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The Ruin -- Dafydd ap Gwilym

Guest poem submitted by Dave Fortin:
(Poem #1489) The Ruin
 Nothing but a ruin now
 Between moorland and meadow,
 Once the owners saw in you
 A comely cottage, bright, new,
 Now roof, rafters, ridge-pole, all
 Broken down by a broken wall.

 A day of delight was once there
 For me, long ago, no care
 When I had a glimpse of her
 Fair in an ingle-corner.
 Beside each other we lay
 In the delight of that day.

 Her forearm, snowflake-lovely,
 Softly white, pillowing me,
 Proffered a pleasant pattern
 For me to give in my turn,
 And that was our blessing for
 The new-cut lintel and door.

 Now the wild wind, wailing by,
 Crashes with curse and with cry
 Against my stones, a tempest
 Born and bred in the East,
 Or south ram-batterers break
 The shelter that folk forsake.

 Life is illusion and grief;
 A tile whirls off, as a leaf
 Or a lath goes sailing, high
 In the keening of kite-kill cry.
 Could it be our couch once stood
 Sturdily under that wood?
 Pillar and post, it would seem
 Now are less than a dream.
 Are you that, or only the lost
 Wreck of a fiddle, rune-ghost?

 "Dafydd, the cross on their graves
 Marks what little it saves,
 Says, They did well in their lives."
-- Dafydd ap Gwilym
This is one of my favorite Dafydd ap Gwilym poems.  Dafydd is considered
to be the best of the medieval Welsh poets, living only from 1340-1370,
and is particularly noted for his rhyme schemes and poetic composition.
His themes run from the very sexual (he did an ode to his penis) to
nature poetry to such pieces as above that focus on the transitoriness
of this life.  He is carefree, randy and thoughtful all at the same

The above is my favorite of his more 'thoughtful' works, where he
considers the fate of a cottage that he has had a tryst in earlier in
life.  Given his short life-span, it is remarkable that he writes as an
old man in some sense in this poem--the cottage of his earlier pleasures
is now a ruin, and perhaps is an allegory of life.

The above translation is from the Oxford Book of Welsh Verse in English.

To Maeve -- Mervyn Peake

Guest poem sent in by Elaine Campbell
(Poem #1488) To Maeve
 You walk unaware
 Of the slender gazelle
 That moves as you move
 And is one with the limbs
 That you have.

 You live unaware
 Of the faint, the unearthly
 Echo of hooves
 That within your white streams
 Of clear clay that I love

 Are in flight as you turn,
 As you stand, as you move,
 As you sleep, for the slender
 Gazelle never rests
 In your ivory grove.
-- Mervyn Peake
That Peake wrote this poem for his wife just tugs at my heart. He died in
1968 at the age of 57. He was best known for The Gormenghast Trilogy, an
unusual gothic romance set in the sprawling castle of Gormenghast whose
ridiculous rituals echo a Kafkaesque nightmare and whose absurd characters
seem to have strayed from Dickens. Also quite noted for his paintings and
illustrations, he was a brilliant poet whose haunted poems share the same
peculiar brilliance as his prose. He married fellow artist Maeve Gilmore,
the woman who would become the centre of his life and imagination. Amongst
his friends were Dylan Thomas and Graham Greene.

I discovered the poetry of Mervyn Peake soon after devouring "The
Gormenghast Trilogy". That was about 25 years ago; his poetry continues to
hold a place in my heart.


All Day Permanent Red (extract) -- Christopher Logue

Guest poem sent in by Tim Cooper
(Poem #1487) All Day Permanent Red (extract)
 To welcome Hector to his death
 God sent a rolling thunderclap across the sky
 The city and the sea
       And momentarily--
 The breezes playing with the sunlit dust--
 On either slope a silence fell.

    Think of a raked sky-wide Venetian blind.
    Add the receding traction of its slats
    Of its slats of its slats as a hand draws it up.
    Hear the Greek army getting to its feet.

    Then of a stadium when many boards are raised
    And many faces change to one vast face.
    So, where there were so many masks,
    Now one Greek mask glittered from strip to ridge.
    Already swift,

 Boy Lutie took Prince Hector's nod
 And fired his whip that right and left
 Signalled to Ilium's wheels to fire their own,
 And to the Wall-wide nodding plumes of Trojan infantry--

 Screeching above the grave percussion of their feet
 Shouting how they will force the savage Greeks
 Back up the slope over the ridge, downplain
 And slaughter them beside their ships--

    Add the reverberation of their hooves: and
    "Reach for your oars. . ."
 T'lesspiax, his yard at 60°, sending it
 Across the radiant air as Ilium swept
    Onto the strip
    Into the Greeks
    Over the venue where
 Two hours ago all present prayed for peace.
    And carried Greece
 Back up the slope that leads
    Via its ridge
    Onto the windy plain.
-- Christopher Logue
Today's posting [Poem #1480] made me instantly think of Christopher Logue's
transliteration of Homer's Iliad (published piecemeal as Husbands, Kings,
All Day Permanent Red and War Music). You have previously carried one piece
of his, a wryly amusing poem on disposable literature which was a side of
him I had not met before. However what he is absolute master of is a
cinematic style like this extract from All Day Permanent Red. The narrator
seems to swoop across the battle field picking out the scenes which
illustrate his point before moving on to the next one. It's all very macho –
I have no idea whether the original is the same – and absolutely

One other thing which he does here very subtly is to use his own, modern
imagery without it jarring. It's obvious as soon as I say it, but it wasn't
until many readings that I realised Homer could never have known about a
Venetian blind. The poem is littered with images like that (an army humming
like power station outflow cables, an arrow leaving a hole the width of a
lipstick, a warrior plucked from a chariot by a spear like a sardine from a
tin) that are both thoroughly modern and yet do not jar. He never tries to
use modern imagery to say that the Greeks were modern, but uses it
instead to simultaneously make their world both alien and real.


Tim Cooper

[Martin adds]

Tim's comments about the deliberately modern imagery in today's poem,
whereby the world of the ancient Greeks is made to seem "both alien and
real", reminded me of my similar reaction to Auden's "Roman Wall Blues"
[Poem #491], although in that case Auden used not anachronism but the
establishment of a universal common ground that erased the difference
between the Roman and the modern soldier.

(I'm also reminded of similar anachronisms Tolkien introduced in "The
Hobbit"; unlike today's piece, those were definitely jarring when I noticed

And Death Shall Have No Dominion -- Dylan Thomas

Guest poem sent in by Linda Roberts
(Poem #1486) And Death Shall Have No Dominion
 And death shall have no dominion.
 Dead men naked they shall be one
 With the man in the wind and the west moon;
 When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
 They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
 Though they go mad they shall be sane,
 Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
 Though lovers be lost love shall not;
 And death shall have no dominion.

 And death shall have no dominion.
 Under the windings of the sea
 They lying long shall not die windily;
 Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
 Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
 Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
 And the unicorn evils run them through;
 Split all ends up they shan't crack;
 And death shall have no dominion.

 And death shall have no dominion.
 No more may gulls cry at their ears
 Or waves break loud on the seashores;
 Where blew a flower may a flower no more
 Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
 Though they be mad and dead as nails,
 Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
 Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
 And death shall have no dominion.
-- Dylan Thomas
I checked the archives for this poem and was rather surprised not to find
it. I find it interesting, not only as one of that subset of poems that defy
death, much like Donne's "Death be not proud" (Poem #796) but also for the
interesting form used. It's not a villanelle or a rondeau. I'll admit my
ignorance and ask that if someone knows the name of this form I'd like to
learn it.

As a recent widow I find myself remembering odd bits of poetry dealing with
death. While this may sound morbid, I usually find it fairly comforting -
especially such lines as "though lovers be lost, love shall not."


Untitled -- Anise

Guest poem sent in by Jade
(Poem #1485) Untitled
 What scares them most is
 They are ready
 They have machine guns
 And soldiers,
    Is uncanny.
 The business men
 Don't understand
 That sort of weapon . . .
 It is your SMILE
 Their reliance
    On Artillery, brother!
 It is the garbage wagons
 That go along the street
 Marked "EXEMPT
 It is the milk stations
 That are getting better daily,
 and the three hundred
 WAR Veterans of Labor
 Handling the crowds
 For these things speak
 and a NEW WORLD
 That they do not feel
 At HOME in.
-- Anise
Note: "Printed in the Seattle Union Record (a daily newspaper put out by
labor people)" -- Howard Zinn

I found this poem in one of my AP History text books at school ("A People's
History of the United States" by Howard Zinn.)  On February 6, 1919 (shortly
after World War I) Seattle, Washington started a city-wide strike.  The only
people that stayed on the job were laundry workers who did only hospital
laudry, firemen and authorized vehicles that had signs saying "Exempted by
the General Strike Committee."  Meals were prepared in thirty-five milk
stations and transported all over the city.  Strikers payed twenty-five
cents and the general public thirty five for as much beef stew, spaghetti,
bread and coffee.

   "A Labor War Veteran's Guard was organized to keep the peace.  On the
  blackboard at one of its headquarteres was written: 'The purpose of this
  organization is to preserve law and order without the use of force.  No
  volunteer will have any police power or be allowed to carry weapons of any
  sort, but to use persuasion only.'  During the strike, crime in the city
  decreased.  The commander of the U.S. army detachment sent into the area
  told the strikers' committee that in forty years of military experience he
  hadn't seen so quiet and orderly a city" (Zinn 378)

Many people believe that, without force, peace and civilization cannot be
maintained.  But this poem and passage speak contrary to that. The strike
stopped after five days.



An extensive set of excerpts from Zinn's text, giving the historical background

to the poem:
  [broken link]

The Wombat -- Ogden Nash

Guest poem sent in by Wombat
(Poem #1484) The Wombat
 The wombat lives across the seas,
 Among the far Antipodes.
 He may exist on nuts and berries,
 Or then again, on missionaries;
 His distant habitat precludes
 Conclusive knowledge of his moods,
 But I would not engage the wombat
 In any form of mortal combat.
-- Ogden Nash
    Wombats have a bad press on the internet. Among the geek community we
are known merely as an acronym - a "Waste Of Money, Brains And Time". Only
you can redress the balance by including for the first time in your mailing
list one of the world's classic poems, Ogden Nash's 'Wombat'. I note that
you have not had a silly poem for some time, so this should just about fit
the bill.


[Martin adds]

Is it just me, or is there something intrinsically funny about the word

An Infinite Number of Monkeys -- Ronald Koertge

(Poem #1483) An Infinite Number of Monkeys
 After all the Shakespeare, the book
 of poems they type is the saddest
 in history.

 But before they can finish it,
 they have to wait for that Someone
 who is always

 looking to look away. Only then
 can they strike the million
 keys that spell

 humiliation and grief, which are
 the great subjects of Monkey

 and not, as some people still
 believe, the banana
 and the tire.
-- Ronald Koertge

A wonderfully quirky little poem, with a dash of pathos thrown in. For those
of you unfamiliar with the infinite monkeys meme, it runs thus: "If an
infinite number of monkeys randomly hit the keys of an infinite number of
typewriters, would they eventually produce the complete works of
Shakespeare?" The idea that the monkeys are just waiting for the "Someone
who is always looking" to turn away for an instant, so that they can produce
their masterpiece, harmonises nicely with the theme, harking back to
childhood fantasies of toys that came to life the minute everyone was

In fact, the poem is very reminiscent of Billy Collins, with its reflections
on art, poetry and the interaction between the creator and the audience, and
it's wonderful "what if" suspension of disbelief, a sort of magic unrealism
that draws the reader in and invites him to participate in the process. And
who knows - maybe humiliation and grief really *are* the great subjects
of Monkey Literature.


The Scholars -- William Butler Yeats

My thanks to Tom Richards for suggesting today's poem:
(Poem #1482) The Scholars
 Bald heads, forgetful of their sins,
 Old, learned, respectable bald heads
 Edit and annotate the lines
 That young men, tossing on their beds,
 Rhymed out in love's despair
 To flatter beauty's ignorant ear.

 All shuffle there, all cough in ink;
 All wear the carpet with their shoes;
 All think what other people think;
 All know the man their neighbour knows.
 Lord, what would they say
 Did their Catullus walk their way?
-- William Butler Yeats
In "Letter From Lesbia" (Minstrels Poem #1467), Dorothy Parker pokes
gentle fun at the self-absorption of the poet. But if a poet is
self-absorbed and (hence) uninteresting, what does that make the critic
who spends his days analyzing his poems?


PS. Tom writes that he found this poem in "Poem for the Day: 366 poems,
old and new, worth learning by heart", ed. Nicholas Albery; he further
comments that "it's only trumped by The Rattle Bag out of the poetry
anthologies I've read". With that strong a recommendation I'll
definitely have to keep an eye out for it; thanks again, Tom!

[Minstrels Links]

The Catullus theme:
Poem #1463, Song Five -- Gaius Valerius Catullus
Poem #1464, From Catullus 5 -- Sir Walter Raleigh
Poem #1465, Come, My Celia -- Ben Jonson
Poem #1466, My Sweetest Lesbia -- Thomas Campion
Poem #1467, From A Letter From Lesbia -- Dorothy Parker


Earlier in the day you may have received a suspicious email titled
"Notify about using the e-mail account", or some such phrase. This was a
fake, sent by someone (or something) who had forged Sitaram's email
address. Fortunately, we've configured our list-serve to strip out all
attachments, which means that no harm was done, and that you, Gentle
Reader, needn't worry about viruses and the like.

Brothers -- Giuseppe Ungaretti

Guest poem sent in by "murt"
(Poem #1481) Brothers
 What regiment are you from

 Word trembling
 in the night

 A leaf just opening

 In the racked air
 involuntary revolt
 of man face to face with his own

-- Giuseppe Ungaretti
          (Mariano, Italy, 15 July 1916)

Note: Translated by Patrick Creagh

Ungaretti, in the trenches during WW1, grasps the very core of humanity and
communication. With this typically short, yet always diversely translatable
poem, he transcends the horror of the trenches and reaches out, letting the
spoken word carry his mixture of anxiety, isolation and hope, through
darkness and hell, searching for signs of life, embodying to me at least,
the very central theme, always present in human consciousness and fickle
presence on this planet, we call earth. His symbolism seems to me so genial,
I cannot dissect it or describe it closer. It just grips me and I wanted to
share it with you....brothers and sisters.....:-}

Regards from tetriano, Denmark

[Martin adds]

The collection at has an another
translation of the poem, with the two lines near the end

  of the man present at his

I love the use of "present at", but it has a 'deliberately poetic' ring that
"face to face with" does not - I have to wonder which one carries the
flavour of the original better. Also, Creagh has "man" where the other
translation has "the man" - a possibly significant difference that reminds
me once again how non-trivial the work of translating a poem is.


 Giuseppe Ungaretti, 1888-1970

    A literary minimalist, Giuseepe Ungaretti is considered by some critics
 the greatest Italian poet of the 20th Century. He served an infantryman on
 the lower Isonzo front with the 3rd Army from 1915 until early 1918. In the
 spring, he was transferred to the Western Front where Italian forces fought
 with distinction. In his most famous war poem, RIVERS, he alludes to his
 birth in Egypt, his youth in Tuscany and his service on both fronts during
 the Great War. Ungaretti's pure style was achieved by condensation to
 essentials and is in the tradition of the French Symbolists. His works are
 collected in the 2 volumes of LIFE OF A MAN portions of which are available
 in English translation.

The Aeneid: I, 1-7 -- Virgil

Guest poem submitted by Lisa, the opening lines of:
(Poem #1480) The Aeneid: I, 1-7
 War tales and heroes frame my song.
 A man -- refugee from Troy --
 pushed by fate from Illium to Italy.
 O, but the troubles all he bore, tossed
 across seas, and in foreign lands blown
 like a leaf on the breath of the gods.
 (Cruel Juno's wrath, smoking slow,
 here the chief cause.)
 And the troubles he bore,
 the tests, the tricks, the battles,
 that he might raise up a city,
 that the gods might live in Italy;
 the Latin clan, the seeds of our race,
 the mighty walls of Rome.
-- Virgil
        Translated by Rondo Keele.

As adventure stories go, Virgil's Aeneid is among the best;  the fact
that the entire epic is written in poetry only heightens the
accomplishment, making Virgil himself as legendary as his characters.

These opening lines beautifully and dramatically frame Aeneas's entire
journey;  tossed by the sea, blown by the gods, pushed by fate, Aeneas
has no choice but to fulfill his destiny -- the foundation of the future
Roman empire.


[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

Peace of Mind -- Neil Young

Guest poem sent in by Ravi Rajagopalan
(Poem #1479) Peace of Mind
 You know it takes
 a long, long time
 You know it takes
 a long, long time
 You love her so
 and still you know
 That you will never
 want to let her go
 Unless you leave her first
 Then you come out on top
 But, still
 there's just one thing
 You haven't got.

 Peace of mind
 Like when you treated her kind
 It's hard to face
 that open space.

 You know it takes
 a long, long time
 You know it takes

 a long, long time
 When first you gave
 and shared your soul
 Showed her all those things
 that take their toll
 She knows your weak spot
 But, she still gets you hot
 So you do it again
 Reveal what lies within.

 And go for peace of mind
 Like when you treated her kind
 It's hard to face
 that open space.

 You're lookin' for
 peace of mind
 Anywhere you can find
 Still searchin' for
 peace of mind.

 You know it takes
 a long, long time
 You know it takes
 a long, long time.
-- Neil Young
Okay - so Zenobia Driver has inspired me to send this in - a  Neil Young
piece that I absolutely loved as a young man. I guess there are poems and
songs that move us at a particular place and time in our lives, and the gift
of memory is to achieve that recall when you hear that song again and be
transported back in time. Its what makes life beautiful, I guess.

Anyway this song is my favourite. I have very fond memories of hanging out
in the sitout in a flat on the 10th floor overlooking the Bangalore Race
Course on a typically chilly morning or late at night, listening to this
one. All of us were 20-something, discovering life, learning to love, and
discovering the heartbreak of unrequited love.  Even now I give it a listen
every now and then to recapture those magic moments when one was young and
full of hope.

Peace of mind is the first thing that goes when you learn to love, and in
the process of getting into and out of relationships, this state of affairs
continues. Given the sturm und drang of our young lives at that time, the
resonance of love, letting go, sharing your soul, and peace of mind all
combine to create a magic symphony of sounds and words - and most of all -


A Piece Of The Storm -- Mark Strand

Guest poem sent in by Nandini Krishnamoorthy
(Poem #1478) A Piece Of The Storm
      For Sharon Horvath

 From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
 A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
 And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
 From your book, saw it the moment it landed. That's all
 There was to it. No more than a solemn waking
 To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
 A time between times, a flowerless funeral.
 No more than that
 Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
 Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
 That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
 "It's time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening."
-- Mark Strand
I stumbled upon this poem thanks to Radhika mentioning the website "Poetry
in motion". The interpretation of this poem would be a daunting task to even
the seasoned critics, and I have but tried to "comprehend" the poetry.

To me the poem ties time and the power of transience in our lives. Some
things though seemingly transient are destined to unfold ever so slowly,
giving us the luxury to soak in the beauty of "it" being prolonged and when
its over, it reinforces the fact that it may start all over again, only to
capture another's attention. Of course this poem also tries to paint the
image of man as a mortal being and that many things that we believe to be
significant may melt to nothingness.

Well if it hurts no one, I would stick with my first line of interpretation.
Perhaps Mark Strand's opinion on interpreting poetry would be a good way to
summarize this poem.

  "It's not that poetry reveals more about the world — it doesn't — but
  it reveals more about our interactions with the world than our other modes
  of expression. And it doesn't reveal more about ourselves alone in
  isolation, but rather it reveals that mix of self and other, self and
  surrounding, where the world ends and we begin, where we end and the world

        -— Mark Strand (Interview with Katharine Coles)


The Bronco That Would Not Be Broken -- Vachel Lindsay

Guest poem sent in by Gregg Morgan
(Poem #1477) The Bronco That Would Not Be Broken
 A little colt -- bronco, loaned to the farm
 To be broken in time without fury or harm,
 Yet black crows flew past you, shouting alarm,
 Calling "Beware," with lugubrious singing...
 The butterflies there in the bush were romancing,
 The smell of the grass caught your soul in a trance,
 So why be a-fearing the spurs and the traces,
 O bronco that would not be broken of dancing?

 You were born with the pride of the lords great and olden
 Who danced, through the ages, in corridors golden.
 In all the wide farm-place the person most human.
 You spoke out so plainly with squealing and capering.
 With whinnying, snorting, contorting, and prancing,
 As you dodged your pursuers, looking askance.
 With Greek-footed figures, and Parthenon paces.
 O bronco that would not be broken of dancing.

 The grasshoppers cheered. "Keep whirling," they said
 The insolent sparrows called from the shed,
 "If men will not laugh, make them wish they were dead."
 But arch were your thoughts, all malice displacing,
 Though the horse-killers came, with snake-whips advancing.
 You bantered and cantered away from your last chance.
 And they scourged you, with Hell in their speech and their faces,
 O bronco that would not be broken of dancing.

 "Nobody cares for you," rattled the crows,
 As you dragged the whole reaper, next day, down the rows.
 The three mules held back, yet you danced on your toes.
 You pulled like a racer, and kept the mules chasing.
 You tangled the harness with bright eyes side-glancing,
 While the drunk driver bled you -- a pole for a lance --
 And the giant mules bit at you -- keeping their places.
 O bronco that would not be broken of dancing.

 In that last afternoon your boyish heart broke.
 The hot wind came down like a sledge-hammer stroke.
 The blood-sucking flies to a rare feast awoke.
 And they searched out your wounds, your death-warrant tracing.
 And the merciful men, their religion enhancing,
 Stopped the red reaper, to give you a chance.
 Then you died on the prairie, and scorned all disgraces,
 O bronco that would not be broken of dancing.
-- Vachel Lindsay
This is one of my many favorite Vachel Lindsay poems. The message
is simple, and full of devices that pull the reader to save the little
donkey -- to be the one who stands for he who will not be "broken"
and fights though winning is not an option, but the fight to be
free, your own man is also not an option...Genius!


[Martin adds]

There are echoes of Invictus [Poem #221] and The Slave's Dream [Poem #629],
both worth rereading alongside this one for the several perspectives on a
common theme.

Then Wear the Gold Hat -- Thomas Parke D'Invilliers

Guest poem submitted by Will Chiong:
(Poem #1476) Then Wear the Gold Hat
 Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
        if you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
 Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
        I must have you!"
-- Thomas Parke D'Invilliers
I remember being moved by this poem a long time ago, and it has a
strange backstory, so I was hoping you could include it in your archive.
This poem is presented as the dedication in the intro pages of
Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby".  The 'joke' is that D'Invilliers is a
fictional character in Fitzgerald's first novel, "This Side of

I love this poem, though, as it is seems like a whimsical addition to
Fitzgerald's masterpiece; but really sums up one of the book's most
intriguing themes quite well.

A great biography of Fitzgerald can be found at


I Sought on Earth a Garden of Delight -- George Santayana

Guest poem sent in by Cristina Gazzieri
(Poem #1475) I Sought on Earth a Garden of Delight
 I sought on earth a garden of delight,
 Or island altar to the Sea and Air,
 Where gentle music were accounted prayer,
 And reason, veiled, performed the happy rite.
 My sad youth worshipped at the piteous height
 Where God vouchsafed the death of man to share;
 His love made mortal sorrow light to bear,
 But his deep wounds put joy to shamed flight.
 And though his arms, outstretched upon the tree,
 Were beautiful, and pleaded my embrace,
 My sins were loath to look upon his face.
 So came I down from Golgotha to thee,
 Eternal Mother; let the sun and sea
 Heal me, and keep me in thy dwelling-place.
-- George Santayana
   I was born and brought up in Italy, the very heart of Christianity, and
it is not difficult, for me, to understand the feeling of the poet in this
sonnet.  The sense of guilt, the feeling of constant inadequacy of your
moral life, the denial of pleasure... They are all part of the religious
feeling they tried to inculcate in us. The reaction against all this,
particularly from the 60s onwards has been radical, so that, today,
Catholicism has become (here, at least) more tolerant towards human
weakness, less strict and demanding, more open.

As many others of my generation I have read and re-read Bertrand Russell's
'Why I am not A Christian', yet, though from an intellectual point of view I
have always shared his views, I cannot completely avoid feeling the need for
a divine presence. As Santayana, I have often hoped for the existence (and,
I must admit, in times of need, I have also prayed) of a female divinity (a
mother goddess or a Madonna – call her what you like) – I thought I did so
because it was easier for me to pray to a divinity of the same gender, so I
was surprised when I read Santayana's poem. Our need must probably be
something more ancestral, the need to be soothed by a mother also in
maturity; the feeling that  we are bond to simple, elemental laws: the
cycles of nature, life and death, biological laws and an "Eternal Mother" is
closer to this than any other abstract, frowning or anguishing father god.


Ae Fond Kiss -- Robert Burns

Guest poem submitted by Steve Axbey:
(Poem #1474) Ae Fond Kiss
 Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
 Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
 Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
 Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
 Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
 While the star of hope she leaves him?
 Me, nae cheerful twinkle lights me;
 Dark despair around benights me.

 I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
 Naething could resist my Nancy:
 But to see her was to love her;
 Love but her, and love for ever.
 Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
 Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
 Never met -- or never parted,
 We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

 Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
 Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!
 Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
 Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!
 Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
 Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
 Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
 Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
-- Robert Burns
This is quite a well known poem, so I imagine many Minstrels subscribers
will be familiar with it, but I think it's worth featuring -- it's one
of my favourites, sentimental as it is.

Nancy was a real person: Agnes McLehose, with whom Burns established a
long running platonic relationship, and with whom he continued a long
correspondence, in which they addressed each other as 'Clarinda' and
'Sylvander'. "Ae Fond Kiss" is contained in Burns' final letter to
Nancy, written in Dec 1791, and is generally considered to be much the
best of the nine poems or songs he sent her (this one is sometimes
classified as a song).

Nancy lived a long life - she was 83 when she died in 1841, by which
time she was something of a celebrity: well known as "the woman who
broke Rabbie Burns' heart". You can read more about her here:

It's a great poem full of heartfelt passion. Like all the folk poetry,
and folk music, it tells a story and, like all the *best* folk/country
poetry the story is a sad one. (Q: What do you get if you play country
music backwards? A: You get your wife back, your home back, your kids
back, you car back...).

If I had a criticism: it's the timing. Surely the best lines -- and
indeed the whole point of the poem -- are these:
        Had we never lov'd sae blindly
        Never met -- or never parted
        We had ne'er been broken-hearted"
So shouldn't those lines  come at the end?

I first came across the poem as a song by Fairground Attraction, a 1980s
Scottish band fronted by Eddi Reader. Their debut (and as it turned out
final) album was called "First of a Million Kisses".  Then, after they
broke up and an album of off-cuts was released, it was symmetrically
called "Ay Fond Kiss", with a version of this as the title track.  And a
very beautiful version it is: released nearly 20 years ago, it's still
got a high billing on my iPod :-)

Although Fairground Attraction broke up, Eddi Reader is still going
strong and indeed she released an album of Robbie Burns' songs in 2003.
That album includes a new version of Ae Fond Kiss, and with lyrics more
faithful to the original, and I can recommend it whole-heartedly.

You can find more details of Eddi at her official site

For more on Robbie Burns try
for starters... but a quick Google will turn up many, many more


Drinking Song -- J K Stephen

(Poem #1473) Drinking Song
 There are people, I know, to be found,
   Who say, and apparently think,
 That sorrow and care may be drowned
   By a timely consumption of drink.

 Does not man, these enthusiasts ask,
   Most nearly approach the divine,
 When engaged in the soul-stirring task
   Of filling his body with wine?

 Have not beggars been frequently known,
   When satisfied, soaked, and replete,
 To imagine their bench was a throne
   And the civilised world at their feet?

 Lord Byron has finely described
   The remarkably soothing effect
 Of liquor, profusely imbibed,
   On a soul that is shattered and wrecked.

 In short, if your body or mind
   Or your soul or your purse come to grief,
 You need only get drunk, and you'll find
   Complete and immediate relief.

 For myself, I have managed to do
   Without having recourse to this plan,
 So I can't write a poem for you,
   And you'd better get someone who can.
-- J K Stephen
"Get drunk!" urges Baudelaire. "Turn down an empty glass!", Khayyam
exhorts us. Well, in today's poem - and in particular the last verse -
Stephen stands on its head the image of the sober man as a dry,
humourless stick-in-the-mud. Suffice it to say that I laughed out loud in
sheer surprise and delight when I reached the end.

While Stephen was, sadly, struck down before he managed to transcend "minor
poet" status, his talent is unmistakable; personally, his ability to
blend humour with an elegantly restrained understatement is as impressive
as it is delightful.



 Brief biography and assessment:

In A Disused Graveyard -- Robert Frost

Guest poem submitted by R. Lakshminarainan:
(Poem #1472) In A Disused Graveyard
 The living come with grassy tread
 To read the gravestones on the hill;
 The graveyard draws the living still,
 But never anymore the dead.
 The verses in it say and say:
 "The ones who living come today
 To read the stones and go away
 Tomorrow dead will come to stay."
 So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
 Yet can't help marking all the time
 How no one dead will seem to come.
 What is it men are shrinking from?
 It would be easy to be clever
 And tell the stones: Men hate to die
 And have stopped dying now forever.
 I think they would believe the lie.
-- Robert Frost
Frost is quite indisputably the master of images. I can still remember
the intense reverie of meaning I experienced, when I first read this
poem. We have heard and heard too much, about death - its ultimacy, its
indefatigability and the utter hopelessness. We have heard a few say how
one must succumb to it with little resistance, and another - how one
must "rage against it." In all its varied essences and flavours, death
stands apart with one single unchanging attribute - the finality.

Which is why these fifteen lines shine stark in significance. Frost in a
single image, hooks the finality of images of death in one big question
mark, where neither the mortal men nor the waiting grave will achieve
the final victory. The graveyard, the elemental metaphor for a fullstop,
has brimmed without space, and now the roles are reversed. Though the
living still come and visit loved ones, the graveyard will never again
see them dead. The eternal wisdom in what the grave takes pride in
uttering to generations of men - "The ones who living come today/ To
read the stones and go away/ Tomorrow dead will come to stay." is
shattered. The certitude of the marble grounds is now jarring because,
neither the graveyard nor the wisdom has escaped what it celebrates so
tirelessly - death itself. And to the nether-land that wonders in
shrouting suspicion, "What hate men in me? Why don't they come to my
laps anymore?" one might just say "Men hate to die. And they will not

As one tries to explain and the other to believe in this
mock-hypothesis, is not Death and all its allied emotions and images
failed metaphors? Do we really see Death and does wisdom really dawn or
are we merely fooling ourselves like the graveyard?

R. Lakshminarainan.

In the Middle of the Road -- Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Guest poem submitted by Nisha Pillai:
(Poem #1471) In the Middle of the Road
 In the middle of the road there was a stone
 there was a stone in the middle of the road
 there was a stone
 in the middle of the road there was a stone.

 Never should I forget this event
 in the life of my fatigued retinas.
 Never should I forget that in the middle of the road
 there was a stone
 there was a stone in the middle of the road
 in the middle of the road there was a stone.
-- Carlos Drummond de Andrade
        Translated by Elizabeth Bishop.

I came across this poem recently because a colleague recommended it to
me. It sounds beautiful in the original Portuguese, much better than the
English version, says my Brazilian friend. Since the English version is
the only one I understand, who am I to argue? :-)

The poem is simplicity itself. I choose to think that it symbolizes an
event that altered the course of the poet's life, but that's just me.

Here it is in Portuguese:

 "No meio do caminho"

 No meio do caminho tinha uma pedra
 tinha uma pedra no meio do caminho
 tinha uma pedra
 no meio do caminho tinha uma pedra

 Nunca me esquecerei dêsse acontecimento
 na vida de minhas retinas tão fatigadas.
 Nunca me esquecerei que no meio do caminho
 tinha uma pedra
 tinha uma pedra no meio do caminho
 no meio do caminho tinha uma pedra.

        -- Carlos Drummond de Andrade


Andrade, Carlos Drummond de, 1902-87, Brazilian poet. The son of
landowners, he worked as a journalist before earning (1925) a degree in
pharmacology. In 1928 Andrade became a civil servant while working as a
newspaper editor. His first volume of poems, Alguma poesia [some poetry]
(1930), exhibited many characteristics of Brazilian modernism. Andrade
is considered the major Brazilian poet of his time; his works include
Poesias [poems] (1942), A rosa do povo [the people's rose] (1945), Claro
enigma [clear enigma] (1951), A vida passada a limpo [life in a new
copy] (1959), and As impurezas do branco [the impurities of white]
(1973). He also wrote essays and award-winning translations of European


Caught in the Rain on My Way to the Sandy Lake -- Su Shi (Su Dong-po)

Guest poem submitted by Rohit Jaisingh:
(Poem #1470) Caught in the Rain on My Way to the Sandy Lake
 Listen not to the rain beating against the trees.
 Why not walk slowly while chanting at ease?
 Better than a saddle I like sandals and cane.
 I'd fain
 In a straw cloak, spend my life in mist and rain.

 Drunken, I am sobered by the vernal wind shrill
 And rather chill.
 In front, I see the slanting sun atop the hill;
 Turning my head, I see the dreary beaten track.
 Let me go back!
 Impervious to rain or shine, I'll have my own will.
-- Su Shi (Su Dong-po)
        Translated by Xu Yuan-zhong.

I came across Su Shi, most unexpectedly, in a equity research report.
Not the sort of place one routinely bumps into good poetry, but there it
was. Many thanks to Y. K. Fu, the author of that report.

Su Shi's versatility is quite amazing. While he is best know for his
satirical poems in which he takes broad swipes at the administration,
some of his other work is remarkably beautiful.

This poem struck a strong personal chord. How many times have we taken
the road less travelled, the less popular alternative and had to contend
with tremendous adversity? Suddenly, friends give you a wide berth and
you feel less than welcome. It tests your resolve, it is so easy to fall
in line. Su Shi himself faced a near-fatal beating, exile, two jail
sentences and poverty in harsh backwaters for his outspoken views.

Eventually, integrity and strength in one's convictions is all that
matters. And when life later proves you right, it tastes very sweet


1. Biography
[broken link]

2. Su Shi (1037-1101) and the Humor of Resistance, David McGraw
[broken link]

Song for the Rainy Season -- Elizabeth Bishop

Guest poem submitted by Dustin Smith:
(Poem #1469) Song for the Rainy Season
 Hidden, oh hidden
 in the high fog
 the house we live in,
 beneath the magnetic rock,
 rain-, rainbow-ridden,
 where blood-black
 bromelias, lichens,
 owls, and the lint
 of the waterfalls cling,
 familiar, unbidden.

 In a dim age
 of water
 the brook sings loud
 from a rib cage
 of giant fern; vapor
 climbs up the thick growth
 effortlessly, turns back,
 holding them both,
 house and rock,
 in a private cloud.

 At night, on the roof,
 blind drops crawl
 and the ordinary brown
 owl gives us proof
 he can count:
 five times -- always five --
 he stamps and takes off
 after the fat frogs that,
 shrilling for love,
 clamber and mount.

 House, open house
 to the white dew
 and the milk-white sunrise
 kind to the eyes,
 to membership
 of silver fish, mouse,
 big moths; with a wall
 for the mildew's
 ignorant map;

 darkened and tarnished
 by the warm touch
 of the warm breath,
 maculate, cherished;
 rejoice! For a later
 era will differ.
 (O difference that kills
 or intimidates, much
 of all our small shadowy
 life!) Without water

 the great rock will stare
 unmagnetized, bare,
 no longer wearing
 rainbows or rain,
 the forgiving air
 and the high fog gone;
 the owls will move on
 and the several
 waterfalls shrivel
 in the steady sun.
-- Elizabeth Bishop
In "Song for the Rainy Season," Bishop's celebrated observational and
descriptive techniques -- her famous "eye" -- are trained both on a
cherished, worn house she lives in and on that house's close,
subtropical surroundings. As usual, insight grows subtly from
accumulated details of the physical world; Bishop never thrusts her
meaning into the reader's face. Like the poem's insights, its loose, or
open, rhyme scheme -- a scheme Bishop would develop more and more --
creeps into one's awareness as the poem goes on, and during later
readings. Thumpingly regular, metronomic rhyming is forgotten in favor
of a more flexible and subtle rhyme scheme. The poem's short lines
establish a breathless rhythm. They also insure that every word stands
out by not losing its power in a line crowded with other words: As
Bishop apparently reveres the place she's describing, she necessarily
reveres each word she uses to describe it. (Reading the poem aloud is a
good way to illuminate this notion of breathlessness and reverence via
short lines. Also, the poem's short lines and unexpected rhymes create a
particularly dynamic rhythm when read aloud.) ... One of the greatest
poems by one of the greatest poets. (She deserved that Pulitzer.)

Dustin Smith
Brooklyn Heights, New York.

Song Against Natural Selection -- Edward Hirsch

Guest poem submitted by Y. Lee:
(Poem #1468) Song Against Natural Selection
 The weak survive!
 A man with a damaged arm,
 a house missing a single brick, one step
 torn away from the other steps
 the way I was once torn away
 from you; this hurts us, it

 isn't what we'd imagined, what
 we'd hoped for when we were young
 and still hoping for, still imagining things,
 but we manage, we survive.  Sure,
 losing is hard work, one limb severed
 at a time makes it that much harder

 to get around the city, another word
 dropped from our vocabularies
 and the remaining words are that much heavier
 on our tongues, that much further
 from ourselves, and yet people
 go on talking, speech survives.

 It isn't easy giving up limbs,
 trying to manage with that much
 less to eat each week, that much more
 money we know we'll never make,
 things we not only can't buy, but
 can't afford to look at in the stores;

 this hurts us, and yet we manage, we survive
 so that losing itself becomes a kind
 of song, our song, our only witness
 to the way we die, one day at a time;
 a leg severed, a word buried: this
 is how we recognize ourselves, and why.
-- Edward Hirsch
A celebration of human imperfection both exultant and melancholy, fierce
and vulnerable.  Somehow Hirsch turns the inevitable tragedy of loss
into a uniqueness holding its own value.  Pshaw to 'survival of the
fittest'; the worthiest are those who have suffered and yet continue on.
Beyond the message, I love the relentless rhythm of this piece that ever
draws the eyes to the next line, the hint of past personal pain ("the
way I was once torn / away from you"), and the role of speech, with a
dropped word comparable to a severed limb.

Edward Hirsch is an active poet and a recipient of the MacArthur
"genius" Fellowship; he teaches and also seems to write a fair amount of
prose on the subject of poetry.

Y. Lee