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In California During the Gulf War -- Denise Levertov

Guest poem sent in by Mark Cummins
(Poem #1184) In California During the Gulf War
 Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among
 trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts,
 the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought,

 certain airy white blossoms punctually
 reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink--
 a delicate abundance. They seemed

 like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed
 festival day, unaware of the year's events, not perceiving
 the sackcloth others were wearing.

 To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well
 with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
 daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons.

 Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches
 more lightly than birds alert for flight,
 lifted the sunken heart

 even against its will.
                       But not
 as symbols of hope: they were flimsy
 as our resistance to the crimes committed

 --again, again--in our name; and yes, they return,
 year after

  year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy
 over against the dark glare

 of evil days. They are, and their presence
 is quietness ineffable--and the bombings are, were,
 no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophany

 simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms
 were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed
 the war had ended, it had not ended.
-- Denise Levertov
           from Evening Train

With news all the news at the moment, I was reminded of this poem by Denise

I first read it as an unseen poem in an exam, and even while I was
frantically trying to scribble something about its technical makeup, the
poem struck me a wonderfully subtle account of war and protest and how the
world carries on in spite of both.  In light of all the talk of war with
Iraq it is once more very topical.


[Martin adds]

I cannot help but compare this (favourably, of course) to Andrew Motion's
"Causa Belli" [Poem #1143]. A little subtlety goes a long, long way,
especially in poetry.

For another great poem along the same lines, see Frost's "Range Finding"
[Poem #1036]

Out of the East -- James Fenton

Guest poem sent in by Reed C Bowman , who

Some time back I sent in James Fenton's 'The Ballad of the Imam and the
Shah'. In correspondence afterward, I mentioned another poem from the
same collection. Though the Imam and the Shah is what first called my
attention to Fenton, I think this one has become my favorite - bleak
though it is.
(Poem #1183) Out of the East
 Out of the South came Famine.
 Out of the West came Strife.
 Out of the North came a storm cone
 And out of the East came a warrior wind
 And it struck you like a knife.
 Out of the East there shone a sun
 As the blood rose on the day
 And it shone on the work of the warrior wind
 And it shone on the heart
 And it shone on the soul
 And they called the sun - Dismay.

 And it's a far cry from the jungle
 To the city of Phnom Penh
 And many try
 And many die
 Before they can see their homes again
 And it's a far cry from the paddy track
 To the palace of the king
 And many go
 Before they know
 It's a far cry.
 It's a war cry.
 Cry for the war that can do this thing.

 A foreign soldier came to me
 And he gave me a gun
 And he predicted victory
 Before the year was done.

 He taught me how to kill a man.
 He taught me how to try.
 Be he forgot to say to me
 How an honest man should die.

 He taught me how to kill a man
 Who was my enemy
 But never how to kill a man
 Who'd been a friend to me.

 You fought the way a hero fights -
 You had no need to fear
 My friend, but you are wounded now
 And I'm not allowed to leave you here


 Out of the East came Anger
 And it walked a dusty road
 And it stopped when it came to a river bank
 And it pitched a camp
 And it gazed across
 To where the city stood
 Out of the West came thunder
 But it came without a sound
 For it came at the speed of the warrior wind
 And it fell on the heart
 And it fell on the soul
 And it shook the battleground

 And it's a far cry from the cockpit
 To the foxhole in the clay
 And we were a
 In a foreign land
 Far away
 And it's a far cry from the paddy track
 To the palace of the king
 And many try
 And they ask why
 It's a far cry.
 It's a war cry.
 Cry for the war that can do this thing.

 Next year the army came for me
 And I was sick and thin
 And they put a weapon in our hands
 And they told us we would win

 And they feasted us for seven days
 And they slaughtered a hundred cattle
 And we sang our songs of victory
 And the glory of the battle

 And they sent us down the dusty roads
 In the stillness of the night
 And when the city heard from us
 It burst in a flower of light.

 The tracer bullets found us out.
 The guns were never wrong
 And the gunship said Regret Regret
 The words of your victory song.

 Out of the North came an army
 And it was clad in black
 And out of the South came a gun crew
 With a hundred shells
 And a howitzer
 And we walked in black along the paddy track
 Out of the West came napalm
 And it tumbled from the blue
 And it spread at the speed of the warrior wind
 And it clung to the heart
 And it clung to the soul
 As napalm is designed to do

 And it's a far cry from the fireside
 To the fire that finds you there
 In the foxhole
 By the temple gate
 The fire that finds you everywhere
 And it's a far cry from the paddy track
 To the palace of the king
 And many try
 And they ask why
 It's a far cry.
 It's a war cry.
 Cry for the war that can do this thing.

 My third year in the army
 I was sixteen years old
 And I had learnt enough, my friend,
 To believe what I was told

 And I was told that we would take
 The city of Phnom Penh
 And they slaughtered all the cows we had
 And they feasted us again

 And at last we were given river mines
 And we blocked the great Mekong
 And now we trained our rockets on
 The landing-strip at Pochentong.

 The city lay within our grasp.
 We only had to wait.
 We only had to hold the line
 By the foxhole, by the temple gate

 Out of the West came clusterbombs
 And they burst in a hundred shards
 And every shard was a new bomb
 And it burst again
 Upon our men
 As they gasped for breath in the temple yard.
 Out of the West came a new bomb
 And it sucked away the air
 And it sucked at the heart
 And it sucked at the soul
 And it found a lot of children there

 And it's a far cry from the temple yard
 To the map of the general staff
  From the grease pen to the gasping men
 To the wind that blows the soul like chaff
 And it's a far cry from the paddy track
 To the palace of the king
 And many go
 Before they know
 It's a far cry.
 It's a war cry.
 Cry for the war that has done this thing.

 A foreign soldier came to me
 And he gave me a gun
 And the liar spoke of victory
 Before the year was done.

 What would I want with victory
 In the city of Phnom Penh?
 Punish the city! Punish the people!
 What would I want but punishment?

 We have brought the king home to his palace.
 We shall leave him there to weep
 And we'll go back along the paddy track
 For we have promises to keep.

 For the promise made in the foxhole,
 For the oath in the temple yard,
 For the friend I killed on the battlefield
 I shall make that punishment hard.

 Out of the South came Famine.
 Out of the West came Strife.
 Out of the North came a storm cone
 And out of the East came a warrior wind
 And it struck you like a knife.
 Out of the East there shone a sun
 As the blood rose on the day
 And it shone on the work of the warrior wind
 And it shone on the heart
 And it shone on the soul
 And they called the sun Dismay, my friend,
 They called the sun - Dismay.
-- James Fenton
I don't have a lot to say about the poem itself. I think the driving
strength of Fenton's unusual meters gives his poems, especially his
bleak war poems, a great power of vividness and immediacy. I like a poet
who can throw the almost playful onomatopoeia of 'the gunship said
Regret Regret', into a desperately serious poem (or is it reverse
onomatopoeia? Is there a word for this articulation into real words of
an inarticulate sound? A specialized case of personification, I suppose).

This poem, like 'The Ballad of the Imam and the Shah', was set to music
early in its life - for a 'pocket musical' titled _Out of the East_,
performed in Paris in 1990 - and may or may not have been written
originally with music in mind. I must say - with utmost subjectivity -
the oddly facile repetition in the final two lines disappoints me much
in the way many song lyrics do when transcribed to read as poetry. But
the poem stands despite it. [I agree - the last two lines were
definitely detrimental to my appreciation of the poem, especially
occupying the crucial position they did. Nonetheless, this is far too
good a poem to be spoilt by a bad ending - martin]

'Out of the East' recurred to my mind, and I first intended to send it,
early in the USAmerican campaigns in Afghanistan. It occurred to me that
the poem was about what happened in a poor country, torn by tribal
conflict and blindsided by the incursion of the wars of neighbors, when
a ruthless, ideologically extreme group arose to give its battered
people a blind purpose, fed with all the weapons the first world could
provide, then touched off by undeclared retributive war from the West
against a desperate army illegally basing itself in - and partially
controlling the politics of - that same crumbling country. The situation
sounded unfortunately familiar. It may well be, and it is certainly to
be hoped that I was wrong in my knee-jerk comparison of the situation of
Afghanistan with Cambodia. But time alone will tell.


[Martin adds]

As I have mentioned before, I am always on the lookout for new 'voices'
in poetry, particularly in massively popular genres like love and war
poetry. That is to say, not just new poets, but poets with whole new
perspectives, both on the subject and on its presentation. Fenton has
been a very welcome addition to my list of distinctively-voiced war
poets - many thanks to Reed for introducing me to him.

Tangentially, the phrase 'Out of the East' called Tolkien's "The Lord of
the Rings" to mind, and in particular the bit immediately following the
Lament for Boromir [Poem #46]:
  'You left the East Wind to me,' said Gimli, 'but I will say naught of
  'That is as it should be,' said Aragorn. 'In Minas Tirith they endure
  the East Wind, but they do not ask it for tidings.'

In Search of Cinderella -- Shel Silverstein

(Poem #1182) In Search of Cinderella
 From dusk to dawn,
 From town to town,
 Without a single clue,
 I seek the tender, slender foot
 To fit this crystal shoe.
 From dusk to dawn,
 I try it on
 Each damsel that I meet.
 And I still love her so, but oh,
 I've started hating feet.
-- Shel Silverstein
I've always loved fairytale retellings - the stories are so much a part of our
cultural heritage, and have shaped the canon in so many ways, that it's
fascinating to explore their universes in greater depth. What sort of person
was Sleeping Beauty when she was awake? Didn't the Ugly Stepsisters have
their own stories to tell? And, perhaps most intriguingly of all, what *did*
happen after 'happily ever after'? Surely all those tales didn't just taper
off into uninterestingness once we got past the 'wedding in the last reel'.

Luckily, there has been no shortage of excellent retellings, whether
exquisitely serious (Robin McKinley and Gregory Maguire, to name but two
authors whose work has never disappointed me) or sidesplittingly funny
(Roald Dahl's "Revolting Rhymes", Pratchett's "Witches Abroad"). And, apart
from the sheer delight in seeing a favourite playground returned to, these
stories and poems are intriguing for the unexpected - indeed, often
startling - perspectives they bring to bear on the old, familiar material.

Today's poem is one such example - hilarious, yes, but relying for its
humour on a genuine "wow - that's certainly plausible! Why didn't I think of
that?" reaction on the reader's part. Just another of the sparkling little
gems that Silverstein seems to have produced so effortlessly and in such
great quantity - once again, I wish I'd discovered him as a child.


  I found today's poem in the wonderful collection at

  Several other poets have enjoyed exploring the canonical folk-universe of
  fairy tales, fables, nursery rhymes, etc. - see, for example, the rather
  Tintinesque duo of Carroll and Carryl:
    [broken link]

Elephants Are Different to Different People -- Carl Sandburg

Raj Bandyopadhyay sent in an excellent followup to his
previous poem [Poem #1179]:
(Poem #1181) Elephants Are Different to Different People
      Wilson and Pilcer and Snack stood before the zoo elephant.

      Wilson said, "What is its name? Is it from Asia or Africa? Who feeds
 it? Is it a he or a she? How old is it? Do they have twins? How much does
 it cost to feed? How much does it weigh? If it dies, how much will another
 one cost? If it dies, what will they use the bones, the fat, and the hide
 for? What use is it besides to look at?"

      Pilcer didn't have any questions; he was murmering to himself, "It's
 a house by itself, walls and windows, the ears came from tall cornfields,
 by God; the architect of those legs was a workman, by God; he stands like
 a bridge out across the deep water; the face is sad and the eyes are kind;
 I know elephants are good to babies."

      Snack looked up and down and at last said to himself, "He's a tough
 son-of-a-gun outside and I'll bet he's got a strong heart, I'll bet he's
 strong as a copper-riveted boiler inside."

      They didn't put up any arguments.
      They didn't throw anything in each other's faces.
      Three men saw the elephant three ways
      And let it go at that.
      They didn't spoil a sunny Sunday afternoon;

 "Sunday comes only once a week," they told each other.
-- Carl Sandburg
Very unorthodox poem. And the way the world should be!
Here are three men who are not blind!
Will leave to the reader to look for the metaphors.
Wish more people read this.


[Martin adds]

Brilliant poem, but here's the thing - I *had* read it, several years ago.
And I naturally did make the connection to 'Blind Men', and like Raj,
enthusiastically showed it to several people, who also appreciated it. But -
until I was reminded of it just now - I'd since forgotten it entirely, while
I can quote most of Saxe's poem from memory. As perfect a demonstration of
the value of rhyme and rhythm as any I've seen.


P.S. For another nice combination of famous poem and deserving but
relatively unknown followup, see Poem #355 and Poem #357

Not Waving But Drowning -- Stevie Smith

Guest poem submitted by Vikram Doctor, one last
hurrah for the 'poems in movies' theme:
(Poem #1180) Not Waving But Drowning
 Nobody heard him, the dead man,
 But still he lay moaning:
 I was much further out than you thought
 And not waving but drowning.

 Poor chap, he always loved larking
 And now he's dead
 It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
 They said.

 Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
 (Still the dead one lay moaning)
 I was much too far out all my life
 And not waving but drowning.
-- Stevie Smith
I was surprised to find Minstrels hadn't run this since it's now quite a
well known poem and one that often crops up on websites where people have
collected their favourite poems. But there's only one other Stevie Smith
poem here and perhaps her rather quirky talent deserves more. She can
sometimes be almost tiresomely whimsical, but quite often, as with this
poem, this whimsy cuts through to reveal a bone chilling despair.

I thought this could go in the series of poems in films because I'm pretty
sure its used in 'Stevie' the biopic of her made in 1978 which stars Glenda
Jackson. The film is OK, it started life as a play and one gets the feeling
it must have worked better that way. It's too talky and everything is too
much like a stage set.

But Jackson's performance is good, both sprightly and sad, as one imagines
Stevie must have been. And she plays off very well with the other good
performance from Mona Washbourne as Stevie's 'Lion aunt' with whom she spent
her life. The interaction between the two is really warm and affectionate
and the best part of the film. In the course of it several poems of Stevie's
are quoted, and this I'm sure is one of them.

'The Faber Book of Movie Verse' edited by Philip French and Ken Waschin list
several other films based on the lives of poets, though they say that in
"real-life poets have been romanticized in a dotty, sometimes
unintentionally comic fashion." For example they give:

- the Brownings in 'The Barretts of Wimpole Street'
- Shelley & Byron in a prelude to James Whale's "The Bride of Frankenstein'
(egging Mary Shelley on to top her earlier work)
- Ronald Colman as Villon in 'If I Were King'
- Shelley, Byron and co. again having orgies in Ken Russell's 'Gothic'
- Byron alone in 'The Bad Lord Byron' (this sounds so cheesy I really want
to see it now!) and 'Lady Caroline Lamb'
- Rip Torn as Walt Whitman in 'Beautiful Dreamers'
- Swift, Pope and Addison in 'Orlando'
- Oscar Wilde in several films
- Edgar Allan Poe in D. W. Griffith's poem of the same name
- Verlaine and Rimbaud (played by Leonardo DiCaprio!) in 'Total Eclipse'.
(After he achieved teen love god status in Titanic this film became
unexpectedly popular since it has Leo in the nude!)
- Shakespeare in several films
- Ezra Pound in 'The Cage'
- T. S. Eliot in 'Tom and Viv'


The Blind Men and the Elephant -- John Godfrey Saxe

Guest poem sent in by Raj Bandyopadhyay
(Poem #1179) The Blind Men and the Elephant
 It was six men of Indostan
 To learning much inclined,
 Who went to see the Elephant
 (Though all of them were blind),
 That each by observation
 Might satisfy his mind

 The First approached the Elephant,
 And happening to fall
 Against his broad and sturdy side,
 At once began to bawl:
 God bless me! but the Elephant
 Is very like a wall!

 The Second, feeling of the tusk,
 Cried, Ho! what have we here
 So very round and smooth and sharp?
 To me tis mighty clear
 This wonder of an Elephant
 Is very like a spear!

 The Third approached the animal,
 And happening to take
 The squirming trunk within his hands,
 Thus boldly up and spake:
 I see, quoth he, the Elephant
 Is very like a snake!

 The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
 And felt about the knee.
 What most this wondrous beast is like
 Is mighty plain, quoth he;
 'Tis clear enough the Elephant
 Is very like a tree!

 The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
 Said: Even the blindest man
 Can tell what this resembles most;
 Deny the fact who can
 This marvel of an Elephant
 Is very like a fan!?

 The Sixth no sooner had begun
 About the beast to grope,
 Than, seizing on the swinging tail
 That fell within his scope,
 I see, quoth he, the Elephant
 Is very like a rope!

 And so these men of Indostan
 Disputed loud and long,
 Each in his own opinion
 Exceeding stiff and strong,
 Though each was partly in the right,
 And all were in the wrong!


 So oft in theologic wars,
 The disputants, I ween,
 Rail on in utter ignorance
 Of what each other mean,
 And prate about an Elephant
 Not one of them has seen!
-- John Godfrey Saxe
Just one of those masterpieces which everyone has heard and no one really
thinks of submitting! Anyway, all the versions I've heard before did not
include the last "Moral" passage. 'Extended Edition' !!!!

The moral is so apt in modern times, with religious disputes setting the
planet on fire. Having been the 'justifiable' (I'm Hindu by birth, and
don't really care about religion) target of righteous right-winged
evangelists in the US who argue about how they know exactly what God
wanted to make of the world, I could not agree more with the poet.

This is supposed to be based on a fable from India. I would be curious to
know more about the exact origins though.

My favorite line: the one for the fifth guy, who starts with "Even the
blindest man..." So poignant in the context of religious disputes!

[Martin adds]

Raj is right - I can't believe we've not run this one yet. A true classic,
and one beloved of generations of schoolteachers (and schoolkids - it's a
very accessible poem for younger kids, rhythmic, visual, funny and
memorable). I'd be hard pressed to call this a great poem (it's *too*
simplistic, IMO, and the rhymes and rhythms too singsong), but it has, I
think, achieved a deserved immortality.

Mmenson -- Edward Kamau Braithwaite

(Poem #1178) Mmenson
 Summon now the kings of the forest,
 horn of the elephant,
 mournful call of the elephant;

 summon the emirs, kings of the desert,
 horses caparisoned, beaten gold bent,
 archers and criers, porcupine arrows, bows bent;

 recount now the gains and the losses:
 Agades, Sokoto, El Hassan dead in his tent,
 the silks and the brasses, the slow weary tent

 of our journeys down slopes, dry river courses,
 land of the lion, land of the leopard, elephant,
 country; tall grasses, thick prickly herbs. Blow elephant

 trumpet; summon the horses,
 dead horses, our losses: the bent
 slow bow of the Congo, the watering Niger...
-- Edward Kamau Braithwaite
[Notes by the author]

Mmenson: an orchestra of elephant tusk horns, used on state occasions to
relate history.
Agades: a town in the western Sudan.
Sokoto: a town in what is now northern Nigeria.


Today's poem reminds me of nothing so much as John Masefield's beautiful
"Cargoes" (Poem #74), and for obvious reasons. Both pieces intentionally
evoke the romance of days gone by, using old artefacts (quinquiremes and
moidores, caparisons and beaten gold) and place names (Nineveh and Ophir,
Agades and Sokoto) to excellent effect.

Notice the many repetitions (horses, elephant), internal rhymes
(horn/mournful, brasses/grasses, thick/prickly) and assonances (dead/tent)
in the poem. These combine to create an impression of slow and stately
progress that befits the elephant(-horn) theme. Indeed, there's a dignity to
the whole which ensures that it would not be out of place at a court recital
- the "mmenson" of the title. 'Majestic' is a strong word, but yes, this was
pretty impressively done.


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #74, Cargoes  -- John Masefield
Poem #238, Romance  -- W. J. Turner
Poem #518, The Gates of Damascus  -- James Elroy Flecker

The Way I Am -- Eminem

Guest poem sent in by David Wright
(Poem #1177) The Way I Am
 This song is for anyone
 f--k it.
 Just shut up and listen

 I sit back with this pack
 of Zig Zags and this bag
 of this weed it gives me
 the s--t needed to be
 the most meanest MC
 on this Earth and since birth
 I've been cursed with this curse
 to just curse and just blurt
 this berserk and bizarre s--t that works
 And it sells and it helps in itself
 to relieve all this tension
 dispensin’ these sentences
 Gettin’ this stress
 that's been eatin’ me recently
 off of this chest
 and I rest again peacefully…
 but at least have the decency
 in you to leave me
 alone, when you freaks
 see me out in the streets
 when I'm eatin’ or feedin’
 my daughter to not
 come and speak to me
 I don't know you
 and no, I don't owe you
 a mo-therf--k-ing
 thing, I'm not Mr. N'Sync,
 I'm not what your friends think
 I'm not Mr. Friendly,
 I can be a prick if you tempt me
 my tank is on empty
 No patience is in me
 and if you offend me
 I'm liftin’ you 10 feet
 in the air
 I don't care
 who is there
 and who saw me destroy you
 Go call you a lawyer,
 file you a lawsuit
 I'll smile in the courtroom
 and buy you a wardrobe
 I'm tired of all you...
 I don't mean to be mean
 but that's all I can be
 is just me
 And I am,
 whatever you say I am
 If I wasn't,
 then why would I say I am?
 In the paper,
 the news everyday I am
 Radio won't even play my jam
 Cause I am,
 whatever you say I am
 If I wasn't,
 then why would I say I am?
 In the paper,
 the news everyday I am
 I don't know it's just the way I am

 Sometimes I just feel like my father,
 I hate to be bothered
 with all of this nonsense
 it's constant
 And, "Oh, it's his lyrical content -
 - the song 'Guilty Conscience'
 has gotten such rotten responses"
 And all of this controversy
 circles me and it seems
 like the media immediately
 points a finger at me
 So I point one back at 'em,
 but not the index or pinkie
 or the ring or the thumb,
 it's the one you put up
 when you don't give a f--k,
 when you won't just put up
 with the bulls--t they pull,
 cause they full of s--t too
 When a dude's getting’ bullied
 and shoots up his school
 and they blame it on Marilyn
 and the heroin -
 Where were the parents at?
 And look where it's at
 Middle America,
 now it's a tragedy
 Now it's so sad to see,
 an upper class ci-ty
 havin’ this happenin’
 then attack Eminem
 cause I rap this way
 But I'm glad cause they feed
 me the fuel that I need
 for the fire to burn
 and it's burnin’
 and I have returned.

 I'm so sick and tired
 of bein’ admired
 that I wish that I
 would just die or get fired
 and dropped from my label
 and stop with the fables
 I'm not gonna be able
 to top on "My Name is..."
 And pigeon-holed into some
 pop-py sensation
 to cop me rotation
 at rock'n'roll stations
 And I just do not got the patience
 to deal with these cocky caucasians
 who think I'm some wigger
 who just tries to be black
 cause I talk with an ac-
 cent, and grab on my balls,
 so they always keep askin’
 the same f--kin’ questions
 What school did I go to,
 what hood I grew up in
 The why, the who what when,
 the where, and the how
 'til I'm grabbin’ my hair
 and I'm tearin’ it out
 cause they drivin’ me crazy...
 I can't take it
 I'm racin’, I'm pacin’,
 I stand and I sit
 And I'm thankful for ev-
 ery fan that I get
 But I can't take a sh-t,
 in the bathroom without
 someone standin’ by it
 No I won't sign your autograph
 You can call me an ass---le
 I'm glad ‘cuz I am,
 whatever you say I am
 If I wasn't,
 then why would I say I am?
 In the paper,
 the news everyday I am
 Radio won't even play my jam
 Cause I am,
 whatever you say I am
 If I wasn't,
 then why would I say I am?
 In the paper,
 the news everyday I am
 I don't know it's just the way I am
-- Eminem
I’m one of an increasing number of older music fans who are listening to
Eminem and other rappers – and while I’m not out to proselytize for rap,
I don’t know many poetry people who are interested in his work, or in
other rappers – and least of all those old-school poetry fans who feel
in their heart of hearts that it isn’t really poetry if it doesn’t have
strong metrics or even rhyme.  Little do they know we’re in a
renaissance of rhyme right now, and for millions of Americans, this is
poetry.  And I really think he’s one of the best satirists out there
today, and that the rhyming and rhythmic skills of artists like Eminem,
Jay-Z, Nas and others is right up there with Chaucer.  The audacity,
outrage, pain, absurdity, intelligence, irony and sheer guts of much of
Eminem’s stuff is impressive.  It doesn't translate all that well to the
page, but for readers who'll never go near the music, I think it might
be worthwhile to have some idea what's going on, hence this submission.

     I’m an old fan of Middle English lit, and I couldn’t help but be
struck by the similarity of this stuff to Skeltonics. (I’m not the
first person to draw this connection – see: John Skelton: The Godfather
of Rap

     Take a look at this excerpt from Colyn Clout and you’ll see right
away what I mean – Skelton was going after Cardinal Wolsey.

 From Colyn Clout (1519)

 W H A T can it avail
 To drive forth a snail,
 Or to make a sale
 Of an herring’s tail;
 To rhyme or to rail,
 To write or to indict,
 Either for delight
 Or else for despite;
 Or books to compile
 Of divers manner style,
 Vice to revile
 And sin to exile;
 To teach or to preach,
 As reason will reach?
 Say this, and say that,
 His head is so fat,
 He wotteth never what
 Nor whereof he speaketh;
 He cryeth and he creaketh,
 He pryeth and he peaketh,
 He chides and he chatters,
 He prates and he patters,
 He clytters and he clatters,
 He meddles and he smatters,
 He glosses and he flatters;
 Or if he speak plain,
 Than he lacketh brain,
 He is but a fool;
 Let him go to school,
 On a three footed stool
 That he may down sit,
 For he lacketh wit;
 And if that he hit
 The nail on the head,
 It standeth in no stead;
 The devil, they say, is dead,
 The devil is dead.
     It may well so be,
 Or else they would se
 Otherwise, and flee
 From worldly vanity,
 And foul covetousness,
 And other wretchedness,
 Fickle falseness,
 With unstableness.
     And if ye stand in doubt
 Who brought this rhyme about,
 My name is Colyn Cloute.
 I purpose to shake out
 All my conning bag,
 Like a clerkly hag;
 For though my rhyme be ragged,
 Tattered and jagged,
 Rudely rayne beaten,
 Rusty and moth-eaten,
 If ye take well therewith,
 It hath in it some pith.
 For, as far as I can se,
 It is wrong with each degree:
 For the temporality
 Accuseth the spirituality;
 The spiritual again
 Doth grudge and complain
 Upon the temporal men:
 Thus each of other blother
 The t’one against the t’other:
 Alas, they make me shudder!

Lest you think that Skelton has the edge for being politically inclined,
here’s some more Eminem -

 From Squaredance -  (The Eminem Show)

 Let your hair down to the track,
 yeah kick on back  (Boo!)
 The Boogiemonster of rap,
 yeah the man's back
 with a plan to ambush
 this Bush administration
 Mush the Senate's face in,
 push this generation
 of kids to stand and fight
 for the right to say somethin’
 you might not like,
 this white hot light
 that I'm under, no wonder
 I look so sunburnt
 Oh no I won't leave no stone unturned
 Oh no I won't leave, won't go nowhere
 Do-si-do, oh-yo-ho, hello there
 Oh yeah, don't think I won't go there
 Go to Beirut and do a show there.
 Yeah you laugh till your motherf--kin ass gets drafted
 While you're at band camp thinkin’ the crap can't happen
 'Til you f--k around, get an anthrax napkin
 Inside a package wrapped in Saran Wrap wrappin’
 Open the plastic and then you stand back gaspin’
 F--kin assassins, hijackin’ Amtraks, crashin’
 All this terror, America demands action
 Next thing you know, you've got Uncle Sam's ass askin’
 to join the Army or what you'll do for their Navy
 You just a baby, getting’ recruited at eighteen
 You're on a plane now, eatin’ their food and their baked beans
 I'm twenty-eight, they gon’ take you 'fore they take me
 Crazy insane, or insane crazy?
 When I say Hussein, you say Shady
 My views ain't changed,
 still inhumane, wait
 Arraigned two days late,
 the date's today,
 hang me!

And as someone who values our First Amendment freedoms, its hard not to
admire a guy who throws down a lyric like this to an audience a hundred
times larger than that of any pen-and-ink poet I can think of. Sam
Hamill and Amiri Baraka eat your hearts out...

 From White America  (The Eminem Show)

 So to the parents of America
 I am the derringer
 aimed at little Erica
 to attack her character
 The ringleader of this circus of worthless pawns
 Sent to lead the march right up to the steps of Congress and piss on the
 of the White House - to burn the flag and replace it with a Parental
 Advisory sticker
 To spit liquor in the faces of this democracy of hypocrisy
 F--k you Ms. Cheney!
 F--k you Tipper Gore!
 F--k you with the free-est of speech
 this Divided States of Embarrassment will allow me to have-
 F--k you!

      -- Eminem
      (from the Marshall Mathers LP)

David Wright

[Martin adds]

As David rightly predicted when he sent this in, I was in two minds
about running it. I admit to not being a fan of rap music (and, in
particular, not a fan of Eminem and his ilk, who seem to me to overdo
the use of expletives for a diminishingly-returned shock value), and was
somewhat worried about the potential offensiveness of the lyrics.

Still, David's commentary was interesting and thought provoking, and I
think what finally tipped the balance was the realisation that I would
have run the Skelton piece for sheer historical value, even though I
didn't care too much for it either.

Also, to be perfectly fair, rap was never intended to be standalone
verse - like many other song genres, it works much better with its
accompanying music, and tends to suffer when printed in isolation. In
particular, there is a certain apparent roughness to the verse rhythms
that in actuality is not so much rough as performance-oriented. Rap may
scan by sheer fiat in places, but it does so very convincingly. And,
more than any other form I've seen, it has raised assonance to the
status of a perfectly acceptable substitute for a true rhyme. The
assonance mixes freely with the rhyme, and the both work - no mean feat.

And finally, as David so rightly pointed out, for those of you who will
never listen to the music, it's nice to have at least a passing idea of
what's out there.

Visitor -- Les Murray

Guest poem submitted by David McKelvie:
(Poem #1176) Visitor
 He knocks at the door
 and listens to his heart approaching.
-- Les Murray
I like Les Murray, but sometimes I hate the things he says. I can hate his
politics and his religion. A lot of the time it feels like he is telling us
(the reader) that we are bad and wrong. But as Gabriel Garcia Marquez said
of Borges: "He is a writer I cannot stand. And yet I love the violin he
makes use of for expressing himself."

Murray is a master poet with staunch conservative beliefs contrary to my
own. But anyone who can write "Religions are poems. They concert / our
daylight and dreaming mind, our / emotions, instinct, breath and native
gesture // into the only whole thinking: poetry" is okay by me.... :)

This is a very short poem from his latest collection "Poems the Size of
Photographs" and I love the sheer volume he fits into 12 words (including
the title). I particulary like the use of sound: the thud of a knock on the
door matching the thud of the Visitor's heartbeat matching the thud
(perhaps) of the feet approaching the door.  I've spent ages going through
all the possibilities and scenarios in my head... But this is a universal
scene and I defy anyone to say they haven't experienced it.


Broadway -- Mark Doty

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1175) Broadway
 Under Grand Central's tattered vault
   --maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit--
     one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim

 billowed over some minor constellation
   under repair. Then, on Broadway, red wings
     in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws

 preening, beaks opening and closing
   like those animated knives that unfold all night
     in jewelers' windows. For sale,

 glass eyes turned outward toward the rain,
   the birds lined up like the endless flowers
     and cheap gems, the makeshift tables

 of secondhand magazines
   and shoes the hawkers eye
     while they shelter in the doorways of banks.

 So many pockets and paper cups
   and hands reeled over the weight
     of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd

 a woman reached to me across the wet roof
   of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta,
     I'm hungry. She was only asking for change,

 so I don't know why I took her hand.
   The rooftops were glowing above us,
     enormous, crystalline, a second city

 lit from within. That night
   a man on the downtown local stood up
     and said, My name is Ezekiel,

 I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called
   fall. He stood up straight
     to recite, a child reminded of his posture

 by the gravity of his text, his hands
   hidden in the pockets of his coat.
     Love is protected, he said,

 the way leaves are packed in snow,
    the rubies of fall. God is protecting
     the jewel of love for us.

 He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him
   all the change left in my pocket,
     and the man beside me, impulsive, moved,

 gave Ezekiel his watch.
   It wasn't an expensive watch,
     I don't even know if it worked,

 but the poet started, then walked away
   as if so much good fortune
     must be hurried away from,

 before anyone realizes it's a mistake.
   Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed
     like feathers in the rain,

 under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts,
   must have wondered at my impulse to touch her,
     which was like touching myself,

 the way your own hand feels when you hold it
   because you want to feel contained.
     She said, You get home safe now, you hear?

 In the same way Ezekiel turned back
   to the benevolent stranger.
     I will write a poem for you tomorrow,

 he said. The poem I will write will go like this:
   Our ancestors are replenishing
     the jewel of love for us.
-- Mark Doty
(From My Alexandria, published by University of Illinois Press.)

My Alexandria (1993), was chosen by Philip Levine for the National
Poetry Series. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award and
Britain's T.S. Eliot Prize, and was also a National Book Award finalist.


I, by happenstance, came upon this volume of poems in which Doty explores
landscape in poetry. This poem is one such piece. I have never been to New
York, but the setting can be any city of the world. The woman who asks for
money and the poet by the name Ezekiel, can be people we have met somewhere
sometime. And most important this poem reminds us how the "impulse to
touch her" is one way (and perhaps the only way) to "feel contained".


[Martin adds]

I *have* been to New York. The poem is perfect.


  [broken link]

We did a "Songs of the City" theme a while ago:
  [broken link]

No One So Much As You -- Edward Thomas

Guest poem submitted by Nitesh Dixit:
(Poem #1174) No One So Much As You
No one so much as you
Loves this my clay,
Or would lament as you
Its dying day.

You know me through and through
Though I have not told,
And though with what you know
You are not bold.

None ever was so fair
As I thought you:
Not a word can I bear
Spoken against you.

All that I ever did
For you seemed coarse
Compared with what I hid
Nor put in force.

My eyes scarce dare meet you
Lest they should prove
I but respond to you
And do not love.

We look and understand,
We cannot speak
Except in trifles and
Words the most weak.

For I at most accept
Your love, regretting
That is all: I have kept
Only a fretting

That I could not return
All that you gave
And could not ever burn
With the love you have,

Till sometimes it did seem
Better it were
Never to see you more
Than linger here

With only gratitude
Instead of love -
A pine in solitude
Cradling a dove.
-- Edward Thomas
I came across this poem while going through a battered book, an anthology of
English poems from the mid-20th century, and just fell for it. I like this
poem for the simple reason that it seems so honest in its presentation. How
often do we find ourselves responding to someone and not actually having
those same emotions... or so we feel to be the case. Perhaps it's the  same
for both the parties, perhaps all of us are merely responding to the other
and not recognising our own emotions.


Splendour in the Grass -- William Wordsworth

Guest poem sent in by KassieB :
(Poem #1173) Splendour in the Grass
 What though the radiance
 which was once so bright
 Be now for ever taken from my sight,
 Though nothing can bring back the hour
 Of splendour in the grass,
 of glory in the flower,
 We will grieve not, rather find
 Strength in what remains behind;
 In the primal sympathy
 Which having been must ever be;
 In the soothing thoughts that spring
 Out of human suffering;
 In the faith that looks through death,
 In years that bring the philosophic mind.
-- William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth's 'Splendour in the Grass' is the poem we hear in the 1961
movie by the same name.  Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty starred and Wood was
nominated for an Academy Award for her role as Deanie, Beatty's girlfriend.

The poem is from Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early
Childhood, which begins with the majestic:

  There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
  The earth, and every common sight,
            To me did seem
        Apparelled in celestial light,
  The glory and the freshness of a dream.

The entire ode is well worth reading.

My first introduction to Splendour in the Grass was on a day when I was home
from school, sick with the flu. I passed the day watching movies on the
television. Though I was only about eleven or twelve years old, the poem
really resonated. And who can forget Natalie Wood struggling to read it in
her English class, then hearing her recite it again, this time much wiser,
at the end of the movie?


Scotland Small? -- Hugh MacDiarmid

(Poem #1172) Scotland Small?
 Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland _small_?
 Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner
 To a fool who cries "Nothing but heather!" Where in September another
 Sitting there and resting and gazing around
 Sees not only heather but blaeberries
 With bright green leaves and leaves already turned scarlet,
 Hiding ripe blue berries; and amongst the sage-green leaves
 Of the bog-myrtle the golden flowers of the tormentil shining;
 And on the small bare places, where the little Blackface sheep
 Found grazing, milkworts blue as summer skies;
 And down in neglected peat-hags, not worked
 In living memory, sphagnum moss in pastel shades
 Of yellow, green and pink; sundew and butterwort
 And nodding harebells vying in their colour
 With the blue butterflies that poise themselves delicately upon them,
 And stunted rowans with harsh dry leaves of glorious colour
 "Nothing but heather!" -- How marvellously descriptive! And incomplete!
-- Hugh MacDiarmid
It's refreshing, especially in these troubled times, to find a poem that
displays an unabashed love for one country without an accompanying
disrespect (or worse) for others. MacDiarmid does not puff Scotland up with
facile comparisons, he does not praise extravagantly, nor does he deprecate
or stoop to condescension; he does not need to. His deep-felt connection
with his land shines through in every word of his description; it's the
_detail_ that makes the difference.


PS. It's good to be back :)

[Minstrels Links]

England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales:
Poem #65, Home Thoughts From Abroad  -- Robert Browning
Poem #1172, Scotland Small? -- Hugh MacDiarmid
Poem #41, Ireland, Ireland  -- Sir Henry Newbolt
Poem #374, Psalm Of the Valleys  -- Alex Pascall

The Ballad of Yukon Jake -- Edward E Paramore Jr

Guest poem sent in by EB
(Poem #1171) The Ballad of Yukon Jake
Begging Robert W. Service's Pardon

 Oh the north countree is a hard countree
 That mothers a bloody brood;
 And its icy arms hold hidden charms
 For the greedy, the sinful and lewd.

 And strong men rust, from the gold and the lust
 That sears the Northland soul,
 But the wickedest born, from the Pole to the Horn,
 Is the Hermit of Shark Tooth Shoal.

 Now Jacob Kaime was the Hermit's name
 In the days of his pious youth,
 Ere he cast a smirch on the village Church
 By betraying a girl named Ruth.

 But now men quake at "Yukon Jake,"
 The Hermit of Shark-Tooth Shoal,
 For that is the name that Jacob Kaime
 Is known by from Nome to the Pole.

 He was just a boy and the parson's joy
 (Ere he fell for the gold and the muck),
 And had learned to pray, with the hogs and the hay
 On a farm near Keokuk.

 But a Service tale of illicit kale --
 And whisky and women wild --
 Drained the morals clean as a souptureen
 From this poor but honest child.

 He longed for the bite of a Yukon night
 And the Northern Light's weird flicker,
 Or a game of stud in the frozen mud,
 And the taste of raw red licker.

 He wanted to mush along in the slush,
 With a team of husky hounds;
 And to fire his gat at a beaver hat
 And knock it out of bounds.

 So he left his home for the hell-town Nome,
 On Alaska's ice-ribbed shores,
 And he learned to curse and to drink, and worse --
 Till the rum dripped from his pores.

 When the boys on a spree were drinking it free
 In a Malamute saloon,
 And Dan Megrew and his dangerous crew
 Shot craps with the piebald coon;

 When the Kid on his stool banged away like a fool
 At a jag-time melody,
 And the barkeep vowed, to the hard-boiled crowd,
 That he'd cree-mate Sam McGee --

 Then Jacob Kaime, who had taken the name
 Of Yukon Jake, the Killer,
 Would rake the dive with his forty-five
 Till the atmosphere grew chiller.

 With a sharp command he'd make 'em stand
 And deliver their hard-earned dust;
 Then drink the bar dry, of rum and rye,
 As a Klondike bully must.

 Without coming to blows he would tweak the nose
 Of Dangerous Dan Megrew,
 And becoming bolder, throw over his shoulder
 The lady that's known as Lou.

 Oh, tough as a steak was Yukon Jake --
 Hard-boiled as a picnic egg.
 He washed his shirt in the KIondike dirt,
 And drank his rum by the keg.

 In fear of their lives (or because of their wives)
 He was shunned by the best of his pals;
 An outcast he, from the comradery
 Of all but wild animals.

 So he bought him the whole of Shark-Tooth Shoal,
 A reef in the Bering Sea,
 And he lived by himself on a sea lion's shelf
 In lonely iniquity.

 But, miles away, in Keokuk, Ia.,
 Did a ruined maiden fight
 To remove the smirch from the village Church
 By bringing the heathen Light.

 And the Elders declared that all would be squared
 If she carried the holy words
 From her Keokuk home to the hell-town Nome
 To save those sinful birds.

 So, two weeks later, she took a freighter,
 For the gold-cursed land near the Pole,
 But Heaven ain't made for a lass that's betrayed --
 She was wrecked on Shark-Tooth Shoal!

 All hands were tossed in the Sea, and lost --
 All but the maiden Ruth,
 Who swam to the edge of the sea lion's ledge
 Where abode  the love of her youth.

 He was hunting a seal for his evening meal
 (He handled a mean harpoon)
 When he saw at his feet, not something to eat,
 But a girl in a frozen swoon,

 Whom he dragged to his lair by her dripping hair,
 And he rubbed her knees with gin, --
 To his great surprise, she opened her eyes
 And revealed -- his Original Sin!

 His eight-months beard grew stiff and weird,
 And it felt like a chestnut bur,
 And he swore by his gizzard -- and the Arctic blizzard,
 That he'd do right by her.

 Then the cold sweat froze on the end of her nose
 Till it gleamed like a Tecla pearl,
 While her bright hair fell, like a flame from hell,
 Down the back of the grateful girl.

 But a hopeless rake was Yukon Jake,
 The hermit of Shark Tooth Shoal!
 And the dizzy maid he rebetrayed
 And wrecked her immortal soul!...

 Then he rowed her ashore, with a broken oar,
 And he sold her to Dan McGrew
 For a husky dog and some hot eggnog --
 As rascals are wont to do.

 Now ruthless Ruth is a maid uncouth
 With scarlet cheeks and lips,
 And she sings rough songs to the drunken throngs
 That come from the sealing ships.

 For a rouge-stained kiss from this infamous miss
 They will give a seal's sleek fur,
 Or perhaps a sable, if they are able;
 It's much the same to her.

 Oh, the North Countree is a rough countree,
 That mothers a bloody brood;
 And its icy arms hold hidden charms
 For the greedy, the sinful and lewd.

 And strong men rust, from the gold and the lust
 That sears the Northland soul,
 But the wickedest born from the Pole to the Horn
 Was the Hermit of Shark-Tooth Shoal!
-- Edward E Paramore Jr
The Ballad of Yukon Jake, inspired an eponymous movie starring Ben Turpin
(1926.)  You need to be familiar with the work of Robert Service, at which
this poem pokes gentle fun, to fully appreciate Yukon Jake. 100 years ago
poems were as popular as movies and TV shows are today, and people
entertained themselves by reciting poems, such as Service's, so that a boy
might hear and be influenced by one; and "a Service tale of illicit
kale--and whiskey and women wild--sucked the morals clean as a soup tureen
from this poor but honest child" was a plausible plot turn.

This line illustrates Paramore's great use of rhyme and meter--somehow it's
right, but not quite right, so it's hilarious.  My uncle grew up in the
twilight of that age, and sometimes he would recite this poem with the skill
of a professional actor.  Some poems need to be spoken aloud;  this is one
of them.  Enjoy.


Paramore appears to have been a screenwriter - couldn't find a biography,
but here's his filmography:
  [broken link]

And here are some Service poems, if you're unfamiliar with his work:
  [broken link]

Annabel Lee -- Edgar Allan Poe

Back to the movies theme, here's a guest poem sent in by Mallika Chellappa
(Poem #1170) Annabel Lee
 It was many and many a year ago,
     In a kingdom by the sea,
 That a maiden there lived whom you may know
     By the name of ANNABEL LEE;--
 And this maiden she lived with no other thought
     Than to love and be loved by me.
 She was a child and I was a child,
     In this kingdom by the sea,
 But we loved with a love that was more than love--
     I and my Annabel Lee--
 With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
     Coveted her and me.

 And this was the reason that, long ago,
     In this kingdom by the sea,
 A wind blew out of a cloud by night
     Chilling my Annabel Lee;
 So that her high-born kinsman came
     And bore her away from me,
 To shut her up in a sepulchre
     In this kingdom by the sea.

 The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
     Went envying her and me:--
 Yes! that was the reason (as all men know,
     In this kingdom by the sea)
 That the wind came out of a cloud, chilling
     And killing my Annabel Lee.

 But our love it was stronger by far than the love
     Of those who were older than we--
     Of many far wiser than we-
 And neither the angels in Heaven above,
     Nor the demons down under the sea,
 Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
     Of the beautiful Annabel Lee:--

 For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
     Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
 And the stars never rise but I see the bright eyes
     Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
 And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
 Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
     In her sepulchre there by the sea--
     In her tomb by the side of the sea.
-- Edgar Allan Poe
This poem has to its credit (to my knowledge) two cinematic references.

One was a short chocolate box feature with a young couple picnicking on the
sea shore, with the poem recited in the background. I didn't pay any
attention to the credits.

The other was "Play Misty for me" the 1971 precursor to "Fatal Attraction",
with Clint Eastwood, Donna Mills, and Jessica Walter, who, as Evelyn, takes
on the name of Annabel in the movie. This was Eastwood's directorial debut.

Actully, this poem is very much in Poe's obsession vein - a la "The Raven"
and all his horror stories. I can't say it's really one of my favourites,
unlike the Raven, which is. However, the cinematography of the short feature
film was superb.


Poetry -- Marianne Moore

Four years and counting!
(Poem #1169) Poetry
 I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
       all this fiddle.
    Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
       discovers in
    it after all, a place for the genuine.
       Hands that can grasp, eyes
       that can dilate, hair that can rise
          if it must, these things are important not because a

 high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
       they are
    useful. When they become so derivative as to become
    the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
       do not admire what
       we cannot understand: the bat
          holding on upside down or in quest of something to

 eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
       wolf under
    a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse
       that feels a flea, the base-
    ball fan, the statistician--
       nor is it valid
          to discriminate against "business documents and

 school-books"; all these phenomena are important. One must make
       a distinction
    however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
       result is not poetry,
    nor till the poets among us can be
      "literalists of
       the imagination"--above
          insolence and triviality and can present

 for inspection, "imaginary gardens with real toads in them,"
       shall we have
    it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
    the raw material of poetry in
       all its rawness and
       that which is on the other hand
          genuine, you are interested in poetry.
-- Marianne Moore
I was planning to run Dylan Thomas's "Notes on the Art of Poetry" as a fourth
anniversary poem, but, although I agreed with everything it had to say, it
didn't really *move* me. Moore's "Poetry", on the other hand, did, so here it

So, what is it about the poem that I so liked? I'm not sure - maybe I just
appreciate the exquisite poetry hiding under the matter-of-fact facade (to
say nothing of the rigid form (see the commentary on Poem #1043 for a
description of Moore's syllable counted verse) hidden under an illusion of
free verse), or because I like the penetrating originality of phrases like
'imaginary gardens with real toads in them'.

Oddly enough, I *agree* with Moore a lot less than I do with Thomas - in
particular, "these things are important...because they are useful" made me
twitch. Of course, that raises the question of how seriously to take the
poem (I mean, how seriously *should* one take a poem titled 'poetry' and
beginning "I too dislike it"?). I'm not really sure what Moore is trying to
say, in the end - indeed, at times she appears to be treading a fine line
between poetry and something perilously close to antipoetry.

The case for an assumed voice is all the more compelling in that it looks
like Moore is distinguishing not just between the genuine and the
*artificial* (or more closely, between genuine poetry and poetry that is
what I like to call capital-L Literature), but between the rough and the
finished. If in "Poetry's" distaste for the 'high-sounding interpretation'
it eschews artifice, it also seems to want craft to fall by the wayside -
between the "raw material of poetry" and the "genuine", there seems very
little room for the careful and precise shaping of words that - ironically -
today's poem is an excellent example of.

Contrast (our) Thomas's commentary on Poem #1043:
  Archibald MacLeish famously wrote:
     "A poem should not mean
      But be."
  I can think of no poet who so consistently fulfils MacLeish's dictum as
  Marianne Moore.

  Randall Jarrell talks of "her lack -- her wonderful lack -- of arbitrary
  intensity or violence, of sweep and overwhelmingness and size, of cant, of
  sociological significance". Her poems simply exist; they "cannot be
  suborned to any end but their own" [1]. They are elegant and precise;
  carefully constructed and meticulously detailed; and always, always,
  wonderfully rewarding.

and the paradox falls into clearer focus - today's poem seems to be all
about Meaning, but when you step back and take a look at it, it just Is.
And, as Thomas noted, few people do that better than Moore.


p.s. The poems-from-the-movies theme will be back tomorrow - think of this
as the intermission.

  There's an extensive set of comments on the poem and its extensive
  revision history here:

  Two things I liked were the argument that Moore was distinguishing between
  'poetry' and 'Poetry' (compare my earlier derogatory usage of Literature),
  and the following note:
    Another manifestation of the interrogation of authority in "Poetry"
    developed across Moore's revisions of it over the years. The poem was
    well known and well liked, in all its subversive playfulness. But its
    argument created problems for its poet. For if it was "genuine" on first
    publication, once it became well known, by its own lights it lost some
    of its genuineness. For later publications, Moore revised the poem
    substantially and managed in so doing to disperse some of the
    familiarity. Finally Moore cut the poem to three lines, and printed one
    of the longer versions in the endnotes. The short version reads:

      I, too, dislike it.
          Reading, it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers
in it, after all, a place for the genuine.

- And for the discovery of today's poem, I'm indebted to the excellent
  collection of metapoems at

The Good-morrow -- John Donne

Guest poem sent in by Victoria Field
(Poem #1168) The Good-morrow
 I wonder by my troth, what thou and I
 Did, till we lov'd? Were we not wean'd till then,
 But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly?
 Or snorted we in the seven sleepers' den?
 'Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
 If ever any beauty I did see,
 Which I desir'd, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

 And now good morrow to our waking souls,
 Which watch not one another out of fear;
 For love, all love of other sights controls,
 And makes one little room, an everywhere.
 Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
 Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
 Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

 My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
 And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
 Where can we find two better hemispheres,
 Without sharp north, without declining west?
 Whatever dies, was not mix'd equally;
 If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
 Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
-- John Donne
This is going back quite a way but, the 1949 movie of 'The Blue Lagoon'
(starring a young Jean Simmonds and considered risque at the time), features
a reading of 'The Good Morrow' by John Donne - surely one of the most
exquisite and subtle love poems of all time.


[Martin adds]

Langdon Smith's "Evolution" [Poem #550] strikes me as a perfect reply to the
opening lines of the poem. "Good morrow to our waking souls" also contrasts
amusingly with "Busy old fool, unruly Sun" :)

Links: has some notes on
the poem

Wallace (extract) -- Blind Harry

Carrying on with the theme, a guest poem sent in by Anustup Datta
(Poem #1167) Wallace (extract)
 Of our ancestors, brave true ancient Scots,
 Whose glorious scutcheons knew no bars or blots;
 But blood untainted circled ev'ry vein,
 And ev'ry thing ignoble did disdain;
 Of such illustrious patriots and bold,
 Who stoutly did maintain our rights of old,
 Who their malicious, invet'rate foes,
 With sword in hand, did gallantly oppose:
 And in their own, and nation's just defence,
 Did briskly check the frequent insolence
 Of haughty neighbours, enemies profest,
 Picts, Danes, and Saxons, Scotland's very pest;
 Of such, I say, I'll brag and vaunt so long
 As I have power to use my pen or tongue;
 And sound their praises in such modern strain
 As suiteth best a Scot's poetic vein,
 First, here I honour, in particular,
 Sir William Wallace, much renown'd in war,
 Whose bold progenitors have long time stood,
 Of honourable and true Scottish blood.
-- Blind Harry
        (15th c., trans. William of Gilbertfield, 1722)

Note: Variously titled - everything from "Wallace" to "The Life and
Heroic Actions of the Renoun'd Sir William Wallace, General and Governor
of Scotland"

Then there is the "The Life of Sir William Wallace", which, if I'm not
mistaken was used in "Braveheart". (Today's extract is the opening lines
of the poem.)  The book became the most popular volume in Scotland after
the Bible. It inspired Burns to write "Scots Wha Hae" and Randall
Wallace also read them prior to his involvement in creating the film
"Braveheart." A modern edition of this epic poem was published in 1998.


[Martin adds]

I was surprised I'd never heard of this; anyway, I enjoyed reading bits
and pieces of it (no, I was not about to sit and read the whole thing
through :)), and exploring some of the background behind the poem and
Blind Harry (who, if you believe all the critics, was neither).

And as an aside, it always gives me a pleasant little frisson to see,
among all the 18th century English, a startlingly modern-looking phrase

  So much for the brave Wallace's father's side

- it's like an interesting little linguistic tidepool hidden among the


The whole book can be found at [broken link]

An excellent discussion of 'Braveheart' and the poem:
  [broken link]

A biography of Blind Harry:

And a discourse on "The Wallace" and its place in the canon:


My Lost Youth -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Guest poem sent in by Erin Mansell
(Poem #1166) My Lost Youth
 Often I think of the beautiful town
 That is seated by the sea;
 Often in thought go up and down
 The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
 And my youth comes back to me.
 And a verse of a Lapland song
 Is haunting my memory still:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

 I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,
 And catch, in sudden gleams,
 The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,
 And islands that were the Hesperides
 Of all my boyish dreams.
 And the burden of that old song,
 It murmurs and whispers still:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

 I remember the black wharves and the slips,
 And the sea-tides tossing free;
 And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
 And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
 And the magic of the sea.
 And the voice of that wayward song
 Is singing and saying still:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

 I remember the bulwarks by the shore,
 And the fort upon the hill;
 The sunrise gun with its hollow roar,
 The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er,
 And the bugle wild and shrill.
 And the music of that old song
 Throbs in my memory still:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

 I remember the sea-fight far away,
 How it thunder'd o'er the tide!
 And the dead sea-captains, as they lay
 In their graves o'erlooking the tranquil bay
 Where they in battle died.
 And the sound of that mournful song
 Goes through me with a thrill:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

 I can see the breezy dome of groves,
 The shadows of Deering's woods;
 And the friendships old and the early loves
 Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves
 In quiet neighbourhoods.
 And the verse of that sweet old song,
 It flutters and murmurs still:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

 I remember the gleams and glooms that dart
 Across the schoolboy's brain;
 The song and the silence in the heart,
 That in part are prophecies, and in part
 Are longings wild and vain.
 And the voice of that fitful song
 Sings on, and is never still:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

 There are things of which I may not speak;
 There are dreams that cannot die;
 There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
 And bring a pallor into the cheek,
 And a mist before the eye.
 And the words of that fatal song
 Come over me like a chill:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

 Strange to me now are the forms I meet
 When I visit the dear old town;
 But the native air is pure and sweet,
 And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street,
 As they balance up and down,
 Are singing the beautiful song,
 Are sighing and whispering still:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

 And Deering's woods are fresh and fair,
 And with joy that is almost pain
 My heart goes back to wander there,
 And among the dreams of the days that were
 I find my lost youth again.
 And the strange and beautiful song,
 The groves are repeating it still:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Hi again,
Your new series has inspired me and I thought I should send in this poem.
The movie it was featured in was "In the Bedroom" with Sissy Spacek and
Marisa Tomei amongst others.  A poker friend of the father in the movie
keeps quoting poetry at their games and he (the father) keeps asking him to
move on from a particular poet.  When the doctor's son dies he quotes to him
a verse of this poem.  See below.  I thought it was very touching and
remembered enough to find it later and then realized the that I should have
known who the author was.  Ironically it would also fit with your exhausting
theme of the sea (for which I sent in the Sea Dirge) as well as the movie
theme. However, when I read it makes me take a deep breath bittersweet with
long long thoughts.

Bio of Longfellow:

Movie info:

The verse quoted in the movie:

 There are things of which I may not speak;
 There are dreams that cannot die;
 There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
 And bring a pallor into the cheek,
 And a mist before the eye.
 And the words of that fatal song
 Come over me like a chill:
 'A boy's will is the wind's will,
 And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.'

The Ballad Of William Bloat -- Raymond Calvert

Interesting theme proposed by Frank O'Shea - in Frank's

How about a series on poems featured in movies.

You already have "Code Poem for the French Resistance" [Poem #197]from the
film "Carve Her Name With Pride". And "O Captain, My Captain!"[Poem #157]
from "Dead Poets Society". And I seem to recall a film in which
"Invictus"[Poem #221] was central - a teacher trying to get a student to
tease out the meaning; what was the film?

Here is another one, the first verse of which is read aloud from the old book
of verse in the cave in one of the meetings of the Dead Poets Society. Whenever
I recite it, I have to warn listeners not to make up their politically correct
and sensitive minds until I have finished.
(Poem #1165) The Ballad Of William Bloat
 In a mean abode on the Shankill Road
 Lived a man named William Bloat;
 And he had a wife, the curse of his life,
 Who always got his goat.
 'Til one day at dawn, with her nightdress on
 He slit her pretty throat.

 With a razor gash he settled her hash
 Oh never was crime so quick
 But the steady drip on the pillowslip
 Of her lifeblood made him sick.
 And the pool of gore on the bedroom floor
 Grew clotted and cold and thick.

 Now he was right glad he had done as he had
 As his wife lay there so still
 But a sudden awe of the mighty law
 Filled his heart with an icy chill.
 So to finish the fun so well begun
 He resolved himself to kill.

 He took the sheet from his wife's cold feet
 And twisted it into a rope
 And he hanged himself from the pantry shelf,
 'Twas an easy end, let's hope.
 In the face of death with his latest breath
 He said "to hell with the Pope."

 Now the strangest turn in this whole concern
 Is only just beginning.
 He went to Hell, but his wife got well
 And is still alive and sinning.
 For the razor blade was Dublin made
 But the sheet was Belfast linen.
-- Raymond Calvert
The poem is variously attributed to that prolific creator of such verses,
Anon.  But I have also seen the name Raymond Calvert as author. I would be
happy to know something about him. [I found several attributions to Calvert,
so I've gone ahead and followed suit - martin]

The Shankill Road is the centre of militant Protestantism (more accurately,
anti-papistry) in Belfast and is rarely out of the news when it comes to
"loyalist" paramilitary activity.

I have also seen the last two lines written as

   For the razor blade was German made
   But the sheet was English linen.

Presumably a leftover from one of the World Wars and possibly when it first

Frank O'Shea

[Martin adds]
Curiously enough, apart from "Funeral Blues"[Poem #256], I can't think of
any memorable poetry featured in a movie (Jackson's first "Lord of the
Rings" movie disappointed me in that respect - I expected at least one poem
as a voiceover.) Maybe I just don't watch enough of the right sort of movie.
I'm looking forward to seeing what people come up with.

(Afterthought: no, I lied - there was the very memorable, and heartily
recommended, "Il Postino")

Summoned by Bells (excerpt) -- John Betjeman

Guest poem sent in by Zubaer Mahboob
(Poem #1164) Summoned by Bells (excerpt)
 Walking from school is a consummate art:
 Which route to follow to avoid the gangs,
 Which paths to find that lead, circuitous,
 To leafy squirrel haunts and plopping ponds,
 For dreams of Archibald and Tiger Tim;
 Which hiding place is safe, and when it is;
 What time to leave to dodge the enemy.
 I only once was trapped. I knew the trap -
 I heard it in their tones: "Walk back with us."
 I knew they weren't my friends; but that soft voice
 Wheedled me from my route to cold Swain's Lane.
 There in a holly bush they threw me down,
 Pulled off my shorts, and laughed and ran away;
 And, as I struggled up, I saw grey brick,
 The cemetery railings and the tomb.
-- John Betjeman
The passage is from John Betjeman's autobiographical book of verse "Summoned
by Bells" which, on account of its length (not to mention copyright issues),
is unlikely to feature here in its entirety, but which nonetheless contains
some of Betjeman's most evocative poetry. Betjeman has long been one of my
favorite poets, although I have occasionally wondered why I feel such
affection for a man whose lifelong theme was middle England, and a very
specific soft-focus vision of it. Rereading "Summoned by Bells" after a gap
of several years, it seems to me that it has much to do with a certain form
of Englishness that many of us of a South Asian origin were familiar with at
an impressionable age. Those who picked up the patterns of the English
language from the gentle, civilized pages of Brighter Grammar or Fundamental
English may know what I am talking about, and may even be able to identify,
to some extent, with this harmless infatuation.

This stanza, from the second chapter of Summoned, describes an incident from
Betjeman's childhood in north London during the twilit years of the Great
War.  Although too young to understand its significance, Betjeman can hear
plainly the booming sound of artillery fire coming across the channel from
Poperinghe and Mons. On his way to school, he is taunted by cruel
classmates, who have concluded from his exotic name: "Betjeman's a German
spy/ Shoot him down and let him die." Hence, the circuitous response on the
part of the young schoolboy. A few stanzas later, comedy makes its
appearance. The budding poet is handing over his very first 'anthology' -
boldly entitled "The Best of Betjeman" - to his American schoolmaster for
his review and opinion. This is none other than the expatriate TS Eliot who,
even years later when both were established poets, would refuse to tell
Betjeman what he thought of his juvenilia: "At the time/ A boy called Jelly
said 'He thinks they are bad'/ But he himself is still too kind to say."

On a personal note, last July on a trip to London, I was walking up Swain's
Lane on my way to Highgate Cemetery - there to check out the graves of
George Eliot and Marx among others - and these lines bring back to me with
great immediacy the flavour of the neighborhood. 85 years later, it's still
holly, grey brick, railing and tombs, just the way Betjeman knew it.


The Song Of The Dead -- Rudyard Kipling

Many, many thanks to everyone who identified and sent in today's poem
(Poem #1163) The Song Of The Dead
 Hear now the Song of the Dead -- in the North by the torn berg-edges --
 They that look still to the Pole, asleep by their hide-stripped sledges.
 Song of the Dead in the South -- in the sun by their skeleton horses,
 Where the warrigal whimpers and bays through the dust of the sear

 Song of the Dead in the East -- in the heat-rotted jungle hollows,
 Where the dog-ape barks in the kloof --
 in the brake of the buffalo-wallows.
 Song of the Dead in the West --
 in the Barrens, the waste that betrayed them,
 Where the wolverene tumbles their packs
 from the camp and the grave-mound they made them;
 Hear now the Song of the Dead!


 We were dreamers, dreaming greatly, in the man-stifled town;
 We yearned beyond the sky-line where the strange roads go down.
 Came the Whisper, came the Vision, came the Power with the Need,
 Till the Soul that is not man's soul was lent us to lead.
 As the deer breaks -- as the steer breaks -- from the herd where they graze,
 In the faith of little children we went on our ways.
 Then the wood failed -- then the food failed -- then the last water dried --
 In the faith of little children we lay down and died.
 On the sand-drift -- on the veldt-side -- in the fern-scrub we lay,
 That our sons might follow after by the bones on the way.
 Follow after -- follow after! We have watered the root,
 And the bud has come to blossom that ripens for fruit!
 Follow after -- we are waiting, by the trails that we lost,
 For the sounds of many footsteps, for the tread of a host.
 Follow after -- follow after -- for the harvest is sown:
 By the bones about the wayside ye shall come to your own!

     When Drake went down to the Horn
     And England was crowned thereby,
     'Twixt seas unsailed and shores unhailed
     Our Lodge -- our Lodge was born
     (And England was crowned thereby!)

     Which never shall close again
     By day nor yet by night,
     While man shall take his life to stake
     At risk of shoal or main
     (By day nor yet by night).

     But standeth even so
     As now we witness here,
     While men depart, of joyful heart,
     Adventure for to know
     (As now bear witness here!)


 We have fed our sea for a thousand years
 And she calls us, still unfed,
 Though there's never a wave of all her waves
 But marks our English dead:
 We have strawed our best to the weed's unrest,
 To the shark and the sheering gull.
 If blood be the price of admiralty,
 Lord God, we ha' paid in full!

 There's never a flood goes shoreward now
 But lifts a keel we manned;
 There's never an ebb goes seaward now
 But drops our dead on the sand --
 But slinks our dead on the sands forlore,
 From the Ducies to the Swin.
 If blood be the price of admiralty,
 If blood be the price of admiralty,
 Lord God, we ha' paid it in!

 We must feed our sea for a thousand years,
 For that is our doom and pride,
 As it was when they sailed with the 'Golden Hind',
 Or the wreck that struck last tide --
 Or the wreck that lies on the spouting reef
 Where the ghastly blue-lights flare.
 If blood be the price of admiralty,
 If blood be the price of admiralty,
 If blood be the price of admiralty,
 Lord God, we ha' bought it fair!
-- Rudyard Kipling
Note: I've not tried to indicate Kipling's italics - instead, see

[broken link]

  warrigal: 1: Australian wild horse [syn: warragal] 2: wolflike
    yellowish-brown wild dog of Australia [syn: dingo, warragal, Canis dingo]
  kloof: (South African) A deep ravine.

Kipling's "Song of the Dead" is, in some ways, diametrically opposed to the
Navy Hymn [Poem #1162]. Where the latter appeals to God as a shield and a
shelter from a hostile universe, "Song of the Dead" looks instead to an
abstract accounting principle that demands a price for every inch of terrain

This is a deeply entrenched sentiment, whether consciously or subconsciously
- the feeling that every gain has its corresponding price, and, conversely,
that every price paid shall reap its corresponding gain - a sort of
bargaining with the universe (often, though not always, personified through
a deity).

Today's poem is a powerful exploration of the idea, singing the song of the
dead in a thousand echoing voices, carving out a tale of loss and triumph,
and an overwhelming sense of the ceaseless struggle against the vast and
impersonally deadly forces of nature. And yet, in the end it is triumph that
wins through - the price that has been demanded has been paid in full, and
Man has proven himself equal to it. And it shall be paid again, and though
we must feed our seas, not a death shall be wasted. For that, as Kipling so
magnificently puts it, is our doom and our pride.


Afterthought: Note the archaisms - to cite just three, 'sear', 'wolverene'
and 'forlore' where we would, today, have 'sere', 'wolverine' and 'forlorn'.
This is not quite the same as the 'dialect' Kipling often uses in his poems,
but it serves much the same purpose - conveying meaning via the words, and
atmosphere by their forms.


  I was first introduced to this poem through Poul Anderson's novel of the
  same name. There's a review here:

  I am reminded of a fragment from Tolkien's "Lament for Boromir"
     ... so many bones there lie
     On the white shores and the dark shores under the stormy sky
        -- Poem #46

  And one from Jordin Kare's "Fire in the Sky":
    But the Gods do not give lightly of the powers they have made
    And with Challenger and seven, once again the price is paid
        -- [broken link]

  And thanks to Manu Anand for pointing out that the end
  of Tennyson's Ulysses goes very well alongside today's poem:
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
        -- Poem #121