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Gone Fishing -- Chris Rea

Guest poem sent in by G. Balakrishnan
(Poem #1415) Gone Fishing
 I'm going fishing
 I got me a line
 Nothing I do is gonna make a difference
 So I'm taking my time

 And you ain't never gonna be happy
 Anyhow, anyway
 So, I'm going fishing
 And I'm going today

 I'm going fishing
 Sounds crazy I know
 I know nothing about fishing
 But just watch me go

 And when my time has come
 I will look back and see
 Peace on the shoreline
 That could have been me

 You can waste a whole lifetime
 Trying to be
 What you think is expected of you
 But you'll never be free
 May as well go fishing
-- Chris Rea
Chris Rea, unfortunately is not too popular, at least in the circles I have
moved around in.  However I really feel that he is one incredible song writer.

'Gone Fishing' somehow for me conveys a sense of total freedom. It's a
different sort of feeling when you just let yourself go at something especially
if you have never done it before and know nothing about it. In addition the
song also has this subtle carefree attitude towards a lot of mundane things we
end up doing day in and day out without really ever stopping and looking at
them objectively.


Chris Rea website:
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The Old Issue -- Rudyard Kipling

(Poem #1414) The Old Issue
 "Here is nothing new nor aught unproven," say the Trumpets,
     "Many feet have worn it and the road is old indeed.
 "It is the King -— the King we schooled aforetime!"
     (Trumpets in the marshes —- in the eyot at Runnymede!)

 "Here is neither haste, nor hate, nor anger," peal the Trumpets,
     "Pardon for his penitence or pity for his fall.
 "It is the King!" —- inexorable Trumpets -—
     (Trumpets round the scaffold at the dawning by Whitehall!)

              .     .     .     .     .

 "He hath veiled the Crown and hid the Sceptre," warn the Trumpets,
     "He hath changed the fashion of the lies that cloak his will.
 "Hard die the Kings —- ah hard —- dooms hard!" declare the Trumpets,
     Trumpets at the gang-plank where the brawling troop-decks fill!

 Ancient and Unteachable, abide —- abide the Trumpets!
     Once again the Trumpets, for the shuddering ground-swell brings
 Clamour over ocean of the harsh, pursuing Trumpets -—
     Trumpets of the Vanguard that have sworn no truce with Kings!

 All we have of freedom, all we use or know -—
 This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.

 Ancient Right unnoticed as the breath we draw -—
 Leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the Law.

 Lance and torch and tumult, steel and grey-goose wing
 Wrenched it, inch and ell and all, slowly from the King.

 Till our fathers 'stablished, after bloody years,
 How our King is one with us, first among his peers.

 So they bought us freedom —- not at little cost
 Wherefore must we watch the King, lest our gain be lost,

 Over all things certain, this is sure indeed,
 Suffer not the old King: for we know the breed.

 Give no ear to bondsmen bidding us endure.
 Whining "He is weak and far"; crying "Time shall cure.",

 (Time himself is witness, till the battle joins,
 Deeper strikes the rottenness in the people’s loins.)

 Give no heed to bondsmen masking war with peace.
 Suffer not the old King here or overseas.

 They that beg us barter —- wait his yielding mood -—
 Pledge the years we hold in trust -— pawn our brother's blood -—

 Howso' great their clamour, whatsoe'er their claim,
 Suffer not the old King under any name!

 Here is naught unproven —- here is naught to learn.
 It is written what shall fall if the King return.

 He shall mark our goings, question whence we came,
 Set his guards about us, as in Freedom's name.

 He shall take a tribute, toll of all our ware;
 He shall change our gold for arms —- arms we may not bear.

 He shall break his judges if they cross his word;
 He shall rule above the Law calling on the Lord.

 He shall peep and mutter; and the night shall bring
 Watchers 'neath our window, lest we mock the King -—

 Hate and all division; hosts of hurrying spies;
 Money poured in secret, carrion breeding flies.

 Strangers of his counsel, hirelings of his pay,
 These shall deal our Justice: sell -— deny -— delay.

 We shall drink dishonour, we shall eat abuse
 For the Land we look to —- for the Tongue we use.

 We shall take our station, dirt beneath his feet,
 While his hired captains jeer us in the street.

 Cruel in the shadow, crafty in the sun,
 Far beyond his borders shall his teachings run.

 Sloven, sullen, savage, secret, uncontrolled,
 Laying on a new land evil of the old -—

 Long-forgotten bondage, dwarfing heart and brain -—
 All our fathers died to loose he shall bind again.

 Here is naught at venture, random nor untrue -—
 Swings the wheel full-circle, brims the cup anew.

 Here is naught unproven, here is nothing hid:
 Step for step and word for word —- so the old Kings did!

 Step by step, and word by word: who is ruled may read.
 Suffer not the old Kings: for we know the breed -—

 All the right they promise -— all the wrong they bring.
 Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this King!
-- Rudyard Kipling
           October 9, 1899 (Outbreak of Boer War)

Note: Original italics here:
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This morning, a friend pointed me to an interesting news story[1] about
the latest manoeuvrings surrounding the US Patriot Act. And as I read it,
Kipling's poem sprang irresistibly to mind; so much so, in fact, that I had
to open another browser window and read it before finishing the article.

What struck me most forcibly (the madness of King George aside) was
Kipling's unerring ability to highlight universals - the words are as
stirring, as compelling today as they were over a hundred years ago. And
they say things I didn't even realise I wanted to.

This is, indeed, the mark of any really great poet - their works go beyond
mere entertainment, beyond even the communication of the poet's ideas and
feelings, and provide a voice for the things we feel but cannot quite say.
The pleasure and the satisfaction of having just the right line of poetry
come to mind at just the right time is hard to describe, and it is one of
the reasons I'm saddened by the fact that memorising poems seems to have
fallen out of vogue.

And in a final ironic twist, when someone wondered audibly if it was,
perhaps, unfair to accuse the authorities of jumping at shadows - they
could, after all, know things the public doesn't - I heard Kipling speak up
in harmony

   Yes, making mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
   Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap

and was reminded once again of what was perhaps the most unusual facet of
his genius - the ability to speak, with genuine empathy, for those on every
side of an issue. People complain that Kipling's attitudes are dated, and that
his work wears badly - and there is indeed some justice in that - but long
his paeans to Empire have faded, gems like today's poem will remain as his
enduring legacy.


[1] [broken link]

Christmas Oratio -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Carlynn Houghton, an excerpt from
(Poem #1413) Christmas Oratio
 Well, so that is that.  Now we must dismantle the tree,
 Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
 Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
 The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
 And the children got ready for school.  There are enough
 Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
 Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
 Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
 To love all of our relatives, and in general
 Grossly overestimated our powers.  Once again
 As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
 To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
 Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
 Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
 The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
 The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
 And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
 Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
 Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
 Be very far off.  But, for the time being, here we all are,
 Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
 Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
 And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
 And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
 It seems to have shrunk during the holidays.  The streets
 Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
 The office was as depressing as this.  To those who have seen
 The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
 The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
 For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
 Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
 Grew up when it opened.  Now, recollecting that moment
 We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
 Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
 Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
 And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
 We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
 Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
 Would be some great suffering.  So, once we have met the Son,
 We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
 "Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
 They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
 That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
 More dreadful than we can imagine.  In the meantime
 There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
 Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
 From insignificance.  The happy morning is over,
 The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
 When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
 Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
 A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
 That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
 God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.
-- W H Auden
This  excerpt from Auden's "Christmas Oratio" captures the
post-Christmas letdown with fabulous humor and accuracy, and ties it so
beautifully to the human condition, to the ways we try to make sense of
the world.  Without undermining (indeed, the poem ends by affirming) our
rational thought processes, Auden illustrates the concurrent human need
for intimacy with the very world we objectify in order to understand.
"Remembering the stable where for once in our lives / Everything became
a You and nothing was an It" -- this poem was written during World War
II, and in our time, as in Auden's, objectification (they, them, their)
often seems like the cruellest of human hobbies, enabling individuals to
commit horrific and unnecessary acts of violence, and resulting also in
tragic failures to act due to indifference.  Sorry to go on -- actually,
I think the poem speaks well for itself.  Auden is nothing if not
didactic, except eloquent.


The Colour of His Hair -- A E Houseman

Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea

The troubles in the Anglican (Episcopalian) church in America about the
consecration of a gay bishop brings the following poem to mind.
(Poem #1412) The Colour of His Hair
 Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
 And what has he been after, that they groan and shake their fists?
 And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
 Oh they’re taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

 'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
 In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
 Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
 For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.

 Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
 To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
 But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare,
 And they’re taking him to justice for the colour of his hair.

 Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet,
 And the quarry-gang on portland in the cold and in the heat,
 And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
 He can curse the god that made him for the colour of his hair.
-- A E Houseman
Written by Houseman in 1894-5 at the time of trial of Oscar Wilde, but
(wisely) not published until after his death. Himself a homosexual, but much
more discreet than the flamboyant Irishman and not burdened by a petulant
young lover, he was affected by the troubles visited on Wilde and sent him a
copy of A Shropshire Lad after he was released from prison. He was said to
be touched by the fact that Robbie Ross used to memorise some of his verses
and recite them to Wilde in prison.

I love the metre - is there another poem without exactly the correct number
of feet in each line? What is the metre called, by the way? [Don't think
it's anything more specific than 'iambic heptameter' (with considerable
tension towards a trochaic reading in places, and several three-syllable
feet; as Frank says, it's a delightfully irregular metre) -martin]

Frank O'Shea

[Martin adds]

Another brilliant poem about Wilde's persecution by the authorities is
Betjeman's "The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at The Cadogan Hotel", with its
savagely ironic
    Mr Woilde, we'ave come for tew take yew
    Where felons and criminals dwell.
    We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly
    For this is The Cadogan Hotel.

Full poem here:

Pentecost -- Derek Walcott

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1411) Pentecost
 Better a jungle in the head
 than rootless concrete.
 Better to stand bewildered
 by the fireflies' crooked street;

 winter lamps do not show
 where the sidewalk is lost,
 nor can these tongues of snow
 speak for the Holy Ghost;

 the self-increasing silence
 of words dropped from a roof
 points along iron railings,
 direction, in not proof.

 But best is this night surf
 with slow scriptures of sand,
 that sends, not quite a seraph,
 but a late cormorant,

 whose fading cry propels
 through phosphorescent shoal
 what, in my childhood gospels,
 used to be called the Soul.
-- Derek Walcott
While Pentecost doesn't map to the current "Ho Ho Ho" season in the United
States, on reading this poem from "Arkansas Testament" a few nights ago,
it occured to me that minus the title, this poem (a call for the tropics
in a tropical "soul"), voices an yearning (and for me personally
more apt) which shines, all the more wonderfuly when contrasted to all
that "White Christmas" noise on the radio.

Of course we have to hand it to Walcott for his perfect "finishes"!

Happy Holidays!
- Sashi

[Martin adds]

The (indeed perfect) finish reminded me of Poem #1197, with its refrain of
"some call it ..., others call it God". The tone is different, though -
today's poem is more nostalgic, and, as Sashi says, more yearning for a
religion that is increasingly missing in the narrator's life. "Childhood" is
a double-edged word, and there is definitely a suggestion that the "childhood
gospels" were in some sense naive, but overall, I think, the poem's burden is
that something of value has been, and is being lost.

If You Forget Me -- Pablo Neruda

Guest poem sent in by Anustup Datta who writes:

Aseem's poem [Poem #1409] reminded me of Joni Mitchell's voice and the way it
sparkles like a dry white wine in a crysal goblet, so I had to go back and
listen to River again after a long time. Coincidentally, I was reading Neruda's
poetry just yesterday, and I came across this gem, which I don't think we have
run -
(Poem #1410) If You Forget Me
 I want you to know
 one thing.

 You know how this is:
 if I look
 at the crystal moon, at the red branch
 of the slow autumn at my window,
 if I touch
 near the fire
 the impalpable ash
 or the wrinkled body of the log,
 everything carries me to you,
 as if everything that exists:
 aromas, light, metals,
 were little boats that sail
 toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

 Well, now,
 if little by little you stop loving me
 I shall stop loving you little by little.

 If suddenly
 you forget me
 do not look for me,
 for I shall already have forgotten you.

 If you think it long and mad,
 the wind of banners
 that passes through my life,
 and you decide
 to leave me at the shore
 of the heart where I have roots,
 that on that day,
 at that hour,
 I shall lift my arms
 and my roots will set off
 to seek another land.

 if each day,
 each hour,
 you feel that you are destined for me
 with implacable sweetness,
 if each day a flower
 climbs up to your lips to seek me,
 ah my love, ah my own,
 in me all that fire is repeated,
 in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
 my love feeds on your love, beloved,
 and as long as you live it will be in your arms
 without leaving mine.
-- Pablo Neruda
        (translated by Donald S. Walsh)

This is vintage Neruda - with all the passion and fickleness of desire. The
underlying melancholy is beautifully brought out by the conversational style
(a la Mir Taqi Mir) - the conceit could have been metaphysical had it not
been for the pain inherent in every verse. This is love that is hurting,
that has been hurt in the past, and yet is open to being hurt again. There
is surrender (and renunciation), but how different from, for instance,
Juliet's youthful optimism in surrender -

        "Three words, dear Romeo, and good night indeed.
        If that thy bent of love be honourable,
        Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow,
        By one that I'll procure to come to thee,
        Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite;
        And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay
        And follow thee my lord throughout the world."

            - Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II.

A really moving poem, the more for being tender and unpretentious. I think
Madonna recites this in the "Il Postino" soundtrack, incidentally.

For those who care about things like the original Spanish, here it is -

        "Si Tu Me Olvidas"
        By Pablo Neruda

        Quiero que sepas
        una cosa.

        Tú sabes cómo es esto:
        si miro
        la luna de cristal, la rama roja
        del lento otoño en mi ventana,
        si toco
        junto al fuego
        la impalpable ceniza
        o el arrugado cuerpo de la leña,
        todo me lleva a ti,
        como si todo lo que existe:
        aromas, luz, metales,
        fueran pequeños barcos que navegan
        hacia las islas tuyas que me aguardan.

        Ahora bien,
        si poco a poco dejas de quererme
        dejaré de quererte poco a poco.

        Si de pronto
        me olvidas
        no me busques,
        que ya te habré olvidado.

        Si consideras largo y loco
        el viento de banderas
        que pasa por mi vida
        y te decides
        a dejarme a la orilla
        del corazón en que tengo raíces,
        que en esa día,
        a esa hora
        levantaré los brazos
        y saldrán mis raíces
        a buscar otra tierra.

        si cada día,
        cada hora,
        sientes que a mí estás destinada
        con dulzura implacable,
        si cada día sube
        una flor a tus labios a buscarme,
        ay amor mío, ay mía,
        en mí todo ese fuego se repite,
        en mí nada se apaga ni se olvida,
        mi amor se nutre de tu amor, amada,
        y mientras vivas estará en tus brazos
        sin salir de los míos.


River -- Joni Mitchell

Guest poem sent in by Aseem
(Poem #1409) River
 It's coming on Christmas
 They're cutting down trees
 They're putting up reindeer
 And singing songs of joy and peace
 Oh I wish I had a river
 I could skate away on
 But it don't snow here
 It stays pretty green
 I'm going to make a lot of money
 Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene
 I wish I had a river
 I could skate away on
 I wish I had a river so long
 I would teach my feet to fly
 Oh I wish I had a river
 I could skate away on
 I made my baby cry

 He tried hard to help me
 You know, he put me at ease
 And he loved me so naughty
 Made me weak in the knees
 Oh I wish I had a river
 I could skate away on
 I'm so hard to handle
 I'm selfish and I'm sad
 Now I've gone and lost the best baby
 That I ever had
 Oh I wish I had a river
 I could skate away on
 I wish I had a river so long
 I would teach my feet to fly
 Oh I wish I had a river
 I made my baby say goodbye

 It's coming on Christmas
 They're cutting down trees
 They're putting up reindeer
 And singing songs of joy and peace
 I wish I had a river
 I could skate away on
-- Joni Mitchell
One of my favourite Christmas songs and one that I'm always haunted by
in this season (i've been wandering around humming it for three days
now). There's something so heartbreaking about the refrain that hearing
it again and again you can feel yourself almost lifted on wings of
sorrow and loneliness and longing. I think it's an incredible example
of how one simple yet beautiful line, repeated again and again can be
more eloquent than all the passionate verse in the world (the only
thing I can compare it to is Neruda: Tonight I can write the saddest
lines). To really appreciate it you need to hear the song of course,
because there's Joni Mitchell's incredible voice to accompany it, but I
think even by themselves the lyrics are brilliant.

So here's hoping that the new year brings us all the rivers we've been
dreaming of.

Merry Christmas,


My Mom and Dad -- Bill Watterson

Guest poem sent in by Priyadarshani Sarangi
(Poem #1408) My Mom and Dad
 My mom and my dad are not what they seem.
 Their dull appearance is part of their scheme.
 I know of their plans. I know their techniques.
 My parents are outer space alien freaks!

 They landed on earth in spaceships humongous.
 Posing as grownups, they now walk among us.
 My parents deny this, but I know the truth.
 They're here to enslave me and spoil my youth.

 Early each morning, as the sun rises,
 Mom and dad put on their earthling disguises.
 I knew right away their masks weren't legit.
 Their faces are lined - they sag and don't fit.

 The earth's gravity makes them sluggish and slow.
 They say not to run, wherever I go.
 They live by the clock. They're slaves to routines.
 They work the year 'round. They're almost machines.

 They deny that TV and fried food have much worth.
 They cannot be human. They're not of this earth.
 I cannot escape their alien gaze,
 And they're warping my mind with their alien ways.
 For sinister plots, this one is a gem.
 They're bringing me up to turn me into them!
-- Bill Watterson
           (from "It's a Magical World")

This is one of my personal favorites from the C&H poems. I got the poem from
one of my colleagues at work - there are a surprisingly large number of C&H
fans around me it seems!

I read this following line somewhere: "I tried to get in touch with my inner
child but he isn't allowed to talk to strangers." I have been a strong believer
of alien abductions, metamorphosis of aliens into humans, etc etc since
childhood, and this poem sure would have been inspiring had I read it when I
was 5!!


Priyadarshi Sarangi

The Man into Whose Yard You Should Not Hit Your Ball -- Thomas Lux

(Poem #1407) The Man into Whose Yard You Should Not Hit Your Ball
 each day mowed
 and mowed his lawn, his dry quarter-acre,
 the machine slicing a wisp
 from each blade's tip. Dust storms rose
 around the roar, 6 p.m. every day,
 spring, summer, fall. If he could mow
 the snow he would.
 On one side, his neighbors the cows
 turned their backs to him
 and did what they do to the grass.
 Where he worked, I don't know,
 but it set his jaw to: tight.
 His wife a cipher, shoebox tissue,
 a shattered apron. As if
 into her head he drove a wedge of shale.
 Years later, his daughter goes to jail.
 Mow, mow, mow his lawn
 gently down a decade's summers.
 On his other side lived mine and me,
 across a narrow pasture, often fallow --
 a field of fly balls, the best part of childhood
 and baseball. But if a ball crossed his line,
 as one did in 1956,
 and another in 1958,
 it came back coleslaw -- his lawnmower
 ate it up, happy
 to cut something, no matter
 what the manual said
 about foreign objects,
 stones, or sticks.
-- Thomas Lux
From the minute I read the title of today's poem, I knew I was going to
enjoy it. "The Man into whose Yard you Should Not Hit Your Ball" - what
child has not known one? It conjures up an instant image, an entire
personality type summed in one short line.

Nor did the rest of the poem disappoint. Despite a certain (unavoidable)
predictability, I was captivated by the charm of the language, the
almost-stream of conscious narrative tone, and above all, the sheer
observation that sparkled in every line. I think my favourite touch was the
"one did in 1956/ and another in 1958" - the incidents, probably no more
than passing nuisances in the man's life, stamped indelibly across the
narrator's boyhood and looming large in memory.

Nicely wrapped up poem, too - when I read these stream-of-consciousness
poems I always hold my breath a little, wondering if the poet will be up to
the task of supplying an ending that both flows with and definitively closes
the poem. Fortunately, Lux was, and the finished whole stands as a very
satisfying experience.


  [broken link]

A Worker Reads History -- Bertolt Brecht

Guest poem sent in by Jack Bieler
(Poem #1406) A Worker Reads History
 Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
 The books are filled with names of kings.
 Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
 And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
 Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
 That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
 In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
 Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
 Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
 Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
 Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
 The night the seas rushed in,
 The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

 Young Alexander conquered India.
 He alone?
 Caesar beat the Gauls.
 Was there not even a cook in his army?
 Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
 was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
 Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
 Who triumphed with him?

 Each page a victory
 At whose expense the victory ball?
 Every ten years a great man,
 Who paid the piper?

 So many particulars.
 So many questions.
-- Bertolt Brecht

This is another of Brecht's didactic works.  I am afraid Joyce might
consider its art flawed by the heavy-handedness of its message.  However
it has always stuck with me.  Like Shelley's "Ozymandias" [Poem #22], which
examines the fate of glory, this one examines its origins.  Humanity loves
leaders, and records their names as a shorthand for the movements they
stood atop.

Poetically, the repetition of statement and question established a pattern
that leads the reader to question all the historical "facts" we hold dear.
 History is our mythology, and as Zeus the Thunder God is behind all
storms, so Washington defeated the British and Lenin overthrew the Tsar.
The mass of humanity that follows and enables our leaders toils in their
shadows, and vicariously shares in their glory.

Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg: "But in a larger sense we can not
dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow this ground. The
brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far
above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor
long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here."
 We remember what was said there, by the Great Man, but who remembers the
brave unknowns who fought and died, in just one of so many, many battles?


The Lamb -- William Blake

Guest poem submitted by Daniel Ma:
Here's a submission in anticipation of the coming Holiday season.
(Poem #1405) The Lamb
    Little Lamb, who made thee?
    Dost thou know who made thee?
 Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
 By the stream and o'er the mead;
 Gave thee clothing of delight;
 Softest clothing, wooly, bright;
 Gave thee such a tender voice,
 Making all the vales rejoice?
    Little Lamb, who made thee?
    Dost thou know who made thee?

    Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
    Little Lamb, I'll tell thee:
 He is called by thy name,
 For he calls himself a Lamb.
 He is meek, and he is mild;
 He became a little child.
 I a child, and thou a lamb,
 We are called by His name.
    Little Lamb, God bless thee!
    Little Lamb, God bless thee!
-- William Blake
 From 'Songs of Innocence', 1789.

Given the lurid fantasticism that we generally associate with Blake,
here's a little gem that sparkles with simplicity and innocence.  Place
this in contrast, against, say, "The Tyger" (Minstrels Poem #66)

I can never read these lines without strains of "Messiah" running
through my head: "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd, and He shall
gather the lambs with His arm, and gently lead those that are with


[Minstrels Links]

William Blake:
Poem #26, Jerusalem
Poem #66, The Tyger
Poem #97, The Fly
Poem #368, Auguries of Innocence
Poem #546, The Sick Rose
Poem #771, The Divine Image
Poem #1087, A Poison Tree

An Old Sicilian Song -- Dario Fo

Guest poem submitted by Jayanth Srinivasan :
(Poem #1404) An Old Sicilian Song
 A woman crossing the square slips in the mud
 and falls head over heels.
 Her skirts go over her head
 She shows her bum
 The fools laugh fit to burst and shout dirty words
 The King passes on horseback, the mud makes him slip
 The fine beast and the King roll on the ground
 and in his turn he shows his bum through his torn breeches.
 The fools rush to take off their hats
 Only a madman across the way
 seeing this new and unfamiliar face of power
 can't help laughing his head off.

 The fools chorus at the top of their voices -
 so as to drown the madman's laughter-
 their praise of the great royal bum
 'Oh, magnificent cheeks basking in the sun
 hailed by God, wonderful spheres'
 The fools, because the King has shit himself, for fear,
 begin to praise the stink of the noble motion
 The madman runs up waving a censer
 and sings Te Deum to the King's shit
 and plants a jasmine sprig in it.
 The fools applaud and then by a miracle understand the jape
 and take up stones and sticks
 and make to lynch the mocker.
 But since they know it is great bad luck
 to kill a madman
 protected as they are by the pity of St Francis
 'the great madman of God'
 the fools, impotently watch the pantomime of the madman.
 Later at home, in secret, each one by himself
 remembers the madman's pantomime and laughs.
 They laugh till they pee themselves.
 The fools for a moment forget they are
 fools but only for a moment
 because, alas, madmen are few and far between
 and the fools don't get much chance
 to see their mad, obscene pantomimes.
-- Dario Fo
I'm sending this in as part of the "poems by people more famous for
their prose" theme [ie, some time ago - t.]; the above isn't exactly a
poem by Dario Fo, rather, it's his translation of an old Sicilian folk
song. I found this in the author's note at the beginning of Dario Fo's
"Accidental Death of an Anarchist" (translated into English by Stuart

This was my first Fo play - I had to trek to a remote corner of my
university's main library to find the play, but it was well worth the
effort. It's a short play and very easy to read. The play itself looks
at police corruption and at a larger level, the unaccountability of
figures of authority.

Fo's translation of the poem  is crude, common, and vulgar. Just like
the language in the play. Fo's writing was intentionally coarse - tuned
more to suit the proletariat, rather than the cultured. Fo was
attempting to create awareness among the common people, the masses. But
the language doesn't prevent him from conveying a deep message - the
need to question and speak against the establishment if they're doing
something wrong.

The political turmoil Italy went through a decade after  WWII inspired
Fo to write a series of plays and popular prose - to a large extent, the
students and general public of today can't relate to the kind of
political and social mayhem that the 50s and 60s saw. However, thinking
about it, lots of themes from Fo's work are relevant today too - if it's
not police corruption, it's corruption in big business (Kenneth Lay,
etc.) - unaccountability of public figures and public bodies (Bush(I
couldn't resist:)), the CIA leak being handled as an internal
investigation, WMD evidence ...). All this seems to make the poem all
the more relevant.

There are some other nice things about the poem - it reminded me of the
"Emperor's new clothes" for obvious reasons. Finally, I loved the St.
Francis reference.


As the poets have mournfully sung -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Anustup Datta:
(Poem #1403) As the poets have mournfully sung
 As the poets have mournfully sung,
 Death takes the innocent young,
        The rolling-in-money,
        The screamingly-funny,
 And those who are very well hung.
-- W H Auden
Haven't contributed something for ages, so thought I would. Came across
this oft-quoted gem while re-reading Auden, and it seemed to resonate
with my current cheerful frame of mind, so here it is. Don't think we
have run it on the group before.

As Thomas has pointed out before, Auden has a curious knack of being
just right at times - of finding just the right word or phrase that
illuminates the idea blindingly. Sometimes, this gives his work a rather
trite feel, like someone who uses his power with the language to play
around with superficial concepts. More often, though, one is simply awed
by the craftsmanship of a truly instinctive poet. Here, for instance, he
uses the somewhat farcical tone of a limerick to explore the human
condition and the death penalty that we are born with. The 'mournful'
poets mentioned in the first line number many - but the lines it reminds
me most of belong to the Rubaiyat -

  The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
  Moves on; nor all your Piety nor Wit
  Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
  Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

        -- Omar Khayyam
        tr. Edward FitzGerald
        Minstrels Poem #545

The same essential idea, differently and delightfully expressed.


[Minstrels Links]

W. H. Auden:
Poem #50, In Memory of W. B. Yeats
Poem #68, Musee des Beaux Arts
Poem #256, Funeral Blues
Poem #307, Lay your sleeping head, my love
Poem #371, O What Is That Sound
Poem #386, The Unknown Citizen
Poem #427, The Two
Poem #491, Roman Wall Blues
Poem #494, The Fall of Rome
Poem #618, The More Loving One
Poem #677, Villanelle
Poem #708, Five Songs - II
Poem #728, from The Dog Beneath the Skin
Poem #762, Miranda
Poem #868, Partition
Poem #889,  September 1, 1939
Poem #895,  August 1968
Poem #913, In Time of War, XII
Poem #1038, Epitaph on a Tyrant
Poem #1082, Under Which Lyre
Poem #1281, Night Mail
Poem #1298, Miss Gee

There is a detailed biography of Auden attached to Poem #50 above.

Omar Khayyam:
Poem #162, Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Poem #342, Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
Poem #545, The Moving Finger Writes; and, Having Writ
Poem #654, Think, in this Batter'd Caravanserai
Poem #750, Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough
Poem #1354, Ah, Love!, Could Thou and I with Fate Conspire

And finally:
Poem #587, Strugnell's Rubaiyat -- Wendy Cope

Sun-corner -- Tarjei Vesaas

Guest poem submitted by Wendy Waring:
(Poem #1402) Sun-corner
 At home there's a sun-corner
 where spring quietly stirs.
 Dripping all day long.
 Clear drops from the snow-rim,
 they reflect both good and bad
 in their brief fall, and are shattered.
 The sun is a hot cataract.

 In that sun-corner,
 where you were born -
 it's those drops that should
 mirror you, and wet your lips,
 pure from the snow-rim and
 right into your heart.

 It's in that faint smell of
 spring moisture you should fall asleep.
 That call you should heed.
 There, everything would feel right.

 It's all moving downhill.
 Everything's oozing toward a distant goal,
 on its way to the sea.
 An unknown sea inside a dream.
 All of spring's sorrow is heading there.
 All thoughts spiral there
 and then disappear.

 Your childhood sun-corner is where
 you are when the call sounds.
-- Tarjei Vesaas
The recent posting of a Rilke poem [1] made me think of this fine poem
of Tarjei Vesaas', a Norwegian poet, about whom more can be learned at:
I can claim no authoritative knowledge about his work.  I came across
his poetry while trying to find a copy of his prize-winning novel 'The
Ice Palace'.


[1] Poem #1384, Autumn

A Nostalgist's Map of America -- Agha Shahid Ali

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul:
(Poem #1401) A Nostalgist's Map of America
 The trees were soon hushed in the resonance
 of darkest emerald as we rushed by
 on 322, that route that took us from
 the dead center of Pennsylvania.

 (a stone marks it) to a suburb ten miles
 from Philadelphia. "A hummingbird",
 I said, after a sharp turn, then pointed
 to the wheel, still revolving in your hand.

 I gave Emily Dickinson to you then,
 line after line, complete from heart. The signs
 on Schuylkill Expressway fell neat behind us.
 I went further: "Let's pretend your city

 is Evanescence - There has to be one -
 in Pennsylvania - And that some day -
 the Bird will carry - my letters - to you -
 from Tunis - or Casablanca - the mail

 an easy night's ride - from North Africa."
 I'm making this up, I know, but since you
 were there, none of it's a lie. How did I
 go on? "Wings will rush by when the exit

 to Evanescence is barely a mile?"
 the sky was dark teal, the moon was rising.
 "It always rains on this route", I went on,
 "which takes you back, back to Evanescence,

 your boyhood town". You said this was summer,
 this final end of school, this coming home
 to Philadelphia, WMMR
 as soon as you could catch it. What song first

 came on? It must have been a disco hit,
 one whose singer no one recalls. It's six,
 perhaps seven years since then, since you last
 wrote. And yesterday, when you phoned, I said,

 "I knew you'd call," even before you could
 say who you were. "I am in Irvine now
 with my lover, just an hour from Tuscon
 and the flights are cheap." "Then we'll meet often."

 For a moment you were silent, and then,
 "Shahid, I'm dying". I kept speaking to you
 after I hung up, my voice the quickest
 mail, a cracked disc with many endings,

 each false: One: "I live in Evanescence
 (I had to build it, for America
 was without one). All is safe here with me.
 come to my street, disguised in the climate

 of Southern California. Surprise
 me when I open the door. Unload skies
 of rain from distance drenched arms." Or this:
 "Here in Evanescence (which I found - though

 not in Pennsylvania - after I last
 wrote), the eavesdropping willows write brief notes
 on grass, then hide them in shadows of trunks.
 I'd love to see you. Come as you are." And

 this, the least false: "You said each month you need
 new blood. Please forgive me, Phil, but I thought
 of your pain as a formal feeling, one
 useful for the letting go, your transfusions

 mere wings to me, the push of numerous
 hummingbirds, souveniers of Evanescence
 seen disappearing down a route of veins
 in an electric rush of Cochineal."
-- Agha Shahid Ali
For Philip Paul Orlando.

The first time I learnt Shahid was dying was in September 2001. As I sat
there shocked at the news (I had no idea he was even ill) I found myself
mouthing the last stanzas of this poem again and again.

Not just because it's a poem of his I love.

Not just because it captures so well who Shahid was, both as a poet (the
conversational style, the formal structure, the repetition of themes and
phrases in endless improvisations, the raw passion of the metaphors, so
redolent of the Urdu he loved) and as a person (his warmth, his sense of
humour, his love for Dickinson, his habit of quoting little gems of
poems with the most bizarre connections).

But because it expresses better than anything I've ever read the
impossibility of finding the right words for the death of a friend. How
each line you come up with is a lie because it's never enough, because
it never says everything that needs to be said. And how in the end, all
words are a betrayal, a way of selling out what we feel to the formality
of the writer's craft. This poem is the most touching I can find to mark
Shahid's second death anniversary (Dec 8th) because it is the most
honest - because it offers not consolation but the search for
consolation, because it throws up its hands and admits that it is not


[Minstrels Links]

Emily Dickinson:
Poem #92, There's a certain Slant of light
Poem #174, A Route of Evanescence
Poem #341, The Grass so little has to do -
Poem #458, The Chariot
Poem #529, If you were coming in the fall
Poem #580, Split the Lark
Poem #687, Success is counted sweetest
Poem #711, I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Poem #829, It dropped so low in my regard
Poem #871, I felt a Funeral, in my Brain
Poem #891, A Doubt If It Be Us
Poem #950, The Cricket Sang
Poem #1294, The reticent volcano keeps
Poem #1328, You cannot put a fire out
Poem #1337, Ample Make This Bed
Poem #1347, In a Library
Poem #1382, Hope
#174, "A Route of Evanescence", is extensively quoted in today's poem.

Agha Shahid Ali:
Poem #961, The Wolf's Postscript to 'Little Red Riding Hood'
Poem #1129, Farewell

The Sentence -- Robert Creeley

Guest poem sent in by Don José

  "We'll definitely be running more of Creeley's work in the
  future...."  --thomas, 20 Sep 2000

I figured, after three years, I'd step up!
(Poem #1400) The Sentence
 There is that in love
 which, by the syntax of,
 men find women and join
 their bodies to their minds

 --which wants so to acquire
 a continuity, a place,
 a demonstration that it must
 be one's own sentence.
-- Robert Creeley
Poem #552 needed some company.  I was introduced to Creeley this past summer
in a poetry workshop, my last undergraduate class at university.  Studying
him and his contemporaries (like Williams) definitely opened my eyes to
different styles, not the least of which was the attractiveness of sparse
rhyme; more accurately, perhaps, he uses rhyme where it is most effective.

And it's this that sets Creeley apart, I believe, his "efficiency of design"
as I explained in a critique.  Not a word is out of place; no line break is
unintentional; no punctuation left unconsidered.  He communicates multiple
thoughts with minimal words through his line break, thus the efficiency.
Also interesting, is how the form of his poems often "fit" the poem, if only
subtly ("Water" is a good example).  (His line break is quite deliberate --
to hear him read a selection will go a long way in elucidating this.  Some
performances are downloadable via
[broken link]

As was described of Creeley in the bio of "Morning" [Poem #552], his style
of poetry relied on conversational American English.  He writes, "I love it
that these words, 'made solely of air,' as Williams said, have no owner
finally to determine them....for these words which depend upon us for their
very existence fail as our usage derides or excludes them.  They are no more
right or wrong than we are, yet suffer our presumption forever" (in his
preface to _Selected Poems_, 1991).

There were many poems I could have easily chosen for this selection, but did
this one if for no other reason than it is definitely one of my favourite
Creeley pieces.  Not all of Creeley comes through in this, but one can see
how not only does language convey the poem, it is also a part of the poem,
as Creeley joins together love with a sentence.  Short, to the point,
creative -- Creeley.  I'll leave dissection to the reader.


Critics Nightwatch -- Gwen Harwood

Guest poem sent in by Michelle Chapman
(Poem #1399) Critics Nightwatch
 Once more he tried, before he slept,
 to rule his ranks of words. They broke
 from his planned choir, lolled, slouched and kept
 their tone, their pitch, their meaning crude;
 huddled in cliches; when pursued
 turned with mock elegance to croak

 his rival's tunes. They would not sing.
 The scene that nagged his sleep away
 flashed clear again: the local king
 of verse, loose-collared and loose-lipped.
 read from a sodden manuscript,
 drinking with anyone who'd pay,

 drunk, in the critic's favourite bar.
 "Hear the voice of the bard!" he bellowed,
 "Poets are lovers. Critics are
 mean, solitary masturbators.
 Come here, and join the warm creators."
 The critic, whom no drink had mellowed,

 turned on his heel. Rough laughter scoured
 his reddening neck. The poet roared
 "Run home, and take that face that soured
 your mother's lovely milk from spite.
 Piddle on what you cannot write."
 At home alone the critic poured

 gall on the poet's work in polished
 careful prose. He tore apart
 meaning and metaphor, demolished
 diction, syntax, metre, rhyme;
 called his entire works a crime
 against the integrity of art,

 and lay down grinning, quick, he thought,
 with a great poem that would make plain
 his power to all. Once more he fought
 with words. Sleep came. He dreamed he turned
 to a light vapour, seeped and burned
 in wordless cracks where grain on grain

 of matter grated; reassumed
 his human shape, and called by name
 each grain to sing, conducting, plumed
 in lightning, their obedient choir.
 Dressed as a bride for his desire
 towards him, now meek, the poet came.

 Light sneaked beside his bed. The birds
 began their insistent questioning
 of silence, and the poet's words
 prompted by daylight rasped his raw
 nerves, and the waking world he saw
 was flat with prose and would not sing.
-- Gwen Harwood
For me this poem captures the ineffable magic of poetry - that no matter how
desperately you try, it will not be forced. It may fool others but the
writer will always be aware of the gap between the object and the ideal.

We see the critic dissecting the poet's work with clinical precision yet
failing to pin down the spark of life. This inspires him - he is certain he
can do better - and in his dreams he does. The illusion is fleeting. He
wakes to find his mundane self unchanged, unmagical. His prose is polished
and careful. He cannot share in the carefree drunken flights of poesy and
yet he yearns to do so... I believe anyone who appreciates poetry has
moments like this - where the absolute delight of a poem's song in your
heart cannot quite shoulder aside your jealousy - why can't I write like

There are several ways to read the poem - was Gwen reacting to criticism of
her own poems by mocking the critic... was she sympathising with those of us
who can never quite seem to pin down that spark (those who can, write, those
who can't, criticise).... or was she exploring two different aspects of her
own personality as a writer???


PS. Here are some biographies of Gwen Harwood:
[broken link]

Unfortunately her poems are under-represented on the Internet.

A Man Doesn't Have Time In His Life -- Yehuda Amichai

Guest poem sent in by Abhishek Singh
(Poem #1398) A Man Doesn't Have Time In His Life
 A man doesn't have time in his life
 to have time for everything.
 He doesn't have seasons enough to have
 a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
 Was wrong about that.

 A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
 to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
 with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
 to make love in war and war in love.
 And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
 to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
 what history
 takes years and years to do.

 A man doesn't have time.
 When he loses he seeks, when he finds
 he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
 he begins to forget.

 And his soul is seasoned, his soul
 is very professional.
 Only his body remains forever
 an amateur. It tries and it misses,
 gets muddled, doesn't learn a thing,
 drunk and blind in its pleasures
 and its pains.

 He will die as figs die in autumn,
 Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
 the leaves growing dry on the ground,
 the bare branches pointing to the place
 where there's time for everything.
-- Yehuda Amichai
Note: From "The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai", translations by Chana
Bloch and Stephen Mitchell.

I was sent this poem by a friend of mine, who adores Amichai. Frankly
speaking, I had not heard of this late Israeli poet, before this poem. But
this one encounter was enough to put me in awe of his art.  What I found out
was that Amichai is the most translated poet in Hebrew after King David!
Like all translations something IS lost from one language to the other.
Amichai's poetry in fact either renders very well or not well at all into
English depending on the point of view taken. His poetry is simple, direct,
colloquial (my friend tells me that he is read by soldiers, shopkeepers...),
while also drawing on history and playing with words and sounds. The wit and
word-play are of course lost in English. In this poem for example, the
second-last stanza seems a bit ackward, with unwieldy words like
'professional' and 'amateur' breaking the flow, but the overall message of
the simplicity of the body and the sophistication of the soul is one that is
powerful beyond words.

Anyway I admit to not knowing a lot more about Amichai, but would love it if
someone told us more about him and his poetry. This write- up has been more
about the poet, because I think the poem itself is amazing enough to speak
for itself! Finally there's nothing more to be said, apart from the final

"He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there's time for everything."

Amichai died in can light a candle in his memorium and


We've run one other poem by Amichai: Poem #1108


Introduction to Poetry -- Billy Collins

Guest poem sent in by Phebe Haugen
(Poem #1397) Introduction to Poetry
 I ask them to take a poem
 and hold it up to the light
 like a color slide

 or press an ear against its hive.

 I say drop a mouse into a poem
 and watch him probe his way out,

 or walk inside the poem's room
 and feel the walls for a light switch.

 I want them to waterski
 across the surface of a poem
 waving at the author's name on the shore.

 But all they want to do
 is tie the poem to a chair with rope
 and torture a confession out of it.

 They begin beating it with a hose
 to find out what it really means.
-- Billy Collins
Not long ago, when my teenage son was struggling with poetry in his English
class, I gave him this wonderful poem.  For a kid trying to figure out what
imagery is all about, this little gem offers itself as a color slide, a
hive, a dark room, a lake, a knowing, but silent, defendant.  It invites
us to engage all these images - except the last one - so that we might see
into the heart of a poem without bludgeoning the poor thing to death.

And who among us doesn't know that feeling of being the mouse dropped into
the poem, trying to probe its way out?


The Children’s Hour -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Guest poem sent in by Matthew Brooks
(Poem #1396) The Children’s Hour
 Between the dark and the daylight,
 When the night is beginning to lower,
 Comes a pause in the day's occupations
 That is known as the Children's Hour.

 I hear in the chamber above me
 The patter of little feet,
 The sound of a door that is opened,
 And voices soft and sweet.

 From my study I see in the lamplight,
 Descending the broad hall-stair,
 Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
 And Edith with golden hair.

 A whisper, and then a silence:
 Yet I know by their merry eyes
 They are plotting and planning together
 To take me by surprise.

 A sudden rush from the stairway,
 A sudden raid from the hall!
 By three doors left unguarded
 They enter my castle wall!

 They climb up into my turret
 O'er the arms and back of my chair;
 If I try to escape, they surround me;
 They seem to be everywhere.

 They almost devour me with kisses,
 Their arms about me entwine,
 Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
 In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

 Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
 Because you have scaled the wall,
 Such an old moustache as I am
 Is not a match for you all?

 I have you fast in my fortress,
 And will not let you depart,
 But put you down into the dungeons
 In the round-tower of my heart.

 And there will I keep you forever,
 Yes, forever and a day,
 Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
 And moulder in dust away!
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Note: Published in The Atlantic Monthly; September 1860.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet, 1807-1882. A narrative poet in
the grand tradition; his poems are full of images, atmosphere, suspense, and
emotion. He is identified with American history and legend: his most
well-known works include poems The Song of Hiawatha, The Midnight Ride of
Paul Revere, The Courtship of Miles Standish. I always picture the
illustrations of N.C. Wyeth when I read these poems. During his lifetime he
was popular, widely read and celebrated, sometimes to the disdain of more
literary poets and critics.

This is one of the first poems I ever remember hearing. I think it was in a
book of poetry that my mother would occasionally read from to my sisters and
me. More than the words themselves, it's the rhythm and pace of it that
sends me back in time – the poetry equivalent of Proust's madeleine. I
always loved the images of the little girls sneaking down the stairs, and
the exotic idea of the "Mouse-Tower" on the Rhine. And I always thought that
the last stanza was oddly adult and melancholy for a children's poem, but
now, from an adult's perspective, it has a different meaning.


Here's a link to some of Wyeth's illustrations:

[Unfortunately, I couldn't find any of his "Courtship of Miles Standish"
illustrations, but those should convey the general flavour - martin]

The Man-Moth -- Elizabeth Bishop

Guest poem sent in by Tim Diggins
(Poem #1395) The Man-Moth
Man-Moth: Newspaper misprint for "mammoth".

     Here, above,
 cracks in the buildings are filled with battered moonlight.
 The whole shadow of Man is only as big as his hat.
 It lies at his feet like a circle for a doll to stand on,
 and he makes an inverted pin, the point magnetized to the moon.
 He does not see the moon; he observes only her vast properties,
 feeling the queer light on his hands, neither warm nor cold,
 of a temperature impossible to record in thermometers.

           But when the Man-Moth
 pays his rare, although occasional, visits to the surface,
 the moon looks rather different to him. He emerges
 from an opening under the edge of one of the sidewalks
 and nervously begins to scale the faces of the buildings.
 He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky,
 proving the sky quite useless for protection.
 He trembles, but must investigate as high as he can climb.

           Up the façades,
 his shadow dragging like a photographer's cloth behind him
 he climbs fearfully, thinking that this time he will manage
 to push his small head through that round clean opening
 and be forced through, as from a tube, in black scrolls on the light.
 (Man, standing below him, has no such illusions.)
 But what the Man-Moth fears most he must do, although
 he fails, of course, and falls back scared but quite unhurt.

           Then he returns
 to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,
 he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
 fast enough to suit him.  The doors close swiftly.
 The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way
 and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,
 without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.
 He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards.

           Each night he must
 be carried through artificial tunnels and dream recurrent dreams.
 Just as the ties recur beneath his train, these underlie
 his rushing brain.  He does not dare look out the window,
 for the third rail, the unbroken draught of poison,
 runs there beside him. He regards it as a disease
 he has inherited the susceptibility to.  He has to keep
 his hands in his pockets, as others must wear mufflers.

           If you catch him,
 hold up a flashlight to his eye.  It's all dark pupil,
 an entire night itself, whose haired horizon tightens
 as he stares back, and closes up the eye.  Then from the lids
 one tear, his only possession, like the bee's sting, slips.
 Slyly he palms it, and if you're not paying attention
 he'll swallow it.  However, if you watch, he'll hand it over,
 cool as from underground springs and pure enough to drink.
-- Elizabeth Bishop
Reading that poem by McGough [Poem #1335] made me immediately think of "The
Man-Moth" by Elizabeth Bishop, which has a similar "justification" for
starting the poem, but quite a different use and tonality.

It's hard to comment on The Man-Moth, because I have no idea what it means
as a whole poem. Most of Bishop's poetry (with the exception maybe of "One
Art") seems to me like that - where it is hard to come up with an
understanding of the poem in total but instead one has a mixture of
impressions - in this case a sense of human emotional fragility (just the
image of a man-as-moth, the tear, but this is also undercut by various
narratorial attitudes to him: Dwelling on his failures ("he trembles",
"although he fails, of course", "he can't", "he does not dare"...) and the
limitations of his lifeworld ("The Man Moth always..." "he must...", "He
regards it as...", "he has to..."). In the last stanza, the narratorial
voice starts to hint that the man-moth has his own desires and identity ("If
you catch him"... "Slyly he ...")

But it's the last sentance that makes me unsure of how to understand the
poem as a whole. The "However" introduces a turn of the poem to something
different - is it to the purity of nature (as opposed to our man-made
buildings and cracked sidewalks through which the man-moth emerges)? I'm not
sure, but this last turn in the poem coming with its confidence after all
the man-moth's uncertainty, seems as refreshing as the man-moth's tear.

Tim Diggins

  [broken link]

Even If You Grab A Piece of Time -- Ruth Forman

Guest poem sent in by Pavithra Krishnan
(Poem #1394) Even If You Grab A Piece of Time
 Conjure something glowing
 Take this day
 You were born with hands for spinning
 Talent for dreams and making them real

 Roll the hours like yarn
 Spin something that makes you feel full
 And big and open to talk

 Make this day your own square
 In your own life quilt
 So shining it brighten the whole of your years
 This far
 Make this day like one of God's seven.
-- Ruth Forman
A friend met this poet at a conference and bought one of her books. "You'll
like her," he said, and I opened the slim volume feeling predictable and
curious. Had never heard of Forman before but some of her poetry felt like
an old, old friend. I like this poet even at the cost of being predictable.
She shines real with love and human-ness. This one was my favorite, it's one
of those poems that picks you up if you're down and shakes you firmly and
enchantingly out of your own excuses for not carpe-ing the diem.  "Conjure
something glowing" An irresistible invitation into this poem, this day, this

Lilies-of-the-field no toil, no spin. Un-aspiring and splendid...and what of
us? Blessed with a beauty beyond lilies we work and dream - or Can. A loving
urgency in this poem pointing us to the potential within not just the hours
but ourselves. Homespun imagery makes her words comfortable, familiar -
themselves a handmade quilt thrown across the page warm and deep and
spirit-lifting (quilts are wonderful things. poems can be too.) Pick up the
colored 'shreds and patches' of your life, and stitch the mystery and the
mundanity into something meaningful and alive. When she puts it like that
how do you decline? It's hard if not impossible.  "Make this day like one of
God's seven."

An order, a dare, a mantra inspiration.  And now if you'll excuse me
I'm going to go carpe what's left of the diem.



The Lawyers Know Too Much -- Carl Sandburg

Guest poem sent in by Salima Virani
(Poem #1393) The Lawyers Know Too Much
 The lawyers, Bob, know too much.
 They are chums of the books of old John Marshall.
 They know it all, what a dead hand wrote,
 A stiff dead hand and its knuckles crumbling,
 The bones of the fingers a thin white ash.
         The lawyers know
         a dead man's thought too well.

 In the heels of the higgling lawyers, Bob,
 Too many slippery ifs and buts and howevers,
 Too much hereinbefore provided whereas,
 Too many doors to go in and out of.

 When the lawyers are through
 What is there left, Bob?
 Can a mouse nibble at it
 And find enough to fasten a tooth in?

 Why is there always a secret singing
 When a lawyer cashes in?
 Why does a hearse horse snicker
 Hauling a lawyer away?

 The work of a bricklayer goes to the blue.
 The knack of a mason outlasts a moon.
 The hands of a plasterer hold a room together.
 The land of a farmer wishes him back again.
          Singers of songs and dreamers of plays
          Build a house no wind blows over.
 The lawyers--tell me why a hearse horse snickers
          hauling a lawyer's bones.
-- Carl Sandburg

After reading the last submission to Minstrels about lawyers, I could not
resist making a case in defence ;)

I'm always wary of the reaction I will get from people when I tell them that
I am a lawyer. I've gotten used to the contempt and the look of disdain that
come my way. I think I've also heard almost every lawyer joke that's out
there (and there's far too many) [I'm reminded of the lawyer who said "well,
then, the next time you're arrested, go hire a comedian!" - martin].  I've
browsed through many sites looking for poetry that (even if it does not glorify

lawyers) is (at least) not condescending towards them. I haven't had much

This poem, much like a lawyer joke, highlights some of the stereotypes which
give lawyers the reputation they have. The use of archaic legalese jargon,
for instance. Attributes that lawyers are Insensitive, Cold, Callous and
Unfeeling. Perhaps, that's often the only way we can maintain objectivity
and be competent? Lawyers do know how to show compassion and love.  We also
know how to laugh and feel.  And shocking as it might sound, lawyers also
appreciate poetry. But, that is when they're not being lawyers.  However, a
competent lawyer is one that can put aside personal prejudices and feelings
(even when they are in conflict with the client)and maintain objectivity.

No one explains this dichotomy to lawyer's personality better than Mulan
Ashwin, a fellow lawyer and lover of poetry (I found this poem by him on the

I am not a poet.
I am a lawyer.
Subtlety and sensitivity
are prerequisites for poets,
not so for lawyers.

I would be too scared to be
a poet; they feel too much.
Lawyers should not feel too much;
they are trained not to.

Can one train to be a poet?
To feel too much?

- Mulan Ashwin


Not much needs to be said about Carl Sandburg.  The EB biography of Sandburg
can be had at Poem #163



The Law the Lawyers Know About -- H D C Pepler

Guest poem sent in by Mike Lynd
(Poem #1392) The Law the Lawyers Know About
 The law the lawyers know about
 Is property and land;
 But why the leaves are on the trees,
 And why the wind disturbs the seas,
 Why honey is the food of bees,
 Why horses have such tender knees,
 Why winters come and rivers freeze,
 Why Faith is more than what one sees,
 And Hope survives the worst disease,
 And Charity is more than these,
     They do not understand.
-- H D C Pepler
To pick up on the 'hope' theme of the Emily Dickinson poem [Poem #1382],
here is a little poem that I have always liked. Not only does it bash
lawyers in a most satisfying way, but it also delineates faith, hope and
charity both elegantly and succinctly. I am not sure about the "tender
knees" line but the rest of the poem neatly contrasts the prosaic doings of
lawyers with the mysteries of life and nature.

HDC Pepler, the author, seems to have been a printer in Ditchling, Sussex
during the 1930s, and a Google search reveals about 25 references to him,
mainly as a printer of "private press" works but also with a few references
to this poem.

best wishes,

Mike Lynd

The Grain of Sound -- Robert Morgan

(Poem #1391) The Grain of Sound
 A banjo maker in the mountains,
 when looking out for wood to carve
 an instrument, will walk among
 the trees and knock on trunks. He'll hit
 the bark and listen for a note.
 A hickory makes the brightest sound;
 the poplar has a mellow ease.
 But only straightest grain will keep
 the purity of tone, the sought --
 for depth that makes the licks sparkle.
 A banjo has a shining shiver.
 Its twangs will glitter like the light
 on splashing water. But the face
 of banjo is a drum of hide
 of cow, or cat, or even skunk.
 The hide will magnify the note,
 the sad of honest pain, the chill
 blood song, lament, confession, haunt,
 as tree will sing again from root
 and vein and sap and twig in wind
 and cat will moan as hand plucks nerve,
 picks bone and cell and gut and pricks
 the heart as blood will answer blood
 and love begins to knock along the grain.
-- Robert Morgan
I'm an admirer of craftsmanship in all its forms. The combination of
patience, skill and beauty implied by the word always inspires me, and
it's something I look for in everything I see. And poetry (good poetry,
that is) is the perfect vehicle for it: the poet has to carve and fit
words together like a carpenter or mason, he has to create images like a
painter, he has to evoke feelings like a composer, and he has to do all
this with the elegance of a mathematician. It sounds like a tough ask;
fortunately for us, there are poets who can do and have done just that


[Minstrels links]

Poems that are sort of about craftsmanship, music, or both:
Poem #60, Byzantium  -- William Butler Yeats
Poem #205, Crucible  -- Carl Sandburg
Poem #476, In My Craft or Sullen Art  -- Dylan Thomas
Poem #892, Stupid Pencil Maker -- Shel Silverstein
Poem #963, Concerto for Double Bass -- John Fuller

The Salutation -- Thomas Traherne

Guest poem sent in by K J Lee
(Poem #1390) The Salutation
 These little Limbs,
 These Eys and Hands which here I find,
 This panting Heart wherwith my Life begins;
 Where have ye been? Behind
 What Curtain were ye from me hid so long!
 Where was, in what Abyss, my new-made Tongue?

 When silent I
 So many thousand thousand Years
 Beneath the Dust did in a Chaos ly,
 How could I Smiles, or Tears,
 Or Lips, or Hands, or Eys, or Ears perceiv?
 Welcom ye Treasures which I now receiv.

 I that so long
 Was Nothing from Eternity,
 Did little think such Joys as Ear and Tongue
 To celebrat or see:
 Such Sounds to hear, such Hands to feel, such Feet,
 Beneath the Skies, on such a Ground to meet.

 New burnisht Joys!
 Which finest Gold and Pearl excell!
 Such sacred Treasures are the Limbs of Boys
 In which a Soul doth dwell:
 Their organized Joints and azure Veins
 More Wealth include than all the World contains.

 From Dust I rise
 And out of Nothing now awake;
 These brighter Regions which salute mine Eys
 A Gift from God I take:
 The Earth, the Seas, the Light, the lofty Skies,
 The Sun and Stars are mine; if these I prize.

 A Stranger here,
 Strange things doth meet, strange Glory see,
 Strange Treasures lodg'd in this fair World appear,
 Strange all and New to me:
 But that they mine should be who Nothing was,
 That Strangest is of all; yet brought to pass.
-- Thomas Traherne
Nobody does the joy of being more than Traherne. Almost all his poems are
to do with the miracle of existence, the wonder of our universe, and the
sheer extraordinariness of ordinary things. This particular poem never
fails to make me grateful to be alive, not just for all the things
Traherne mentions, but also the near perfection of this poem, with its
changing rhythms which delay then resolve the rhymes.

At the risk of being over-analytical with such a passionate piece of
verse, I particularly like the second stanza: ears alliterates with eyes
and rhymes with tears, and many a lesser poet would have left it there to
end the line, but Traherne makes the 4th line a pentameter - perceive!
which then chimes nicely with the last line, also a pentameter with the
same rhyme. This is wisdom and flawless poetry - Traherne is saying that
the world we live in is not a trifle, but a subject for solemn
amazement, and deserves nothing less.

With regard to Traherne's poetry, we are doubly-blessed, because this and
other beautiful poems by him have been set to music in another great work,
the "Dies Natalis" by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). Finzi is little-known
outside the United Kingdom, but his settings of English verse,
particularly Shakespeare and Hardy, are glorious and well-loved.



Thomas Traherne, was born in Hereford, near the Welsh border, in 1637, and
died in 1674. A biography can be found at

The Amores: Book 1, Poem #3 -- Ovid

Guest poem sent in by Kerri
(Poem #1389) The Amores: Book 1, Poem #3
 Fair's fair now, Venus. This girl's got me hooked. All I'm asking from her
 Is love - or at least some future hope for my own
 Eternal devotion. No, even that's too much--hell, just let me love her!
 (Listen, Venus: I've asked you so often now.)
 Say yes, pet. I'd be your slave for years, for a lifetime.
 Say yes--unswerving fidelity's my strong suit.
 I may not have top-drawer connections, I can't produce blue-blooded
 Ancestors to impress you, my father's plain middle-class,
 And there aren't any squads of ploughmen to deal with my broad acres -
 My parents are both pretty thrifty, and need to be.
 What have I got on my side, then?  Poetic genius, sweetheart,
 Divine inspiration. And love. I'm yours to command -
 Unswerving faithfulness, morals above suspicion
 Naked simplicity, a born-to-the-purple blush.
 I don't chase thousands of girls, I'm no sexual circus-rider;
 Honestly, all I want is to look after you
 Till death do us part, have the two of us living together
 All my time, and know you'll cry for me when I'm gone.
 Besides, when you give me yourself, what you'll be providing
 Is creative material. My art will rise to the theme
 And immortalise you. Look, why do you think we remember
 The swan-upping of Leda, or Io's life as a cow,
 Or poor virgin Europa whisked off overseas, clutching
 That so-called bull by the - horn?  Through poems, of course.
 So you and I, love, will enjoy that same world-wide publicity,
 And our names will be linked, forever, with the gods.
-- Ovid
        (trans. from the Latin by Peter Green)

Hard to believe he was born in 43 BC, huh?  Such a wonderful,
irreverent, naughty, brilliant poet, bursting with passion and
self-confidence. For me, this poem has an exuberance which is
unstifled by the intervening years. So many great writers over the
centuries have been influenced by Ovid's works, and upon reading this,
it's apparent why. I just love this poem - it always makes me laugh
with sheer delight.


[Latin original]

Iusta precor: quae me nuper praedata puella est,
    aut amet aut faciat, cur ego semper amem!
a, nimium volui—tantum patiatur amari;
    audierit nostras tot Cytherea preces!
Accipe, per longos tibi qui deserviat annos;
    accipe, qui pura norit amare fide!
si me non veterum commendant magna parentum
    nomina, si nostri sanguinis auctor eques,
nec meus innumeris renovatur campus aratris,
    temperat et sumptus parcus uterque parens—
at Phoebus comitesque novem vitisque repertor
    hac faciunt, et me qui tibi donat, Amor,
et nulli cessura fides, sine crimine mores
    nudaque simplicitas purpureusque pudor.
non mihi mille placent, non sum desultor amoris:
    tu mihi, siqua fides, cura perennis eris.
tecum, quos dederint annos mihi fila sororum,
    vivere contingat teque dolente mori!
te mihi materiem felicem in carmina praebe—
    provenient causa carmina digna sua.
carmine nomen habent exterrita cornibus Io
    et quam fluminea lusit adulter ave,
quaeque super pontum simulato vecta iuvenco
    virginea tenuit cornua vara manu.
nos quoque per totum pariter cantabimur orbem,
    iunctaque semper erunt nomina nostra tuis.

        -- [broken link]


A more literal translation: Green deserves at least some of the credit for the delightful irreverence
of the first translation.

A biography of Ovid:

And of Peter Green (scroll to the bottom)
  [broken link]

Ovid FAQ: