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Deadline -- Barbara Kingsolver

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1212) Deadline
 The night before war begins, and you are still here.
 You can stand in a breathless cold
 ocean of candles, a thousand issues of your same face
 rubbed white from below by clear waxed light.
 A vigil. You are wondering what it is
 you can hold a candle to.

 You have a daughter. Her cheeks curve
 like aspects of the Mohammed's perfect pear.
 She is three. Too young for candles but
 you are here, this is war.
 Flames covet the gold-sparked ends of her hair,
 her nylon parka laughing in color,
 inflammable. It has taken your whole self
 to bring her undamaged to this moment,
 and waiting in the desert at this moment
 is a bomb that flings gasoline in a liquid sheet,
 a laundress's snap overhead, wide as the ancient Tigris,
 and ignites as it descends.

 The polls have sung their opera of assent: the land
 wants war. But here is another America,
 candle-throated, sure as tide.
 Whoever you are, you are also this granite anger.
 In history you will be the vigilant dead
 who stood in front of every war with old hearts
 in your pockets, stood on the carcass of hope
 listening for the thunder of its feathers.

 The desert is diamond ice and only stars above us here
 and elsewhere, a thousand issues of a clear waxed star,
 a holocaust of heaven
 and somewhere, a way out.
-- Barbara Kingsolver
           January 15, 1991

Keeping with yesterday's Owen's submission, I add two more cents to the
gory word heap. Kingsolver, better known for her essays, captures the
landscape of the impending Gulf War perfectly. Since folks are back at
it again: same place, almost same time, same villains and same heroes,
only this time with "smart" bombs, perhaps smarter than those that

     "...gasoline in a liquid sheet,
      a laundress's snap overhead, wide as the ancient Tigris,
      and ignites as it descends."

These lines bring up image of Kim Phuc, and her photograph as a little girl,
her clothes seared from her body by a Napalm bomb, running screaming from her
burning village, arms are outstretched in terror and pain. This in Vietnam.

Then the last two lines, "a holocaust of heaven/and somewhere, a way out."
resonate strongly with Bob Dylan's "All along the Watchtower":

    "There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
    "There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
    Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
    None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

If poets are "jokers", whose duty, as Lucille Clifton at a poetry reading here
said is "to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.", then I
think this poem does that very well.

There must be some way out of here... to peace!



Kingsolver's Web Page

Bob Dylan's lyric

Nick Ut's Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the girl

Disabled -- Wilfred Owen

Guest poem sent in by Iftikhar Burhanuddin
(Poem #1211) Disabled
 He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
 And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
 Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
 Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
 Voices of play and pleasure after day,
 Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

 About this time Town used to swing so gay
 When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
 And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
 In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
 Now he will never feel again how slim
 Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
 All of them touch him like some queer disease.

 There was an artist silly for his face,
 For it was younger than his youth, last year.
 Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
 He's lost his colour very far from here,
 Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
 And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
 And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.

 One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
 After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
 It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
 He thought he'd better join. He wonders why.
 Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts,
 That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
 Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
 He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
 Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.

 Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
 And Austria's, did not move him. And no fears
 Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
 For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
 And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
 Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
 And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

 Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
 Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
 Thanked him; and then enquired about his soul.

 Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
 And do what things the rules consider wise,
 And take whatever pity they may dole.
 Tonight he noticed how the women's eyes
 Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
 How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
 And put him into bed? Why don't they come?
-- Wilfred Owen
Ubiquitous pictures of dead/wounded soldiers/civilians in newspapers and on TV
create havoc in the mind.

So what better time to draw solace from the poignant yet beautiful
poetry of Wilfred Owen, the Great English Anti-War poet of WWI, who said,
"Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War, and the pity of
War. The Poetry is in the pity. Yet these elegies are to this generation in no
sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn.
That is why true Poets must be truthful."

[broken link]
The above site has a bio of W.O and detailed lit. crit. of Disabled.

The wonderful lines describing the trauma of 'what was and what will never be'
- playing soccer, women, etc - are the best that I've read.

  "One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
   After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
   Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal."

I thought Owen's choice of metaphor of soccer for war was because of the
similarities between war and sport - the history-repeats-itself 'sport' of war
and the war-like strategies in sport - but here's a historical reason:

  "Dominic Hibberd has noted that this line can be linked to the
   recuiting poster of 1914, 'Will they never come?' (see 'Some
   Contemporary Allusions in Poems by Rosenberg, Owen and Sassoon',
   Notes and Queries August (1979), p.333. Several recruiting posters
   used the motif of linking sport to the army, and there were numerous
   recruiting drives at soccer matches."

To Peace.


What Do I Care? -- Sara Teasdale

Guest poem sent in by atheos
(Poem #1210) What Do I Care?
 What do I care, in the dreams and the languor of spring,
 That my songs do not show me at all?
 For they are a fragrance, and I am a flint and a fire,
 I am an answer, they are only a call.

 But what do I care, for love will be over so soon,
 Let my heart have its say and my mind stand idly by,
 For my mind is proud and strong enough to be silent,
 It is my heart that makes my songs, not I.
-- Sara Teasdale
I liked the poem of hers that featured in Minstrels, so I looked for more by
her. And I found this defiant, slightly sad poem. She seems to believe in the
evanescence of things... more, she seems to scorn them, and herself for having
truck with them.

What I love is the note of 'Yes, I am weak to feel/do this, but this isn't
really me - it's someone else that I indulge.' There is a sense of something
strong and beautiful that endures the passing foolishness of a weak spirit.

She Speaks of Death -- Barbara Pescan

Guest poem sent in by John Beaty
(Poem #1209) She Speaks of Death
 Oblivion, she said
 in a weary voice,
 is what is after death.
        There is nothing after death
        but nothing
        and that's all right with me.

 It made good scientific sense,
 nailed to the cathedral door
 of her religious childhood.

 And when her husband died
 a few years later
 pinned against eternity
 sagged in the middle
 and in its folds
 sweet disbelief surprised her
 and the hope
 she hadn't seen the last of him yet.
-- Barbara Pescan
        from "Morning Watch"

I ran across this poem while looking for something for a morning
service, and it just HIT me so hard. It completely captures (for me,
at any rate) the ambivalence of humanism.

John Beaty

[Martin adds]

I am reminded, too, of the last verse of Clough's "There is no God" (Poem #69):

    And almost everyone when age,
      Disease, or sorrows strike him,
    Inclines to think there is a God,
      Or something very like Him.

though Pescan's tone is a lot more sympathetic than Clough's is.

Untitled -- Yamabe no Akahito

Guest poem sent in by Jeffrey Sean Huo
(Poem #1208) Untitled
 The mists rise over
 The waters at Asuka;
 Memory does not
 Pass away so easily.
-- Yamabe no Akahito
       (trans. K. Rexroth)

The poem in the original Japanese:

        Asuka gawa
        Kawa yodo sarazu
        Tatsu kiri no
        Omoi sugu beki
        Koi ni aranuku ni

The _Manyoshu_ (literally, "collection of ten-thousand leaves") is the most
ancient, and largest, compiled collection of Japanese poetry. Over 4,500 poems
were compiled into twenty books during the Nara Period (710 - 794 AD). The
_Manyoshu_ shows a wide variety of forms and topics, rather than the more
restrictive rules that would govern court poetry in later ages.

The _Manyoshu_ also is unusual for including poetry written from many different
social levels, from conscript soldiers up to members of the Imperial Family,
again in contrast to later works composed mostly by the nobility. While many of
the poems are anonymous, a score of different authors are identified by name.
Considered among the greatest of these is Yamabe no Akahito.

Little is actually known about Akahito beyond what is collected in the 50 poems
in the _Manyoshu_ that bear his name. He is famous for writing one of the first
known descriptions of Mt. Fuji (the area that is now modern Tokyo, where Mt.
Fuji lies, was then a swampy, thinly inhabited region, and would remain
insignificant for the next five-hundred years, while the capital remained
further west) and was considered by others to be one of the four great poets of
the _Manyoshu_. As hinted at by his poems about Mt. Fuji, it is believed he
traveled a great deal, at least some of that time in the company of the
Imperial Court for which apparently some of the poems were written. But Akahito
was most famous for being able to simply capture a thought or a scene in a few
short lines -- such as the poem I include here.

I have had, like Akahito, the great fortune of travelling many places in my
life. I have watched the white wisps dance across the waters of the Japanese
Inland Sea from the steps of the great shrine at Miyajima; I have seen the fog
rise from San Francisco Bay and the Chicago Lake Michigan coast; even just the
morning mist coming off the Huron River that runs behind the medical school at
which I now spend my days. And so I identify very much with Akahito's thoughts:
while, like mists and fog, the mornings and evenings of our lives come and go,
the memories that we take away endure.

Thank you,


[Martin adds]

Mist is one of those 'intrinsically poetic' topics - rich with connotations,
evoking a plethora of memories, and possessed of a number of well-accepted
metaphorical associations. This is a two-edged sword - a poem whose central
metaphor involves mist can easily slip into cliche. On the other hand, as
today's poem clearly shows, a good poet uses those associations as a tool
rather than as a crutch, and the result is often far better than if he had
totally eschewed familiar imagery in pursuit of 'originality'.

Akahito handles the image beautifully in today's poem - he has a very light
touch, subtly suggesting the flow and direction of the poem with simple,
unembellished statements, and creating an effect that is softly rather than
starkly elegant.

Interestingly, I read the poem quite differently from Jeffrey - I saw it as a
wistful commentary on his inability to let go of painful memories. Thinking
about it, this is likely because, for me, the image of mist imbues the poem
with a slightly melancholy tinge that then colours the second half.


  Another exquisite poem on the mist is Sandburg's "Last Answers",
  Poem #713

  And on memories, see Poem #236

Hamlet -- Spike Milligan

Guest poem sent in by arvind
(Poem #1207) Hamlet
 Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
 'I'll do a sketch of thee,
 What kind of pencil shall I use,
 2B or not 2B?'
-- Spike Milligan
On reading the recently published Milligan's poem "The ABC", went searching on
the net for more. Whereupon I stumbled across this cute little one. The point
here is, texting is the order of the day and teachers are more worried about
youngsters using these short text forms.

Add to this, the furore created over an essay written by a teen which goes like
"My smmr hols wr CWOT. B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids
FTF. ILNY, it's a gr8 plc" (Translation: "My summer holidays were a complete
waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his
girlfriend, and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It's
a great place.")

And then read this article[1] recently in "The Hindu". To quote from it, "To be
or not to be, that is the question" became "2b r not 2b that's?" or even more
mathematically as: "2b/-2b=?" (Though what Milligan means in the verse is the
pencil type, it very well fits the SMS text of today)

Thats all the much reason why I'm sending the above verse 2 u. oops, to you ;-)


[1] [broken link]

Margaritae Sorori -- William Ernest Henley

Guest poem sent in by Flavia Iacobaeus
(Poem #1206) Margaritae Sorori
 A late lark twitters from the quiet skies:
 And from the west,
 Where the sun, his day's work ended,
 Lingers as in content,
 There falls on the old, gray city
 An influence luminous and serene,
 A shining peace.

 The smoke ascends
 In a rosy-and-golden haze. The spires
 Shine and are changed. In the valley
 Shadows rise. The lark sings on. The sun,
 Closing his benediction,
 Sinks, and the darkening air
 Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night--
 Night with her train of stars
 And her great gift of sleep.

 So be my passing!
 My task accomplish'd and the long day done,
 My wages taken, and in my heart
 Some late lark singing,
 Let me be gather'd to the quiet west,
 The sundown splendid and serene,
-- William Ernest Henley
This is one image I've always loved! As clear and peaceful as Tennyson's
"Crossing the Bar". But does anyone know what the title refers to?
['margaritae' = pearl, 'sorori' = sisters. leaves me no wiser than before, i'm
afraid - martin]


Here's what the Columbia Encyclopedia has to say about Henley;

Henley, William Ernest

   1849–1903, English poet, critic, and editor. Although crippled by
tuberculosis of the bone, he led an active, vigorous life. As editor of
several reviews successively, he introduced to the public a galaxy of
young writers, including Kipling, Wells, and Yeats. Although his verse
is noted for its bravado and spirit of defiance, his poetry could be
equally delicate and lyrical. His best-known poems include "England, My
England," and "Invictus," which concludes with the famous lines "I am the
master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." Henley's volumes of verse
include A Book of Verses (1888), The Song of the Sword (1892), and For
Sake (1900). He collaborated on four plays with Robert Louis Stevenson, with
whom he enjoyed a long friendship.

Love and Tensor Algebra -- Stanislaw Lem

Guest poem sent in by Jedrek Burakiewicz
(Poem #1205) Love and Tensor Algebra
 Come, let us hasten to a higher plane
 Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
 Their indices bedecked from one to n
 Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

 Come, every frustum longs to be a cone
 And every vector dreams of matrices.
 Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
 It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

 In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
 Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
 Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
 We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

 I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
 Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
 And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
 And in our bound partition never part.

 For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
 Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
 Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
 Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

 Cancel me not - for what then shall remain?
 Abscissas some mantissas, modules, modes,
 A root or two, a torus and a node:
 The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

 Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
 the product of four scalars it defines!
 Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
 Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

 I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
 I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
 Bernoulli would have been content to die,
 Had he but known such a^2 cos 2 phi!
-- Stanislaw Lem
         (translated by Michael Kandel)

Above is a poem taken from Stanislaw Lem's book 'Cyberiad'. It is what
you are given when you ask Electronic Bard (an ultimate poem writing
machine) to write a 'love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed
in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a
little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you
understand, and in the cybernetic spirit'. It is the only known to me
example of using mathematical language in literature, especially to
express love.

And even without understanding most words one can feel their intended
meaning, which is a great achievement of Michael Kandel, the translator
of the poem (and most books of Lem). I happen to be Polish, and in
Polish writes Stanislaw Lem, so I know the poem much better in
original. And I must admit that translation is great - even if
mathematical expressions used are completely different it doesn't
matter, because the feeling I get while reading it in English remains
the same. It has something to do with futuristic poems from 20's, in
which more important from the meaning was how the words sounded and
'felt like'.

As for Lem's books in general, he is a science fiction writer, but it
would be more appropriate to name what he writes a 'philosophical
fiction'. In none of his books (save some very early ones, perhaps) is
the technology a main subject - it only serves as a background to
create moral or philosophical problems. 'Cyberiad' is a very good
example for this. By creating a world of robots and machines (which, by
the way, is not a result of a 'machine rebellion', it just is so) Lem
describes, among many other things, how virtues known to us like Good,
Justice etc. don't change despite of the surrounding world. Yet it is
not given to the reader in a "Star Wars" way, black and white, there
are no Good Rebels and Evil Empire, everything is relative. And,
besides, written with brilliant sense of humour.

You might have seen 'Solaris' in cinema recently - it is based on a
book by Lem, but don't rely on the film - it doesn't have that much to
do with the book, at least from my point of view. I liked the book very
much and was very bored while watching the film - unfortunately Steven
Soderbergh eliminated almost everything valuable from the book, leaving
only the love story and changing the ending completely (killing the
meaning of the book). If you haven't seen the film and haven't read the
book yet - rather read the book. It is not the funny part of Lem's
writing, but rather sad and depressing, yet wonderful.


[Martin adds]

If you haven't read Lem's magnificently quirky 'Cyberiad', I would like
to strongly second Jedrek's recommendation. The only thing I've read
that comes close to it in spirit is St. Exupery's "The Little Prince"
(another unmissable classic).

r = a^2 cos(2.phi) is, disappointingly, not a cardioid (a heart-shaped
curve) - I was expecting the pun. It seems instead to be a rather
pretty four-petalled flower shape - think two figure-8s at right angles
to each other, sharing a central point (I guess you could call it a variant on
the lemniscate - is there a more specific term for this particular curve? I
the feeling I'm missing some clever mathematical pun here).

Euler/ruler is an eye rhyme, of course ('Euler' is properly pronounced
but nevermind :)



  We ran a brief theme on the poetry of mathematics a while ago:
    Poem #599, Poem #601 and Poem #604

To Thine Own Self Be True -- William Shakespeare

Guest poem sent in by Seema Ramanarayanan

The title has been given by one of my old English textbooks. Guess that's not
the title used anyplace else since I had a hard time finding the poem on the
web. It's basically Polonius' advice to his son Laertes in "Hamlet". [It seemed
to me more appropriate than our usual convention of using the first line of the
excerpt as the title, so I retained it - martin]
(Poem #1204) To Thine Own Self Be True
 Yet here, Laertes! Aboard, aboard for shame!
 The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
 And you are stay'd for.
 There ... my blessing with thee!
 And these few precepts in thy memory
 Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
 Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
 Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
 Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
 Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
 But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
 Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg’d comrade.  Beware
 Of entrance to a quarrel but, being in,
 Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
 Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
 Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgement.
 Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
 But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
 For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
 And they in France of the best rank and station
 Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
 Neither a borrower, nor a lender be;
 For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
 And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
 This above all: to thine own self be true,
 And it must follow, as the night the day,
 Thou canst not then be false to any man.
 Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!
-- William Shakespeare
Well, not sure I think it's the best advice anyone ever got but when I reread
the poem all these years later, I realised its a whole list of platitudes :).
Still sounds like mighty grand advice, doesnt it?

p.s. I dont think I need to add any biographical information for this one!


[Martin adds]

The phrases "to thine own self be true" and "neither a borrower nor a lender
be" have (deservedly) made their way into the language.

Another famous set of precepts cast into poetic form is Kipling's "If", Poem

And in a more humorous vein, Gilbert's "Things are seldom what they seem" duet
from "HMS Pinafore" is a magnificent send up of the genre, including the
immortal line
  Though I'm anything but clever
  I could talk like that forever
    -- [broken link]


Last Poems #13 -- Rabindranath Tagore

Guest poem sent in by Daniel Bennett
(Poem #1203) Last Poems #13
 The first day's sun
 the new appearance of being –
 Who are you?
 There was no answer.

 Years went by.
 Day's last sun
 asked the last question from the shores of the west
 in the soundless evening –
 Who are you?
 There was no answer.
-- Rabindranath Tagore
         (July 27, 1941 morning)

Rabindranath Tagore wrote until the end which came for him on August 7, 1941.
This poem is from Final Poems recently published. They are translated from the
Bengali jointly by Wendy Barker Saranindranath Tagore, a great grandson the
venerable Tagore. Difficult for English speakers to know, the pronunciation is
Rab-IN-druh-nath rather than Rab-in-DRA-nuth.

For me, this poem catches the unanswered question of existence from the Hindu
point of view: "There was no answer." I find this profoundly sad. I am thankful
for the courage of a sick old man gazing at his last sunsets who penned these
stark and simple words from the heart of another tradition. As Keats said about
Tagore, he gives us another way to see.

According to the authors of  Final Poems, this poem is the  most famous of
Tagore's later poems in the Bengali language. They point out its similarity to
the Creation Hymn of the Vig Reda (c. 2000 BCE). This hymn begins with the
unforgettable line, "There was neither nonexistence nor existence then." It
ends with these lines:

        Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence
        was it produced? Whence is its creation? The gods
        came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who
        then knows whence it has arisen?

        Whence this creation has arisen – perhaps it formed itself,
        or perhaps it did not – the one who looks down on it, in
        the highest heaven, only he knows – or perhaps he does
        not know.

There is a good short bio with the first Tagore poem in the WonderingMinstrels
collection, "Where the Mind Without Fear" (Poem #177).


A First on TV -- David Ignatow

Guest poem submitted by Bryan Bowen
(Poem #1202) A First on TV
 This is the twentieth century,
 you are there, preparing to skin
 a human being alive.  Your part
 will be to remain calm.
-- David Ignatow
I read this poem in "The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart", edited by
Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade.  It was written about
complicit TV anchors whose denial takes the form of cool detachment
while presenting horrific news.

If it has a connection to the last submission (Poem #1201), it's
probably simply reflecting the flip side of our desire for attention.
The population is adopting the news anchor's coolness.  It's no longer
possible to react to news of another war or massacre with the same
outrage as the first.  This poem exposes and criticizes that tendency
to hide, resigned to our own voicelessness, knowing that somehow the
lack of voice is allied with murder.


  [broken link] has a biography and
more poems by Ignatow

Hap -- Thomas Hardy

Guest poem sent in by Ashwin Menon
(Poem #1201) Hap
 If but some vengeful god would call to me
   From up the sky, and laugh: "Thou suffering thing,
 Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
   That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!"

 Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,
   Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
 Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I
   Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

 But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
   And why unblooms the best hope ever sown? --
 Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
   And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan ...
   These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
 Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.
-- Thomas Hardy
This is my first submission to the Minstrels list; so far I've only read and
enjoyed the submissions to the list, but the last poem by Stephen Crane
(Poem #1200, "A Man Said to the Universe") reminded me immediately of Hardy's
"Hap", which deals with a similar sentiment.

Crane's Universe (or God) does not feel obligated to acknowledge man's
existence. Hardy's God does the same, but perhaps much more brutally. Even if
someone doesn't actually love you, you might appreciate contempt, or hatred
even, but you can't bear to be ignored.

This is a theme in many of Hardy's poems, and many might dismiss it as
pessimism. But in my opinion, the recognition that there is no God to care
either way about you should actually be a liberating experience, not only for
you, but for God as well!

 - Ashwin

A Man Said to the Universe -- Stephen Crane

(Poem #1200) A Man Said to the Universe
 A man said to the universe:
 "Sir I exist!"
 "However," replied the universe,
 "The fact has not created in me
 A sense of obligation."
-- Stephen Crane
       (War is Kind & Other Lines: XXI, 1899)

No collection of poetic views on religion would be complete without today's
little gem. Many of Crane's poems seem overly simplistic; indeed, some of them
seem to degenerate into mere tautologies, or even worse, platitudes. However,
if you ask yourself *why* Crane wrote those particular lines; if you note that,
MacLeish notwithstanding, some poems need to mean as well as be, and ask "What
did he mean by that?", the results are invariably thought-provoking, and often

Today's poem is remarkably straightforward for Crane - indeed, it seems almost
Biercelike in its attitude and expression. There are no deep Zenlike moments of
revelation hidden beneath a deceptively void surface, no mind-twisting
experiments in cognitive dissonance, just a dryly ironic commentary on some
people's[1] attitudes towards the higher powers. And indeed, when you think
about it, a number of religious practices *can* be viewed as announcing to the
universe (or the deity of your choice) "Sir, I exist!", and then sitting back
in complacent expectation. (A more prescriptive analogue of this observation
can be found in the saying "Heaven helps those who help themselves"[2], though
it could be argued that Crane doesn't imply any help even for those people who
*do* do more than proclaim their existence).

And tangentially, I am reminded of one of my favourite absurdist
science-fictional religions, Greg Egan's "Church of the God who Makes No
Difference". I believe Vonnegut had something similar too, though I can't
remember the details of that one.

[1] ironic poems are, of course, always about someone else :)
[2] which can, if nothing else, be used to justify a second serving of dessert


The Touch Of The Master's Hand -- Myra Brooks Welch

Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea
(Poem #1199) The Touch Of The Master's Hand
'Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
       Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
       But held it up with a smile.
"What am I bidden, good folks," he cried,
     "Who'll start the bidding for me?"
"A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
      Two dollars, and who'll make it three?"

"Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
      Going for three..." But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
      Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
      And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
      As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
      With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: "What am I bid for the old violin?"
      And he held it up with the bow.
"A thousand dollars, and who'll make it two?
      Two thousand! And who'll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
     And going and gone," said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
     "We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?" Swift came the reply:
     "The touch of the Master's hand."
And many a man with life out of tune,
      And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
      Much like the old violin.

A "mess of pottage," a glass of wine,
     A game -- and he travels on.
He is "going" once, and "going" twice,
    He's "going" and almost "gone."
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
     Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
     By the touch of the Master's hand.
-- Myra Brooks Welch
Note: "mess of pottage" is a Biblical reference - see for example.

Now that you are running some "spiritual" poems, here is an old favourite. I
don't know if you could get away with this kind of poem
any more these days, but come on, admit it, it does bring a little
lump to the throat. I wonder if I should be ashamed to admit that I
like it.

I have no idea who the author is, though I presume she is American.

Frank O'Shea

[Martin adds]

What I find sad is not just that this sort of poetry is falling out
of vogue, but that people really *are*, as Frank half-jokingly
suggests, ashamed to admit that they like it. Somehow, 'taste' and
'sophistication' seem to have become equated with a kind of sneering
cynicism whose popularity, I think, is attributable to the fact that
it is far easier to *assume* than true taste is. Personally, I
enjoyed today's poem (and similar ones like Adelaide Proctor's "The
Lost Chord" [Poem #520], but with the definite consciousness that
this was, somehow, a less-than-respectable opinion.


  Couldn't find out much about Welch besides the poem, but here's a
  brief biographical note:

The Tree of Song -- Sara Teasdale

Guest poem sent in by Priscilla Jebaraj , who writes:

i just loved the last poem (Each in his own Tongue, Poem #1197): as you
said, both the imagery and attitude are lovely. i was looking for another
poem i once read on finding God in the world around us, in our daily lives;
but i just couldn't find it, even with a google search. i'm sure i've got a
hard copy somewhere, so maybe i'll send it some other time.

but when i did that google search, i discovered this other gem of a poem, and
just had to send it:
(Poem #1198) The Tree of Song
 I sang my songs for the rest,
 For you I am still;
 The tree of my song is bare
 On its shining hill.

 For you came like a lordly wind,
 And the leaves were whirled
 Far as forgotten things
 Past the rim of the world.

 The tree of my song stands bare
 Against the blue --
 I gave my songs to the rest,
 Myself to you.
-- Sara Teasdale
Something about this poem just struck a chord within me, but i'm not sure i
can explain WHY i like it in a very intelligible manner. there's just
something about it... of its image of a love that sweeps you off your feet,
so much so that the usual expressions of love seem insignificant. and a love
which requires the gift of oneself.

maybe i'm over-reacting to what is after all a simple love poem, (and no,
i'm *not* in love right now!) but i just liked the poem.


i found lots more teasdale poems on the net, but precious little
biographical material. here's what i got from the mount holyoke college

  Sara Teasdale, an American poet, was born in 1884 in Saint Louis, Missouri
  to John W. Teasdale and Mary E. Willard. She was tutored at home and then
  graduated from a local private school in 1903. In 1905 she visited Europe
  and in 1907 she published her first collection of poems. In 1911, the
  publication of "Helen of Troy" introduced her to Louis Untermeyer, who,
  with his wife Jean, was to become a lifelong friend. On December 19, 1914,
  she married Ernst B. Filsinger. They divorced fifteen years later.
  Following the divorce, she published numerous volumes of poetry. Sara
  Teasdale committed suicide on January 29, 1933 in New York.

and here's a link to her poems:


Each in his own Tongue -- William Herbert Carruth

(Poem #1197) Each in his own Tongue
 A fire-mist and a planet,
     A crystal and a cell,
 A jelly-fish and a saurian,
     And caves where the cave-men dwell;
 Then a sense of law and beauty
     And a face turned from the clod, --
 Some call it Evolution,
     And others call it God.

 A haze on the far horizon,
     The infinite, tender sky,
 The ripe, rich tint of the cornfields,
     And the wild geese sailing high;
 And all over upland and lowland
     The charm of the golden-rod, --
 Some of us call it Autumn,
     And others call it God.

 Like tides on a crescent sea-beach,
     When the moon is new and thin,
 Into our hearts high yearnings
     Come welling and surging in:
 Come from the mystic ocean,
     Whose rim no foot has trod, --
 Some of us call it Longing,
     And others call it God.

 A picket frozen on duty,
     A mother starved for her brood,
 Socrates drinking the hemlock,
     And Jesus on the rood;
 And millions who, humble and nameless,
     The straight, hard pathway plod, --
 Some call it Consecration,
     And others call it God.
-- William Herbert Carruth

 saurian: dinosaur.
 rood: cross.
 fire-mist: I have no idea, and neither do any of the dictionaries I
            checked. Lovely word, though :)

Today's poem is a surprisingly gentle look at the dichotomy between
religious and 'natural' explanations of the universe. Unlike most such poems
I've read, Carruth seems genuinely to be saying that both interpretations
are valid; or, rather, that both sides are appreciating the same underlying
thing, just under different names.

This differs sharply from, say, Saxe's blind men, who "all were in the
wrong" [Poem #1179], or Catherine Faber's "Humans wrote the Bible, God wrote
the sky" [Poem #803, strongly reminiscent of today's], where there's a
definite "your way is not the right way" undertone. Carruth chooses,
instead, to explore the numinous via a series of images, the implication
being that this is the important part, and what you call it essentially a

Of course, I make no claim that this is the One True Reading of the poem, or
even necessarily a correct one - Carruth might just as well be saying people
who speak of God are merely seeking to lump everything under one
explanation, or, conversely, that people who do *not* speak of God see the
facets but miss the jewel; however, if either of these was his intent he has
done an admirable job of being fair to the other side. And either way,
there's some beautiful imagery in there - which, more than anything else, is
what makes this a good poem.



The ABC -- Spike Milligan

Guest poem sent in by Vijay D'silva
(Poem #1196) The ABC
 'Twas midnight in the schoolroom
 And every desk was shut
 When suddenly from the alphabet
 Was heard a loud "Tut-Tut!"

 Said A to B, "I don't like C;
 His manners are a lack.
 For all I ever see of C
 Is a semi-circular back!"

 "I disagree," said D to B,
 "I've never found C so.
 From where I stand he seems to be
 An uncompleted O."

 C was vexed, "I'm much perplexed,
 You criticise my shape.
 I'm made like that, to help spell Cat
 And Cow and Cool and Cape."

 "He's right" said E; said F, "Whoopee!"
 Said G, "'Ip, 'Ip, 'ooray!"
 "You're dropping me," roared H to G.
 "Don't do it please I pray."

 "Out of my way," LL said to K.
 "I'll make poor I look ILL."
 To stop this stunt J stood in front,
 And presto! ILL was JILL.

 "U know," said V, "that W
 Is twice the age of me.
 For as a Roman V is five
 I'm half as young as he."

 X and Y yawned sleepily,
 "Look at the time!" they said.
 "Let's all get off to beddy byes."
 They did, then "Z-z-z."
-- Spike Milligan
   I wonder if I would be looking at alphabets in a new light if I had
come across this when I was learning to read. Well, it would have made
it a more 'happening' experience.  The poem does have the light hearted
eccentricity found in most of Milligan's works which make them so
   It is just over a year since Spike Milligan passed away. I was hoping
to find a poem with more of the unabashed bizzareness which I love about
Milligan which often provides a welcome escape from reality but this was
too delightful to save for another day.


[Martin adds]

Another of those poems that I'd first seen in a book of children's poetry,
when I was Very Young, and vaguely remembered without ever knowing it had a
famous author. In retrospect, children's poetry books tended to have an
incredible mix of poem by famous, obscure and just plain anonymous poets,
and the good ones made it work really well. And, of course, there were all
the wonderful illustrations accompanying the poems. It's a shame that
children don't seem to be reading as much nowadays (if the media are to be
believed) - nothing catches the imagination quite like the written word.

Advice to a Prophet -- Richard Wilbur

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1195) Advice to a Prophet
 When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
 Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
 Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
 In God's name to have self-pity,

 Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
 The long numbers that rocket the mind;
 Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
 Unable to fear what is too strange.

 Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
 How should we dream of this place without us?--
 The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
 A stone look on the stone's face?

 Speak of the world's own change. Though we cannot conceive
 Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
 How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
 How the view alters.  We could believe,

 If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
 Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
 The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
 The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

 On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
 As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
 Stunned in a twinkling.  What should we be without
 The dolphin's arc, the dove's return,

 These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
 Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
 Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
 Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

 In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
 Horse of our courage, in which beheld
 The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
 And all we mean or wish to mean.

 Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
 Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
 Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
 When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.
-- Richard Wilbur
Over the past few days, we have seen quite a few poems dealing with themes
of war: pain, irony, death. This is another fine poem to the collection.
The language is fresh (live tongue is all/Dispelled, that glass obscured or
broken ; The singing locust of the soul unshelled) and the voice of the
poet takes the prophetic ring.

This poem also took me back to the 'sonnets' of Vikram Seth's Golden Gate
and this speech in that book given by a Catholic priest, against the
nuclear weapons and Cold War.

And the poem says all of the 'two-cents' I have to say about war.

And the poet had to this to say:

"Wilbur: Yes. I believe that what I was trying to do in that poem was to
provide - myself, of course - with a way of feeling the enormity of
nuclear war, should it come. The approach of that poem, which comes at
such a war through its likely effect on the creatures who surround us, is
a very "thingy" one. It made it possible for me to feel something beside a
kind of abstract horror, a puzzlement, at the thought of nuclear war; and
it may so serve other people. I hope so."



The Academy of American Poets

Two older Wilbur poems on Minstrels:
Poem #322
Poem #1116

Children -- Kahlil Gibran

Guest poem sent in by Radhika Gowaikar
(Poem #1194) Children
 And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of

 And he said:

 Your children are not your children.

 They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.

 They come through you but not from you,

 And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

 You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

 For they have their own thoughts.

 You may house their bodies but not their souls,

 For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
 not even in your dreams.

 You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

 For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

 You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

 The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you
 with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

 Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;

 For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that
 is stable.
-- Kahlil Gibran
Throughout 'The Prophet', Kahlil Gibran manages to bring together great
insight into how life works (or should, at any rate) and truly beautiful
language. And he makes the two seem mutually indispensible.  Which is why he
appeals to me intellectually as well as aesthetically. He is a master of
analogies and his texts have many that are apt and natural - that of the
archer in this poem is close to perfection.

From a more simplistic viewpoint, he places the "Leave me alone/Let go of
me" phenomenon that most 'children' experience at some point in a much
wider context. I say this because in recent months the topic of how one
should "bring one's parents up" <g> has come up repeatedly with some of my
friends. Well, here is how. (The minor problem that remains is conveying
it to the parents... <g>)


Google spews out vast amounts of pages on Gibran. To name two: has a detailed biography of Gibran as well as a lot
of his writings in full. (Including The Prophet.) They spell the first
name Khalil.

[broken link] has many of
Gibran's illustrations that appear in The Prophet.

Cherrylog Road -- James Dickey

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1193) Cherrylog Road
 Off Highway 106
 At Cherrylog Road I entered
 The '34 Ford without wheels,
 Smothered in kudzu,
 With a seat pulled out to run
 Corn whiskey down from the hills,

 And then from the other side
 Crept into an Essex
 With a rumble seat of red leather
 And then out again, aboard
 A blue Chevrolet, releasing
 The rust from its other color,

 Reared up on three building blocks.
 None had the same body heat;
 I changed with them inward, toward
 The weedy heart of the junkyard,
 For I knew that Doris Holbrook
 Would escape from her father at noon

 And would come from the farm
 To seek parts owned by the sun
 Among the abandoned chassis,
 Sitting in each in turn
 As I did, leaning forward
 As in a wild stock-car race

 In the parking lot of the dead.
 Time after time, I climbed in
 And outthe other side, like
 An envoy or movie star
 Met at the station by crickets.
 A radiator cap raised its head,

 Become a real toad or a kingsnake
 As I neared the hub of the yard,
 Passing through many states,
 Many lives, to reach
 Some grandmother's long Pierce-Arrow
 Sending platters of blindness forth

 From its nickel hubcaps
 And spilling its tender upholstery
 On sleepy roaches,
 The glass panel in between
 Lady and colored driver
 Not all the way broken out,

 The back-seat phone
 Still on its hook.
 I got in as though to exclaim,
 "Let us go to the orphan asylum,
 John; I have some old toys
 For children who say their prayers."

 I popped with sweat as I thought
 I heard Doris Holbrook scrape
 Like a mouse in the southern-state sun
 That was eating the paint in blisters
 >>From a hundred car tops and hoods.
 She was tapping like code,

 Loosening the screws,
 Carrying off headlights,
 Sparkplugs, bumpers,
 Cracked mirrors and gear-knobs,
 Getting ready, already,
 To go back with something to show

 Other than her lips' new trembling
 I would hold to me soon, soon
 Where I sat in the ripped back seat
 Talking over the interphone,
 Praying for Doris Holbrook
 To come from her father's farm

 And to get back there
 With no trace of me on her face
 To be seen by her red-haired father
 Who would change, in the squalling barn,
 Her back's pale skin with a strop,
 Then lay for me

 In a bootlegger's roasting car
 With a sting-triggered 12-guage shotgun
 To blast the breath from the air.
 Not cut by the jagged windshields,
 Through the acres of wrecks she came
 With a wrench in her hand,

 Through dust where the blacksnake dies
 Of boredom, and the beetle knows
 The compost has no more life.
 Someone's outside would have seen
 The oldest car's door inexplicably
 Close from within:

 I held her and held her and held her,
 Convoyed at terrific speed
 By the stalled, dreaming traffic around us,
 So the blacksnake, stiff
 With inaction, curved back
 Into life, and hunted the mouse

 With deadly overexcitement,
 The beetles reclaimed their field
 As we clung, glued together
 With the hooks of the seat springs
 Working through to catch us red-handed
 Amidst the gray breathless batting

 That burst from the seat at our backs.
 We left by separate doors
 Into the changed, other bodies
 Of cars, she down Cherrylog Road
 And I to my motorcycle
 Parked like the soul of the junkyard

 Restored, a bicycle fleshed
 With power, and tore off
 Up Highway 106, continually
 Drunk on the wind in my mouth,
 Wringing the handlebar for speed,
 Wild to be wreckage forever.
-- James Dickey
I was talking to Thomas Lux, a poet in residence at Tech, about James
Dickey the other day, when he mentioned this poem to me. He called it
memorable and solidly rooted in the South. But what he didn't say was
how powerful and vivid this poem was, I had to find that out for myself.
And what I haven't been able to get out of my head, ever since I read
this poem, are the lines at the closing:

        "Drunk on the wind in my mouth,
        Wringing the handlebar for speed,
        Wild to be wreckage forever."

These alone are worth reading this poem, the power those lines evoke/
invoke! I have felt these emotions many times, when I wrung "the
handlebar for speed, wild to be wreckage forever"!

Also since a recent theme has been poetry and movies, James Dickey apart
from being a powerful poet, wrote the novel Deliverance. It was on
this book, the smash movie Deliverance was based. Infact he figures in
the movie as the sheriff towards the closing, which I think is pretty
unusual, instead of a poem in a movie, it's a poet in a movie.

The movie is worth watching too, if only to see that jam/duel of a
guitar and a banjo. And since I have hiked along the river(Chattooga
River in Georgia) on which it is set, I could experience first hand the
wildness Dickey managed to capture in his work.

So be sure to watch this movie too!




Listen to Sheep Child, another powerful poem here:

A very extensive special at NYT. Be sure to read Barnstorming for Poetry.

Finally, a sometimes painful memoir, one of the best I think that can be
ever written by a son about his father, that first lead me to James
Dickey, Summer of Deliverance:

- Sashi

Adlestrop -- Edward Thomas

(Poem #1192) Adlestrop
 Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
 The name, because one afternoon
 Of heat the express-train drew up there
 Unwontedly. It was late June.

 The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
 No one left and no one came
 On the bare platform. What I saw
 Was Adlestrop -- only the name

 And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
 And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
 No whit less still and lonely fair
 Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

 And for that minute a blackbird sang
 Close by, and round him, mistier,
 Farther and farther, all the birds
 Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
-- Edward Thomas
Adlestrop is a village in the Cotswolds, lying just off the road between two
equally charmingly-named towns - Chipping Norton and Stow-on-the-Wold. Its
claim to fame, apart from today's poem of course, is that Jane Austen was
often a guest at the Rectory (her uncle was the rector), and Adlestrop Park
may have been the setting for Mansfield Park.

As for the poem... it's a little gem. It doesn't attempt too much (always a
good thing, unless you're Milton), but what it sets out to do it does
perfectly: it captures place and season to a nicety. Especially refreshing,
given the weather we've been having lately.



Ah, the wonders of the internet:

Edward Thomas:
Poem #1032, Words
Poem #1174, No One So Much As You

Poem #3, Inversnaid  -- Gerard Manley Hopkins
Poem #5, Chicago  -- Carl Sandburg
Poem #60, Byzantium  -- William Butler Yeats
Poem #128, London, 1802  -- William Wordsworth
Poem #235, Pennsylvania  -- Carl Sandburg
Poem #361, Cologne  -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Poem #1021, Matsushima -- Matsuo Basho


The Scrabble player in me would like to point out that ADLESTROP is a
fertile source of 8-letter words: DROPLETS PETROSAL POLESTAR PROLATES

A Farewell -- Charles Kingsley

(Poem #1191) A Farewell
 My fairest child, I have no song to give you;
 No lark could pipe to skies so dull and grey:
 Yet, ere we part, one lesson I can leave you
       For every day.

 Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
 Do noble things, not dream them, all day long:
 And so make life, death, and that vast for-ever
       One grand, sweet song.
-- Charles Kingsley

A prime example of what I call Good Advice to the Younger Generation - what
raises this one above the common herd, I think, is the supreme quotability
of the line "Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever" - Kingsley
gets it absolutely right, though ironically the line itself is nothing if
not clever.

Whether one good line is enough to make a poem noteworthy is debatable -
personally, I believe it is, especially in so short a piece. It possibly
helps that I liked the quote long before I knew there was a poem attached to
it. I also belong to the school of poetry criticism that looks for a poem's
good points first, and speaks only later, if at all, of its flaws - this is,
after all, about the enjoyment of poetry far more than it is about its
dissection. (Which is not to say that I don't enjoy tearing into a
particularly bad poem every now and then :)).


  Biography of Kingsley:

  And don't miss the connection to Poem #255

Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd -- Mark Twain

(Poem #1190) Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd
 And did young Stephen sicken,
 And did young Stephen die?
 And did the sad hearts thicken,
 And did the mourners cry?

 No; such was not the fate of
 Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
 Though sad hearts round him thickened,
 'Twas not from sickness' shots.

 No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
 Nor measles drear with spots;
 Not these impaired the sacred name
 Of Stephen Dowling Bots.

 Despised love struck not with woe
 That head of curly knots,
 Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
 Young Stephen Dowling Bots.

 O no. Then list with tearful eye,
 Whilst I his fate do tell.
 His soul did from this cold world fly
 By falling down a well.

 They got him out and emptied him;
 Alas it was too late;
 His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
 In the realms of the good and great.
-- Mark Twain
        (from Huckleberry Finn)

Note: A parody of obituary poetry popular in the late 19th century [UTEL],
  attributed to "the late Emmeline Grangerford (who died before her 14th
  birthday) [...] She warn't particular, she could write about anything you
  choose to give her to write about, just so it was sadful."

The bad poet is a common character in humorous fiction, and several author
have embellished their stories with actual examples of said poet's output.
Some of my favourite examples include Wodehouse, Saki and Sue Townsend[1], and
while today's poem doesn't reach quite that level of sheer sublime
ridiculousness, it did make me laugh - not just for the poem, but for the
image of the earnest young poet, reading "boy falls down well" and turning
her enthusiastic pen to yet another 'tribute'.

All the funnier is that the poem's use of bathos could, if written slightly
differently, have been a genuinely humourous poem in Emmeline's voice. Twain
injected just the right note of seriousness into the last two verses,
though, that it is clear to the reader that Emmeline intended a genuinely
'sadful' poem, and the humour becomes Twain's instead.

One disappointing thing about today's poem is that Twain's wonderful ear for
dialect and speech patterns, so much in evidence throughout Huckleberry
Finn, does not really come through in the poem. Of course, Twain probably
intended this to portray the poet as educated and 'refined', but I cannot
but help think it'd be funnier if the speech patterns evoked a conflict
between that education and the more idiosyncraic dialect it was imposed
upon. (I freely admit that Twain's decision is likely more artistically
accurate, I just think the dialect would've been funnier).

[1] Carroll doesn't actually fall into this category - his parodies were
invariably *better* than the poems (and poets) they sent up


  The poem in context:

  The UTEL site, with some notes:

  A biography of Twain, and several online texts:

  And another extensive Twain site:
    [broken link]

Survivors -- Siegfried Sassoon

Guest poem sent in by Vidur
(Poem #1189) Survivors
 No doubt they'll soon get well; the shock and strain
 Have caused their stammering, disconnected talk.
 Of course they're 'longing to go out again,'
 These boys with old, scared faces, learning to walk.
 They'll soon forget their haunted nights; their cowed
 Subjection to the ghosts of friends who died,
 Their dreams that drip with murder; and they'll be proud
 Of glorious war that shatter'd all their pride...
 Men who went out to battle, grim and glad;
 Children, with eyes that hate you, broken and mad.
-- Siegfried Sassoon
so i can't get the impending war out of my head these days. so much so
that some nights i don't sleep too well. i don't think i've ever felt
this way before. a couple of months ago i read 'dear mr. president', a
collection of short stories by gabe hudson. it wasn't a great piece of
writing, but it was vivid and energetic in its description of
manifestations of the 'gulf war syndrome.'

i cannot even begin to fathom the trauma of war.

there are numerous poems on war, several superlative ones written at
the time of the great wars by the likes of auden, sassoon, owen, and
others. 'survivors' is one such poem. i particularly like the way in
which it opens with a dispassionate tone - very nonchalant - then toys
with irony, and finally strikes with chilling contempt for the
advocates of war.

what a shame that history has taught us nothing - not even when her
lessons are passed down with such eloquence.


The Mother -- Padraic H Pearse

Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea
(Poem #1188) The Mother
 I do not grudge them: Lord, I do not grudge
 My two strong sons that I have seen go out
 To break their strength and die, they and a few,
 In bloody protest for a glorious thing,
 They shall be spoken of among their people,
 The generations shall remember them,
 And call them blessed;
 But I will speak their names to my own heart
 In the long nights;
 The little names that were familiar once
 Round my dead hearth.
 Lord, thou art hard on mothers:
 We suffer in their coming and their going;
 And tho' I grudge them not, I weary, weary
 Of the long sorrow--And yet I have my joy:
 My sons were faithful, and they fought.
-- Padraic H Pearse

In any war, people are killed; soldiers are killed. Right now, there are
American and British and Australian mothers who wonder if they will see
their sons again. This poem is from a different war and a different time,
but the sentiments outlive time and place.

The poem was written the night before Pearse's execution by firing squad;
his brother was executed some days later.

It is customary now to decry the kind of patriotism which Pearse
represented. His sincere love for his country has been corrupted by the
savagery of the IRA, just as his idea of the necessity of blood sacrifice
(cf Yeats "There's nothing but our own red blood / Can make a right Rose
Tree.") has been corrupted by suicide bombers. Yet he was a young man of
great piety, a poet of some substance and an educator before that word was
properly understood. His oration over the grave of the old Fenian O'Donovan
Rossa bears comparison with any example of oratory anywhere. His sense of
fierce love of Ireland he inherited from his Irish mother; his sensitivity
to any form of injustice came from his English artisan father; if it is
possible to imagine the best of both nations, it might be P H Pearse.

Any search engine will list dozens of sites devoted to Pearse and his

Frank O'Shea


  And a picture: [broken link]

  Another poem written on the eve of the poet's execution is Poem #144,
  which makes an interesting companion to today's

Sadness in Spring -- Anonymous

Guest poem sent in by David Fortin
(Poem #1187) Sadness in Spring
 Maytime, loveliest season,
 Loud bird-parley, new growth green,
 Ploughs in furrow, oxen yoked,
 Emerald sea, land-hues dappled.

 When cuckoos call from fair tree-tops
 Greater grows my sorrow;
 Stinging smoke, grief awake
 For my kinsfolk's passing.

 On hill, in vale, in ocean's isles,
 Whichever way man goes,
 Blest Christ there's no evading.
-- Anonymous
   (13th century Welsh poem)

In the original Welsh:

 'Tristwch yn y Gwanwyn'

  Cyntefin ceinaf amser,
  Dyar adar, glas calledd,
  Ereidr yn Rhych, ych yng ngwedd,
  Gwyrdd mor, brithotor tiredd.

  Ban ganont gogau ar flaen gwydd gwiw,
  Handid mwy fy llawfrydedd,
  Tost mwg, amlwg anhunedd,
  Can ethynt fy ngheraint yn adwedd.

  Ym mryn, yn nhyno, yn ynysedd mor,
  Ymhob ffordd ydd eler
  Rhag Crist gwyn nid oes ynialedd.

This is a favorite poem of mine, and, given that we just celebrated St.
David's Day (March 1) and have a war that will probably begin in the not too
distant future, I felt it was appropriate.  I've included the Welsh text for
anyone interested in the poetic elements of the original.

This very interesting poem comes from a 13th century medieval Welsh
manuscript by an anonymous author.  It starts out like many nature poems,
praising the end of winter and the appearance of spring--much as we do, even
to this day.  In the Middle Ages, spring was the period of rejuvenation of
life and the end of the days of want and famine of winter.

However, in the second stanza, the poem takes a turn.  Rather than being
happy about the burgeoning of life in nature, instead the poet is sad
because spring also begins the season for warfare.  I can't say that I've
seen too many examples of this contrast being made-- between Spring the
Life-Bringer and Spring the War-Bringer.

The translation is from The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English (Oxford,

David Fortin
Doctoral Candidate
The Catholic University of America

This is the Horror that, Night After Night -- Gerald Gould

(Poem #1186) This is the Horror that, Night After Night
 This is the horror that, night after night,
   Sits grinning on my pillow -- that I meant
   To mix the peace of being innocent
 With the warm thrill of seeking out delight:
 This is the final blasphemy, the blight
   On all pure purpose and divine intent --
   To dress the selfish thought, the indolent,
 In the priest's sable or the angel's white.

 For God's sake, if you sin, take pleasure in it,
   And do it for the pleasure. Do not say:
 'Behold the spirit's liberty! -- a minute
   Will see the earthly vesture break away
 And God shine through.' Say: 'Here's a sin -- I'll sin it;
   And there's the price of sinning -- and I'll pay.'
-- Gerald Gould
        (from 'Monogamy')

Superficially, today's poem seems to express the same sentiment that
Millay's "Penitent" [Poem #108] does:

  And, "One thing there's no getting by --
      I've been a wicked girl," said I:
       "But if I can't be sorry, why,
  I might as well be glad!"

but on closer reading, it's diametrically opposed - Millay's narrator feels
glad, though she 'knows' she shouldn't; Gould's makes the same "do it for the
pleasure" argument, but the underlying tone is one of a rather forced and
desperate gaiety, as though the speaker is trying to convince himself as
much as his listener.

There is a particular irony in the use of "For God's sake" that underscores
the poem's basic uncertainty. I was actually reminded far more strongly of
Hemingway's "Chapter Heading" [Poem #976]:

  And we have danced to devil's tunes
      Shivering home to pray

- there is the same sense of pleasures enjoyed only until the price of sinning
intrudes itself on your consciousness.

Gould is a suprisingly unknown poet - I'd never heard of him until I came
across today's piece, and websearching only turned up a couple of other poems
(both excellent - watch this space), and no biography, apart from a rather
sad "Gerald Gould (1885-1936)". If anyone has more information, or some
poems they like, I'd love to hear about them.


  I found today's poem on Martin Hardcastle's poetry page:

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (Our Thoughts Are Free) -- Traditional

Guest poem sent in by Priscilla Jebaraj

This one's not really a war poem, but it struck me as being relevant to the
(Poem #1185) Die Gedanken Sind Frei (Our Thoughts Are Free)
 Die Gedanken sind frei
 My thoughts freely flower,
 Die Gedanken sind frei
 My thoughts give me power.
 No scholar can map them,
 No hunter can trap them,
 No man can deny:
 Die Gedanken sind frei!

 I think as I please
 And this gives me pleasure,
 My conscience decrees,
 This right I must treasure;
 My thoughts will not cater
 To duke or dictator,
 No man can deny--
 Die Gedanken sind frei!

 And if tyrants take me
 And throw me in prison
 My thoughts will burst free,
 Like blossoms in season.
 Foundations will crumble,
 The structure will tumble,
 And free men will cry:
 Die Gedanken sind frei!

 Neither trouble or pain
 Will ever touch me again.
 No good comes of fretting,
 My hope's in forgetting.
 Within myself still
 I can think as I will,
 But I laugh, do not cry:
 Die Gedanken sind frei!
-- Traditional
       (Old German song, translation by Arthur Kevess and Gerda Lerner)

I first discovered this poem in what was my favourite book as a child: 'From
Anna' by Jean Little. It tells the story of a German family in the 1930s who
are digusted with Hitler and Nazism and leave the Fatherland for Canada.

This song was apparently very popular immediately before and during World
War II. At a time when all freedoms were being attacked, Germans clung to
the fact that their thoughts were still free. It was a source of hope in the
concentration camps and an weapon of defiance to the resistance. (In fact, I
found this translation on a website about the student protest group, The
White Rose).

The poem has a long history of protest. It can be traced back to the 12th
Century when the minstrel (!) Dietmar von Aist sang "Die Gedanken, die sind
ledig frei".

It appeared in its current form during the Peasant Wars of 1524-5, a series
of rural uprisings directed against unbearable taxation.  Both Lutheran and
Catholic landlords cut the rebels down: Martin Luther himself condemned the
peasants.  But they didn't really care -- after all, their thoughts were
still free.

I guess it's still the same today. The manipulation of ideas and thoughts,
whether in Baghdad or Washington, will ultimately fail, because "Die
gedanken sind frei!"


PS: Interestingly, there are several fairly different versions and
translations of this song. If you want to read it in the original German, or
listen to the song set to music, check out this site:

And here's a not-so-popular version that some people say is more authentic:

Thoughts are free!
Who can guess them?
They fly along like nightly treasures.
No man can know them
No hunter can shoot them
With powder and lead
Thoughts are free!

I think about what I want
and what makes me happy
But everything quietly,
and just how it comes.
To my wish and desire
Nobody can oppose,
It stays this way:
Thoughts are free!

And if they lock me in a dark dungeon
That is something that can be forgiven
'Cause my thoughts tear up the bars and walls.
Thoughts are free!

I think about what I want
and what makes me happy ...

And if they lock me in a dark dungeon ...

I love wine, my girl most of all,
Only me she pleases best
I am not alone
With my glass of wine
My girl is with me:
Thoughts are free!

That's why I will never worry anymore
And I will never tease myself
with whims anymore
Because in one's heart
One can keep laughing and joking
While thinking
Thoughts are free!