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Math Is Beautiful and So Are You -- Becky Dennison Sakellariou

Guest poem sent in by Genevieve Aquino
(Poem #1314) Math Is Beautiful and So Are You
 If n is an even number
 *then I'll kiss you goodnight right here,*
 but if the modulus k is the unique solution,
 *I'll take you in my arms for the long night.*

 When the properties are constrained as well as incomplete,
 *I'll be getting off the train at this stop.*
 However, if there is some positive constant,
 *then I'll stay on board for a while longer.*

 When it says that the supremum deviates from the least zero,
 *my heart closes off.*
 But if all moments are infinite and you can hear me,
 *I will open out for you.*

 This sequence satisfies the hypothesis of uniformity,
 and because we know that approximation is possible
 and that inequality is an embedding factor,
 *come, let's try once more.*
-- Becky Dennison Sakellariou
*words between are in italics

i'd like to share this poem with minstrels in the light of poem #1313.

i came across it while looking for poems on math and this one struck me as
one that captures the romance of mathematics. math, after all, can be very
frustrating, just ask anyone who doesn't like it. math problems are often
just as hopeless as -- or even more hopeless than -- human relationships.

what i like about this poem is how it weaves two images together. a
mathematician (who else would think math beautiful?) struggling over a math
problem, and lover agonizing over a relationship. the mathematician and the
lover are one person. the beloved is the the math problem. and it's charming
to think that mathematicians may actually have that much passion for
mathematics (something i cannot relate to), or that mathematicians in love
still think and feel in terms of mathematics.

the mathematical jargon, instead of making the poem incomprehensible, only
intensifies how confusing love can be.

and the last line: "come, let's try once more," echoes a sentiment common to
people stumped by a math problem or a passionate relationship, yet unable to
give up on something so "beautiful".

i don't know much about Becky Dennison Sakellariou, only that she was born
and raised in New England, but has lived and worked in Greece for several
years. this poem was published in The Beloit Poetry Journal fall issue last


A brief biography:
  Becky Sakellariou has written all her life, and also teaches writing.  She
  also teaches counseling and conflict resolution.  Although born in
  Massachusetts, she has lived in Greece for 35 years where she tends her
  olive trees, pomegranate trees, wild thyme and oregano, her memories, and
  her family.
      -- [broken link]

Mathematical Problem -- Bhaskaracharya

Guest poem submitted by David McKelvie:
(Poem #1313) Mathematical Problem
 Whilst making love a necklace broke.
 A row of pearls mislaid.
 One sixth fell to the floor.
 One fifth upon the bed.
 The young woman saved one third of them.
 One tenth were caught by her lover.
 If six pearls remained upon the string
 How many pearls were there altogether?
-- Bhaskaracharya
In a previous life I studied mathematics at university. Before I even
started my studies, I had always felt that there was a connection
between a mathematical proof and a poem. Usually, both are divided into
lines. They tell "truths" (though in both maths and poetry, these may
sometimes be paradoxical, nonsensical even).  The best ones have an
indescribable beauty and inevitability to them. They are a product of an
individual mind, intent on searching for something and finding it.

It was with some pleasure then, a year into my studies, that I
discovered classic Indian mathematics. Indian mathematicians essentially
invented modern mathematics in the first millenium: they created our
place value system; discovered the zero we use today as a number and a
concept; were the first people to create a mathematical definition of
infinity; and they wrote virtually all of their mathematical works in

I found this problem-poem in a book called The Universal History of
Numbers by Georges Ifrah. In it he says: "Numerical tables, Indian
astronomical and mathematical texts, as well as mystical, theological,
legendary and cosmological works were nearly always written in verse...
From this type of game, the Indian scholars went on to use imagery to
express numbers; the choice of synonyms [for whole numbers] was almost
infinite and these were used in keeping with the rules of Sanskrit
versification to achieve the required effect. Thus the transcription of
a numerical table or of the most arid of mathematical formulae resembled
an epic poem."

This poem was originally written in 1150 by Bhaskaracharya, a
mathematician and mechanic and is taken from a book he wrote called the
Lilavati, filled with poetic mathematical problems.

The most appealing thing I find about it, is that it takes a simple
algebraic problem and dresses it up in a lovely little human drama:
falling pearls interrupting a lover's embrace. Maths was never presented
hand in hand with lovemaking when I studied it! {And the answer is
fairly easy to get... try it! It's not hard!}


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #599, Geometry  -- Rita Dove
Poem #601, Hall and Knight -- E. V. Rieu
Poem #604, Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare -- Edna St. Vincent
Poem #797, Big Whirls Have Little Whorls -- Lewis F. Richardson
Poem #805, Rigid Body Sings -- James Maxwell
Poem #1205, Love and Tensor Algebra -- Stanislaw Lem

Ordinance on Arrival -- Naomi Lazard

Guest poem sent in by Salima Virani
(Poem #1312) Ordinance on Arrival
 Welcome to you
 who have managed to get here.
 It's been a terrible trip;
 you should be happy you have survived it.
 Statistics prove that not many do.
 You would like a bath, a hot meal,
 a good night's sleep. Some of you
 need medical attention.
 None of this is available.
 These things have always been
 in short supply; now
 they are impossible to obtain.

 This is not
 a temporary situation.
 Our condolences on your disappointment.
 It is not our responsibility
 everything you have heard about this place
 is false. It is not our fault
 you have been deceived,
 ruined your health getting here.
 For reasons beyond our control
 there is no vehicle out.
-- Naomi Lazard
I only recently found out that recent south asian immigrants into Toronto
are called "FOBs" or "Refs" by the first or second generation south asians
who live here.  FOBs means "Fresh off the boats" and Refs means "Refugees".
It does not matter if you came into Canada under the independent category of
skilled labour.  If you have the slightest trace of an Indian accent and,
particularly, if you're struggling as a new immigrant consider yourself a

While I am angered by this for various reasons, I find that this poem by
Naomi Lazard which actually alludes specifically to the FOBs (be they from
Vietnam, India or wherever!) really does apply to so many recent immigrants,
the skilled workers - the ones that have not crossed borders and entered
into this country unlawfully (in boats) or pleaded sanctuary as refugees.

When I read this poem, I am reminded of scenes from Bombay, of long lines of
people with their hopeful faces before the US consulate in Breach Candy or
at the visiting Canadian Consulate at Nariman Point.  So many people, from
all over India, who left behind their country with a dream of making it big
in the west.  People who dreamed of having a bright future here for
themselves and their children.

I see these faces now, in Toronto.  It is always a humbling experience.
They drive me home in their cabs or fill gas in my car at full service gas
stations.  Some serve me meals at restaurants and some have cleaned my room
at the Convention Centre hotels where I am attending conferences.  They are
really no different from me.  Had it not been for the financial stability
and support I had from friends and family (on my own arrival into Canada) I
could just as easily have been one of them.   They see a fellow south asian
and we break into conversation.  It does not shock me anymore when they tell
me that they used to be  Civil Engineers, Professors, even Doctors 'back
home'.  These are the people who got lost in the conundrums of
accreditation and gaining "Canadian experience" and succumbed to finding
other ways to make a living.  They came here with only a few hundred dollars
and did not have the financial ability to go back to school and retrain.
It's most challenging when they arrive here with a family.  Accreditation is
a luxury they can ill afford when bills have to be paid and mouths have to
be fed.

And I wonder if they now feel betrayed.  I wonder if it they absolve the
Canadian Government for all the lovely brochures that it prints praising the
life in Canada, when all that they hear after their arrival into Canada is
exactly this:

Our condolences on your disappointment.
It is not our responsibility
everything you have heard about this place
is false. It is not our fault
you have been deceived,
ruined your health getting here.

I know that for these people there is a vehicle out - they could go back to
their homes and professions.  But, every one of them has always given me the
same reason for staying here.  "Our kids will have a better future here and
they will have a better life here.  We're staying here for them".

A bit ironic then, isn't it, that these very kids will grow up and mock
people just like their parents by giving them derogatory terms of reference
like "FOBs" and "REFs"?

- Salima

Bio on Naomi Lazard

Naomi Lazard is more popular for her translations of poems by Faiz Ahmed
Faiz than she is for her own poetry.   Her own poems have appeared in the
American Poetry Review, the Nation, Haroers, the New Yorker. She is author
of several collections of poetry: The Moonlight Upper Deckerina (Sheepmeadow
Press, 1977); Cry of the Peacocks (Harcourt Brace, 1975 ) and Ordinances

PS: I don't really know anything more about her - perhaps google would help
those who want to know more.

Just a Smack at Auden -- William Empson

(Poem #1311) Just a Smack at Auden
 Waiting for the end, boys, waiting for the end.
 What is there to be or do?
 What's become of me or you?
 Are we kind or are we true?
 Sitting two and two, boys, waiting for the end.

 Shall I build a tower, boys, knowing it will rend
 Crack upon the hour, boys, waiting for the end?
 Shall I pluck a flower, boys, shall I save or spend?
 All turns sour, boys, waiting for the end.

 Shall I send a wire, boys? Where is there to send?
 All are under fire, boys, waiting for the end.
 Shall I turn a sire, boys? Shall I choose a friend?
 The fat is in the pyre, boys, waiting for the end.

 Shall I make it clear, boys, for all to apprehend,
 Those that will not hear, boys, waiting for the end,
 Knowing it is near, boys, trying to pretend,
 Sitting in cold fear, boys, waiting for the end?

 Shall we send a cable, boys, accurately penned,
 Knowing we are able, boys, waiting for the end,
 Via the Tower of Babel, boys? Christ will not ascend.
 He's hiding in his stable, boys, waiting for the end.

 Shall we blow a bubble, boys, glittering to distend,
 Hiding from our trouble, boys, waiting for the end?
 When you build on rubble, boys, Nature will append
 Double and re-double, boys, waiting for the end.

 Shall we make a tale, boys, that things are sure to mend,
 Playing bluff and hale, boys, waiting for the end?
 It will be born stale, boys, stinking to offend,
 Dying ere it fail, boys, waiting for the end.

 Shall we go all wild, boys, waste and make them lend,
 Playing at the child, boys, waiting for the end?
 It has all been filed, boys, history has a trend,
 Each of us enisled, boys, waiting for the end.

 What was said by Marx, boys, what did he perpend?
 No good being sparks, boys, waiting for the end.
 Treason of the clerks, boys, curtains that descend,
 Lights becoming darks, boys, waiting for the end.

 Waiting for the end, boys, waiting for the end.
 Not a chance of blend, boys, things have got to tend.
 Think of those who vend, boys, think of how we wend,
 Waiting for the end, boys, waiting for the end.
-- William Empson
While I enjoy Auden's poetry very much [1], I can't deny that he's very
easy to criticize. His poems often seem too glib, too easy; there's
always the nagging feeling that behind the perfect construction and
beguiling rhythms there's (whisper it!) not a lot of depth. The Emperor,
we suspect, has no clothes.

The Empson, on the other hand, is usually so swaddled in robes of
learning and sophistication that he's lost to the general view. His
poetry is erudite, complex, and subtle. While he can -- and often does
-- exhibit the same command of prosody that characterizes Auden, he
equally often chooses to build dense layers of meaning into his every
word, until his poems become puzzles for the reader and the critic to
solve. They're nowhere near as accessible as Auden's finest works;
indeed, they don't even try to be.

It's no surprise, then, that Auden was the most popular poet of the 20th
century, while Empson remains obscure and cultish. Did it rankle? I'm
not sure. Empson was certainly idealistic enough not to care overmuch
about the comparison, but there are times (especially when reading
today's poem) when one senses a definite hint of "I can do everything
Auden does, but I choose not to" in his work. It's the classic
opposition of depth and width: Empson champions the former quality, but
acknowledges (even while parodying it) the power of the latter.

All analysis apart, I do love the way today's poem skewers Auden's
style. It's all there: the use of a refrain, the slightly condescending
tone allied with indecisiveness and moral drift, the repetition which
seems poised at any moment to descend into gibberish, the sheer
_banality_ of it all. Beautiful, simply beautiful.


[1] It was not always thus. See the commentary to Poem #677.

[On Empson and the Cambridge poets]

.. [the] Elizabethan-Metaphysical fashion naturally dominated the next
period of 'Cambridge poetry' and marked it off sharply, at any rate in
style, from the Georgians. Its most characteristic writer was beyond any
doubt William Empson. His poetry has even less of the superficial local
colouring than that of Brooke ... But in all other ways he seemed, at
the time (and in retrospect too) to be exactly and admirably the
expression of the time, as well as being almost violently himself. The
literary atmosphere was set chiefly by I.A. Richards, whose lectures on
practical criticism were drawing vast, almost evangelical audiences and
educating them in the reading of 'difficult' poetry, in the
understanding of images in which intellectual and emotive elements were
fused. Empson was able to give this fashion a creative turn, partly
because he just happened to be able to do it, but partly, perhaps,
because he had read mathematics (very creditably) before he took the
English Tripos. 'Long words' and scientific notions that others had to
garner carefully and consciously for their images to him came entirely
naturally: they were familiar to him not merely because he wanted to use
them in poetry - he used them because they were already familiar. And
the impact of his poetry was strengthened by his criticism, for
preliminary studies of the book that later came out as Seven Types of
Ambiguity were being published in the same magazines that published his
poetry. Taken together, they established a powerful and coherent, if
limited, literary position.

So much was clear on the surface. But there were deeper resonances with
the spirit of the place and age that escaped notice, because he himself
played them down, partly from what looked like a fastidious sense of
intellectual privacy, partly through a habit of irony often carried to
the point of mannerism. But he was, after all, President of the
Heretics, the Cambridge society that most obviously embodied the
radical-rationalist tradition of the pre-war days. By training and
intellectual capacity, moreover, he was aware, in a much less dilettante
manner than most of his contemporaries, of the fact that G.E. Moore and
Wittgenstein were lecturing in the University, as well as I.A. Richards.
So that both his poetry and his criticism, though almost deceptively
purely 'literary', moved in a real intellectual and moral world, clearly
grasped, even when the grasp was ironically concealed. The most obvious
outward sign of a serious concern for the conduct of life was his
capacity for mordant social observation, for pin-pointing the more
significant quirks and follies of human behaviour. And closely allied
with this was a superb command of colloquial English, so that among the
'difficult' lines and the scientific images there were astonishing
pieces of simply musical writing.

        -- Hugh Sykes Davis,

[On today's poem]

A fine example of political double-talk is given in Just a Smack at
Auden, in which William Empson emulates the authoritarian tone of
Auden's The Orators. Empson's speaker addresses his listeners 'boys,'
and in spite of his autocratic tone, he asks 'the boys' numerous banal
questions that show speaker's indecision, for example: 'Shall I pluck a
flower, boys,/ Shall I save or spend?'[29] This aspect of the poem is
another textual reference, this time our scope of reading Just a Smack
at Auden is broadened by T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock, in which the speaker assumes an authoritarian tone by stating
at the beginning: 'Let us go then, you and I,'[30] and then asks his
reader a number of prosaic questions that resemble Empson's lyric even
in the regularity of the rhythmic, iambic verse. As he says for example:
'Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?'[31] Both poems
stress the inability of a self to make a decision, or judge reasonably
in the modern society; notwithstanding whether one is a leader or a
commonplace man like Alfred Prufrock, they are exiles in a society that
lacks domesticity.

        -- Marek Helman,

I am Very Bothered -- Simon Armitage

Guest poem sent in by Nandini K. Moorthy
(Poem #1310) I am Very Bothered
 I am very bothered when I think
 of the bad things I have done in my life.
 Not least that time in the chemistry lab
 when I held a pair of scissors by the blades
 and played the handles
 in the naked lilac flame of the Bunsen burner;
 then called your name, and handed them over.

 O the unrivalled stench of branded skin
 as you slipped your thumb and middle finger in,
 then couldn't shake off the two burning rings. Marked,
 the doctor said, for eternity.

 Don't believe me, please, if I say
 that was just my butterfingered way, at thirteen,
 of asking you if you would marry me.
-- Simon Armitage
I stumbled upon this poem by chance and it sure proved delightful reading (Not
to mention the gush of sweet nostalgia that comes associated with school days).

The innocence of the 13 year old rips through the poem masking the damage
caused by his foolish teenage prank.  Neither the title nor the first two lines
of the opening stanza least prepare the reader for the anecdote the poet

What I thought was amazing about the poem, was poets ability to squeeze the
anecdote in fourteen lines (typical of love sonnets), with explicit explanation
of the incident, uncompromising on the humor and at the end, the shameful
acceptance of the act.  I assume the poets reference to the "burning rings" and
"marked for eternity" is part of marriage proposal that he discloses.   The
tinge of shame is also evident in the last stanza

Simon Armitage is a British poet and this poem is from his collection "Book of
Matches" based on his school memories.

[Martin adds]


That did nasty things to my imagination. *shudder*

Skunk Hour -- Robert Lowell

Inspired by yesterday's poem...
(Poem #1309) Skunk Hour
    For Elizabeth Bishop

 Nautilus Island's hermit
 heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
 her sheep still graze above the sea.
 Her son's a bishop.  Her farmer
 is first selectman in our village,
 she's in her dotage.

 Thirsting for
 the hierarchic privacy
 of Queen Victoria's century,
 she buys up all
 the eyesores facing her shore,
 and lets them fall.

 The season's ill --
 we've lost our summer millionaire,
 who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
 catalogue.  His nine-knot yawl
 was auctioned off to lobstermen.
 A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

 And now our fairy
 decorator brightens his shop for fall,
 his fishnet's filled with orange cork,
 orange, his cobbler's bench and awl,
 there is no money in his work,
 he'd rather marry.

 One dark night,
 my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull,
 I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
 they lay together, hull to hull,
 where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
 My mind's not right.

 A car radio bleats,
 'Love, O careless Love . . . .' I hear
 my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
 as if my hand were at its throat . . . .
 I myself am hell,
 nobody's here --

 only skunks, that search
 in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
 They march on their soles up Main Street:
 white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire
 under the chalk-dry and spar spire
 of the Trinitarian Church.

 I stand on top
 of our back steps and breathe the rich air --
 a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail
 She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
 of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
 and will not scare.
-- Robert Lowell
Having read a lot of fiction set in small, desolate and dwindling coastal
towns, I found the imagery in today's poem instantly familiar and instantly
captivating. The jarring intrusion of the modern, and even more, the outside
world is set against the inevitability of decay - the passing of an age not
being killed from without, but dying from within.

Interestingly, Lowell himself says (see links) that "The first four stanzas
are meant to give a dawdling more or less amiable picture of a declining
Maine sea town"; however, my reading of the poem was closer to Axelrod's

  The amiability of his tone is a ruse. He is describing more than scenery,
  he is describing the rotting of a whole social structure.

The skunks, for all their infusion of energy and life into the scene,
sustain the overall image of decay and desuetude - the final impression is
of a rather grim desolation in which nature and the detritus of civilisation
have sunk into a sort of weary equilibrium.

The first person viewpoint does lead to an interesting note of ambiguity,
but I think the lines "I myself am hell/ nobody's here -- only skunks" tip
even that balance in favour of a sort of - well, I think Lowell's phrase
"Existentialist night" sums it up nicely.


A set of (increasingly far out, if you ask me) writings on the poem:
Axelrod comes closest to my personal interpretation, though I'll admit that
this is one of those poems that I think searching for hidden meanings only

Poem #573 is another snapshot of a decaying sea town.

I've just noticed that we've run only one other Robert Lowell poem (fairly
recently, that too), and no biography. So here it is:
  [broken link]


A Forsaken Garden -- Algernon Charles Swinburne

(Poem #1308) A Forsaken Garden
 In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
 At the sea-down's edge between windward and lee,
 Walled round with rocks as an inland island,
 The ghost of a garden fronts the sea.
 A girdle of brushwood and thorn encloses
 The steep square slope of the blossomless bed
 Where the weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
 Now lie dead.

 The fields fall southward, abrupt and broken,
 To the low last edge of the long lone land.
 If a step should sound or a word be spoken,
 Would a ghost not rise at the strange guest's hand?
 So long have the grey bare walks lain guestless,
 Through branches and briers if a man make way,
 He shall find no life but the sea-wind's, restless
 Night and day.

 The dense hard passage is blind and stifled
 That crawls by a track none turn to climb
 To the strait waste place that the years have rifled
 Of all but the thorns that are touched not of time.
 The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
 The rocks are left when he wastes the plain.
 The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
 These remain.

 Not a flower to be pressed of the foot that falls not;
 As the heart of a dead man the seed-plots are dry;
 From the thicket of thorns whence the nightingale calls not,
 Could she call, there were never a rose to reply.
 Over the meadows that blossom and wither
 Rings but the note of a sea-birds's song;
 Only the sun and the rain come hither
 All year long.

 The sun burns sere and the rain dishevels
 One gaunt bleak blossom of scentless breath.
 Only the wind here hovers and revels
 In a round where life seems barren as death.
 Here there was laughing of old, there was weeping,
 Haply, of lovers none ever will know,
 Whose eyes went seaward a hundred sleeping
 Years ago.

 Heart handfast in heart as they stood, "Look thither,"
 Did he whisper? "look forth from the flowers to the sea;
 For the foam-flowers endure when the rose-blossoms wither,
 And men that love lightly may die - but we?"
 And the same wind sang and the same waves whitened,
 And for ever the garden's last petals were shed,
 In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened,
 Love was dead.

 Or they loved their life through, and then went whither?
 And were one to the end  -but what end who knows?
 Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither,
 As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
 Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them?
 What love was ever as deep as a grave?
 They are loveless now as the grass above them
 Or the wave.

 All are at one now, roses and lovers,
 Not known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
 Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
 In the air now soft with a summer to be.
 Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
 Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
 When as they that are free now of weeping and laughter
 We shall sleep.

 Here death may deal not again for ever;
 Here change may come not till all change end.
 From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
 Who have left nought living to ravage and rend.
 Earth, stones, and thorns of the wild ground growing,
 While the sun and the rain live, these shall be;
 Till a last wind's breath upon all these blowing
 Roll the sea.

 Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
 Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
 Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
 The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink,
 Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
 Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
 As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
 Death lies dead.
-- Algernon Charles Swinburne
Swinburne's style has always struck me as more obtrusive than effective.
Delightful, yes, and productive of some very enjoyable poems, but never - as
one tends to expect of a poem - serving primarily to convey the *message*.
Which is not to say that Swinburne is a pure (and hence empty) stylist -
it's just that in most of his poems, the dazzling, dancing patterns of
stresses and rhymes and words-for-their-own-sake tend to overshadow the
poem's "content".  (Of course, the ability to cleanly separate content and
form is illusory at best, but that's a debate for another day).

Which brings us to today's poem - one of those rare, happy instances where
the style blends harmoniously with the content, enhancing rather than
distracting from it. The first three verses, in particular, are wonderfully
descriptive, bringing the scene into clear and precise definition as
effectively as any painting. After that, the poem falters somewhat - the
verses take on a slightly mechanical cast, and, as I often do, I wonder
whether Swinburne should not have cut the poem down a verse or two. There
are still some beautiful passages, but they have to contend for the reader's
attention with lines that contribute little.

I think most of what bothered me about the poem was Swinburne's attempt to
combine images of sterility and decay. The former is brilliantly done; the
garden seems all the more forsaken for having entered that state of
changeless equilibrium where time ceases to have a meaning, and it is
abandoned to the cold winds of eternity. Any reminder, therefore, of passing
time, is a dissonant note that serves only to weaken the poem's impact. I
enjoyed the poem, yes, but with a vague sense of dissatisfaction that I
could not enjoy it more.


The Song of the Little Hunter -- Rudyard Kipling

Guest poem sent in by Mallika Chellappa
(Poem #1307) The Song of the Little Hunter
 Ere Mor the Peacock flutters, ere the Monkey People cry,
 Ere Chil the Kite swoops down a furlong sheer,
 Through the Jungle very softly flits a shadow and a sigh--
 He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!
 Very softly down the glade runs a waiting, watching shade,
 And the whisper spreads and widens far and near.
 And the sweat is on thy brow, for he passes even now--
 He is Fear, O Little Hunter, he is Fear!

 Ere the moon has climbed the mountain, ere the rocks are ribbed with light,
 When the downward-dipping trails are dank and drear,
 Comes a breathing hard behind thee--snuffle-snuffle through the night--
 It is Fear, O Little Hunter it is Fear,
 On thy knees and draw the bow; bid the shrilling arrow go;
 In the empty, mocking thicket plunge the spear!
 But thy hands are loosed and weak, and the blood has left thy cheek--
 It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!

 When the heat-cloud sucks the tempest, when the slivered pine-trees fall,
 When the blinding, blaring rain-squalls lash and veer,
 Through the war-gongs of the thunder rings a voice more loud than all--
 It is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!
 Now the spates are banked and deep; now the footless boulders leap--
 Now the lightning shows each littlest leaf--rib clear--
 But thy throat is shut and dried, and thy heart against thy side
 Hammers: Fear, O Little Hunter--this is Fear!
-- Rudyard Kipling
While I was on the subject of poems read in early
childhood, this one occurred. Of course it is
very Indian and of course the monsoon always brings
this one to mind. And of course, it is based
on childhood's imagined bogies.


[Martin adds]

Another favourite. I disagree with Mallika in that it never particularly
spoke of childhood to me - rather, it describes vividly and well the terrors
that haunt the hindbrain, the ancient fears of demons in the dark, of teeth
and claws and silent death that strikes sudden and unseen, of all the visceral
reactions that we never really control - and that never really leave us. In
terms of sheer atmospehere, today's poem ranks very high indeed among the


Poem in Thanks -- Thomas Lux

Guest poem submitted by Sashidhar Dandamudi:
(Poem #1305) Poem in Thanks
 Lord Whoever, thank you for this air
 I'm about to in- and exhale, this hutch
 in the woods, the wood for fire,
 the light-both lamp and the natural stuff
 of leaf-back, fern, and wing.
 For the piano, the shovel
 for ashes, the moth-gnawed
 blankets, the stone-cold water
 stone-cold: thank you.
 Thank you, Lord, coming for
 to carry me here -- where I'll gnash
 it out, Lord, where I'll calm
 and work, Lord, thank you
 for the goddamn birds singing!
-- Thomas Lux
This poem opens Garrison Keillor's (the funny guy who reads poems on NPR
and of course hosts "The Praire Home Companion") anthology 'Good Poems'.
The section is called "O Lord!".

In the preface of this book, Keillor says these poems were chosen for
"their wit, their frankness, their passion and their utter clarity in
the face of everything else a person has to deal with at 7 a.m." He also
goes on say that  "For writers, it's enough to refer to somebody having
written a good poem. Somebody else can worry about greatness."

I concur wholly with Keillor's view for this indeed is a good poem. And
which I have, since I have read it, passed on to other friends and
remembered it on early mornings when I heard "the goddamn birds

Also since I personally know Thomas Lux, I would like to share this poem
with other Ministrel-ites, as an introduction to a body of work by a
deligthful poet and person.

Thank you.


THOMAS LUX, born in Northampton, Massachusettes in 1946, is a member of
the writing faculty and director of the MFA Program in Poetry at Sarah
Lawrence College. In recent years he has been on the graduate faculties
of Boston University, the University of California (Irvine), Columbia
University, Warren Wilson College, and the Universities of Houston,
Iowa, and Michigan. A former Guggenheim Fellow, the recipient of three
NEA grants, Lux won the Kingsley Tufts Award for his book of poems,
Split Horizon, and has been a finalist for both the Los Angeles Times
Book Award in poetry and the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

Incident -- Countee Cullen

(Poem #1304) Incident
 Once riding in old Baltimore,
 Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
 I saw a Baltimorean
 Keep looking straight at me.

 Now I was eight and very small,
 And he was no whit bigger,
 And so I smiled, but he poked out
 His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

 I saw the whole of Baltimore
 From May until December;
 Of all the things that happened there
 That's all that I remember.
-- Countee Cullen

I have often referred to poems that, despite their age, show no signs of
being dated. Cullen's "Incident" is one of the very few I've seen that have
only gained in effectiveness with the passing years. The extreme severity
with which the word 'nigger' is viewed makes the epithet far more shocking
today than it would have been in 1925, and the poem's conclusion utterly -
indeed, almost heartbreakingly - believable.

Ironically, while Cullen strongly insisted that he be viewed as a "poet",
rather than a "Black poet", today's poem is by far his best known (and, IMO,
his most memorable). I am highly ambivalent about the term "Black poet" -
while, on the one hand, it does recall absurdities like "lady novelist", on
the other it is undeniable that Cullen's race would have had a strong
influence on the treatment society afforded him, and, thus, an influence on
the way his life, experiences, and ultimately work were shaped. While his
poetic merits were indeed independent of the colour of his skin, the
association of bodies of literature with the social groups that produced
them is neither new nor, I feel, entirely wrong. Cullen was a great poet,
yes, but he also contributed to that canon that captured the experience of
being a black American, and I am unconvinced that that is irrelevant.

On the gripping hand, the term does focus on what is merely one aspect of
his life and work (a problem that postcolonial writers are facing even
today) - even if Black poetry *is* a genre, it is not a genre on the same
axis that defines, say, humorous poetry - and yet, it is frequently treated
as such. On balance, I tend to agree with Cullen - he was, first and
foremost, a poet, and it is a pity that history has not remembered him
primarily as such.



Similarity -- Piet Hein

(Poem #1303) Similarity
Commutative Law

 No cow's like a horse,
 and no horse like a cow.
 That's one similarity
-- Piet Hein
Quite apart from its poetic merits, this is a pretty neat paradox. It's
amazing the amount of sheer thoughtprovokingness Hein manages to pack into
what is, on the surface, practically a children's rhyme. Nor is this an
isolated instance - his collection of around 10000 grooks is an astonishing
blend of brilliance and silliness.

I'm reminded somewhat of Stephen Crane, another master of the short,
thought-provoking poem - but there's a significant difference in approach.
Whereas Crane's originality is almost obtrusive, Hein delights in pointing
out things that everyone *knows*, but just never thought of. His
characterisation of a pineapple as "sweet and undefinable" remains the best
description I've ever seen of the fruit, and that's in large part because I
knew exactly what he meant the minute I read it.

Likewise today's poem - it's easy to 'bah' it on the grounds of triviality,
or 'mere wordplay', but if you stop to think about it, it's actually
something that everyone might have known, but no one ever thought about, or,
more precisely, no one ever noticed the neatness of. The poem itself isn't
one of his most quotable, but I loved the idea behind it.


Opening Words -- Denise Levertov

Guest poem submitted by Rob Bos:
(Poem #1302) Opening Words
 I believe the earth
 exists, and
 in each minim mote
 of its dust the holy
 glow of thy candle.
 unknown I know,
 thou spirit,
 lover of making, of the
 wrought letter,
 wrought flower,
 iron, deed, dream.
 Dust of the earth,
 help thou my
 unbelief. Drift
 gray become gold, in the beam of
 vision. I believe with
 doubt. I doubt and
 interrupt my doubt with belief. Be,
 beloved, threatened world.
 Each minim
 Not the poisonous
 luminescence forced
 out of its privacy,
 The sacred lock of its cell
 broken. No,
 the ordinary glow
 of common dust in ancient sunlight.
 Be, that I may believe. Amen.
-- Denise Levertov
This poem, "Opening Words", by Denise Levertov, was pointed out to a
friend, after I included a segment of "Goodbye to Tolerance" in my
signature.  I immediately fell in love with it, because it so thoroughly
amplifies my own feelings on the nature of the Divine, and the world,
and a peculiarly atheist form of spirituality.  "I believe the earth" is
something that should be a guidepost, a starting point. It exists, and
we find "in each minim mote / of its dust the holy / glow of thy
candle".  This is an ode to doubt, to belief and unbelief, to the world
and its making and giving and creating...

.. and the phrase "each minim mote" is beautifully assonant.

The more I read of Ms. Levertov, the more I like her.

Rob Bos.

Meeting Point -- Louis MacNeice

(Poem #1301) Meeting Point
 Time was away and somewhere else,
 There were two glasses and two chairs
 And two people with the one pulse
 (Somebody stopped the moving stairs)
 Time was away and somewhere else.

 And they were neither up nor down;
 The stream's music did not stop
 Flowing through heather, limpid brown,
 Although they sat in a coffee shop
 And they were neither up nor down.

 The bell was silent in the air
 Holding its inverted poise -
 Between the clang and clang a flower,
 A brazen calyx of no noise:
 The bell was silent in the air.

 The camels crossed the miles of sand
 That stretched around the cups and plates;
 The desert was their own, they planned
 To portion out the stars and dates:
 The camels crossed the miles of sand.

 Time was away and somewhere else.
 The waiter did not come, the clock
 Forgot them and the radio waltz
 Came out like water from a rock:
 Time was away and somewhere else.

 Her fingers flicked away the ash
 That bloomed again in tropic trees:
 Not caring if the markets crash
 When they had forests such as these,
 Her fingers flicked away the ash.

 God or whatever means the Good
 Be praised that time can stop like this,
 That what the heart has understood
 Can verify in the body's peace
 God or whatever means the Good.

 Time was away and she was here
 And life no longer what it was,
 The bell was silent in the air
 And all the room one glow because
 Time was away and she was here.
-- Louis MacNeice
MacNeice in this poem tries to capture the suspension of time that seems
to occur when one is in the company of a loved one. Three images in
particular stand out for me: the stalled escalator (escalators being the
embodiment of perpetual motion -- the infinite loop, as it were), the
inverted bell (pendulums at their extrema always seem to slow down more
than they should) and the empty desert (the high desert, like the
Siberian tundra and the antarctic plateau, has a profoundly hypnotic
_sameness_ to it).

Sadly, the rest of the poem (beguiling rhyme scheme apart) doesn't quite
do the trick. I found the sixth stanza somewhat pointless, and the
scansion of the second stanza is decidedly uneven. (That said, I'm not
sure if more exact prosody would have helped the poem or reduced it to
sing-song triteness). And finally, the ambiguity that gives poems like
"The Sunlight on the Garden" or "House on a Cliff" or "Snow" their
power, here seems to betoken a lack of confidence, a thinning of the

Methinks I cavil too much. All criticism aside, this remains a very
accomplished poem, if not MacNeice's finest. I really must read more of
his work.


The Workman's Friend -- Flann O'Brien

Guest poem submitted by Jeff Berndt:
(Poem #1300) The Workman's Friend
 When things go wrong and will not come right,
 Though you do the best you can,
 When life looks black as the hour of night -

 When money's tight and hard to get
 And your horse has also ran,
 When all you have is a heap of debt -

 When health is bad and your heart feels strange,
 And your face is pale and wan,
 When doctors say you need a change,

 When food is scarce and your larder bare
 And no rashers grease your pan,
 When hunger grows as your meals are rare -

 In time of trouble and lousy strife,
 You have still got a darlint plan
 You still can turn to a brighter life -
-- Flann O'Brien
written under the psudonym "Brian O'Nolan".

I heard this poem in Dublin some years back and it stuck with me in
spirit if not in letter.  Only recently have I come across a print copy
in its entirety, which isn't too surprising in that I was told it was
written by Brendan Behan, which it isn't. I thought you might enjoy it
and consider it for use as a guest poem sometime.

It's from a novel called "At Swim Two Birds". Here's another quote from
the novel: "There's one thing in that pome, permanence, if you know what
I mean. That pome, I mean to say, is a pome that'll be heard wherever
the Irish race is wont to gather, it'll live as long as there's a hard
root of an Irishman left by the Almighty on this planet, mark my words."

Other works by Flann O'Brien include:
        The Dalkey Archive
        The Hard Life: An Exegesis of Squalor
        The Third Policeman
        An Béal Bocht (The Poor Mouth)

(I haven't read them.)

More info about O'Brien and his works can be found at

All the best,
Jeff Berndt.

Of You -- Norman MacCaig

Guest poem submitted by Laura Simeon:
(Poem #1299) Of You
 When the little devil, panic,
 begins to grin and jump about
 in my heart, in my brain, in my muscles,
 I am shown the path I had lost
 in the mountainy mist.

 I'm writing of you.

 When the pain that will kill me
 is about to be unbearable,
 a cool hand
 puts a tablet on my tongue and the pain
 dwindles away and vanishes.

 I'm writing of you.

 There are fires to be suffered,
 the blaze of cruelty, the smoulder
 of inextinguishable longing, even
 the gentle candleflame of peace
 that burns too.

 I suffer them.  I survive.

 I'm writing of you.
-- Norman MacCaig
I encountered Norman MacCaig for the first time on Minstrels two years
ago, something for which I am eternally grateful.  Needing to read more
of his work, I found _Norman MacCaig: Selected Poems_, edited by Douglas
Dunn (Chatto & Windus, 1997), in which I found this gem, one of his
previously unpublished works.

MacCaig described himself as a "Zen Calvinist," which Dunn expands upon
when he writes that "in MacCaig's poems the Yes often implies (and
sometimes states) a No..."  In "Of You" there seems to me to be
something of this greater truth behind an apparent contradiction, with
great love bringing pain and comfort in equal measures.  Saying Yes to
love is saying Yes to more than simple, unadulterated joy.


Miss Gee -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by :
(Poem #1298) Miss Gee
 Let me tell you a little story
   About Miss Edith Gee;
 She lived in Clevedon Terrace
   At number 83.

 She'd a slight squint in her left eye,
   Her lips they were thin and small,
 She had narrow sloping shoulders
   And she had no bust at all.

 She'd a velvet hat with trimmings,
   And a dark grey serge costume;
 She lived in Clevedon Terrace
   In a small bed-sitting room.

 She'd a purple mac for wet days,
   A green umbrella too to take,
 She'd a bicycle with shopping basket
   And a harsh back-pedal break.

 The Church of Saint Aloysius
   Was not so very far;
 She did a lot of knitting,
   Knitting for the Church Bazaar.

 Miss Gee looked up at the starlight
   And said, 'Does anyone care
 That I live on Clevedon Terrace
   On one hundred pounds a year?'

 She dreamed a dream one evening
   That she was the Queen of France
 And the Vicar of Saint Aloysius
   Asked Her Majesty to dance.

 But a storm blew down the palace,
   She was biking through a field of corn,
 And a bull with the face of the Vicar
   Was charging with lowered horn.

 She could feel his hot breath behind her,
   He was going to overtake;
 And the bicycle went slower and slower
   Because of that back-pedal break.

 Summer made the trees a picture,
   Winter made them a wreck;
 She bicycled to the evening service
   With her clothes buttoned up to her neck.

 She passed by the loving couples,
   She turned her head away;
 She passed by the loving couples,
   And they didn't ask her to stay.

 Miss Gee sat in the side-aisle,
   She heard the organ play;
 And the choir sang so sweetly
   At the ending of the day,

 Miss Gee knelt down in the side-aisle,
   She knelt down on her knees;
 'Lead me not into temptation
   But make me a good girl, please.'

 The days and nights went by her
   Like waves round a Cornish wreck;
 She bicycled down to the doctor
   With her clothes buttoned up to her neck.

 She bicycled down to the doctor,
  And rang the surgery bell;
 'O, doctor, I've a pain inside me,
   And I don't feel very well.'

 Doctor Thomas looked her over,
   And then he looked some more;
 Walked over to his wash-basin,
  Said,'Why didn't you come before?'

 Doctor Thomas sat over his dinner,
   Though his wife was waiting to ring,
 Rolling his bread into pellets;
   Said, 'Cancer's a funny thing.

 'Nobody knows what the cause is,
   Though some pretend they do;
 It's like some hidden assassin
   Waiting to strike at you.

 'Childless women get it.
   And men when they retire;
 It's as if there had to be some outlet
   For their foiled creative fire.'

 His wife she rang for the servent,
   Said, 'Dont be so morbid, dear';
 He said: 'I saw Miss Gee this evening
   And she's a goner, I fear.'

 They took Miss Gee to the hospital,
   She lay there a total wreck,
 Lay in the ward for women
   With her bedclothes right up to her neck.

 They lay her on the table,
   The students began to laugh;
 And Mr. Rose the surgeon
   He cut Miss Gee in half.

 Mr. Rose he turned to his students,
   Said, 'Gentlemen if you please,
 We seldom see a sarcoma
   As far advanced as this.'

 They took her off the table,
   They wheeled away Miss Gee
 Down to another department
   Where they study Anatomy.

 They hung her from the ceiling
   Yes, they hung up Miss Gee;
 And a couple of Oxford Groupers
   Carefully dissected her knee.
-- W H Auden
At last I've found Miss Gee (again)! I first encountered her cycling
along in her purple mac pursued by the Vicar bull in a college textbook.
In her own quiet way Miss Gee spoke volumes for loneliness, repression,
disease and death. Something about this sad, funny, cruel tale struck me
and I was never able to forget the protagonist.

Now many years later after searching in vain on the internet, I decided
to go and look through the Auden collection at the University. Sure
enough there she was in stack 800 something, hiding with her clothes
buttoned up to her neck!

For me the most important facet of the poem is that it never really lets
you sympathise easily with Miss Gee. Instead of creating dark
sentimental lines to make us feel Miss Gee's misery, Auden turns the
tables and invites us to laugh at her. And it is through the cruel humor
of this deceptively simple poem, through our own guilt, and recognition
that we begin to understand Miss Gee's tragedy...

Some things that caught my attention on reading this poem the second
time were the mention of Saint Aloysius, and the 'Cornish Wreck'. So I
went and did some research:

Saint Aloysius: Born in Castiglione, Spain on the 9th of March in 1568.
Aloysius was also deeply faithful and pious. By the age of 9 he had
privately decided on a religious Life, and made a vow of perpetual
virginity. He practiced many devotions and mortifications, and
safeguarded himself at all times from possible temptation. A kidney
disease confined Saint Aloysius to his bed for some time, removed from
the normal full social life of a young man in his position. Bedrest
would be a difficult challenge for any vigourous young man, but Aloysius
resigned himself to it. Far from being bored, or despairing of his
health, he spent his time in prayer and reading the Lives of the Saints.
His resolve to become a Jesuit was formed and firmed at this time. He
served in a hospital during the plague of 1587 in Milan. In time, he
fell victim to the dreaded disease himself, and died at the age of 23.
This young man, patron to all young people, was beatified in 1621, and
declared a saint in 1725.
        -- )

So it was to this gentle Patron Saint of the young and the sick that
Miss Gee prayed to make her a 'good girl'...

Cornish Wreck: Apparently there are some 3,500 odd wreck sites that have
been accounted for around the dangerous Cornish coastline. Some if not
all of these have become tourist attractions, and thousands of avid
divers dissect the Cornish coast for these wrecks.
        -- [broken link]

Miss Gee is among the thousands of silent lives that have been destroyed
by the ravages of cancer. Of course she happened to be one of the rare
few who lived beyond her life in the anatomy chambers. After a life time
of repression, buttoning-up, and muffled yearnings (for loving couples
and the Vicar) Miss Gee finally had her pick of Oxford Groupers*
hovering around her wreck!

* Grouper: noun, plural 'groupers' also 'grouper'
Etymology: Portuguese 'garoupa'
Any of numerous fishes (family Serranidae and especially genera
Epinephelus and Mycteroperca) that are typically large solitary
bottom-dwelling fishes of warm seas

but also

* a member of the "Oxford Group": This movement, which began around
1908, was originally called "A First Century Christian Fellowship". It
was begun by Frank N. Buchman, a Lutheran minister from Pennsylvania.
The Oxford Group was focused upon changing the world, 'One Person at a
Time'. At Oxford Group 'House Parties', members 'surrendered' on their
knees and gave testimony (or shared) of their deliverance from their
'sin' of alcoholism, smoking, etc. Around 1940 the Oxford Group changed
its name to Moral Re-Armament. This movement still exists today with
offices worldwide.
        -- [broken link]

The Birthright -- Eiluned Lewis

Guest poem sent in by Dave Fortin :
(Poem #1297) The Birthright
 We who were born
 In country places,
 Far from cities
 And shifting faces,
 We have a birthright
 No man can sell,
 And a secret joy
 No man can tell.

 For we are kindred
 To lordly things,
 The wild duck's flight
 And the white owl's wings;
 To pike and salmon,
 To bull and horse,
 The curlew's cry
 And the smell of gorse.

 Pride of trees,
 Swiftness of streams,
 Magic of frost
 Have shaped our dreams:
 No baser vision
 Their spirit fills
 Who walk by right
 On the naked hills.
-- Eiluned Lewis
I grew up in rural Missouri and this evokes happy memories, especially
now that I am stuck in a sprawling subruban environment. I like the
usage of the short lines and traditional Welsh imagery to bring forth
the beauty and joys of rural life.

As for the poetess, Eiluned Lewis (1900-1979) was born at Newtown,
Montgomeryshire. She became a journalist and was assistant editor of The
Sunday Times, 1931-36. Her novel _Dew on the Grass_ (1934) won the Gold
Medal of the Book Guild.

Dave Fortin

Evening -- Gulzar

Guest poem sent in by
(Poem #1296) Evening
 Day abandons it
 Night disowns it

 a poet picks it up
 threads it
 into a poem;
 but sometimes
 it is barren,
 so impotent
 it gives nothing,
 not even to the poet.
-- Gulzar
While surfing through the net, i came across this gem of a poem by Gulzar,
and, wonder of wonders, it's in English. Being a weekend, me and a friend were
exploring various emotionally charged Hindi songs and hit upon the idea of
surfing for Gulzar's creations, one of the geniuses of our time. The poem is
about evening and well.. just go through it!

[Martin adds]

Indeed a beautiful poem - it captures the fleeting, elusive nature of evening
as well as anything I've seen. And it stands in refreshing contrast to all
those poems that rhapsodise about twilit evenings (a time of day and quality of
light that have always struck me as more depressing than otherwise. Give me
dawn any day).


[broken link]

For the Union Dead -- Robert Lowell

Guest poem submitted by Sheri K. Stoll:
(Poem #1295) For the Union Dead
 "Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam."

 The old South Boston Aquarium stands
 in a Sahara of snow now.  Its broken windows are boarded.
 The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
 The airy tanks are dry.

 Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
 my hand tingled
 to burst the bubbles
 drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

 My hand draws back.  I often sigh still
 for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
 of the fish and reptile.  One morning last March,
 I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

 fence on the Boston Common.  Behind their cage,
 yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
 as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
 to gouge their underworld garage.

 Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
 sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
 A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
 braces the tingling Statehouse,

 shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
 and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
 on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
 propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

 Two months after marching through Boston,
 half the regiment was dead;
 at the dedication,
 William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

 Their monument sticks like a fishbone
 in the city's throat.
 Its Colonel is as lean
 as a compass-needle.

 He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
 a greyhound's gently tautness;
 he seems to wince at pleasure,
 and suffocate for privacy.

 He is out of bounds now.  He rejoices in man's lovely,
 peculiar power to choose life and die--
 when he leads his black soldiers to death,
 he cannot bend his back.

 On a thousand small town New England greens,
 the old white churches hold their air
 of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
 quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.

 The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
 grow slimmer and younger each year--
 wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
 and muse through their sideburns . . .

 Shaw's father wanted no monument
 except the ditch,
 where his son's body was thrown
 and lost with his "niggers."

 The ditch is nearer.
 There are no statues for the last war here;
 on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
 shows Hiroshima boiling

 over a Mosler Safe, the "Rock of Ages"
 that survived the blast.  Space is nearer.
 When I crouch to my television set,
 the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

 Colonel Shaw
 is riding on his bubble,
 he waits
 for the blessèd break.

 The Aquarium is gone.  Everywhere,
 giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
 a savage servility
 slides by on grease.
-- Robert Lowell
[broken link],1,6457119.story

[LA Times free registration required]

The above-referenced article yesterday in the L.A. Times inspired me to
search for Lowell's "For the Union Dead". It is very powerful. Many
people may have seen Ed Zwick's movie "Glory" about the Massachussetts
54th regiment of black soldiers in the Civil War based on the book One
Gallant Rush, by Peter Burchard. I checked 'wondering minstrels' and I
could not find any of Lowell's poems, this is a good one to start with.


The reticent volcano keeps -- Emily Dickinson

Guest poem submitted by Zenobia Driver:
(Poem #1294) The reticent volcano keeps
 The reticent volcano keeps
 His never-slumbering plan;
 Confided are his projects pink
 To no precarious man.

 If nature will not tell the tale
 Jehovah told to her
 Can human nature not survive
 Without a listener?

 Admonished by her buckled lips
 Let every babbler be
 The only secret people keep
 Is immortality.
-- Emily Dickinson
I really liked the volcano imagery, especially because it suggests that
a silent person has a never slumbering plan, and he never confides it to
those it affects - the men who eke out a precarious existence on its
slopes. I also really liked the last two lines - I think the way
immortality is used to illustrate that people can never keep things to
themselves is amazing.

Basically I like this poem because most people talk too much and just
can't keep quiet, even when I ignore them and maintain a stony silence.
One more thought - why are people so uncomfortable even with friendly
silences? Why must they rush to fill them in with higgledy-piggledy


Beloved Dust -- Edna St Vincent Millay

Guest poem submitted by Angela
(Poem #1293) Beloved Dust
 And you as well must die, beloved dust,
 And all your beauty stand you in no stead,
 This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
 This body of flame and steel, before the gust
 Of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
 Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
 Than the first leaf that fall, --- this wonder fled.
 Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.

 Nor shall my love avail you in your hour.
 In spite of all my love, you will arise
 Upon that day and wander down the air
 Obscurely as the unattended flower,
 It mattering not how beautiful you were,
 Or how beloved above all else that dies.
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
This poem is the first I had ever read by Millay. At the time I
discovered it I was 19 and caring for my terminally ill mother. When I
read this poem I felt "This is it. This is how I feel." Acceptance of
the inevitability of her death mingled with a feeling of helplessness in
preventing it from happening. The last 2 lines were to me its clencher:
        It mattering not how beautiful you were,
        Or how beloved above all else that dies.


[Millay on the Minstrels]

Poem #34, First Fig
Poem #49, The Unexplorer
Poem #108, The Penitent
Poem #317, Inland
Poem #590, Sonnet XLIII
Poem #604, Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare
Poem #817, Grown-up
Poem #860, Sonnet: Love Is Not All
Poem #905, I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
Poem #926, Dirge Without Music
Poem #956, Ashes of Life
Poem #1064, Travel

The Auk and the Orchid -- Robert Williams Wood

Guest poem submitted by Ajit Narayanan :
(Poem #1292) The Auk and the Orchid
 We seldom meet, when out to walk,
 Either the orchid or the auk;
 The auk indeed is only known
 To dwellers in the Auktic zone,
 While orchids can be found in legions,
 Within the equatorial regions.
 The graceful orchid on its stalk,
 Resembles so the awkward auk;
 'Tis plain we must some means discover,
 To tell the two from one another:
 The obvious difference, to be sure,
 Is merely one of temperature.
 For eskimos, perhaps the Auk
 Performs the duties of the stork.
-- Robert Williams Wood
There are very few poets whose genius is apparent as soon as one reads
their work. For me, Lewis Carroll is one of them; Wood is another. This
poem is from the book 'How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers'. When it
was published (in 1907, I think), it was primarily a children's book,
but has been described as a book of comic verse pretending to be a
nature book. Wood was a fine illustrator as well as a writer; with each
poem in the book he also drew two pictures, one of the bird and another
of the flower, with such skill that they actually _do_ look almost
indistinguishable! In truth, his poems (this one included) lose much of
their comic appeal without the pictures that go with them, and the whole
book, with the pictures and the verse, can be viewed on several sites on
the net, such as
        [broken link]
Wood himself was not a full-time writer. He was primarily a scientist, a
brilliant physicist who contributed a great deal especially to Optics.
(This is another striking similarity between Wood and Carroll, who was a

"Wood was internationally known for his work in optics and spectroscopy,
in which fields he undertook fundamental research in resonance radiation
and in the use of absorption screens in astronomical photography. He
also devised a vastly improved diffraction grating.  In 1897, Wood
became the first to observe field emission,  i.e., charged particles
emitted from a conductor  in an electric field.  This phenomenon is now
used in the field emission microscope  for studying atomic structure.
Wood's work on sodium vapor was especially noteworthy (Dunoyer). Wood
also developed a color-photography process, as well as both infrared and
ultraviolet photography."