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The Pumpkin -- John Greenleaf Whittier

U.S. Thanksgiving Day guest poem sent in by Vidur
(Poem #1119) The Pumpkin
 Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
 The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
 And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
 With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
 Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
 While he waited to know that his warning was true,
 And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
 For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

 On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
 Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
 And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
 Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
 Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
 On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
 Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
 And the sun of September melts down on his vines.

 Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
 >From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
 When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
 The old broken links of affection restored,
 When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
 And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
 What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
 What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

 Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
 When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
 When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
 Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
 When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
 Our chair a broad pumpkin,--our lantern the moon,
 Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
 In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

 Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
 E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
 Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
 Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine!
 And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
 Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
 That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
 And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
 And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
 Golden-tinted and fair as thy own pumpkin pie!
-- John Greenleaf Whittier
thanksgiving is here. quite a big deal for those of us in the united states.
what i love about this holiday, even more than having a 4-day weekend, even
more than getting together with friends and family, is pumpkin pie!

no, really. i mean, why bother with the almost-tasteless turkey and mashed
potatoes. why not just go straight to the pie?!

in fact, i think pumpkin pie is the best thing to come out of america.
seriously. i thought long and hard, and couldn't come up with any other
truly american thing that's even close. pumpkin cheesecake, maybe. but that
still comes second.

so here's a poem that is an ode to *the* pie, written by a 19th century
american poet, john greenleaf whittier. (well, it's obviously much more than
an ode, but it works well as one). i rather like the way the poem traces the
life of a pumpkin from the vine to the oven, touching upon universal themes
of childhood, love and family.

"and the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less"



Octopus -- Arthur Clement Hilton

(Poem #1118) Octopus
 Strange beauty, eight-limbed and eight-handed,
     Whence camest to dazzle our eyes?
 With thy bosom bespangled and banded
     With the hues of the seas and the skies;
 Is thy home European or Asian,
     O mystical monster marine?
 Part molluscous and partly crustacean,
     Betwixt and between.

 Wast thou born to the sound of sea trumpets?
     Hast thou eaten and drunk to excess
 Of the sponges -- thy muffins and crumpets,
     Of the seaweed -- thy mustard and cress?
 Wast thou nurtured in caverns of coral,
     Remote from reproof or restraint?
 Art thou innocent, art thou immoral,
     Sinburnian or Saint?

 Lithe limbs, curling free, as a creeper
     That creeps in a desolate place,
 To enroll and envelop the sleeper
     In a silent and stealthy embrace,
 Cruel beak craning forward to bite us,
     Our juices to drain and to drink,
 Or to whelm us in waves of Cocytus,
     Indelible ink!

 O breast, that 'twere rapture to writhe on!
     O arms 'twere delicious to feel
 Clinging close with the crush of the Python,
     When she maketh her murderous meal!
 In thy eight-fold embraces enfolden,
     Let our empty existence escape,
 Give us death that is glorious and golden,
     Crushed all out of shape!

 Ah! thy red lips, lascivious and luscious,
     With death in their amorous kiss,
 Cling round us, and clasp us, and crush us,
     With bitings of agonised bliss;
 We are sick with the poison of pleasure,
     Dispense us the potion of pain;
 Ope thy mouth to its uttermost measure
     And bite us again!

 By Algernon Charles Sin-Burn
-- Arthur Clement Hilton
Note: A parody of Swinburne's "Dolores"

There are some parodies whose pleasure stems in good part from the sheer
painfulness of the original, and Octopus is definitely one such. 'Dolores'
is a poem I had great difficulty getting through - while each individual
verse is perfectly readable, there are way too many of them, and their
sequencing fails to capture my interest. Indeed, 'Octopus' is very like
Lewis Carroll's parodies in Alice, funny on their own, but much funnier once
you read the poems whose high tone they're mocking.

No real commentary on the poem itself - I just enjoy seeing a poet having
fun at another poet's well-deserved expense.


p.s. doesn't "strange beauty eight limbed and eight handed" sound like it
should open a limerick?



UTEL's notes on the poem:

Biography of Hilton:

Home-thoughts, from the Sea -- Robert Browning

(Poem #1117) Home-thoughts, from the Sea
 Nobly, nobly Cape Saint Vincent to the North-west died away;
 Sunset ran, one glorious blood-red, reeking into Cadiz Bay;
 Bluish 'mid the burning water, full in face Trafalgar lay;
 In the dimmest North-east distance dawn'd Gibraltar grand and gray;
 'Here and here did England help me: how can I help England?'--say,
 Whoso turns as I, this evening, turn to God to praise and pray,
 While Jove's planet rises yonder, silent over Africa.
-- Robert Browning
Today's poem is vintage Browning, from the effortlessly flowing rhythm to
the intensity and sheer energy of the imagery. It's a rare poet who can get
away with a line as florid as

 Sunset ran, one glorious blood-red, reeking into Cadiz bay

but Browning unquestionably does, sweeping the reader along with his
vivider-than-life visions. True, the poem does falter a bit towards the
end, where the transition in mood from beauty-struck to contemplative isn't
quite as smooth as one might have wished, but that is a minor detail that it
soon recovers from.

It's also impressive that the entire poem is written with a single
end-rhyme, without the fact becoming at any time obtrusive (except at the
end, where Africa no longer rhymes with 'pray'[1]). The metre makes the poem
fall naturally and fairly tightly into couplets, so that the fact that
successive couplets have the same rhyme does not push itself forth as the
main feature of the verse. (Compare 'Sonnet With a Different Letter at the
End of Every Line' [Poem #194], where the whole point of the poem was the
aaaaaaaaaaaaaa rhyme scheme; here it is just an incidental detail).

Another wonderful thing about the poem is its metre, a strong, confident set
of trochaics in what UTEL calls[2] "the old 'fifteener' line of fifteen
syllables". Browning made use of it in several of his poems; I do not know
of anyone who does it better.

[1] I'm assuming it did at one point, since I can't really see Browning
deliberately spoiling the rhyme.
[2] in the commentary to Tennyson's "Locksley Hall"


Transit -- Richard Wilbur

(Poem #1116) Transit
 A woman I have never seen before
 Steps from the darkness of her town-house door
 At just that crux of time when she is made
 So beautiful that she or time must fade.

 What use to claim that as she tugs her gloves
 A phantom heraldry of all the loves
 Blares from the lintel? That the staggered sun
 Forgets, in his confusion, how to run?

 Still, nothing changes as her perfect feet
 Click down the walk that issues in the street,
 Leaving the stations of her body there
 As a whip maps the countries of the air.
-- Richard Wilbur
Today's poem is reminiscent of Sandburg's "Last Answers" [Poem #713] in its
trick of simultaneously illustrating and deprecating 'poetry'. There is more
to it than mere rhetorical trickery, of course - to quote one critic:

  In fact, the smooth surface of the Wilbur poem can successfully distract
  us from recognizing how unusual and unexpected are the twists and leaps
  that structure the poem’s narrative. Many poems by Wilbur, while striking
  a superficial "balance," implicitly celebrate, while demonstrating, the
  virtues of a wit that is elaborately playful.

and that certainly holds true for 'Transit'. I think what I enjoy most about
Wilbur's poetry is his unxepected ('elaborately playful' expresses it very
well) turns of phrase, evident here in the final couplet, where we are hit
with the twin images of "stations of her body" and "a whip maps the
countries of the air". (This tendency is even more evident in some of his
other poems, my favourite being "blurring to sheer verb", from "A

Parenthetically, the line "made so beautiful that she or time must fade"
seems to be a dig at Shakespeare, whose preoccupation with time and decay
permeates the sonnets, though the imagery in the next verse is more
reminiscent of a later generation of poets. And I have to admire the way
Wilbur makes the images his own, blending them into the poem at the same
time as he turns the critical, external eye of 'what use?' upon them.


  The Modern American Poetry site
  has everything one could wish for about Wilbur, including a biography:

Shine, Perishing Republic -- Robinson Jeffers

Guest poem sent in by Issa Mikel
(Poem #1115) Shine, Perishing Republic
 While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening
     to empire,
 And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
     mass hardens,
 I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
     to make earth.
 Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence;
     and home to the mother.

 You making haste, haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it
     stubbornly long or suddenly
 A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
     shine, perishing republic.
 But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the
     thickening center; corruption
 Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's feet there
     are left the mountains.

 And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
     insufferable master.
 There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught -- they say --
     God, when he walked on earth.
-- Robinson Jeffers
I thought this poem appropriate in light of recent events. It captures the
notions of America as the embodiment of many noble sentiments as well as its
inevitable failure to realize them. Jeffers gives us, as one critic put it,
cold comfort in the fact that our follies are somehow inevitable, part of a
greater cycle. It’s a humbling poem, not a pessimistic one, I think; it
reminds us to temper our love of humankind, but not extinguish it.


  Some excerpts from writings on the poem:

  A biography of Jeffers:

  Both from the Jeffers page at

Sandinista Avioncitos -- Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1114) Sandinista Avioncitos
 The little airplanes of the heart
 with their brave little propellers
 What can they do
 against the winds of darkness
 even as butterflies are beaten back
 by hurricanes
 yet do not die
 They lie in wait wherever
 they can hide and hang
 their fine wings folded
 and when the killer-wind dies
 they flutter forth again
 into the new-blown light
 live as leaves
-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Patten's poem submitted by Nandini [Poem #1084] triggered a rememberance of
this poem.  I read it in a Metro bus one day (as a part of the Poetry In
Motion project) and it has stayed with me since then. This poem evoked and
still evokes in me "Great Expectations" after the "hurricanes" to go forth
into the wind "live as leaves". And since trees will soon change colors and
leaves will fall, the imagery somehow adds to the current season, a positive
vibe. This is quite unlike Rilke's Autumn.

And if nothing else the poem should go forth on to the list for the
*complexity*  (O(n^2)) of the title!! ;-)


  The Poetry in Motion project:
    [broken link]
    [broken link]

The Age Demanded -- Ernest Hemingway

(Poem #1113) The Age Demanded
 The age demanded that we sing
 And cut away our tongue.

 The age demanded that we flow
 And hammered in the bung.

 The age demanded that we dance
 And jammed us into iron pants.

 And in the end the age was handed
 The sort of shit that it demanded.
-- Ernest Hemingway

This is precisely the sort of tough, hard-hitting, no-nonsense poetry that
so many poets attempt, and so few get right. Appearances to the contrary, a
keen sense of moral indignation does not by itself make a great poem - the
missing ingredient, which today's poem possesses in ample measure, is
*craftsmanship*. This craftsmanship is something that shines through in most
of Hemingway's work and makes his poetry a pleasure to read.

The concept is sadly disparaged by a certain class of 'poets', who make
sniffy remarks about craft versus Art, and blindly repeat phrases like
'spontaneous overflow of emotion' to justify their unwillingness to *work*
at a poem, but the fact remains that a good poem needs as much work as it
does inspiration.  Note that this is not a structured versus free verse
rant - I've seen some very finely crafted free verse (and some truly sloppy
structured verse, for that matter) - it's more a reaction to the attitude
that shaping a poem spoils its artistic purity. No, I don't understand it

Like 'Chapter Heading' [Poem #976], today's poem is spare but not
minimalist. The terseness is never allowed to get in the way of the smooth
flow of the words, but Hemingway nevertheless manages to convey his point
with a remarkable economy that I find very refreshing.


Links: has a couple of
notes on the poem

Bilbo's Last Song -- J R R Tolkien

Guest poem sent in by Jeffrey Sean Huo
(Poem #1112) Bilbo's Last Song
 Day is ended, dim my eyes,
 but journey long before me lies.
 Farewell, friends! I hear the call.
 The ship's beside the stony wall.
 Foam is white and waves are grey;
 beyond the sunset leads my way.
 Foam is salt, the wind is free;
 I hear the rising of the Sea.

 Farewell, friends! The sails are set,
 the wind is east, the moorings fret.
 Shadows long before me lie,
 beneath the ever-bending sky,
 but islands lie behind the Sun
 that I shall raise ere all is done;
 lands there are to west of West,
 where night is quiet and sleep is rest.

 Guided by the Lonely Star,
 beyond the utmost harbour-bar,
 I'll find the heavens fair and free,
 and beaches of the Starlit Sea.
 Ship, my ship! I seek the West,
 and fields and mountains ever blest.
 Farewell to Middle-earth at last.
 I see the Star above my mast!
-- J R R Tolkien
For many years, Joy Hill served as secretary for J.R.R. Tolkien, and a
close relationship they had. As the story goes, Professor Tolkien used to
joke that, if ever a diamond bracelet were to fall out of an envelope of
the correspondence she handled for him, it would be hers.

Near the end of Professor Tolkien's life, as she helped him pack his office
for a move, a poem Professor Tolkien had written fell out of a book. Ms.
Hill read it, and fell in love with the short, three-verse piece; and
Tolkien made it a gift to her, her "diamond bracelet", so to speak.

Some time shortly later, after Professor Tolkien's death in 1973, Ms. Hill
gave the poem to the composer Donald Swann, who in 1967 had worked with
Professor Tolkien himself to set many of Tolkien's songs to music in the
collection _The Road Goes Ever On_.  Mr. Swann himself was so moved by the
piece that he set it to music, and added it to the 2nd edition of the
collection, which was published in 1978. The same poem was published as a
poster in 1974, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, one of Tolkien's favorite
illustrators; and was included in the BBC audio production of the _Lord of
the Rings_.

The poem does not itself actually appear in _The Return of the King_, the
last volume of the _The Lord of the Rings_ trilogy, but takes place at it's
very end, when many of the principal heroes of the War of the Ring prepare
to set sail into the West, to leave Middle Earth forever: among them the
great wizard Gandalf the White; Frodo Baggins, the great Ringbearer; and
his elder Bilbo, who found the Ring so long before.


  " 'Well, here at last, dear friends," [said Gandalf], "on the shores of
  the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I
  will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.'

  Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard;
  and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped
  away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that
  Frodo bore glimmered and was lost.

          -Chapter 9, "The Gray Havens", _The Return of the King_


The poem is Bilbo's farewell to his friends and to Middle Earth, and in a
sense, this poem is Tolkien's farewell as well: to the Middle Earth he
created, to the secretary who served him so faithfully; and to us, his
readers, who came to cherish the world he created. But the poem's depth and
meaning still rings strong even for those who know nothing of Tolkien's
great masterpiece. The feelings Bilbo sings of are universal. In a few
short lines Tolkien has for me, and so many others, captured perfectly the
sorrow and hope alloyed together that make up all partings, from the ends
of visits with beloved friends and family, to the final depature for
mysteries unknown that all of us must one day face. And in that
achievement, Tolkien demonstrates again the genius that has made him one of
the greatest poets of this, or any, age.

Sources include the Foreward to the 2nd Edition (1978) of _The Road Goes
Ever On and On: A Song Cycle_, by Donald Swann; and various Usenet and
Internet sources, available upon request.

-Jeffrey Huo

The Common Cormorant -- Christopher Isherwood

(Poem #1111) The Common Cormorant
 The common cormorant (or shag)
 Lays eggs inside a paper bag,
 You follow the idea, no doubt?
 It's to keep the lightning out.

 But what these unobservant birds
 Have never thought of, is that herds
 Of wandering bears might come with buns
 And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
-- Christopher Isherwood
What I like even more than this poem's inspired silliness is the absolutely
deadpan manner in which it is delivered. Even Silverstein's "Recipe for a
Hippopotamus Sandwich" [Poem #845], of which today's poem is strongly
reminiscent, didn't exude that tone of perfect reasonableness, that air of
merely elaborating on a well-known fact.

Is this a children's poem? It certainly works as one - children are for the
most part deeply appreciative of whimsy and topsy-turvy logic. But so are
many adults, and something about the poem makes me think that the latter
were Isherwood's intended audience, though I can't quite pin it down.



  I found today's poem at which
  has a biography and a photo of Isherwood.

My Rifle (The Creed of a United States Marine) -- Maj Gen WH Rupertus

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #1110) My Rifle (The Creed of a United States Marine)
 This is my rifle.

 There are many like it, but this one is MINE.

  My rifle is my best friend. It is my life.

  I must master it as I must master my life.

 My rifle without me is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless.

  I must fire my rifle true.

  I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me.

  I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will...

  My rifle and myself know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire,

  the noise of our bursts, nor the smoke we make.

 We know it is the hits that count. We will hit...

 My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life.

  Thus, I will learn it as a brother.

  I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its parts, its accessories,
  its sights, and its barrel.

 I will ever guard it against the ravages of weather and damage.

  I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready.

  We will become part of each other. We will...

  Before God I swear this creed.

  My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country.

  We are the masters of our enemy.

  We are the saviors of my life.

 So be it, until there is no enemy, but PEACE.
-- Maj Gen WH Rupertus

The Marine Credo is the stuff of legend - a legend that is woven into
into assorted books and war movies (Sands of Iwo Jima, The Thin Red Line).

I was reminded of this poem when I saw Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal
Jacket", though that was another war, Vietnam instead of Iwo Jima and

This was written following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Maj Gen
Rupertus was with the marines through some of the toughest fighting in
world war II.

I'm pretty sure the good general was deadly serious about this when he
wrote it, as serious as David when he wrote 'The Lord is my Shepherd'
(below). In fact, I have a feeling Gen. Rupertus had that in mind when
he wrote this one.

However, I *can* poke fun at at least some part of it - like the last
line "... no enemy, but Peace".  So peace is a Marine's final enemy, I
take it? :)


~Psalms 23:1-6~

The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.