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Porphyria's Lover -- Robert Browning

A Halloween guest poem sent in by David Wright
(Poem #1109) Porphyria's Lover
 The rain set early in tonight,
 The sullen wind was soon awake,
 It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
 And did its worst to vex the lake:
 I listened with heart fit to break.
 When glided in Porphyria; straight
 She shut the cold out and the storm,
 And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
 Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
 Which done, she rose, and from her form
 Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
 And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
 Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
 And, last, she sat down by my side
 And called me. When no voice replied,
 She put my arm about her waist,
 And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
 And all her yellow hair displaced,
 And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
 And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,
 Murmuring how she loved me -- she
 Too weak, for all her heart's endeavor,
 To set its struggling passion free
 From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
 And give herself to me forever.
 But passion sometimes would prevail,
 Nor could tonight's gay feast restrain
 A sudden thought of one so pale
 For love of her, and all in vain:
 So, she was come through wind and rain.
 Be sure I looked up at her eyes
 Happy and proud; at last l knew
 Porphyria worshiped me: surprise
 Made my heart swell, and still it grew
 While I debated what to do.
 That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
 Perfectly pure and good: I found
 A thing to do, and all her hair
 In one long yellow string I wound
 Three times her little throat around,
 And strangled her. No pain felt she;
 I am quite sure she felt no pain.
 As a shut bud that holds a bee,
 I warily oped her lids: again
 Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
 And I untightened next the tress
 About her neck; her cheek once more
 Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
 I propped her head up as before,
 Only, this time my shoulder bore
 Her head, which droops upon it still:
 The smiling rosy little head,
 So glad it has its utmost will,
 That all it scorned at once is fled,
 And I, its love, am gained instead!
 Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
 Her darling one wish would be heard.
 And thus we sit together now,
 And all night long we have not stirred,
 And yet God has not said a word!
-- Robert Browning
    This early dramatic monologue by Robert Browning is just such a ghastly
delight!  It has few of the subtleties of the later monologues, and the
macabre melodrama of it really runs the risk of becoming comic at one or two
points, but even some of this is intentional, I think.  (The pathetic little
clarifying aside "Only, this time my shoulder bore Her head", for instance -
the matter-of-factness of that detail and the narrator’s attention to it
just thrusts his madness fully home.)

    Of course the main treat, or trick, for readers new to this poem is that
shocking change of direction, such a violent swerve in the middle of the
poem.  Compare to the line in ‘My Last Duchess’ - "This grew; I gave
commands; Then all smiles stopped together." So much more left to the
imagination in that, and a much more chilling poem.

    Still, I love this earlier poem, with its sensationalistic gothic
effect, its enthusiasm for the perverse.  And Browning’s great skill, even
here, with the narrative voice - the natural flow of thought and direction
of attention over the line-breaks, that enjoyable Browning tension between
the rigorous structure and the conversational voice.  The prevalent pathetic
fallacy in which the narrator's feelings completely color everything he
views.  The narrator's methodical progress in telling the story, his
defensiveness about disputable points ('No pain felt she, I am quite sure
she felt no pain.') his desperate attempt to justify, to explain the
rightness of what he has done, even going so far as to impute thoughts to
the lolling head of his corpse-lover, I suppose the ultimate fulfillment for
a control-freak.

    But then the crack in the narrator's facade - that last line, which just
looms out of the chasm, and goes echoing around the empty heavens of this
irredeemable sinner’s lost world - the worst horror of all: that the
narrator may indeed have a conscience somewhere that appreciates his act.
Strong echoes of Othello, and you know the narrator will hurl himself from
some precipice or overdose on some opiate, or worse - wind up a raver in
Bedlam.  Shiver!

David Wright
Seattle Public Library

Seven Laments for the War-Dead -- Yehuda Amichai

Guest poem sent in by Vidur Bhandari
(Poem #1108) Seven Laments for the War-Dead
 Mr. Beringer, whose son
 fell at the Canal that strangers dug
 so ships could cross the desert,
 crosses my path at Jaffa Gate.

 He has grown very thin, has lost
 the weight of his son.
 That's why he floats so lightly in the alleys
 and gets caught in my heart like little twigs
 that drift away.

 As a child he would mash his potatoes
 to a golden mush.
 And then you die.

 A living child must be cleaned
 when he comes home from playing.
 But for a dead man
 earth and sand are clear water, in which
 his body goes on being bathed and purified

 The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
 across there. On the enemy's side. A good landmark
 for gunners of the future.

 Or the war monument in London
 at Hyde Park Corner, decorated
 like a magnificent cake: yet another soldier
 lifting head and rifle,
 another cannon, another eagle, another
 stone angel.

 And the whipped cream of a huge marble flag
 poured over it  all
 with an expert hand.

 But the candied, much-too-red cherries
 were already gobbled up
 by the glutton of hearts. Amen.

 I came upon an old zoology textbook,
 Brehm, Volume II, Birds:
 in sweet phrases, an account of the life of the starling,
 swallow, and thrush. Full of mistakes in antiquated
 Gothic typeface, but full of love, too. "Our feathered
 friends." "Migrate from us to warmer climes."
 Nest, speckled egg, soft plumage, nightingale,
 stork. "The harbirngers of spring." The robin,

 Year of publication: 1913, Germany,
 on the eve of the war that was to be
 the eve of all my wars.
 My good friend who died in my arms, in
 his blood,
 on the sands of Ashdod. 1948, June.

 Oh my-friend,

 Dicky was hit.
 Like the water tower at Yad Mordekhai.
 Hit. A hole in the belly. Everything
 came flooding out.

 But he has remained standing like that
 in the landscape of my memory
 like the water tower at Yad Mordekhai.

 He fell not far from there,
 a little to the north, near Houlayqat.

 Is all of this
 sorrow? I don't know.
 I stood in the cemetery dressed in
 the camouflage clothes of a living man: brown pants
 and a shirt yellow as the sun.

 Cemeteries are cheap; they don't ask for much.
 Even the wastebaskets are small, made for holding
 tissue paper
 that wrapped flowers from the store.
 Cemeteries are a polite and disciplined thing.
 "I Shall never forget you," in French
 on a little ceramic plaque.
 I don't know who it is that won't ever forget:
 he's more anonymous than the one who died.

 Is all of this sorrow? I guess so.
 "May ye find consolation in the building
 of the homeland." But how long
 can you go on building the homeland
 and not fall behind in the terrible
 three-sided race
 between consolation and building and death?

 Yes, all of this is sorrow. But leave
 a little love burining always
 like the small bulb in the room of a sleeping baby
 that gives him a bit of security and quiet love
 though he doesn't know what the light is
 or where it comes from.

 Memorial Day for the war-dead: go tack on
 the grief of all your losses--
 including a woman who left you--
 to the grief of losing them; go mix
 one sorrow with another, like history,
 that in its economical way
 heaps pain and feast and sacrifice
 onto a single day for easy reference.

 Oh sweet world, soaked like bread
 in sweet milk for the terrible
 toothless God. "Behind all this,
 some great happiness is hiding." No use
 crying inside and screaming outside.
 Behind all this, some great happiness may
 be hiding.

 Memorial day. Bitter salt, dressed up as
 a little girl with flowers.
 Ropes are strung out the whole length of the route
 for a joing parade: the living and the dead together.
 Children move with the footsteps of someone else's grief
 as if picking their way through broken glass.

 The flautist's mouth will stay pursed for many days.
 A dead soldier swims among the small heads
 with the swimming motions of the dead,
 with the ancient error the dead have
 about the place of the living water.

 A flag loses contact with reality and flies away
 A store window decked out with beautiful dresses for women
 in blue and white. And everything
 in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic and Death.

 A great royal beast has been dying all night long
 under the jasmine,
 with a fixed stare at the world.
 A man whose son died in the war
 walks up the street
 like a woman with a dead fetus inside her womb.
 "Behind all this, some great happiness is hiding."
-- Yehuda Amichai
           (trans. Stephen Mitchell, Chana Bloch)

Note: Amichai is probably the most widely translated Hebrew poet. This
September marked his second death anniversary.

"Seven Laments..." carries Amichai's trademark simplicty, his ability to
bring out the poignancy in the ordinary. Any comment I offer would be
ineffectual. Although the individual sections stand by themselves, the poem
works best as a whole. People I've shared the poem with ask me which lament
I like best, but I refuse to ponder that. I transcribed the poem from the
book "Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai" and have tried to faithfully
reproduce the published format, but it is rather lengthy, so it's possible
it isn't perfect.

It is said Amichai is a difficult poet to translate because he used a lot of
clever word play -- he would use similar sounding Hebrew words to bring
subtle (and not so subtle) twists in meaning. Obviously much of this was
lost in translation. "Seven Laments..." was translated by Stephen Mitchell
(who remains my favourite translator of Rilke) and Chana Bloch (who lives
and works in Berkeley, California). Chana Bloch and I exchanged email some
time ago about the work and life of this extraordinary person. She was
fortunate enough to spend extended periods of time with Amichai in Israel,
working on translations.


Biography and appreciation of Amichai:

Separation -- W S Merwin

(Poem #1107) Separation
 Your absence has gone through me
 Like thread through a needle.
 Everything I do is stitched with its color.
-- W S Merwin
A startling, compelling poem - note the inversion of the usual 'your absence
has left a hole in me' imagery. The idea of a 'positive' absence is unusual,
but it has a definite *rightness* to it, which Merwin captures brilliantly in
his metaphor.

This is one of those poems about which one could quibble endlessly, wondering
what exactly makes it a 'poem'. That's a thorny enough area, though, that to
hack through it would divert attention from the poem itself, and thereby miss
the point entirely. Personally, I'd rather just appreciate it.


 Biography of Merwin:
  [broken link]

 Today's poem is very reminiscent of Atwood - see, for instance, Poem #1093

Locksley Hall -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

(Poem #1106) Locksley Hall
 Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet 't is early morn:
 Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn.

 'T is the place, and all around it, as of old, the curlews call,
 Dreary gleams about the moorland flying over Locksley Hall;

 Locksley Hall, that in the distance overlooks the sandy tracts,
 And the hollow ocean-ridges roaring into cataracts.

 Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
 Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.

 Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro' the mellow shade,
 Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.

 Here about the beach I wander'd, nourishing a youth sublime
 With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time;

 When the centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
 When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:

 When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
 Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.--

 In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin's breast;
 In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;

 In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove;
 In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

 Then her cheek was pale and thinner than should be for one so young,
 And her eyes on all my motions with a mute observance hung.

 And I said, "My cousin Amy, speak, and speak the truth to me,
 Trust me, cousin, all the current of my being sets to thee."

 On her pallid cheek and forehead came a colour and a light,
 As I have seen the rosy red flushing in the northern night.

 And she turn'd--her bosom shaken with a sudden storm of sighs--
 All the spirit deeply dawning in the dark of hazel eyes--

 Saying, "I have hid my feelings, fearing they should do me wrong";
 Saying, "Dost thou love me, cousin?" weeping, "I have loved thee long."

 Love took up the glass of Time, and turn'd it in his glowing hands;
 Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.

 Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might;
 Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, pass'd in music out of sight.

 Many a morning on the moorland did we hear the copses ring,
 And her whisper throng'd my pulses with the fulness of the Spring.

 Many an evening by the waters did we watch the stately ships,
 And our spirits rush'd together at the touching of the lips.

 O my cousin, shallow-hearted! O my Amy, mine no more!
 O the dreary, dreary moorland! O the barren, barren shore!

 Falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung,
 Puppet to a father's threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue!

 Is it well to wish thee happy?--having known me--to decline
 On a range of lower feelings and a narrower heart than mine!

 Yet it shall be; thou shalt lower to his level day by day,
 What is fine within thee growing coarse to sympathize with clay.

 As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with a clown,
 And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down.

 He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
 Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.

 What is this? his eyes are heavy; think not they are glazed with wine.
 Go to him, it is thy duty, kiss him, take his hand in thine.

 It may be my lord is weary, that his brain is overwrought:
 Soothe him with thy finer fancies, touch him with thy lighter thought.

 He will answer to the purpose, easy things to understand--
 Better thou wert dead before me, tho' I slew thee with my hand!

 Better thou and I were lying, hidden from the heart's disgrace,
 Roll'd in one another's arms, and silent in a last embrace.

 Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth!
 Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!

 Cursed be the sickly forms that err from honest Nature's rule!
 Cursed be the gold that gilds the straiten'd forehead of the fool!

 Well--'t is well that I should bluster!--Hadst thou less unworthy proved--
 Would to God--for I had loved thee more than ever wife was loved.

 Am I mad, that I should cherish that which bears but bitter fruit?
 I will pluck it from my bosom, tho' my heart be at the root.

 Never, tho' my mortal summers to such length of years should come
 As the many-winter'd crow that leads the clanging rookery home.

 Where is comfort? in division of the records of the mind?
 Can I part her from herself, and love her, as I knew her, kind?

 I remember one that perish'd; sweetly did she speak and move;
 Such a one do I remember, whom to look at was to love.

 Can I think of her as dead, and love her for the love she bore?
 No--she never loved me truly; love is love for evermore.

 Comfort? comfort scorn'd of devils! this is truth the poet sings,
 That a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.

 Drug thy memories, lest thou learn it, lest thy heart be put to proof,
 In the dead unhappy night, and when the rain is on the roof.

 Like a dog, he hunts in dreams, and thou art staring at the wall,
 Where the dying night-lamp flickers, and the shadows rise and fall.

 Then a hand shall pass before thee, pointing to his drunken sleep,
 To thy widow'd marriage-pillows, to the tears that thou wilt weep.

 Thou shalt hear the "Never, never," whisper'd by the phantom years,
 And a song from out the distance in the ringing of thine ears;

 And an eye shall vex thee, looking ancient kindness on thy pain.
 Turn thee, turn thee on thy pillow; get thee to thy rest again.

 Nay, but Nature brings thee solace; for a tender voice will cry.
 'T is a purer life than thine, a lip to drain thy trouble dry.

 Baby lips will laugh me down; my latest rival brings thee rest.
 Baby fingers, waxen touches, press me from the mother's breast.

 O, the child too clothes the father with a dearness not his due.
 Half is thine and half is his: it will be worthy of the two.

 O, I see thee old and formal, fitted to thy petty part,
 With a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter's heart.

 "They were dangerous guides the feelings--she herself was not exempt--
 Truly, she herself had suffer'd"--Perish in thy self-contempt!

 Overlive it--lower yet--be happy! wherefore should I care?
 I myself must mix with action, lest I wither by despair.

 What is that which I should turn to, lighting upon days like these?
 Every door is barr'd with gold, and opens but to golden keys.

 Every gate is throng'd with suitors, all the markets overflow.
 I have but an angry fancy; what is that which I should do?

 I had been content to perish, falling on the foeman's ground,
 When the ranks are roll'd in vapour, and the winds are laid with sound.

 But the jingling of the guinea helps the hurt that Honour feels,
 And the nations do but murmur, snarling at each other's heels.

 Can I but relive in sadness? I will turn that earlier page.
 Hide me from my deep emotion, O thou wondrous Mother-Age!

 Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,
 When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;

 Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield,
 Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father's field,

 And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
 Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn;

 And his spirit leaps within him to be gone before him then,
 Underneath the light he looks at, in among the throngs of men:

 Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
 That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

 For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
 Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

 Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
 Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

 Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain'd a ghastly dew
 From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue;

 Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
 With the standards of the peoples plunging thro' the thunder-storm;

 Till the war-drum throbb'd no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
 In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

 There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
 And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

 So I triumph'd ere my passion sweeping thro' me left me dry,
 Left me with the palsied heart, and left me with the jaundiced eye;

 Eye, to which all order festers, all things here are out of joint:
 Science moves, but slowly, slowly, creeping on from point to point:

 Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion, creeping nigher,
 Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire.

 Yet I doubt not thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs,
 And the thoughts of men are widen'd with the process of the suns.

 What is that to him that reaps not harvest of his youthful joys,
 Tho' the deep heart of existence beat for ever like a boy's?

 Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore,
 And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.

 Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and he bears a laden breast,
 Full of sad experience, moving toward the stillness of his rest.

 Hark, my merry comrades call me, sounding on the bugle-horn,
 They to whom my foolish passion were a target for their scorn:

 Shall it not be scorn to me to harp on such a moulder'd string?
 I am shamed thro' all my nature to have loved so slight a thing.

 Weakness to be wroth with weakness! woman's pleasure, woman's pain--
 Nature made them blinder motions bounded in a shallower brain:

 Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, match'd with mine,
 Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine--

 Here at least, where nature sickens, nothing. Ah, for some retreat
 Deep in yonder shining Orient, where my life began to beat;

 Where in wild Mahratta-battle fell my father evil-starr'd,--
 I was left a trampled orphan, and a selfish uncle's ward.

 Or to burst all links of habit--there to wander far away,
 On from island unto island at the gateways of the day.

 Larger constellations burning, mellow moons and happy skies,
 Breadths of tropic shade and palms in cluster, knots of Paradise.

 Never comes the trader, never floats an European flag,
 Slides the bird o'er lustrous woodland, swings the trailer from the crag;

 Droops the heavy-blossom'd bower, hangs the heavy-fruited tree--
 Summer isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea.

 There methinks would be enjoyment more than in this march of mind,
 In the steamship, in the railway, in the thoughts that shake mankind.

 There the passions cramp'd no longer shall have scope and breathing space;
 I will take some savage woman, she shall rear my dusky race.

 Iron-jointed, supple-sinew'd, they shall dive, and they shall run,
 Catch the wild goat by the hair, and hurl their lances in the sun;

 Whistle back the parrot's call, and leap the rainbows of the brooks,
 Not with blinded eyesight poring over miserable books--

 Fool, again the dream, the fancy! but I know my words are wild,
 But I count the gray barbarian lower than the Christian child.

 I, to herd with narrow foreheads, vacant of our glorious gains,
 Like a beast with lower pleasures, like a beast with lower pains!

 Mated with a squalid savage--what to me were sun or clime?
 I the heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time--

 I that rather held it better men should perish one by one,
 Than that earth should stand at gaze like Joshua's moon in Ajalon!

 Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,
 Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.

 Thro' the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
 Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.

 Mother-Age (for mine I knew not) help me as when life begun:
 Rift the hills, and roll the waters, flash the lightnings, weigh the Sun.

 O, I see the crescent promise of my spirit hath not set.
 Ancient founts of inspiration well thro' all my fancy yet.

 Howsoever these things be, a long farewell to Locksley Hall!
 Now for me the woods may wither, now for me the roof-tree fall.

 Comes a vapour from the margin, blackening over heath and holt,
 Cramming all the blast before it, in its breast a thunderbolt.

 Let it fall on Locksley Hall, with rain or hail, or fire or snow;
 For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go.
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Today's poem is finely balanced between controlled narrative and
stream-of-consciousness, a genuinely compelling trip that takes us through
the narrator's several moods and twists of fortune, and one that held me
spellbound throughout. Quite apart from the considerable pleasure the poetry
afforded me, the first time I read it I found myself almost breathlessly
reading on as fast as I could, caught up in the sheer power of the

Returning to the poetic aspect, this is typically beautiful Tennyson, vivid
and melodious, highlighting his gift for description and metaphor. It is
also quite possibly the best use of couplets I've ever seen in a long poem
(though, perhaps, helped by the strong break in the middle of each line,
which effectively turns them into the more usual quatrains).

The rhythms are wonderful too - long, metrical lines are a very pleasing
device when done right. Quoting the UTEL site:

  Mr. Hallam said to me that the English people liked verse in trochaics, so
  I wrote the poem in this metre" (Tennyson). (The metre is actually the old
  "fifteener" line of fifteen syllables.)

Though the poem *is* technically trochaic, it suffers from the usual tendency
of extended trochaic verse to flip, Necker-cube like, into iambics and back.
Doesn't harm the poem in any way, but it makes it really hard to write
perfect trochaic verse at any level more complex than 'Humpty Dumpty' -
indeed, I sometimes wonder whether it even makes sense to insist on aligning
the foot boundaries to yield trochees rather than iambs.

And finally, I think the "livelier iris" couplet (my favourite from the
poem, incidentally) makes its appearance in Wodehouse, but I can't quite
place it. Anyone?


  Some notes on the poem:

  Biography of Tennyson:

Sunrise Along Shore -- Lucy Maud Montgomery

(Poem #1105) Sunrise Along Shore
 Athwart the harbor lingers yet
     The ashen gleam of breaking day,
 And where the guardian cliffs are set
     The noiseless shadows steal away;
 But all the winnowed eastern sky
     Is flushed with many a tender hue,
     And spears of light are smiting through
 The ranks where huddled sea-mists fly.

 Across the ocean, wan and gray,
     Gay fleets of golden ripples come,
 For at the birth-hour of the day
     The roistering, wayward winds are dumb.
 The rocks that stretch to meet the tide
     Are smitten with a ruddy glow,
     And faint reflections come and go
 Where fishing boats at anchor ride.

 All life leaps out to greet the light --
     The shining sea-gulls dive and soar,
 The swallows whirl in dizzy flight,
     And sandpeeps flit along the shore.
 From every purple landward hill
     The banners of the morning fly,
     But on the headlands, dim and high,
 The fishing hamlets slumber still.

 One boat alone beyond the bar
     Is sailing outward blithe and free,
 To carry sturdy hearts afar
     Across those wastes of sparkling sea;
 Staunchly to seek what may be won
     From out the treasures of the deep,
     To toil for those at home who sleep
 And be the first to greet the sun.
-- Lucy Maud Montgomery
I occassionally enjoy these quiet little picture poems, that do nothing more
than describe a scene, and do so unsurprisingly but well. Today's is a
trifle over-adjectived, but charming enough; I think what tipped the balance
for me was the last line, with its utterly senseless act of beauty placed on
an equal footing with seeking the treasures of the deep and toiling for
those at home.

It doesn't hurt, too, that for sheer natural beauty dawn is my favourite
time of day - it lent that little extra to the poem's images that made all
the difference.



  A couple of beautiful dawn poems:
    Poem #113, Poem #609

Untitled -- Fernando Pessoa

Guest poem sent in by Steve Ornish
(Poem #1104) Untitled
 What grieves me is not
 What lies within the heart,
 But those things of beauty
 Which never can be . . .

 They are the shapeless shapes
 Which pass, though sorrow
 Cannot know them
 Nor love dream them.

 They are as though sadness
 Were a tree and, one by one,
 Its leaves were to fall
 Half outlined in the mist.
-- Fernando Pessoa
When Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese poet, died in 1935 his work was little
known, even in Portugal.   Over the last few decades, his fame has spread
and his poetry translated into many languages.

For me, this poem speaks to the grief--not from an actual loss (i.e., "not
what lies within the heart)--but from the unrealized experiences that occur
in relationships throughout one's life   "those things of beauty which can
never be."   The paradox is that we are mostly unconscious of these  missed
opportunities:  "the shapeless shapes which pass"  which cannot be known
through sorrow, love, or dreams.

-Steven A. Ornish, MD

Biography and some links:
  [broken link]

Prospice -- Robert Browning

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #1103) Prospice
 Fear death? -- to feel the fog in my throat,
 The mist in my face,
 When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
 I am nearing the place,
 The power of the night, the press of the storm,
 The post of the foe;
 Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
 Yet the strong man must go:
 For the journey is done and the summit attained,
 And the barriers fall.
 Tho' a battle's to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
 The reward of it all.
 I was ever a fighter, so -- one fight more,
 The best and the last!
 I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forebore,
 And bade me creep past.
 No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers
 The heroes of old,
 Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
 Of pain, darkness and cold.
 For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,
 The black minute's at end,
 And the elements' rage, the friend-voices that rave,
 Shall dwindle, shall blend,
 Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
 Then a light, then thy breast,
 O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
 And with God be the rest.
-- Robert Browning
"Prospice" (pro~spik'e~) means "Look Forward".  Browning wrote this shortly
after Elizabeth Barrett Browning's death in 1861.   The "soul of my soul" in
the last two lines is Elizabeth Barrett Browning in fact ...

This poem ranks with William Ernest Henley's "Invictus" and Tennyson's
"Crossing the Bar" as one of my favorite poems about men facing death with
sheer courage.

    "I was ever a fighter, so -- one fight more,
        The best and the last! "

A fight he knows he cannot win, and doesn't care, eagerly looking forward to


On a New Year's Eve -- June Jordan

Guest poem sent in by pavi
(Poem #1102) On a New Year's Eve
 Infinity doesn't interest me

 not altogether

 I crawl and kneel and grub about
 I beg and listen for

 what can go away
                   (as easily as love)

 or perish
 like the children
 hard on oneway streets/infinity
 doesn't interest me

 not anymore

 not even
 repetition your/my/eye-
 lid or the colorings of sunrise
 or all the sky excitement
 added up

 is not enough

 to satisfy this lusting admiration that I feel
 your brown arm before it


 the temporary sacred
 tales ago
 first bikeride round the house
 when you first saw a squat
 carry babies on her back

 opossum up
 in the persimmon tree
 you reeling toward
 that natural
 with so much wonder still
 it shakes your voice

                      the temporary is the sacred
                      takes me out

 and even the stars and even the snow and even
 the rain
 do not amount to much unless these things submit to some disturbance
 some derangement such
 as when I yield myself/belonging
 to your unmistaken

 and let the powerful lock up the canyon/mountain
 peaks the
 hidden rivers/waterfalls the
 deepdown minerals/the coalfields/goldfields
 diamond mines close by the whoring ore
 at the center of the earth

 spinning fast as numbers
 I cannot imagine

 let the world blot
 obliterate remove so-
 almighty/fathomless and everlasting
 (whatever that may be)

 it is this time
 that matters

 it is this history
 I care about

 the one we make together
 as a lame cat on the loose
 or quick as kids freed by the bell
 or else as strictly
 as only life must mean
 a once upon a time

 I have rejected propaganda teaching me
 about the beautiful
 the truly rare

 the soft push of the ocean at the hushpoint of the shore
 the soft push of the ocean at the hushpoint of the shore
 is beautiful
 for instance)
 the truly rare can stay out there

 I have rejected that
 abstraction that enormity
 unless I see a dog walk on the beach/
 a bird seize sandflies
 or yourself
 approach me
 laughing out a sound to spoil
 the pretty picture
 make an uncontrolled
 heartbeating memory

 I read the papers preaching on
 that oil and oxygen
 that redwoods and the evergreens
 that trees the waters and the atmosphere
 compile a final listing of the world in
 short supply

 but all alive and all the lives
 persist perpetual
 in jeopardy
 as scarce as every one of us
 as difficult to find
 or keep
 as irreplaceable
 as frail
 as every one of us

 as I watch your arm/your
 brown arm
 just before it moves

 I know

 all things are dear
 that disappear

 all things are dear
 that disappear
-- June Jordan
I'd never heard of June Jordan until one late evening at a university cafe.
An ex-student of hers pulled out a book of her verse and introduced us. I
learned then that she was an award-winning poet, a flame-spirited activist
and a UC Berkeley professor who taught classes and changed lives. I now
know, also, that she is one of the most published African-American voices
going - and one of the most remarkable.

June Jordan passed away this June, after battling cancer for over a decade.
I think this particular poem is very like her. Human - and beautiful. There's
a courageous sort of celebration built into it. The poem sings. By turns
defiant, tender, achingly wise. It exults in the lovely, the fallible. The
strictly once-upon-a-timeness of life has a beautiful and unbearable quality
to it. She writes it just so. There's (much) more that could be said, but
I'm stopping here. Looked up the minstrels site and found June Jordan
missing. This poem was an excuse to make the introduction.


ps While at Berkeley, June Jordan founded 'Poetry for the People' an
enormously popular undergraduate course, below is the link to a truly
inspired poem about her, written by an old student.

  [broken link]

There's a biography and several links at
  [broken link]

To Brooklyn Bridge -- Hart Crane

Guest poem sent in by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1101) To Brooklyn Bridge
 How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
 The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
 Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
 Over the chained bay waters Liberty--

 Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
 As apparitional as sails that cross
 Some page of figures to be filed away;
 --Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

 I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
 With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
 Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
 Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

 And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
 As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
 Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
 Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

 Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
 A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
 Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
 A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

 Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
 A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
 All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
 Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

 And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
 Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
 Of anonymity time cannot raise:
 Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

 O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
 (How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
 Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
 Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,--

 Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
 Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
 Beading thy path--condense eternity:
 And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

 Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
 Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
 The City's fiery parcels all undone,
 Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

 O Sleepless as the river under thee,
 Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
 Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
 And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
-- Hart Crane
The first thing that always strikes me about this poem is the way it
bristles with movement - reading it I am constantly aware of a dim
sensation of either rising into a sky brilliant with phrases or falling
into a helpless gravity (it's seldom that I step into a lift now without
the line "elevators drop us from our day" popping into my head); and I'm
enthralled by the way even something as fundamentally stationary as a
bridge becomes a moving object: a step, a curve, a trajectory.

The other fascinating thing about it of course, is the delicate balance
Crane manages to strike between the divine and the industrial - the
poem is filled with mundane, metallic images - girders, derricks, iron,
acetylene - but the poem somehow lifts them all into a different plane, so
that Quixote like, we see the bridge and the derricks not simply for what
they are but rather as Titans, as Gods mighty and merciless.


P.S. Searching through the Minstrel Archives I find (to my horror!)
that none of Hart Crane's poems have ever been run on Minstrels. I'm
including therefore a brief biography of the man:

 Born in 1899 in Garrettsville, Ohio, Harold Hart Crane was a highly anxious
 and volatile child. He began writing verse in his early teenage years, and
 though he never attended college, read regularly on his own, digesting the
 works of the Elizabethan dramatists and poets -- Shakespeare, Marlowe, and
 Donne -- and the nineteenth-century French poets -- Vildrac, Laforgue, and

 His father, a candy manufacturer, attempted to dissuade him from a career
 in poetry, but Crane was determined to follow his passion to write. Living
 in New York City, he associated with many important figures in literature
 of the time, including Allen Tate, Katherine Anne Porter, E. E. Cummings,
 and Jean Toomer, but his heavy drinking and chronic instability frustrated
 any attempts at lasting friendship.

 An admirer of T. S. Eliot, Crane combined the influences of European
 literature and traditional versification with a particularly American
 sensibility derived from Walt Whitman. His major work, the book-length
 poem, The Bridge, expresses in ecstatic terms a vision of the historical
 and spiritual significance of America. Like Eliot, Crane used the landscape
 of the modern, industrialized city to create a powerful new symbolic
 literature. Hart Crane committed suicide in 1932, at the age of thirty-
 three, by jumping from the deck of a steamship sailing back to New York
 from Mexico.

   -- [broken link]

A Good Poem -- Roger McGough

Guest poem sent in by Zubaer Mahboob
(Poem #1100) A Good Poem
 I like a good poem
 one with lots of fighting
 in it. Blood, and the
 clanging of armour. Poems

 against Scotland are good,
 and poems that defeat
 the French with crossbows.
 I don't like poems that

 aren't about anything.
 Sonnets are wet and
 a waste of time.
 Also poems that don't

 know how to rhyme.
 If I was a poem
 I'd play football and
 get picked for England.
-- Roger McGough
This poem brought a wide, knowing grin to my face when I first read it. I
suspect that it will resonate with many other readers who were frustrated at
an early age by poetry that appeared wilfully obscure and who, even now,
shudder at some of the more inscrutable stuff that escapes all efforts at
analysis and understanding.

The charm of the poem lies in its directness and honesty.  Through the
poet's empathetic voice, the adolescent reader tells us just what he thinks
of poetry, and how he would like his cuppa. Who would deny him the sweet
irresistible pleasures of narrative verse, of poetry that rhymes and
rollicks and rolls off the tongue? Many of us, I'm sure, can still rattle
off from memory reams and reams of our favorite poems - think Browning's
"The Pied Piper" or Scott's "Young Lochinvar". (I especially like the
tongue-in-cheek "Also poems that don't/ know how to rhyme", given that the
poem itself doesn't rhyme either!) [It's even more tongue-in-cheek than that
- the one rhyme in the poem is "sonnets are wet and/ a waste of time/ also
poems that don't/ know how to rhyme" - martin]

McGough comes from Liverpool and rose to prominence in the 1960's. He has
been described by Betjeman as "long, tall, thin, and with drooping


[Martin adds]

We were way overdue for a McGough poem - he used to be my favourite modern
poet (indeed, practically the only one I really liked) when I was a kid, and
it's poems like this that explain why. "If I was a poem/ I'd play football/
and get picked for England" is an utterly original, and utterly brilliant
perspective on poetry, one that cuts through the reams of deconstruction and
analysis and speaks of the universal pleasure of a good poem.



  Biography, and a sadly moustacheless picture

  An interview with McGough:

Happiness -- Raymond Carver

Guest poem sent in by Hemant R. Mohapatra ...

Many Many thanks to a close friend Salima Virani for introducing
me to this truly enlightening piece.
(Poem #1099) Happiness
 So early it's still almost dark out.
 I'm near the window with coffee,
 and the usual early morning stuff
 that passes for thought.

 When I see the boy and his friend
 walking up the road
 to deliver the newspaper.

 They wear caps and sweaters,
 and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
 They are so happy
 they aren't saying anything, these boys.

 I think if they could, they would take
 each other's arm.
 It's early in the morning,
 and they are doing this thing together.

 They come on, slowly.
 The sky is taking on light,
 though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

 Such beauty that for a minute
 death and ambition, even love,
 doesn't enter into this.

 Happiness. It comes on
 unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
 any early morning talk about it.
-- Raymond Carver
I've always believed in the philosophy that happiness is not something you
can bump into walking back from work one fine evening. No! I believe you
have to search for it. It is necessary to look for it in every nook and
cranny of your daily life to finally get (to) it. Happiness is ephemeral
and needs to be savoured till as long as it lasts. What might seem to be
just a chore to someone could be the source of a world of joy to someone
else. I, personally, find myself capable of absorbing a lot of happiness
and joy by watching glowworms silently emitting a glum light on a dark
night. The way everything seems to look eerie and unfamiliar on a
moonlight trek is another example. In fact, I think it's hard to imagine
life without having the ability to feel one with the world watching a
clear star spangled nightsky.

The poem I've chosen for submission looks at happiness in a similar light.
Those who are familiar with `Peanuts' would instantly recognize the
resemblances with the 'Happiness is a warm Puppy' series. Nowhere does the
poem talk about meeting old friends, or earning a lot of money or
loving/`being loved by' someone. This happiness has transcended those
borders and gone way beyond the limited vocabulary of a human (Still, the
poet has done a great job going about it). All it talks about is a cold
wintery morning with two kids struggling to deliver earlymorning
newspapers.  Happiness, it seems, does come on unexpectedly and goes way
beyond any mode of expression.

This is one search we all owe to ourselves.


  Carver biography and poems: [broken link]

Indoor Games near Newbury -- John Betjeman

Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea
(Poem #1098) Indoor Games near Newbury
 In among the silver birches,
 Winding ways of tarmac wander
 And the signs to Bussock Bottom,
 Tussock Wood and Windy Break.
 Gabled lodges, tile-hung churches
 Catch the lights of our Lagonda
 As we drive to Wendy’s party,
 Lemon curd and Christmas cake

 Rich the makes of motor whirring
 Past the pine plantation purring
 Come up Hupmobile Delage.
 Short the way our chauffeurs travel
 Crunching over private gravel,
 Each from out his warm garage.

 O but Wendy, when the carpet
 Yielded to my indoor pumps.
 There you stood, your gold hair streaming,
 Handsome in the hall light gleaming
 There you looked and there you led me
 Off into the game of Clumps.

 Then the new Victrola playing;
 And your funny uncle saying
 "Choose your partners for a foxtrot.
 Dance until it's tea o'clock
 Come on young 'uns, foot it feetly."
 Was it chance that paired us neatly?
 I who loved you so completely.
 You who pressed me closely to you,
 Hard against your party frock.

 "Meet me when you've finished eating."
 So we met and no one found us.
 O that dark and furry cupboard,
 While the rest played hide-and-seek.
 Holding hands our two hearts beating.
 In the bedroom silence round us
 Holding hands and hardly hearing
 Sudden footstep, thud and shriek

 Love that lay too deep for kissing.
 "Where is Wendy? Wendy's missing."
 Love so pure it had to end.
 Love so strong that I was frightened
 When you gripped my fingers tight.
 And hugging, whispered "I'm your friend."

 Goodbye Wendy. Send the fairies,
 Pinewood elf and larch tree gnome.
 Spingle-spangled stars are peeping
 At the lush Lagonda creeping
 Down the winding ways of tarmac
 To the leaded lights of home.

 There among the silver birches,
 All the bells of all the churches
 Sounded in the bath-waste running
 Out into the frosty air.
 Wendy speeded my undressing.
 Wendy is the sheet's caressing
 Wendy bending gives a blessing.
 Holds me as I drift to dreamland
 Safe inside my slumber wear
-- John Betjeman
Your comment about childhood innocence and the difficulty of putting words
on child thoughts [Poem #1097] brought this beautiful poem to mind.

I have a recording of Betjeman reading the poem. It is a gem. Here is this
70-year old getting inside the mind of a child in a way that is completely
innocent. Given our modern paranoia about child abuse, I wonder if anyone
other than Betjeman could get away with it.


NB: Just as I tried to send this, my email program pointed out that it
might offend! Can you believe - even the machines are paranoid.

The End -- A A Milne

(Poem #1097) The End
 When I was One,
 I had just begun.

 When I was Two,
 I was nearly new.

 When I was Three,
 I was hardly Me.

 When I was Four,
 I was not much more.

 When I was Five,
 I was just alive.

 But now I am Six, I'm as clever as clever.
 So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
-- A A Milne
        (from "Now We Are Six")

I'm almost certain that Billy Collins had this childhood classic at the back
of his mind when he wrote "On Turning Ten" [Poem #1096]. He appears to have
answered from an adult perspective -- but one that would be interesting to
share with a 10-year-old,"  whereas Milne wrote from what he must have imagined
was a child's perspective. However. I think children of six have a much clearer
sense of anticipation of the future than the title of Milne's poem -- "The End"
-- would imply. They are just starting school, learning to read and write, and
they can already count quite well, certainly up to and beyond what Collins
calls "the first big number." I think that excitement about what comes next,
even if it is a little scary, is probably more dominant than the complacency of
"I think I'll be six for ever and ever."

Writing what is in children's minds, or what was in ones own mind as a child
or indeed at any time in the past,  is always a challenge; the more I look
at children the more I believe that even very small children think in more
complicated ways than many adults would like to believe.

To its credit, though, "The End" is a fine poem for early readers of
English, with its reassuring repeated syntactical structures on the one hand
and the rhymes that exhibit the devilish vagaries of English spelling on the

-- Vivian

On Turning Ten -- Billy Collins

Guest poem sent in by Gregory Marton
(Poem #1096) On Turning Ten
 The whole idea of it makes me feel
 like I'm coming down with something,
 something worse than any stomach ache
 or the headaches I get from reading in bad light--
 a kind of measles of the spirit,
 a mumps of the psyche,
 a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

 You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
 but that is because you have forgotten
 the perfect simplicity of being one
 and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
 But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
 At four I was an Arabian wizard.
 I could make myself invisible
 by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
 At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

 But now I am mostly at the window
 watching the late afternoon light.
 Back then it never fell so solemnly
 against the side of my tree house,
 and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
 as it does today,
 all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

 This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
 as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
 It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
 time to turn the first big number.

 It seems only yesterday I used to believe
 there was nothing under my skin but light.
 If you cut me I could shine.
 But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
 I skin my knees. I bleed.
-- Billy Collins
A very new friend, quickly becoming someone I feel like I've known my whole
life, sent me yesterday's poem, Litany in one of our first exchanges of
email, and so introduced me to our poet laureate.  I laughed and enjoyed it
and started to explore his other work online.  I found his imagined children
comforting, and his flawed adults familiar.  On Turning Ten was my favorite
and with it I replied.

Where Litany had beautifully caricatured beauty (of which Atwood's
'Variations on the word "sleep"'[Poem #1093] was a delightful example), On
Turning Ten reminds us that we each have it inside.  We sat on a sailboat
yesterday immersed in wonder, and she said if you would cut her today, she'd
shine.  So, indeed, would I.

Warmest wishes,