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A Woman Well Set Free! How Free I Am -- Sumangalamata

Guest poem sent in by Arun Simha

This is an interesting poem from the 6th century BC. It was
written in Pali, an ancient Indian language.
(Poem #1265) A Woman Well Set Free! How Free I Am
 A woman well set free! How free I am,
 How wonderfully free, from kitchen drudgery.
 Free from the harsh grip of hunger,
 And from empty cooking pots,
 Free too of that unscrupulous man,
 The weaver of sunshades.
 Calm now, and serene I am,
 All lust and hatred purged.
 To the shade of the spreading trees I go
 And contemplate my happiness.
-- Sumangalamata
            (Pali - 6th Century (600) B.C
             Translated by Uma Chakravarti and Kumkum Roy)

The poem is from "Women Writing In India" edited by Susie Tharu and K.
Lalita. It was published in by The Feminist Press, City Univ of New
York, New York (1991). Susie Tharu teaches in the Dept of English
Literature at the Central Inst. of Eng. and Foreign Languages in
Hyderabad, K. Lalitha is a political scientist and co-ordinator of
Anveshi, Centre for Women's Studies, Hyderabad.

My first impression upon reading this poem was the timelessness of its
theme. The imagery created by the poet is striking. The seamless
movement from the bondage of the interior (kitchen) to the comfort of
the exterior (garden) is mere explanation for the loud proclamation
that precedes it.

You can almost hear the sigh of relief - nay - joy, of the woman who,
having spent the previous few hours satisying others needs, now goes
out to seek her own. And she does it in solitude. The poet seems to
suggest spiritual contemplation as the culmination of a day's

Or does she really suggest that?

What else could she have endevaoured to do after her cooking was done?
Could she have hoped to have a  meaningful role in society which was
disassociated from the kitchen and with religion? Was this the only
freedom that she could hope to achieve?

A Marathi poem by Janabai (from the same book) written a few centuries
later, may provide some answers to those questions. Here too the woman
casts off her "place in society" to achieve religious ecstasy and
therefore, freedom.

     Janabai (1298-1350), Marathi

    "Cast off All Shame"

    Cast off all shame,
    and sell yourself
    in the marketplace;
    then alone
    can you hope
    to reach the Lord.

    Cymbals in hand,
    a *veena* upon my shoulder,
    I go about;
    who dares to stop me?

    The *pallav* of my sari
    falls away (A Scandal!);
    yet will I enter
    the crowded marketplace
    without a thought.

    Jani says, My Lord,
    I have become a slut
    to reach Your home.

     -- Janabai
   (Translated by Vilas Sarang)

Arun Simha

The Santa Fe Trail -- Vachel Lindsay

Today's poem is from Lindsay's collection "The Congo and Other Poems", in
the section headed "Poems Intended to be Read Aloud, or Chanted". Somewhat
unusually, Lindsay has included explicit reading directions. I've marked
these with a #. There are also several words emphasied in boldface, which I
have denoted by *word*. See the links for a properly typeset version of the
(Poem #1264) The Santa Fe Trail
(A Humoresque)

I asked the old Negro, "What is that bird that sings so well?"
He answered: "That is the Rachel-Jane." "Hasn't it another name,
lark, or thrush, or the like?" "No. Jus' Rachel-Jane."

I. In which a Racing Auto comes from the East

 # To be sung delicately, to an improvised tune.
 This is the order of the music of the morning: --
 First, from the far East comes but a crooning.
 The crooning turns to a sunrise singing.
 Hark to the *calm*-horn, *balm*-horn, *psalm*-horn.
 Hark to the *faint*-horn, *quaint*-horn, *saint*-horn. . . .

 # To be sung or read with great speed.
 Hark to the *pace*-horn, *chase*-horn, *race*-horn.
 And the holy veil of the dawn has gone.
 Swiftly the brazen car comes on.
 It burns in the East as the sunrise burns.
 I see great flashes where the far trail turns.
 Its eyes are lamps like the eyes of dragons.
 It drinks gasoline from big red flagons.
 Butting through the delicate mists of the morning,
 It comes like lightning, goes past roaring.
 It will hail all the wind-mills, taunting, ringing,
 Dodge the cyclones,
 Count the milestones,
 On through the ranges the prairie-dog tills --
 Scooting past the cattle on the thousand hills. . . .
 # To be read or sung in a rolling bass, with some deliberation.
 Ho for the *tear*-horn, *scare*-horn, *dare*-horn,
 Ho for the *gay*-horn, *bark*-horn, *bay*-horn.
 Ho for Kansas, land that restores us
 When houses choke us, and great books bore us!
 Sunrise Kansas, harvester's Kansas,
 A million men have found you before us.

II. In which Many Autos pass Westward

 # In an even, deliberate, narrative manner.
 I want live things in their pride to remain.
 I will not kill one grasshopper vain
 Though he eats a hole in my shirt like a door.
 I let him out, give him one chance more.
 Perhaps, while he gnaws my hat in his whim,
 Grasshopper lyrics occur to him.

 I am a tramp by the long trail's border,
 Given to squalor, rags and disorder.
 I nap and amble and yawn and look,
 Write fool-thoughts in my grubby book,
 Recite to the children, explore at my ease,
 Work when I work, beg when I please,
 Give crank-drawings, that make folks stare
 To the half-grown boys in the sunset glare,
 And get me a place to sleep in the hay
 At the end of a live-and-let-live day.

 I find in the stubble of the new-cut weeds
 A whisper and a feasting, all one needs:
 The whisper of the strawberries, white and red
 Here where the new-cut weeds lie dead.

 But I would not walk all alone till I die
 Without some life-drunk horns going by.
 Up round this apple-earth they come
 Blasting the whispers of the morning dumb: --
 Cars in a plain realistic row.
 And fair dreams fade
 When the raw horns blow.

 On each snapping pennant
 A big black name: --
 The careering city
 Whence each car came.
 # Like a train-caller in a Union Depot.
 They tour from Memphis, Atlanta, Savannah,
 Tallahassee and Texarkana.
 They tour from St. Louis, Columbus, Manistee,
 They tour from Peoria, Davenport, Kankakee.
 Cars from Concord, Niagara, Boston,
 Cars from Topeka, Emporia, and Austin.
 Cars from Chicago, Hannibal, Cairo.
 Cars from Alton, Oswego, Toledo.
 Cars from Buffalo, Kokomo, Delphi,
 Cars from Lodi, Carmi, Loami.
 Ho for Kansas, land that restores us
 When houses choke us, and great books bore us!
 While I watch the highroad
 And look at the sky,
 While I watch the clouds in amazing grandeur
 Roll their legions without rain
 Over the blistering Kansas plain --
 While I sit by the milestone
 And watch the sky,
 The United States
 Goes by.

 # To be given very harshly, with a snapping explosiveness.
 Listen to the iron-horns, ripping, racking.
 Listen to the quack-horns, slack and clacking.
 Way down the road, trilling like a toad,
 Here comes the *dice*-horn, here comes the *vice*-horn,
 Here comes the *snarl*-horn, *brawl*-horn, *lewd*-horn,
 Followed by the *prude*-horn, bleak and squeaking: --
 (Some of them from Kansas, some of them from Kansas.)
 Here comes the *hod*-horn, *plod*-horn, *sod*-horn,
 Nevermore-to-*roam*-horn, *loam*-horn, *home*-horn.
 (Some of them from Kansas, some of them from Kansas.)
 # To be read or sung, well-nigh in a whisper.
 Far away the Rachel-Jane
 Not defeated by the horns
 Sings amid a hedge of thorns: --
 "Love and life,
 Eternal youth --
 Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet,
 Dew and glory,
 Love and truth,
 Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet."
 # Louder and louder, faster and faster.
 # In a rolling bass, with increasing deliberation.
 And then, in an instant,
 Ye modern men,
 Behold the procession once again,
 # With a snapping explosiveness.
 Listen to the iron-horns, ripping, racking,
 Listen to the *wise*-horn, desperate-to-*advise*-horn,
 Listen to the *fast*-horn, *kill*-horn, *blast*-horn. . . .
 # To be sung or read well-nigh in a whisper.
 Far away the Rachel-Jane
 Not defeated by the horns
 Sings amid a hedge of thorns: --
 Love and life,
 Eternal youth,
 Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet,
 Dew and glory,
 Love and truth.
 Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet.
 # To be brawled in the beginning with a
 # snapping explosiveness, ending in a languorous chant.
 The mufflers open on a score of cars
 With wonderful thunder,
 Listen to the gold-horn . . .
 Old-horn . . .
 Cold-horn . . .
 And all of the tunes, till the night comes down
 On hay-stack, and ant-hill, and wind-bitten town.
 # To be sung to exactly the same whispered tune
 # as the first five lines.
 Then far in the west, as in the beginning,
 Dim in the distance, sweet in retreating,
 Hark to the faint-horn, quaint-horn, saint-horn,
 Hark to the calm-horn, balm-horn, psalm-horn. . . .

 # This section beginning sonorously, ending in a languorous whisper.
 They are hunting the goals that they understand: --
 San Francisco and the brown sea-sand.
 My goal is the mystery the beggars win.
 I am caught in the web the night-winds spin.
 The edge of the wheat-ridge speaks to me.
 I talk with the leaves of the mulberry tree.
 And now I hear, as I sit all alone
 In the dusk, by another big Santa Fe stone,
 The souls of the tall corn gathering round
 And the gay little souls of the grass in the ground.
 Listen to the tale the cotton-wood tells.
 Listen to the wind-mills, singing o'er the wells.
 Listen to the whistling flutes without price
 Of myriad prophets out of paradise.
 Harken to the wonder
 That the night-air carries. . . .
 Listen . . . to . . . the . . . whisper . . .
 Of . . . the . . . prairie . . . fairies
 Singing o'er the fairy plain: --
 # To the same whispered tune as the Rachel-Jane song -- but very slowly.
 "Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet.
 Love and glory,
 Stars and rain,
 Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet. . . ."
-- Vachel Lindsay
The most striking thing about today's poem - indeed, practically its
defining characteristic - is its intense focus on the *sound* of the words.
And this is very deliberate - quoting Lindsay:

  "I respectfully submit these poems as experiments in which I endeavor to
  carry this vaudeville form back towards the old Greek precedent of the
  half-chanted lyric. In this case the one-third of music must be added by
  the instinct of the reader."

The temptation is to dismiss this as pure gimmickry, to look no further than
the almost jarringly unexpected reading directions and to seize on the word
'experiment' as if that carries the whole value of the poem. However, even
the most casual reading should reveal the factor that makes the experiment
a definite success - Lindsay has a very fine ear indeed. In terms of sheer
sonorousness, I'd rank him right up there with Flecker, Masefield and
Kipling, though he does lack somewhat of their talent for description.
(Indeed, speaking of Masefield, today's poem is very reminscent of
'Cargoes', particularly the last verse thereof.)

Lindsay has blended form and content well, the overwhelming cascade of sound
and syllables bears down upon and swirls past the reader like the river of
cars and horns passing westwards. And in counterpoint, the recurring note of
the Rachel Janes "not defeated by the horns", and the superbly-crafted
parenthetical insertion, "(Some of them from Kansas, some of them from
Kansas)". And finally the "sweet in retreating" note of the flood passing
by, leaving the "wonder that the night air carries" - almost like Cargoes in

All in all, a decidedly unusual, but very memorable and uniquely Lindsay
poem. Perhaps not as memorable as the better known "The Congo", but then,
neither does it suffer from the latter's appalling racism (it strikes me
that many of the complaints against Kipling - his racism, his vulgarity, his
sacrificing of poetic principle for start with a popular appeal - are more
closely applicable to Lindsay, and if he shares Kipling's strengths, he also
shares his failings). And, above all, great fun to read aloud.


  has the full text of "The Congo and Other Poems", complete with proper
  typography, a biography, and an introduction by Harriet Monroe that I
  strongly urge you to read.

Morning XXVII -- Pablo Neruda

Guet poem sent in by singh_abs2000
(Poem #1263) Morning XXVII
 Naked, you are simple as one of your hands,
 smooth, earthy, small, transparent, round:
 you have moon-lines, apple-pathways:
 naked, you are slender as a naked grain of wheat.

 Naked, you are blue as a night in Cuba;
 you have vines and stars in your hair;
 naked you are spacious and yellow
 as summer in a golden church.

 Naked, you are tiny as one of your nails -
 curved, subtle, rosy, till the day is born
 and you withdraw to the underground world,

 as if down a long tunnel of clothing and of chores:
 your clear light dims, gets dressed - drops its leaves -
 and becomes a naked hand again.
-- Pablo Neruda
What can be said about what cannot be said...that Neruda could say it?

For me this poem captures all the beauty and painful longing of mortal
love...while reading this poem I realized that this poem could equally be a
lover talking of his love lying next to him...or a mother talking of her own
nakedness suckling at her breasts...

Needless to say my favorite line of all times is in here...

  "you have moon-lines, apple-pathways;
  Naked, you are as slender as a naked grain of wheat"

But more than all this there is something unspeakably sacred in these words.
I cant point my fingers at sweeps you when you come face to face
with this poem.

P.S. I have noticed that there are very few Nerudas in the I hope this poem opens a new gateway to more Neruda
discoveries! [actually, eight poems isn't all that few, considering. more
would, of course, always be nice :) - martin]

The Carpenter's Son -- A E Housman

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #1262) The Carpenter's Son
 "Here the hangman stops his cart:
 Now the best of friends must part.
 Fare you well, for ill fare I:
 Live, lads, and I will die.

 "Oh, at home had I but stayed
 'Prenticed to my father's trade,
 Had I stuck to plane and adze,
 I had not been lost, my lads.

 "Then I might have built perhaps
 Gallows-trees for other chaps,
 Never dangled on my own,
 Had I left but ill alone.

 "Now, you see, they hang me high,
 And the people passing by
 Stop to shake their fists and curse;
 So 'tis come from ill to worse.

 "Here hang I, and right and left
 Two poor fellows hang for theft:
 All the same's the luck we prove,
 Though the midmost hangs for love.

 "Comrades all, that stand and gaze,
 Walk henceforth in other ways;
 See my neck and save your own:
 Comrades all, leave ill alone.

 "Make some day a decent end,
 Shrewder fellows than your friend.
 Fare you well, for ill fare I:
 Live lads, and I will die."
-- A E Housman
This is from Houseman's collection "A Shropshire Lad" - there are a lot of
war poems which are, in their own quiet way, a great deal more satisfying to
me than Rupert Brooke's poems, especially because of their biting sarcasm,
such as "From Clee to Heaven the Beacon Burns" -

>"Oh, God will save her, fear you not:
>Be you the men you've been,
>Get you the sons your fathers got,
>And God will save the Queen."

This poem above is ironic, mocking - a carpenter's son reflecting, as he is
going to be hanged, how much better it would have been if he had stuck to
making gallows trees instead of committing crimes that led to his being
forced to sample his own product.

He is making a confession of his crimes and a request to his fellow human
beings not to be led into a life of crime lest they suffer the same fate as
he.  Or is he?  Is he dying for love of mankind like Jesus did on the
cross, between two thieves suffering the same penalty for just and valid


[Martin adds]

An added irony - nowhere in the poem does it say that the love he is dying for
is love of *mankind*. Indeed, if the narrator had not compared his situation to
Jesus's, the phrase "hangs for love" would have a readily obvious interpretation.

A Love Poem -- Sivakami Velliangiri

Guest poem sent in by "Nelson JS Santhosh"
(Poem #1261) A Love Poem
 Y  o  U
 into  my  eyes
    like  red
 d  u  s  t.
-- Sivakami Velliangiri
I dont know if this would qualify for a guest poem--it's a "shape" poem."
Red chilli dust in the eyes" is one of the best ever descriptions of love
that I have ever heard.The jealous rage when your lover talks to another
male friend,the suddenly loud heartbeat when you wave her goodbye...etc etc
- all that heightened emotional intensity: reality's salt on the wounds of
love...all of it can be distilled into this one line.

About the poet:
This is by a relatively unknown Indian poet-Sivakami Velliangiri.Her works
have been published in The Brown Critique,The Little Magazine and Youth
times etc and lately there was an article in The Deccan Herald.....but
theres not much about her on the net. Theres another amazing poem called
Creation which I happened to come across in an old copy of Youth times, which
eventually led me to this...exquisite discovery.

A poster, a paean, a poem.

Nelson JS Santhosh

[Martin adds]

Concrete poetry's okay in small doses, though I don't really care for it
overmuch. In this case, while I loved the image of red chili dust, and the
sensation of a slow drifting fall, I don't think the shape aspect adds
enough to it to justify its inclusion. In other words, I can't help but feel
that this would have worked better without the typographical 'tricks' - both
because they're distracting, and because they lend the poem an unwanted air of
playfulness that jars against what the words say.

Anyone lived in a pretty how town -- e e cummings

Guest poem sent in by
(Poem #1260) Anyone lived in a pretty how town
 anyone lived in a pretty how town
 (with up so floating many bells down)
 spring summer autumn winter
 he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

 Women and men(both little and small)
 cared for anyone not at all
 they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
 sun moon stars rain

 children guessed(but only a few
 and down they forgot as up they grew
 autumn winter spring summer)
 that noone loved him more by more

 when by now and tree by leaf
 she laughed his joy she cried his grief
 bird by snow and stir by still
 anyone’s any was all to her

 someones married their everyones
 laughed their cryings and did their dance
 (sleep wake hoe and then)they
 said their nevers and they slept their dream

 stars rain sun moon
 (and only the snow can begin to explain
 how children are apt for forget to remember
 with up so floating many bells down)

 one day anyone died i guess
 (and noone stooped to kiss his face)
 busy folk buried them side by side
 little by little and was by was

 all by all and deep by deep
 and more by more they dream their sleep
 noone and anyone earth by april
 wish by spirit and if by yes.

 Women and men(both dong and ding)
 summer autumn winter spring
 reaped their sowing and went their came
 sun moon stars rain
-- e e cummings
I love this poem so much. At first glance it appears to be a description of a
town, but if you notice, "anyone" and "noone" are lovers who are ignored by
the same townspeople described and at first, the reader. The reversed word
order and repetition also adds to the "Cummings style." I also enjoyed the
use of the cosmos and seasons to show the passing of time.

Untitled -- Matsuo Basho

Guest poem sent in by Jeffrey Sean Huo , who writes

Related somewhat to the current theme, I would like to offer the following
haiku from Matsuo Basho's _Oku_no_Hosomichi_ :
(Poem #1259) Untitled
 The summer grasses
 All that remains
 Of brave soldiers dreams
-- Matsuo Basho
           From Station (Chapter) 23, "Hiraizumi"

The transliterated original:

  natsukusa ya
  tsuwamonodomo go
  yume no ato


A biography of Basho has appeared previously (#802, "Haiku"); I'd instead
like today to talk about _Oku_no_Hosomichi_ and the context for this poem in

Decades of brutal civil war had ended almost a century earlier at the
decisive battle of Sekigahara; and the shogunate that Tokugawa Ieyasu
established at Edo (now Tokyo) was firmly entrenched by the time Basho began
writing the _Oku_no_Hosomichi_. Edo was fast becoming a great city by the
end of the seventeenth century, but the lands surrounding were still
relatively wild. It was the sights of the region of Tohoku in Northeastern
Japan that Basho set out to explore in 1689. The three months he spent
wandering through the mountains and valleys of Tohoku became the basis for
_Oku_no_Hosomichi_, "Narrow Road to the Deep North". This collection of
Basho's essays and haiku has become regarded as one of the great literary
works of the Japanese language. One of the places Basho visited was

Hiraizumi was the setting in which, centuries earlier, one of the great
heroic tragedies of Japanese history had its bitter end. Centuries before
the battle at Sekigahara, a prior, equally brutal civil war was fought
between the forces led by the Taira and the Minamoto clans. The stories of
this time were collected in the epic _Heike_Monogatari_ (The Tale of the
Heike), and include many of Japan's most famous samurai legends. And among
the great warriors on both sides, Minamoto Yoshitsune was regarded as one
of the most brilliant and brave.

At the height of the battle of Ichi-no-Tani Yoshitsune and his cavalry
charged like a storm straight down a previously-thought impassable cliff and
broke the enemy; at the battle of Yashima, Yoshitsune led his men in a
daring headlong assault across a sea-channel at low tide to drive his enemy
literally into the ocean; and at the final sea battle at Dan no Ura,
Yoshitsune crushed the Taira utterly, the last lords of the Taira throwing
themselves into the sea to avoid capture. Yoshitsune's bravery and skill won
the civil war for the Minamoto. Yoshitsune's reward was betrayal.

Yoshitsune's lord, Yoritomo, had become increasingly paranoid that
Yoshitsune's prowess constituted a threat to Yoritomo's own rule. Yoshitsune
protested his loyalty to the Minamoto family and to Yoritomo himself in the
famous "Koshigoe Letter". But treason and slander won the day, and the brave
Yoshitsune was forced to flee for his life. Pursued and hounded, Yoshitsune
was finally cornered. Even Yoshitsune's death was legendary: Yoshitsune
calmly committed seppuku (samurai ritual suicide) in an interior room while
his oldest friend, the giant warrior-monk Benkei (Japan's "Little John")
single-handedly held the door against vastly outnumbering enemy troops. The
place where Benkei and Yoshitsune made their final stand was Hiraizumi, and
it was in this context that Basho composed a number of haiku, including the
one above.

Basho is believed to have chosen the Japanese word 'natsukusa', in reference
to the muggy, slimy, rank muck that summer's oppressive humidity and heat
turn the grasses of spring into, an appropriate vision, perhaps, of the
chaos and treachery of war. By the time Basho visited Hiraizumi centuries
later, those dank overgrown weeds were all that remained of the fortress in
which Yoshitsune made his final stand. As Basho himself comments in the

  "The select band of loyal retainers who entrenched themselves here in this
  High Fort and fought so desperately - their glorious deeds lasted but a
  moment, and now this spot is overgrown with grass...We sat down upon our
  straw hats and wept, oblivious of the passing time."

The sentiments Basho expresses in the Haiku have deep meaning, even
(especially!) today. But for me, there is a deeper truth contained in the
haiku and the greater story it is a part of. Yoshitsune's betrayal was only
made possible by the cowardice, greed, or perfidy of many petty lords and
scheming officals who turned on Yoshitsune in order to benefit or protect
their own positions. They are all forgotten. But even as the poets and
storytellers --like Basho-- mourned Yoshitsune's death, in doing so they
kept his memory alive, such that today almost all Japanese know Benkei and
Yoshitsune as Europeans know Leonidas at Thermopylae; and in that sense,
Benkei and Yoshitsune have become immortal. The dreams of the brave live on.


Buddha And The Goddess -- Rick Fields

Guest poem sent in by Radhika Gowaikar
(Poem #1258) Buddha And The Goddess
 Thus have I made up:
 Once the Buddha was walking
 along the forest path in the Oak Grove at Ojai,
 walking without arriving anywhere or having any
 thought of arriving or not arriving.
 And lotuses, shining with the morning dew
 miraculously appeared under every step
 Soft as silk beneath the toes of the Buddha.
 When suddenly, out of the turquoise sky,
 dancing in front of his half-shut inward-looking
 eyes, shimmering like a rainbow
 or a spider's web
 transparent as the dew on a lotus flower
 --the Goddess appeared quivering
 like a hummingbird in the air before him.
 She, for she was surely a she
 as the Buddha could clearly see
 with his eye of discriminating awareness wisdom,
 was mostly red in color
 though when the light shifted
 she flashed like a rainbow.
 She was naked except
 for the usual flower ornaments
 goddesses wear.
 Her long hair
 was deep blue, her eyes fathomless pits
 of space, and her third eye a bloodshot
 song of fire.
 The Buddha folded his hands together
 and greeted the Goddess thus:
 "O goddess, why are you blocking my path?
 Before I saw you I was happily going nowhere.
 Now I'm not so sure where I go."
 "You can go around me,"
 said the Goddess, twirling on her heel like a bird
 darting away,
 but just a little way away,
 "or you can come after me
 but you can't pretend I'm not here,
 This is my forest, too."
 With that the Buddha sat
 supple as a snake
 solid as a rock
 beneath a Bo tree
 that sprang full-leaved
 to shade him.
 "Perhaps we should have a chat,"
 he said.
 "After years of arduous practice
 at the time of the morning star
 I penetrated reality and."
 "Not so fast, Buddha," the Goddess said,
 "I am reality."

 The earth stood still,
 the oceans paused,
 the wind itself listened
 --a thousand arhats, bodhisattvas and dakinis
 magically appeared to hear
 what would happen in the conversation.
 "I know I take my life in my hands,"
 said the Buddha,
 "But I am known as the Fearless One
 --so here goes."
 And he and the Goddess
 without further words
 exchanged glances.
 Light rays like sun beams
 shot forth
 so brightly that even
 Sariputra, the All-Seeing One,
 had to turn away.
 And then they exchanged thoughts
 And the illumination was as bright as a diamond candle
 And then they exchanged minds
 And there was a great silence as vast as the universe
 contains everything
 And then they exchanged bodies
 And then clothes
 And the Buddha arose
 as the Goddess
 and the Goddess arose as the Buddha.
 And so on back and forth
 for a hundred thousand hundred thousand kalpas.
 If you meet the Buddha
 you meet the Goddess.
 If you meet the Goddess,
 you meet the Buddha.
 Not only that. This:
 The Buddha is emptiness,
 The Goddess is bliss.
 The Goddess is emptiness,
 The Buddha is bliss.
 And that is what
 And what-not you are
 It's true.
 So here comes the mantra of the Goddess and the
 the unsurpassed non-dual mantra. Just to say this
 just to hear this mantra once, just to hear one word
 of this
 mantra once makes everything the way it truly is: OK.
 So here it is:
 Hey silent one, Hey great talker
 Not two/ not one
 Not separate/ not apart
 This is the heart
 Bliss is emptiness
 Emptiness is bliss
 Be your breath, Ah
 Smile, Hey, And relax, Ho
 Remember: You can't miss.
-- Rick Fields

Not all of this poem makes sense to me. But it doesn't need to. There is
something about it that just feels right. And this appeal, I suspect, is
not inspite of, but rather because of my imperfect understanding of it.

I also like the quiet drama of the 'story', the way that the climax (as I
see it) is 'narrated' as if it were natural and meant-to-be.

And the last two lines are... well, cool :)

I came across this poem here

Some links with information about the poet -
This also has some more interesting poems.
This has obituaries.


The Birth of Shaka -- Oswald Mtshali

Guest poem sent in by David McKelvie
(Poem #1257) The Birth of Shaka
 His baby cry
 was of a cub
 tearing the neck
 of the lioness
 because he was fatherless.

 The gods
 boiled his blood
 in a clay pot of passion
 to course in his veins.

 His heart was shaped into an ox shield
 to foil every foe.

 Ancestors forged
 his muscles into
 thongs as tough
 as water bark
 and nerves
 as sharp as
 syringa thorns.

 His eyes were lanterns
 that shone from the dark valleys of Zululand
 to see white swallows
 coming across the sea.
 His cry to two assassin brothers:

 "Lo! you can kill me
 but you'll never rule this land!"
-- Oswald Mtshali
I found this poem in The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry. Mtshali is a
South African poet.  I know very little about him, only what the small
biography in the anthology says: born in Natal, South Africa in 1940,
published his first collection in the early 1970's.

I've long had an interest in South Africa because I spent my childhood there
in the 80's. As a white Scottish boy there I was aware of discrimination:
white only benches in parks, black only buses, my parent's identity cards
with lists of various racial types, the gigantic difference in social
conditions. One ridiculous example (almost laughable if it weren't so
shocking) is when a white family ordered their daughter out of a swimming
pool because a black girl got in... One thing I couldn't know, however, was
the anger and rage felt by many black people. This poem gives some sense of

Shaka was a Zulu chief of the 19th Century who built a giant empire in
Southern Africa. He became known in Europe as the Black Napoleon. A lot of
myth and folklore has surrounded his life and that's what this poem builds
on. Shaka was killed by his half brothers. The Zulu empire crumbled soon
after when the British Army turned their attentions to them.


The Pardon -- Richard Wilbur

Guest poem sent in by Michael Rudko as part of
the recent dream theme
(Poem #1256) The Pardon
 My dog lay dead five days without a grave
 In the thick of summer, hid in a clump of pine
 And a jungle of grass and honey-suckle vine.
 I who had loved him while he kept alive

 Went only close enough to where he was
 To sniff the heavy honeysuckle-smell
 Twined with another odor heavier still
 And hear the flies' intolerable buzz.

 Well, I was ten and very much afraid.
 In my kind world the dead were out of range
 And I could not forgive the sad or strange
 In beast or man. My father took the spade

 And buried him. Last night I saw the grass
 Slowly divide (it was the same scene
 But now it glowed a fierce and mortal green)
 And saw the dog emerging. I confess

 I felt afraid again, but still he came
 In the carnal sun, clothed in a hymn of flies,
 And death was breeding in his lively eyes.
 I started in to cry and call his name,

 Asking forgiveness of his tongueless head.
 ..I dreamt the past was never past redeeming:
 But whether this was false or honest dreaming
 I beg death's pardon now. And mourn the dead.
-- Richard Wilbur

The poem is about the avoidance of and ultimate confrontation with
mortality.  But on a much more immediate level it's about loving a dog and
dreading its death, one of my life's great realities.

The ten year old boy is able to admit his love only as long as the dog "kept
alive" (great use of the word "kept") and is unwilling or unable to even
look at the dog's dead body.  The most he can do is "sniff" the odor of
decay which is marvelously "twined" with the smell of the honeysuckle, and
briefly tolerate the flies' "intolerable buzz".  His world is "kind", and he
blames (can't "forgive") the dog for dying.  He reveals both his inability
to face death's harsh reality and his deeper intuitive awareness of its
meaning with the euphemistic, powerful phrase "the sad or strange/in beast
or man".  He shirks his responsibility, and relies on his father to perform
the ritual burial of his pet.

When the dog returns to the boy years later in a marvelous, terrible dream,
it's the "same scene" but different.  The green of pine and honey-suckle has
a "fierce and mortal" glow.  The "intolerable buzz" has become a hymn of
flies.  The dog crawls out of the jungle with his "lively eyes" alive with
death, probably maggots.  And the man at last returns to his boyhood fear
without evasion, crying and calling out the dog's name (which in another
great touch we never discover, as if it were too precious to reveal).
Finally, the boy who "could not forgive" is forced to ask forgiveness of a
"tongueless" dog unable to offer that most sacred of canine kindnesses, a

In the poem's powerful finale, Wilbur reveals the deeper meaning of the
dream ("the past is never past redeeming"), dispenses with it ("whether this
be false or honest"), and assumes the awesome duty of begging pardon of and
mourning for his dead, both beast and man.

The formality of the poem makes it.  It could never be so solemn and
forceful in free verse.  It meets Nabokov's test, fusing head and heart and
yielding the salutary spinal tingle that is the signal of great art.


What He Said -- Cempulappeyanirar

Guest poem sent in by gauri keshavan
(Poem #1255) What He Said
 What could my mother be
 to yours? What kin my father
 to yours anyway? And how
 did you and I meet ever?
 But in love
 Our hearts have mingled
 like red earth and pouring rain.
-- Cempulappeyanirar
         from the tamil anthology "Kuruntokai"
         translated by a.k.ramanujan, in
         "The Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology".

Cempulappeyanirar wrote about 2000 years ago, a Sangam age poet. In Tamil
literary tradition many works remained anonymous and there is the practice
of identifying a poet by a phrase or word from his work.  So
"cempulapeyanirar" literally means 'the poet of red earth and pouring rain'.

The metaphor 'red earth and pouring rain' beautifully evokes union in love.
It also connects to the geographical context, since Tamil Nadu is the land
of red soil..though the smell of the first rain has been synonymous with
images of love and longing in various Indian language literature, lines like
these remind us that it's not all the same thing, because each soil has its own
different perfume, quite unforgettable for the native.

I read Vikram Chandra's amazing first novel 'Red Earth and Pouring Rain' a
few years ago and had mentally applauded the author for coming up with such
a beautiful title! Interestingly, Chandra's publishers did not include the
acknowledgement. Anyway, that line has been haunting me long before I
accidentally discovered the poem on a website featuring London Tube poetry.
It simply is the best love poem I have ever come across.


A Dream at Night -- Mei Yao Ch'en

Continuing with the theme, here's a guest poem from Kathy
(Poem #1254) A Dream at Night
 In broad daylight I dream I
 Am with her. At night I dream
 She is still at my side. She
 Carries her kit of colored
 Threads. I see her image bent
 Over her bag of silks. She
 Mends and alters my clothes and
 Worries for fear I might look
 Worn and ragged. Dead, she watches
 Over my life. Her constant
 Memory draws me towards death.
-- Mei Yao Ch'en
           translated from the Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth.

This austere little poem is, I think, more of a love poem which happens to
use a dream element. The image of the woman bending over her sewing, tending
to her loved one's clothing is tender and powerful. On first reading, it
seemed to me that the author only dreams that the woman is there tending to
him. But on subsequent readings, "Dead, she watches / Over my life" points to
the belief at that time and probably even now, that the dead remain present
with the living. So which is it? Does he only dream of her and how she cared
for his needs in the past? Or does he believe that she is still there and
"Worries for fear I might look / Worn and ragged" since her death? Yes -- to
both questions. Poetry speaks layers of truth.

I think it would be a mistake to understand this love poem as one-sided. It's
not just the woman who won't leave the man, even in death. As the first line
says, "In broad daylight I dream I / Am with her." This is about mutual


Dream-Pedlary -- Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Thanks to Ira Cooper for suggesting today's poem
(Poem #1253) Dream-Pedlary
 If there were dreams to sell,
 What would you buy?
 Some cost a passing bell;
 Some a light sigh,
 That shakes from Life's fresh crown
 Only a rose-leaf down.
 If there were dreams to sell,
 Merry and sad to tell,
 And the crier rang the bell,
 What would you buy?

 A cottage lone and still,
 With bowers nigh,
 Shadowy, my woes to still,
 Until I die.
 Such pearls from Life's fresh crown
 Fain would I shake me down.
 Were dreams to have at will,
 This would best heal my ill,
 This would I buy.

 But there were dreams to sell
 Ill didst thou buy;
 Life is a dream, they tell,
 Waking, to die.
 Dreaming a dream to prize,
 Is wishing ghosts to rise;
 And if I had the spell
 To call the buried well,
 Which one should I?

 If there are ghosts to raise,
 What shall I call,
 Out of hell's murky haze,
 Heaven's blue pall?
 Raise my loved long-lost boy,
 To lead me to his joy.--
 There are no ghosts to raise;
 Out of death lead no ways;
 Vain is the call.

 Know'st thou not ghosts to sue,
 No love thou hast.
 Else lie, as I will do,
 And breathe thy last.
 So out of Life's fresh crown
 Fall like a rose-leaf down.
 Thus are the ghosts to woo;
 Thus are all dreams made true,
 Ever to last!
-- Thomas Lovell Beddoes
  Passing Bell (The): It now means the bell tolled to announce the death of
  one who has died in the parish; but originally it meant the bell which
  announced that the person was in extremis, or passing from time into
    -- [broken link]

As Hamlet put it in his famous soliloquy

  To die -- to sleep --
  To sleep? perchance, to dream. Ay, there's the rub;
  For in that sleep of Death what dreams may come,
  When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
  Must give us pause.
        -- Shakespeare, 'Hamlet'

and it is the same parallel between sleep and death, dreams and the
afterlife, that Beddoes addresses in today's poem. And addresses well -
there's a surprising density of images and concepts, and they shift and
blend seamlessly and with a deceptive air of uncraftedness.

The tone, too, exhibits that same smooth variation. "If there were dreams to
sell, what would you buy?" - a happy, innocent opening that is at once
darkened by the reference to a passing bell, then softened once more by the
"rose leaf" (interesting that he didn't say 'rose petal'), so that by the
time Beddoes says "merry and sad" he has indeed foreshadowed both types of
dream. This shifting mood continues throughout, though shifting is perhaps
not the word - what it does is build up a coherent whole by adding to it
from various directions. And even that carries an unfair suggestion of
haphazardness - there is definitely a clean logical progression running
through the poem, for all its back-and-forth moods.

Actually, the first thing that came to mind when I read the opening lines of
the poem was the ending of Neal Stephenson's "In the Beginning was the
Command Line"[1]. In a mild flight of fancy, Stephenson speculates briefly
on the ability to design your life down to the last detail, and notes that
people will, in general, fly the complexity and seek refuge in ever-simpler
prepackaged lives, which they'll spend complaining that things don't work
the way they want them to. And what, I hear you ask, does this have to do
with the poem? Well, there seems to be something awfully *passive* about
buying a dream - and something boringly generic, too, about 'a dream' as
opposed to 'your dreams'. Of course, the rest of the poem doesn't support
this jaundiced interpretation, but that first impression did colour my
reading a bit.

And returning briefly to the 'mood swing' theme, note the interesting
ambivalence with which the poem treats death - everything from a price to
pay, through a lotus-eater's fantasy, to a genuine opportunity for 'dreams
made true'. The biography attached to Poem #595 mentions that Beddoes had "an
obsession with death that was to dominate his life and work", and that is
certainly very much in evidence here.

[1] which everyone ought to read. Really.


The Dream -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

(Poem #1252) The Dream

 Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
 A boundary between the things misnamed
 Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world,
 And a wide realm of wild reality,
 And dreams in their development have breath,
 And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy;
 They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
 They take a weight from off waking toils,
 They do divide our being; they become
 A portion of ourselves as of our time,
 And look like heralds of eternity;
 They pass like spirits of the past - they speak
 Like sibyls of the future; they have power -
 The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
 They make us what we were not - what they will,
 And shake us with the vision that's gone by,
 The dread of vanished shadows - Are they so?
 Is not the past all shadow? - What are they?
 Creations of the mind? - The mind can make
 Substances, and people planets of its own
 With beings brighter than have been, and give
 A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.
 I would recall a vision which I dreamed
 Perchance in sleep - for in itself a thought,
 A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
 And curdles a long life into one hour.


 I saw two beings in the hues of youth
 Standing upon a hill, a gentle hill,
 Green and of mild declivity, the last
 As 'twere the cape of a long ridge of such,
 Save that there was no sea to lave its base,
 But a most living landscape, and the wave
 Of woods and corn-fields, and the abodes of men
 Scattered at intervals, and wreathing smoke
 Arising from such rustic roofs: the hill
 Was crowned with a peculiar diadem
 Of trees, in circular array, so fixed,
 Not by the sport of nature, but of man:
 These two, a maiden and a youth, were there
 Gazing - the one on all that was beneath
 Fair as herself - but the boy gazed on her;
 And both were young, and one was beautiful:
 And both were young - yet not alike in youth.
 As the sweet moon on the horizon's verge,
 The maid was on the eve of womanhood;
 The boy had fewer summers, but his heart
 Had far outgrown his years, and to his eye
 There was but one beloved face on earth,
 And that was shining on him; he had looked
 Upon it till it could not pass away;
 He had no breath, no being, but in hers:
 She was his voice; he did not speak to her,
 But trembled on her words; she was his sight,
 For his eye followed hers, and saw with hers,
 Which coloured all his objects; - he had ceased
 To live within himself: she was his life,
 The ocean to the river of his thoughts,
 Which terminated all; upon a tone,
 A touch of hers, his blood would ebb and flow,
 And his cheek change tempestuously - his heart
 Unknowing of its cause of agony.
 But she in these fond feelings had no share:
 Her sighs were not for him; to her he was
 Even as a brother - but no more; 'twas much,
 For brotherless she was, save in the name
 Her infant friendship had bestowed on him;
 Herself the solitary scion left
 Of a time-honoured race. - It was a name
 Which pleased him, and yet pleased him not - and why?
 Time taught him a deep answer - when she loved
 Another; even now she loved another,
 And on the summit of that hill she stood
 Looking afar if yet her lover's steed
 Kept pace with her expectancy, and flew.


 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 There was an ancient mansion, and before
 Its walls there was a steed caparisoned:
 Within an antique Oratory stood
 The Boy of whom I spake; - he was alone,
 And pale, and pacing to and fro: anon
 He sate him down, and seized a pen, and traced
 Words which I could not guess of; then he leaned
 His bowed head on his hands and shook, as 'twere
 With a convulsion - then rose again,
 And with his teeth and quivering hands did tear
 What he had written, but he shed no tears.
 And he did calm himself, and fix his brow
 Into a kind of quiet: as he paused,
 The Lady of his love re-entered there;
 She was serene and smiling then, and yet
 She knew she was by him beloved; she knew -
 For quickly comes such knowledge - that his heart
 Was darkened with her shadow, and she saw
 That he was wretched, but she saw not all.
 He rose, and with a cold and gentle grasp
 He took her hand; a moment o'er his face
 A tablet of unutterable thoughts
 Was traced, and then it faded, as it came;
 He dropped the hand he held, and with slow steps
 Retired, but not as bidding her adieu,
 For they did part with mutual smiles; he passed
 From out the massy gate of that old Hall,
 And mounting on his steed he went his way;
 And ne'er repassed that hoary threshold more.


 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Boy was sprung to manhood: in the wilds
 Of fiery climes he made himself a home,
 And his Soul drank their sunbeams; he was girt
 With strange and dusky aspects; he was not
 Himself like what he had been; on the sea
 And on the shore he was a wanderer;
 There was a mass of many images
 Crowded like waves upon me, but he was
 A part of all; and in the last he lay
 Reposing from the noontide sultriness,
 Couched among fallen columns, in the shade
 Of ruined walls that had survived the names
 Of those who reared them; by his sleeping side
 Stood camels grazing, and some goodly steeds
 Were fastened near a fountain; and a man,
 Glad in a flowing garb, did watch the while,
 While many of his tribe slumbered around:
 And they were canopied by the blue sky,
 So cloudless, clear, and purely beautiful,
 That God alone was to be seen in heaven.


 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Lady of his love was wed with One
 Who did not love her better: in her home,
 A thousand leagues from his, - her native home,
 She dwelt, begirt with growing Infancy,
 Daughters and sons of Beauty, - but behold!
 Upon her face there was a tint of grief,
 The settled shadow of an inward strife,
 And an unquiet drooping of the eye,
 As if its lid were charged with unshed tears.
 What could her grief be? - she had all she loved,
 And he who had so loved her was not there
 To trouble with bad hopes, or evil wish,
 Or ill-repressed affliction, her pure thoughts.
 What could her grief be? - she had loved him not,
 Nor given him cause to deem himself beloved,
 Nor could he be a part of that which preyed
 Upon her mind - a spectre of the past.


 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Wanderer was returned. - I saw him stand
 Before an altar - with a gentle bride;
 Her face was fair, but was not that which made
 The Starlight of his Boyhood; - as he stood
 Even at the altar, o'er his brow there came
 The selfsame aspect and the quivering shock
 That in the antique Oratory shook
 His bosom in its solitude; and then -
 As in that hour - a moment o'er his face
 The tablet of unutterable thoughts
 Was traced - and then it faded as it came,
 And he stood calm and quiet, and he spoke
 The fitting vows, but heard not his own words,
 And all things reeled around him; he could see
 Not that which was, nor that which should have been -
 But the old mansion, and the accustomed hall,
 And the remembered chambers, and the place,
 The day, the hour, the sunshine, and the shade,
 All things pertaining to that place and hour,
 And her who was his destiny, came back
 And thrust themselves between him and the light;
 What business had they there at such a time?


 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Lady of his love; - Oh! she was changed,
 As by the sickness of the soul; her mind
 Had wandered from its dwelling, and her eyes,
 They had not their own lustre, but the look
 Which is not of the earth; she was become
 The queen of a fantastic realm; her thoughts
 Were combinations of disjointed things;
 And forms impalpable and unperceived
 Of others' sight familiar were to hers.
 And this the world calls frenzy; but the wise
 Have a far deeper madness, and the glance
 Of melancholy is a fearful gift;
 What is it but the telescope of truth?
 Which strips the distance of its fantasies,
 And brings life near in utter nakedness,
 Making the cold reality too real!


 A change came o'er the spirit of my dream.
 The Wanderer was alone as heretofore,
 The beings which surrounded him were gone,
 Or were at war with him; he was a mark
 For blight and desolation, compassed round
 With Hatred and Contention; Pain was mixed
 In all which was served up to him, until,
 Like to the Pontic monarch of old days,
 He fed on poisons, and they had no power,
 But were a kind of nutriment; he lived
 Through that which had been death to many men,
 And made him friends of mountains; with the stars
 And the quick Spirit of the Universe
 He held his dialogues: and they did teach
 To him the magic of their mysteries;
 To him the book of Night was opened wide,
 And voices from the deep abyss revealed
 A marvel and a secret. - Be it so.


 My dream is past; it had no further change.
 It was of a strange order, that the doom
 Of these two creatures should be thus traced out
 Almost like a reality - the one
 To end in madness - both in misery
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron
This is not one of my favourite Byron poems; it tackles a fairly lofty
topic, but the result does not really do justice to Byron's (considerable)
poetic talent. Nevertheless, it does have a certain haunting quality, which
made it stick somewhere in the recesses of my mind, surfacing again when
Suresh introduced his dream theme.

I believe that haunting quality lies in ever-widening scope of the poem. As
we trace the expanding histories of the "two beings", it's clear what Byron
was trying to capture - that mysterious disortion of time that can appear to
"curdle a long life into an hour". The poem also addresses the surreal,
shifting realities of a dreamscape - explicitly so, in fact, Byron
introducing every new scene with the repeated "a change came o'er the spirit
of my dream". The entire dream sequence is further bracketed by the first
and last stanzas, which go into even more explicit musings on the nature of
dreams and reality, and the unspoken question of how involved the reader
should be in the fate of the characters.

Nonetheless, despite the common ground it provides, I must return to my
earlier conclusion - this is not a very good poem. Indeed, if I may be
forgiven a moment of pure subjectivity, it totally failed to engage me.
While there were several nice lines and passages, the overall effect was dry
and lifeless, the entire poem seeming nothing more than a vehicle for Byron
to talk at the reader, and a thinly disguised one at that.  The sense I get
is that *Byron* was more interested in musing on the strangenesses of the
dream than in the dream itself, and that disinterest conveys itself to the
reader, lending the poem an academic flavour that does little for it.


p.s. My favourite part of the poem? That'd be the line "and both were young,
and one was beautiful", a line that made me think "ah, now *there's* the
Byron I know and love".

p.p.s The first poem I thought of when Suresh proposed the theme was the
already-run "Dream of Eugene Aram", Poem #720. Well worth a reread.

The Rider at the Gate -- John Masefield

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #1251) The Rider at the Gate
 A windy night was blowing on Rome,
 The cressets guttered on Caesar's home,
 The fish-boats, moored at the bridge, were breaking
 The rush of the river to yellow foam.

 The hinges whined to the shutters shaking,
 When clip-clop-clep came a horse-hoof raking
 The stones of the road at Caesar's gate;
 The spear-butts jarred at the guard's awaking.

 'Who goes there?' said the guard at the gate.
 'What is the news, that you ride so late?'
 'News most pressing, that must be spoken
 To Caesar alone, and that cannot wait.'

 'The Caesar sleeps; you must show a token
 That the news suffice that he be awoken.
 What is the news, and whence do you come?
 For no light cause may his sleep be broken.'

 'Out of the dark of the sands I come,
 From the dark of death, with news for Rome.
 A word so fell that it must be uttered
 Though it strike the soul of the Caesar dumb.'

 Caesar turned in his bed and muttered,
 With a struggle for breath the lamp-flame guttered;
 Calpurnia heard her husband moan:
 'The house is falling,
 The beaten men come into their own.'

 'Speak your word,' said the guard at the gate;
 'Yes, but bear it to Caesar straight,
 Say, "Your murderers' knives are honing,
 Your killers' gang is lying in wait."

 'Out of the wind that is blowing and moaning,
 Through the city palace and the country loaning,
 I cry, "For the world's sake, Caesar, beware,
 And take this warning as my atoning.

 '"Beware of the Court, of the palace stair,
 Of the downcast friend who speaks so fair,
 Keep from the Senate, for Death is going
 on many men's feet to meet you there."

 'I, who am dead, have ways of knowing
 Of the crop of death that the quick are sowing.
 I, who was Pompey, cry it aloud
 From the dark of death, from the wind blowing.

 'I, who was Pompey, once was proud,
 Now I lie in the sand without a shroud;
 I cry to Caesar out of my pain,
 "Caesar beware, your death is vowed."'

 The light grew grey on the window-pane,
 The windcocks swung in a burst of rain,
 The window of Caesar flung unshuttered,
 The horse-hoofs died into wind again.

 Caesar turned in his bed and muttered,
 With a struggle for breath the lamp-flame guttered;
 Calpurnia heard her husband moan:
 'The house is falling,
 The beaten men come into their own.'
-- John Masefield
I have had a nightmare or two in my time (the one I had yesterday was
about work, lots of work, piling up on top of me - proof positive that I
need a vacation sometime soon).

That nightmare suddenly gave me the idea of a nightmare / dream theme
for Minstrels.

Poems like the one above.

Pompey's ghost coming to warn Caesar of his impending downfall.
Incredibly eerie atmosphere, made even more so by the tone of this poem.

My other choices for this theme include -

1. RL Stevenson's "Ticonderoga" (that is a bit long but worth running)

2. Robert Graves, "A Child's Nightmare" (already covered in minstrels
   poem #663)

any more suggestions?


Brave World -- Tony Hoagland

Guest poem sent in by Sachin
(Poem #1250) Brave World
 But what about the courage
 of the cancer cell
 that breaks out from the crowd
 it has belonged to all its life

 like a housewife erupting
 from her line at the grocery store
 because she just can't stand
 the sameness anymore?

 What about the virus that arrives
 in town like a traveler
 from somewhere faraway
 with suitcases in hand,

 who only wants a place
 to stay, a chance to get ahead
 in the land of opportunity,
 but who smells bad,

 talks funny, and reproduces fast?
 What about the microbe that
 hurls its tiny boat straight
 into the rushing metabolic tide,

 no less cunning and intrepid
 than Odysseus; that gambles all
 to found a city
 on an unknown shore?

 What about their bill of rights,
 their access to a full-scale,
 first-class destiny?
 their chance to realize

 maximum potential?-which, sure,
 will come at the expense
 of someone else, someone
 who, from a certain point of view,

 is a secondary character,
 whose weeping is almost
 too far off to hear,

 a noise among the noises
 coming from the shadows
 of any brave new world.
-- Tony Hoagland
The previous poem [Poem #1236] prompted me to look up Tony Hoagland on the
net and I came across this gem of a poem. This poem works for me on various
levels. At the most superficial level, its an interesting look at
circumstances from the other person's point of view.  It brings up the stark
fact that life is a zero sum game and for someone to win, somebody else
necessarily has to lose.

The last two paragraphs seemed especially relevant in the context of the
current ['recent' now - ed] Gulf war. The innocent civilians who lost life
and limb are but

".. a secondary character,
whose weeping is almost
too far off to hear,

a noise among the noises
coming from the shadows
of any brave new world."


[Martin adds]

Tangentially, I was reminded of the following quote:

  Popular mythology to the contrary, that niche [large terrestrial life
  forms] has always been on the outer edge of existence. It's amazing,
  really, how the large size of humans prejudices our view of life. To this
  day, biologists talk of mammals dominating the earth. That's news to
  bacteria! Not to mention insects and worms. We, and all our bulky mammal
  relatives, are just rare clouds drifting over the teeming landscape of
  life. So were the dinosaurs.

  It reminds me of J. B. S. Haldane's quip, when he was asked what his
  life's study of biology indicated about God. "He has an inordinate
  fondness for beetles."

      -- Eric Flint, "Mother of Demons"
          (available at [broken link]

The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm -- Wallace Stevens

Guest poem sent in by Cristina Gazzieri
(Poem #1249) The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm
 The house was quiet and the world was calm.
 The reader became the book; and summer night
 Was like the conscious being of the book.
 The house was quiet and the world was calm.
 The words were spoken as if there was no book,
 Except that the reader leaned above the page,
 Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
 The scholar to whom the book is true, to whom
 The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
 The house was quiet because it had to be.
 The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
 The access of perfection to the page.
 And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
 In which there is no other meaning, itself
 Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
 Is the reader leaning late and reading there.
-- Wallace Stevens
In Stevens, poetry becomes a key for reading reality; for organizing and
filtering life's chaos so as to create an inner, perfect  order both
artistic and gnosiological. (cfr. The Idea of Order at Key West).  This
poem expresses a quest for a poetry of totality where man is in accordance
with reality; a quest which characterized much literature of the 50s and
which finds (at least temporarily) a satisfying answer in this poem.

The poem presents the magic moment of multiple identifications when a
reader, with a book in his hands, recognizes himself, his world, the
substance of things in what he is reading, so that the reader, the book, the
summer night, the house, the world are all fused in an existential unity of
real, inner and outer, truth.  Even the reader of Stevens's poem becomes
part of this whole, thus equating himself with the fictional reader in the
poem in a confounding identification of roles which creates a mise en abime.
The reader becomes an instrument of literature; the poem he reads becomes
not simply a mirror of his condition as a reader, but rather that much more
vivid reality where emotion are stronger; concepts are clearer; events even
much more concrete but corresponding and complementary to those we may
experience while we are not reading, in the, so called, real life.

As an Italian reader I may be wrong, but I think in this conception of unity
there are echoes of oriental philosophies (which Stevens admired and
studied) according to which unity is a whole of parts combined in the
universal quiet, in the fusion of antithetic elements.

Stevens blends the variety of elements in a nocturne, oneiric, imaginative
moment through an incremental repetition which constantly enrich the meaning
of words with new attributes to specify and precise it.

Finally, I wonder if  the poem does not allow the reader (both real and
fictional) to become, a creator, a contributor to the artistic composition
as well as of an intense strong osmotic reality, which exchanges art and
life, words and experience.

Cristina Gazzieri

The Cold Within -- James Patrick Kinney

Guest poem sent in by Sidharth Jaggi
(Poem #1248) The Cold Within
 Six humans trapped by happenstance
 In dark and bitter cold
 Each possessed a stick of wood--
 Or so the story's told.

 Their dying fire in need of logs,
 But the first one held hers back,
 For, of the faces around the fire,
 She noticed one was black.

 The next one looked cross the way
 Saw one not of his church,
 And could not bring himself to give
 The fire his stick of birch.

 The third one sat in tattered clothes
 He gave his coat a hitch,
 Why should his log be put to use
 To warm the idle rich?

 The rich man just sat back and thought
 Of wealth he had in store,
 And keeping all that he had earned
 From the lazy, shiftless poor.

 The black man's face bespoke revenge
 As the fire passed from his sight,
 For he saw in his stick of wood
 A chance to spite the white.

 And the last man of this forlorn group
 Did nought except for gain,
 Giving just to those who gave
 Was how he played the game,

 Their sticks held tight in death's stilled hands
 Was proof enough of sin;
 They did not die from cold without--
 They died from cold within.
-- James Patrick Kinney
Poetry of the distant past used often to be a medium to
convey high-minded morals in a trite, sugar-coated package
form. The form still survives, but is now usually thought of
disparagingly (with good reason - consider those avoidable
cloyingly sweet Hallmark cards, where one tends to gloss
over the words as easily as water does off the cards) if at
all. But every once in a while one comes across pieces like
the one above where the words fit as neatly as if (dare I
say it? :) God meant them to, and the thinly veiled message
can be swallowed without too much effort.

This above piece is, iMho, a gem. I think it deserves a
place in this forum, especially since minstrels is fast
becoming a premier poetry archive :)

The place I read this poem (framed on a wall) attributed it
to a high school student, sometime in the mid-1970s. A
cursory search on the net hasn't helped much either - was
this teenage prodigy really a one-hit person? I wonder what
happened to him...

Sidharth Jaggi

Dreadful -- Shel Silverstein

Guest poem sent in by Erin Mansell
(Poem #1247) Dreadful
 Someone ate the baby.
 It's rather sad to say.
 Someone ate the baby
 So she won't be out to play.
 We'll never hear her whiney cry
 Or have to feel if she is dry.
 We'll never hear her asking "Why?"
 Someone ate the baby.

 Someone ate the baby.
 It's absolutely clear
 Someone ate the baby
 'Cause the baby isn't here.
 We'll give away her toys and clothes.
 We'll never have to wipe her nose.
 Dad says, "That's the way it goes."
 Someone ate the baby.

 Someone ate the baby.
 What a frightful thing to eat!
 Someone ate the baby
 Though she wasn't very sweet.
 It was a heartless thing to do.
 The policemen haven't got a clue.
 I simply can't imagine who
 Would go and (burp) eat the baby.
-- Shel Silverstein
All I could think when I read the title of 'the lost baby poem' was
'Dreadful' and since it seems to be very stream of consciousness/related by
a slip of memory on the Minstrels these days I thought I'd pass along this.
I went on to read 'the lost baby poem' and enjoyed it but in the interest of
keeping things light...  My mom use to be very disgusted with this poem.  It
didn't help that it was so easy to commit to memory and recite at
inopportune times.  I still get a kick out of it and thought you might too.
My baby sister doesn't think it's as funny as I do but then she never was
very sweet.  This poem is from 'Where the Sidewalk Ends'.


the lost baby poem -- Lucille Clifton

Guest poem sent in by Rachel W.W. Granfield
(Poem #1246) the lost baby poem
 the time i dropped your almost body down
 down to meet the waters under the city
 and run one with the sewage into the sea
 what did i know about waters rushing back
 what did i know about drowning
 or being drowned

 you would have been born into winter
 in the year of the disconnected gas
 and no car     we would have made the thin
 walk over genesee hill into the canada wind
 to watch you slip like ice into strangers' hands
 you would have fallen naked as snow into winter
 if you were here i could tell you these
 and some other things

 if i am ever less than a mountain
 for your definite brothers and sisters
 let the rivers pour over my head
 let the sea take me for a spiller
 of seas     let black men call me stranger
 always     for your never named sake
-- Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton read at my high school in 1993, and ten years later I
still remember her inflection when reading her work.  This is not one
of the ones she read that night, but (after much time spent reading
through what I own of her work) I decided to send it in because of its
influence on another artist, the singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, with
whose music I became familiar around this time as well.  "Lost Woman
Song," on DiFranco's debut album (which she released at the age of
nineteen), is dedicated to Clifton.

"lost woman song" by Ani DiFranco

-for lucille clifton

i opened a bank account
when i was nine years old
i closed it when i was eighteen
i gave them every penny that i'd saved
and they gave my blood
and my urine
a number
now i'm sitting in this waiting room
playing with the toys
and i am here to exercise
my freedom of choice
i passed their handheld signs
went through their picket lines
they gathered when they saw me coming
they shouted when they saw me cross
i said why don't you go home
just leave me alone
i'm just another woman lost
you are like fish in the water
who don't know that they are wet
as far as i can tell
the world isn't perfect yet
his bored eyes were obscene
on his denim thighs a magazine
i wish he'd never come here with me
in fact i wish he'd never come near me
i wish his shoulder
wasn't touching mine
i am growing older
waiting in this line
some of life's best lessons
are learned at the worst times
under the fierce fluorescent
she offered her hand for me to hold
she offered stability and calm
and i was crushing her palm
through the pinch pull wincing
my smile unconvincing
on that sterile battlefield that sees
only casualties
never heroes
my heart hit absolute zero
lucille, your voice still sounds in me
mine was a relatively easy tragedy
now the profile of our country
looks a little less hard nosed
but that picket line persisted
and that clinic's since been closed
they keep pounding their fists on reality
hoping it will break
but i don't think there's a one of them
leads a life free of mistakes

[biographical information]

Information on Clifton's life is here
([broken link]; the site also
includes a few of her other poems ("Homage to My Hips" is one of my
favorites).  Ani DiFranco fansites are legion, but this one
([broken link] has good information, including bio,
lyrics, etc.

Persimmons -- Li-Young Lee

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1245) Persimmons
 In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
 slapped the back of my head
 and made me stand in the corner
 for not knowing the difference
 between persimmon and precision.
 How to choose

 persimmons. This is precision.
 Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
 Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
 will be fragrant. How to eat:
 put the knife away, lay down the newspaper.
 Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
 Chew on the skin, suck it,
 and swallow. Now, eat
 the meat of the fruit,
 so sweet
 all of it, to the heart.

 Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
 In the yard, dewy and shivering
 with crickets, we lie naked,
 face-up, face-down,
 I teach her Chinese. Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I've forgotten.
 Naked: I've forgotten.
 Ni, wo: you me.
 I part her legs,
 remember to tell her
 she is beautiful as the moon.

 Other words
 that got me into trouble were
 fight and fright, wren and yarn.
 Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
 fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
 Wrens are small, plain birds,
 yarn is what one knits with.
 Wrens are soft as yarn.
 My mother made birds out of yarn.
 I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
 a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

 Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
 and cut it up
 so everyone could taste
 a Chinese apple. Knowing
 it wasn't ripe or sweet, I didn't eat
 but watched the other faces.

 My mother said every persimmon has a sun
 inside, something golden, glowing,
 warm as my face.

 Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper
 forgotten and not yet ripe.
 I took them and set them both on my bedroom windowsill,
 where each morning a cardinal
 sang. The sun, the sun.

 Finally understanding
 he was going blind,
 my father would stay up all one night
 waiting for a song, a ghost.
 I gave him the persimmons, swelled, heavy as sadness,
 and sweet as love.

 This year, in the muddy lighting
 of my parents' cellar, I rummage, looking
 for something I lost.
 My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
 black cane between his knees,
 hand over hand, gripping the handle.

 He's so happy that I've come home.
 I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
 All gone, he answers.

 Under some blankets, I find three scrolls.
 I sit beside him and untie
 three paintings by my father:
 Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
 Two cats preening.
 Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

 He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
 asks, Which is this?

 This is persimmons, Father.

 Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
 the strength, the tense
 precision in the wrist.
 I painted them hundreds of times
 eyes closed. These I painted blind.
 Some things never leave a person:
 scent of the hair of one you love,
 the texture of persimmons,
 in your palm, the ripe weight.
-- Li-Young Lee
Today's poem that David Highland submitted written by David Lee, triggered
in my head a memory of this poem from a volume of poem I read an year ago by
another Lee, with language as clear. Instead of feeding pigs, the subject is
eating persimmons. This poem is resonant at many levels most of them

First comes the manner of speaking of English. By virtue of being a
"non-native" speaker, I usually tend to be very imprecise about my
pronunciation. I simply have a sound within my head that I had to make up
for myself sans any other point of reference for a lot of words. As an
example the other day I was using the word Hyperbole. I said hyper-bol and
had dropped the 'e'. I was corrected:

"the difference between persimmon and precision."

Then a few days ago at a gathering, I was quickly asked to say "Thank
you" in Hindi, when I realised by the virtue of non-use I had forgotten
that sound. It didn't come to me right away.

"Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I've forgotten.
Naked: I've forgotten."

Then the rest of the poem goes on use persimmons to link the poet with his
parents and of the days past. Similarly eating mangoes out of a bottle
linked me to summers and mangoes in India and the koel's song.

"I took them and set them both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang. The sun, the sun."

And then there is this great ending:

"Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight."

Li-Young Lee also a wrote a spectacular memoir called The Winged Seed,
which I highly reccomend, to memorists!



To hear the poet reading this poem:

Bio Etc.
[broken link]

Dust -- Rupert Brooke

Guest poem sent in by Vanathi S
(Poem #1244) Dust
 When the white flame in us is gone,
 And we that lost the world's delight
 Stiffen in darkness, left alone
 To crumble in our separate night;

 When your swift hair is quiet in death,
 And through the lips corruption thrust
 Has still'd the labour of my breath -
 When we are dust, when we are dust!

 Not dead, not undesirous yet,
 Still sentient, still unsatisfied,
 We'll ride the air, and shine, and flit,
 Around the places where we died,

 And dance as dust before the sun,
 And light of foot and unconfined,
 Hurry from road to road, and run
 About the errands of the wind.

 And every mote, on earth or air,
 Will speed and gleam, down later days,
 And like a secret pilgrim fare
 By eager and invisible ways,

 Nor ever rest, nor ever lie,
 Till, beyond thinking, out of view,
 One mote of all the dust that's I
 Shall meet one atom that was you.

 Then in some garden hush'd from wind,
 Warm in a sunset's afterglow,
 The lovers in the flowers will find
 A sweet and strange unquiet grow

 Upon the peace; and, past desiring,
 So high a beauty in the air,
 And such a light, and such a quiring,
 And such a radiant ecstasy there,

 They'll know not if it's fire, or dew,
 Or out of earth, or in the height,
 Singing, or flame, or scent, or hue,
 Or two that pass, in light, to light,

 Out of the garden, higher, higher. . . .
 But in that instant they shall learn
 The shattering ecstasy of our fire,
 And the weak passionless hearts will burn

 And faint in that amazing glow,
 Until the darkness close above;
 And they will know - poor fools, they'll know!
 One moment, what it is to love.
-- Rupert Brooke
The poem's simply beautiful, moving from a dark, quiet
world, from a sense of resignation, to a vibrant,
lively rhythm, powered by hope, and builds towards a
culmination of an ecstasy, and then... there is
nothing. I like the way it lifts the heart and then
disappears, leaving behind a mystical remnant of the
passion. Enjoy!


[Martin adds]

Good to see a Brooke poem in the submission queue - IMO, Georgian poetry is
the most underrated body of verse out there, and I'm always glad to see that
I'm not alone in appreciating it.

Behold -- David Lee

Guest poem sent in by David Highland
(Poem #1243) Behold
 And came forth like Venus from an ocean of
 heat waves, morning in his pockets and the buckets in his hands
 he emerged from the grey shed, tobacco and wind
 pursed together in song from his tight lips he gathered the day
 and went out to cast wheat before swine.  And in
 his mind he sang songs and thought thoughts, images of day
 and heat, wind and sweat, dreams of silver and
 visions of green earth twisting the cups of his mind
 he crossed his fence of wire, the south Utah steppes
 bending the air into corners of the sky he entered
 the yard to feed his swine.  And his pigs, they come.
-- David Lee
Sashidhar Dandamudi's comments on the Tony Hoagland poem (Poem #1236,
'Self-Improvement') made me think of David Lee.  It was when I first read
Lee's collection, 'Porcine Canticles', that I realized there is no subject
that poetry can't treat with beauty and dignity (and hilarity).  I hadn't
thought about 'Behold' in a long time, but I enjoyed being reminded and
thumbing through Lee's collection again.


[Martin adds]

There is something about this poem - images like "morning in his pockets",
lines like "And his pigs, they come" - that I can only describe as
magnificent. The seamless superposition and blending of the real and the
imagined evokes images worthy of some of the better fantasy novels. The
cadence of the words, too, is nigh flawless; I was reminded in places of
Patricia McKillip, which (for those of you unfamiliar with her work) is high
praise indeed.


There's a biography here:
  [broken link]

Cain and Abel -- Paul Durcan

Guest poem sent in by Frank O'Shea
(Poem #1242) Cain and Abel
 My name is Cain MacCarthy.
 I am a Senior Counsel, forty-nine years old.
 A Bencher of the King's Inns.
 No humbler fellow could you meet outside a courtroom.
 Inside a courtroom I am pedigree ape.

 When I get a witness in the witness box
 I imbibe the witness's entrails
 Only to spit them out again,
 Draping them - entrail by entrail
 On the rails of the witness box.

 I earn £700,000 a year before tax.
 I do not deny they are entitled to tax me
 But I protest at the exorbitant tax
 That overworked barristers like myself have to pay
 To subsidise blackguards like my brother.

 My brother. Yes. My brother.
 He is a priest. God help us.
 Father Abel CSSp.
 To spell it out, a Holy Ghost.
 Spent most of his life in South America.
 Would to Jesus Christ he had stayed there.
 Things were okeydoke so long as he was away on the missions
 But every time he'd land home on leave
 There'd be trouble. Nothing would do my wife
 But to invite him to break bread with us
 Every other night of the week - she could not have enough
 Of him. I was sick of the pair of them
 Nattering away about Social justice and Liberation Theology,
 Papal Encyclicals, Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno,
 And - one of his party pieces - how the beggars in Nassau Street
 Those good-for-nothing tinker teenage mothers and their pups
 Are icons of the Holy Mother and the Infant Jesus
 And, as if all that were not enough, Poetry!
 Poetry! To behold her eyes gaping at him
 As he quoted Oscar Wilde or some such alcoholic pansy
 Was enough to make me puke my roast lamb.

 It was the night he criticised my colleague Mr Wyse Power
 One of the most patriotic advocates ever to grace the bar
 That I flipped my lid. I grabbed him by the curlies
 And dragged him out the French door into the back garden.
 'Oh no! Oh no' - I could hear him moan.
 But I was in a cocoon of my own.
 My youngest kiddie's baseball bat was on the sill
 Of the utility room and that is how I did it.
 I beat him to death with a baseball bat and as I did it
 I called to mind having intercourse with my wife
 On our last holiday in Florida.
 We have a time-sharing apartment in Orlando, Florida.

 As I thumped him
 I developed an erection
 And I felt profoundly calm,
 Profoundly humble.

 My beloved brother, I never knew you
 Until this moment. I never knew
 That deeper than my lechery for my wife
 Was my detestation of you.
 Although I married my wife for the broad view of her hips
 And in terms of bed pleasure she has not let me down -
 In fact, she'd jump over the moon
 With me gripping onto her breasts
 With my teeth if I told her to
 I have never known such pleasure
 As I have known in the liquidation of my brother.
 As he gasped his last gasp for mercy
 I could feel my right nipple stiffen
 In a lilac halo.
 I switched on the tv and watched a half-hour of Gulf War.
 When the police came I told them he had attacked me.
 Naturally they believed me.
-- Paul Durcan
           (1944 - )

Another poem based on a painting, this time Cain and Abel, (c 1620, Circle
of Riminaldi).

You don't have Paul Durcan in your backlist! He is entitled to be described
as Ireland's most prolific poet over the last 20 years or so. His work is
irreverent, slanted, funny, inventively satirical. His performances - a
better word than readings, I think - are always delightful.

This poem is taken from his book Crazy About Women, a selection of poems
based on paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. He has
another collection Give Me Your Hand, based on paintings in the National
Gallery of London. In his introduction to the Dublin book he writes "It is
promulgated by the arbiters of culture that an artist should have only one
spouse. An artist such as myself with the two spouses of poetry and
picture-making is not looked upon favourably by the chaperones of art. Let
us be chivalrous to the chaperones but let us never compromise with their
punitive monomania." Bravo, sir.

These two books are beautifully produced; the reproductions of the paintings
is startling. By the way, do not confuse Paul Durcan with Paul Muldoon, also
an Irishman but much more in touch with the chaperones of modern poetry, ie

By the way, Durcan is related on his mother's side, to Major John MacBride,
husband of Maud Gonne. He is from a legal family, so he is entitled to have
a swing at the legal bods. And isn't it easy to compare this with one of
Browning's dramatic monologues. The last two lines recall the ending to
Porphyria's Lover.

Frank O'Shea