legs.

 The man who never in his life
 Has washed the dishes with his wife
 Or polished up the silver plate--
 He still is largely celibate.

 One warning: there is certain ware
 That must be handled with all care:
 The Lord Himself will give you up
 If you should drop a willow cup!
-- Christopher Morley
Notes: From Chimneysmoke (1921)
       souse (v): soak, immerse, steep

A charming little poem, presenting an unexpected perspective on domestic
bliss. The poet's thesis is neatly summed up in the penultimate verse:

       The man who never in his life
       Has washed the dishes with his wife
       Or polished up the silver plate--
       He still is largely celibate.

The last verse is merely an anticlimax, bringing the poem to a gentle
conclusion - the main impact, despite the distraction of a final punchline,
is definitely in the verse before.


There's an accompanying illustration - see
  [broken link]

We've run one Morley poem, complete with biography (and don't miss Sunil
Iyengar's comment at the end): poem #553


Love Minus Zero / No Limit -- Bob Dylan

Guest poem submitted by Zenobia Driver:
(Poem #832) Love Minus Zero / No Limit
 My love she speaks like silence,
 Without ideals or violence,
 She doesn't have to say she's faithful,
 Yet she's true, like ice, like fire.
 People carry roses,
 Make promises by the hours,
 My love she laughs like the flowers,
 Valentines can't buy her.

 In the dime stores and bus stations,
 People talk of situations,
 Read books, repeat quotations,
 Draw conclusions on the wall.
 Some speak of the future,
 My love she speaks softly,
 She knows there's no success like failure
 And that failure's no success at all.

 The cloak and dagger dangles,
 Madams light the candles.
 In ceremonies of the horsemen,
 Even the pawn must hold a grudge.
 Statues made of match sticks,
 Crumble into one another,
 My love winks, she does not bother,
 She knows too much to argue or to judge.

 The bridge at midnight trembles,
 The country doctor rambles,
 Bankers' nieces seek perfection,
 Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring.
 The wind howls like a hammer,
 The night blows cold and rainy,
 My love she's like some raven
 At my window with a broken wing.
-- Bob Dylan
There was this concert in Bombay on Dylan's birthday where a lot of Indian
artists sang his songs. Some of them were putrid singers but some were
really nice. There was someone called Geeta Raheja who sang Joan Baez's
'Diamonds and Rust' and it was brilliant - partly due to the atmosphere - it
was amazing, just when she began, this wind sprang up out of nowhere and the
leaves in the trees started rustling and suddenly the sky turned cloudy -
and there she was on stage, singing beautifully in a plain dark black saree.
Amazing effect. Just for that song alone the concert was worth it. Kim
Cardoz sang 'House of the Rising Sun' really well too. And someone whose
name I disremember sang 'love minus zero'. I had never heard the song before
and fell in love with it. I have no clue what the original is like and
whether he was mauling it, but I liked the way he sang it. Hence the hunt
for the lyrics and this poem.


[Minstrels Links]

Bob Dylan:
Poem #112, Mr.Tambourine Man
Poem #227, Desolation Row

And the inspiration for his assumed name, Dylan Thomas:
Poem #14, Prologue
Poem #38, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Poem #58, The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower
Poem #138, Fern Hill
Poem #225, Poem In October
Poem #270, Under Milk Wood
Poem #335, After the Funeral (In memory of Ann Jones)
Poem #405, Altarwise by Owl-Light (Stanzas I - IV)
Poem #476, In my craft or sullen art
Poem #568, Especially when the October Wind

The Soldiers at Lauro -- Spike Milligan

Guest poem submitted by Siddhartha Joshi:
(Poem #831) The Soldiers at Lauro
 Young are our dead
 Like babies they lie
 The wombs they blest once
 Not healed dry
 And yet - too soon
 Into each space
 A cold earth falls
 On colder face.
 Quite still they lie
 These fresh-cut reeds
 Clutched in earth
 Like winter seeds
 But they will not bloom
 When called by spring
 To burst with leaf
 And blossoming
 They sleep on
 In silent dust
 As crosses rot
 And helmets rust.
-- Spike Milligan
Spike has a magical way with words. The ability to make a poem seem absurdly
simple to compose when it is anything but - unless you are blessed with the
skill - is very rare indeed. In "...Lauro" he captures the choked poignancy
of the moment of burying the dead deftly and with great economy of words. He
manages, at the same time to convey his silent, sad, hopeless anger at the
utter stupidity of war and it abbreviation of a life already too brief.


[Minstrels Links]

A very different sort of poem by Milligan is the light-hearted "Teeth",
Poem #701 on the Minstrels. There's a biography accompanying it.