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When Death Comes -- Mary Oliver

Guest poem sent in by Katherine E. Hudson
(Poem #1376) When Death Comes
 When death comes
 like the hungry bear in autumn;
 when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

 to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
 when death comes
 like the measle-pox:

 when death comes
 like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

 I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering
 what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

 And therefore I look upon everything
 as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
 and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
 and I consider eternity as another possibility,

 and I think of each life as a flower, as common
 as a field daisy, and as singular,

 and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
 tending, as all music does, toward silence,

 and each body a lion of courage, and something
 precious to the earth.

 When it's over, I want to say: all my life
 I was a bride married to amazement.
 I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

 When it's over, I don't want to wonder
 if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
 I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
 or full of argument.

 I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
-- Mary Oliver
I've been somewhat surprised so few of Mary Oliver's poems have been
included in the Minstrels' archive, as I have found her a revelation and a
delight among contemporary poets.  I suppose that's because she addresses
matters that engage my interest and does so with language that is both
ordinary and imaginative.

She has a unique ability to convey the wonder and awe the natural world and
its denizens can evoke, usually using rather simple language to do it,
though this poem doesn't really illustrate that ability.  Nonetheless, "the
bride married to amazement" and "the bridegroom, taking the world into [his]
arms," firmly link this poem to others in which Oliver more obviously
celebrates the natural world.

The catalog of images at the beginning of this poem reminds me of the
various forms of death identified by Gerard Manley Hopkins at the beginning
of "Part the Second" of The Wreck of the Deutschland:  "'Some find me a
sword; some/The flange and the rail; flame,/Fang, or flood,' goes Death on a
drum/And storms bugle his fame."  But Hopkins' list is rather flatly
concrete, while Oliver's imagery is forceful and evocative, suggesting the
suddenness with which death may come (the snapping shut of the purse), its
implacability (the hungry bear), the pain and disgust (the measle-pox), and
fear (the iceberg between the shoulders--oooh, I like that one!) that may
accompany it.   [By the way, don't anybody think I'm dissing Hopkins, who is
one of my favorite poets; and The Deutschland is a powerful poem, I think--a
pity it's probably too long for the Minstrels' archive.]

But my fondness for Oliver's poetry isn't based in analysis--she moves me,
consistently and deeply.  And my desire for that kind of experience is why I
signed up for the Minstrels' list.  Only a few poems I've seen so far have
given me the charge only good poetry can (The Icelandic Language was
one)--but that's not a problem: how many highs a week can a person stand,
anyway?  And I'm seeing poems I would otherwise never encounter.  I thank
you very much indeed for your service and thank my fellow list-members for
their contributions and insights.

Katherine Hudson

Dream Song 14 -- John Berryman

Guest poem sent in by Howard Weinberg
(Poem #1368) Dream Song 14
 Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
 After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
 we ourselves flash and yearn,
 and moreover my mother told me as a boy
 (repeatingly) "Ever to confess you're bored
 means you have no

 Inner Resources." I conclude now I have no
 inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
 Peoples bore me,
 literature bores me, especially great literature,
 Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
 as bad as Achilles,

 who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
 And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
 and somehow a dog
 has taken itself & its tail considerably away
 into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
 behind: me, wag.
-- John Berryman
There are many things to love about this poem-- here are a few. The wonderful
turn of "we ourselves flash and yearn". The great pun at the end. The way the
poem aspire to both irony and kindness, without ever choosing sides. How daring
to say "life, friends, is boring", to make it stick, to be a poet, for crying
out loud, and still make it stick. And yet to undercut itself with "as bad as
Achilles" knowing only someone who loves literature could be so shocked not to
find rewards in it-- and so we know that there is some deeper underlying
tragedy, perhaps as fully formed as the Illiad, yet otherwise unspoken.

Howard Weinberg

The Bangle Sellers -- Sarojini Naidu

Guest poem submitted by Avni Rambhia:
(Poem #1375) The Bangle Sellers
 Bangle sellers are we who bear
 Our shining loads to the temple fair...
 Who will buy these delicate, bright
 Rainbow-tinted circles of light?
 Lustrous tokens of radiant lives,
 For happy daughters and happy wives.

 Some are meet for a maiden's wrist,
 Silver and blue as the mountain mist,
 Some are flushed like the buds that dream
 On the tranquil brow of a woodland stream,
 Some are aglow wth the bloom that cleaves
 To the limpid glory of new born leaves

 Some are like fields of sunlit corn,
 Meet for a bride on her bridal morn,
 Some, like the flame of her marriage fire,
 Or, rich with the hue of her heart's desire,
 Tinkling, luminous, tender, and clear,
 Like her bridal laughter and bridal tear.

 Some are purple and gold flecked grey
 For she who has journeyed through life midway,
 Whose hands have cherished, whose love has blest,
 And cradled fair sons on her faithful breast,
 And serves her household in fruitful pride,
 And worships the gods at her husband's side.
-- Sarojini Naidu
Sarojini Naidu is a rather unique phenomenon in Indian literature - she
seems to be one of its few poet(esse)s who is an English writer in
language, style and meter. Yet her works are so Indian, it almost seems
as if they emanated out of the monsoon-damped ground and hung in a
shimmering veil for her to capture and pen.

We studied this poem in 10th grade, and it has stayed with me ever
since. It played in the back of my mind as I bought my own bangles on
festivals, and as I picked out my wedding trousseau several years ago.
Recently while packing my stuff to prepare for a move, I came across my
bangle box and was reminded of the poem again. Google searching didn't
yield much of its text [1] so my sister dug out my old textbook for the
full poem (thanks, kid!).

Not being part of the Golden Threshold, arguably Sarojini Naidu's most
widely known work, has perhaps contributed to the Bangle Seller's
limited recognition and availability. However, this is my hands-down
favorite Naidu poem. As much for its capture of the moods and events in
her Indian woman's lifetime, as for the sheer extravagance and
_rightness_, so to speak, of imagery and comparison.

[1] It did bring up, though, an illuminating discussion on the
significance of Indian Jewelry -


A Cranefly in September -- Ted Hughes

Guest poem submitted by David McKelvie:
(Poem #1306) A Cranefly in September
 She is struggling through grass-mesh - not flying,
 Her wide-winged, stiff, weightless basket-work of limbs
 Rocking, like an antique wain, a top-heavy ceremonial cart
 Across mountain summits
 (Not planing over water, dipping her tail)
 But blundering with long strides, long reachings, reelings
 And ginger-glistening wings
 From collision to collision.
 Aimless in no particular direction,
 Just exerting her last to escape out of the overwhelming
 Of whatever it is, legs, grass,
 The garden, the county, the country, the world -

 Sometimes she rests long minutes in the grass forest
 Like a fairytale hero, only a marvel can help her.
 She cannot fathom the mystery of this forest
 In which, for instance, this giant watches -
 The giant who knows she cannot be helped in any way.

 Her jointed bamboo fuselage,
 Her lobster shoulders, and her face
 Like a pinhead dragon, with its tender moustache,
 And the simple colourless church windows of her wings
 Will come to an end, in mid-search, quite soon.
 Everything about her, every perfected vestment
 Is already superfluous.
 The monstrous excess of her legs and curly feet
 Are a problem beyond her.
 The calculus of glucose and chitin inadequate
 To plot her through the infinities of the stems.

 The frayed apple leaves, the grunting raven, the defunct tractor
 Sunk in nettles, wait with their multiplications
 Like other galaxies.
 The sky's Northward September procession, the vast
 soft armistice,
 Like an Empire on the move,
 Abandons her, tinily embattled
 With her cumbering limbs and cumbered brain.
-- Ted Hughes
This is from "Season Songs", one of Hughes' books for children. It's
hardly the best poem he wrote, but I really like it. The first time I
read it, I was leafing through a copy of it in a library in Australia. I
had been travelling there for some time and had met so many other
backpackers like me. But when sitting in the library reading it, one
line jumped out at me: "aimless in no particular direction". I
automatically knew that that line describes all backpackers despite
their reasons and regardless of how well they've planned their
itinerary. But I never told anyone, they'd have objected. Backpackers
can be very touchy. :)

In Hughes' poem, the cranefly is a wanderer for no reason. She blunders
"with long strides". The whole poem seems to me a description of my life
as a backpacker in Australia and my need to move on, and this need to
"escape out of the overwhelming / Of whatever it is, legs, grass, / The
garden, the county, the country, the world". All backpackers have their
reason to escape their comfortable Westernised world. Some travel to see
something new, some for 'spiritual' reasons, some because their friends
are doing it, some for life experiences, others to escape a difficult
situation at home. Whatever...

The poem also reminded me a friend I travelled with for a while. She
*was* running from the world, her whole life *was* aimless not just her
feet.  The last five lines sum up her situation perfectly.


[Minstrels Links]

Poems by Ted Hughes:
Poem #42, Hawk Roosting
Poem #98, The Thought Fox
Poem #417, Thistles
Poem #671, Lineage
Poem #723, Full Moon and Little Frieda
Poem #768, Theology
Poem #882, Wind

The Weight -- Jaime 'Robbie' Robertson

(Poem #1374) The Weight
 I pulled into Nazareth, I was feeling about half past dead;
 I just needed some place where I can lay my head.
 "Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?"
 He just grinned and shook my hand, and 'No' was all he said.

    Take a load off Fanny,
    Take a load for free;
    Take a load off Fanny,
    And (and) (and) you put the load right on me.

 I picked up my bag, I went looking for a place to hide;
 When I saw Carmen and the Devil walking side by side.
 I said, "Hey, Carmen, come on, let's go downtown."
 She said, "I gotta go, but my friend can stick around."

    Take a load off Fanny (etc.)

 Go down, Miss Moses, there's nothing you can say
 It's just ol' Luke, and Luke's waiting on the Judgement Day.
 "Well, Luke, my friend, what about young Anna Lee?"
 He said, "Do me a favor, son, won't you stay and keep Anna Lee

    Take a load off Fanny (etc.)

 Crazy Chester followed me, and he caught me in the fog.
 He said, "I will fix your rack, if you'll take Jack, my dog."
 I said, "Wait a minute, Chester, you know I'm a peaceful man."
 He said, "That's okay, boy, won't you feed him when you can."

    Take a load off Fanny (etc.)

 Catch a cannonball now, to take me down the line
 My bag is sinking low and I do believe it's time.
 To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she's the only one.
 Who sent me here with her regards for everyone.

    Take a load off Fanny (etc.)
-- Jaime 'Robbie' Robertson
 From the album "Music from Big Pink", by 'The Band', released in 1968.

 First, there's the music. The Band's music, while generally classed
under 'folk rock', was in reality a wonderfully diverse mix of styles.
The foundation was built on folk tunes and jug music, but these roots
were overlaid with rock flourishes, blues rhythms and gospel harmonies,
and tinged with soul, bluegrass and swing.

 Next, there are the arrangements. The Band started out as a tight-knit
rock and roll outfit, but under Dylan's influence they sprawled out into
a more 'relaxed' group, experimenting with different instrumental and
vocal lineups (the fact that each member was proficient on multiple
instruments, and that there were three excellent vocalists on the
roster, helped). As a result their music often sounded like a work in
progress, a group of musicians searching for a common goal. This
potentially untidy approach worked surprisingly well; at any rate it
proved perfect for the kind of music (eclectic, rough-hewn,
down-to-earth) they generally performed. (Their harmonies, especially,
are remarkable: they're distinctly non-traditional, and nowhere near as
'pretty' as Simon & Garfunkel's, but they have a power all their own).

 And finally, there are the lyrics. In keeping with the diversity of
musical styles and the multiplicity of instrumental approaches, the
Band's lyrics reflect various strains of a mythologized Americana. And
nowhere is this more evident than in the centrepiece of their first
album, 'The Weight'. The theme is not hard to grasp -- it's about the
burdens that come to weigh on a man who's simply trying to do "what's
right" -- but the handling is subtle. Allusions to religion (Nazareth,
the Devil, Judgement Day) mingle with references to American culture
('Go Down Moses' is the title of a short story by Faulkner; the 'Wabash
Cannonball' is a mythical train that has visited every small-town
station in America [1]) and The Band's personal history (Crazy Chester,
Anna Lee and Old Luke are all supposedly based on real people). The
whole is an intensely visual, almost Impressionistic tapestry, where
form, content and execution meet to lovely effect.


[1] See [broken link], and
also, and also (especially) Robert
Bloch's excellent short story "That Hell-Bound Train".

PS. Here's a fairly detailed essay on today's song, somewhat rambling
and disorganized, but a good read nonetheless:

Acceptance -- Robert Frost

Guest poem sent in by Krithika
(Poem #1373) Acceptance
 When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
 And goes down burning into the gulf below,
 No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
 At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
 It is the change to darkness in the sky.
 Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
 One bird begins to close a faded eye;
 Or overtaken too far from his nest,
 Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
 Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
 At most he thinks or twitters softly, 'Safe!
 Now let the night be dark for all of me.
 Let the night bee too dark for me to see
 Into the future. Let what will be, be.'
-- Robert Frost
Leave it to Frost to present readers with a lovely montage of Nature's best
moments. It's in fleeting expressions like these that the deepest
reflections can be found. Makes you wonder if you ever really ever lived
life for the 'sheer pleasure of flying'


Autumn Day -- Anne Ridler

Guest poem sent in by Jeremy Marshall
(Poem #1372) Autumn Day
 The raging colour of this cold Friday
 Eats up our patience like a fire,
 Consumes our willingness to endure,
 Here the crumpled maple, a gold fabric,
 The beech by beams empurpled, the holy sycamore,
 Berries red-hot, the rose's core--
 The sun emboldens to burn in porphyry and amber.

 Pick up the remnants of our resignation
 Where we left them, and bring our loving passion,
 Before the mist from the dark sea at our feet
 Where mushrooms cling like limpets in the grass,
 Quenching our fierceness, leaves us in a worse case.
-- Anne Ridler
This is one of my favourite short poems from an English writer who seems not
yet to have made it into the Minstrels' gallery.  It is from her collection
"The Nine Bright Shiners" (1943).  It exemplifies two things that I most
appreciate in poetry: musical resonance of words and rich visual imagery.  I
am a lover of autumn, which has now reached my part of the world, and this
poem catches for me some of the essence of autumn: stunningly beautiful, but
with a chill of mortality that saps the strength from the heart if you
linger out of doors to admire it too long.  (I love the image of the "dark
sea" of evening mist rolling low across the fields.)

Anne Ridler worked for T.S. Eliot from 1935 to 1940 at the London publishers
Faber and Faber, and he encouraged her in writing poetry.  She later edited
works by Thomas Traherne, Lawrence Durrell, Walter de la Mare, Charles
Williams, and others.  Her collected poetry was published by Carcanet in
1995.  She also wrote criticism and verse plays, and translated several
major opera libretti.  When I had begun to try my hand at poetry, she kindly
took the trouble to make some constructive comments on my early efforts.
She died in October 2001 at the age of 89.

Jeremy Marshall

There is a photo and brief obituary at
[broken link]

and a bibliography at

Girl in a Wheelchair Dancing to U2 in Lansdowne Stadium 1997 -- Mark Granier

Guest poem sent in by Sarah Hughes
(Poem #1371) Girl in a Wheelchair Dancing to U2 in Lansdowne Stadium 1997
 In a clearing near midfield
 she is tossing her hair, waving her arms,

 catching hold of, taking for a wild spin
 a new constellation, The Chariot.

 The Centre holds. Big wheels rattle and hum.
 Sparks fly from her.
-- Mark Granier
Note: "The Chariot" in line 4 is italicised.
This appeared in Granier's book AIRBORNE, published by
Salmon Poetry (Cliffs of Moher, Co Mayo) in 2001.

[The allusion in the fifth line is to Yeats's "The Second Coming":
  "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" - martin]

I think this poem is simply about freedom, cutting
loose, busting out to join in the dance. I was at that
concert too, it was deadly!

The following links have reviews and some more of his

[broken link]


[Martin adds]

The poem reminds me in a way of Benet's "Winged Man" [Poem #609], for
its use of "cosmic" imagery to suggest an exuberant magnificence of
spirit. The phrase "The Centre holds" gave me a sudden vision of a
luminous, laughing figure, alone in a dark field while the universe
revolves around her. Beautiful.

Ask to Embla, XIII -- A S Byatt

Guest poem sent in by Nakul Krishna

More on the Poetry by prose-writers theme: From A. S. Byatt's Booker prize
winning 1990 novel, Possession.
(Poem #1370) Ask to Embla, XIII
 They say that women change: 'tis so: but you
 Are ever-constant in your changefulness,
 Like that still thread of falling river, one
 From source to last embrace in the still pool
 Ever-renewed and ever-moving on
 From first to last a myriad water-drops
 And you -- I love you for it -- are the force
 That moves and holds the form.
-- A S Byatt
        (fictionally attributed to "Randolph Henry Ash")

Publisher's notes:
  "Possession, for which Byatt won England's prestigious Booker Prize,
  was praised by critics on both sides of the Atlantic when it was first
  published in 1990. "On academic rivalry and obsession, Byatt is
  delicious.  On the nature of possession--the lover by the beloved, the
  biographer by his subject--she is profound," said The Sunday Times
  (London). The New Yorker dubbed it "more fun to read than The Name of
  the Rose . . . Its prankish verve [and] monstrous richness of detail
  [make for] a one-woman variety show of literary styles and types." The
  novel traces a pair of young academics--Roland Michell and Maud
  Bailey--as they uncover a clandestine love affair between two
  long-dead Victorian poets. Interwoven in a mesmerizing pastiche are
  love letters and fairytales, extracts from biographies and scholarly
  accounts, creating a sensuous and utterly delightful novel of ideas
  and passions."

"Mesmerizing pastiche" is right. While it's safe to skip most of the (many,
many, many) pages of poetry that appear in Possession, I can happily say I
read every word of it, not always with comprehension, but savouring at every
moment Byatt's meticulous creation of a vast body of work for her invented
characters -- the poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, whose
works bring Robert Browning and Christina Rosetti to mind.

A. S. Byatt has acquired much infamy over the past few months for her
criticism of the Harry Potter novels, but I can forgive her anything after
the experience of reading 'Possession'. Fascinating is too mild a word,

If I may quote from a fascinating article in the
  "Do people read the verse by Randolph Ash and
  Christabel LaMotte that AS Byatt has supplied with her
  novel? Many proudly admit not ... Certainly the
  novelist has taken an odd sort of gamble with her
  pastiches ... as the poetry has no obvious narrative
  function, except to serve as a kind of authentication
  device, hints at a larger imagined world ... Byatt's
  pastiches are emphatically not wonderful poetry, yet
  display considerable technical skill (how many
  academic critics could produce such things?) and
  function as a kind of homage to the poetry she
        -- John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English at University College

Read the full article at:
[broken link],12286,824142,00.html

And the poem itself? The fact that it was written as pastiche doesn't seem
to affect our appreciation of the earnest sincerity of the lines -- lines
many times more meaningful when read in the context of the passionate
private turmoil of the characters who wrote it, and those it was written


There's a brief biography and some essays at:
  [broken link]

On the writing of Possession:
  [broken link]

Christmas Eve -- Bill Watterson

Guest poem sent in by Ajit Narayanan as part of the
'Authors as Poets' theme
(Poem #1369) Christmas Eve
 On the window panes the icy frost
 Leaves feathered patterns, crissed and crossed
 But in our house the Christmas tree
 Is decorated festively
 With tiny dots of colored light
 That cozy up this winter night.
 Christmas songs familiar, slow
 Play softly on the radio.
 Pops and hisses from the fire
 Whistle with the bells and choir.
 Trying now to fall asleep
 On my back and dreaming deep
 Tomorrow's what I'm waiting for,
 But I can wait a little more.
-- Bill Watterson
I wish I could scan the full-page comic from which I lifted this poem, and
put it up somewhere for all Minstrels people to admire -- it is truly a work
of art, with the one big picture of Calvin cuddled up with Hobbes vibing
perfectly with this poem, printed in Ye Olde Christmas font. The whole page
is a work of inspiration. It is in his book 'Scientific Progress goes
Boink', and if you have this book, or can get hold of it, do look up this

Bill Watterson's comic accomplishments with Calvin and Hobbes rather
overshadow some of the fine writing that goes with the strip. His many poems
include the oh-so-classic verses that Hobbes makes Calvin say when he's
trying to clamber up to the tree-house; that gem of a poem 'Yukon Ho!' which
appears on the frontspiece of the book with the same name; and the poems
that Calvin often recites about Hobbes while he's taking a nap (including --
ye Gads -- an alliterative haiku! :) ). [and who can forget that all-time
classic, the "very sorry song"? - martin]

Information about Watterson's poems can be found here
  (some poems, with some background)
[broken link]
  (two of the longer poems)
  (a much more comprehensive collection)

The last site is also a great source of C&H trivia, and has a biography of
Watterson as well


Eurydice -- Sue Hubbard

Guest poem sent in by Pei Chi :
(Poem #1367) Eurydice
 I am not afraid as I descend,
 step by step, leaving behind the salt wind
 blowing up the corrugated river,

 the damp city streets, their sodium glare
 of rush-hour headlights pitted with pearls of rain;
 for my eyes still reflect the half remembered moon.

 Already your face recedes beneath the station clock,
 a damp smudge among the shadows
 mirrored in the train's wet glass,

 will you forget me? Steel tracks lead you out
 past cranes and crematoria,
 boat yards and bike sheds, ruby shards

 of roman glass and wolf-bone mummified in mud,
 the rows of curtained windows like eyelids
 heavy with sleep, to the city's green edge.

 Now I stop my ears with wax, hold fast
 the memory of the song you once whispered in my ear.
 Its echoes tangle like briars in my thick hair.

 You turned to look.
 Second fly past like birds.
 My hands grow cold. I am ice and cloud.

 This path unravels.
 Deep in hidden rooms filled with dust
 and sour night-breath the lost city is sleeping.

 Above the hurt sky is weeping,
 soaked nightingales have ceased to sing.
 Dusk has come early. I am drowning in blue.

 I dream of a green garden
 where the sun feathers my face
 like your once eager kiss.

 Soon, soon I will climb
 from this blackened earth
 into the diffident light.
-- Sue Hubbard
Sue Hubbard was commissioned to write this poem by the Arts Council and
British Film Institute for the Waterloo underpass leading to the IMAX Cinema
in London. The poet's take on the Greek myth of Orpheus (a wandering
minstrel, surely) and his lost wife Eurydice, from Eurydice's point of view,
so perfectly suits the location in which it was installed. I walked by it
recently late at night, and was quite captivated not only by the beauty of
the words, but by the dramatic effect of their physical arrangement on the
walls of the underpass. The lines of each verse are indented in a step
pattern and the verses placed one after another on either side of the
underpass walls so that the poem seems to unfurl itself towards you as you
'descend, step by step' - or as you 'climb...into the diffident light'.
That last verse will stay in my mind a long time as I travel London by its
ancient (and sometimes unreliable) underground rail system.

Bibliography can be found here:

More of Sue Hubbard's Public Art poems can be seen here:

Pei Chi

For another poem very reminiscent of the same myth, see Margaret Atwood's
 "Variatons on the word Sleep", Poem #1093

Untitled -- Tanith Lee

Guest poem sent in by Catherine Pegg , as part
of the "poetry by authors" theme
(Poem #1366) Untitled
 A rose by any other name
 Would get the blame
 For being what it is -
 The colour of a kiss,
 The shadow of a flame.
 A rose may earn another name,
 So call it love;
 So call it love I will,
 And love is like the sea,
 Which changes constantly,
 And yet is still
 The same.
-- Tanith Lee

One of the things that I admire about Tanith Lee is her versatility.  Her work
(mostly prose) ranges from science fiction, through fairy tales,
sword-and-sorcery, gothic horror to these beautiful little fantasy stories.
Some of the themes that crop up in her work are: Little Red Riding Hood,
vampires, re-incarnation, male-female gender politics, sexual ambiguity, the
odd bit of humour, philosophy, theology ...  While I find some of her horror a
bit dark, all of her work that I have read is carefully crafted, with
wonderfully lush visual images and strong plots.

She also does poetry.

This poem comes from one of my favourite novels, 'The Silver Metal Lover', a
love story.



Odes, Book 3, Verse 29: Happy the Man -- Horace

Guest poem submitted by Simon Pereira Shorey:
(Poem #1365) Odes, Book 3, Verse 29: Happy the Man
 Happy the man, and happy he alone,
 He who can call today his own:
 He who, secure within, can say,
 Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
 Be fair or foul or rain or shine
 The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
 Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
 But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.
-- Horace
 Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65 to 8 BC.
 Translated by John Dryden, 1631 to 1700 AD.

I always feel that this captures the essence of the imperative for each
us to take maximum advantage of our brief sojourn upon this planet. In
the unlikely event of my having an epitaph, this would be one to which I
should like to aspire.


[PS. See Poem #633 for a biography and some comments on Horace's Odes -

It Isn't Time That's Passing -- Ruskin Bond

Guest poem sent in by Ankur Agrawal , as part of the Poems
by Authors theme
(Poem #1364) It Isn't Time That's Passing
 Remember the long ago when we lay together
 In a pain of tenderness and counted
 Our dreams: long summer afternoons
 When the whistling-thrush released
 A deep sweet secret on the trembling air;
 Blackbird on the wing, bird of the forest shadows,
 Black rose in the long ago summer,
 This was your song:
 It isn't time that's passing by,
 It is you and I.
-- Ruskin Bond
This poem has all the trappings of any Ruskin Bond prose: the creation
of vivid images from nature to convey emotions, an elegance born out of
simplicity, nostalgia and yearning for old friends.  Like most of his
other writings which I read as a schoolboy, this doesnt fail to strike
a chord instantly.

Ankur Agrawal

   [broken link]

  A great site once you get past the design:

Tricks with Mirrors -- Margaret Atwood

Guest poem sent in by Salima Virani , in response to
the suggested theme - poems by writers better known for their prose.
(Poem #1363) Tricks with Mirrors

 It's no coincidence
 this is a used
 furniture warehouse.

 I enter with you
 and become a mirror.

 are the perfect lovers,

 that's it, carry me up the stairs
 by the edges, don't drop me,

 that would be back luck,
 throw me on the bed

 reflecting side up,
 fall into me,

 it will be your own
 mouth you hit, firm and glassy,

 your own eyes you find you
 are up against closed closed


 There is more to a mirror
 than you looking at

 your full-length body
 flawless but reversed,

 there is more than this dead blue
 oblong eye turned outwards to you.

 Think about the frame.
 The frame is carved, it is important,

 it exists, it does not reflect you,
 it does not recede and recede, it has limits

 and reflections of its own.
 There's a nail in the back

 to hang it with; there are several nails,
 think about the nails,

 pay attention to the nail
 marks in the wood,

 they are important too.


 Don't assume it is passive
 or easy, this clarity

 with which I give you yourself.
 Consider what restraint it

 takes: breath withheld, no anger
 or joy disturbing the surface

 of the ice.
 You are suspended in me

 beautiful and frozen, I
 preserve you, in me you are safe.

 It is not a trick either,
 it is a craft:

 mirrors are crafty.


 I wanted to stop this,
 this life flattened against the wall,

 mute and devoid of colour,
 built of pure light,

 this life of vision only, split
 and remote, a lucid impasse.

 I confess: this is not a mirror,
 it is a door

 I am trapped behind.
 I wanted you to see me here,

 say the releasing word, whatever
 that may be, open the wall.

 Instead you stand in front of me
 combing your hair.


 You don't like these metaphors.
 All right:

 Perhaps I am not a mirror.
 Perhaps I am a pool.

 Think about pools.
-- Margaret Atwood

While I recognise Atwood's distinct style of writing, I have never really
been engaged by any of her books.  However, this poem by Atwood, nabbed my
attention and is one of the finest I've read on the role of a woman.  The
poem is couched in metaphors - and objectifying herself as a mirror, Atwood
points out the many parallels between a mirror and a woman in the shadow of
a man.  I really like the way - it starts by first acknowledging the imposed
subordination and then goes on to remind the reader that "There is more to a
mirror than you looking at" and that one should not "assume it is passive or
easy, this clarity with which I give you yourself.".  What has started as a
sentiment of resignation and vulnerability , climaxes to an appeal for
change and leaves you hoping that it will crystallize into determination and
resolve to actually make the change.

Margaret Eleanor Atwood, poet, novelist, and critic, was born November 18,
1939 in Ottawa.  She was educated at the University of Toronto (E.J. Pratt
Medal, 1961) and Radcliffe College, Harvard University, Mass.

Early influences on Atwood's mythic and archetypal poetry (Double Persephone
1961) were Northrop Frye andJay MacPherson. In 1966 The Circle Game was
awarded the Governor's General Award, establishing Atwood's poetic
reputation. In the 1970's Atwood was an editor for House of Anansi Press and
This Magazine.  Atwood's prolific output has included criticism, Survival: A
Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972), Second Words (1982);  novels,
Lady Oracle (1976), Bodily Harm (1981); short stories, Dancing Girls
(1977),Bluebeard's Egg (1983) and children's books Anna's Pet (1980), among
others. In 1985 Atwood was awarded the Governor General's Award for her
novel The Handmaid's Tale.

Atwood has definitely put Canadian literature on the world map. Shortlisted
three times for the Booker Prize, she finally won it with Blind Assasin.
Atwood continues to live and write in Toronto.


Dublin -- Louis MacNeice

Guest poem submitted by Dave Fortin:
(Poem #1362) Dublin
 Grey brick upon brick,
 Declamatory bronze
 On sombre pedestals -
 O'Connell, Grattan, Moore -
 And the brewery tugs and the swans
 On the balustraded stream
 And the bare bones of a fanlight
 Over a hungry door
 And the air soft on the cheek
 And porter running from the taps
 With a head of yellow cream
 And Nelson on his pillar
 Watching his world collapse.

 This never was my town,
 I was not born or bred
 Nor schooled here and she will not
 Have me alive or dead
 But yet she holds my mind
 With her seedy elegance,
 With her gentle veils of rain
 And all her ghosts that walk
 And all that hide behind
 Her Georgian facades -
 The catcalls and the pain,
 The glamour of her squalor,
 The bravado of her talk.

 The lights jig in the river
 With a concertina movement
 And the sun comes up in the morning
 Like barley-sugar on the water
 And the mist on the Wicklow hills
 Is close, as close
 As the peasantry were to the landlord,
 As the Irish to the Anglo-Irish,
 As the killer is close one moment
 To the man he kills,
 Or as the moment itself
 Is close to the next moment.

 She is not an Irish town
 And she is not English,
 Historic with guns and vermin
 And the cold renown
 Of a fragment of Church latin,
 Of an oratorical phrase.
 But oh the days are soft,
 Soft enough to forget
 The lesson better learnt,
 The bullet on the wet
 Streets, the crooked deal,
 The steel behind the laugh,
 The Four Courts burnt.

 Fort of the Dane,
 Garrison of the Saxon,
 Augustan capital
 Of a Gaelic nation,
 Appropriating all
 The alien brought,
 You give me time for thought
 And by a juggler's trick
 You poise the toppling hour -
 O greyness run to flower,
 Grey stone, grey water,
 And brick upon grey brick.
-- Louis MacNeice
A magnificent poem -- I like it not just for the close proximity that
we, the readers, have to the poet's state of mind, but also for the
historicity of the poem. Fans of The Dubliners will recognize the first
few lines from their song romanticizing the blowing up of Nelson's
statue on O'Connell Street in 1966 -- perhaps a broader statement on the
decline of the British Empire in general. However, Dublin's own history
as a Danish foundation, as the seat of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, as
the setting for the events of 1919 and finally as the capitol of the
newly founded Irish state is also celebrated -- though the last with
MacNeice's unfailing sense of irony.  The repetition of the phrase "grey
brick upon brick" sets the historical events against an unmoving force
to some extent -- the urbanization (and the poverty and dreariness that
comes with it) of Ireland as exemplified in the grey bricks of Dublin is
almost outside of the main historical events.


[Minstrels Links]

Poem #MacNeice - more poems by Louis MacNeice
Poem #Yeats - poems by William Butler Yeats
Poem #41 - "Ireland, Ireland", by Sir Henry Newbolt


Yesterday's commentary had an error in it: the Mary who succeeded Edward
VI and preceded Elizabeth I was not Mary Queen of Scots, but rather
Henry VIII's eldest child (and half-sister to Ned and Bess). The error
was mine, not Christopher's; I added some glosses to his notes without
checking my facts. Apologies to all, and especially to Christopher, for
the goof. - t.